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Saturday, March 5, 2011

Old and Forgotten

Did you see Steve Jobs gleefully announcing the arrival of the second generation of iPad the other day?  Okay, maybe he wasn't quite gleeful...he does look terribly sick.  But I digress.

I love technology, I use it all the time.  But there are still a lot of people in the world who either don't have access or simply are not tech savvy.  Lots of them.  Including my Dad.

Now my Dad has never been very good at dealing with anything mechanical...it shocked me to find out that during World War II, my Dad, who was in the service, was in charge of checking the instrument panel of the airplanes they were testing at the base he was stationed at.  I'm sure the people in charge could NOT have known how tech-tarded my Dad actually was.  Okay, they didn't have that term back then, but you know what I mean.

My Dad is almost 89 and has Alzheimers, and he lives in a care facility.  Since I live in another city, my only means of communicating with him in between visits these days is an everyday, ordinary land line.  A phone, as they used to call them.  I am the one who calls him because he would have no way of remembering my number anymore, and it gives me comfort to hear his voice even if we don't talk much or for very long.

I had to move my Dad to another room in the same facility the other week.  They only give you one or two days' notice that the new room is available, so you have to jump on it or give it up to someone else.  When I had him all moved in, I called our local phone company, Telus, to change his land line to the new room.  Of course, I realized that there would probably be a delay and I figured I could live with that.  As it turned out, it was going to be a whole week before they could get a technician out to connect his line.  Why they needed a technician, I don't know.  There was a phone jack in the room already...but I decided, okay, we'll wait for the week.

When the day that his phone was supposed to be connected came and went and I still got an automated "This number is not in service", I called the phone company again.  Well, the technician went out there, they said, but he was told that there was no one there by that name.  Because the bill is sent to me, the tech asked for me, and not my father, even though I explained all of that when I orginally called to set it up.  So nobody did anything about it, and the technician left without doing anything.  I explained again to the customer service person I was talking to, that the bill was in my name but the phone was at my father's room in a care facility.  They passed me back and forth a couple of times, and finally a customer service representative typed out a new request for a technician.  "Is next Thursday alright with you?" he asked me.  Another whole week before they could get someone out there again??  I was getting mad.  "Another whole week?  Is there any way you can make it sooner?  My Dad has already been without a phone for a week and this is his only way to communicate with his family."  There wasn't even an ounce of sympathy in the guy's voice.  "No, next Thursday is the first available time."

Okay, so one land line for one old man doesn't mean much to anybody, I get it.  Phone companies are more interested in their cell phone sales and their big corporate contracts.  A story on the news recently was about the $37,000 bill that one Telus mobility customer received when she went to Africa and used her iPhone, thinking that she had paid for extra coverage there.  That made the news, but one old man without a land line won't.  I wrote out an angry letter to Telus because there was no email address to complain to, and at the end of the letter I pointed out that by the time this SNAIL MAIL letter got to them, my father would still be without a phone.

Actually, my father and other elderly members of both sides of my family are lucky.  They have people who care about them and make sure they have what they need as they get older and have more difficulty taking care of themselves.  But there are a lot of elderly people out there who are not so lucky, who are put away or kept in terrible conditions.  For example, in a story that came out recently in Toronto, an elderly woman was found unconscious and unresponsive in a basement with NO HEAT in the dead of winter, kept there by her son and daughter-in-law.  How can ANY human being do that to another, especially family??  Elder abuse can happen to anybody, even someone as famous as 90-year-old Mickey Rooney, who recently sat in front of Congress explaining the abuse he received at the hands of his wife and stepson over several years.

And of course these extreme cases make the news, but I think what is even more insidious is the fact that our society as a whole doesn't have much time or inclination to respond to or even think of the elderly.  Oh, except the scam artists of course.  Yes, old people are really popular with these predators who are trying to scam them out of what little money they have.  I've heard two stories recently from people I know whose older family members were the victims of a scam.  If I could have just two minutes with one of those scam artists, they'd...well, let's just say they'd never be the same again.

Most of us are going to be there one day...at or close to the point where we can't take care of ourselves anymore.  Hopefully someone will be there to look out for us, but in the meantime I think we can do a heck of a lot more to take care of the ones who so abley took care of us.  If you see and older person somewhere someday who needs a little help crossing the street or picking out some fruit in the grocery store, jump in and say hello.  It'll make their day, and yours too :-)

IJ

...just in case you were visualizing all 88+ year-olds as being helpless and ineffective, watch this: