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We say yes, he insists no.  What’s a child to do?

Right now my 89 year old father is in a rehab unit hoping to re-gain the strength of his body.  His legs don’t work that well anymore, particularly his left leg that’s grown weaker in the 20 years following his stroke.  The same is true of his arms; the right does the lion’s share of work while the left hangs limp at his side.  He desperately wants to return home where he was about a month ago before this current crisis took place.  There he was able to move ever so slowly using his walker and also to perform the daily rituals of living.  Now he can’t get in or out of bed by himself, bathing and dressing himself is impossible and he requires the help of an aid to move even more slowly and unsteadily in his walker for yet shorter distances than before.  And yet he’s convinced himself that he’ll get strong enough to go home and continue life as before.  It doesn’t look promising, though he is improving.

The food there is good; we’ve tasted a bit of all his meals as they’re delivered.  He’s receiving excellent care, has a private room and is in a very cheerful, bright community of people with a similar cultural background as his.  He’s been accepted into their long term care household which is where we want him to live.  He refuses, complaining about the regimented lifestyle and business-like attitude of some of the nurses and aids.  They have schedules to adhere to regardless of whether he agrees.  He likens it to life in the military some 70 years ago and says he wouldn’t wish it on his worst enemy.

We’re in a stalemate.  Once his physical therapy is finished we’ll have to make a decision.  What do we use as our guide?  Our judgement, as his children, about what’s best for him?  Or his emotional insistence on the way he wants to live out the rest of his life?

Based on history, we think that if he goes home he’ll “fire” the aids after a short period of time because he thinks they’re no longer necessary.  It’s happened before.  He hates spending the money; he considers it wasteful.  He wants to die with his money intact “just in case.”  “Just in case” what?  we probe.  “I don’t know” is the answer.  He can’t grasp the idea that NOW is the” just in case” he’s been saving for.

Life at home consists of sitting solitary in a room and watching TV all day.  His only company is my sister when she returns from work and my other sister when she visits.  On many Thursdays he hobbles to his car and drives to meet his buddies for lunch at the nearby deli.  He shouldn’t, but he does.  I doubt he’ll be cleared by a doctor to continue driving.  He’s convinced we’re wrong.  He must keep his car.

When I was a kid I went to hebrew school and took piano lessons because my parents insisted they were beneficial.  I disagreed.  It didn’t matter.  I went and I practiced — for years.  And years.  And years.  Now, as an adult, I’m a richer person for the experiences.

He doesn’t see the analogy.  He sees himself as the parent who knows best.  We disagree.  Who wins?  And at what cost?

What do you say?  What would you do?

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Growing Old


Health

Health (Photo credit: 401K 2012)

It’s a bitch to get old and feeble.  None of us thinks about it while we’re busy with our lives managing careers, family, friends and the daily mundane chores of living.  Nobody anticipates the day when we can no longer take care of ourselves, relegating decisions about our life to others.

That rude awakening landed square between my eyes while now playing the role of parent to my elderly father.  He’s always been a ferociously independent, active man who supported a family of six, sent his kids to college and provided the religious education he considered to be important.  He ran a business and answered to himself about all matters.

As a renegade, my father felt rules were guidelines that he could follow or not.  He could run red lights if he determined there to be no traffic, but God forbid any of his kids do that if he’s a passenger in our cars.  If his customers were tardy on paying him, his bills could wait until cash flow improved.  Any imposed penalty for lateness didn’t apply to him because of his extenuating circumstances.

Now he sits in a wheel chair while his body defies his craving to walk and go and do.  Now he has to listen to us.  And his therapists.  And his doctors.  And eat food they want him to eat and drink liquids that are unappetizing.

Life is incredibly difficult for him these days and at 89 it’s damn near impossible to become a different man, a deferential man.

My heart aches for him and I wonder whether he will be me someday.

