Tag Archives: illness

Don’t Count Me Out: I’m not going down that path

Who thought at 72 I would still be asking myself: “Who am I?” This is not the first time I’ve asked myself that. Maybe the 100th? But I thought by now I’d know.

Last spring I still thought I was 50. Well, maybe 60. I was in great shape — walking five miles a day, doing yoga, working out — and also very productive — writing several chapters for my book, my blog and short stories. I was marching in protests, keeping up with my kids and grandkids, doing it all.

I’ve always liked to do it all–it might be my manic. Sometimes I have trouble sleeping because it seems like a waste of time. I do think our age group had this thrust on us. As the vanguard of the babyboomers, we “girls” couldn’t just be a pretty face. We had to be that, but also be athletic, get straight A’s and have meaningful professions–as well as becoming perfect wives and mothers.

Then last spring I got a bad virus that might have come to me via Brazil. At first I joked about it. I even wrote a humorous blog about all the medications I was taking from the East and West medical experts. Well, I did refuse the antibiotic — Heck, I was no senior citizen who had to jump to that extreme!

As the summer wore on, I felt worse and then better. Then worse and then worser. I did have a chest X-ray, but it was Fourth of July and the doctors were on vacation so no one read it. My cough took over the situation until I felt just like this car below. I’d been a cute model in my time, but now I held together by duct tape.

I was finally diagnosed with walking pneumonia. They should have told me I had go-to-bed pneumonia ‘cuz instead, I just kept walking around doing my normal stuff. That’s when being 70 caught up with me. Turned out I have COPD that was being exacerbated by the bug and the pneumonia. My lungs and bronchials are permanently damaged, which explains why I get so tired when others don’t. It’s taken months to get back enough energy to create a normal life; and it’s a new normal, at that.

That became jeopardized last week when I got sick with a respiratory bug. I felt like I was the star of “Groundhog’s Day”, repeating the same symptoms as six months before: fever, sore throat, cough, swollen glands, nasal and ear congestion. A year ago, I’d have said I had a head cold, but this time I saw the doctor and was on a Z pack within two days. And I’ve added an inhaler into the mix. Plus I’m eating a healthy diet: eliminating gluten and dairy and most sugars.

I started lying around all day, like the older person I am. Especially because of all the articles about people dying from the flu. And my friends advising me not to take this illness lighting. And because the doctor told me to lay low. And my husband telling me to please not exert myself. Actually, I had so many well intentioned warnings that I started getting short of breath just from anxiety. I was a nervous wreck!

Yesterday I realized I’m beginning to think of myself as an invalid. I ventured out to do yoga and walk a half a mile. What’s going to happen, I wondered with trepidation. I came home and pampered myself, making sure I took my medications, rested, and checked in the mirror often to see how ashen my face looked. It was when I woke from my nap that I began to question: Who am I?

One thing I can tell you, the answer is not going to be invalid. When the going gets tough, the tough get going! I like cliches that are helpful.

 

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No Laughing Matter

At the beginning of the summer I wrote an, “Oh, so funny. I have a cold”, blog. Only it turned out to be no laughing matter. It was a bad virus that lasted for weeks. I stopped taking my temperature after nine days. After nine days, you don’t have a temperature anymore with a cold, right?

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(do not ask me why I took this picture–I don’t know. I must have had a reason, but it couldn’t have been a good one.)

 

And I only had a cold…all you had to do was ask me and I’d tell that I had the same virus that knocked out Rachel Madow. I refused to believe it was anything else and put away all my cold paraphernalia.

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I’d been coughing for so long that I stopped hearing myself cough. I was on the verge of total exhaustion by 8:30 in the morning, but I began taking my daily walk again.

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This cough medicine and Vick’s VapoRub stayed on the counter.

I didn’t realize I was spending a lot of time in bed. “Mimi takes rests,” my five-year-old granddaughter said in the middle of the summer and I laughed.

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Here she is entertaining me when I woke up one afternoon.

After the first ten days, I did go to the doctor, but he said it was a virus so no antibiotics were necessary. Three weeks later, I even had a chest X-ray—my husband insisted on it, which should have given me a clue something was up. But when you’re sick and so tired, you have trouble adding up two and two let alone that you’re husband’s mind, which is always on golf, was cognizant I was not doing well. Another clue that I was really sick was that I kept cancelling my manicure appointments. When you don’t have the energy to drive fifteen minutes to sit for a half an hour, you just might have a problem. Oh well, hindsight is 20:20.

