Observations, Learning, and Activities for the New "Over 21s"

Posts tagged ‘Aging’

Ideas for Empowerment of the Aging

This post started as an explanation/apology for yesterday’s post.  But it ended up being a kind of call to arms for those of us facing retirement or already in it.  It calls for a new way of dealing with aging, individually and with a little help from our friends.  Collectively, we know a lot and have a lot of practical and professional information to share.  You can skip the next three paragraphs, but don’t skip the rest.  Be a part of our own solution.  Read on.

In my first post on this site, I warned that I would be writing about life as an aging person. In January, I will be officially retiring, although the truth is that I have been “retired” for years–after the university campus where I worked was closed due to high costs (not the faculty, but other reasons–none of which made sense). After three additional surgeries–back, kidney, thumb tendon–I became unemployable because of physical limitations, none of which qualified me for disability, but nevertheless limited my physical capabilities on the job.

Yesterday’s post, “Happy Mothers Day!“, ended up being a stream of consciousness piece that didn’t meet the standards of a happy Mothers Day post. I’ve learned recently that stories/posts tend to take over you and write themselves.  That’s what happened yesterday.  After reading it in its published form, I was appalled by grammar and spelling errors, part of which are due to a crappy computer, but most because I simply didn’t edit before posting.  I considered editing and reposting, but I really don’t want to return to it–at least not right away.  It is more than I can emotionally face today, and probably for a number of days hereafter.  Bottom line: I’m probably going to let it stand, warts and all.

What was interesting to me was that 6 people visited this post yesterday, but left neither comments nor “likes.” It’s hard to like a sad post, and I was grateful that a few friends either commented directly on FB where it posts automatically, or in private messages.

Part of aging is coming to terms with out past.  For those who believe in reincarnation or channeling, I have no idea how you cope with past lives that are completed as well as past events along the timeline of your current life.  I have enough trouble dealing with all the mistakes I made earlier, the corrections I’ve made–or tried to–and all the daily unexpected problems that come up on day-to-day basis.  But whether you choose to follow this blog, disconnect from it, add it to your list of blogs to watch, or whatever, there will be times that happy things are posted–things shared by others, things that have added a positive touch to my own day, articles that I come across that may have meaning to post-Boomers or those trying to understand older people.  Most of the time you will find a well-edited blog–one with all the errors fixed before publication–or a post that was edited after the fact because I simply missed something as I typed or read through the preview (where I catch more errors than through the normal writing window).  Other times, I will write a streamof-consciousness post and simply leave it unedited, as I am doing with yesterday’s post.

But know this about people over sixty: We are a force to be reckoned with. (Please don’t critique on ending a sentence with a preposition–the sentence as written says it better than if I re-write in good standard English.)  We have lived through much, starting with families that may not have been perfect because of a parent who served in World War II or the Korean War or the Viet Nam War. We saw the hey-day of television as it evolved from all-live shows in black-and-white, Million Dollar Movie which played the same ancient movie for a week at a time, The Twilight Zone, and many other shows limited to maybe 6 or 7 (if we were lucky) stations; to color TV and then hi-def renderings that touch on problems that exist in society that we never learned about as youth.  We were glued to TVs–or perhaps even present–for the peace marches for Negro (now African-American or Black) rights, the continuing movement toward equality for women, Woodstock, the first Mets World Series win, the changes that shook college campuses and changed many from single-sex places of learning to co-educational institutions.  We were there for JFK’s assassination and funeral which took over television and radio to the exclusion of everything else for days.  We witnessed the first US flights to the moon and the progress of technology from better vacuum cleaners and toasters to the microwave and the all-powerful personal computer and smart phones.  We lived through changes unanticipated in previous generations in the US and around the world.  We learned a lot. We understand a lot.  We can, therefore, understand the problems that military personnel are coming home with from recent conflicts with enemies that play by different–and often unknown–rules.  We understand the problems of our young military personnel because we have been there before, long before services were available for our returning soldiers–whether as fathers, husbands, brothers, sisters, mothers, nieces and nephews, and close friends.  We fought hard to ensure appropriate medical and psychological services for all soldiers who needed them regardless of war or mere conflict.  We are here to help assure services for today’s returnees even as the Congress cuts funds and spending for their care and rebuilding–psychologically or physiologically.

Many of us lost money during the financial crashes that left us with little to look forward to in our IRAs, 401Ks and other retirement benefits, and we rally to ensure that the poor are taken care of and that so will we as we become financially dependent on a government that cares little for us.  Because of ever-improving medical technology and techniques, we are looking forward to longer and longer lives, and are rapidly becoming a majority–ethnicity or country of birth notwithstanding.

Do not ignore us.  Do not think that when I post personal problems on this blog that I speak only for myself.  I do, but I represent many people over 60 who are experiencing similar difficulties and experiences.  Right now, I am lucky to have free time to become involved in new hobbies to both improve my current functionality, to strengthen my brain so that any future stroke does not obliterate everything I know or can do now.  I am training both sides of my brain to survive–not through games software that promises to improve our memories, but through challenges of learning to do physical tasks with my other hand, foot, leg, arm, etc.  If I have a stroke, I want the other half of my brain and body to be able to take over–much faster than current techniques allow–to help me rebuild the damage in the other side of my brain and on the other side of my body.

