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Takes a town to help you get old

Updated: Jul 1




David Sherman

 

It takes a village to raise a child, but it takes a small town to foster old farts with aches and pains that match the number of years they’ve reclined in front of hockey games.

People who decades ago were but lust in their parents’ eyes, have become one of a growing number of legs holding up the rickety stool that is the life of fogies with medicine closets larger than their clothes closet.

We have a shelf relegated to bottles of Advil, Tylenol, Aspirin and over-the-counter painkiller creams – odourless and non-odourless, anti-inflammatories, real painkillers and “counter irritants,” the medical equivalent of banging your head against the wall so you won’t feel your arthritic knees. They heat up the skin so you can forget the burning cartilage you wore out riding your bike for 50 years. Or playing squash. Or swimming. Or lifting rebellious weights.


Take Alexandre. Well, don’t, cause I need him. Alexandre is a pharmacist. Bilingual, in his 40s, with an annoying habit of calling me Mr. Sherman.

He says it’s how he was raised, meaning respect your elders, which I infer means me. So, I call him M. Sirois. But, Alexandre stops what he’s doing and will lead me through the rows of creams, unguents and pills and plucks what he says is best for shingles, allergies, indigestion, colds or whatever has invaded.

He takes the time to talk me through the pros and cons of meds.


I have an affair of mutual respect with Fadi Eid, a physio/osteopath. He’s close to 60, and takes my pain as a personal failure. When I told him, “After the last time I saw you I didn’t have a headache for two weeks,” his reply, in professional jargon, was, “Shit. Really?” He was happier than I was.

Fadi came from Lebanon. Lived in refugee camps. Trekked miles to get there. Now has three kids in university and owns a building from where he practices and rents offices to doctors and has a successful practice.

He’s also honest. First time I saw him, I said, “I have degenerative disc disease,” which is osteoarthritis with a fancy name.

“I can’t help you,” he said. “There is no tissue for me to work with. You don’t have to pay for the visit. I’m sorry.”


But, I’d been seeing physios for decades. They made by back feel better. For a day, maybe two. I’d see them every two weeks so I was making their car payments. But, long term, my back is, in layman’s parlance, screwed up.

But, I have no shortage of aching parts Fadi can torture. For chronic headaches, he tries to tear my head off my neck. For bursitis, he works at separating my hip from my pelvis. For a wrenched back, he takes me in his arms like an infant and twists me into a pretzel. Other joints he tries to electrocute with ultrasound.

He is mostly taciturn. But, somehow, we’ve become friends and the final part of the visit involves me lying on my belly under a pile of moist hot blankets and him talking softly, allowing me to relax after he has run me over.

Sometimes we talk cooking. He’s brought me his Lebanese spices for kafta. I brought him a CD of my songs and he whispered he was listening to it every night on the drive home. Then he slips away to the next victim as my head reattaches to my neck, and tells me to email him if I have problems.


There’s Marc, the handyman, whom I wrote about in this space. He fixes or rebuilds anything but automobiles -- staircases, patios, bathrooms, entire houses. Not great on repairing necks or knees but wood, stone, tile or mortar look out.

His older son and partner, Sonam and Marilou, look after gardening, landscaping, trees, do heavy lifting, snow removal -- the stuff our bodies say, "Are you kidding me?"


And, there’s Patrick and his garage. Almost before I can explain what’s wrong with the 14-year-old Subaru, he sticks his hands out for the keys, drives away and rolls back five minutes later with the diagnosis. His most relevant but tardy advice was, “don’t buy an old Subaru.” The latest was, “Stop putting money into it,” but fixing it is a hell of a lot cheaper than buying a new car with more microchips than the space shuttle. We’re not making his car payments. We’re paying his mortgage.

But, Patrick, having been gifted with a six-pack from time to time, won’t let me make an appointment to replace whatever doohickey surrendered this month. He just says, “Bring it in, we’ll squeeze it in.” He seems to have taken my poor choice of aged vehicle as a challenge to his talents. Or has sympathy for my stupidity. He overlooks adding items to the bill from time to time and says, “Forget about it.”


And, we can’t forget Joey, a friend’s son-in-law. Joey specializes in IT. He hates Macs and is always happy to tell you why but he’s acquired an extraordinary amount of knowledge on an extraordinary number of subjects.

Joey can pull apart your woodwork to hide wiring. He can assemble an ergonomic table bought online with instructions only an Orangutan could understand in three minutes. In fact, we have yet to find anything Joey can’t fix and resent us for trying to pay him.


Then, of course, there are the doctors. Finding the only good thing about the free medical clinics here was the price, friends recommended a pay clinic. Fifty dollars a year. And, strange but true, when we have an appointment for 2:30, we see the doctor at 2:30, though once I waited 10 minutes. And sometimes I’ve been seen for 45 minutes and charged for 30.

The doctor examined my various scans and tests, urged me to keep going to the gym and osteopath and singing and playing guitar – for some reason it transfers my headaches to Reisa – and gave me low doses of painkiller and anti-spasmodics.


A bad year of several visits cost me $1,200 but it beat the moron free doctors, one of whom insisted CBD oil would kill all my pains and another who said I just had to suffer. If she prescribed drugs, she said, I could sell them on the street.

So, we pay for a doctor who likes to be called Valerie, but the pain is now managed with a combination of the gym, meds and Fadi and Joey and Marc's family doing the physical stuff we can’t do.

And Peter. He’s getting close to 80 but still loves to schlep stuff from his curiosity shop in and out of our place, reorganizing our basement, finding work for people who need odd jobs. He’s slowing down, often in pain, but remains the Energizer Bunny in white hair.

Peter has been on a mission to save mankind for at least the 50 years I’ve known him and will give you the shirt off his back. Though you probably wouldn’t want it. He’s not big on fashion.

I still shovel. Slowly. Takes most of winter to clean up the first snowfall in October. And, I cook and shop, vacuum, load our old dishwasher and can smoke myself and a chicken on the barbecue. The vacuum is not my best friend but we see each other now and then.

But the part of our domesticity relies on an army of people we have come to know, people whose names make the rounds of the town’s slow-walkers. Our minor contribution is to cook and share our food to help here and there.

It's a privileged existence but it’s that or sell the house and put our name on a list for a seniors’ compressed residence tucked into a long, dark corridor.

That day will probably come but with a town of people watching our back, and elevator chairs that can pull you up staircases, we may delay or skip the inevitable “downsize” – politically correct way to say “get rid of all your shit” because no one wants to do it for you.

And that means enjoying the younger, ambitious souls that come when free, will ask only for water or an iced coffee, and remind us there are good people everywhere.

 

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