The Fourth of July holiday is not a good time to be sick. Everyone in a doctor’s office is on vacation or wants to be on vacation. Chest X-rays don’t get read. Lungs aren’t checked. Temperatures aren’t taken. I was given an Okay when I shouldn’t have been.

By mid-July I had walking pneumonia. I knew it had to be walking pneumonia because I was still out walking the dog, no matter how exhausted I was. I began to sleep more during the day and continued coughing most of the night. This was when I began to feel like a wreck.

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In August, when I went for my annual check up, I insisted on another chest X-ray. That’s when things started hopping. The radiologist was so alarmed by what he saw that he called the doctor immediately. I was scheduled for a CT scan the next day.

This was around the time I asked my Facebook friends whether I could put off my mammogram. How much radiation can a person take in so short a time? I wondered.

In any case, the CT scan showed all kinds of gunk in my lungs and bronchioles. One pulmonary specialist sent me to a special lab to have 14 vials of blood taken. I guess they were looking for what kind of microbe had set off the chain of events.

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I started seeing a UCLA pulmonary specialist in September. He assured me that the nodules were so small they weren’t cancerous. “No problem. We’ll keep track of them with CT scans every six months,” he said. “But you do have a lot of schmutz in your lungs.” Schmutz! Now there was terminology I could understand.

After a gazillion tests, he diagnosed me with bronchiectasis and COPD, and said the virus had set off an exacerbation. All of a sudden, the little cold had turned into a full time job!

I must admit to a bit of panic during the time between the CT scan and the diagnosis. Oh, all right: a lot of panic. And the diagnosis didn’t really ring my bell either. I had never thought of myself as a Spiriva type of person. Shows you what I know.

I am much better than I was. I look back on July and wonder how I dragged myself to the Bruno Mars concert in Vancouver, B.C.

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I think about how gray my face was in September at our anniversary party.

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Even in November, I was in a state of exhaustion that could lead to coughing spells. A low blood sugar attack could hit me unawares, which was not pleasant either. That’s better now.

Still, the slightest thing can set me off. I never wanted to be the Princess and the Pea, but I am more than ever. I’ve become hypersensitive to scents, especially chemicals. I can’t walk down the grocery store aisle stocked with detergents, etc. without going into a coughing spell. And no more perfumes or colognes! I have to dust my bedroom a couple of times a week. All that kind of stuff. And I had to have flu and pneumonia shots because I’ve been cautioned not to get a respiratory illness! I don’t like being difficult. I had a difficult mother and my compass has always pointed directly away from her actions. Still, if I don’t hug you, don’t feel offended.

So what prompted me to write this expose? The smoke filled air. I’ve become one of those people who must check the air before I go outside. We have a lot of smoke from the tragic uncontained fires around here in Southern California, and my lungs can be endangered by poor air quality. I’ve needed to stay inside several days. Yes, me! I can’t believe it either. I was healthy as a horse in May.

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I share my story to encourage everyone to see their doctor if they have symptoms of any kind that persist. I also love this new site someone clued me in on: AirNow.gov. You get up-to-date reports about the air quality in your zip code.

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Also, I share my story because I realize now how depressed I was. And afraid. Even though I had a lot of people around me, I didn’t feel I should bother them. Nor am I good at accepting help. I kept trying to do everything alone and I wasn’t doing a good job of it. God forbid, I should admit to slowing down! How embarrassing!

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Now things are definitely looking up. Seven months into this, I’m taking the medications I’m supposed to (didn’t want to do inhalers) sparingly. I do breathing exercises and Nettypot twice a day! I eat more healthy foods more times during the day.

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I’ve also decided I needed to think more positively. I do NOT want to wear a tag that says I have an elephant sitting on my diaphragm. I’m renaming the diseases I was labeled with. Bronchiectasis is a scary thing so I’ve decided to say I have chronic bronchitis. COPD is the third leading cause of death in the United States so I don’t need that hanging around my neck. Instead, I acknowledge I have asthma. But I’m not just going to use prescription meds. I’m going to yoga three times a week and walking every day.

