Sunday, June 10, 2012

Why anti-depressants might be depressing

Sometimes anti-depressants don't work.

Many anti-depressant drugs can potentially make a young person suicidal, as we discovered 26 years ago when my fourteen year old daughter was prescribed a psychiatric medication. She had no history of histrionics, hostility or suicidal thoughts until then. The horrific side effects lasted the two weeks she was on the medicine and resumed many years later when she started taking anti-anxiety pills as an adult.

She tried to quit the medication when she became pregnant but she experienced intense withdrawal and instead of kicking, her unborn child trembled and shook inside her when she skipped her dose.

She suffers guilt now, wondering if something is wrong with her son each time television commercials invite women who took the same drugs while pregnant to join a class action suit.

My husband's doctor recommended he take "happy pills," My husband thought the matter resolved when he said, "I feel happy enough, thank you." The doctor gave him several prescriptions at once and Jerry was unaware that one was for an anti-depressant. He began sleeping 22 hours out of 24.

"I thought I slept so much because I was dying," he said two months later when he learned he'd been on an anti-depressant and discontinued it

Potential effects on the unborn, teenagers and the elderly are recognized now.

According to an article in the Associated Press last year, the number of people taking psychiatric drugs has increased so much that in 2010, one of four women take such medication in a year, most of them 45 or older.

Physicians rarely advise patients if a psychiatric drug is habit forming, addictive, or permanent. They don't say "This medication I prescribe for you is a controlled substance so you  will have to visit me monthly for refills. It's also a street drug sold in dark alleys."

Patients are often unaware of the cost of their medication until they lose their insurance or Medicare/Medicaid coverage -- a bad time to discover a family member has an addiction or "chemical dependency" for drugs that can cost $600 a month or more. Stopping such medication suddenly can lead to the development or worsening of mental problems and seizures possibly leading to death. The warnings are printed on the prescription insert and magazine ads in teeny, tiny print, except for the warning of the financial impact if insurance changes.

People should not reject medication their doctor prescribes, especially if it works for them.

I just wish my family and I knew what we were getting into before we got stuck.

Although psychiatric medication works for lots of people, it didn't work for my daughter or my husband.

We should have searched the internet, read the prescription inserts and recognized when the bad symptoms started, less, not more medication was needed.

Maybe, as some doctors suspect, she has brain damage from concussions in the past, or from seizures she had at birth. Maybe the medicine has made her ill or an illness prevents the medication from helping her, other than keeping her in a twitching, restless zombie state most of the time.

When she started medication, she had just graduated from college, she had many friends and some were famous, she had one single core personality that many of us loved, she had a contract with a recording studio to write lyrics. She developed anxiety. She took a pill. She got depressed. She took another pill. She became outrageous and uninhibited. She was given another pill. She had seizures. She was given another pill. She lost touch with reality. She took another pill. Now she appears to be dying and nothing about her looks or sounds normal. She fluctuates between anger and dependency, defiance and compliance, restlessness and inertia.

I wish we'd read the fine print before we signed my daughter's life away. Maybe we could have reversed her condition before it got this painful for her and so complex for us.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

When a caretaker can't take care part III

While my knee heals, I am finding out how well my life functions despite being unable to keep up with my domestic chores and obligations.

Sheets were not washed for three weeks, but no one cared except me. 

My husband learned how to run the vacuum cleaner, and my daughter was as kind and caring to me as I had  been to her during her surgeries and illnesses. 

Daughter, husband and grandson were shocked when there were no clean socks or underwear in their closets and drawers. Now they are  grateful. They praise me like children in detergent commercials, marveling at "the feel, the touch of cotton" and my skill at discovering and defeating stains.

I couldn't shop, so my husband tried to, discovering that bread no longer costs eighty cents a loaf or green peppers, three for a dollar. He was so overwhelmed by the size of the grocery store and the cost of the produce, he came home with only a bag of candy and sodas for his dinner. 

I didn't argue about his diabetes or nutrition. Two hours later when he was hungry again, he went to a fast food restaurant for a hamburger and fries and he liked that so much, he started eating all his meals at fast-food restaurants. The old me would have scolded about his high cholesterol and high blood sugar but I was too sick to argue and within a few days of feeding himself, he was sick, too. He has new respect for the cost and nutrition of a tomato or casserole, as well as the effort and expense I put into all those meals he said he didn't want to eat before I took my hiatus from cooking.

At first my grandson was pleased he did not have to come to my house for dinner and to do homework. He began playing outdoors until dark, eating leftovers, watching a lot of television and guessing at his math and science questions. Then he failed the first math test of his life and his grades fell, just a month before the semester ended. He fell asleep on the drive to school. 

He told me to scold him about schedules and homework, and thanked me for scolding him in the past. He is angry with his mother for being ill and she is hurt by what she perceives as his rejection.

My daughter grows thinner, shaking more with chills and tremors. She's gotten the run-around from the insurance company, her doctor and the hospital so the tests she needed "tomorrow" cannot even be scheduled, a week later.

Jenny and I speak in a hit-and-run fashion about misunderstandings from the past and her fears for the future. When a memory or fear upsets her, she bolts.

It's very difficult, letting go. But I think being sick has shown me that I never really had a hold.  


Sunday, June 3, 2012

When a caretaker can't take care - part II

I take care of my sick husband, sick daughter, and my amazing grandson, but in April I lost ability to walk and then treatments on my bad knee kept me sick in bed for days.

 Injections of a gel to provide a cushion to stop bones from rubbing and chipping left my knee numb and made walking a greater challenge.

It turned out I was allergic to the iodine used to sterilize the injection site on my knee. I spent most of three weeks in bed or on the couch, curled up with a lap top or my Nook.

Becoming incapacitated is a caregiver's worse fear, but something wonderful happened.

I couldn't manage driving my daughter to her monthly doctor visit. He thought her new complaints were psychiatric when it started six months ago. He diagnosed her weight loss as anorexia, her headaches, dizziness and tremors as anxiety. He thought she wore a winter coat even as temperatures soared to get attention and accused her of daily tanning bed use to account for her discolored skin when in fact she never sought a tan from sun or artificially. 

He dismissed her complaints. He said, "If you feel that badly, you shouldn't be driving. Do you really feel that badly? I could have your drivers license suspended." She does not own a car and rarely drives my car, but she loves having a license. Meanwhile, she kept shrinking, sleeping more and more, and being increasingly restless.

Such dismissals by physicians are not uncommon when a patient comes in with a label of "psych patient" or has a history of concussions and seizures.

