Just as the weather has turned blindingly beautiful and I am eager to run all over the mountain roads of the North Country-in this brief season after the frost is out of the ground and the mud has receded and before the arrival of the black flies, I carelessly dropped a sofabed on my foot.
It was, as all sofabeds tend to be, heavy, and I dropped it from a good height, so it had time to get a good velocity going before it landed smack on top of my rather delicate little foot. Luckily the Arnica was within arms reach and as I pulled off my sock with one hand, I grabbed the tube in the other. I would love to do an experiment to find out if this is really effective or just a comforting belief in the herbal ways, but cannot resist doing what I can to stave off damage.
My day on the porch with my foot propped up and iced was not so bad, I found. Warm sun, cool breeze and the tea kettle just a few hops away in the kitchen, my computer on my lap (sorry cats, you had to settle for the guest chair), I got a surprising amount of work done.
This morning, the foot looks pretty good-nothing appeared to be broken though it was a very nice color of violet blue. I look forward with relief to the being up and about again, if not ready to run a 5K, at least managing a putter in the garden and to get the laundry put away.
I thought then of my Mom, who at age 89 has peripheral neuropathy which weakens her legs and makes it increasingly hard to get around. I wondered if Arnica would help and realized it is a very different thing to be down for a day or two from facing ever decreasing mobility.
The neuropathy, in which the messages to and from the brain are distorted by irregularities in the myelin sheath around the nerves, is genetic, caused by a glitch in a gene. It might well be something I face in the long distant future, should I be lucky enough to get old. I have the hope that some scientist is working on a gene upgrade, so I will be OK, but that is by no means a sure thing. I am optimistic though and for now, so is Mom. She does her exercises and walks as much as she can to keep fit and take advantage of the strengths she still has.
So I push the envelope and go the extra mile (literally) while I can and am grateful for every step, and for the strong will, courage and determination I also inherited from my mom. Thanks Mom for a genetic and spiritual legacy that is proving to be a pretty good deal, Happy Mother’s Day!
April 22, 2013 Earth Day
OK, this is a day late…”a day late and a dollar short,” another thing my mother said to me more than once!
My mother started celebrating Earth Day the first time it ever happened by planting flowers and becoming a recycling fanatic. That was in 1970 and I was a freshman in high school having come of age in the 1960’s, a tumultuous time for my family, friends and the world. Her commitment to recycling finally had a home and purpose other than being perpetually frugal, a remnant of the Great Depression. She insisted on recycling everything and being very upset, almost indignant, when she found things that could not be recycled anywhere. She was equally disappointed when she saw others not recycling or throwing away things that were “perfectly usable.”
When she could no longer drive herself around, her ‘helpers’ and anyone else who stopped by to visit was called upon to “just take this to the recycling center for me when you go.” She instilled in my children and me a sense of responsibility for the earth, for our communities, for others. All of which has served to make us feel guilty when we find ourselves not recycling that one thing that we know we should.
It is poignant; warming and chilling at the same time to have these feelings wash over me whenever I am looking at something deciding if it can be recycled or not! As we approach Mother’s Day in May and her birthday in June the memories of her life, my life with her, and the impressions that she gave to me roll around my mind, heart and soul reminding me to enjoy the present, let the past go to a warm corner of my heart and look forward to the future. I am calling this recycling memories!
Happy recycling! And love your Mother-Earth!
Today I am writing a little personal story because I feel I have been through “the wringer” as they say and want to explain my distance from writing, socializing and generally being ‘no fun’ for the past eight months.
Mary and I wrote our stories about caregiving in our book with all its glory, joy, pain and suffering because we learned a lot about ourselves, our families and navigating old age while dealing with the, ahem, messed up health care system.
Last July we finished the second draft (or was it the twentieth?) and the book was back from the editor and off to press. We were excited and relieved.
Sometimes things get thrown at you for a reason; usually it is a reason you weren’t expecting nor particularly like. A week after the book was done, it happened, I ruptured a disc in my neck at work, it took a while to get a proper diagnosis and even longer to get good care. Another lesson in our, ahem, messed up medical system.
A Goddess smack, a gift, a luxury…all of these I have heard from caring people. Even had people praying for me with laying on of hands. I whine and complain, I spent a lot of time this winter on my hands and knees crying. I have learned what chronic pain is first hand and it really does make you crazy! I breathe, I meditate on positive affirmations, I contemplate words from one of my mentors, Jeanine Parvati, “How does it serve?”
