As a general rule, I hate going to Target in the evenings, but I've been using their pharmacy for the last few years, and they've only just begun to turn it over to those rotters at CVS, so for now I'm calling in the prescriptions the night before and picking them up after work the next day. It was one day last week when I saw her: the stereotypical Little Old Lady, maybe five foot one if you ironed out all the wrinkles, with spun-sugar hair and what would have been a nice grin had it not been overlaid with a grimace at that very moment.
The situation was obvious: she'd parked Target's little wheeled cart for the disabled just a little too far from the back bumper of her minivan, sitting in the sun in the first handicapped space. It was a no-brainer for me to step in and help her up, and to deal with her last package, not heavy but rather large and unwieldy. The smile I knew was there returned. She was grateful in the manner of people who were raised to be grateful, and I started wrestling with the cart. "Just sit down on it, it will be easier," she said.
"I might never get up again," I answered teasingly.
Still, it took a good long while to pull the cart into a location out of the traffic lanes — after the first twenty seconds, I knew I wasn't going to make it back to the front of the store — and yes, it most certainly would have been easier to take a seat and work the buttons, had I known how those buttons worked, which I didn't. And of course, this was leftover 1950s wisdom: boys never, ever let girls see that they don't know how to do something.
But it wasn't that at all. In fact, I'd blurted out the truth already: how, once sitting 20 inches above the ground on this motorized contraption, was I ever going to stand up again?
As I get older and my knees continue to deteriorate, plus a vague insensitivity in my feet, remaining upright seems to be far trickier than it used to be. It wasn't that long ago that I'd taken a fall in the bathtub for no reason I could discern, and back in the, um, autumn — let's not say "fall" again — I faceplanted in the yard while trying to retrieve the morning newspaper. It's not like I'd never taken a spill before; I tend to expect at least one during each and every ice storm, we've had two of them this winter, and while neither of them knocked me flat, the opportunities were always there, were I sufficiently venturesome. (I was not.)
This is, I am assured, the nature of old knees: the routine twinge of discomfort, the occasional sense of disconnection, the approximate solidity of orange marmalade. And while working them is uncomfortable, sitting still exacts its own price at the exact moment when you can't do it anymore. (I am hypertensive enough to be on diuretics; the option of sitting still all day is not open to me for reasons which should be obvious.) And fighting one's own body is a sure way to drain one's stamina; given the sprawling nature of the workplace campus, I'm just about guaranteed to walk half a mile a day each and every day of the workweek. Saturday presents a different obstacle: the errands, generally topped off by a grocery run. It occurred to me this week that I wasn't having any particular issues with the getting of groceries, with the exception of that one incident late in the summer. I was about to seize upon this bit of good news when I looked down at my hands, gripping the handle of the cart, and I realized that the cart was in effect serving as a walker.
At that moment, an infernal beeping arose from down the aisle: someone backing up one of those carts for the disabled, which in this particular store is likely as not to be occupied by someone with no specific ailment beyond extreme width. Being a bit girthy myself, though substantially less so than I was last decade when all this knee business started — I am about 85 pounds lighter and I've dropped eight or nine inches from my waist — I reacted with a combination of "There, but for the grace of God..." and "Madam, have you no pride?"
Of course, the load reduction doesn't help the knees to any great extent: it merely retards the speed of deterioration. Then again, the same is probably true of anything therapeutic: these bodies were not really designed for more than limited-time usage. In the off-chance that I somehow manage to get my brain function preserved after death via some sort of upload, I just hope there's really good virtual reality available: being unable to move strikes me as being only one rung up from being buried, and I'm definitely not looking forward to that.
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Copyright © 2016 by Charles G. Hill