To all you readers of my age who are trying to do the same, let me help you. Let us become stronger and more independent together.  Let us help each other find the best help for the problems that each of us face individually.  We will be around for an average of two decades longer than our parents, and we need to remain as free as we possibly can.  I don’t care if you are a Christian who believes everything is in God’s hands, an atheist who believes that all the power lies in what you do for yourself, or all the shades of gray in between.  Let us get together and help each other beyond what AARP can publish as suggestions and “facts.”  We can use such organizations as sources of information and direction, but we need to help ourselves and each other more than what millionaire actors or business executives can do for themselves.  For many of us, we and our faith are all we have.

Leave me suggestions for what you would like to hear about.  Take part in comments and discussions.  I can always make this blog independent of my other blogging sites on WordPress–either through WP or by other means that allows us to share ideas from ancient medical practices such as Ayurveda and Chinese or Tibetan medical knowledge.  For example, I can tell you about some excellent anti-aging and all-natural products that are working for me, as well as things like Golden Milk made with a home-made turmeric paste that cleanses the system naturally and improves bodily functions as well as thinking processes by slowly and carefully getting rid of the plaque in our bloodstreams.  If we get together, we can share diets that are outstanding for helping people with Type II Diabetes or with loss of body strength or loss of thinking abilities and memory.  We can prepare for the possibility of stroke and its aftereffects.  We can become stronger, and–because we are rapidly becoming a majority in the voting pool–we can change what government does for us.  There is a big difference between socialism and social programs:  The former is a restrictive political phenomenon while the latter is an outcome of the Golden Rule of helping our neighbor and treating our neighbor as we would want ourselves treated in return.

Leave a comment. Let’s see where an idea you suggest can take us in a subsequent blog or in a continued discussion format.  Work with me to make life better for all of us.

#educ_dr

Sudoku and Me

Sudoku Photo

Lots of people my age look forward to the Sudoku in their daily newspaper. Some older people swear that it is a memory aid, for sharpening or maintaining memory that may be faltering. For some people it works. For others, well…let’s just say it’s hard to complete a puzzle when you can’t find the pencil that was just next to the paper a moment ago. These are not the reasons I play Sudoku every day–or at least every day I get a newspaper (no Sunday papers here on The Island). I play Sudoku to test my logic–and what effect my medications are having on me. But mostly it’s the logic aspect.

Some puzzles–ones that give no logical clues to a mass of “pencil marks” so that only trial and error with educated guesses can help solve the puzzle, or let me know that a different educated guess should be attempted–are ones I solve only when I have hours with nothing to do, a luxury I rarely have. For some of the solutions, a pattern emerges if I leave the puzzle alone for a day or two. Others are so convoluted that a “guess” has to be made 5 or more times, meaning that all the erasures have worn holes in the newspaper and the original puzzle needs to be transcribed into my Sudoku Excel template so I can erase to my heart’s content  on “real paper.” However, most puzzles with high difficulty ratings are quite orderly and can be worked with only a little bit of educated guessing.

In the newspaper, the Sudokus progress in difficulty from “Easy” on Monday to “Difficult/Hard” on Fridays. Saturday puzzles are always rated “Difficult,” but, as I stated above, often involve more guessing than logic. So, for me, it’s the Monday through Friday puzzles that are both enjoyable and tests of my current logic abilities.

Why test my logic? Because I take a pharmacopia of daily medications. There are pain relievers, cholesterol controllers, blood pressure equalizers, muscle relaxants, and–for when life is driving me crazy or I simply can’t get to sleep–tranquilizers or other prescription sleep aids. And then there”s the medication to protect my stomach lining. I used to take OTC or prescription-strength versions of pain relievers, but a “surprise case” of bleeding ulcers put a stop to that. So now my mobility is severely limited by the amount of pain I feel, and that means that by 3:00 PM, my spine decides it’s time for more curvature, which increases as the clock progresses and prevents me from standing for more than two or three minutes. It’s no fun looking like a question mark without a period underneath. But pain has nothing to do with logic unless it’s overwhelming. However, some of the other medications do affect my thinking processes, even after the “getting used to” period has long passed. And these are the ones whose effects on me I monitor like crazy.

All medications that effect the nervous system–including many medications to reduce pain–affect how the brain functions. If, a week or two after starting a new or replacement medication, I find that my memory is worse than usual, I visit my doctor and insist on something different. Take Lyrica, for example.You see the advertisements for it all the time on TV for use in preventing or easing the pain of diabetic neuropathy. It had been prescribed in the past (long before it became the pain reliever for people with diabetes) as an outright pain control medication for anyone, and continues to be recommended by pain management specialists, especially to help patients get past pain to sleep at night. The commercials give a long list of possible side effects–except for what I consider the most important one: they affect memory, and worse, the effect may be permanent. When I was taking it, I realize that it wasn’t just that I was forgetting while under its influence; it was that the lost memories were not recoverable, unlike with most other memory-effecting pain relievers. Think of this as getting so completely drunk at a party that you can’t remember what you did that was so entertaining to others at the party. After a while, your memory of some of your insane activities comes back, and you become so embarrassed that you can’t look other party participants in the eyes for quite a while. While taking Lyrica, my memory of events never comes back. It’s like those memories have been sucked into a black hole. My husband and friends would report that I am acting perfectly normally–going about daily routines, driving, etc; things that are in “muscle memory”–but I have no memory of having lived those days. Ever. And I suspect that there may be a permanent effect on certain memory functions for which, if the patient is not aware of this little publicized side-effect, a decent work-around cannot be developed. A patient needs to be aware of memory loss before reporting it, after all.

