The old man shuffled slowly down the public sidewalk near the rest home, ambulating past the little cops of trees by the side of the road, with some considerably focused amount of effort on his part, with his very necessary rollator helping him to walk the short distance he planned to walk, outside of the rest home, as he breathed through an oxygen cannula to his nose.
A rollator is a fancy walker, with four relatively larger wheels than a walker, with a sort of high seat in the middle, for resting. A rollator is generally used for greater ambulation than any sort of ordinary walker, and you always have a seat with you, to sit on, to take a break from your walking, if you ever need to rest along the way.
He kept the bottled oxygen cradled in the rollator.
A rollator could get you there faster than a two wheeled walker, and looked like a far more sophisticated machine than a walker ever is, although the two gadgets cost about the same amount of money, and function just about the same way, although the one with four wheels happens to be more mobile than the more simple arrangement, the two wheeled walker.
Neither one is anything like a wheelchair.
A wheelchair is another matter altogether.
There was even more complication to the man’s ambulation than simply having to hang on to a rollator, to keep himself from falling down anymore. He had been a smoker for 50 years, beginning in earnest in his youth, after toying with cigarettes from a very early age in his childhood. The complications to his health stem from smoking all sorts of things from very early on in life.
He’d been known to smoke reefer, hashish, rush, and PCP soaked parsley flakes, as well as dippers, which were standard cigarettes dipped in PCP. PCP is actually a horse tranquilizer, used to execute horses, but it is also a powerful hallucinogen. The man had always preferred the hallucinogenics, relying on them to keep him isolated from reality in his youth.
The poor guy had smoked all sorts of things, with the solitary exception of ever smoking crack cocaine, or should we say, he avoided free basing cocaine, as well as being the fall risk he had become, which both had a major detrimental effect on his walking, with increasing significance, the older the man became. At this time, the man was aging rapidly, as the result of his breathing disability.
He had done almost all of the hallucinogenics, until he was almost grown. But he never took heroin. One of his foster home buddies told him that all you had to do to get hooked on heroin was taste it once, so the man would never taste it. The worst things he took were things like LSD and mescaline, for the purpose of escaping the horrors of the reality of his childhood.
The system had gotten him involved in the Program of Sobriety while still in his teens, and he had succeeded in getting himself sober, as well as making the most of his education, while he learned to program computers. He was a natural with computers, and made a lot of money in his lifetime using COBAL.
All of the ongoing complications of needing to avoid having another fall, which necessitated some sort of regular, ongoing manual support, in regards to his very rare privilege of being able to walk under his own steam, from prior to his 60th birthday, he certainly could not go around play soldiers in the woods anymore, not that he particularly wanted to.
The woods had a certain allure for him, anyway.
Gazing wistfully toward those old trees and the unkempt undergrowth there around them, the old man can’t help but wonder what it was that he ever saw in such places as that. He couldn’t help himself from wondering what the whole big idea of going into the woods to play, as a child, had actually been for him. Then he remembered that the woods were always the safe haven for the boy that he used to be, that he’d frequently resorted to hiding in the woods, at any given moment in his rocky, unstable childhood, as a refuge, from his intoxicated, irrational parents.
The old man could remember his addicted, violent parents, who were seemingly unending in their abuse of the old man, as a small child. He remembered his abuses frequently, and could only stifle his urges to throw temper tantrums the way he used to do, when he had finally ended up a ward of the state. The thing that had accomplished that whole ball of wax, was that his parents got arrested and carted of to prison for drug trafficking, when the old man was still a little boy.
He was passed around to all the foster homes for the remaining years of his childhood, until he had finally succeeded in raising himself, and had spent his time with Voc Rehab, getting a degree and a job in computer programming. His occupation in life did a lot to help him develop his independent resources, and he conquered all of his own addictive habits, until he finally kicked the last of them. After 50 years of being addicted to nicotine, the man finally kicked cigarettes.
There, surrounded by the trees and the undergrowth, the boy could be free to imagine all sorts of elaborate fantasies, and he could smoke cigarettes as a juvenile, if he might have had any cigarettes on him to smoke on those rare occasions in childhood, with a sort of false sense of impunity from his domineering, manipulative parents, at any given moment in his turbulent childhood.
