By Larry Teren
Once many seniors get past the magical age of eighty they start using a cane or walker on a regular basis. Ma uses a copper coated cane only outdoors. Once she gets into the house, she parks the cane on the front door knob. Initially, she only intended to use a cane or walker while she rehabbed from a couple of nasty falls that broke bones. After going through reconstruction of both hips she has come to accept using the cane, at least outside.
I was surprised to read that as recent as 2009, there were over forty-seven thousand visits to hospital emergency rooms because of seniors who fell while using a cane or walker. Obviously, a cane is no guarantee that one will avoid injury.
Ma gets upset when my sister or I harp on her to remember to keep an eye on her cane when she goes somewhere. And with good reason. About three months ago, Ma asked me to drive her to the supermarket and pick her up an hour later. When I returned, she was waiting outside holding onto a cart full of groceries and the cane stuck amid the groceries like a sword in a stone.
Now I know some of you will say that I am a jerk for not getting out of the car to help her load the groceries from the cart into the back seat. Sometimes I do. This time I didn’t because my car was pulled up along curbside in an awkward spot next to the automatic sliding doors that let shoppers exit from the store. The bags were not heavy and a security guard was ready to pounce and ask me to get a move on. So, I let Ma grab the groceries and toss them into the back seat.
She got into the front passenger seat and I took off. When we got back to her house and parked in the vertical spot in the private off-street lot in front of the house, Ma opened her door and swung over to stand up. Immediately she realized that something was missing- the copper cane. After I did my usual Rumpelstiltskin, I told her that I would bring the stuff into the house and then I would go back to the store and look for the cane. She protested that she wanted to go with. I responded that time was of the essence and it would be quicker for me to just head off immediately.
I dashed off back to the store, parked the car and ran to the spot where Ma had not more than fifteen minutes earlier left the shopping cart containing a cane. There were no longer any errant carts sitting curbside. I noticed a store employee moving carts back to the staging area. I asked him if he saw a cane in a cart and he replied to the negative. I looked through the carts in the holding pen and did not find a cane. I ran inside the immense store and went from spot to spot to try to see if I could find someone walking around with a cane in his or her cart, make a scene and grab it. My traipse through every inch of the store proved effortless. I even went to the service desk and asked if anyone had found a cane. The clerk’s response was, “next?”
I then went outside and monitored the two store exits that were about 100 yards apart. I saw no canes. I called my sister and informed her of the situation and she said she would rush over as soon as she was finished with what she was doing to help me look. In the meantime, after a full thirty minutes of playing combined security guard and detective, I decided to give up and go home.
A little while later, my sister called to tell me that Ma had her cane back. I asked her if she found it and she said no. What happened was that Ma decided to call her sister-in-law who agreed to go with her back to the store. The two of them traced every inch of the building from converging opposite ends. Her sister-in-law found it in the produce section to the right of where you first walk in. The person who took the cart from the curb must have wheeled it inside and after a minute or two noticed that it contained the cane. Since they didn’t want to be blamed for taking it or figuring that someone would be looking for it, they decided to abandon it right there rather than bring it to the service desk’s lost and found department.
The other day I took Ma to visit a lady friend of hers in the same rehab facility she spent seven weeks a little more than a year ago. I dropped her off by the front entrance. Naturally, she took her cane with her. I drove off to park the car at the first available spot on the street, which was a block away. After we met up again several minutes later in the room where her friend was confined to a wheelchair, Ma turned and asked, “where’s my cane?” Here we go again.
Once we were positive it was not in the room, she offered that it was probably downstairs at the front desk where she had to register as a visitor. After I did another Rumpelstiltskin, I went back downstairs to the front desk, requested the cane they were holding off to the side and returned it once again to its rightful owner. Maybe she needs to put it on a leash, with a name tag- ya think?
p.s. When I mentioned to Ma I was writing about her cane episodes, she said that I could make it a trifecta. Last week, at the same supermarket, she left her cane again in the shopping cart. This time her brother was the partner in crime. She blamed him because he tossed her cart aside when he helped her with the grocery bags into the car.
If you catch a pattern here, she seems to remember that she left the cane behind only after she gets home. My uncle drove her back to the store and she immediately went to the customer service desk. After she explained her predicament, the clerk got on the public address system and broadcast to everyone in the store to be on the lookout for a copper cane on the loose. Within a few brief minutes, the cane was brought to the service desk and Ma took her bows.