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!!

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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. 🙂

 

A BICYCLE BUILT FOR YOU

A BICYCLE BUILT FOR YOUbike path

Hey kids: If you want to slow down your aging process, lengthen your telomeres! How do you do that? Telomeres are the protective caps on the ends of chromosomes that affect how quickly cells age. As they become shorter, their structural integrity weakens, which causes cells to age and die younger. In recent studies, shorter telomeres have become associated with a broad range of aging-related diseases, including cancer, stroke, obesity, diabetes, vascular dementia, cardiovascular disease and osteoporosis.

Recently, a significant link between irisin levels in the blood and telomere length has been discovered. Irisin is a hormone released from muscle cells after endurance exercise and it extends your telomere length! People who have higher irisin levels are “biologically younger” than those with lower levels of the hormone. Not only that, irisin reprograms the body’s fat cells to burn energy instead of storing it.

When irisin levels rise through aerobic exercise, the hormone switches on genes that convert white fat into “good” brown fat. This is beneficial because brown fat burns off more calories beyond just the energy used to do the actual aerobic exercise. This helps you maintain a healthy BMI, avoid obesity and conditions like type-2 diabetes. In addition, irisin stimulates the growth of neurons and improves cognition!

So, how do you up your irisin? Eat plenty of citrus, berries, carrots, tomatoes, nuts and whole grains. Then, take a ride on your bike or a brisk walk. Irisin levels increase with regular aerobic exercise like biking or swimming, but not during short-term bursts of anaerobic muscle activity, like yoga. Exercise is already known to have wide-ranging benefits, from cardiovascular protection to weight loss. Now, there is a molecular link between keeping active and a healthy aging process.

Oh, and while you’re at it, toss a little choline into your diet. It reduces levels of homocysteine, an amino acid that acts as a neurotoxin and contributes to Alzheimer’s by forming amyloid plaques in your brain. It also causes inflammation and can lead to neuronal death. Eggs, liver, peanuts, meats and dairy foods will up your choline in no time!

 

PICK A PECK OF POMEGRANATES!

 

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In the average human gut, we carry a thousand different species of bacteria, literally trillions of cells that weigh about three pounds. Believe it or not, this ‘microbiome’ inside of us actually plays a role in autism, anxiety, depression and many other disorders. To prove that theory, scientists have actually given ‘calm’ mice gut microbes from ‘anxious’ ones and sent them straight into overdrive.

 What does this mean for us? Well, it means that we really are what we eat. In another study done at UCLA, researchers gave healthy women brain scans to test their emotional responses to visual stimuli.  They then fed half the women yogurt (which is a probiotic) twice a day, while the others received none. After 12 weeks, they re-administered the scans. The yogurt eaters reacted far more calmly to the images than the other group and showed markedly measurable differences in their stress levels. They believe that the yogurt changed the makeup of the subjects’ gut microbes, which then led to the production of compounds that ultimately modified their brain chemistry.

 Our gut bacteria produce neurotransmitters like serotonin, dopamine and GABA all of which play a key role in mood. They also generate other neuroactive chemicals that reduce anxiety and depression. In fact, your microbiome can activate the vagus nerve, which is the main line of communication between the gut and the brain.  So, if you have a ‘gut instinct’ about something, you’re probably right.  Since 80% of your immune tissue is in your digestive tract, which by itself influences both mood and behavior, you need to protect it. 

 What does all this mean?   That inside of us we already have ‘natural’ anti depressants IF we keep ourselves healthy! Someday, scientists say that we will even be able to use our own bodies as healing mechanisms instead of prescription pills. Until then, keep your insides well fed. You might consider starting with pomegranates.  They may well be the perfect stocking stuffer for your loved ones.  Here are just some of their benefits:

  1. nutrient dense (contain vitamin C & K, folate & potassium)
  2. powerful antioxidant
  3. anti inflammatory
  4. may help fight both prostate and breast cancer
  5. lowers blood pressure
  6. can relieve arthritis and joint pain
  7. significantly lowers triglycerides
  8. fights bacterial & fungal infections
  9. improves both memory and exercise performance
  10. develops patience— it takes time to retrieve those 613 fruity arils! 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

THAT WAS THEN, THIS IS . . .

NOW

Talk about basting a turkey. When the Kardashians started taking fat from their thighs and injecting it to plump up their lips and butts it sounded pretty disgusting. Lately, however, that fat has been making its’ way into arthritic joints with some pretty impressive, albeit momentary results. Given that I need double knee replacements, this idea appealed to me but only briefly. You see, the problem is that the injected fat not only won’t stay put but ultimately cannot regenerate cartilage. Thus, one is back to where one started.  

Isn’t that the conundrum of life? No matter where we go—there we are. Well, not quite. Stanford neurosurgeon, James Doty, says that we actually spend 80% of our time NOT in the present. We are either regretting something from the past or anticipating something in the future. In essence, we are not ‘here’ at all. We are, as Eckhart Tolle would say, ‘unconscious.’