I’ve learned that it’s important to avail ourselves of western medicine. But I don’t want to be trapped in it. One thing I know. I’ll never give up.

 

 

 

Superwoman Bites the Dust, Part 2

You know how people say, “Listen to your body,”? It occurred to me this morning that I rarely do that. Instead I say, “Listen, body, do what I want.”

Since I had pneumonia, I must have had fifty people say, “Listen to your body.” I jokingly reply that the doctor should never have diagnosed walking pneumonia because I just kept walking around. Instead, she should have said, “Cindy, you have ‘going to bed and resting pneumonia.” I’d end up in bed only because I couldn’t do anything else, and I’d feel guilty about it.

Although I’m much better (I’ve turned the corner!), I’m still a work in progress. I may start off well when I get up, but I can hit the wall at about 11:00 A.M. Then I might be done for the day. So I’ve been trying to short circuit the fatigue by resting before I’m overcome by exhaustion. I make plans for what I can do—things that I never counted before like going to the market or dropping stuff at the cleaners.

When I walked this morning, I got quiet and went inward. I tried to listen? What was my body saying? It was hard to perceive any instructive advice because I’d turned that voice off years ago.

“How the hell should I know?” were the only words that came out—and those were from my mind. Which continued: “You can walk a little farther. You should be able to! You were walking five miles some days before. You need the exercise—you gained weight on your vacation! No pain, no gain! Don’t be a sissy!”

All of a sudden Dr. Phil was there in my head too. “And how’s that been working for ya?” he asked.

When the pulmonary specialist had said, “Don’t push yourself. Don’t walk too far so you’re too tired to walk back,” the words floated to my memory bank but not my conscious decision making center.

But Dr. Phil’s a big guy. His booming voice stood out in the crowd of bullies in my brain who urged me on. So I listened to him and turned towards home.

There’s more to this never-ending story, which I’ll share later. It includes chest X-rays, CAT scans, blood tests, pulmonary tests, inhalers, netty pots and a “No cancer,” diagnosis. It also includes me needing to make an attitude adjustment, which I’m working on. It’s hard to give up the feeling that you’re invincible. I don’t like it.

 

 

 

Believe it or not: I Found a Hair Volumizing Product that works!

This is a message for those of you who are folliclly-challenged. The rest of you who have full, thick heads of hair probably won’t be interested, including my sister who was handed out all the hair anyone could ever want at birth. She still has lots of hair she can have fun with.

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I, myself, would do almost anything to have thicker hair…and I probably have. I can resist other types of products but if anything has “MORE VOLUME” written on it, I buy it. I have more products under my sink than Johnny Appleseed had seeds. IMG_1646

Some of these things above have been helpful but I want to announce that I have found a new hair produce that actually seems to work: Toppik Hair Fattener.

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It is giving my limp, lifeless strands more body! Just a little before I blow dry and my hair is so much thicker. How it works, I don’t know. I’m just seeing with my own eyes that it does.

I am obsessed by hair. When I’m in a crowd, after I’ve checked that no one is carrying a suspicious package, I’m checking out everyone’s hair. I can honestly say it’s the first and last thing I notice about a person. “Why can’t I have a swinging ponytail?” I mutter under my breath as I watch a woman walk by. “Why can’t I have a thick bob?” I whine to myself. You can’t really let people know how you feel about this, especially when there are children starving and good friends are losing all their hair to chemo. But, I know I can confide in you.

My story of hair deprivation begins early and with a mother who had scads of hair. You can see that she’s already wondering if the bow will cover the bald spot. I’m already questioning the fairness of the Universe: why I didn’t get the thick hair genetics?

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By nursery school, my hair wasn’t lush like my friend, Chi Chi’s in the foreground, but it wasn’t bad except for the bangs. I’d suffered a burn to my forehead so the bangs had to be short.

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Grade school I don’t know how my hair looked because I didn’t care. By the end of high school I got interested, but the results were mixed.

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In the Sixties, big hair was in. Everyone teased and sprayed and wore these little dome wiglets on top of our own hair.

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I wore one at my wedding:

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That began my life long love of wigs and falls. Here my granddaughter is modeling one.

