Old and Decrepit
I retired four and a half years ago after 30 years on the Chicago Police Department. I woke early because my back pain wouldn’t allow me to lay there any longer. I stumbled to the washroom and took my morning course of pain meds. About twenty minutes later I felt good enough to go down stairs and make a pot of coffee. Sitting here now sipping that coffee I can feel my aches and pains. My knees ache with arthritis, my back is sore, the hard pain has worn down since I got up. My sciatica flared up last week and I can still feel a twinge down my left leg. I’m pretty much sore and ache all over. That has become a normal morning for me.
I’m one of the lucky ones. Unlike many of my fellow officers, I haven’t needed a spinal fusion yet. My knees and hips are the original ones. I never did have that shoulder surgery that one doctor said I would need down the road. I guess my pitching career is pretty much over anyway.
I need to be careful and make sure I don’t get the flu or any other infectious disease. I lost my spleen due to a roll over car crash. I was T-Boned in an intersection on the way to a call by a girl in a small car running late for her college classes. That’s my squad car upside down in the photo.
My partner and I were both wearing our seatbelts. When the vehicle came to a rest we hung upside down from them. We would have been dead if we didn’t have them on that day.
Over the years I have fallen down stairs, slipped on ice, fallen partway through the roof of a grocery store, landed hard coming over fences and spent too long sitting idle. Then the routine things; I have also been punched, kicked, and bitten. All this in the line of duty. I’m not even near being accident prone. Police work is a physical job. You are outside facing all the elements. You’re exposed to some of the worst environment possible. It’s no surprise when you get sick or injured, it’s expected. It’s part of the job. Add to it dirty needles, unhappy arrestees with STDs and other communicable diseases, endless odd work hours stressing your body is it any wonder a police officer doesn’t have a long life after retirement.
So, what do you do to keep this from happening and stay healthy? Don’t do what I did. Keep yourself in tops physical shape. Don’t put on weight that will stress your heart and knees like I did. Keep up a good exercise program. Going home and having a couple beers every night is not the healthiest program to be on. Eat healthy, I’m learning that late in my life, and now have type 2 diabetes to contend with as well.
Wear that seat belt whenever you are in a vehicle. I was fortunate to have a lieutenant who would often bring it up at roll call training. He pointed out that it was a matter of time until the City would no longer cover you in an accident if you didn’t have your seatbelt fastened. Department policy and state law required seat belt usage. He suggested that while on days when it was slower we practice wearing it. Practice taking it off and tossing it clear as you exit the vehicle. That way when we rotated back to nights and evenings we would be ready and it would be second nature. He made sense, so most of us on our watch did that. It is the reason my partner and I are alive today.
When you are a young cop you feel invincible. It isn’t until you get worn down a little that you realize you’re not. Take care of yourself now. Don’t wait until you are on Facebook, chatting with another officer like me, at 3:50 in the morning comparing your aches and pains. Yes, it’s a physical job but that doesn’t mean that you can’t take steps to lessen the impact. Don’t be stupid like me, keep healthy.
– Robert Weisskopf, retired Chicago police lieutenant, author
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