The smoking was a matter of rebellion against his elders, even as an adult, a good 50 years into adulthood. It took the death of all the elders in his family, for the man to finally triumph over his nicotine addiction in his own senior years. The time came, in the Rehab, where he’d gone to learn to walk again, when he finally realized he was cut down to about 5 cigarettes per day, when he was accustomed to smoking more like 50 cigarettes per day.
The damage was already done.
His chronic emphysema was cumulative, as it took over more and more of the old man’s lungs, until he was finally forced to carry a heavy bottle of oxygen 24/7, before the man was even 65 years old. His memories of childhood play, have grown dim in his many advancing years of living, as his brain gets less and less oxygen from his debilitated lungs, and his gait slows to a snails pace, as he courses wistfully past his little cops of trees, outside his rest home in his old age.
The fancies of his youth have left the old man bereft of his imagination at the moment, as he realizes easily enough, the necessity of walking with a rollator, his perpetual precaution against falling. A while back, the man had fallen very violently and broken his right hip, precluding any further driving of an automobile, without spending an awful lot of money to get the controls of a car altered to specifically adjust for his most recent physical disability, after his sudden, debilitating fall.
He wasn’t too alert anymore, either. The old man had become an invalid, living in a rest home with the other forgotten people of life. Once in awhile he could go for a walk outside on the sidewalk, to look on without passion or fancy, at those few old trees that there were, in that little bit of a woods, down the street from the rest home. His walks always took him to the same place.
It had been a major effort for him to quit smoking.
If it not been so difficult for him to supply his habit in Rehab, the man would have picked up a smoke a long time ago by now. But the way things went, he would have had to walk five miles each way, in a blizzard after dark, to replenish his supply of smokes for that final, particular moment. It had been quite awhile since he’d smoked at all. It was just not feasible for him to go get cigarettes.
He just had a case of the jumping heebie jeebies for a cigarette, one desolate evening at the Rehab, where he was relearning how to walk. Since he could hardly walk down the heated hallway, where he was learning how to walk again, he finally decided it was a fool’s errand for him to try to walk five miles in a blizzard to get a hold of a pack of cigarettes.
It was a profound revelation.
He’d been surgically given a titanium ball joint in his right hip, which was really quite sturdy, but it rendered him a perpetual fall risk. The idea was that his hip would work like any normal hip, within reason. The idea of losing his balance and falling down again, was clearly something for him to avoid altogether. The only thing he could do this late in the game, was to keep himself on his own two feet when he walked. The reason for all the precautions, was not that the titanium was brittle. The titanium was anything but brittle.
That was far from the point.
The one thing that made him a perpetual fall risk, was the idea that all the human things around the titanium ball joint inserted into his femur, could possibly break in such a way that no orthopedic surgeon, regardless of his skill in surgery, would ever be able to repair the damage caused by another fall, so that the man might never be able to walk again in his lifetime. Rehab drummed that message into the man’s subconsciousness mind.
It was a medical imperative that he avoid falling at all, ever again. It was his responsibility.
The old man gazed into those woods, and remembered playing soldiers in the woods up home, when he was little. He would simulate the noises of the imaginary battle with his own voice, and go cavorting around in the woods, flopping down on the ground anytime he liked. He’d been young and carefree then, or was supposed to be, with the few things he found to entertain himself, in an atmosphere around a house with a couple of junkies as parents, trying to raise him, while feeding their own addictions.
As a child, the boy had fended for himself with as much ingenuity as he could muster, like his parents did, who would manipulate everyone around them, to get everything they had, from their own cigarettes, to the food on their table. When the boy had become a man, by the sweat of his own brow, as the addicted son of a couple of addicts, the boy learned early about the value of money – and the value of a good education and a good job.
Now, the old man turns his rollator around, and slowly makes his way back to the rest home. His walk is almost over. He never did hear from his parents again after they’d been arrested for drug dealing. Social Services saw to that. He was shuffled through the system, and learned in the Program of Sobriety how to lick his addictions like the craving he had for the reefer and the alcohol. He learned how much of a key the alcohol had been for him.
Then, finally, he conquered the cigarettes.
He never had a wife or children, because he was too wary of others to trust anybody well enough to marry them. He got a job with computers when he was still a young adult. Now that he was old, with enough of his own resources to be able to afford to live alone in a rest home for his old age. He was slowly suffocating on his emphysema. No one ever came to visit him in his old age.
There had never really been anyone he let into his life all that much.