The brain is a marvelous organ. There is no such thing as a single “pathway” to things that have been learned, behaviors one has acquired, etc. The brain basically distributes information in such a way that, even if it takes a little longer to recall a memory, that memory can still be accessed. But some drugs seem to build a titanium wall around memories accumulated under their influence, and no amount of soul or mind searching ever breaks through that barrier.

If one goes to web sites such as WebMD or even CDC, many “nerve” medications list memory loss as a possible side-effect. What they can’t tell you is if you will be one of the persons affected with memory loss, especially permanent loss. Each individual has slight variations in reactions to any medication; some individuals have significant problems. The information these sites give you is the “normal” reaction, and “normal” has enough variations to stud the night sky with galaxies of stars. “Normal” refers to how the middle 67% of the population of patients (or individuals who participated in the clinical trials, anyway) reacts or reacted. Unfortunately, physicians often do not report variations that are not listed, so unusual variations that did not turn up in clinical trials may never be listed–unless some medical researcher specifically looks for a specific side-effect after the drug has been FDA approved and is on the market.

For example, it took the medical profession years to discover that, although benzodiazepines had become a drug of abuse, one-third of the people who take them never develop a dependency on them. And then there are the dosage variations: patient size is also not necessarily an indicator of the proper dose for the prescribed purpose. Dependency means the patient cannot function without them, and often means an increased dosage is eventually needed to obtain the original effect. Patients with dependency do not forget to take their prescribed meds–ever. I am a good example of a person who does not become dependent on benzos. Also, I start forgetting to take the benzo within 10 days, and remember that they were prescribed only when I become overwhelmed or anxious. By then, I can’t find them, as I have a somewhat unique filing system for my medications. Even when I organize my daily meds into those little pill organizers they sell at the drug store, and then run out and can’t get to the doctor for a refill prescription, it might take me ages to remember I am supposed to have them on hand. A person with a benzo dependency would never forget to get that refill prescription written.

But what I learned from all the various meds–including every blasted anti-depressant on the market–is that they affect the nervous system, especially the brain, and (in my case) logical thinking. So I monitor my logic daily with Sudoku. If I can’t solve a Monday through Friday puzzle, I start experimenting with which drug (or combination) is responsible, and then go to my physician with my findings. Because doctors are naturally skeptical of patients’ self-accounts, I first discuss my “findings” with my husband (sometimes,when a physician doesn’t believe me, I ask him to come with me). My husband is a neuropharmacologist—that is, a scientist who studies the effects of drugs on the nervous system, especially the brain. He has also spent his entire career teaching medical students, and actually keeps up with what’s new in the field. He loves being married to me because I seem to have paradoxical effects to most of my prescribed medications. Thus, give me a low dose of benzos and my energy level skyrockets; give me much larger doses and I just might exhibit the intended effects. I’ve been used as an example of paradoxical effects in too many of his lectures to count–at least I’m useful to him, and he starts researching studies in which others react as I do.

But back to the logic testing: Sudoku is my method of self-monitoring, and it lets me know when I need to re-evaluate what’s going on with me. If I have trouble with the puzzles early in the week, I know I’m in trouble. It may not be from drugs; it may be that I’m becoming anemic again (which affects thinking, also). But I know that there is something not right and I do something about it–mostly drive my doctor crazy, but he’s used to that in me, and has found that I am generally right about something being wrong. I’m not a hypochondriac–I’m simply very aware of small changes in my behaviors. But then, I’m aware of small changes in behaviors of others as well…

Bottom line: Sudoku is my friend–and a very useful one at that.

#educ_dr

My Daily Gift

Each day, I awake and feel immense gratitude that another day unfolds before me. Each day that I awake is like a gift from Heaven.

Playing with the camera 004

Many of us feel this way as we age. Most of us think of death as something that will come to us with a long enough warning to allow us to put affairs in order (if we have procrastinated), and will give us plenty of opportunities to say our good-byes and bring closure to our relationships with those closest to us. Many of us barely think that a freak of events can cause us to die completely unexpectedly–a traffic accident, a weak tree branch suddenly falling on us and cracking our skull, a random drive-by shooting in a safe neighborhood, a heart-attack when no one is around to revive us or call 911. So many ways in which our lives can end instantaneously by simple acts of Fate.

Me–well, I have recently had a series of medical issues, but the worst of them is a case of diverticulosis–“sacs” in the colon–that we almost all get as we age; but mine is particularly “delicate” because the sacs are fist-sized, and there are at least four of them on the left side of my colon. Each collects bodily waste that can cause infection or become toxic and, if suddenly “twisted”, colon death. If any of the sacs suddenly bursts, due to their size and the probability of setting off a chain reaction, I will bleed out in five minutes or less–all without any warning, and too quickly for even the fastest emergency medical response team or ambulance crew to do anything about.

