Staying in Touch

I find it easier to communicate in writing than on a telephone, though talking face to face is best of all.

I find telephone conversations challenging – once, when I could still multi-task, I could have a telephone conversation and take notes in two columns, recording both what I said and what the person speaking with me said. That was invaluable for keeping track of parent phone calls at school, during which I could jot down what the call was about, and what questions were asked, and answers given. I might have fifteen to twenty telephone conversations in a day when I was working as a parent liaison/advocate for two years. Teaching in the classroom might see two or three phone calls a day, but in a week’s time that adds up quickly. I could easily flip back through my pages of notes to see an earlier telephone log before calling a parent back, to make sure I knew what we had said last time around.

But with Multiple Sclerosis comes “cog-fog,” a lessening of the ability to multi-task. But even more disabling is the inability to follow a conversation that is void of any visual cues … reading body language and facial expressions helps me stay connected in a conversation, and when those cues are lost, so am I. I have, recently, been on the telephone with someone for only a few minutes before I’ve forgotten who I’m talking with, and whether I had made the call, or received it. It is embarrassing, and often creates a pause in the discussion as I listen and try to re-orient myself. I am learning again that taking a quick note at the start of the conversation helps me to stay connected.

Business telephone calls are one thing … if I’m making the call, I know at the beginning what I want or need to ask, and have a pen and paper at hand to write out the questions and jot down the answers. I don’t accept “survey” calls anymore, as they are too long and too spontaneous. Medical calls, though rare, are the most difficult for me to handle. People joke about “white coat syndrome” where patients’ blood pressure rises in a doctor’s office … I think that happens to me on the telephone … I often had tests and then follow-up phone conversations when I was being diagnosed for MS … whenever the


Telephone (Photo credit: plenty.r.)

neurologist would call me, he would give me the test results, and I would be so concerned about what he was telling me that I would forget whatever questions I had wanted to ask. I haven’t had that sort of testing or reporting in five years now, but when a doctor’s office calls me, I feel the tension build immediately, and am learning to ask them to hold for a minute while I find a pen and paper. I am learning…

I had a ‘telephone appointment’ with Social Security yesterday, during which I gave information toward applying for a spousal allotment. I had called the teachers’ retirement board beforehand, and was prepared for what Social Security would tell me – because two thirds of my pension is more than 1/2 of  my husband’s SS earnings, I would get nothing. And because I had only 36 of the required 40 quarters of time worked under social security, (teachers in our state are not allowed to contribute to social security)  I was not eligible for disability income either. But it was worth a shot. And I was prepared to both hear information and ask relevant questions.

My cell phone is one of the earlier models. It will take photographs, but I have no idea how to save them or forward them. It will receive text messages, but it has no keyboard, and so my only text answers to date have been either “ok” or “no.”  The number keys are just large enough for me to see, but still I mis-dial often, and though I once knew how to call people with speed dial buttons, I have forgotten how to do that, and so still memorize and ‘dial’ numbers to make a call. The newer cell phones have a keypad that facilitates texting, but I’m not sure I could ever justify the cost for as little as I would use it. We live in a “dead zone” with poor cell reception, and so I only receive calls when I remember to charge my phone and take it with me when I leave the neighborhood, which isn’t very often.

I was comfortable using email for communications at school … it was not uncommon to receive and send dozens of emails before and after classroom hours each day, and keeping them on my computer provided quick reminders, as my notebook of telephone conversations had done years ago. I still use emails with friends, on occasion, though I don’t have many emailaddresses for my friends anymore. Once we were all on the same network at school. Email seems a less intrusive  form of communication; the recipient can choose when to open it and whether to respond. A telephone call is more intrusive, unless the receiver uses call screening or an answering machine.

I think I’m going to revert to pen and paper, envelopes and stamps for friends and family communications. I enjoyed writing letters years ago, and I think they were better received than emails, which can be lost in the plethora of electronic communications. But for health updates, I’ll continue to use this blog, providing an inside look at how I’m doing without calling for a reaction to the news. My family and friends know it is here, and that they can find out how I am and respond if they wish. While I admit that I would like to hear back from them, I know that they are not yet retired and as free with their time as I am.

I try not to be isolated, but I admit I enjoy being home with Rick, puttering around the house and the shop, or typing here at my blogs. I do miss my friends, though, and think I’ll start mailing them real letters and cards. It will help keep the post office operating.


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