(photo used with permission by Susan H. Bruner)
Snow, Ice, and the Elderly
Drama on the Ice
We retired people know all about the “snowbirds,” those lucky folks who head south after the holidays to avoid the worst that winter can throw at us. Well, the local snowbirds didn’t depart a moment too soon this year as the first winter storm of 2017 hit us here on the coast with a rare 8 inches of the white stuff and ice that kept most of us indoors for a couple of days.
Well, not all of us stayed indoors. I ventured out to the grocery store, only to discover that the public works department apparently decided the roads were too difficult for their snow plows and sand trucks. I suppressed my indignation and focused instead on my 10 mph trek home. When I stopped at my mailbox cluster to retrieve our two-days’ worth of accumulated mail, I was shocked to see an elderly woman lying on the ice next to the mailboxes. I wish I could say that I ran to her aid but the best I could do was to step gingerly across the ice.
Me: “Oh my goodness, are you alright?”
Her: “I think so. But I can’t get up.”
Now, I have lifted large dogs, small children and cases of bottled water in my life but I discovered that I was utterly unable to lift up my frail, freezing neighbor from the icy ground. As I considered my next move, my neighbor told me that she actually fell into the ditch two feet away and managed to claw her way out. But she couldn’t pull herself up. She showed me her bloody hands and I knew that I needed to find help fast.
Just then, I heard the familiar sound of garbage trucks and I went back out into the street to see where these potential rescuers were. Only three houses away! I started waving my arms and yelling, “I need help.” At first, they were hesitant – I must have looked like a crazy person! After a few minutes they drove their truck to me and jumped out when they saw the situation. At that moment, two male neighbors also arrived, saying they heard my calls for help. What a relief! I can’t remember the last time I felt so grateful. One “take control” kind of guy asked me to drive my car closer so that he could help Judy (yes, that was her name) into the front seat.
Once Judy was safely seated next to me in the car, my neighbor suggested that I drive her to her house, as close to the front door as possible. Easier said than done as I maneuvered on the icy street around the garbage truck and three other cars, along with a growing group of on-lookers. Thanks goodness for my Subaru Forrester! It was quite the sight as three neighbors guided me into Judy’s snow-covered driveway – it reminded me of a plane arriving into an airport gate! Once we were safely in Judy’s driveway, I called 911 and asked for an ambulance.
By this time, a little color had returned to Judy’s face and she started apologizing for her “stupidity” in walking to the mailboxes in the ice. I reassured her that I would be happy to retrieve her mail anytime. I asked Judy how long she had been lying there. Sounding a little confused, she said, “I’m not sure, maybe fifteen minutes.” Wow – I was so glad that I saw Judy when I did. By this time, the ambulance arrived and the EMS personnel got her out of my car and into her house.
When I got back to my house, I hardly had time to share the story with Jim before the phone rang. It way my next-door neighbor who had watched the entire drama unfold. To my surprise, she told me that Judy was a widow who had just finished chemotherapy and radiation for breast cancer. Her frail health only contributed to the danger she faced from falling and lying in the cold for a period of time. My neighbor also informed me that Judy’s son lived a block away and picked up the mail for his mother regularly.
Falling and the Elderly
For people 65 years old and older falls are the number one cause of death from an injury, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). In 2013 alone, more than 25,500 seniors died from injuries sustained in a fall. And, while the death rates of ailments such as cancer and heart disease have declined over time, death rates from falls have increased, particularly among the elderly—with 55% of fall deaths in 2013 happening to people who were at least 65 years old. (https://www.agingcare.com/articles/falls-prove-fatal-for-elderly-patient-149687.htm)
Adding ice to the equation described above only increases the potential for injury and death for people over 65. Since I am “only” 62 years old, this experience with Judy reminded me of how I want to be of service to those who are facing difficulties due to poor weather, health or other difficulties. It is an opportunity to be mindful of the needs of others and give back to the community. Following are some tips for watching out for ourselves, our older relatives, friends and neighbors.
- Keep shoes by the door. Often people will take off their wet boots when they get home and walk around the house in stockings, which often leads to slipping.
- Keep driveways and walkways clear of snow. Many schools offer programs where student volunteers can help shovel and salt. The Snow Crew is one local organization that provides such volunteers.
- Keep extra food on hand in the freezer as well as bottled or canned fruit juices and non-fat milk powder.
- Dress smart for cold weather. Layered, loose-fitting clothing and water-proof gloves or mittens are best. Wearing a hat protects against heat loss, as close to half of body heat is lost through the head.
- Establish a plan for winter emergencies. If power is lost, know where to go and what you will need. Have an emergency bag packed with a change of clothing and all medical and care necessities. Go to redcross.org to find shelters open in your area.(http://www.bostonmagazine.com/health/blog/2014/01/02/help-elderly-winter/)
Many of you have told me you enjoy the poems I select for the end of my posts. Here’s another one that I like.
The Snow Man
by Wallace Stevens
One must have a mind of winter
To regard the frost and the boughs
Of the pine-trees crusted with snow;
And have been cold a long time
To behold the junipers shagged with ice,
The spruces rough in the distant glitter
Of the January sun; and not to think
Of any misery in the sound of the wind,
In the sound of a few leaves,
Which is the sound of the land
Full of the same wind
That is blowing in the same bare place
For the listener, who listens in the snow,
And, nothing himself, beholds
Nothing that is not there and the nothing that is