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An extension of the wig is extensions, which I adored when I wore them. Unfortunately, they are hard on the hair, creating more hair loss.

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My amount of good hair days compared to bad is miniscule. My hair is not only thin, it’s baby soft. Also it has just enough curl to cause problems, better known as frizz. My hair won’t stay down or straight. ( My oldest granddaughter and I were measuring the other day to see how tall she is now. My son said if you discounted my Afro, she’s as tall as I am.) My hair is unable to withstand humidity or a windy day. If anybody touches it, they run the risk of great personal injury. I almost divorced my husband once when he insisted on driving his father’s classic 280SL with the top down to a party. Has he no sensitivity?

In order to counter effect my reality, I wear a lot of hats. And once I wear a hat, I can never take it off until I get home. If anyone playfully tried to take it off, they’d probably lose a hand.

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I grade photos of me on how good my hair looks. Here’s a couple of examples:

You might think I like this photo because my little grandsons who are now 18 and 19 look so adorable. No, it’s because my hair looks great!

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Here’s another one. You might think I like it because I’m with Charles Schultz at the Santa Barbara Writers Conference–nope, I like my hair.

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I do like the following one because I had a great lunch with Judy Blume, but also my extensions looked fabulous:

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You might think I like the next one because it records a very special time, but get a load of my hair! It looks amazing! It lasted through the B’nai Mitzvah ceremonies and then it was toast for the next ten days.

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You might think I like this one because I’m surrounded by my family. I do, but the hair is the main thing–it looks thick!

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Besides just having lousy hair, I have a long and sad history with hair loss. Each time I had a kid, my hairline receded a bit. I had a widow’s peak before them.

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Widow’s peak was gone after. (I wanted to have three kids, but I guess it was prudent that we stopped at two.)

When I had malaria, my hair fell out in handfuls. And then grew back sparsely. That’s when I joined the American Hair Loss Association.

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My dermatologist saved my sanity when she suggested Kenalog injections. She felt that the malaria had sent some of my follicles into a dormant state and they could be “reawakened.” Yes the injections hurt but they worked!!! And yes, I’d do it again in a second.

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This is the photo I had my daughter take of me a couple of weeks ago, trying to show I was getting better from the virus. Actually, we had to do it that night because I’d had my hair done earlier in the day and it looked good. No matter that I needed my bed, I wasn’t going to waste any opportunity.

So now you know more about me, probably more than I’d reveal on an every day basis.  Probably TMI, actually. But if you’re interested in any other products I’ve found useful, just ask. Oh, and for those of you who have oodles of hair

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and tell me how difficult it is to take care of, (you know who you are) be nice to me and others like me. You never know when we’re carrying scissors.

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Getting into the Spirit of Things

I’m hoping to get into the spirit of things. Of anything. Right now I’m so worn down by life and Life that I need to go back to bed, pull the covers up to my nose and stay there.

 

This is actually an attempt to get myself back into writing. I haven’t been able to write since the election, when I wrote with such hope and naivete that Americans stood together. It hurts me to look at that post. I despair at the divisions in our country. I believe a rift in our population was revealed and will stand irrevocably. I think of Rodney King a lot. “Why can’t we all just get along?”

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Rodney King.

 

 

“We have to get on with things”, my cousin said. And I thought, she’s right. The sky is not falling no matter what is happening in this country I once thought I knew. Even though Donald Trump will be president. Even though we won’t have the expert and wise guidance of Hillary Clinton. Even though the ADL and Southern Poverty Law Center are reporting unprecedented acts of hate. Even though Richard Spencer, leader of the Alt-Right, is gaining a platform in this country. Even though Trump won’t make a statement against these acts.

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Even though hate won. Even though my dream of a pluralistic society has proved to be an illusion–the sky is not falling. The sun did rise and it did set. And the sky is not so polluted yet that I could even see it.

I meant to get into the spirit of Thanksgiving.I truly did. It’s my favorite holiday.

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I did make our traditional dinner and decorated the house. I looked forward to our family being together, all five grandchildren, our children and nephew sitting around the table. We always hold hands and say what we’re thankful for. There’s always a lot of laughter and love and gratefulness. This year, though, our daughter got so sick she was hospitalized. She and her family couldn’t make the trip down to California. Instead, I needed to go up to Seattle to help her. So my husband’s cancer treatment and the side effects of radiation and hormone therapy got placed on my back burner.