While I was too sick to deal with yet another confrontation with her doctor, the caseworkers who provide her home care and give her medication decided to take her to her medical clinic. Normally people see residents at her clinic, but perhaps because of her caseworkers' concerns about the symptoms, she saw a physician who oversees the residents and was given a referral for a brain scan, to see an ophthalmologist, and for extensive blood tests.

A friend took her to the hospital for the tests, because I was still not feeling well. As sometimes happens, after an hour long wait she was informed that the insurance company hadn't been contacted by the doctor's office so the insurance company could pre-approve the tests and now their offices were closed.

I would have been angry about the mix-up in light of the urgency, and then mad at myself for being upset over something we encounter fairly frequently when tests are ordered. Waking up from a nap to hear about it wasn't upsetting at all, because Jennifer said, "The important thing is someone will try to find out what's wrong with me, and I'm not sick as a sign of being crazy. It's something they can fix when they find out what it is!" 

I'm relieved for the help received when I found myself helpless.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

When a Caregiver Can't Give Care - Part 1

I should have remembered the tipping point into physical danger.

If a medical crisis with a loved one leads to 24 hours without sleep, I'm likely to suffer an injury to my exhausted body that never happens to an alert person. A stupid, absurd accident like falling down a stairway on a toy poodle, then sliding across the landing floor on the puppy puddle it was coming upstairs to warn me about as I was running downstairs for medication to lower my daughter's fever.

So if I've been up all night I refuse to drive in the morning, even to an Urgent Care Center or hospital. I also refuse to climb stairs, or to walk within six feet of anything that rocks, sways or is suspended from a ceiling. I will sleep in a waiting room chair in front of strangers even while a loved one is being taken for a cat scan or in critical condition.

In February, my husband attempted to make a bacon sandwich while I was interning at the  Oakland Press. He only claimed hunger that evening, but at bedtime he pointed to a square burn the size of the pancake griddle on the kitchen floor.

"Had a little accident," he mumbled. "Are you mad?"

"Are you hurt?"

"Of course not," he said, but when I asked how it happened, he said he suffered a dizzy spell, then fell against the griddle handle, which burned the floor.

My face turned hot, hands trembled. "How did you spill hot bacon grease without burning yourself?"

"I can't remember," he said.

I lifted his pajama pant legs before he could stop me, and saw blisters shaped like tears, dimes and quarters, some bigger than quarters, about twenty on the calves of both legs.

He said it didn't hurt. On Google, I read that the most severe burns damage nerves, cause blisters without pain, and require immediate medical attention.

We argued about whether he needed to go to the hospital, whether I would let him butter his blisters like his mother would have sixty years ago, whether his dizzy spell was symptom of another silent heart attack or another little stroke. When he began snoring despite my complaints, I moved to the living room, pacing and checking on him all night long and channel surfing through infomercials, World War II news reels, and shows intended for an audience of insomniac, maniac murderers that claim to be crime shows while actually showing methods to kill and tips on escape. I ran to check on him each time he choked or groaned.    
In the morning when our favorite Urgent Care Center opened, I was afraid to drive and he was even more afraid to let me try. The examining room had no chairs, and standing for more than a few minutes is hard for me, since that accident in 1979 with the dog on the stairway and the pin implanted in my knee to keep it from dislocating.

I told a nurse, who motioned for me to sit on the doctor's stool,  about a foot high with wheels. As I tried to lower my derriere, the wheels spun the seat out from under me and I sprawled across the floor, slamming my bad knee into the examining table.

The nurse escorted me to a chair in the waiting room and the doctor came out to assure me my husband only needed the blisters cleaned, salves applied, bandages changed, keep it dry. "But why didn't he feel pain?" I asked. "Why did he get dizzy?"

She shrugged. "He should see his doctor about that."

I knew he would not. "I don't want to go to the hospital, ever again," he said.

I thought my knee pain and mobility would get better, but each day it worsened, with my knee cap slipping to the left a little when I bought groceries or washed floors, despite the pin that worked for so many years.  

In April, x-rays showed that bone rubbing against bone caused splinters and debris, and the doctor sent me to a specialist warning it might be time for a knee replacement.

"You can't have surgery on your knee again," my husband said. "Who will take care of us?"

It's exhausting walking on a wobbly leg. By May I was napping and sitting even more than my husband, who suffers cardiac and vascular disease and my daughter, who suffers insomnia all night,  depression all day and confusion around the clock.  

Who would take care of them if I could not? We were about to find out.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

The long good-bye II

The hurtful things my mother said to my sister and me at our visit last week are haunting me now like ghosts.
Relaxing at home, I resumed reading a young adult novel I bought to share with my grandson, and suddenly I remembered Mom saying "You're reading a kids book on your Nook? I guess you can't handle anything more challenging now."  
But I didn't argue and then we read Nooks in silence, and Mom said the best part of my visit was the last two silent hours. 
Maybe talking to her is no longer an option, and sitting with her silently is best.
Maybe when I visit, she remembers things we enjoyed doing together the past twenty years, which we cannot do now, and I assume she is irritated with me when she is irritated by her limitations.
Maybe that's why she tells my sister in California that we had the best time ever, as if she forgets the unpleasant parts the minute I hug her good-bye or  as soon as she falls asleep.
Maybe she cannot remember her discomfort and short-temper with me, the same way she cannot remember that she told me the same story sixty minutes before she repeats it again, or the way she confuses names.
"Chris died March 5th, you know," she said and my heart fell to the floor, because Chris is my baby brother with small kids and a pregnant wife.
My brother Tim died March 5, 1989, when he was run-over trying to cross a road and now I regret arguing with her about which son was dead and whether she said the wrong name or I heard the wrong words.
I remembered friends -- several -- whose mother turned quarrelsome and controlling the last years of their lives, and doctors advised my friends that the person they knew as their mother was not there any more, that her heart and mind grew vague and dim as the ribbon of her life unraveled to the very end..
When I look at it that way, I don't mind letting my own mind and heart unravel with her.     

Saturday, March 31, 2012

The long good-bye - part I

"It's as if someone has taken everything sweet, kind and good from my mom and left an angry stranger," a friend told me last month. "She's become impossible to please!"

I knew what she meant, remembering countless friends who saw their mother or father change, like mine is changing. It doesn't happen to everyone lucky enough to live into their eighties and nineties, but it happens.

I visited Mom at her assisted living facility last week, and everything I said was the wrong thing to say, everything I did was the wrong thing to do, anything I asked about was the wrong thing to ask.

She accused me of lying about career accomplishments. When I offered to show her my awards, she thought I wanted to show her my warts and responded with disgust.

