This was the fourth week of our “balance” classes. With a topic like “falls and fractures,” I assumed there should be some “breaking news,” or at least some reports on “down time.” I was poised, with pen and tablet, to hear about some outstanding falls and fractures. Alas, and amen, the contents of the “lectures” were fairly every day and unexciting—taking the right steps, weak bones, and making our home safe. But that was OK because, like riding in an airplane, it is better to be bored than excited. We were glad that hardly anyone (who would admit it) had fallen during the week.

We started out on the right foot—then the left, as we did our routine of exercises: the good morning stretch, the shoulder rolls, the foot circles, arm presses, knee bends, and so on, all while taking deep breaths in and exhaling, like letting air out of a balloon.

This week, in addition to our normal instructors, Fred and Sue, we had Liz sitting on the sidelines and observing. It turned out that she was there to grade us on “quality control.” I asked her how we had done and she asked me how I thought we had done. We both gave the sessions a “thumbs up,” which is all you can do unless you do a “thumbs down,” which is frowned upon. There is no “pinky up” or other way to show something like “It was OK, but not great.” Kay sat next to me and had poked my leg when I got out of step on the four step box exercise, so I wasn’t going to fool with her.

We started out talking about blood pressure so, fortunately, everyone had numbers to report. Most were high and got higher or lower if the person got up suddenly. If it was too low, dizziness followed and for Fred that would be very bad because his bed is right by the window and if he got up suddenly, he might “jump up and fly right out of the window,” certainly not good for quality control.

It turns out that changing position suddenly, having leg weakness or poor flexibility are all contributing factors to dizziness, so we were encouraged to change position slowly, do leg exercises and have good flexibility. We needed to develop a “strong core,” the thigh muscles particularly, those that form the core, so that we could get up and down out of a chair without needing a hoist. Kitty had learned to get out of a chair without holding on and it had made a wonderful difference in her life. Roseana was not so sure: she couldn’t walk anywhere without holding on to something or somebody and getting out of chairs without help was not going to work. She wanted all of us to know.

Flexibility was a good conversation issue and Fred asked if anyone had seen those newfangled garden hoses that are flexible and roll themselves up. “You have to be careful or you can get your feet tied up in them.” Flexibility, balance, good blood pressure and the right kind of garden hoses can all help keep you out of danger.

The discussion on getting out of a chair went on for about 10 minutes with suggestions like getting a bone density test, supplements, and asking your pharmacist, kids or neighbors for help. Most everyone didn’t want to bother anyone, especially for getting out of a chair, but we were told to be “assertive” but not “aggressive.” “Well,” one dialect deficient woman said, “you might could talk to them [the doctors] about it,” so they would know how you might could feel.

It was now time for our ten minute break, so that we could slowly walk to the toilet or breathe deeply as we went to “hydrate” ourselves with some available water. Some of the women (I was the only man in the class, although one man was there to help Roseana) got to talking about their doctors and how they wouldn’t tell them anything. Liz reminded us that there could be no referrals during class but we could talk about the doctors during the break. Freda had some strong things to say about her doctor and there was agreement that doctors didn’t give them much time.

There are a lot of things we can do to make our home safe—in PNG that would be bars on the windows, clubs in the closet and big dogs in the back yard. In Waco it is hand rails, no steps, fixed carpets and rugs, don’t wash the floors and walk on them for various periods of time—depending on who was giving advice—not standing on chairs or tables and keeping electric cords and computer wires away from your feet. You should also keep a telephone near your bed—right next to the night light and non-skid mat. Leave nothing to chance.

I thought of my two grandson’s bedrooms and shuddered in terror. There are books, papers, clothes, shoes, airplanes and even a drone to trip them up at any time of the day or night. And yet they have learned to maneuver through the debris and decay without so much as a scratch on them. It made me wonder: do we need to be as careful as our instructors tell us? Why not scatter objects of potential harm throughout the house and learn how to safely walk through them, even if a domestic minefield? We would become much more observant, noting the shoe here, the towel there, the coat hanger on the floor, the soap ready to slide on to the carpet—all the potential, or even imaginary, objects of impending ferocity and damage. If we could walk through their bedrooms twice a week it would prepare us for any conceivable falls and fractures.

But I’m not sure their mom would be happy to let us do that—somehow she believes that stairways, hallways and pathways should be clear of all articles. She may be old fashioned and would benefit from a balance class.

May 24, 2017