In “The Power of Now,” Tolle warns that we must rid ourselves of our analytical, egotistical mind and embrace this moment now, with all of our being. “The more you are focused on time—the past or the future—the more you miss the NOW.” The acceptance of what is, he assures us, will bring inner peace and joy. Being ‘present,’ of course, means different things to different people. Even lunatics are convinced of their sanity.

In 1990, my grandmother, deep in the throes of Alzheimer’s, was certain that, “Teddy Roosevelt is president!” Currently, dementia claims the lives of 1 in 3 seniors. So, dear readers, since we are all at risk, let’s be watchful of each other! Mood changes are one of the first signs of mental instability in a loved one. Later, aspects of one’s personality often amplify; a bossy person becomes downright authoritarian or a shy person withdraws completely.

A few months ago, noted biologist, David Goodall, ended his life legally in Switzerland at the age of 104. He was of sound mind and in good health but could no longer do the things that brought him joy. While he lived very in the moment (even singing to the press the day before his death), his own ‘now’ had become dark and empty. Thus, while mine is still joyful, I shall focus on these words as I wish you a warm and very ‘present’ Thanksgiving. Trusting that you will let me know should my syntax start slipping.

 

INSIDE OUT

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Last week, the Inside Out art project came to my town. Their truck rolled up in front of the library and we, local residents let them take 4’ by 3’, black and white photos of us. These were then pasted on the walkways in front of the library. I was amazed at the diversity of faces. Our art statement didn’t last long as it rained the following day and all became a gray mush. It was a great reminder, though, of the brevity of our lives. That is why it is so important to shine while our light still flickers!

Recently, I spoke to a group on Alzheimer’s. Since all had been (or were), caregivers, I assumed they would ask questions about the disease and its’ progression. Instead, I faced a room full of people terrified that it might happen to them! In fact, one perfectly, healthy woman was actually taking an Alzheimer’s medication in hopes of preventing it before it started!

Considering that 1 million people will have dementia in some form by 2025, their concerns are valid. So, here’s what we know so far: there is NO cure or drug that can really help yet. No. Nothing–so don’t fall for those TV commercials. However, here are a few things we DO know that will give you the best prevention possible:

  1. Smoking increases your dementia risk 30-50%.
  2. Drinking one Coke a day ups your risk by 30%.
  3. Although few of my readers likely play football–watch for blows to the head—they cause inflammation to the nervous system and increase the tau proteins that cause Alzheimer’s.
  4. Keep your blood pressure low.
  5. Playing a musical instrument lowers your risk by 36%. Taking up the harmonica can’t hurt.
  6. Yeah get off your butt—stub out your butt—and no more ifs ands or buts. THIS is the MOST important one!  

 Here’s the mystery of life: the things we plan for rarely happen and the ones we don’t expect often smack us right between the eyes. Considering that 24% of boys born today and 35% of girls will eventually develop dementia, starting healthy behaviors now will have a more beneficial effect than any medical treatment or preventative procedure. Plus, if you wanna see your face plastered up real big, track down the Inside Out Project! Smiling increases longevity and makes you feel good inside and out!

 

 

YOUR FRIEND, ME

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A friend of mine in his 80’s pulled me aside to talk this morning. He lifted his pant leg to reveal a huge, gauze-covered dressing over his entire shin.

 “I was caught in the middle of a dogfight,” he said. “The doctor can’t stitch it because there’s simply no skin. I have another bandage up here,” he said, indicating his thigh.

 His skin is even thinner than mine and he’s also on blood thinners. I cringed, imagining the pain of that huge, open wound.

 He then confided that his lady friend of late has decided to fly solo. After a long sigh, he simply said:

 “My life is over. I’m in too much pain to move. I have no companionship and there’s nothing to look forward to. Really, nothing.”

 For a moment, I was flummoxed. We’re pals. We’ve worked out together, gone to many a lunch, had tons of talks about love, life, books (he loves murder mysteries) and he has nothing to look forward to? I wanted to give him the pep talk that one normally gives when a friend is feeling down but no words came simply because I know how he feels. I really do.  What could I say?

 Finally, the words come to me tonight, as I ready for bed. So, I dash off this email. Maybe it will help him feel a little less alone.
Hey, kid:

I know you are in a lot of pain and that life isn’t fair.  It’s hard getting older and not snapping back into step the way you once used to.

But I just want you to know how happy it makes me feel inside every time you wave at me when I come to the gym.

Want you to know how much I love your ‘joke of the day,’ cuz even when it’s not funny, it still makes me laugh.

Want you to know that I admire how you’ve kept yourself active and in shape all these years. That takes real strength and persistence.

 Mostly, I just want you to know that my life is just a bit richer and warmer for having you in it… so hang in there.

“This, too, shall pass.”

 Your friend,

Me