March – spring, but not yet for me

The reader who follows this online journal will recall that I have been immobilised by a double ankle fracture. My world has perforce shrunk: no idyllic walks, no amusing anecdotes from village life…my scope now extends no further than the four walls of the house, and – cautiously – to the end of the garden.

Photo: Olivia Martin

So this month I assume the mantel of pedagogy. A lesson follows. Some readers will know that the last decade of my professional life saw a complete change of career (I am not sure my succession of jobs and positions could be called a “career” – though it’s been fun). At 56 I retrained as a fitness instructor, progressing from a basic qualification to a first qualification in “Exercise Referral”, enabling me to take patients referred by GPs. And then came highly specialised training and qualifications – cardiac rehabilitation, mental health, obesity and diabetes.

As well as instructing individual patients, I took groups,  the doctors being most willing to prescribe exercise for the intractable cases. I wish I could say that lifestyle change (the object of referral, other than getting the patient out of the consulting room) always ensued. The benefits ceased all too quickly when the course of exercise finished, but some persisted.  The main reason for referral was obesity and its many co-morbid complications. My aim with the Over 60s group was to keep them independent and active as long as possible. As we age we lose lean muscle mass rapidly; our balance deteriorates; proprioception (the awareness of where our bodies are in relation to what is around us, and of where parts of our body are in relation to the whole) diminishes. This is why elderly people are more prone to falls.

I drilled my poor over-60s (many were over 70s and 80s, and I had two nonagenarians) like a sergeant-major.

We did weights; we did aerobic work; and we did balance exercises. Reader, break off now for a moment and see how long you can stand on one leg. Try going up and down onto tiptoe on one leg. Then the other. Now close your eyes and try. We used wobble boards and steps as well – all geared to fitness for autonomous living.

And how grateful I am that, however boring and wearisome these exercises are, and however unwillingly, I have kept them up. Before I was allowed to put my foot to the ground with gentle weight-bearing I had to do everything on one leg (the side with my dodgy knee)  and I don’t know how I’d have managed had I not been in practice.

Here ends the lesson.

Other lessons, for me this time.  My lower leg is still in plaster and I am still on crutches, so I cannot carry things. This I do with the aid of a “Rollator”. How are the mighty fallen! One moment you’re triumphantly marching into Rome after 2000km on foot, and the next hobbling round with a walking aid like a geriatric. Patience (the word that people love to say to me at the moment); forbearance; and above all – gratitude.

Gratitude first of all to both daughters who have given up time, work, family to come and care for their mother, but it is a decade or so too early for one’s children to become one’s parents. They proved themselves to be tender and thoughtful carers, cooked delicious and nutritious meals, and walked the dog for hours through more blizzards and gales. Gratitude to friends who shop, visit, and transport, and also walk the dog through snow; and to kind Providence and the answer to prayers that have found me reliable and intelligent gardeners; a wonderful dog walker who can cope with the ebullience of the young dog; and a cleaner who doesn’t appear to mind the inevitable mud and dog hair.

And that is March. Will the view have extended beyond the confines of house and garden by April? Spring and hope spur me on.

Photo: Olivia Martin