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.    

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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MY TRIBE

GIRLS CLUB

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!!

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

 

TOUCHDOWN

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You may find this hard to believe but I just saw my very, first, live, professional football game! The last time I sat in the bleachers was in 1974, during a first date in college. However, by halftime, I told the guy that I’d had enough. (It was also our last date). As for Super bowl parties? I never attended them unless coerced and even then spent every conceivable second in the kitchen or outside listening to the leaves rustle. Anything was better than watching all those big guys run after a ball that I couldn’t even see and then jump on top of each other so hard that it made me wince.

 Until last week I had no clue how the game even worked. So, let me tell you what I learned after just one match: Football is a perfect metaphor for Life.

  1. Once the whistle blows, you only have so much time left.
  2. When you have the ball, you’re always heading for the ‘end zone.’
  3. If you get caught holding the ball, you’ll be sorry.
  4. As you inch towards your goal, some folks will knock themselves out helping you get there. Others will flatten you like a pancake.
  5. There’s always somebody faster, bigger, stronger and younger gaining on you.
  6. If you’re outflanked, you pass the ball to someone else and hope they don’t fumble.
  7. You can play an entire game and never touch the ball once.
  8. You can actually knock people over on purpose and jump right on top of them, if it’s done just so.
  9. You can’t hold on to someone—no matter how much you want to—if they’re not actually holding the ball.
  10. It all starts with a coin toss.

If you can’t play, you can always sit on the sidelines and bark orders at the guys on the field, like the crazed fan behind me did the entire game.  As it happens, I was there to watch a young man I know realize his dream to play in the NFL. Now, the only thing better than chasing your own dreams is watching someone else bring theirs to life. That’s a thrill in itself! My friend played well and as his teammates slapped his butt and gripped his helmet with congratulations, it reminded me of one, more thing:   you don’t do any of it by yourself. Nope, not one, single, solitary yard. Like football, life is a team sport.      

 

 

 

 

FINDING JOY

 

FINDING JOY

I ran into this fabulous, 94 year-old at the Vegas airport last week. Her 10 year-old, great-granddaughter, Gianna, who clearly adored her, was pushing her in a wheelchair.

“Whatcha readin’?” I asked her.

 She grinned and said, “Finding Joy.” Then she thumbed through a few pages, turned the book upside down, shook it and added, “But I can’t find her in here anywhere!” We both cracked up.

Ironically, on the same flight was another woman, also in a wheelchair, who appeared to be at least 10 years younger. She met my attempts to chat with both indifference and a nasty scowl on her face. When it was time to board, she had to wait for an attendant to take her in, so the gate attendant motioned me forward ahead of her. A few moments later as the woman was wheeled towards me in the gangway, she suddenly yelled, “I’m going in there first, you know!”

 “No worries,” I said a bit taken aback. “You’re welcome to go first but believe it or not, we’re all going to get there at the same time.” Others laughed but she didn’t find that funny at all.

 Just then, my new friend, Elaine came rolling up with Gianna.

 “Let’s all sit together!” she said with a big grin.

 “I’d love that,” I replied. “Now are we gonna sit in the cabin or do you want a seat on the wing? It does get a bit windy out there but the view’s much better.”

 “Oh, Let’s sit on the wing!” she said with glee, playing along with my silliness.

 And in a sense, we did sit there.  For isn’t it the wings that lift you soaring into the clouds? Without them, a plane would never leave the ground. Likewise, without joy, we are inexorably left with the heaviness of our own sorrows like that bitter woman. Some folks can find joy under a dusty rock. Others wouldn’t know it if you dumped it in their lap but my new friend, Elaine?  She carries it with her wherever she goes.