A Silent Heart Attack

searchI was there for an echo-cardio stress test. My new physician has scheduled me for several long-overdue health maintenance tests, and this was one, most likely due to a recent rise in my blood pressure (which I have attributed to my gain of about twenty pounds over the past two years, ) The nurse explained the procedure and said she would do so again as it progressed, step by step, and I thanked her. It started with an EKG (and I don’t know why there is a K in there, instead of a C…) which went well. Next was an ultrasound of the heart.The usual ‘goop’ was applied, and the device began to circle across the left side of my chest. As the technician moved the device below my heart, she hit a sensitive spot, and I told her. She pulled away and then went back and hit it again. She decided then to have the doctor who would be reading the ultrasound to come in and look at it, now rather than later.

The doctor looked at the ultrasound monitor and agreed with the nurse that it was not going to be clear enough for him to make a comparison with the one that would follow the treadmill test, and that another test would be better and directed the tech. to call my doctor and suggest the alternative. He turned to me, then, and asked “When did you have a heart attack?” I thought I misunderstood his question, as he spoke softly and with an accent. I didn’t answer at first, and he repeated “When did you have the heart attack?” I replied to him, then, that I had never had a heart attack.  “Yes, you did. There is evidence in the images.”

As we drove home, I tried and tried to remember an incidence that might have been a heart attack. Perhaps when I tripped up the back steps and landed hard on my chest, and stayed on the floor for a few minutes before rising, giving the pain time to pass? Could a fall like that cause a heart attack … and be over in those few minutes? Or could the repetitive nightly episodes of shortness of breath (when I laid down to sleep each night for a few weeks recently) have been a series of small heart attacks – my chest did tighten, side to side, during those episodes, but again, they each only lasted for a few minutes, and then my breathing evened out and remained steady as I fell asleep. That hasn’t happened in the past week – why would it have stopped? I had told our new doctor’s nurse practitioner of those episodes, but as they were brief I thought little of it.

I’ve certainly felt worse pain than either the fall or the breathing/squeezing episodes… I wondered, then, if I might have had a heart attack during a dream, and not realized that it was a real heart attack? My dreams are so vivid, I often am not sure whether they are dreams or reality, until I wake up from them. And even then, when I remember one, I’m not always sure that I am just remembering a dream, or remembering something that really happened and was forgotten for a while…

I’m scheduled to wear a heart monitor next week for a 24 hour period, and I’ll have the alternate stress/echo two-day test later in the week. I won’t know until I meet with the doctor after those test results, and others, are received. But I now know that my heart bears evidence of a heart attack that I don’t remember having. I don’t know yet whether the evidence is of past damage, or of ongoing damage. I wonder now if this is somehow related to the ongoing pain in my lower right ribs .. for which I am scheduled to have a full body bone scan the day before the heart monitor. But that pain is on my right side, not my heart side. It is sometimes a sharp pain, and sometimes an ache, and always hard to describe when asked to do so.

I’ll write more when I know more.

Until then, be well, all.

 

 

Here we go again…

Forgive me if I’m repeating myself … I can’t remember what I’ve written when I open a blank page to begin again, and if I close this page to go back and read what I’ve already written, I’ll get lost in old posts and forget to come back here to write what I wanted to tell.

We’ve changed primary care doctors because our doctor of the past twenty years just retired unbeknownst to us, and turned over our folders to a young doctor. That doctor was very nice but, starting fresh, ordered some tests, xrays, etc. His office staff was overwhelmed with the influx of new patients and mis-coded much of the insurance billing, resulting in our being billed for hundreds of dollars of tests, which we appealed.

After two months of repeat billing, we chose another primary care doctor on the recommendation of a good friend. This one, also, is taking a fresh start approach; more blood work, different x-rays, etc. but apparently more accurate insurance coding, as we haven’t received a bill from any of the tests yet. But she is being very thorough … I’ve had my head examined (brain Cat Scan), have scheduled with my neurologist (August), and am going tomorrow for a treadmill stress test. Our new doctor would like to solve the mystery of the lower rib pain that re-occurs almost daily.  I had a treadmill test about thirty years ago, in my mid-thirties, and was pretty sure they were trying to kill me at the time.

gallery-thumbnailsI hadn’t yet been diagnosed with MS then, nor melanoma, and tried my best to keep going as they encouraged me to do. I know they have to do that, to measure the strength of my heart. I did really push at the time, feeling confident that my then strength would impress them. I nearly fell to the floor when I finally stopped, and they hovered a bit leading me to the chair to take the resting heart rate.

