New Things

A report on  a project to replace household furnishings that are difficult, painful, or actually dangerous for me to use. With three recent advances:

— in my bedroom, a rolling utility cart serving as two laundry baskets (one for hot-water wash, one for cold-water wash; I do all the laundry myself)

— in my bathroom, a free-standing towel rack with a shelf for a bathroom wastebasket (and with poles for my towel and wash cloth and for a guest towel and wash cloth)

— in my bathroom, a scale designed for the feeble elderly (like me)

I found these objects on-line (details below, with pictures from the makers), and when they were delivered, I had my crack caregiver army (Erick Barros and Stephanie Gray, representing Bay Area Geriatric Care) to unpack them, assemble them, and dispose of the packing materials. And then (since I no longer have a way to take photographs — a separate sad story), Stephanie took photographs of the new things in their context, for me to show you.

Background note: I began this posting quite some time ago, initially as an attempt to find something interesting to post about while I was being calamitously afflicted medically (three days in a row where I woke up screaming in pain, the ball joint of my right foot aflame with pain, leaving it hard for me to walk at all — and more). Then things got worse on Saturday (May 6th), culminating in an astonishing cognitive deficit that made it impossible for me to post at all. Though I could still pour out my misery on Facebook.

With generous help from Erick Barros and Ned Deily, separately, I have been coaxed back to competence (and general well-being), in bits and pieces, until yesterday I was able to cautiously post some little things. Now I’m back to where I was long before, with the New Things postings, about the minutiae of daily life of a broken-down — but not dead yet — old man.

The rolling laundry cart. First, what was there before: two large plastic laundry baskets on the floor in front of my dresser in the bedroom.

It all started back in the late 1980s, when Jacques and I moved into this place in Palo Alto. Rather than let our dirty clothes just pile up on the floor until it was time to take them around the corner to the washer-dryer that we’d bought together, which lived in a little closet just off the kitchen, we got a plastic laundry basket, and then added a second when we started acquiring clothing that needed a cold-water wash. The baskets sat on the floor in front of what was then J’s dresser (and is now mine), right by the door to the bedroom, for a quick trip to the laundry closet.

We were then physically vigorous men in our 40s. Picking stuff up off the floor was thoughtlessly easy, as was getting down on our knees, lying on the floor and smoothly getting up, crossing our legs, all motions that are now difficult to impossible for me, painful (putting on socks is such a grueling exercise that I mostly just go without socks these days), and liable to cause me to fall (which I am absolutely supposed to avoid).

There was a time, long ago, when I could dance. I loved dancing. Now I can’t walk unsupported by my walker, and that’s often cruelly painful, thanks to my wonky back (two vertebrae fused in surgery back in the 1970s and, despite tons of physical therapy, never really healed right); my titanium hip implant from 2012 (which similarly, despite tons of physical therapy, never healed right); and flagrant osteoarthritis in most of the rest of my joints, especially knees, feet, and, hands.

While all that was happening, J descended into radiation-caused dementia, 12 years of agonizing slow decline in my care, with the release of death in 2003. I then came within an inch of dying myself from necrotizing fasciitis, but emerged from it with a further suite of terrible disabilities.

Meanwhile, the laundry baskets still sat on the floor in the bedroom. This was basically lunatic, since it was both painful and perilous for me to retrieve stuff from the baskets. But we are all — me too — capable of living with utterly unsatisfactory arrangements just because that’s the way things have always been. Some weeks ago it dawned on me that there must be a better way; I imagined what would be a more satisfactory arrangement and then found what I was looking for on-line.

The New Thing: The Amazon Basics 3-tier metal rolling utility or kitchen cart in white, 13.35″ x 17″ x 31″:


Day by day, I put the hot-water laundry in the top tray and the cold-water laundry in the middle tray. The cart can easily be rolled away from my dresser, so I can get at the drawers there. When the time comes, I can smoothly — no bending down to the floor — transfer stuff from the cart to the tray on my walker, and on to the laundry closet.

The cart in situ, in Stephanie Gray’s photo:


The towel rack. First, what was there before. Until a few years ago, the bathtub space was enclosed in sliding glass doors; Jacques and I installed a tension bar across the top of this space, and that served as a towel rack (for plenty of towels and wash cloths). The back of the bathroom door had two hooks (also installed by J and me) high up on it, for hanging bathrobes and other clothing.

That’s state 1. State 2 came about when I was in the rehab center recovering from alcohol poisoning. On the recommendation of occupational therapists, the glass doors were removed and carted away, as unsafe. They were replaced by a pole firmly anchored in the walls, from which a shower curtain — a delightful penguin print, as you will see in a photo below — now depended. All that remained for towels and wash cloths was one of the hooks on the back of the door, the other being needed for my bathrobe.