But you can have surgery, you’re thinking. Well, I’m planning on it. However, there are other complications. Two months earlier, I suffered a completely unanticipated two bouts with three bleeding ulcers that sent me to the local hospital for transfusion–four units the first time, two more units less than a week after the first. When I was released from the hospital, the only advice I was given was to rest and eat a bland diet for at least 6 months. It seems that no one thought about iron supplements, but that’s a whole different story, and I blame myself for not seeing my internist soon enough to discuss dietetic and supplemental options.

About six weeks after this series of ulcer-related problems, I noticed that I was getting weaker instead of stronger. I was trying to strengthen up with exercises in the community pool, but found that I could do less with each session. Then one morning, I sat in my car for about a minute before putting my car into reverse and realized I wasn’t sure which pedal was the break and which the gas. Once I got that straight through trial and error while in neutral, I drove to the neighboring city where I ended up shopping for groceries instead of meeting up with a friend (her mix-up this time, not mine). In the store, I began to experience incidents of dizziness that were apparently noticeable enough that my favorite “bag boy” interrupted his packing for another customer and hurried down the aisle I was shopping in to ask if I was OK. I told him I was a little dizzy, and that maybe I was done with shopping for the day. I drove home very slowly, noticing that I was driving like I was inebriated–taking curves wide on our narrow roads, stopping a little to close to the car ahead of me, driving toward the middle of the road instead of in my lane (as I said, very narrow roads here on the island), moving too far from parked vehicles, etc. Clearly, it was time to visit my doctor, which I did the next day. The office sent me for blood tests–but that took several more days to do mostly because of the crazy laboratory hours related to certain tests. By the time I had blood drawn, we were preparing for a trip to a neighboring island for a conference related to my husband’s work. I was feeling poorly enough at that point where I just wanted to cancel my flight reservations and stay home. He became very insistent that I accompany him, and I didn’t have the strength to argue too long–although I was very unhappy with the fact that he would not accept my desire to stay home.

So we traveled to St. Kitt’s (St. Christopher  Island), picked up the rental car, and I had an accident less than a block from the rental agency–nothing serious, just ripped off mirrors and a few scratches. Now, part of the problem–most of it, possibly–was because St. Kitt’s driving is of the British persuasion–one drives on the left. It’s not that I don’t know how to drive “British”–have done so in the middle of England’s small twisty roads in the dark, fog, and rain, driving a car with a manual transmission (thank goodness the gears were in the same place, just accessible by the wrong hand); and maneuvered triple round-abouts that left me white-knuckled and mummy-stiff. What I believe happened is that my perception was totally off–effects of the anemia I didn’t know about yet. Well, three hours and one new rental later, we were on our way to our resort hotel, where the car stayed parked until we returned to the airport.

Each day, I was feeling more and more ill, managing to contract some form of bronchitis while there, as well. The next day (Monday), I drove to the internist’s office for the lab results. She took one look at the red blood cell count (64) from the week before and would not even let me drive the half kilometer home to pick up some night clothes and toiletries. My husband, who does not drive, called a co-worker to take me to the hospital from the doctor’s office, and there was an amusing series of events as Joe’s two colleagues planned how to get my car home and me to the hospital as quickly as possible.

The moment I got to the emergency room (the doctor had called ahead), I was checked into the hospital and immediately transfused with a unit of blood. The assumption was that my ulcers had started acting up again, but the next day’s endoscopy showed they were healing quite well and not actively giving me trouble. Two days later, after a double cleansing of my lower GI tract, and after finding no evidence of residual blood in the “output,” I finally received a colonoscopy. That’s when the fist-sized sacs (they looked a lot like volcanic craters in one rendering) were discovered. But my blood count was still down, with both red and white blood cells “disappearing” in balanced proportions; and the doctors were left completely baffled. Before releasing me on Friday, I was transfused overnight with two more units of blood given at a snail’s pace drip (6 hours per unit to enter my system).

In the meantime, I was being given massive doses of antibiotics–first as injections, then switched to fast IV drips–three to four times a day, treating an eye/sinus infection, and used prophylactically to prevent my own bronchitis from turning into pneumonia.

But the worst part for me was this: because of my low blood count, surgery is out of the question until the count enters the normal range. Also, because of the size and nature of the sacs, any one of them can burst just for the heck of it, and that would cause me to bleed out too quickly to save my life. If my blood count were normal, surgery would have been scheduled immediately, and I would have been flown to the US for the surgery. Although I was finally prescribed massive doses of iron in tablet form, the doctors still don’t know where my blood cells are going. I suspect I have a tiny black hole somewhere in my body that eats only blood cells and sends them to some alternate universe–probably to some lab that is studying human anatomy or something. As a friend suggested, maybe my body has simply decided to stop producing blood cells, which raises a bunch of other serious questions.