This year, I’m not as strong as I was thirty years ago. I’m not as confident, and I surely don’t feel a need to show anyone how strong I am not. I just read a post written by a virtual friend (one known to me only through the internet, but sharing the experience of MS and social networking.) He was questioning his ability to complete a half-marathon with MS, as he just turned forty. He did it, and I’m very happy for him that he did. I commented on his blog that I will keep him in my thoughts tomorrow as I step onto the treadmill. I don’t know whether I will rebel against their insistence that I keep going and stop before I am fully fatigued, or rebel against my waning energy and try to keep going to help them measure my active and resting heart rates. I know what I did in my thirties, akin to what my friend just did as he turned forty. But I wil remind myself, and those testing me, that I am past the midpoint of my sixties…

The Answer to “What’s New?”

I’m often at a loss for words when someone asks me “What’s new?” My brain seems to hesitate and hit a pause button, and I search through the now-in-dissaray recorded memory files, trying to remember when I last spoke with this person … what have we already talked about … I don’t want to be repetitive … what has occured since that last meeting? Most often I leave things out rather than risk being redundant, and sometimes leave thingroyalty-free-clip-art-image-overworked-woman-sitting-at-a-messy-desk-183410s out just because they are not relevant to the day. I’m not quick anymore in deciphering, from the tone or the posture or the energy level of the question, whether the person asking  wants a health report or a family report, a community response or a weather summary… sometimes the question is intimidating, as the wrong answer may contain the wrong content and might, in turn, earn the asker’s annoyance. I don’t like to annoy. I don’t like to be annoyed, either.Realizing after the fact that I’ve answered wrong is something that weighs me down for the rest of the conversation.

So, while I’m searching through that hesitant pause, a look of sometimes concern, sometimes disinterest, or sometimes amusement might flash across the questioner’s eyes; that’s when I’ll snap back and repeat something inane that I’d seen on the news, or read online somewhere.  Or I’ll comment on the weather while steering clear of complaining about it. It has been an unusually calm Spring,  yet the meteorologist revel in making comparisons to “the hottest” or “the stormiest” or “the dryest” or “the wettest” or “the coldest” on record … comparisons that are hyperbole at best, and really not worth affirming. The weather is what it is, and tomorrow will be what it will be. When there is no danger to warn against, no expected calamity for which to prepare, I think the meterologists ought to be furloughed until needed again. They seem to be doubling up on local ‘news’ broadcasts, and taking expensive minutes away from reporters who could be covering real news.

Once, I would perhaps have answered with a political observation, given that this is an election year. But sadly, the pundits are acting like the meteorologists: they compete with each other, highlighting the sad state of affairs surrounding this year’s presidential election – there is too much commentary and repeat coverage on too much vulgar, hateful spats between candidates, but to bring it into a conversation as an answer to “What’s new”  would  elicit its own negative response  …  I no longer presume to understand, or want to understand who’s voting for whom… People sometimes surprise me by telling me their choice, but more often it’s left untold. I’ve been public about my liberal democratic leanings and don’t have to proclaim them any more. My beliefs and values remain the same. Those who know me logically know that I will support people of like minds. But once again, as has often happened, my choice may not be the party’s choice. But my party’s choice will have to be mine. I could never vote the other way.

I read an interesting article yesterday concerning the Republican presumed nominee.  In it, the writer positions Trump as a candidate ‘too sick to lead, with a lethal personality disorder or narcissism.’ I shared that link to the article and headed the shared post with my own suggestion: The emperor has no clothes. I truly believed at the outset he may well have entered this campaign to show that he was rich enough to do so, or toimages expose the process for the charade it has become … but it seems now, as he has the majority of delegates’ nominative votes, that he intends to stay in and become the November name on the final ballot.  What a mockery of our inclusive republic he will be … what a global humiliation for Americans who truly understand and live by our constitution and laws. What will this election’s historical label be? What will future American generations write of us? Who in the world beyond our borders will ever respect us again?