"Not warts, awards I've earned!" I said.

"You think I'm such a fool, I don't know that anyone can get awards for themselves at any old award store, and type up certificates? Or else if you got something, must be everybody got the same thing!"

Then the visit turned into a typical visit for the past year, like this:

She scolds me for wasting money she thinks I don't have, not helping her like I should and for offering to help when everyone knows she is very independent and needs no help, especially not mine because I have always been useless, even as a small child.

Once we could talk about anything, but now almost every attempt to start a conversation ends when she raises her hand as if policing traffic and if it's ignored, she shouts, "Shut up! Shut up! I will not listen to this!"

Forbidden: small talk, questions about how relatives are doing, asking about her health or telling her about mine, anything about politicians, news or the past, unless she has a statement to make, and then response or questions are forbidden.

If I don't call and tell my sister I'm in town, she's worried we are feuding and to avoid each other, we won't attend her funeral together but if I call my sister, she's vexed about having to go pick her up or getting her dropped off, because my sister cannot drive.

Mother always has an errand to run or a place to go, and when we arrive she mutters, "You are so thoughtless, not like your brother who drops me off at the mall or grocery store and parks my car himself. It hurts me to walk!"

"You could let me go to the store for you, or let me drive," I say, envying my husband whose idea of visiting Mom is to drop me off at her facility and scoot up the road to the Soaring Eagle Casino for the day.

"I can't let you drive because when you were 16, you backed out of the driveway into the neighbor's parked car, which proves you are a terrible driver."

She asks my sister to navigate, to tell her whether a bicyclist is approaching from the right or if a car or truck is about to enter the space she is trying to back into. Except my sister has had strokes, and gives answers like, "Well, I can't read this guy's mind but it LOOKS like he might speed up when he sees you backing out and if you don't stop, you MIGHT nail him!" as Mother is already backing up, so she slams the brakes when a horn honks or someone screams, and then she screams at my sister for being stupid.

The visit ends with her telling us how she will be dead soon, and hopefully the afterlife has more to offer, and then tells us her latest desires about her funeral arrangements, obituary notice and will. All visits have ended with what my siblings and I call "the death talk," even after pleasant visits in the past.

In better days, I thought she spoke of such things to remind me that our lives are temporary, happy times are fleeting, we must appreciate the quiet pleasures like pulling weeds together, playing with water colors, singing hymns or driving past places where we lived or loved.

In the good days, she never said she hoped the afterlife had more to offer.

She probably knew it couldn't.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Managing Multiple Medications Safely

One of the most difficult things about taking care of others has been keeping track of medications they can and should not take.

Ten years ago, my husband, daughter and grandson took one medication a day but now it's closer to thirty regular prescriptions between them, and more drugs taken temporarily or for a specific problem.

Here are mistakes a caregiver might try to anticipate and avoid:

1. When a patient is hospitalized, they are often given a month's supply of medication before they leave the hospital and then a week later some prescriptions are changed again, with strength increased, decreased, medication eliminated or changed to a different generic brand. It may be hard for someone who is ill or disoriented to understand that a new medication replaces an old one. If the medication is for high blood pressure or high blood sugar, taking too much medication can be dangerous.
     Advice: Dispose of medication that is replaced or discontinued.

2. Hide pain medications or any medication for anxiety or depression, because visitors using the bathroom may look in a medicine cabinet and be tempted to partake.

3. Don't store gel capsules in a bathroom that gets steamy from the shower.

4. Patients do not usually advise a drugstore that a prescription has been discontinued even though more refills are available or the prescription has been replaced with a different strength or brand name. Someone taking more than 6 or 7 prescriptions with different expiration dates can then easily pick up one that has been replaced, and take too much. It's best to avoid "automatic refills" of prescriptions unless taking the same thing, same amount over a long period of time.

5. Keep receipts of medications taken and note if and what side effects occur, because it's often difficult to get records a few years later from the drugstore, especially if it has gone out of business.

6. An insurance provider may imply that a mail order drug company be used instead of a drugstore, and even pressure the client to use the services. Mail order prescription companies automatically fill any prescriptions sent to them by a doctor and mail the medicine to the patient, whether the patient wants it, already has a three month supply, or had a bad reaction to the drug. Refusing delivery is not an option. But maybe refusing to use a mail order service is an option even though it's not what the insurance provider "prefers."     

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Hunger Games the movie versus book

The movie: heroine nearly shoots a deer but misses, heroine yells when small sister is chosen to join other children in a fight to the death for the amusement of the rich audience. Heroine grimaces, frowns and frets a lot, while dressed in spectacular clothes. The games begin: almost all children die off camera except for a few boys who fight hand to hand combat, their movements blurred and choppy concealing detail until the camera looks away and then pans to someone lying face down in the grass as the other limps away. A few corpses are shown, a cannon announces each death, hero declares love for heroine, appears to betray her, saves her, then is saved by her twice. Game over. The end.

The book: heroine shoots deer, rabbits, squirrel, wild dogs to feed the sister and mother she loves and help the people of the village, with the help of a boy she loves. On-screen hunting  might shock people more than the graphic violence of children being killed, but except for shooting a bird in flight which she fails to collect, no animals were harmed in the making of this film, even for pretend. The graphic violence described in detail in the book was softened or moved out of sight in the film. I was glad for that.

The movie does not capture emotions, complexities, conflicts and feelings and without that, the movie is just another action flick in which the hero and heroine have narrow escapes from sudden death as minor characters get devoured or blown to pieces.



Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Nook Tips

Before we developed the same eye disorders, my sister read a book or two each week and I read two or three books in addition to daily newspapers and weekly magazines, from the time we were kids until we both developed the same eye problems, cataracts and Fuchs dystrophy.

Surgery restored my vision for driving and using a computer, but I couldn't easily read books or magazines without my eyes crossing.

Thanks you e-readers, my sister and I can read again.

Tips I learned at a seminar held at Barnes and Noble:

1. A Kindle only handles books downloaded from, and Nooks take books from Barnes and Noble. If my sister and I both bought the same kind of e-reader, we could share many books.
2. Books stored on an e-reader do not effect the speed of downloads or internet use  and each e-reader can hold thousands of books.
3. A charge holds for about ten hours if the internet connection is turned off when not in use. This also protects the e-reader from hackers and viruses. When setting the book aside, turn the book off using the button in back of Nook Basic or on the top left side of Color Nook.
6. Inside the store using the Barnes and Noble website, it is possible to browse and read any single e-book for an hour.
7. To access a list of free e-books to choose free books, on the home page choose "buy" and then select the desired topic and enter 00.00 as the price.