Someone texted me asking if I felt like Job. “No,” I wrote back. “The Perils of Pauline.”

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Certainly life should not be so melodramatic. But then, on a dark and rainy night, I had the car accident with my four-year-old granddaughter in the car. My worst nightmare. With that, I lost my sense of perspective. (I’d already lost my senses of humor and hope on November 9.) It seemed that life was perilous without relief. I couldn’t take a breath or unhunch my shoulders. I was in high alert for the next assault.

Today, my spirits are finally up, a bit. Austria didn’t vote in the far right leader, Norbert Hofer!

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And the Army Corp of Engineers will not immediately grant the Dakota Access Pipeline the right to cross the Missouri River next to the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation!

My husband is almost done with his treatments and our daughter is much better. And I could write a blog. So see, good things can still happen.

And if you really don’t agree with what I had to say today, please keep it to yourself. I’m a bit tired and not my usual tolerant, feisty self. Since this is still a free country, you can always unfollow me. Feel free.

Turning Seventy is Sublime

 

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I am in the middle of writing an essay about how wonderful it is to be 70. I started it in January, but got caught up in other things and in writing a memoir piece. So now I’m almost half way to being 71. With luck and time, I will finish the essay before that birthday.

Meanwhile, I’m going to share some thoughts. On my 70th, I was determined to not look or feel my age. It was a lot of work! Now I’m purposefully slowing down—as a matter of fact, I took myself out of the race. I’m not so touchy about people holding a door open for me or asking to help me with my grocery bags. I don’t have to be in charge. I don’t have to be the responsible one. I don’t have to try proving that I’m as strong and capable as I once was. I can surrender to the aging. I can admit that I get tired. I can admit that I can’t lift my suitcase. I can admit that a swimsuit is not my best look, but I’ll wear one anyway.

One of the great benefits of aging is that I like being who I am. I say to myself when I’m doing something, “You know, that’s who you are. You’ve always been that way.” And I feel good rather than thinking I should change to conform to somebody else’s ideas. It’s true, for instance, that I rather write than play golf.

 

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I still think of myself as young. For instance, if I’m on a bus or train, I’ll stand up to give my seat to an older person. Only… what’s happening is that sometimes there is no older person. The first time this occurred was last summer when I went to DC to look after my grandson who was interning there. To begin with, that was a joke. Garrett, in reality, looked after me. He set me up with a Metro pass and with Uber. He made sure I was fine when he went to work. He’d call to check on me. He made the dinner reservations and showed me where the washer/dryer was in the building. The day we took the Metro to Capitol Hill, he made sure I got on the train without any trouble. I was standing next to him when a man asked me if I’d like his seat. I smiled and looked around for an older person to take advantage of his offer. Then I realized I was the oldest by at least twenty years. That was a “Yikes” moment!

I’m not denying that aging comes with a lot of loss. We have lost so many dear friends and family to cancer, heart attacks and strokes. Or they are suffering with the effects of their disease. There is a sadness now that really has no time to go away. Then there is the loss of taut skin, height and strong muscles, eyesight and hearing—but let’s not go there right now.

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I want to age gracefully, but I want to have fun too. Cindy Joseph’s make up tips for older woman have been widely distributed on Facebook. Here’s some of her advice around the eyes: “Women older than 50 tend to lose definition in their eyebrows. Just go with that. Don’t recreate the brows you had in your 20s.”

Really? I liked my eyebrows in my twenties, and if I don’t use eyebrow pencil now, I have no definition at all. I also tint whatever eyebrow hairs I have left. True, I don’t want to get to the stage where I’m drawing them on and entirely missing the eyebrow line. That is not attractive. But I figured out the solution to that: getting a stronger magnifying mirror for now and a trusted helper in my nineties.

Joseph also says: “Do not wear any eye shadow at all. …A little bit of mascara is OK.” Sorry, Cindy, but I plan to be wearing eye shadow in my coffin when I’m a 110. I love eye shadow. I’ve loved it since I was 13 and my mother wouldn’t let me wear it. So I’m not giving it up now or ever. I had a friend who got false eyelashes when she was 84. She loved them and they were cute on her! So there!