Column: One thing at a time, including me in my house


For the Valley News

Published: 03-15-2023 10:24 AM

The switch from nursing home to personal home went off without a hitch. The multiple family members here to help effect it then left one by one, till I’m down to: Kiki; Herschel, my four-wheel, silk-smooth walker; and Hagar, the hybrid SUV parked 2 feet from the foot of the back-porch ramp. There are enough leftovers in the fridge to last me at least another week, and enough thank-you notes to write to last even longer. It’s the first time I’ve been alone in a couple of months. In the nursing home I felt very much alone at times, but the fact is that I never really was. This is kind of peaceful — soothing, even.

The cast on my once-good right arm, which I hope is soon to come off, still inhibits many operations I’d grown accustomed to performing — most of all writing and typing, which are a large part of what I do. But the left arm is filling in admirably, and I can even tie my shoes if I have to. Still, for a hunt-and-peck typist, the impairment of the dominant finger is a major problem. I can’t help but remember Rahm Emanuel, the famously profane White House chief of staff who, as a high school senior, had lost a piece of his middle finger in a meat slicer. President Obama, in a tribute to Emanuel years later, remarked that this rendered him almost mute. My current emails and billets-doux are all much truncated.

Speaking of which, my billets-doux are all going this week to a city I’ve never heard of. My late-in-life sweetheart, Bea, is at a conference in Niamey (NEE-ah-MAY; I’ll bet you never heard of it till now, either), the capital of Niger (NEE-zjer). So I’ve been spending a bit of time this week with Professors Google and Wikipedia. She and her conferees have been bumped from the Radisson Blu Hotel to the Noom (lots of aluminum and glass, Formica tabletops and square corners) by the United States Secretary of State, Antony Blinken and his entourage. When I read that the temperature there (it’s located at a mere 13 degrees north) hovers around 100ºF, I wished her well and gazed fondly out my window at the soon-to-be-augmented snowbanks pushed up by the plow in my yard.

The days here at home plod peacefully by, punctuated by sessions of recommended exercise, letting Kiki in and out and news of Russian mercenary assaults and a California bank failure. But under it all, like the bass viol line in a Wagnerian opera, mutters the ominous theme: Do Not Fall!

How we giggled as youngsters when, throwing ourselves on the ground, we cried, “Help! I’ve fallen, and I can’t get up!” Now, as oldsters, we don’t giggle anymore; instead, we shout, “Hey, Siri! Call … !” and pray that we’re close enough to our phones to be heard.

This means, if we’ve taken seriously what misfortunes may await us, that we keep our cellphones as close to our persons as John Wayne kept his revolver and our walkers in a relationship as close as Chester’s to Marshal Dillon. This may be a temporary situation, as strength and balance return to relieve it, or may be our destiny. For the time being I have promised not to try to cross the often-icy yard to the garage. But I need now and then to take rubbish out to the bins there. Necessity being invention’s mother, I’ve parked Hagar right at the foot of the covered ramp at the back door. I very carefully carry the cargo down the ramp and load it into the passenger seat, climb in and drive across the yard to the garage. A touch of the button just above my head on the visor, and we’re in the garage beside the bins. Dump, and back to base.

Through it all, from the delightfully rapid healing of the cracked femur and pelvis, to the agonizingly slow healing of the broken elbow and painful obstinacy of the cast that’s trying at this very moment to type a subtext below this script, one cardinal rule has emerged: One thing at a time!

It’s the distractions that get us — the turnings aside, the additions to a load, the phone ringing while we’re draining the boiled potatoes, the patch of ice masquerading as earth. And it’s routines, rituals and rules that can make these fragile years safer. There’s so much still to look forward to — like a hotel near Albany with an indoor pool this weekend (Bea swims laps; I’ll float or hit the hot tub, unless the dreaded cast stays on) — that it would be foolish to let the constant caution and conditioning turn to fear and resignation. I’m even looking forward to hearing all about an ancient African city on the edge of the Sahara with a river running through it and a mosque with a high minaret and at least two large hotels and conference centers.

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Willem Lange can be reached at