Margaret always said yes. She was kind and thoughtful, she knew every single person in our small town, and she made the best chocolate chip cookies anyone ever tasted. She was my grandmother, and she spoiled me like a grandmother should.
Family holidays and events were spent in her living room, where our large extended family would gather around her chair to share experiences and stories. And she would sit - skirt gathered, knees prim - and bask in the pleasures of family.
Over the years, however, I noticed one thing: Grandma Margaret rarely moved from her chair. We would fetch whatever she needed - things from the kitchen, or knitting supplies from her downstairs sewing room. As the years bore on, in fact, she moved less and less.
By the time she was 80, walking had become very difficult for her. Everything hurt, she said. Her knees hurt, her ankles hurt, her hips hurt. And we had unwittingly contributed to her disability by catering to her needs with such regularity.
“Use it or lose it.” Turns out, this simple axiom is right on.
Today, I work in a busy orthopedic practice, and older patients make up a large part of my practice. We replace their hips and knees, we fix their fractured bones, and we try to return them to as many activities as possible. Because it’s that active lifestyle - the activities themselves, as well as the level of interest behind them - that keeps the older population engaged and contributing. And they have a lot to offer.
Today’s mature population has great expectations. Retirement for them is a beginning, not an end. They look forward to spending their later years pursuing the activities that interest them, and they look to us to help them do so. Mine is a rewarding field, to say the least.
My favorite patients are the ones who remind me of my Grandma Margaret. They want to enjoy the years ahead of them, but something - maybe a hip, or a knee - is holding them back. They want to get up and go into the kitchen themselves, but it hurts to do so. And I get to be the one to tell them: “We can fix that.”
And after we fix their fractures or replace their hips, they come back with questions about which activities they can go back to again. Can I walk? Can I golf? Can I work in the garden?
And I always say yes.
John F. Parker MD is an orthopedic surgeon with Syracuse Orthopedic Specialists. A native of Lowville, he is slowly adjusting to the tropical climate of Central New York.