So my respose to “What’s new?” will become the evasive answer that is but a question in itself … “Not much … what’s new with  you?”

For those asking in a vein of health concern … I’m going to see the dermatologist next week, a month early, as a rash is developing on both forearms, one centered over the original melanoma site. I’m doing this beause the larger melanoma site on my back began first exhibited as a similar rash.  I’ll schedule stock-illustration-40916860-doctors-waiting-room-information-signan appointment with the neurologist to discuss the steady burning/scalding sensation in my right arm, and ask whether my new nurse practitioner’s recommendation for a brain  scan would be better served wit
h an MRI, as it’s been five years since my last one (I think.) I’ve overlooked my usual May visit with the enterologist who monitors my thyroid cyst and osteoporosis treatment, so the June Reclast treatment probably won’t happen until fall. I’ve decided to disontinue the talk therapy with the psychologist but keep her phone number handy and call her if a need arises, and she is in full agreement with that. And I’ll slow the visits to the psychiatrist to every three months instead of two, as the medication seems to be working fine and needs no further adjustments at this time.

As always, I wish you well!

Terry

And here’s the article on Trump’s narcissism: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/richard-north-patterson/too-sick-to-lead-the-leth_b_10086768.html

Strange New Symptom

I continue to live happily ever after in the land of denial as far as MS is concerned.  I accept that the “benign MS” diagnosis nine years ago as it has been recently described: a condition with ‘only’ cognitive symptoms…

Yes, I acknowledge that my short tem memory is gone … but most of my friends admit to theirs also having disappeared. I am now in the second half of my sixties … closer to 70 than to 60.  I am reliant on writing notes to myself, on keeping a written calendar with me, on looking often at the date on the computer’s calendar, and of asking Rick at the start of each day what we have to do that day.

My sense of scent is also gone … which is a blessing most often, especially when cleaning out the bunnies’ cages occasionally. Or when a skunk hides under the barn. I don’t smell food cooking, and with the loss of scent, I’ve had a partial loss of taste. So I don’t really miss roast beef or turkey gravy anymore. And I can still taste, and enjoy, dark chocolate, so there’s that.

My typically weak sense of direction now includes loss of direction of sound …  although I’m beginning to compensate for that – if I hear something to my left, I now know to look to my right, and vice versa.

But today brought something new. Actually, it started yesterday, or maybe was a result of last week. Because last week I went out to help a customer in the shop who innocently arrived in our driveway, not realizing that we are closed for these two months. And on that day, temperatures were in single digits, and the barn, of course, was very cold. I found a fabric she liked, and cut it with scissors – my very cold metal scissors, and my fingers went numb. Within  a few minutes of further chatter, I began to feel very dizzy, and sat down. Rick was there, too, and he finished the transaction with her as I headed into the house, excusing myself. And once I was inside, I passed out.

It surprised me, as I hadn’t done that since discontinuing the MS injections (which had always temporarily lowered my blood pressure, and sometimes caused dizziness and fainting. But I realized later that, with both cold hands and feet, and standing for more than a few moments in a very cold space, my blood had no doubt rushed to warm those extremeties, leaving my head with less blood volume, and so lower blood pressure, dizziness, and a faint.

I was fine in short order once back in the warm house, and for the next few days as well. But yesterday, I woke up with a very warm right hand, and a very cold left hand. I thought it must be the way I’d slept with one arm under my pillow. But when I took a shower, I realized that my left hand felt no discomfort and my right hand felt as though the water was scalding hot (it was not.) My arms were as disparate in temperature as my hands were … I asked Rick when I got downstairs to feel my hands and tell me if the temperature of each was the same as the other, and he said they were. Strange, I thought, for they felt so different to me. amrf10410000191

Today, we went to the library and tidied up the book nook, then I joined a group of quilters for a sew-in. When I rested my  right wrist on the bed of the sewing machine, I felt a sharp pain in my forearm. When I did so with my left wrist, I felt nothing. My right arm grew warmer and warmer (to me) but the color of both arms remained the same. My left arm felt nothing … and my right arm felt hot and painful.