What is the appeal of The Hunger Games?

My grandson and I began to read "The Hunger Games" together, but it was too disturbing to me.

What disgusted me fascinated him, the idea of an America in the future where time has led the rich to crave combustible celebrities, extraordinary fashion and televised drama at the expense of the poor whose labors, resources and even children are given as "tribute" to atone for an uprising 75 years before.

In the story, children chosen in a yearly lottery to be given training and weapons, then set into a huge arena to fight, maim, kill each other until only one remains standing for the entertainment of the rich and to win food for the victor's district.

The children are forced to kill each other while followed by cameras depicting the drama and carnage until only one survives, although most of the children die by The Capital's nightmarish booby-traps.

The author wants to shock people into recognizing the nature of war itself; how innocent children suffer, how for soldiers the wounds never heal, how inequality and cruelty eventually lead to insurrection, but I wonder whether children raised on Hannah Montana can grasp such lofty themes.

I expect the movie to focus on beauty, fashion, teen romance and carnage, unable to convey the narrator's anger, commitment, conflict between wanting to love and hate, wanting to fight or run which made it possible for me to skim the violence to get the story.

Dustin might never be told that his other grandmother survived bombs, German soldiers grabbing anything of value, Russian soldiers grabbing peasant girls, the loss of her home and homeland, the hunger in a decimated nation, the pain of exile.

Or how my husband's mother, Dustin's great grandmother, witnessed soldiers on horseback killing her mother and other women and children of her Russian neighborhood while she hid in a tree.

My dad had it easy compared to my son-in-law's and husband's mothers, on a hospital ship at the Invasion of Okinawa, less than 500 miles away when the atom bombs fell upon Japan.

My grandson is 75% Russian and 25% early American colonist, but if he ever thinks war is entertainment, or even if he believes this movie is, I might tell him.

It's not.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

How we lost $17,000 on St. Patrick's Day

About a month ago, I read a newspaper headline to the effect that nearly every home has an antique, art, heirloom jewelry or SOMETHING worth more than the owner would expect.

I read past the headline, certain we have nothing of value at my home or in the home I bought for my daughter, who lives across the street because she in unable to take care of herself and son alone.

Yesterday without asking, my daughter sold a resin sculpture I bought in 1994 from an art gallery in Rochester Hills for $800, to a neighbor for $300.

It is called "Yesterday's News With Magic," a limited edition sculpture by Michael Garmin.

She turned her heart to art after a string of romances ended badly and she sought something safer to love than men for a few years.

The sculpture depicted a man resembling her latest ex-boyfriend slumped against the wall of an old bar, reading a rumpled newspaper.

An optical illusion created the perception of a changing panorama behind the window of a cheap hotel.    

The size was three feet tall by two feet wide and in the mid-90's, mostly sold to bars and nightclubs.

The last time I checked the artist's website, about four years ago, it sold for $3,000 in mint condition.

Now the piece sells for $17,800.

I was angry with her but when I went to her house to tell her the mistake, I saw her without make up for the first time in months, her cheeks blistered and a sick yellow to gray complexion, so instead of scolding I just asked why.

She feels loved, she said, and didn't want to remember the past.

"It was Saint Patrick's Day," she added, "and the man who bought it is Irish, fixes my furnace for free and his wife invited me to their home for a party where everyone drank green beer, which made all of us a bit impulsive.It needed restoration I couldn't afford and if I move in with you and Dad, or died, you will throw it away."

She looked at my scowl as I stared at the tremors in her hands.

"You always said it was depressing," she concluded.

She was right.

So was the newspaper reporter who wrote that homes hold treasures unrecognized by their owners.

But the greatest treasure in a home is always its inhabitants.

Sometimes it takes a tornado or a health crisis to recognize that.



Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Life Signs

I retired a year ago, after my husband went into a medical crisis. Jerry spent time in intensive care at Crittenton Hospital, where the nurses were wonderful and probably saved his life. Diabetes, heart and artery disease, small strokes, sepsis and sudden kidney failure had all taken a toll on him and working full time with a disabled daughter and dangerously ill husband was taking a toll on me.
The first week of official retirement, my ten year old grandson came to spend winter break with his mom, grandpa and me.
Dustin played happily all week while my husband recovered in his recliner and our daughter rested or slept on our couch because her furnace was out again and she sleeps most of the time.
Suddenly boy's chin clunked to his chest as he replicated a skateboard jump with twist off a 12 inch high jogging trampoline.
"I'm okay," Dustin said, but his face turned white as a hard boiled egg. Chills shook his body. He couldn't turn his head or lift his chin.
I put him to bed but became alarmed a few hours later when he said he couldn't raise or turn his head.
His dad took him to Beaumont Hospital, where X-rays showed two dislocated vertebrae, C2 and C3. The doctor said, "Any sudden movement could sever his spinal cord."
His dad feared losing his job if he missed work that night, so I arrived in time to ride the ambulance that transported Dustin from Troy to Royal Oak, where he was admitted to intensive care.
The ambulance driver said sometimes little boys have conditions that look very serious, but they recover very quickly. It reassured me, but then I went numb with panic when we were met at the Emergency Room by a team of pediatricians and specialists, plus a Chaplin who offered me "grief counseling."
Dustin looked small in a blue cervical collar big enough to be a flotation device. He hardly spoke, except to ask for help drinking or sitting, and how soon before he could skateboard again and when his parents could come. The hospital said the insurance would only pay for 48 hours care, so Dustin was being sent home when he should have stayed in the hospital.
He slept most of the ten days until the collar came off, until the danger of paralysis passed.
He recovered.
Not me.
Thumps, cries, screams, any threat to his head or neck made me panic.
Cries and screams were usually reactions to the Lions game on t.v., a missing remote control device, or Dustin's $19,000 bill from the hospital which, due to disputes between medical and homeowner's insurance, hospital billing and two divorced parents, I feared having to pay,
Today when Dustin screamed, everyone ran. We found him bent over the bathroom sink, crying, "A scar! On my chin! I can't go to school!"
"It's a scratch," I said.
He put his face up to the mirror. "It looks like a tattoo! I zipped my skin when I zipped my hoodie. Cool!"
Trying to prevent another crisis created contagious panic.
 I'll try to remember thumps, cries and screams are signs of life.
And remember to embrace life instead of bracing myself against the bumps and detours on its rocky, awesome road

