Contemplating the travails of daily life
My knee pain resulting from doing a simple task has made me question one of life’s challenges during my childhood
The other day I had to change the seat on the toilet to a soft seat as it was getting a bit uncomfortable to use a wooden seat. I checked on Youtube where I learn about how to do anything around the house and it seemed easy so I ordered a soft seat from Amazon. When I started to remove the old seat I realized that I would have to get on my knees between the toilet and the wall as the room is so narrow that I could not reach under the seat to unscrew the old seat. After some struggle I was thrilled at my first victory that the seat was off. I measured the new seat and checked the distance between the bolt holes and was rewarded again with the realization that it would fit and would not have to be returned.
All I had to do now was to place the new one and pop the plastic bolts in the holes on either side and then tighten the nut from below. I was feeling very pleased that I had ordered the right one and it would be on in a few minutes. However accomplishing the bolting of the new seat turned out to be sheer torture. I had to practically lay on the floor and wedge my arm between the toilet and the wall and with tremendous difficulty reach the end of the bolt to screw on the nut. Each time I tried the nut would not catch the threads and fall off. I had to get up and stretch my legs a few times as my knees were starting to hurt tremendously.
I tried calling Mario our usually unreliable handyman to see if he could come do it and as expected he did not respond. Then I recalled he had torn the meniscus on one of his knees so he would also be challenged. I had to persist since the old seat was already off so I tried again and finally on my knees and stretching my arm to the maximum possible I got one nut to go on and after tightening it I rested for a while still on the floor and tried the second one. It took several more minutes to get the second one to catch. Whew!. I was thrilled that I would be able try the new seat.
I started to get up and realized I could barely stand up. I was exhausted from holding my breath and bending my knees in impossible positions while trying to get the nut to catch the threads. As I rose slowly in excruciating pain I could barely take a few steps. The pain was emanating from the calf muscle that had been pulled when I squatted for so long and that muscle was pulling on my knee. For the next few weeks I stretched the calf muscle several times a day and also took ibuprofen daily as a muscle relaxant. Finally after one month my knee seems to be almost normal. But last night I felt the tinge of pain again and it triggered memories of childhood. I began to wonder about how difficult some of life’s daily challenges were for our parents and grandparents when I was growing up.
I started thinking about our childhood apartment in Bombay, a 600 square foot apartment that was home to six of us. Thr first tiny room on the right immediately past the entrance door was the toilet. The room was no more than 3 feet wide and 5 feet long. In the center of this tiny room was the hole in the ground with a ceramic bowl built into it with two raised ceramic footrests where you placed your feet as you squatted. On the front wall there was a tiny pipe with a tap below which rested a metal bowl that you filled to use for washing the butt.
I marvel at the fact there were no accidents of someone slipping or falling into the bowl in all the years we lived there. The smooth terracota tile floor was often wet and one could easily slip on the two foot rests on either side of the bowl. The thing I marvel at is how our parents and grandparents managed to squat completely with knees bent at an angle of at least 150 degrees and then manage to raise themselves up from that position. There was no bar to hold on to on the smooth tiled wall. You just had to push against your feet and actually manage to stand up from a squat.
I imagine that today I would struggle to first even get into a squat position without dislocating my knee. If somehow I managed then it would be impossible to rise up. I would have to put my hands on the floor and turn my body to rest my knees and then raise up by pushing against the floor or hold on to a bar or a chair to pull myself up. I continue to be puzzled by how the older members of our family, some of whom were also heavy managed to first squat and then to stand up from a squatting position. Unfortunately none of those folks are around now so I can ask them about this daily torture routine they must have gone through. However I am eternally grateful that I can sit on a soft cushioned seat and rise without challenge.
The practice of squatting for nature’s call is not uncommon around the world. In Singapore, a thoroughly modern city the public restrooms in all the shopping centers have one or two stalls of the squat type. There are signs on the wall similar to the one above demonstrating the correct way to use the regular seated toilet. The warnings about fines for incorrect use are often ignored much to the dismay of the next user of that stall.
This observation is not meant to denigrate the age old custom of squatting but to point out that cultural norms developed over generations can be quite persistent. In India folks will tell you frankly that they are not able to complete this most basic task in a seated position and must squat to do it. It’s what their bodies are used to and I respect that.
However, I am still left wondering how the aged, the infirm or those on the heavy side actually accomplished one of life’s basic daily chores without hurting themselves. I do not recall hearing any complains like the ones I have just made in this blog. Perhaps they could tolerate a lot more pain than me.