Friends, acquaintances, family, doctors, therapists-everyone- has something to tell me about what I should and shouldn’t be doing to heal myself or get healed. I get annoyed at their thoughtful advice and even more annoyed when they say “I know how you feel.” I finally said to someone, “no you don’t!” Unless you have had a ruptured disc with the resultant nerve and muscle pain from the constricted nerve root you cannot imagine it. I never did, even though my dad and son have both had disc problems from injuries, it is worse than I imagined. This is my neck! It is hard to hold my head up!
This injury has made it impossible for me to do the work I love and have been doing for over thirty-five years. Being a midwife is more than a job, it is my identity, it is who I am. As if the physical discomforts aren’t enough, having my self-identity taken away so unceremoniously has been emotionally distressing as well. (in this I am not alone and more fortunate than others; a nod and curtsey to veterans and those with degenerative diseases.) Starting any new writing projects has become difficult; it was hard enough before this happened, but now I am distracted by pain and all the ‘what to do’ about my life, work, and making health care decisions that my ability to concentrate and think clearly is also compromised.
For the last three months I have been able to do a little more, meaning I can vacuum for longer than two minutes, gentle yoga and dance, and short walks without ending up on the floor for two days. Some days the pain is mild until 1 or 2 in the afternoon, then I have to lie on my back on the floor, but lately it is all day, all night pain and I am seriously considering surgery, something I have never wanted. It certainly is outside my lifelong belief of diet, exercise, natural remedies and curing myself.
One dear friend and colleague said, “Well, maybe this is what holistic medicine really means.” I am trying to see it as a whole part of my life and healing process on every level.
All this is my way of saying thank you to the universe for giving me what I need even though I still do not see why I need this now! And I offer my gratitude and apologies for those who care for me and put up with me when I am at my worst.
Off to see a new neurosurgeon tomorrow and I’m bound to hear once again “you need surgery.” This time I may just schedule it.
Mom lives 584 miles away from me and while she is settled nicely in her elder community, active and busy, I still worry about her from afar. The road from New Hampshire to Virginia is challenged by weather and traffic and I do not get to visit as much as I would like. I know I am not alone in my long distance care adventure as many of my friends have begun this dance with parents, cousins and distant aunts.
Lately, Mom and I have discovered a few new ways to stay close while the miles keep us apart. As a beginner Mac user, mom was daunted by all the possibilities. She got her first little laptop a few years ago and has made friends with it. I swapped it out for a newer model recently and though there was a learning curve-Mom is back!
I have explained many times that no one knows how to do it all on the computer, (with the possible exception of my Grandson Jack-4 years old now, who mastered all devices that came near his fat little fists seemingly from the moment he was born.) As both of us were born before computer was more than science fiction, Mom and I have found that the challenge bonds us in our battle to master the latest and greatest gadget.
I wonder why more older folks do not embrace the computer for communication. Skype makes it possible to visit with great grandchildren for a spell without having to roll out the sofa bed and stow the fragile tea set and it is perfect for a daily look around mom’s place for the long distance relative who cares.
When I offered to get the Skype app on Mom’s new tablet, she said, no-wait till I can get back to Facebook-one thing at a time. Good idea, I respect her dance with technology and now I’m happy to report that Mom is calling me up wanting to know when my daughter and son cut their hair, having seen the current pics on Facebook. Thumbs up on both “new “ styles by the way–Mom is back on Facebook and as curious as ever about what she sees there.
Netflix is a source of great fun for Mom, who has access through her complicated array of TV remotes-I could not begin to sort out her thousands of channels and options, but she is master of all she surveys from her recliner chair in the living room corner. She still enjoys the quaint practice of mailing the DVD’s back and forth. Mom could write reviews, for she is a keen observer and I think she has seen almost every movie ever made.
Reading is a great pleasure for Mom and now she gets her books on her Kindle, where the type can be resized for her reading pleasure. It is also lighter than the big print books which can sometimes be of a daunting dimension and weight.
A nephew and granddaughter who live near her are charmed by Mom’s mission to master her little machines and swoop in to help frequently–an added bonus for all as she draws in assistance and visits when needed.
While nothing can take the place of a real time, in person visit, these interim measures plus a daily phone call fill in nicely. It is fun to be there and fine to leave as I never really feel too far away. As mom tackles Skype I am sorting out the intricacies of the video blog–watch for that here soon! I am imagining a Mom YouTube channel-you never know. All in all, I think technology has served mom and me very well. I promise to post a little clip of the two of us later this month!
