Childless, Alone? What’s Your Emergency Plan?

3d cartoon woman falling from height, illustration isolated on white background

Last Thursday, when I walked out on my deck to take some pictures of the trees in the fog, a rotting board collapsed underneath my foot. My leg went through, and I fell backwards across the edge of the deck onto the wet lawn with my leg still stuck between the boards. I live alone. There were no neighbors within shouting distance, the young ones at work and the older ones too far away to hear me. I had been holding my phone, but it flew out of my hand and onto the grass when I fell. I had no choice but to push myself up and pull my leg out. I’m grateful I had the strength to do that. Maybe all that yoga I have done over the years helped. If I couldn’t push myself out, I don’t know what I would have done.

Thank God the leg was not broken, but it hurt, and I had this weird pain in my back. I told myself I’d go to Urgent Care the next day if it wasn’t better. I had work to do.

I was watching TV that night when I turned slightly and something in my side popped. Uh-oh. A minute later, I sneezed, felt agonizing pain, and couldn’t catch my breath. I have to go to the hospital, I thought. Something is really wrong. Carefully I put on my shoes.

Unlike the time when I drove to the ER at midnight with chest pains, which was stupid, I knew I should not drive myself. I was shaking all over and couldn’t stand up straight. I called a neighbor. She was out of town and so sorry she couldn’t help. Screw it, I thought, and dialed 911. After my first-ever ambulance ride to the hospital, X-rays showed a broken rib and contusions from hip to ankle. All they could really offer was painkillers. Everything will heal in time.

“Do you have anyone to be with you?” the nurse asked as I lay on the hospital bed in my green gown and yellow Covid mask.

“No,” I said, holding back tears.

“Do you have anyone to drive you home?”

“I thought I’d take a taxi,” I said.

She shook her head. “Since Covid, taxis are hard to get around here.” We live in a small town with no Ubers and sparse bus runs. “You’d better try to find a friend or family member to come get you.” She handed me my phone.

I wanted to cry so hard, but I held it in. I had already wept after the fall, and I would do it again, but I had to find a ride. It was midnight. Most people I knew were asleep. I called a church friend who stays up late. It was a bit of drive, but she said she was happy to do it. I waited by the door in a wheelchair. I was so glad to see her.

Then I was alone with my dog again. I couldn’t sleep, my brain reliving the fall, thinking about what could have happened. I couldn’t find a comfortable position in the bed. I’m not a fan of recliner chairs, but I wished I had one. I wished I had someone to bring me my pills. I wondered how I would change the Lidocaine patch over my ribs by myself (turns out it’s not that difficult).

The next couple days brought me a lot of attention as the word spread. Friends brought medicine, dog food, flowers and dinner. They prayed over me and assured me I am not alone, that they care. My family lives too far away to be of any immediate help, but I am blessed with great friends.

Now I’m taking care of myself. Some things are difficult, but I’m managing. The pain has been severe, but it is easing. I am so grateful that this was not the event that would send me out of my independent life and into a nursing home.

If I had children and grandchildren, like most 70-year-olds, one would expect them to rally around, sitting with me at the hospital, giving me rides, picking up my prescriptions, and dealing with my dog, who has problems of her own. But I don’t. Maybe they wouldn’t anyway. But I hope they would.

My handyman has already replaced the rotting boards in my deck and assures me it should be secure for a few more years. After days of fog, the sun is finally shining, and I will sit on my deck later.

And yes, I’m looking into those emergency-alert devices, even though I hate the whole idea of wearing one.

Meanwhile, this incident has shown me that I need a better emergency plan. I need a team of friends who are ready to go if I need help. The people are there. We just need to make it more formal, so I have names and numbers ready for me—and the hospital—if/when this happens again. In return, I will do the same for them.

I’m terrible about asking for help. Yesterday, I bought my own groceries, and I probably should not have done that. It was harder than I expected. If we create a plan, then we can feel comfortable calling on our friends when we need them. I’m going to work on that. Did you know that 27 percent of American households are occupied by people living alone? Some have kids; some don’t. We all need a plan.

Most of you are nowhere near my age, but it’s something to consider in this childless life. If you never have children and your partner is gone—even if they’re just gone for a week or a day—who will you call? How will you manage your own care, especially if you are severely injured or unconscious?

We can do this childless thing, even survive old age alone, but we need to be ready for the unexpected. I certainly never dreamed the deck would break under me. It must have been the weight of that extra chocolate chip cookie I ate the night before.