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She lies in bed with her feet curled under the sheets, hands gripped in tight fists wrapped around small stuffed bears to prevent her nails from stabbing her palms. She stares into space, now completely blind, with a blank expression.  Her past-time these days is to curl her tongue around her mouth, stick it out and start over again.  She sips water through a straw, is fed baby food with a spoon and her hygiene needs are attended to by others.  She has end-stage Alzheimer’s Disease and as it progresses, she regresses deeper into infancy.  

Amazing how this woman is ending up where she began.  And, as far as doctors know, she’s unaware of the changes in her life.  Eventually her brain will stop remembering how to swallow.

Alzheimer’s Disease is a tragic way to die.  This woman’s progression is now 8 years into diagnosis with her family responsible for her care.  Their lives are on hold and her husband has essentially devoted his to her, rendering him housebound with occasional relief days to steal a few hours out of the house.

“Hi baby” he coos to her when he returns home.  

“How are you?  

Did you have a nap?  

Are you thirsty baby?”  

Blank stare into space.  Tongue rolls around in mouth.  Evidently that response triggers him to reach for the water-glass to give her a quick swig.  And “quick” is the operative word here.  Her sucking impulse is strong and she’s likely to gulp down more than she can process.  A couple coughing and gasping spells is all that’s necessary before that lesson sinks in.

It’s a lonely life relegated to Alzheimer’s families.  They suffer the disease more harshly than the patient because they watch the deterioration of a human being who used to be a vital member of the family.

There is no substitute for the love of an Alzheimer’s caregiver.
–Bob DeMarco

Pat Summitt stepped down today as Head Coach of the Lady Vols.  Less than a year ago she announced a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s Disease.  Fortunately she has plenty of money to pay for round the clock care.  Most people don’t.  But all the money in the world can’t reverse her fate.  Not yet.  

                                                    Maybe someday?

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Pogo

Pogo is thrilled to be back in our neighborhood to explore his old haunts, no longer tethered to a leash.  It’s not necessary at home;  the woods are familiar territory since the days he eked out a life before choosing me as mom.  For a month the little guy was lost, or abandoned, and became quite successful at rooting out small furry ground creatures and bugs.  He considers the wooded neighborhood his backyard and leads the way on our walks announcing every car, person and animal before they barely come within view.  He’s fiercely loyal and protective of me and our bond runs deeper than any other relationship I have.

Not Bow - but looks as beautiful as she was

It’s always been that way with animals and me.  When I was nine my best friend was the collie around the corner, Bow.  She’d wait for me on her front yard and then together we’d crawl into our fort among the bushes and tell each other secrets about our day, some of which made me cry.  I’m convinced she understood my tears, her chin resting on my knee cooing her soft soothing sounds of compassion while she stared sadly into my eyes.  I always felt better afterward.

My life is filled with stories of serendipity involving animals; most of my pets have happened into our family over the years, rarely invited but always welcomed.  I need them for soul survival.  Never had kids.  Must have animals.  Right now we have five cats and Pogo, my first-ever dog.  Somehow this 25 pound feist terrier didn’t cause the typical allergic reactions that plague Rick around dogs and horses.  Go figure; just one more example of serendipity.   Lucky Pogo and very, very lucky me.  We’re inseparable.

There are a lot of life’s lessons to be gleaned from animals if you’re quiet, observant and receptive.  They’re much more authentic than people, in fact, they have no capacity to be otherwise.  They have a smaller pre-frontal cortex, the brain part that allow us to reason and plan.  They don’t manipulate or have ulterior motives.  They teach unconditional love.  Their emotions, pure and concentrated, ooze out of their being – love, fear, anger, hurt, sadness, joy, loneliness – you just look into their eyes to immediately understand their feelings.