Spring is here, but as usual, you could not prove that by a quick look out the window. Yes, the days are longer. Yes, the deep freeze has released a bit of it’s grip on night time temperatures. True– I have not seen the minus sign on the thermometer for a few weeks now, but it is still snowing, even if it melts more quickly. The real reason I hesitate about rejoicing for Spring’s arrival is that I have not yet seen a bear. The big black Mommas and Papas are still snoozing in their dens up here in the North Country. I can be sure of this because the trash is still in the can out on the porch. That’s right, in Northern New Hampshire, the real harbinger of spring is not the crocus or even the black flies, it is the sight of the remnants of my garbage strewn across the lawn.
I love winter and enjoy hunkering down before the fire or striding out for a forest walk over deep crisp snow, but Spring-you can have Spring. Black flies, black bears and mud are what we face and many of us hearty souls who laugh when the thermometer reads -30 and the snow tops our windowsills just give up and leave for the duration if we can. This year, as I have for the last four years, I will join family and friends for a week long camping trip to an ocean campground in Virginia that gives us a needed jump start on Summer. We relax, cook massive meals, and enjoy the 20+ year long tradition and blissfully warm weather. Yes, the natives think us nuts for strolling around in shorts and T-shirts in weather they believe hostile to their summer wardrobes, but we bask and inhale the scent of flowers and buds that will not yet arrive for us back home for many long weeks.
Spring is not here yet, but as I zip myself into a waterproof parka for my daily walk, I put my bear bells in the pocket, just in case. If you chance to be up here and out on the country roads and trails in Spring or Summer, and I do recommend that you visit, take along something to make some noise as you go. This warns the bears and gives them a chance to back away before a surprise confrontation. Here is a tip-you don’t really want to surprise any big, wild thing-moose, bear, whatever.
If you do-here is some advice to tuck away in the back of your brain. If it is a bear, back slowly away. Do not make sudden moves or noise and do not turn your back and run. OK, this may prove difficult, which is why I recommend the bear bells. If you surprise a moose however-do the opposite-run! Moose are not all that bright, so duck behind a tree. They may charge the tree, but won’t think to come around the other side to get you. Trees don’t work for bears-bears climb trees. So remember; bears-back away, moose-run and duck behind a tree. OK, you are now qualified for Spring in the North Country, sorry I missed you, I’m heading to Virginia for the duration.
Being a caregiver is hard, as anyone who has ever done it can attest. If you have not had this experience, I bet you have imagined a scenario where you might have to step in and be a caregiver. Like this-”What if Mom has a tumble on the front walk?-ye gads, what if she broke her hip?” I bet the thought has crossed your mind-what if…?
My first thought when contemplating caring for my own mom was of the heroic variety. Feeling perfectly capable of riding to the rescue, I imagined long lazy afternoons of companionable and comforting exchanges while I attended to business matters long distance–later whipping up a tempting treat for mom and me while I sipped a lovely vintage, anticipating a speedy recovery for mom and a restful break for me. Of course, this was total fantasy and the disappointment I felt after about a week as it dawned on me, exhausted, frazzled, at my wits end as I fell into bed each night (a bed I had not even had time to make) was massive. “How will I ever get out of this?”
It is ironic that just at the time when you need more money, your ability to make that money is compromised by the care of your loved one. That is not the worst of it. Yes, you can get over the initial shock of uprooting your life and routines and being there for someone who needs you. Yes, they can get used to having you do for them what they used to do so easily, yes, you can find the resources to cope–financial, emotional and physical, but what about your life? What happened to that? Your career track, the skills you were building, the contacts you so carefully husbanded?
If your caregiving stint extends beyond a few months, you will find yourself slipping. At first, sure, everyone thinks you are a hero for stepping up to the needs of your loved one, but soon that respect turns a bit resentful. The people who formerly relied on you understand perfectly that your parent, spouse, child or friend needs you more, but all the same, now you are simply not showing up for them.
Seventy five percent of all unpaid caregivers are women, and there is a bit more leeway for them in the opinion of colleagues, spouses and children. Perhaps because women routinely interrupt careers to have children, there is more of an expectation of nurturing–but what if you are a man?
More and more men are stepping in to care for loved ones as societal standards shift and it becomes more and more acceptable, but a long term caregiver who is also a man risks a lot by doing what seems good and right.
One man I know interrupted his career several times to move home and care for his parents, alternating and sometimes simultaneously caring for both, even though they were divorced. In the end he got his mom to agree to move his dad back into her home so he could care for them both more easily.