Ilustration copyright: 3dmask

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With no kids, the buck teeth stop here

Sue selfie Jan 2018I had buck teeth. My top front teeth stuck out, and I may have been called Bucky Beaver every now and then. My parents, kind souls that they were, never said an unkind word about it. They took me to an orthodontist and got the teeth moved into a more ordinary configuration. They got the bottom ones that were jumbled up straightened out, too. When I was 19, they paid for oral surgery to fix a problem inside my lower lip.

None of this was fun. Methods were more primitive back in the 1960s. I had wires attached to metal bands around each tooth, tightened up every few weeks. I wore a headgear at night, rubber bands that squeaked when I opened my mouth, and a retainer which kept the embarrassment going after the bands were removed. My teeth ache just thinking about it. My braces cost a fortune. Mom spent countless afternoons driving me to the orthodontist, and I went through a lot of pain, but it was worth it. Over the years, people have often complimented me on my smile. I know how lucky I am. Not every family can afford any kind of dental care.

Lately, my lower teeth have started jumbling up again. I think I’m stuck with it. Braces are pretty low on my priority list now. Mom isn’t around to take care of it.

But here’s the thing. I was not the first generation in my family to wear braces. It’s very likely that if I had children, they would have inherited my crooked teeth. My mother wore braces. In old photos, it looks like my paternal grandmother, who died before I got a chance to know her, had buck teeth, too. She also wore glasses. I suspect she was nearsighted like me. My other grandmother gave me the Roman nose with the bump shared by most of her siblings.

Heredity. Whether it’s crooked teeth, a giant nose, mental illness or a fatal disease, people pass their traits down through the generations. Of course, some genetic traits are wonderful things. I got my brown eyes and lively mind from my mom, too. I have to credit both parents for my good health. I’m proud to carry on the Avina and Fagalde family lines.

But I’m not carrying them very far. As the end of my branch of the family tree, I won’t pass on either the brown eyes or the buck teeth. My cousins with their many children and my brother with his one biological child are passing on their share, but no one will inherit my exact combination of traits.

Our guest speaker at our writer’s group Sunday shared a piece she wrote about being adopted. She will never know how she came to be the way she is. That seems like such a loss. She and her husband have cats, no kids. Will she wind up being just a “one-off,” no one behind, no one ahead?

Depending on how you look at it, having no one to inherit our genetic traits is either very sad or a relief. My brother’s teeth came out straight. His daughter’s teeth are good. With luck, the buck teeth stop with me.

Do you think about what you are not passing on if you don’t have children? Please share in the comments.

 

Christmas cards without kid pictures

I almost didn’t send out Christmas cards this year. I usually send about 50 and get back about 20. Those are filled with vacation photos, kid photos and newsletters full of the achievements of offspring I don’t even know. But still, I do want to touch base with the folks with whom my only contact is Christmas cards, so I did it.

What should we childless people put in our cards? Last year, I included a giant photo of my dog and noted that I was still writing, still singing, still enjoying life with Annie. If I’d had any major vacations or career achievements that they could relate to, I would have included them, but I didn’t. I mean, I think my blogs are important, but half my family would say “what’s a blog?” and the other half would wonder why I bother. Ditto for my other publications, my music activities and about 300 dog walks a year. I lost 20 pounds and haven’t gained them back, but that doesn’t seem appropriate to share. I didn’t go to Europe, didn’t get rich, didn’t get married, didn’t acquire any children. So anyway. On the cards where I felt chatty, I noted that surviving another year with no bad news is an achievement to be grateful for. Merry Christmas. Love, Sue.

It’s one of those challenging things about the holidays. You almost want to do something impressive just so you can put it in your Christmas card and gloat because your year was more fabulous than theirs.

My friend Carol, who never had children but has a lot of pets, sends out an entertaining newsletter every year from “The Irving Menagerie” in which each pet tells some of the family’s news for the year. I love reading that one.

If we are going to do holiday greetings, we need to find a way to make it fun for us as well as for the people who will receive them. No “woe is me” allowed. I’m thinking next year I might include a humorous poem, something they’ll want to keep. Or maybe another dog picture. Maybe a humorous poem and a dog picture.

How about you? Do you send out Christmas cards? Do you feel pressure to compete with the newsletters and photos? It might be a generational thing. Am I wrong in feeling that younger people are not messing with cards anymore? At least not the paper kind you mail? Especially with postage up to 49 cents each? Do you send online greetings instead?

This is my last post before Christmas. Did it come up fast or what? So here is my greeting to you.

Merry Christmas! If Christmas is not your thing, may you find comfort and meaning in whatever you celebrate. May the new year be filled with blessings. Each one of you is a blessing to me.

Sue