Beautiful Madison, our Persian cat

Rudy & Pumpernickel

Pogo & Willey

Scooter

There are few animals I don’t instantly feel attracted to.  They have an uncanny ability to open my heart wide, drawing me into conversation while the owners stand outside our circle disconnected from our secular communion.  The animal and I become immediate friends.  Humans don’t have the same effect on me.  They’re usually armored with defenses, allowing the approved facade to engage in superficial conversation that rarely leads to any true knowledge of one another.  But animals – the more open you are, the more honest and love filled they become.

Horse and Rider

Horse and Rider (Photo credit: Istvan)

I recently read a book by neurosurgeon and horse trainer Dr. Alan Hamilton called “Zen Mind Zen Horse:  The Science and Spirituality of Working With Horses.”  He too recognizes the spiritual magic transpiring between human and animal once you let down your defenses, open to your vulnerability and invite the connection.  Dr. Hamilton harnesses the energy or chi emanating between trainer and horse to non-verbally communicate instructions for the horse to follow.  And this guy’s a scientist.

James Cameron created Avatars to become divine examples of their human counterparts.  Animals serve as my avatars.  Life’s answers can be found during quiet meditation, interaction with nature and communion with animals.  That’s where my joy is born.

And yours?

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It was a beautiful bright day riding my bike through Key West, much like yesterday’s cycling trip.  The sky was a vivid blue and the wind was blowing gently masking the sun’s searing rays.  Once again I slathered the sun block on all exposed skin, wore a hat and continued my exploration of this small and tightly packed party island.

I love my bike trips, many of which are solitary experiences.  My husband doesn’t ride and my friends who do aren’t here. It’s just me, my bike, the scenery and my thoughts which flow unencumbered by conversation.  Sometimes so many ideas flow through my mind I need to stop and record them on my phone for evaluation at a later time.  Other times it’s meditative to ride at an even pace and coast when something grabs my attention for a closer look.

Being solitary is being alone well: being alone luxuriously immersed in doings of your own choice, aware of the fullness of your won presence rather than of the absence of others. Because solitude is an achievement.
Alice Koller

I also find myself receptive to new people and while it’s usually true that strangers tend to keep to themselves, they’re unusually responsive to friendly repartee when I’m alone.  The art gallery manager from Michigan explained how he and his wife stopped for a day in Key West during a cruise and decided to move here.  That was in 2002. We talked for probably 15 minutes.

Fort Zachary Taylor

Image via Wikipedia

Somehow the idea of being alone became equated to loneliness and nothing could be farther from the truth.  Loneliness surfaces from a depressed state, one which rises from a sense of lack.  Being alone lacks nothing.  There is no void, just a contentedness for being where you are, doing what you’re doing and enjoying your own company.

Loneliness expresses the pain of being alone and solitude expresses the glory of being alone.
Theologian Paul Tillich

In fact I do many things alone, always have.  I’ve never required a companion to see a movie, theater, shop, have a restaurant meal, attend an event, visit a city, take a vacation – you name it and I’ve done it alone.  I get together with friends when I want to see them and share experiences.  My husband comes along when he’s interested in doing the same thing at the same time, but in truth our interests are overlapping circles that share about 20 percent of the same space.

What a lovely surprise to finally discover how unlonely being alone can be.
Ellen Burstyn

Mostly I’m a loner who also has friends.  I’ve never identified with people who deny themselves experiences if they can’t find a companion.  Frankly, I know a lot of people who have felt very lonely in the company of others, and that includes some married couples.

Solitude

Solitude (Photo credit: Lady-bug)

I don’t live in solitude but I seek its experience everyday.  Alone feels good, it percolates with a vibrancy that strengthens intuition. And intuition is the juice that powers wise decision-making. I always allow it to have pre-eminence over my mind because it speaks the truth.

Read below for many delicious thoughts about solitude.

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English: Scanned image of author's US Social S...

Image via Wikipedia

Next month my husband turns 65, an age that used to feel ancient to me.  That’s when people officially retire because they’ve reached old age, get their Medicare card to help with health care costs  and join the senior citizens’ club.  In fact, he became one of the 10,000 people each day who sign up to receive Social Security and Medicare.   Wow – think we’re experiencing a national entitlement crisis?