Monday, March 12, 2012

Mom versus the wheelchair

For two years, Mother refused to use a walker or wheelchair, but she could barely walk. She wore an alert button to summon help when she fell, but that didn't stop her from getting concussions and injuring her knee.
"Give me one good excuse why you won't get a wheelchair." I said.
"People will think I'm old," the eighty three year old said.
"I'll get you a helmet with a sweatshirt that says "Test Driver," I said.
"People will feel sorry for me," she said. 
"No they won't. They'll get mad you're blocking their way with the chair."
"I don't want people to get mad at me," she said.
"Too late. Each time you fall and get hurt, you block hallways and grocery aisles until the ambulance arrives."
"I heard someone got electrocuted in an electric wheel chair," she said.
"I heard anacondas dwell in the plumbing of Rochester Hills," I said, "but I still go barefoot in the bathroom. In the dark." 
"But you screamed like an idiot when you stepped on my sponge roller the other night. Take no chance, have no fear, that's my motto," Mom said.  
The phone rang.
My younger sister, calling from California.
Mom turned on the speaker phone. She said she had good news.
"Oh!" Mother said, "did the doctors find out what's wrong with your knees so you can go back to work?"
"No! I can shop, cook, clean, my knees stopped hurting, I've stopped falling, and I don't need surgery. All because I bought a wheelchair," my sister said.
"But you're so young!" Mother said.
"I looked older hobbling and falling down every day," Sis said.
Mother finally went to an orthopedic specialist to see what she needed.


Saturday, March 10, 2012

Caregiver Survival

Being somewhat ambulatory in a household where everyone else is less than somewhat, I've found the following  choices to be especially helpful.
First, faith.
Faith in God.
Faith in a better future, even if the future is as close as tomorrow and the "better" is as small as a cup of hot chocolate on a cold afternoon, an entertaining television show, laughter following a night of tending to someone in pain or a day of taking reluctant people to doctor appointments and blood tests.
Faith that what I do for incapacitated or young relatives matters, even though mostly it's cooking, cleaning, driving, reassuring and making sure medications are properly taken, appointments are kept, reckless behavior is quashed, each chore is completed in time for the next chore.

Second, brief flights of freedom.
Hobbies that make me forget everything for awhile; for me, reading, art and creative writing.
Meeting a friend for lunch, because after people in my house are fed, they hardly notice my absence until dinner but in the evening they all want to tell me something or need help with forms or homework, and they fear the dark and my disappearance into it forever if I leave.
Sometimes a nap or a long, hot shower in the middle of the day constitutes escape and rejuvenation.

 Third, the Caregiver's Golden Rule: Remember to do unto one's self as one has given and done for others.

Fourth, faith.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Update on Daughter's Health

Jennifer says she is feeling emotionally better about feeling physically bad.
She is happy her doctor never called with her test results from the cat scan on her pancreas, assuming this means there were no irregularities.
She prefers to assume everything is all right, and it probably is, as far as something physicians can easily detect.
Meanwhile, she continues to lose weight and a size ten boy's t-shirt and basketball shorts fit her better than her own jeans and sweaters.
Her hands shake uncontrollably, and her eyelids flutter.
Her pain, feeling cold and exhausted means that her son's usual view of his mom is her face above a blanket.
While arguing with her, my husband received bad news from his doctor, and advice he has yet to take.
I decided I had better take care of myself, which care givers often forget to do.
My swollen knee was x-rayed, I was given anti inflammatory medication and I had an allergy shot at the highest dose yet.
By nightfall my face was so swelled, I could not see to fix supper.
My family tucked blankets around me and worried I might die.
Their fears were annoying and I must be equally annoying when I worry about them.
So I will try in future not to do that.
Their attempts to be comforting were comforting.
So I will try in the future to be more so.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Losing a job but finding work, part 3

After months of fearing homelessness and hoping for miracles, Mary and her husband decided to use some of their retirement savings to buy a home in Indiana, where relatives lived.
Paying cash gave them an advantage over other bidders.
Their new home is on ten acres instead of four, it cost $100,000 instead of $350,000 like their previous home, and it is bigger than the home they lost.
They are surrounded by forest yet only four miles from a major city, and Mary says it feels more like home than any where they ever lived, perhaps because it is completely paid for and "No one can take it away from us!"
Her husband's health improved despite the emotional stress of waiting for foreclosure, and the physical stress of moving their belongings by themselves, 370 miles, one truck load after another using their pick-up.
Mary drove to Michigan twice a month to work for a week at the retail store, and sometimes she drove by the home she once loved.
"It was so sad. We had asked the bank to let us refinance, but they would not allow that, and after we left, each time I drove by I saw more and more deterioration and signs of people breaking in. A year after we left, it still wasn't for sale and I noticed someone had ripped the boards off so I peeked inside the windows. The basement was flooded, and it looked like someone stole even the kitchen sink."
The store where she worked closed permanently, and she was eligible for unemployment benefits again.
A few months later, her husband's 99 weeks of unemployment ended but a month later he turned 62 and filed for Social Security.
Mary started a new job this month, working full time doing work she once performed in Bloomfield Hills for $15 more an hour than she earns now, but she is grateful.
"Our boys are happily married, successful, working in careers they love," she said, "But I tell them to recognize the difference between what they want and what they really need. "The landscaping, home improvements, vacations, cars, all that STUFF we bought sort of enslaved us, and it was the money we saved that saved us. Now we have freedom to relax, enjoy life, help our parents and visit friends and relatives. Life is good."

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Losing a job but finding work, part 2

After the shock and humiliation of being fired passed, Mary found benefits.
Unemployment benefits paid 2/3 of her salary.
Arthritis symptoms and migraine headaches disappeared.
Blizzards she did not have to commute through made her happy to be inside in her lovely home.
After posting her resume and completing applications online a hundred times with no result, she took part time employment at a high-end fashion store, a job she always wanted, at 1/4 her former hourly pay.
"I loved helping women find flattering styles and hoped my degree would lead to a higher position," she said of a promotion that never came.
On holidays she drove to Florida, Georgia, and Indiana to visit relatives, becoming active in their lives now that she worked part-time.
Her husband purchased more flower bulbs, saplings, gardening gadgets and tools, making their four acres of land a show place for the gardening business he hoped to start if the unthinkable happened, and he lost his job of 37 years.
He was "let go" a year after Mary, at the age of 60.
"Before we were down-sized out of our jobs, we believed our good judgment and hard work would bring rewards in the form of higher pay," Mary said. "Not unemployment compensation or Social Security from early  retirement." 
She continued: "We couldn't make our $3,500 a month house payment, so we just waited for the mortgage foreclosure, tried to find jobs, and we grieved."
They considered starting a business in doggy daycare or flower and plant sales, discovering costs, regulations and zoning issues they never expected.
They started a business breeding golden retrievers. As a result they own four dogs they purchased to breed, plus the last litter, born a few days after learning two of the sold dogs suffered a potential birth defect. so none of their twelve animals could be sold or bred.
Their credit union let them live in the home for a year without paying on the mortgage, then offered a deed in lieu in return for the property.
"A deed in lieu frees you from your obligation to the mortgage holder, but it ruins your credit and bars you from another mortgage for seven years," Mary said.
Stay tuned for part three later this week

