Is a boat ride a workout? When you are a 94-year-old man who walks with assistance of a rolling walker in your assisted living home, it definitely is!
My father in-law Tad has always had an upbeat attitude toward life and gets much joy from being with other people and family. He remains independent in all aspects of his personal care, walking daily to meals and to see his wife in another part of the facility where he lives. His good attitude, perseverance and rolling walker get him to where he needs to be every day.
A few weeks ago, Tad’s son asked him if he would like to go for a boat ride from the family camp on a New Hampshire Lake. He had not visited the lake in a couple of years and was excited to do so. Reaching the boat would involve descending along a rocky dirt path with elevated tree roots to get to the camp, then negotiating 41 stairs of various heights and composition (wood and rocks) down to the dock. (And that doesn’t include getting back up to the car!)
Tad has faced many challenges in life: combat duty in Iwo Jima during WWII, losing his right leg to cancer in his 30s, losing two wives to cancer, and raising four wonderful children and three adult step-children. He was ready for the challenge. He derives great joy from family, and this opportunity would be no exception. The family gathered for the event, including his son, stepdaughter, two grandsons, granddaughter-in-law and great granddaughter, Corinna.
Down to the Boat
Tad negotiated the rocky, rooted path to the camp using his two wheeled rolling walker, a gait belt, and assistance as needed to control the speed and security of the walker. A lot of exertion and careful foot placement allowed for his safe passage to the camp itself, where he enjoyed a brief sitting break, preparing for the more arduous journey down the stairs to the dock.
On the uneven steps to the lake, Tad needed to switch to using a cane because using a walker was just not feasible. Fortunately, he could steady himself on a metal railing for most of the way. Four of us provided support for balance and careful foot placement on the stairs. This was very hard work for him. About halfway down, Tad shouted, “I see the water!” and he put renewed energy into the remaining descent until we heard “I see the boat!” and we at last reached the dock. Once on the dock, we were able to again use the walker to reach the boat, though climbing into it required assistance. At last, Tad was able to sit and relax and enjoy a picnic lunch as we toured the lake.
And Back Up to the Car
Of course, at the end of the boat ride, we had to reverse direction and climb back up to the camp. Once again, four assistants helped, along with the railing, to ascend one step at a time. Care was needed to be sure his prosthetic foot was in place on each stair. Although not usually how a physical therapist would teach stair climbing, stepping up first with his prosthetic limb first seamed to work best for him. Halfway, we rested for a bit before continuing to the camp deck for another rest. Tad eventually made the final climb (what mountain is this?) to the car using the rolling walker, again with assistance.
Although he was glad to reach and be seated in the car, it was clearly a wonderful challenge and achievement. We all enjoyed the outing very much and were amazed by his persistence and effort.
~ Jeffrey Clough, PT