Meanwhile, where did all the years go?  He was 38 when we got married and somehow he’s still 38 to me.  He pretty much does everything now that he did then.  Come to think of it, I still feel 33, maybe 36, but certainly in my mid 30s even though the calendar year insists I’m 57.  57!

My mother always told me this would happen, that I’d feel like the same person inside regardless of the calendar year. Not everything’s the same though.  Back during my original 30s I worked constantly, spent a lot of down time shopping and enjoyed participating in the night scene.  These days I have very little interest in shopping and my drive to succeed has waned, making space for new interests to develop.

Sometimes I think I enjoy my life more now than back then, I feel more peaceful and comfortable with myself.  The thrilling highs come from different things now.  And I’m not talking drugs – then or now.  I’m talking about events that inspire euphoria.

Today’s baby boomers are yesterday’s hippy generation.  We’re still rebellious, forging new paths.  We don’t feel old at age 50.  We feel adventurous and highly conscious of good health.

Television shows don’t target the over 55 age group, but they’re behind the times.  We’re the demographic with the most expendable dollars and the adventurous spirit to try new things and go new places.  Travel companies are now recognizing that, so are magazines and beauty products.  Pay attention to greenways and notice the 50+ crowd on bicycles, roller blades, running and walking.  Advertisers are picking up on the trend and it’s high time.  Research finds that we’re exercising twice as much as earlier generations.

I’ve accepted that I’m getting older and the reality doesn’t bother me nearly as much as the anticipation did.  It’s still a little freaky that my husband will soon be 65, just like every one of his other age milestones stabbed me…. 50, 60, because he always hits the big number before I do, his age becomes my crisis.  So when it’s my turn, it’s no big deal.  Sort of like a dry run.

Here’s what we know… somebody turns 50 every 8 seconds.  People age 65 and older now exceed 35 million and growing.  Last January introduced the first of some 77 million baby boomers surging toward retirement.

America is growing older.

How do you feel about aging?

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2011 is drawing to a close and I’m feeling pretty good about myself.  This last New Year’s resolution stuck and I was able to accomplish what I set out to do.  It’s taken the year, but the “skinny” clothes section in my closet is where I can now navigate for the day’s apparel.  Hooray!

True confessions here …

People marvel at the size of my new closet, filled with clothes.  What they don’t realize is that, at any given time, only a small section of it is where I head each day.  That chunk varies from its neighbors by 2 or 3 sizes, depending on the year  –  the smallest portion representing “God I wish I weighed that again!”  to…  “Sh**, I’ve gotta lose weight!”

weight loss tracker week 2

Image by The Shed1 via Flickr

It’s thrilling to admit that I’m, as we speak, five pounds away from “God I wish I weighed that again!,” which means that area is where I can now pull daily clothes.  Only my favorite pieces were saved over the years; some of them are classic enough styles to work for today.  Others will have to be given away, but not because they don’t fit!

Losing weight is a huge challenge for me because I love to eat.  Fortunately my taste buds have never yearned for fast food, fried or high fat.  Sweets are what always derail my good intentions.  Just about anything chocolate.  And ice cream.  By the gallons.  Oh, potato chips are high on the list too.  I LOVE potato chips!  I’m a living example of “one is too many and 50 is not enough!”

So, to lose weight I had to curb the tendencies to eat that crap whenever I wanted, in whatever quantities I craved.  After many unsuccessful tries on my own, I finally turned to Weight Watchers – and I’m living proof (along with my husband) that the program works and it can be adapted for each individual’s taste preferences.

There is no magic formula and this blog is not a commercial for Weight Watchers.  The truth is, a lifestyle change that involves proper portion control for each day, exercise, and time (in my case a year) made the magic happen.

Yay !  This gift is my favorite New Year’s present to me.

On to another year and another 5 pounds!

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