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

I wax no stalgic

I had a wonderful childhood, growing up in farm land  where everything was dangerous and exciting, but my overprotected grandson is bored.
My parents graduated from Central Michigan University and to protect us from the polio epidemic, they bought a farm house in the country.
Neighbor kids threw dried cow dung at each other like frisbees, and rode in the open bed of pick up trucks.
We jumped from haylofts, sometimes into a pen with a bull to outrun.
We treasured lead toys bigger than our hands, about as heavy as a bowling ball, and painted with lead paint, like the walls of our bedrooms.
Dentists put mercury in our fillings.
Our homes were insulated with asbestos.
We explored dense forests and gravel pits, four to eight children fearlessly led by an eight or nine year old and no one could swim.
Wasps nested under the outhouse holes where we set our posteriors.
There were lots of smells: outhouses, chicken coops, cows, kids that only took a bath once a week in a steel tub heated by tea kettles, but we were used to the odor of ourselves and each other and impervious to germs.
My grandson asked today if we are poor, because we eat a lot of chicken.
Some of my neighbors were so poor, they lacked electricity and indoor running water but they were only poor in earnings.
We were rich in all the ways that mattered, and we knew it.
Everyone owned land, Mother sewed us lovely clothes, we were never hungry or alone.
My grandson does not know that vegetables and tomatoes grow in dirt, or that it takes months to raise a baby chick, so it is eventually possible to steal its eggs and one day cut its head off, hold its feet and dunk its body into boiling water, twist and pull hot feathers off, burn off pin feathers with a candle, cut off neck and feet, extract gizzards, liver, egg sacs and worse, then cook it for three or four hours.
He does not know the meat he eats was once alive, and it died painfully to feed him.
He does not know that someone very poor and far away sews his jeans, jackets and t-shirts.
He is less rich than me when we lived on a farm.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Losing a job but finding work, part 1

"I didn't know we were living at the edge of a financial abyss until we fell, but eventually, we hit bottom and now we have a new life, better than the old one," my friend Mary said last week.
She and her husband are among the many who left Michigan during the recession.
"We lost our careers, paychecks and home, but now we are happier," Mary said.
A college student and stay-at-home mom while her kids were young, she finished her bachelor's degree the same month her boys graduated from high school.
Mary looked forward to working, and wanted to contribute to Purdue University tuition in Indiana.
When the boys earned their degrees in business, Mary and her husband moved from Auburn Hills to a smaller home in Brandon Township.
The new home offered five acres of land, a private lake and a pole barn to hold their antique Porsche, SUV, car and the truck her husband needed for the gardening and landscape business he hoped to create "when he found the time."
She commuted an hour each way to her office in Bloomfield Hills, and he drove the truck to an automotive plant where he worked as a manager.
The pressure and their pay seemed great, so Mary bought a time share, allowing them a Hawaiian vacation once or twice a year at a beach-front condo.
They threw lavish parties, even buying, preparing and serving corn beef and cabbage to their church congregation on St. Patrick's Day to celebrate their Irish roots.
Refinancing their mortgage each time the value increased on their home helped pay off credit cards and purchase luxuries.
Mary said: "Everyone believed income and property values could only increase, and with each increase, we could always afford more."
As layoffs started in Michigan, tensions rose with rumors about housing bubbles and corporate downsizing..
"We loved our home even more. On the dock at the edge of the lake, the worries of the day disappeared," she said.
In 2007, Mary survived the first round of layoffs at her office, but was given more work, faster deadlines and pressure from supervisors to do better.
In 2008, she skipped lunch, cancelled vacations, stayed late, took work home.
Then she lost her job in the second round of layoffs.
Stay tuned for Part Two 

Saturday, February 25, 2012

The Lovely Advantages of Not Being Lovely

1. Strangers rarely say, "Has anyone told you how beautiful you are?" to the backside of an older woman as she loads groceries in the car trunk or a woman in her 50's dining with lady friends in their 60's whose feelings were hurt when everyone was young.
2. When a stranger tells a woman older than 55 or so that she is beautiful, she knows he is lying or potentially dangerous unless he's in his 80's or married to her.
3. A woman can hug a male friend or talk to him with their heads nearly touching in front of their own spouses, without incurring jealousy, because the spouses know he's asking if wrinkle creams might work for men or she is asking if he knows what her husband wants to do for his birthday. People when they get old whisper very loudly.
4. A retired husband no longer points to a woman his wife's age with a beautiful coiffure, wearing a tight suit, designer shoes and says, "I bet if you wanted to, you could look like her!"
5. Instead he says, "I'd hate to think how much she pays for a hairdresser, clothes and plastic surgery! I am so glad I married someone so careful with money like you, Honey."
6. When a woman is beautiful and marries a man who is kind, wonderful with kids, romantic and funny but not handsome, people assume he has money and she married it for him. If she gets a promotion, people wonder if she flirted or dated the boss to get it, and that's why she stayed late at the office each night.
7. The older one gets, the swifter the days pass and the slower one's feet move, causing time to reveal its precious nature, making it fitting to fling false eye lashes, high heels, pantie hose, facial masks, electric curlers and clothes that require starch and ironing into the wastebasket with our old self-imposed standards of how to be pretty.
8. One sees beauty in everyone young because youth is beautiful, and beauty in the elderly because age brings wisdom. In the dimming of eyesight, the eyes of the heart grow strong, able to enjoy and appreciate the beauty of all ages.
9. A friend is anyone who smiles or asks "How is your day going?" because the old requirements for choosing a bff fades away, as old best friends forever die, move far away, or lose their driver's license.
10. Husbands, if they age in a noble way, always see their wives not as she looks that day, but as he remembers she looked in the moments she was most dear and beautiful to him.
11. My husband swears I was most lovely to him a year ago when I touched his shoulder, raised his hospital bed, helped his lips find the straw in the ice water I held beneath his chin, and tried to explain why he woke up in Intensive Care.
12. He was most lovely to me whenever he told our sick daughter she could stay with us as long as she needed, even when she moved in with a son, and he insisted their dependence on us was not their failure but our pleasure.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Still Waiting For Test Results