So, for now, I live each day one day at a time, not knowing if I will survive the day or receive the gift of awaking the next morning. There’s a much greater limit now to how much I can accomplish in a given day. Despite being cautioned not to drive, we live in an area too remote to keep me out of my car. I do as much as possible during the morning, when my strength seems to be greatest and my ability to maneuver the car is at its best. Because most volunteer work is in the afternoon, I have done very little during the past several weeks. Although I try very hard to remain positive during the day, I tend to get cranky and speak too bluntly, especially when I have no strength to either play silly social interaction “games” or am simply too tired to hold back comments or use my energy to say things nicely (especially since no one seems to understand my meaning when I obfuscate just enough to keep things pleasant). Being “nice” simply takes too much effort sometimes; and frankly, I have found that bluntness is much more effective in getting meaning across, even if it causes people to get angry. Yes, I try to be blunt nicely, but there are far too many people who don’t really listen to what any one of us says, even if we are answering a question they asked and (logically) should want to hear the answer. They don’t. But that’s another topic.

One day at a time, and immense gratitude for each new day. That’s the way I function now. I do what I can, rest when I need, eat when my phone alarm reminds me it’s meal time, make certain my meals are fiber-rich, drink plenty of herbal teas, consume my ginger drink, etc. I take my medications at the right time, although I often forget about my Restasis® and Patenol® eye drops, and try to do all the normal little things of life. In general, I follow the same pattern my father followed when he knew his aneurysm would kill him when he least expected it. And it did–while he was in the middle of the mundane task of preparing his cup of coffee and breakfast.

To dwell on death is absurd–Death comes for each of us when s/he feels our time is over. There’s no escaping that. There is only time to set our affairs in order (hopefully), and to live each day as though it were our last. For me, until and if my blood count allows for the surgery, that living is especially important. I still haven’t visited all the beaches on this beautiful island…

#educ_dr

 

On (My) Family

I’ve got a lot of years behind me, and I’ve made a lot of mistakes related to family. But what I’ve discovered is that I don’t particularly care for my family, especially for the way my children turned out. I don’t know what their memories of me are, as none of them have the guts to speak with me, even though I’ve never closed off any doors to them. They, on the other hand–and for reasons they have chosen to keep from me–have shut off any means of communication there can possibly be.

As a student of human nature, I observe and see both the deliberate misinterpretations and the meanness with which my adult children choose to withhold communication. Both are involved with significant others who are nice enough and smart enough in their own right, but who have severe limits in acceptance of differences. But then, the same is true of my children, so the matches are probably heaven-sanctioned. For a while, I was hurt by responses–or lack thereof–related to the only visit I have made to them in many, many years. My own frustration to being shunned upon my return home turned to anger and outright and open vehemence. Upon further reflection, I realized that I simply do not like either my children or their mates, mostly because my own children have chosen to ignore the concepts of both individual differences (specifically in the person who gave them life), of acceptance of the reality of aging, and the ability to weigh the many sides of an issue to determine future action/interaction. Clearly, I had been judged and sentenced without the luxury of speaking in my own defense.

As I have aged, I have suffered from a series of ailments which have left me in severe pain 24/7. Two months ago, I suffered a bout of extreme blood loss from a surprise attack of bleeding ulcers which ended up requiring the transfusion of 6 liters of blood. This can be a fatal attack if one is alone when such a bout occurs. Had my husband–from whom I was ready to seek a divorce–not been home at the time (the attack occurred at 2:00 a.m.), I would have died from the blood loss. He immediately called the community guard who called for an ambulance. Although I was floating in and out of consciousness during the 20-minute drive to the hospital, the intravenous delivery of fluids helped to stabilize me enough to get me to the hospital, where I received an immediate transfusion of blood and kept in the Intensive Care Unit for several days. For the first time in our marriage, and despite rare visits from him when I underwent 4 major surgeries (during one of which I actually died on the operating table and needed to be revived), he was at the hospital with me this time for hours at a time, trusting his fellow faculty at the local medical school to cover for him when he was with me. This was a major feat for my husband, who doesn’t drive, and who had to pay for taxi service each trip. All previous hospitalizations were no more than a city block from his office, and yet he rarely visited. If he did, he spent no more than 5 minutes with me because he had to catch the shuttle to the train station or bus depot. So his frequent and long visits during the bleeding ulcer recuperation was a huge surprise that changed the dynamic of our relationship forever.

Just prior to this attack, we had decided to seek help for our 24-year marriage instead of just ending it outright, either formally or informally. The sudden realization that I almost died on him made him realize that he was actually afraid to lose me, despite all our differences. The effort that he made to visit me frequently–often more than once a day–touched me in a way that I haven’t been touched by anything he did in many years. Thus, we are making great efforts to try to change the way we interact as well as our expectations of each other. We are both taking the continuation of this marriage very seriously. To me, I now know that he actually cares.

