As I watch her doing housework, playing with her great grandchildren and taking walks, I am reminded of how four years ago my father called to tell me that my mother was in the hospital. I cannot recall ever hearing his voice sound so broken and sad. At first I could not grasp the significance of what he was saying - something about, "If only I had fixed the hallway carpet."
He was trying to tell me that my mother had slipped and fallen in the hallway just before going to bed. Despite terrible pain, she did not grasp the severity of her predicament. She stayed on the floor where she fell and asked my father to prop her leg up with a pillow - not yet realizing that her thigh bone was fractured like an egg shell in twenty places! She waited and hoped the pain would subside. Two hours later, my father finally called the ambulance.
Fortunately I live nearby and the hospital was just minutes away. It gave me a shock to see my mother in a hospital bed. Without her dentures, in her gown, she suddenly looked about a hundred years old. She had a morphine drip in one arm and a urine bag hung by the bed. A machine was monitoring her vital signs. She had surgery the next day.
A fall that causes a bump on the bottom for someone with strong bones can result in a broken bone for a person with osteoporosis. But, as I saw while taking care of my mother, the broken bone itself was not the biggest problem. My mother's fractured thigh triggered a whole series of events related to the aging process - a downward spiral that could have resulted in spending the rest of her life in a wheel chair.
Already thin before she broke her leg, she lost her appetite and began to look as if she was wasting away. When you are bedridden, all the systems of the body become weaker and more susceptible to infection and illness. With less exercise, your arteries become less elastic and more prone to injury. Consequently, your immune system is compromised and you are even more vulnerable to infections and disease.
After surgery to repair the fracture, the bone healed in about six months. I visited her daily throughout this period, at first helping her from the bed to the bedside commode and back. After the doctor and physical therapist instructed her to begin bearing weight on the bone, I encouraged her to stand upright and put weight on the leg, even if only for ten seconds.
At first my mother was understandably afraid to "test" whether her leg could bear weight again. In fact, she felt depressed and talked about wanting to die. Without the doctor, physical therapist and our whole family encouraging her, she might never have regained her ability to walk.
In my yoga classes for both active seniors and the frail elderly, weight-bearing standing poses (with the help of support like a wall and a chair, if necessary) is critical for strengthening the bones. I made a game out of getting her to stand upright by counting to ten... next day fifteen... then twenty... thirty... until she could stand for a full minute.
Standing itself was the first milestone. It gave us all a boost of confidence to see our mother stand again, with my sister and I assisting her. Next she began taking two steps from her bed to the bedside commode. Progress was in small increments - two steps, five, ten. For several weeks she walked around a table (holding on to the table as needed, with me close behind her).
During the weeks that my mother cautiously walked around the house, we installed ramps and railings by the front and back door so she could safely go out in her wheelchair. It was a happy day when she made it all the way to the back yard with a walker. Gradually she began to get around without a walker, except for walking long distances on uneven terrain.
Seeing my mother walk again after a fall that landed her in the hospital and in a wheelchair, has given me new appreciation for the body's healing power. Weight-bearing exercise, combined with plenty of love and moral support, can make the difference between walking and living independently, or spending the last years of life in a wheelchair.
SUZA FRANCINA, the former mayor of Ojai, California, is a writer, animal advocate and Certified Iyengar Yoga Instructor. She has taught yoga since 1972 and is a pioneer in the field of teaching yoga to seniors. Her first book, Yoga for People Over 50, was published in 1977. She is author of The New Yoga for People Over 50 (Health Communications, Inc., 1997); Yoga and the Wisdom of Menopause (HCI, 2003); and The New Yoga for Healthy Aging (HCI 2007). She is currently completing a spiritual memoir, Autobiography of a Yogini. Her writing has appeared in numerous other books, magazines and publications worldwide. Born in Holland in 1949, she emigrated with her family to Ojai, California at the age of seven and has made the Ojai Valley her home ever since. To learn more visit http://www.Suzafrancina.com.
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