Last week my daughter had an ultra sound, which showed that her pain and abdominal swelling is not the result of powerful medication, like I had hoped and as has happened in the past and is easily corrected.
Her blood tests and the ultra sound revealed "anomalies" and a potentially malignant growth, so she was to return in three days for a cat scan, but on the day of the appointment, roads were icy and snow covered, and we were reeling from the results of her father's routine heart examination, which we expected to be normal but which indicate another mild heart attack with more damage, perhaps throwing him into the realm of congestive heart failure.
Jennifer's cat scan was rescheduled for today and her father's cat scan is a few days from now, and so we wait.
This is all familiar, at least for Jennifer, who has had chronic medical problems since birth.
In another sense, hoovering between hope and fear is something one never gets accustomed to, even if it happens once a year or two and most of those times, fate hands life and family back to me intact.
Sometimes life feels like a kaleidoscope turned so slowly we are unaware of the changes, just going around and around within, doing the same things day in and day out, until we can't for awhile, and then someone does it for us.
What seems dreadfully boring and repetitious within that circle, like sorting laundry or eating the same meals day after day becomes gloriously wonderful, and first proof of recovery when someone loses the ability to do it, and then finds the strength and will again.
My daughter said this morning, "We aren't aware how precious people are to us, and our lives until suddenly we begin to to see how it might be coming to a close. But what I think seems like end to us really is the middle, maybe of new routines and vistas and circles some where else."
If she's ill, I tell myself, it only means another operation, and then another recovery.
Right now I cannot think beyond that.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

A Baby Einsteiner’s First Symphony

Dustin asked Bassonist Jonathan Boyd if being a musician is fun.
Dustin Cankar, sixth grader at Hart Middle School of Rochester, last
listened to classical music in infancy when his mother played Baby
Einstein tapes of Bach and Mozart hoping to increase his I.Q.
The tapes put him to sleep.
He preferred rap music at age four, and could repeat Eminem’s sad,
angry words from memory.
Rap woke him up.
If he heard nursery rhymes and kiddie tunes in the crib, he might not have
used words like “rage” or “gangsta” when he played with Webkins.
On Jan. 14, Dustin and I were invited to the Symphony of the Lakes
performance led by the esteemed conductor, Zeljko Milicevic.
Dustin sullenly agreed to go if he could wear jeans with a striped
hoodie and have a Big Mac afterward.
I hadn’t attended a symphony since the nineteen eighties when my
husband and I lived in Chicago.
Chicago audiences wore gowns and tuxedos, forbidding coughs, snores or children.
I knew children were welcome at the Performing Arts Center inside Waterford Mott High School,  but wondered if Dustin would be quiet.
We found students, community residents, and supporters of the orchestra
occupying about 85 percent of a very large and lovely auditorium.
It offered great stage lighting, wood paneled walls and high ceilings.
The musicians played with passion and perfection, making a memorable
and most affordable evening for all in attendance.
Camera bulbs flashed and late comers came, which added to the sense of
elegance tempered with a casual approach.
A few audience members said it was the first live concert or show they
attended and expressed disappointment at intermission because they did
not want it to end and thought it was over.
Dustin did not fall asleep, sneeze, make fake bodily noises he finds
entertaining when bored. He sat in quiet awe.
“This reminds me what it felt like when I was a baby,” he said at intermission.
At the end of the final performance, the orchestra and conductor
received a standing ovation.
Musicians graciously spoke to patrons and answered their questions.
Audience members were friendly to each other, talking about their
favorite symphonies, wondering when the next performance would be
given and asking each other how to pronounce Zeljko.
"That was exciting, especially the clarinet solos!” Dustin said
Symphony on the Lakes performs
afterward to the bassoon player. “I play clarinet, myself.”
Like old friends mingling, people seemed reluctant to leave.
“I really thought those Mozart and Bach tapes your mother made you listen to were a waste of time,” I said as we stepped into the night air. “But maybe that’s why you enjoyed yourself tonight.”
“And maybe it’s why I’m an all A student with a photographic memory,” he said.
Then he made fake bodily noises, all the way home to Rochester Hills.

Waiting for the test results

The picture to the right is of Jennifer, my daughter, who turns 39 in April. 
The photograph was taken last September.
Today she can barely bend her knees.
Jennifer hasn't felt well the past month, and lost so much weight, even her "skinny" clothes no longer fit.
Yesterday she reluctantly visited her doctor, expecting a diagnosis of acute laziness and winter blahs, but he said she lost 12 pounds since her last visit three weeks ago, her thyroid function is zero and her liver is enlarged.
He ordered her to get an ultra sound at the hospital immediately, and warned she may have to be admitted when the results of all the tests come in.
When she first seemed ill a few weeks ago, I blamed the toxicity of medications she takes for rheumatoid arthritis, seizures, low-functioning thyroid, inflammation and anxiety.
Then I remembered my mom, maternal grandmother and grandma's grandfather also suffered from migratory pain and swelling in joints or organs that caused pain for days or weeks, then vanished, only to appear later, some where else.
Mom was diagnosed at various times with rheumatoid arthritis, lupus,  polymylitis or Sjogren's disease, different diseases to describe similar symptoms.
Most people thought her mom was a hypochondriac, until her sixties when surgeries revealed and tried to repair the damage some unknown condition had wracked upon her stomach, lungs and heart.
Great-Great-Grandpa Sidney Rowell blamed his problems on the hardships he endured in the Civil War, and was granted a government stipend as a disabled vet.
I wrote to the NARA for his Civil War records and obtained a sixty page report detailing all the letters and medical documentation Sidney needed to get his government disability pension.
Like my daughter, mother, grandmother and great great grandfather, bouts of arthritic pain or pain and swelling in organs comes and goes, with months or even years remission in between series of attacks. 
But my great great grandfather suffered permanent, crippling effects from the most severe episodes, causing his elbow and shoulder to be deformed and by the time he was fifty, he could no longer bathe or dress unassisted, according to his records, which included a statement from a neighbor that Sidney was a "good, moral man who never engaged in drinking, smoking or loose behavior." 
When Jennifer was young, sometimes she had mobility problems, but steroids probably kept her from suffering permanent damage
When the juvenile rheumatoid arthritis "burned itself out" when she was about 18 years old, I hoped it would never be a problem again. 
A blood test showed high levels of rheumatoid factor in a routine test about five months ago, before the pain started up again.
When she was 13, her liver swelled and bulged in reaction to steroid treatment and anti inflammatory medications, so probably her trouble this time is the same as last time, although she hasn't taken steroids in years.
I'm grateful last time she suffered so was 25 years ago.
I'm grateful she proved the doctor wrong, who warned she probably wouldn't survive to adulthood.
When she wanted to get married, I warned that pregnancy could bring on the disease again, and I asked her to promise she wouldn't have a baby, while she demanded her right to a live like anyone else.
I'm grateful she didn't listen to me.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Death at Middle School