Meanwhile, although I posted on Facebook from the hospital, neither my two children nor my sister made any effort to wish me well, or to at least check to see how I was doing. My mother uses no electronic devices, but lives with my sister, and I know would have made an effort to call me if my sister had mentioned my illness to her. Thus, my sister either did not see any of my posts, leading me to believe that I had been blocked from her news feed, or simply didn’t care enough to mention it to my mother. That I had been blocked from my children’s feeds was obvious even before I was hospitalized, although it is not clear to me why my son chose to block me. But then, he ignored any communication I tried to initiate with him since my return home from my visit with him as well, whether via post, email, or direct telephone contact attempt. Upon the recommendation of my psychiatrist–whom I had been seeing since before the visits to my children and sister because I was trying to make sense of my relationship with my husband–suggested I write a letter to my son, who, as far as I knew at the time, was not shunning me. Since there has been no response of any kind, I guess I received my answer about my place in his life. In addition, I wrote to my 86-year-old mother letting her know what my situation had been and simply giving myself a sense of closure, in the event I would have no further direct contact with her. My husband is not good at thinking about letting family members know about any important events, so there was no expectation from me that he would contact family to let them know what was happening with me–although it is clear that none of them would have cared anyway (except my mother).

Since my illness, I have come to realize that family is not everything–at least, not blood relations or in-laws. The people I now feel closest to are people who are not related by blood or marriage (except my sister-in-law and her family). These are friends, whose friendships I cultivate when I can; with each of these individuals, I have had more individual contact than with my biological family as a whole. For the first time in my life I have come to understand the meaning of the concept that family does not need to comprise ancestral kinship. Family is those people with whom one can be oneself, even when one is cantankerous  or when one makes unthinking remarks. I am finding I have Family all over the US and on this small island of St. Martin/Sint Maarten to whom I feel closer than with my biological family. This Family allows for my idiosyncrasies and passions and opinions without believing that I am being “dramatic” or self-indulgent. This Family understands when I take different positions–usually in a single 5-minute interval–because they know I am continuing to attempt to make sense of my world. In other words, they think the same way I think, even if we disagree at a given moment or on a particular point. I like to explore and weigh my thoughts out loud and through practice,and my Family is OK with that. My Family has no problem with being honest with me–often brutally–knowing that I will weigh all their comments and reactions, and apologize when needed or argue my case better when I disagree. These are the people I love and respect beyond measure, and they come from all walks of like–cultural, religious, professional, etc.

Thus, my initial hurt at the shunning by my purportedly Christian family was very quickly replaced by a sadness over the loss of their love and/or caring. For years I have known that I love my sister-in-law more than my sister, and have developed a respect for my niece(in-law) for her courteousness, including the simple written or spoken “thank you” for even the smallest gifts. Not one of my grandchildren has ever sent us a thank you note, and only two have thanked me when a gift or courtesy was delivered in person during my recent visit–but even they have never made an effort to provide the small courtesy of a thank you without physical presence. But then, neither have my children or my sister. What a family I come from and what children I have raised! It is almost embarrassing to be related to them at all.

Although my husband thinks I may be a little premature, I have decided to change my will so that, in the event my death precedes his, not a single token will be endowed to any member of my biological family. None of them deserve it. None of them would consider the intrinsic value of a bauble for the non-financial value I have placed on it. None of them would understand in the slightest why I have put any value on such a trifle. None of them are the type of people I consider worthy of inheriting an iota from a clearly eccentric relative. Not any more, anyway. My Family, on the other hand, will appreciate even the smallest token of what I have to give–mostly because they know and understand me so well. To them, my eccentricities are lovable–or at least tolerable–characteristics. They love me for who and what I am and are willing to accept my flaws as well as my charms. That is why to me they are Family as well as friends. The best part is that they understand my lack of phone usage, which I wrote about in a previous post. (sigh)

Here is the important part: I am more than the sum of my parts. I am stronger than my biological family take me for. I may not have achieved all that I set out to do; I may not have been whatever mythical person my biological family thought I should be; I may have not become the person aimed to be when I was much younger. But I like most of the elements that comprise me, and I continue to try to improve those things I do not like about myself. I am a better person today than I was yesterday, and I will be a better person tomorrow than I am today. I love people for who they are, not for what they are or what they have or what they can do for me. Those people who have hurt me in the past are no less deserving of love than the people who have helped me in the past. There is little enough love in the world, and I will continue to love my family because they are my family, even though they have shunned me as effectively as a fundamentalist religious clan blots out the existence of an excommunicate. However, I will no longer make any effort to communicate with family who clearly wishes to not communicate with me. They are in the past, and there is nothing more that I can do to open lines of communication–especially since I am not the one who closed them.

And I am surprisingly quite comfortable with that.

On Pain

Pain.  Physical pain.

We all experience it, as evidenced by the huge selection and marketing of pain relief products.  For the year 2013, in the United States alone, the sales value of over-the-counter (OTC) oral pain relievers–tablets and liquid–was over $1.3 billion.  External pain relief products generated another $360 million.  I have had trouble tracking down good numbers for physical therapy, pain management medical programs, prescription pain relief products, and self-help therapy with or without support from non medical personnel, although I am certain that the total cost of services dwarfs the OTC market.  One LinkedIn source estimates that the U.S. pain management market in 2011 was almost $41 billion, but that the market value is declining and expected to drop to $29.5 billion by 2018.

