SUNNY SIDE UP!!!

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Apparently I’m now at the age where no matter what doctor I go to when, there will always be something wrong. Last week I saw the eye doctor: “You have cataracts on both eyes but the right eye is much worse. They’re slow growing so you don’t have to operate yet.” Then I went for my yearly skin exam: “That’s a pre-cancerous lesion on your arm so I’m going to remove it.”   Out came the hypodermic and a razor blade.

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My next stop was the dentist for a routine cleaning. Easy peasy, right?  2 ½ hours later, I left with a very sore mouth. Apparently, there has been a shadow on my x-rays for the last three years, which my previous dentist didn’t catch. A piece of cement from an old crown that had not been removed had led to a gaping pocket and bone loss in my jaw.

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 What next? I can only imagine. Now all of this is quite minor compared to friends who’ve had strokes, cancer or ended up as one pal has with a body-wasting disease. However, it’s not fun so I’ve come to a decision: in between doctor visits I’m going to find as much joy as possible. That means surrounding myself with people who enjoy my company; making others laugh when I can and yes, occasionally doing Tarzan calls on the Pickleball court and beating my chest.

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 I’m also going to be sure that I take in as much beauty as possible. To that end, I went to Trader Joe’s this morning and didn’t buy a single thing. Instead, I took my camera and snapped everything that looked beautiful to my eyes and I’m sharing it here with you. Enjoy!

 

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LOOK BEFORE YOU LANYARD

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Lately, I’ve taken to wearing a lanyard around my neck, which holds my keys and a series of store tags from the places where I usually shop. Since I began this practice I have not lost my keys once! Until today, it has been a lifesaver. However, while checking out of Ace hardware this morning, when the cashier asked for my tag, I held up the ACE one for him to scan. Without looking, he grabbed it—not realizing that it was attached to me—and almost pulled me across the counter. “Whoa there,” I said, “or you’ll have me in your lap.” Poor kid was horrified. The incident set me thinking about the ways we try to protect ourselves but don’t always do so. Some recent cases in the news come to mind:

  1. Should I still be taking Omega-3 supplements? New information says this is not always a good idea as it can cause blood thinning and excessive bleeding among other issues.
  2. Should I be eating gluten free? New studies show that unless you have certified celiac disease, you might be causing more harm than good. You may even be increasing your risk of heart disease. They’ve also discovered that gluten is a good prebiotic that actually feeds the ‘good’ bacteria in our gut.
  3. It’s on ads all over TV, but is Prevagen really a safe drug to take for a sharper mind?   Um, nope. Not according to the science.
  4. Should I be slathering myself with conventional sunscreens? Um, not unless I want the chemicals in them going smack into my bloodstream and liver.
  5. Are routine dental x-rays really no big deal? They always tell you that the ‘radiation exposure is minimal,’ but do you realize that if you don’t insist on a lead, shield collar for your neck, you can actually fry your thyroid and end up with hypothyroidism or cancer?

So what’s the takeaway? I guess that it’s, still, after more than 2,000 years, just what the Greek poet, Hesiod advised us in 700 BC: “all things in moderation.” Otherwise, the apparently helpful things we think we are doing might ultimately cause more harm than good.  Or, like me, you could end up in a strangers’ lap simply because you didn’t want to lose your keys.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

SHOOTING FROM THE HIP

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Yesterday I met a charming Millenial who just started working at the DMV!  I was there to get that new ID card we all have to have by 2020. He said that he has been, “in training” and this was his very, first day, “out front with the public.” As I laid out my driver’s license, passport, birth certificate, social security card, bank statement AND electric bill, his supervisor, an officious, older woman, stood straight over his shoulder.

As he scoured through my papers, I made small talk and learned that he still lived at home with his parents and this was his first ‘real’ job. As he picked up the final paper, he paused and looked hard at the form where I had filled out my height, weight and hair color. Then he looked directly at me.

 “Um, It says here that your hair color is brown,” he questioned, looking closely at my scalp.

 “Well, yes,” I replied. “I mean I thought about putting ‘gray’ but it’s always been brown. So, um, what do you think I should put down?”

He started to speak but the woman behind him must have nudged or pinched him because he suddenly clammed up. I wanted to hear him out.

 “Let me rephrase that,” I continued. “If a policeman should pull me over to give me a ticket, not that I would ever speed mind you, would he find my hair to be brown or gray?”

 “Well,” he said, considering his words carefully, “I would say that once your hair was probably more brown than gray but now it’s probably more gray than brown.”

 The woman behind him went red in the face and her eyes actually bulged.

 “Oh, perfect!” I laughed. “Then please cross out ‘brown’ and put ‘gray’ down instead. I so appreciate you clarifying this for me.”