Last month, a teacher at my grandson's school was murdered by her husband because of a contenious divorce.
He shot her, then shot himself, leaving three young children without parents.
The school sent a e-mail to the parents of students from the middle schools where she taught, informing parents that grief counselors would be at the school a few days, to help children cope.
My grandson, a sixth grader, seemed his usual cheerful self when he arrived home that afternoon.
We were surprised, because he cried when his best friend moved to Howell, and when his chocolete lab died last year, at the age of 16.
"Maybe asking him how he feels will make it worse," my daughter said.                  
But we decided to take the advice of the principal in his e-mail, and fighting back our own tears, we asked Dustin how he felt about the tragedy.
Dustin waved his hand as if to dismiss us from his bedroom, where he bent over his X-Box.
"Oh, she's okay," he told us reassuringly. "She was going to get a divorce but the daddy did not want to lose his children.So they had a fight and a gun went off, but nobody got hurt. She wasn't in her classroom this morning because her family is taking vacation at a water park up North."
"Who told you this?" my daughter asked.
"I told myself. My friends and I got together, and this is what we figured out happened, because otherwise, how can we sleep at night?  We all liked her. And what if we lost our parents when our eyes close?"
As he came to understand the truth, he had trouble falling asleep, and began awakening when the furnace clicked on or his mom coughed.
He was often sad and frightened, and did not know why.
He never spoke about her, until one night when he insisted everyone go to sleep and he would fall asleep without someone still awake in the living room, as someone had to be since the tragedy.
He asked to be tucked in, for the first time in a year or so, and told his mom, "She had a most beautiful smile, like she was always glad to see me every morning. I'll always keep that smile with her name, inside me."
We will each recover in our own way, those less close the fastest, but even the closest recover at last.
The first sign of our healing from a tragic loss is always a joyful memory of the person's life, or recognition of something they've left with us.
Every child impacted by this will carry something inside, just like I will never forget a teacher at Parkdale Elementary in Midland in 1959 who died with two friends in a car crash when I was in sixth grade.
Her name and smile still dwell inside me, too.

Napping and scolding our days away

During the Superbowl my husband found he needed a nap before half time.

When he woke up, he confided he is too old to die young, no longer middle aged unless he lives to be 116, and we need to plan for our retirement.

I reminded him he retired four years ago, and I retired last year.

His senior moments are lasting longer these days.

I don't know why.

It could be the medication he takes for cardiovascular disease, blocked arteries, fluctuations in blood sugar.

Maybe it's a side effect of blood poisoning a year ago, the little strokes during surgical procedures, the heart attack or concussions in his childhood when he played hockey and took a few whacks to the head.

Forty years ago, friends and I read  magazine articles that helped us determine if we were fashionably dressed, in love or happily married but now I feel adrift in uncharted territory.

I wished for sage advice on things like how to get someone to stop driving, shoveling snow, incorrectly filing income tax reports, using the stove.

Most of all I wondered if someone has the right to make medical decisions for himself, in defiance of doctors or ambulance attendants.

Today, I read letters my grandmothers sent forty years ago.

Dad's mom wrote how Grandpa turned  the television as high as the sound would go, but the loudness let her know when she was in her garden that he was busy, happy and safe.

She told funny stories about Grandpa's driving, how she guided Grandpa down expressways and on small town streets, warning him of pedestrians and stop sign as he drove 25 miles an hour, stopping in the middle of intersections for red lights, driving in circles on the same on and off ramp on the freeway, getting lost.

He made the shortest trip into an adventure, she said.

He drove that way for three years, because he refused to let her drive or give up his license, he backed their car into a friend's house, at forty miles an hour in reverse.

"The police confiscated his license," she wrote, "and he is heartbroken but I'm glad no one was hurt, and I wasn't the one who broke his heart."

She wondered if, had she been with him that day, he would not have parked the car sideways in the road and put the car into reverse instead of drive, then floored the accelerator when he wanted to go home.

"Sometimes men and children just have to learn the hard way," she concluded.

What everyone remembers most about Grandma and Grandpa is how their love just grew bigger as they became older, Grandma living to be 94 years old and Grandpa, 89.

She never complained or tried to change Grandpa and although she wrote to a young wife and new mother, she gave sage advise to the old woman I've become, even though she's been gone twenty years now.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

It’s not gray hair, it’s silver lining

Younger people, even doctors, sometimes assume an older person must be
depressed or unhappy. “Face it, the best of your life is over,” caring
souls say to indicate their sympathy. Except I’ve rarely felt happier.
I’m writing a whole new chapter in my life.
Each age has its burdens and blessings.

Below are the joys I have found since turning sixty:
• I no longer fear dying young, even though my pediatrician told Mom
my asthma would be fatal
• I will not die of rattle snake bite when I sit on one while hiking
again, or lose control of the car in the Sierras again. Climbing
stairs sometimes feels like a risky adventure that ends in victory.
• I once was lost, but now I'm found; was blind but now I see without
glasses. Thanks to my ophthalmologist in Rochester Hills. What a
difference a day without cataracts makes!
• I thought I'd die of embarrassment in my fifties when women in their
forties asked "Why do women your age let themselves go?" In my
sixties, I've embraced my shapelessness. Hubby does, too.
• The women who swore not to "let themselves go" are wondering where
their waists and chins went.
• It takes years of practice to learn dying of embarrassment is never fatal.
• My aunts said it is a great blessing if the last three years before
retirement are the most difficult. Then retirement is a great relief
and joy, instead of a sad parting from friends, meaningful work, and
paychecks much bigger than pension checks. They also said if a
co-worker treats you like they can’t wait to see you leave, they are
jealous because they can’t.
• Children add meaning to my life, but now I can give them to someone
else if I need a nap.
• For 45 years I worked in noisy, busy offices. On the most stressful
days, I survived dreaming of retirement when I could write articles, a
novel a blog instead of memos, directives and statistical reports. Now
I write articles, novels, a blog and only answer the phone if it's for