Live long advice: belly up to the (grab) bar

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Bob Levey

How I See It
By Bob Levey

Among my many guilty pleasures (bad novels, oldies rock, Greek wine), I rank one higher than all others: Newspaper stories about people who have just turned 100.

Usually the lucky duck is female (sorry, fellas). And very often, she has a saucy answer to explain her longevity.

Drink a shot of bourbon every day.

Smoke unfiltered Camels whenever you like.

And, quite often, this tidbit: Never acquire a husband.

When my giggles cease, I find myself wondering if any about-to-be-centenarians have more health-conscious advice. My wonders came true one recent morning when I bumped into an old friend named Dick.

He was on the verge of his 97th birthday, and as the saying goes, he didn’t look a day over 80. Firm handshake. Firm smile. Brown hair (I’m jealous!). Alert as can be.

So, of course, I asked him what his secret is. His answer is worth remembering, and very worth emulating.

Grab bars.

“See, at 97, I still have my marbles, but I don’t always have my balance,” Dick explained. “So a few years ago, I had grab bars installed in my shower stall at home. I haven’t come close to slipping since.”

Dick well knows — and you should, too — that falls when you’re his age can be the beginning of a final spiral.

Not only are broken bones very slow to heal when the patient is elderly, but fractures can produce extended immobility. That can produce pneumonia and a host of other serious medical problems.

Slipping in the shower isn’t just a major concern for those 90-plus. Another friend — a 50-something doctor named Bruce — was taking a shower recently in a hotel. He has a habit of soaping his feet first (a very good habit to break, no pun intended!). When Bruce reached for the shampoo, whoops! 

Down he went, onto his shoulder and side (and nearly his head). The tab: Right arm broken, six ribs broken, out of work for three months.

Oh, yes. The hotel shower did not have grab bars.

Bruce isn’t sure he would have used a bar if one had been available. “I’m a bit of a daredevil,” he says. “Or at least I used to be.”

But from now on, he says, whenever he books a hotel room, his first question will be whether the shower has a grab bar, or more than one. If the answer is no, Bruce will go elsewhere.

It isn’t just soap that can cause problems. Water alone can make footing very treacherous. The key moment comes when the about-to-be victim is stepping out of the shower stall.

A 70-something friend named Grace was doing this one recent day when she put her leading foot a little too far in front of herself. Whoops! She started to fall backwards.

But pure luck intervened. Her husband happened to be in the bathroom at the same time.

He saw what was happening and grabbed Grace before she could tumble. Her only injury was a slightly pulled thigh muscle.

(By the way, I expect to read this in a 100th-birthday story one day soon: “How did you live to be 100, ma’am?” “By showering when my husband is brushing his teeth.”)

Do you even have to ask whether Bruce and Grace quickly ordered grab bars for their showers?

As for Dick, he is such a grab-bar believer that he whipped out his phone to show me the latest ads.

You can buy a basic bar for somewhere between $150 and $400 including installation, depending on how big it is and what it’s made of. Compare, please, to the cost of even one hour in a hospital.

“As my grandchildren like to say, it’s a no-brainer,” said Dick.

Just in case you’re wondering, my home contains two bathrooms. Each shower has a grab bar. I use them whenever I’m soaping up, for one simple reason.

When I turn 100 (please!), I want to be able to say: “I got here by reading lots of bad novels, gorging on old-time rock and roll and drinking plenty of Greek wine.

“But also by holding on tight whenever the hot water comes cascading down.”

Bob Levey is a national award-winning columnist.