“Oh, you’re welcome,” he said quite pleased with himself. “I’m glad I could be of help.”

 God bless the Millennials. Don’t you just love their spunk? Sure they’re moving back home and rotating jobs faster than you can snap your fingers but so what? They shoot straight from the hip. For someone my age who worries about breaking one, it’s refreshing. As it happens, I gave birth to two Millennials. My oldest just turned me on to this song. Thought I’d share it with you: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rDDP2lX5ZHA

 

 

SHAKE IT UP!

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 Put down your Sudoku pencils! Science says that if we really want to stay sharp, we need to shake things up and think out of the box. In a recent study researchers concluded that standardized games are not particularly effective in improving brain performance. Experts now recommend that we use real-world activities instead. “Almost any silly suggestion can work,” says David Eagleman, neuroscientist and assistant professor at Baylor College of Medicine. “Drive home via a different route or brush your teeth with your opposite hand.”

So, I’ve started using my left foot to drive around town. The tricky part is keeping my right leg out of the way. Now I just need more finesse when braking so the drivers around me don’t think I’m on crack. Yesterday, I faced a new challenge: As I waited for a car to back out of a parking space, some jerk in a Porsche suddenly zoomed out in front of me and took it! Oh boy was I mad. However, instead of cursing and flipping him off, I took a good, long look as he got out of his car and entered a nearby restaurant.

After parking, I headed straight for that restaurant. I didn’t care if he was with a bunch of businessmen or out on a date. He was going to hear from me. I whooshed past the maître’d and searched hard for the very, tall guy that I’d seen emerge from the Porsche. Bingo! He was alone at the bar, already halfway through a beer.

 “Hi!” I said with a big smile, sitting down next to him. “Are you aware of what just transpired between us outside?” He was genuinely confused.

 “You purposefully took the parking space that you saw me waiting for and even ran your stop sign to do it.”

 He looked down sheepishly and I had the sense that drinking on his lunch hour was common.

“Someone did that to me here last week,” he stammered.

 “That’s hardly an excuse,” I said. “Look, it seems like you’re having a rough time right now but if you start being nicer to the folks around you, things just might get better.”

“I’m sorry,” he said.

 “Thank God,” I laughed. “For a minute there I thought I might have to beat you up!”

 He smiled.  Me, too.  See what happens when you shake things up?  Now, open your icebox and ask the dog what she’d like for dinner.    

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

MY TRIBE

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Much ado is made of the importance of diet, exercise, sleep and lack of stress in order for us to age healthfully. What is less known is the impact that community has on us psychologically. According to research, our connections with others greatly impact both our physical and mental health.  “We are stronger when we come together,” Sebastian Junger writes in, “Tribe.” He warns, however, that in America, “we are rich enough as a society to not need each other much,” and that’s not necessarily a good thing.

In a 1979 study on civil violence from the Journal of Psychosomatic Research, the authors concluded that, “When people are actively engaged in a cause their lives have more purpose which results in an improvement in their mental health.” (https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/0022399979900515) This is one explanation for why both suicides and terrorist rampages decline during wartime and natural disasters.

The “Nun Study” begun in the 1980’s, found that social connections with others could actually overshadow physiological realities. An elder nun whose brain showed significant Alzheimer’s disease and plaque lesions exhibited almost no cognitive impairment during her lifetime. Yet, another nun with only minor pathology was highly dysfunctional. The difference? The first nun had a vast network of social connections while the second had none. (https://www.psychiatry.umn.edu/research/research-labs-and-programs/nun-study)

In the last 40 years, I have lived in seven states and 10 cities. Each time that I move, I begin connecting.  I visit the police station, post office, library, supermarket, attend churches, local events and join the gym.  I am always looking for trustworthy, simpatico comrades of both sexes. In hindsight, I was building my tribes without even realizing it! Above is a photo from my recent birthday party. While I’ve known three of these women for more than 50 years, the others I just met in the last two. However, I believe that every one of them would take me in or bail me out of jail if necessary and I would do the same for them.

So who is in your ‘tribe’? Who are, “The people around you that you would both help feed and defend,” asks Junger? Who has your best interest at heart and brings out your highest self? Your answer may not even include your own family. Without these social networks, Junger says that we are just, “dead inside.” So, whether you are 17 or 70, it is never too late to start building your own tribe. Remember, all friends were once total strangers.

 

PULL THE PLUG!

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You can pull that cord smack out of the wall and nobody in this hospital is gonna come anytime soon. Same goes for the handheld remote they give you with a large, red “NURSE” button. It’s all an illusion. Now, I am very grateful for the new knee, which my surgeon just put in. However, I was quite unprepared for the treatment that would follow.

