We just came back from a family trip to Israel, where we spent a night and a day at the Dead Sea. If you’ve never been, the main attraction is the desert setting and water with salt content so high that you float like a cork. When laying on your back it’s quite relaxing, sort of like an especially soft waterbed except with the sun shining on your face. Actually, more like blazing on your face; the high temperature for our visit topped at 106 degrees.
This was Nova’s and my third visit. I won’t say we went reluctantly. But, having been there a couple of times, I remembered it as an old person’s destination. To be more specific, old people who tend to be Russian, overweight, wear banana hammock bathing suits, have hair growing from seemingly unusual places in their bodies, and move very, very slowly. Generally a scene I try to avoid if possible.
And generally I didn’t get the idea of a spa vacation before. Now I do.
First, I think of my father gradually slowing down. In particular, it’s harder for him to get vertical and get around. He’s not getting heavier but it must feel that way. For him, floating in the Dead Sea would be a miracle if I could somehow get him there. I’m sure he would love being weightless just one more time, able to leave gravity behind and just float after years of slow deterioration of his physical abilities. This can’t happen of course; the 11 hour flight home nearly destroyed me (although I did consume 4 movies), whereas I don’t think I could even get him to the airport. Now that I spend so much more time with him, I get the attraction of a place that is warm, slow, and rejuvenating.
The other factor is my shoulder. It’s doing better after I broke my humerus 2 months ago; I can even lift my arm over my head now. It’s the little things. Anyway, I can imagine dipping into a magic elixir that makes the soreness disappear even for just a couple of hours. That’s the Dead Sea for a lot of people. It’s probably psychological as much as physical. I get that too.
As a Sandwich Generation father, I was fortunate enough to be there with my kids. They didn’t remember the water’s sensation from their last visit so this was like the first time for them. They loved it. They floated on their backs, on their fronts, found ways to swim around, and managed not to splash salt water in their eyes. Last time they were not so lucky, and trust me, I don’t recommend it.
They also noticed the old men with strange hair reading their newspapers while floating in the Dead Sea. For them they were something of a curiosity, as they had been for me. For me now, they remind me of someone I know very well, and someone I realize I will someday become.
About two months ago, I broke my arm. Not coincidentally, this corresponded with my not posting an entry for about… two months. More on this later.
It was a skiing accident where, in trying to avoid colliding with zig-zagging kids crossing a mid-slope traverse at Sunday River in Maine, I zipped up a hill they’d made by piling up some of the fresh man-made snow. I landed the first jump, telling myself what a hero I was. By the time the word “hero” had entered my brain however, I had started up the second and taller hill and realized that I wouldn’t be landing the second one. I didn’t. Instead I fell and broke my humerus.
I contemplated an entry about recovering from injury at 46 compared to doing so at 26. There’s not a lot of suspense in that though — it’s also not particularly relevant to the Sandwich Generation. What is more relevant is disability.
In particular, because of this injury I suddenly had a great deal of difficulty completing some of the most basic tasks of life. The accident happened on a Friday afternoon, and when I pulled off my sling and tried to peel off my ski clothes on Sunday morning, it quickly became 5 of the most difficult minutes of my life. Putting on a shirt was nearly impossible. Showering when it hurts to move your arm even an inch is a trying experience. Toweling off is worse.
Eating was a challenge as well. Without a functioning left arm hand, I couldn’t cut food. Or really use a knife as a counterbalance to a fork. My most prized kitchen possession is a large Pasquini espresso maker, which I now know requires 2 hands to operate. So do most corkscrews. And bottle openers.
I mention all of this on a blog about being a Sandwich Generation father because it gave me a small taste of my father’s daily struggles with pant zippers, scissors, unopened jars, shirt buttons, slipping on shoes, getting into cars, and the million or so items of basic everyday living that challenge him. I used to get angry when he failed to change his shirt after spilling soup on it. Now I understand better why he doesn’t bother – it’s a lot of work. More than that, it’s frustrating. You struggle to reach the buttons and remember that it used to be an afterthought to slip them into the buttonholes. You have trouble simply crossing the room and flicker back for a moment to playing tennis on the street in front of your house with your sons.
I visited him one evening a few weeks ago to help with a television emergency. Yes, there is such a thing. He was in bed when I arrived and while I spent about 15 minutes diagnosing and fixing the issue, he was barely able to get out of bed, slip on his robe, put his dentures back in, and wander outside to the living room. I realize now how much time and energy he’s invested before I come on the weekends to shower, dress and shave.
There’s more than one reason that I haven’t written for a while, but with my left arm in a sling, I found it difficult to type. This also made it difficult to work since a large part of my living depends on how effectively I can tap at a keyboard. Truth be told, I did not adapt quickly. Adapting also takes a lot of energy and because of the pain, I was tired a lot. The pain was constant, but almost more important: it was draining. I suspect that my energy level was more like someone who is 86, not 46. Of course, my father hasn’t been 86 for some years now, so even with this experience, I can only imagine what that must feel like.
On the bright side, my children – the other side of the sandwich, if you will – took responsibility and helped tremendously, especially with dishes. And, in a moment of which I am particularly and perversely proud, they also helped with a bottle opener. Perhaps no beer has ever tasted as delicious as that one. Another small victory for a Sandwich Generation dad with a broken arm and a long recovery ahead of him.