The projected decline in pain management comes as a surprise to me.  As new products with fewer side effects come to market, and with an aging population, it is difficult for me to imagine such a decline.  To date, no one has figured out how to wipe out arthritis as one ages.  With increased life spans and continually rising medical and pharmaceutical costs, declining costs seem less logical to me, especially since it costs pharmaceutical companies more each year to bring a product to market, especially with the increased expectations of the National Institutes of Health requiring greater and more careful clinical study of any new drug a company plans to release.  Homeopathic and “natural” methods may, perhaps, take away some pharmaceutical profits, as more sufferers shun drugs for New Age and ancient Asian and Indian natural dietary products/programs and body strengthening programs such as yoga, tai chi, stretching, water aerobics, and other proactive exercise techniques.  So far, nothing related to the pain management market is clear on how much these contribute to the value of pain management, either actively or prophylactically.

Over the past ten years or so, pain management has become a major issue for me.  Although I kept myself physically fit until I was 40, as I entered into new life changes and circumstances, I allowed my body to weaken.  Shortly after I reached the age of 50, I began to experience numbness and pain from spinal arthritic spurs that were pressing into my spinal cord, along with ruptured discs that exacerbated the problems.  I have seen some of the best pain management physicians and physical therapists in the US, and have been prescribed pharmaceutical regimens that greatly–although not completely–brought my pain to controllable levels.  But the pharmaceuticals have also contributed to other ailments, such as liver problems and bleeding ulcers.  Exercise, diet, and various forms of natural remedies have helped reduce some of the pain.  However, nothing is perfect, and the body continues to degenerate with age, thereby causing more pain.  Until I was taken off of all effective pharmaceutical products when I lost much of my blood to bleeding ulcers last month, I had almost forgotten the extent of the pain level with which I live each day.  The controlled pain was still bad enough to cause insomnia because I could not get comfortable, and limited my independence during the day.  Pain has become my constant companion.

Thankfully, because I have been careful with dietary regulation for a good portion of my life, and because I do not suffer from diabetic neuropathy, I am not as badly off as many people in the US who suffer from chronic pain.  My tolerance for pain is pretty high, and I continue to exercise through much of my pain.  But life with pain has definitely changed aspects of my personality for the worse, and I no longer smile through more excruciating episodes.  Yes, I have become Bitch of the Year.  Pain contributes to crankiness big time.  Moving to a warmer climate would have been a great idea if most of the pain I experience were muscular instead of neural.  Limited medical services here have caused a great deal more crankiness in me than I would have imagined.  Some of the less-than-professional attitudes of certain medical personnel here–and I’m thinking specifically the gastroenterologist who was taking care of me while I was in the hospital–contribute to my increasing crankiness.  My frustration that my husband took a job on this island, forcing me to move away from trusted doctors and other medical personnel, as well as alternative medicine sources, has contributed to my crankiness, while some of the less-than-state-of-the-art medical knowledge and practices have contributed to speeding up my deterioration.  Add these to the crankiness factor and the line between simple bitch and Super Bitch was quickly crossed.

The problem is that many Americans in the US are probably getting less care than I get here on a foreign island.  Red States that are denying aging citizens access to the benefits of the Affordable Health Care Act and U.S. congressional representatives are attempting to curtail Medicare benefits will be leaving more and more Americans in a battle to fight pain on their own.  This appears to me to be the primary reason why costs of pain management are expected to decrease rather drastically over the next several years.  Aging Americans may be more fit and more health conscious than those of preceding generations; but even diet and exercise cannot prevent much of the deterioration that naturally affects an aging body.

Certainly, I have covered only a small part of what aging Americans do to stave off health problems that contribute to pain in later years of life.  However, even allowing “wiggle room” for factoring in remedies and techniques not mentioned here leaves me feeling that pain management cost projections will not decrease as drastically as predicted.

Sources:

http://www.statista.com/statistics/255218/market-value-of-otc-pain-relief-products-in-the-us-by-outlet-type/

https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/article/20140818124249-348022851-pain-management-market-is-to-be-worth-usd-29-47-billion-by-2018-transparency-market-research

The (Not Quite) Final Exam

It has been twelve days since I returned from a six-week trip back to the States. At the age of 64, it is merely a page of a tome. I went “home” for a variety of reasons, including medical, family visits (especially a family wedding!), and escape from my current home–not necessarily in that order. Upon returning, I am finding myself pondering my children’s lives and lifestyles, the differences among family members and what they consider important, climate differences, and my own bumbling trek through life. Mostly, I have been trying to examine just who I am, how I got to this place in my life, and where to go from here.

During my trip, I made two major mistakes: the first is that I didn’t journal; the second involves my daughter, but that will be the subject of another post–titled along the lines of “The Making of the Shrew”, or “Daughter Dearest”. That I didn’t journal and that I’m taking so long to put my observations and experiences in writing concerns me most because I don’t know how accurate my recollections are any more. Inaccuracy might be a good thing, though. I might be able to inject humor into the few complex situations that fell into my path!

The obvious things I’ve discovered–or re-discovered–about myself are the following: capability, awareness, and the ability to love (among other things). I am fully capable of traveling on my own, even with excessive luggage. My spinal stenosis, spreading arthritis, and general weakening of muscles gets in the way of my desire for full freedom of action and movement, but it is not so debilitating that I lose all sense of independence. One thing I have learned is to accept help somewhat more graciously than I have in the past, and that there are always wonderful people willing to help an old woman when she is obviously baffled and at loose ends. Long ago I discovered that there is always at least one Good Samaritan in even the most ignoble throng. During my travels, my faith in humanity was not dimmed, but strengthened. Trust in the basic goodness of people, and even a frail ole lady can travel the world.