It is a testimony to his skill and dedication that his parents lived so long with disabilities, but his very success proved to be his undoing. By the time his parents had passed on, he was left with only the remnants of the skills he had built all those years earlier. The economy was in shambles, and he was almost a senior citizen himself.
The worst thing in this scenario is not so much his tough prospect of starting over, just about the time he thought he would retire. Lets face it, that happens to a lot of folks these days for various reasons. To my mind the worst thing for this friend was that he had lost the respect of former colleagues who thought less of him for his loving and practical solution of spending most of his career building years as an unpaid caregiver. People just thought that was a weird thing to do, and that perhaps it was a bit unmanly to make a choice for love and family, rather than career and self.
We all just wondered if the caregiving was not a crutch of sorts, keeping him from the competition the rest of us were knee deep in. Yep I was right in there with the skeptics, even after writing my book on caregiving. When I gave it a good re-think this week, I made an about face, swept away my old negative judgmental thoughts and looked on this guy as a new sort of hero. He is a man who chose a life of loving and caring for those he held dear, no matter the cost, now he commands my deepest respect.
Sorry, my friend, for my failure to look upon you and your service with less than awe. You are a hero, plain and simple and if I could, I would award you the highest honors in a public ceremony at the White House or somewhere grand-the Oscars or the Kennedy Center–you deserve all that. For now, you will just have to take my heartfelt appreciation as I sing your praises softly, for you, and all the unsung hero caregivers out there. Thank you, from the bottom of my heart for showing us all the way.
Last week I headed out in my new camper van-”Little Bird” and fetched up at a lovely little Lake in South Carolina. Here the tall trees grow right down to the edge of the water and I hear the fish splashing and leaping around from my front porch. It is so quiet on the deep base of pine needles, that even though there are other campers all around, I hear not a step.
The purpose of this jaunt is to buckle down and write my next book-provisionally called Indulge! The Health Benefits of Coffee, Chocolate and Wine. Tough work-right? I began at the end with the volume on wine, probably because by the time I got settled it was time for a glass. Sipping as I dug into my thick notebook of research, I started to get excited because the news about drinking wine was as good as I’d hoped it would be.
Plowing through the data provided by numerous researchers requires a good dictionary and spare computer to look up the mysterious references like-Meta-regression analysis and normotensive subgroups. Surely they are making some of this up?
I am determined to expand by brain and take all this in because from the little I know already, so much of the “good news” I read in punchy little articles is a misinterpretation of the facts, with daring leaps through some very thin air as the data is mushed into proclamations like-”We will all be living to age 150 starting in 2028. (Seriously, I read that today on the internet) Lets not get carried away. The very real benefits may turn out to be that startling, but I would settle for a “lower incidence of high blood pressure” for now.
Some of the research is very heartening-I mean that literally as much has to do with heart health. I am writing this book so I have an excuse to indulge my very geeky scientific bent and justify the time spent tracking down the original studies to put together a picture of where we stand on the topic of indulgence.
Personally, I am hoping for proof that my treasured pleasures are bono fide health food-(provided they are taken in the prescribed dose.) Knowing the facts as they stand now is better either way; I aim to cut a swathe through the confusion.
The book will celebrate or mourn according to the results of my investigation, but as I said-the prospects are good for coffee, chocolate and wine which seem at first glance to have much to offer both in building health and in satisfying our need for sensual indulgence.
My wish for us all is to enjoy all our years, stay sharp and vigorous till the end. We are far beyond “Live fast, die young and leave a beautiful corpse”(John Derek). That boat sailed long ago. I propose a new motto for Boomers:
“Play hard, indulge reasonably, don’t die till you are good and old–then die happy.”
Funny how often the things that you are thinking about or focusing on in your work just get put in front of you in various ways. Or how when you mention these things to your co-author she says I was just thinking about that too!
The past few months I have been preparing for a presentation I am doing this weekend on several topics with the main one being sleep deprivation. So what comes across my email this morning? That’s right, an invitation to a teleconference on sleep!
I saw a patient yesterday with a lot of health complaints, what I finally figured out is that she is getting only 6 hours of sleep a night, from 7 pm to 1 am, gets up and works from 3 am to 1 or 3 pm! 5 days a week! Yikes, no wonder her hormones and health is out of whack!
I’ve always told my patients to rest, after having a baby or surgery or when sick, they seem to have a hard time with this suggestion; it is another thing we Americans don’t know how, or won’t, do. Rest and sleep are important for the body to repair and rejuvenate itself. The brain particularly needs sleep to maintain cognitive functions. Even one night of lost sleep can affect cognitive skills for longer than a week.
