Protecting us from ourselves
By Chit Roces-Santos
Philippine Daily Inquirer
October 18, 2020 at 4:50 am

“Vergel!” I scream at the top of my lungs. I know just the right pitch to rouse him to my rescue, the unmistakable vocal tone suggesting blood and broken body from a bad slip.

In a flash, he’s there to save me from my worst fear—a crawler out of the bathroom. I stay as far off as possible in that small space until the deed is done. Vergel is relieved it’s not what he feared. He is, of course, no stranger to my inordinate fear of roaches. Still, I shouldn’t do this to him too often, lest I suffer the same fate as the boy who cried wolf. Anyway, I’m confident that with me, he will not take any chances.

That same morning, Vergel has an early appointment with his dentist in Ortigas, and the poor fellow gets a worrisome text from the credit card company. It’s only 8 a.m.

“Thank you for using your credit card in the amount of P2,052 (plus some centavos).” It was quickly followed by another text, “Thank you for using your credit card … P20,052 (plus, again, some centavos, equal to the first amount).”

What stores could be open at this time? Besides, he has been home with his credit card in pandemic detention all this time. Oh, but he’s cool, beyond shock now, after the ipis episode. He goes to the phone, and after a couple of tries gets a human voice and sorts things out—charges invalidated, card blocked, replacement coming.

Anyway, there’s no danger so threatening to us seniors as ourselves, such as we have become. With every good reason, we should be cautious in the bathroom, where most serious falls occur—and, whatever you say, cockroaches can cause them. One slip and we could easily break something and never be the same again. As a precaution—lung power is trustworthy only in certain situations—I’ve had bathroom grab bars installed.

We have been warned, however, these may not be enough; not the grab bars’ fault, really, but that of our fingers, weakened as they are and bound to slip.

From friends, I’ve learned other ways to feel safer in the bathroom.

Malu: “I have a battery-operated bell with me and a maid hovering outside my unlocked bathroom.”

Susan: “I have portable door bells all over our bedroom and inside our bathroom.”

Dada: “While showering, I keep my cellphone within reach.”

Others suggest “a stool inside the shower, in case we suddenly feel dizzy.”

Susie: “Don’t save money anymore. Replace those old bath rugs with new ones—easy to slip on an old one, with thinned rubber underside, weakened traction.”

Dangerous flip-flops

Cielo, a friend in the States, calls our attention to another danger, wearing flip-flops on the stairs, citing the case of a high school classmate. Going down her own familiar stairs, she tripped, breaking just about everything from wrists to ribs to facial bones to vertebrae. She suggests we limit flip-flop use to the beach. Doctors themselves suggest we walk barefoot around the house.

Speaking from experience, Susie shares: “It will take us more time to heal at our age. I took a year and a half with therapy. We need to be very conscious of everything we do.”

Taking stairs does seem to require a much greater effort now, and climbing up seems relatively easier. An orthopedist explains that we use more muscles climbing down. Lucky for me our condo home has only one level, although going up and down, I’m told, is great exercise. In fact, I have another friend who climbs all of 17 floors to her unit for her daily exercise, and looks and acts younger than her 80 years.

There is, of course, only so much we can do to protect ourselves, having to go through the simple, if now no longer so safe as before, daily act of showering or walking or climbing up and down. It’s really not the activity, not even the flip-flops; it’s us. We’re nowhere close to what we once were, with our failing eyesight, weakened muscles, slowed reflexes, and poor balance. Why do you think we are now referred to as the elderly? We’re past being titas and titos, we’re now lolas and lolos.

The past does a lot of us good to revisit. That’s why I love looking at old pictures. I get some consolation seeing how the likes of Elizabeth Taylor, Sophia Loren and Brigitte Bardot, like ordinary mortals, have grown old, too, leaving scarce shadows of their old glorious selves. Did I hope to do any better?

For now, while we still can, let’s hold on to the best of ourselves—our rich, powerful, wise, and ageless minds, with which things can still be made better, and operating on that level is safe; we can’t possibly hurt ourselves there. It’s where attitude and philosophy come from. It’s where humor and love reside.

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