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Valma’s blog


Age 69. Made in New Zealand. I was born and schooled in Hastings, spent thirty years living in Whakatane. In my retirement years, I now live in Tauranga with my husband and a ning-nong calico cat. I’m a published writer, however, these days write for enjoyment only.

I started on a fast-moving arthritis pathway in my mid-sixties and now have severe arthritis in my feet, moderate in knees, neck and hands. I have also been diagnosed as having Fibromyalgia which is an added unwanted pain. My motto in life is to walk down the middle of the road, which must work as I haven’t been run over yet.

Val Bird: To loo or not to loo, that is the question!

Val Bird: To loo or not to loo, that is the question!

As my arthritis became worse, one thing I had difficulty with was getting off the loo.

I started gripping the toilet-roll-holder as a ‘push me up.’ However, while this helped me to get back on my feet, it still caused a nasty crunching pain in my knee. I was also concerned that one day the toilet roll holder would give way, causing both me and the toilet wall a significant problem.

After a discussion with the man of the house, we went looking for a ‘proper’ grip holder that could be attached to the wall. We found they were all large, for hospitals and nursing homes, not at all dainty but strong. They would make an attractive but functional addition to our home. We also figured these holders would need some wall-stabilising packing or I might pull the whole wall off.

It was then I remembered a conversation about taller toilets (known as adult height toilets) and how much easier it is for people with a mobility problem to get on and off toilets like this. Our own toilet is as old as the house, some 30 years, and you have to contort yourself to clean behind it. It didn’t take too much of an effort to sell myself on this smart-as, easy-clean, new loo idea.

Val Bird: To loo or not to loo, that is the question!

So the quest began…

The first thing we discovered was there is a limited range of adult loos to choose from. Secondly, they are more expensive than a normal loo.

One salesperson suggested buying a specialty toilet seat. This fits over the standard seat (making it higher), but the thought of cleaning one toilet seat, then the other (and what gets between) didn’t turn me on. There was also this floaty vision of our place looking like it was inhabited by an arthritic old duck who collected toilet seats. I soon dismissed this as an option.

We continued shopping around. And while everyone was caring and helpful, I felt a dinkum goose popping on and off loos with all eyes on me (can she do it?) Yes, it was a self-conscious performance, but I needed to prove that I could indeed arise without having anything to grip onto. And yes, I could! Once I got into the hang of it, embarrassment faded as I found I could go up, down, up and down without the pain of a crunching knee.

Price-wise we found a happy deal and then, with a quote from a plumber, the toilet and its installation worked out to just over $1000.

Was it worth it? You bet your bottom dollar it was…

How many times a day do I go to the loo? Too many.

So how many times a day was I wrenching the knee getting off the seat? Too many.

With that problem solved, however, I still have a cause for concern when I need to use a public toilet, which I try to avoid like the plague.

After becoming accustomed to using the adult height toilet, the family height seems very low. When getting established on the seat of a public loo, I feel like I’m going to hit the floor, and getting off is a nightmare in the making. I fear the day this nightmare comes true: Stuck on a toilet, nothing to grab hold of to get off, door locked… ouch.

Most modern toilet blocks are built to cater for the disabled, but there are still many old-fashioned ones around that are traps for the likes of me.

So if you are ever in a public loo, and hear a small voice calling out for help… You never know, it might be yours truly!


Valma: Don’t throw out the lady with the bathwater

Valma: Don’t throw out the lady with the bathwater

I learnt a lesson last year while taking this arthritic body on holiday.

Here we were in scenic Queenstown on a coach tour when a last-minute change of hotels meant my request for a room with a walk-in shower was a ‘no go.’ All the rooms in this hotel had a shower over a bath. The tour company did offer to transfer us to a hotel with a walk-in shower but as this meant parting company with our tour-buddies, I declined and said, “I’ll be okay” (silly me).

So that was how I found myself in a bathroom with a deep bath which was fitted out with one of those overhead shower attachments. You know – the complicated ones where you have to press a knob for the water to come either:

  1. Out of the shower, or
  2. Out of a tap into the bath.

After careful thought and the embarrassing memory of slipping while trying to get into a similar set-up while holidaying in England, and a flash-back to the intimate bruising I sustained (one leg in bath, one leg not in bath), I decided against a shower and ran myself a beaut deep bath instead.

I climbed carefully in for a yummy soak.  And it was yummy; I was warmed, wet, clean, relaxed and perfectly happy.

The problem arose when I tried to get out. The sides of the bath suddenly took on the proportions of Mt Everest from the perspective of an ant, but without any foot or hand grips.

Valma: Don't throw out the lady with the bathwater

Panic: There was nothing for me to grip on with to haul myself up with.

I spent quite a time trying various body contortions in an attempt to extract myself, only to end up each time with a screaming knee and foot.  To add absolute insult to injury, during one of these ‘get out’ movements I managed to knock the ‘swap water’ button and down came a fierce cold water deluge. It literally poured cold water on my escape plans, at the same time drenching my hair.

Now cold, wet-headed and totally pissed off, I had to do something vaguely sensible. Putting dignity to one side, I felt making myself heard was the only option.