 My nurse, Idga, (short for I Don’t Give A), helps me to the bathroom for a quick pee and disappears. As I gingerly sit down, the seat suddenly lurches sideways, sending a wrenching pain up my operated leg. Since Idga told me “not to move” without her, I pull the cord and wait. No one comes. Eventually, I maneuver myself to a stand by gripping the sink and pull it again. Nothing. Nervously, I call out, “Hello?” Finally, unable to stand much longer, I yodel, “You Who” in my loudest, operatic soprano.

 Idga swishes in. “You’re not supposed to walk on your own!” she scolds.

 “Well, the cord doesn’t work because I pulled and pulled and no one came.”

 “The cord works perfectly fine,” she hisses. “There are other people in this hospital besides you!”

 During my stay, Idga refuses to give me my pajamas so I can take off the itchy hospital gown, places the blood drain from my knee on the tray where I’m eating, purposely unplugs my iPhone and ignores my pleas for pain meds. When my husband insists that she give me ‘something,’ she grabs Toradol and shoves it into my IV so fast that the pain makes me gasp. “Inject Toradol by IV bolus over no less than 15 seconds,” Google says, otherwise it burns entering the vein.  Yup.

 Ironically, the hospital that impeccably sanitized me BEFORE my operation paid zippo attention to hygiene afterwards. Several people handle a breathing apparatus that I’m supposed to use to avoid pneumonia. One even drops it on the floor and hands it back to me. When Idga changes my bandage, she drops the gauze on the floor, picks it up and slaps it over my wound. (I know the floor is filthy because the yellow socks they insist I wear are black after only a few trips to the bathroom). The first afternoon, I throw up into the trashcan next to my bed and ask everyone, including Idga, to please take it out. It even has a removable, plastic liner but remains right there until I leave three days later.

 So, should you find yourself in a hospital, please be better prepared than I was:

  1.  Hit ‘record’ on your iPhone right at the get go when your nurse comes in. Explain that you’re making a documentary on ‘kindness and compassion.’
  2. Bring earplugs to deafen the constant noise from the floor loudspeaker, an eye patch to shut out the light from countless people coming and going and antibacterial wipes for your bed rails, door knobs and anything you touch!
  3. Bring your own water. The stuff they give you tastes like something from an airplane sink.  Actually, it’s worse.
  4. Keep your overnight bag within reach.  Otherwise, you may wrench off your hospital garb and be stark naked when you discover that you need your PJ’s.
  5. Bring an advocate, a whistle and a sense of humor if you plan to survive.  

 P. S.  The following day, a nice, young man–not hospital personnel–actually fixed my toilet seat!!

A LEG TO STAND ON

cropped-helen-leg-up-w-sky1.jpgBy the time you read this, they’ll be wheeling me into surgery for “total arthroplasty;” a knee replacement, or as my husband fondly describes it: “Basically, they’re gonna saw your leg in half and then hammer it back together with plastic/metal parts.” Sounds about right. 15 years ago, two sets of doctors in two different states told me that I needed double knee replacements. So, I quit running, took up swimming and learned to navigate differently, like taking stairs sideways and employing ample use of the lob in my tennis game. Anything to avoid the scalpel!

 As a result, I had more years on these knees than the medical profession deemed possible. They have jumped out of airplanes, ridden motorcycles, run thousands of miles, danced the Twist, tapped the Time Step, moonwalked, rocked babies, hiked the Grand Canyon, planted gardens and planked. They even marched me out to centerfield at 26 major league ball stadiums to sing the anthem. However, they are tired and who can blame them?

 Now don’t get me wrong; I am absolutely terrified of all things medical. If there’s even a hypodermic needle on a TV show, I look away. So, I will not be waltzing into the hospital with a big smile on my face. Nope. Thanks to my stubbornness, I will now be limping in on crutches. The pain is so severe that I figure anything the doctor does has to be better than this. And aren’t I lucky? Imagine if I were this crippled back in the 50’s? I wouldn’t even have the option of replacing my knee!

 I have dreaded this day for 15 years but now embrace it. I no longer can count on my knees to hold me up. Yesterday, as I hobbled into the gym, the left one gave out as it does suddenly and lurched me straight into a much older man walking with his wife. Terrified of falling, I gripped his upper body for dear life. He froze. Finally, I steadied myself and let go. He just stared at me without saying a word. “I’m so sorry,” I sputtered. “You’ll have to forgive me, this is how I meet men!” “Oh,” he smiled as if suddenly understanding, “Next time, I’ll be ready for you!” By then, of course, I do hope to have at least one, good leg to stand on. 🙂