Awareness is more than knowing where things are and who is nearby. It is also the quality of understanding one’s often disruptive role in a host’s household or hearing the unspoken words and noticing the climate of a household or environment. I learned to listen to the spoken and unspoken words of my grandchildren, all of whom are in disrupted households. I learned to notice when accommodating me into a routine was becoming stressful on my children–not always right away, and not always correctly, and probably not about every situation, but enough times where I recognized that I have my own set of expectations and habits that are less conducive to behavioral change. Interestingly, although I found my children’s households to be devoid of a certain amount of privacy, that did not bother me so much as I thought it might. When I unexpectedly stayed with my sister for the final few days of my trip and when I visited a close friend in Lubbock, TX, I had a room to myself where I could retreat if I so desired. However, what I learned even in the latter two places is that a bedroom is nothing more than a place to sleep and hold one’s belongings–much the way I generally treat the bedroom in my own home. I like to be in the middle of family members and friends; my preference is not to be alone, even if the company is pets. My very early years made me an observer, and there is little to observe when one is alone in a room or dwelling.

That “love is a four-letter word” has always been an incongruous and trite observation to me. What is love? Why do we feel love? How do we feel love? What do we mean when we say to people, “I love you”? I have learned that love is more than a feeling of comfort and more than a necessity for close human relationships. For me, at least. I love my children, even if I don’t particularly like one of them (back to the daughter later). I love my grandchildren, even those that are grandchildren by marriage or living arrangement, as each is a delightful individual with a unique personality and set of talents. But why do I love them? Loving is not the same as being in love, yet we utilize the same word to describe both the affection we have for family and friends as well as the for the draw and excitement we feel for a romantic partner. For those of us who have lived beyond the age when sexual attraction is an issue, the difference is between genuine caring for an individual and lustful stirrings. But if that is the case, why do I say that I love certain people while merely liking others? Where do we draw the line? At what point do we say “I care about this person but not so much about another”? What I learned about myself is that I can love a person fleetingly as well as long-term. I met people on this trek of mine with whom I made instant connections. I cared–and still care–about them, even knowing that I will never encounter them again. It had nothing to do with what they could do for me. In several cases, I “did” for them rather than the other way around. I encountered people who were traveling home, people traveling to new and exciting destinations, individuals who were starting a new life chapter or closing one, etc. Each was instantly stirred affection in me for different reasons. I met these people in airports, on planes, at ticket and store check-out counters, in lines, at kids’ sport functions, in restaurants–in short, everywhere I went. To say I instantly liked everyone is far from the truth. For example, I found myself disliking an individual at an airport security check-point in Midland, TX, because he confiscated an item of “contraband” that I had overlooked while packing. The item was a butane lighter that I was given as a gift. The lighter had been in my purse when I passed through every single check-point: here in Sint Maarten, in Miami, in Dallas-Fort Worth. The conversation that took place over this lighter at the Midland-Odessa Airport made it obvious that the security person liked it and planned on keeping it. There was no point in arguing about it as I was wrong to be carrying it in my purse, but I found the blatant “thievery” obnoxious enough that I could find nothing to like about the person. And that makes me think that love involves trust. Can you love a person whom you don’t trust? And what makes me believe that all the other people I encountered were/are trustworthy? Is it deviousness that makes a person unlovable to me? Did I find my grandchildren instantly lovable because there was already a family connection? Or do I love them because of their candidness? Is it primarily people who are disingenuous that I dislike and for whom I feel no affection? Is the fondness I feel when I meet new people love/affection or something else? How different is love from like? What do we mean when we say we like a person? Why do we feel–I don’t know–elated or warm or warm-fuzzy for some people but not for others? All I know is that I feel genuine fondness for people whom I don’t almost instantly dislike. To me, that is some sort of love. I also know–now–that there are very few people for whom I feel no love.

So this Li’l Ole Lady is finding much to contemplate about her life, and is finding more and more resources to discuss in future posts. And I had better get those thoughts down as quickly as possible, before they fade into the general pool of life experiences…

Welcome to my mind!

Hello!

So happy you chose to visit me.
On this site, my plan is to share my observations and thoughts, reminiscences and forecasts–anything I believe might be worth sharing with others. 

Although I have other blog sites, those are related to education, educating, learning and learning disorders, educational psychology and research, children’s books… The stuff of which my professional life was built. This blog is more general, aimed at sharing rambling thoughts that may cover some “professional” topics, but mostly personal thoughts on life and living. 

On these pages, you will share my journey of discovering the finer points of my ebbing life, including my observations of change in institutions across time. My eyesight is beginning to fail, and so I am more cognizant and aware of imagery around me. Being a lousy photographer and a mediocre writer, words do not flow from my brain to my keyboard; but I’m hoping to sketch out what I see and how I view the world around me now that I am aging.

Join me on this voyage of discovery. Share your own thoughts and insights. This is a place for me to just be. And I invite you to share my space…to be a fellow traveler… 

 

Looking forward to your next visit,

Li’l Ole Lady Ellie