Setting aside visions of having to hire a team of weight-lifters to haul me out, I starting yelling and knocking loudly on the wall. This was in the hope that Sir Galahad (who is now quite deaf) would hear me, and not our next-door neighbours. However, the thought that my gallant rescuer may have already dropped off to sleep sent anxiety signals down my spine.

Fortunately, after a wee time, he did hear me. And yes, using a dash of Kiwi ingenuity, he did haul me out but it wasn’t easy.

This reminded me of an arthritic friend who, while holidaying in Australia in the Aussie heat, found herself staying in an apartment in Brisbane for a week, with only a shower-over-the-bath option. On checking with management, she discovered there were no apartments with walk-in showers. For seven days she dutifully flannel-washed her body each night, while muttering under her breath; she knew that if she climbed into that bath, she would never get out again. In that respect, she was considerably wiser than me.

So we live and learn. When making plans for a holiday, I know now to take into account my physical capabilities and to remember when booking accommodation to request walk-in showers, or a ground-level room when an elevator is not available.

Val: Life my way

Val: Life my way


She was young, she was pretty and she was smiling.  There I sit – not so young, not so pretty and definitely not smiling. All the same, I’m going to hang onto her every word, because you see, I found this lady inside my computer trapped in a self-help video. She says she’s going to help me manage my arthritis. So together we are a team of two – the one who knows, and the one who needs to know.


I start off enthusiastically with the first helpful hint: “Inflammation management is the key to controlling arthritis. Do make sure your medications are correct and that your team of health professionals is up to date with your needs.” Well, in real life my health professional is my general practitioner. I see her every three months, she writes out a prescription for ‘the usual’ and asks the question, “Is there anything else you want?” I’m gently guided out the door the moment my 15-minute appointment time is up so others aren’t kept waiting. Having waved medical insurance goodbye due to unaffordable old-age premiums, if I want treatment other than what I receive at present, I must wait in line at the hospital or pay. Both can be painful; one tests my patience, the other empties the wallet.

Val: Life my way


Quality sleep

The video lady’s second piece of advice is, “Quality sleep is important. Choose a bedroom that is both calm and quiet. Keep the room at the right temperature. Make sure your mattress and pillow are replaced as recommended, go to bed at the same time each night (yes, I do that). If you are not getting enough sleep, talk to your health professionals who may, if the circumstances are right, be able to prescribe a sleeping-pill.” I do not have a choice of where my bedroom is situated. I also have no control over what part of the bed Big Furry Cat wants to sleep, which can be somewhat disruptive. However, on the plus side, I do buy a new pillow (from time to time), but am still in love with the old but flash latex mattress which over the years has moulded to my body-shape. As my health professional(s) and yours truly are not keen on sleeping pill consumption, I shall pass on this one.


The smiling lady smiles even broader when she reads a list of foods I should not eat, starting off with my favourites – eggs, nuts, citrus fruit, dairy, sugar (which means no yummy cakes?) My tummy grumbles as the list gets longer. “What are you going to feed me?” it questions. However, it is when the ‘alcohol’ word comes up on the screen that I shut my ears and eyes and pretend I heard and saw wrongly. All this ‘go without’ is too much. I think I should stick to the “All things in moderation” philosophy, so quickly move on to hint number four.

Daily exercise

“Without exercise your arthritis is going to get worse,” says the smiling woman. Well, I did know that before I started watching this video – exercise, exercise, exercise is the key to a healthy body and mind. A few years ago I’d walk fast for five kilometres daily on the treadmill and think nothing of it. I remind myself of this as I now hobble upon two misshapen feet that hate me and knees that think they belong in the Middle Ages when torture and dungeons were all the rage. By the time they have supported me while I carry out the day’s necessities and maybe limped around the supermarket, they don’t want any more ‘exercising’. They want to sit quietly watching me while I putter around on Facebook, or play Solitaire. Right, now that is settled, it’s time to move on to number five.


This time the young lady gives me a more serious look as she asks, “Do changes in the weather make your arthritis worse?” While I’m waiting for an answer, she shakes her head. “No, the weather has nothing to do with arthritis pain-level changes. You are simply looking for a reason why you are in more pain, so naturally the weather gets the blame.” Then she smiles – a sympathetic smile but nonetheless the last straw for me, the straw that breaks this old camel’s back. I smile a wicked smile back at her as I hit the off button, which immediately silences this modern day Florence Nightingale.

How dare she tell me that weather has no effect on this body of mine – a body that nearly danced with joy in February when the summer heat caressed my afflicted joints? The hot summer sun even put a smile on my face and for a short moment of time, made me feel that maybe – just maybe – my arthritis could get better. What a fool I am. The ‘better’ word should not be in my dictionary. Come the first frost of winter, the cold seeps in through thick thermal socks while pain shoots down from the heavens like a squadron of suicidal hornets. By the third frost, the foot joints stiffen even more. I walk like a clumsy geisha girl with tiny, ungainly, flat-footed steps, each one producing pain signals that hit the brain. Grannies for generations have told the world that their arthritis is affected by weather. How dare they rewrite the granny rulebooks?

I do my relaxation breathing: In through the nose, hold, out through the nose, one gentle in-out after the other until I feel calmness seeping. I vow I’ll never watch a self-help video again. These bright young, smiling health professionals do not live on my planet.

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