Seems this is the latest thing to talk about. Maybe because at least 40 million people in the United States suffer from chronic, long term sleep disorders and 20 million more experience occasional sleep problems. Those stats are from a 2007 study by the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. I imagine there are even more now considering the economy, politics, global changes and let’s not forget school shootings in the last 5 years.
Poor sleep causes all kinds of health problems and another time I will list them all. For now, I will say it took me a while to figure out that I have had chronic sleep deprivation for the last 35 years! While I love my work as a midwife it has certainly taken its toll on my sleeping abilities. That’s another thing I did not know…the more interrupted your sleep is on a regular basis the more your ability to sleep well goes downhill!
I am learning how to sleep all night, to get at least the recommended 7-8 hours, in one stretch…not reading from 3-4 am and going back to sleep. When I gave up my beeper 3 years ago, something that I wore almost continuously for 10 years, it took a year to get over checking my hip for it and jumping at the various beeps and rings of other’s cell phones and pagers.
I think it will take a long time to learn how to sleep all night again. I’ve been trying to for the last 6 months and I am getting closer but it is still a challenge. I wish you a good night's sleep…wish me a good night, too!
Not to be Debbie Downer, but today as I was hurtling down an icy incline, wait-I did that a few times-once on my snowboard and twice on my driveway, I realized how mushy my body is compared to, well, say-a nine year old’s ski pole or a lumber truck.
I had just discovered (a tad too late, I was on the quad lift) that I had two close-up lenses in my eyeballs instead of one distance and one close-up as I am used to. My mind does a great job of unscrambling all the weird information from each eye and delivering a picture to my brain that usually makes good sense. But, as I say, today I was looking out across the mountain at blurry skiers and unreadable guide signs through lenses meant for text a foot or two away. Oops.
Committed to the run down the mountain, I proceeded a bit more gingerly than usual and made it to the bottom without incident. On the way home I mentally reviewed my Long Term Care Policy, remembering a friend’s long convalescence after a fall down a slope in Vermont. Yep, I remembered paying the premium and was assured that I was all set.
Feeling free to take chances is a big reason I got that policy in the first place. I like to think of aging as an extreme sport, and I want to excel at it. Knowing I have that all sorted out makes me feel grown up in a good way. Now a word from Debbie Downer.
If you have not made provisions for extra help should you need it, let me remind you that one in two women will need care in their lifetime and that two years is the average time care will be needed. If you do not qualify for LTC insurance, and admittedly, the qualifications are stringent, you can look into a LTC annuity of some kind. I am not an expert at this, but your independent insurance agent is. Ask about it, for this one sounds like a really good deal to me.
Say you were going to leave $100,000 from your estate to your heirs and donate the rest to the animal shelter-(not my plan, just an example) If you bought an annuity for that $100,000 instead of leaving it in stocks, bonds or whatever-you could use about $400,000 for your own care and the balance would go to your heirs. See! Money for nothin’! It is more complicated than that, costs and benefits vary, but that is the idea. Why would an insurance company do that? To get the use of your money. They are betting they will make more on it, and their bet is their risk-not yours. Read the fine print, but check that out. Could be a great way to plan ahead.
Meanwhile I am going to trust my current LTC policy and keep taking chances!
On the way to my chiropractor’s office yesterday I drove over a hill and saw something cross the road in front of me. My thoughts progressed rapidly from fox to cat to otter to what was that?! I slowed down and saw the back end of a robustly endowed animal, brown and furry loping off in the snowy woods. Again my thoughts jumped to tailless fox? No, too wide. Over grown cat? No, way too big. Fisher cat? No, still too wide and muscular looking. Then it stopped trotting in the snow, turned and looked right at me. Wow, that is a cougar! No silly, it is a bobcat! Gazing at me was a magnificent face with big eyes and tufts of fur that flared out in every direction around his head. Hello beauty, I said to him, or her, thank you for crossing my path and being wild and free and surviving in NH. May you be blessed with a partner and many babies this spring. It turned and trotted away on strong legs, with his thick coat of multicolored brown fur gently shifting with every move and his bobtail bobbing.
Traditional Native American animal medicine says that the bobcat sign is a knower of secrets and a sign of patience, among other things as well. Please, Bobcat, tell me the secret of survival, of a long life, of a life of gratitude and joy. I will ponder this bobcat message for a while and if I find any answers I will let you know!
This picture was actually taken in Hancock, NH, not far from where I was driving. The one I saw had more hair on his ears and top of his head.