There was no place for guest towels, and the hook was uncomfortably high for me, painful for me to try to reach, and potentially threaten my balance. (I was 5′ 10″ when J and I put the hooks in, but by stage 2 I was only 5′ 7″, so the hook was a real stretch, especially to get at the wash cloth.)

Various schemes for mounting horizontal towel racks someplace were contemplated, but they had come to naught. So, I thought: can I find a free-standing towel rack that I could put in front of the toilet (where the bathroom wastebasket was), which I could then also use to steady myself getting onto and off of the toilet (standing up and sitting down are issues for me)?

A bewildering array of options presented themselves, but in fact Amazon’s recommended choice was just right for my purposes: the HOOBRO freestanding towel rack, a 2-tier holder for the bathroom, 16.5″ x 9.4″ x 31.5″, with shelf, in black:


(Photo in situ to come in a little while.)

The bathroom scales. First, what was there before. Pretty much the standard bathroom scales, not very big, several inches off the floor, with its upper portion rocking on a fixed base (so that you had to step up on the thing and then balance yourself on it — used to scare the crap out of me), and with a very small, hard-to-read dial. A thoroughly hateful object, but all that I had ever known in home bathroom scales.

So (slipping a mental cog) I thought, “Where can a fat old man, who is supposed to be dieting, not too much money, and wants to find a decent bathroom scale, you know, a decent big solid base and a nice great big bright dial, where can he go and buy it?” And answer came there none.

Well, Sir Arthur Greeb-Streebling — I know, nobody expects Sir Arthur — faced with a parallel conundrum, was obliged to build his own :

Sir Arthur Greeb-Streebling (played by Peter Cook): Yes, well, ah, the idea for the Frog and Peach came to me in the bath. A great number of things come to me in the bath, mainly sort of mosquitoes and adders, but in this case a rather stupendous idea. I suddenly thought, as I was scrubbing my back with a loofah, I thought, “Where can a young couple, who are having an evening out, not too much money, and they want to have a decent meal, you know, a decent frog and a nice bit of peach, where can they go and get it?” And answer came there none. And so I had this idea of starting a restaurant specializing in these frogs legs and, er, peaches, and on this premise I built this restaurant.

(in a bog, on the Yorkshire Moors, but let that pass).

But I had the resources of the net to hand, and pretty quickly found something that was just my ticket. (I note that in these searches I didn’t have to find the one object that is the very best of its type, just find one that filled the bill. This one happens to be made by a small niche company, Inevifit (a co-founder sent me e-mail as soon as I ordered from Amazon, to solicit my opinions), which sees the fragile elderly as one of its target audiences, and had its premium product on sale (for $50, which is pretty damn good). Their model I-B5002 (which I got in silver; it also comes in black and in white) had pretty much everything I wanted, so I searched no further: extra-wide platform, 11.8” x 11.8”, rock steady and just barely off the floor (so no uneasy stepping up onto a jiggling base), with an easy-to-read 3.6” LED display; like a digital thermometer, it homes in on a steady reading and freezes on that:


And now Susanna Grey’s photo of the towel rack and bathroom scale in situ, with all those penguins as a bonus:


The bathroom is tiny, so this is an incredibly efficient use of the space available. My walker is just narrow enough to maneuver in this space.

I am happy in these small things.

Meanwhile, there are all those other household adustments I’ve made over the years. Special easy-to-grab utensils, extra-thick pens so I can cautiously write small amounts of stuff, devices for opening cans that arthritic fingers can’t manage, and much more. But the rolling cart, the towel rack, and the really cool bathroom scale are enough for today.


2 Responses to “New Things”

  1. Ellen Kaisse Says:

    Did you happen to read that infuriating article in the NYT’s Well section on avoiding arthritis? As one commenter after the next pointed out, it told one virtually nothing they wouldn’t already know and was pretty much useless for avoiding arthritis.

    I LOVE that Frog and Peach routine. All various friends and I have to do is say Pêche à la Frog and Frog à la Pêche to each other and we dissolve into hopeless puddles of laughter.

    And finally: I recently read an article on laundry which I found hard to credit but which was in a reputable place. It claimed that with modern laundry detergents, we should all be washing all our clothes in cold water, thereby helping save the planet while getting our clothes just as clean. I have tried it on a few loads without obvious ill results, but it is very counterintuitive! Like how can you liquify and remove greasy stains in cold water?

    • arnold zwicky Says:

      On that NYT article: somehow it smelled like junk to me so I deliberately passed over it. Thank you for experiencing it on my behalf. Health and wellness advice articles are, alas, mostly useless, in my experience.

      I played the film of the Frog and Peach sketch for Stephanie Gray this afternoon. It was brand-new for her — I can still do most of it from memory — and we both enjoyed it immensely.

      As for the cold water thing, yes, it seems very counterintuitive.

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