I’m a polio survivor in her early seventies and have had seven decades to accumulate knowledge about how to take care of a body that may pose problems—which could be anyone’s body, not just that of a person with a disability. I have a fully paralyzed foot, a partially paralyzed leg, which is two inches shorter, smaller and much weaker than my stronger leg. I have resultant canal stenosis (narrowing of the spinal canal and disc pinching) from my limp, and arthritis in a few places. I’m also a breast cancer survivor (seventeen years cancer free!).
I’ve travelled all over the world, used to dance for fun, I still garden, and have done probably more than I should have in this life, and now in my—what are these? Golden years? Ha!—I’m learning to take things a little easier but still not just sit around and get fat. Well, a little fat, okay. I do not consider myself heroic and hate being called a hero. I am simply dealing with whatever I have to—just like you.
My second book, No Spring Chicken: Stories and Advice from a Wild Handicapper on Aging and Disability was recently published. It’s full of travel tips, life hacks, care tips, suggestions for family on how to adapt to someone whose body is changing, and is definitely not just for “crips.” It’s for anyone who’s beginning to have any kind of mobility issue, and for the people who love us.
Here's an excerpt:
Okay, so here they are—my practical, and not magic, fixes:
Genes matter, and you can’t do anything about those. But you have control over all of the above. I know it’s probably all stuff you know already, but here it is, all in one place!”
I do floor yoga every morning. I know that some people cannot get up and down from the floor, so chair yoga or other stretching works (or see one of Amanda’s books!). I have made it a point to have a “standup” routine, since I am more at risk of falling. I do stretches for twenty to forty minutes and have far less pain and stiffness than when I skip my yoga.
I also do a pool therapy workout for about a half hour to ninety minutes, three to five times a week, all year long. This gives me a light aerobic workout plus more stretching, and includes walking (the water helps hold you up; for me, it’s actually easier than walking on land; my weaker leg doesn’t do much in the support department), leg and arm stretches, kicks suspended on a noodle in the deep end, swimming laps, and more. If I don’t do both of these routines regularly I start to have back pain, and I can manage this with the right combo of regular stretching and swimming.
Given I can’t go for walks, I use a folding, lightweight mobility scooter both to tool around the neighborhood, go to places out of my ability range with friends, and also to travel. It’s a great little trike for airports, city sidewalks, and flat pathways through parks. So I don’t miss out on much.
I do need to keep a balance between eating and resting. I need to lie down in the afternoon for a bit several times a week, and am not supposed to fatigue myself (a big issue with older polio survivors), so because I do less standing and walking than others, I try to watch my diet. Simple carbs tend to be my downfall, especially chips or popcorn. But I step on a scale regularly and try not to let my body mass index get high. I don’t want late-life heart disease or diabetes!
When you start to get aches and pains, or find that you fatigue more than you did when you were younger, I encourage you to look out the window, keep moving, and imagining your best future. If you lose a beloved activity, find another one that is easier. Say yes to invitations, just ask those who love you to adjust to your new normal.
“I may be no spring chicken, but I ain’t ready for the soup!” as my friend Annie said in a song she wrote.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Born in Los Angeles and having lived nearly all of her life in northern California, Francine Falk-Allen had polio in 1951 at age 3, was hospitalized for 6 months, and lived most of her life as a handicapped person trying to be a “normie.”
Despite her partially-paralyzed leg and severe limp, Francine has traveled the world. She also appeared in the Nobel Prize/PBS documentary, “The War Against Microbes,” as the only representative of a disease now eradicated by a vaccine.
Her first book Not a Poster Child: Living Well with a Disability—A Memoir, won gold and silver awards and was on several best books lists in 2018 and 2019. Her newest book, No Spring Chicken: Stories and Advice from a Wild Handicapper on Aging and Disability, has also received the Kirkus star, given to only 10% of the books reviewed in Kirkus Reviews.
Francine resides in Marin County with her husband, and spends a significant amount of time managing the effects of post-polio. She also facilitates a polio survivors’ group, as well as a writing group, Just Write Marin County and sits on the City of San Rafael ADA Accessibility Committee. She loves the outdoors, swimming, gardening, British tea, and a little champagne now and then.
Visit Francine's website for more information on ordering books.
Amanda Sterczyk is a Certified Personal Trainer (ACSM), an Exercise is Medicine Canada (EIMC) Fitness Professional, and a Certified Essentrics® Instructor. She offers in-home personal training in central Ottawa. Amanda specializes in helping older adults maintain and increase strength, flexibility, and mobility. No fitness goal is too small, in her opinion.