Flipping by woods on a snowy evening
Robert Frost1 was quite a guy. Besides being a poet of some renown, he was one of the nation’s early traffic engineers, advising motorists in a widely distributed memo that when approaching a rush hour choice between freeways and surface streets, they should choose the least congested routes.2
He was also an amateur Nostradamus3 and meteorologist, albeit an indecisive one. He suspected the world might end in fire, but had a strong hunch that ice could also suffice.4 Ever since one particular driving mishap that haunts me often this time of year, I’m inclined to agree with him.5
I’ll skip the irrelevant details—such as losing control of my Toyota 4Runner on a frozen highway, performing a vehicular triple axel á la Sonja Henie,6 and flipping onto the roof like an obedient but clumsy puppy—and cut right to the part where I’m hanging from my seat belt like a bat in the freeway median.
A lot of things go through your mind in such moments. “Ouch” was one I recall. We’d all like to think we’ll act like heroes in a moment of crisis, but my response was more Stephen Sondheim7 than Steven Seagal.8 In the TV movie of this event, the radio will be playing “Send in the Clowns” as I dangle helplessly, frozen with fear.
Finally coming to my senses, I pressed the seat belt button, dropping instantly onto my head. Crawling on hands and knees across the roof, which was now the floor, I peered inquisitively outside as several worried faces stared back. Kicking the door a couple times, I squeezed through the opening and soon was standing triumphantly among them.
We talked. I said I was fine. They seemed to doubt it. I made a joke. They didn’t laugh. They were very solicitous, very serious—perhaps a little overly concerned? I didn’t think anything of it at the time.
Then the police came, and we discussed the situation, man-to-skeptical-officer.
“Looks like you rolled it.”
“Pretty slippery, I guess?” He raised an eyebrow.
I told my story vividly and with passion, and he took notes between dubious glances. About then the paramedics walked up, pondered the overturned wreckage, and turned to me with what I realize now were expressions of barely suppressed amusement and pity. “Let’s step inside,” they said, pointing at the ambulance. So we did.
“Not at all.”
“Let’s take a look at your eyes,” one of them said, grabbing his tiny flashlight.
“OK,” I responded cheerfully, opening them wide and looking straight at him.
“I can’t see them,” he said.
“Your eyes. I can’t see them.” He gestured to my face.
And that’s precisely when the awful truth hit me, followed by a wave of pure embarrassment such as I had rarely experienced, at least not since falling on my face at Foot Locker or my last accordion recital.9
You see, a few weeks previously, my wife and I had spent time in the company of friends whose young son had just returned from a visit to the ophthalmologist. He had been sent home with a pair of those massive, hideously ugly, pitch-black, post–cataract surgery sunglasses.10 The kind you might expect if Stevie Wonder was a fashion-impaired welder.
I took to slipping them on over my regular frames, as a joke, and when we left the family graciously gave them to me. I laughed, said thank you, and tossed them into the glove compartment—and I’m sure by now you see where this is going. At the time of the accident, I was wearing those goofy glasses! And had been ever since.
There in the ambulance, with the flashlight still pointed at my eyes, I ripped them off my reddening face and tried my best to explain. “I can’t believe I’ve had these on the whole time,” I stammered, but the paramedics just looked at me sadly. “It was a joke…these friends…I didn’t realize…” But the damage had been done.
My credibility was shot. No wonder my rescuers were looking at me strangely. No wonder no one was laughing at my jokes. They thought I was an irresponsible, possibly deranged blind man—out recklessly careening my SUV at dusk down an icy Oregon interstate. And imagine the shock of seeing my face, wrapped in those enormous plastic goggles, suddenly appearing through the cracked passenger window. It should have been enough to make any Good Samaritan bolt for his car.
Fortunately for me, my ignominy was short-lived. I was quickly replaced in the world by a host of other people doing even more embarrassing things, and mine never even made it to YouTube. But since I’m always trolling for a good metaphor, this experience comes in mighty handy right now.
Think about it. Goofy-looking, vision-deficient men and women glibly claiming everything’s fine while wandering around obliviously next to the wreckage? Look past me in this picture and you’ll see our politicians and, dare I say, presidents at the scene of a long-term care policy accident—little realizing just how ridiculous they look to the rest of us worried onlookers.
But maybe this time it can be different. With our help, maybe the 110th Congress can do more than tinker around the edges of Medicare and Medicaid. Maybe they could suddenly show interest in creating an actual senior-care system. Maybe the next president could even attend his or her own White House Conference on Aging. It’s worth a try, don’t you think?
All we have to do is lure them inside the ambulance and shine that flashlight in their eyes. Maybe then they’ll whip off those silly glasses, blush a little, admit their mistakes, and start working together in preparation for what’s next—78 million needy and noisy Boomers.11
I realize their task is daunting, and more than a little frightening. But once we can see their eyes, let’s apologize to Robert Frost and speak to our lawmakers slowly and firmly: “The future’s murky, dark and bleak/But you have promises to keep/And miles to go before you sleep/And miles to go before you sleep.”12
Gary Tetz is the former editor of SNALF.com and SNALFnews.com, and writes from Walla Walla, Washington
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- American poet and icon.
- Robert Frost, “The Road Not Taken.” When I was growing up, my mother frequently recited this poem from memory. Maybe because in primitive, turn-of-the-’60s Canada, every road was the one less traveled by.
- 16th century French seer, who correctly predicted that in the year 2007, fully 441 years after his death, his name would still be routinely misspelled.
- Robert Frost, “Fire and Ice.”
- And who wouldn’t agree with a weatherman named Frost.
- Norwegian figure skater and actress. Perhaps you remember her from 1939’s Everything Happens at Night, where she skates her way into all kinds of trouble in a lighthearted drama of international intrigue and romance.
- Broadway composer and lyricist. “Where are the clowns?” he wondered aloud. “There ought to be clowns.”
- Ponytailed movie idol, not to be confused with Willie Nelson.
- Read about these and other humiliating personal inci- dents in the online archives of this very magazine at https://www.nursinghomesmagazine.com.
- The kind you would see if you typed https://www.tecfen.com/medical/ophthal/catar.html into your browser and scrolled down to the third picture.
- 77,999,999 if you don’t include Bill O’reilly.
- Robert Frost, “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening” (a variation).
Gary Tetz is multimedia consultant at Consonus Healthcare Services. He was a columnist for I Advance Senior Care / Long-Term Living from 2005-2012.