A few hours later, Rick and I met my sisters and husbands for lunch, and my right hand continued to feel hot as we walked from our vehicle to the restaurant. The weather was beautiful – in the fifties, and I was wearing a sweatshirt rather than a jacket. The difference in temperature between left and right continued in my arms, and seemed to have spread the heat to my right leg (but, again, not to the left.) Rick thought my left heel was dragging on the sidewalk as we walked, but I was unaware of it.

Tonight, as I sit here typing, my right hand, which is usually colder than the left because the unlit fireplace is to my right and there is sometimes a draft on that side of the couch, continued to feel as though I had a ‘fever’ in my hand and arm. If it were my left arm, I would worry about a heart attack. But it is not, and so I am not worrying … just observing, and puzzling as to what this might be.

We’ll see what tomorrow brings. Mother Nature seems, too, to have a broken thermometer this season … single digits one day, fifties and sixties the next, then back down, and then today, back up. As Mark Twain once said, “If you don’t like the weather in New England, wait a minute.”

Keeping up More than Appearances: Shadows of our Former Selves

family

Rick and I celebrate Christmas more quietly than we did as a young couple with children. In our hearts, we keep
Christmas all year long. We never take the trees down in the shop, using them as backdrops for Rick’s wooden ornaments and now my sewing notions. The manger in our living room stays up all year long, and the nutcrackers and angels are always in their places on the mantel. Each year we hang a large wreath on the street side of our house, and one on the front door.  The candles stay in the windows, though they are not lit until the day after Thanksgiving, and are not lit again after New Year’s Day.tree

But this year, while all of that did continue, we never set up the Christmas tree in the parlor. We didn’t hang the garland and red bows on the white picket fence, and we didn’t wrap the post lantern with colored lights. We didn’t replace the window frame lights on the front of the shop, and we didn’t play Christmas music in the shop. Still, we greeted friends and customers with “Merry Christmas” and “Happy New Year.”

grassIt’s not that Christmas slipped past us; rather, we slipped past Christmas. The weather was all wrong … sixty degrees on Christmas Eve, no snow to reflect outdoor lights hung on the fence … We did go to Maine for the day itself, and enjoyed the company there of our grandchildren and daughter. But we didn’t go to my sister’s house Christmas night as we usually do.  And there were some other gatherings in the family to which we weren’t invited … most likely because they occurred on Christmas Eve when we would normally be in Maine but weren’t this year. The grandkids were elsewhere with the other half of their family until noon on Christmas, when we arrived and they arrived almost simultaneously.

Families without young children behave differently on holidays … families without elders also behave differently on holidays. And holidays that occur on weekends seem a bit more rushed than those that cause days to be observed in the middle of a work week. Holidays that occur after retirement are also somewhat less remarkable as a day off in retirement is like any other day off in retirement. Social circles are smaller, as there are no colleagues and work mates with whom to anticipate the release and celebrate the season.

For Rick and me, our circles are changing. We have a close circle of friends that have become our local family, and we celebrated Ngroupew Years’ Eve with some of them. We talked that evening of what retirement has brought to our lives. We talked about preferred ages or life stages. We talked about the constant struggles of our younger years, and the sudden loss of responsibilities to others that retirement brings. Some of us spoke of our favorite ages … or our most comfortable ‘inner’ age. I thought of having always felt forty – as a child I felt the responsibilities of getting myself to school safely on the buses or trains of the city; of being a parent just a year after being a bride, of  spending years of energy, time and money becoming a teacher, of feeling confident and valued in my forties as a functioning adult.

appointmentsMy late forties and early fifties were consumed by elder care, teaching, and eventually my own diagnoses. My late fifties and early sixties have continued the diagnoses and treatments, medications, surgeries and seemingly endless scheduling of medical appointments.  My long-sought career of teaching ended at the beginning of my sixties, bringing on depression and self doubt. I entered retirement reluctantly, and somewhat resentfully, having experienced serious cognitive limitations and sudden loss of professional confidence.

Rebelliously, I set out to re-establish my identity in the identifyonly way I could; I wrote several books in the first two years, and published them. I opened a quilt shop and learned how to use social media to publicize the business. I joined town committees as a volunteer, and took on some responsibilities until I realized that the cognitive challenges I was facing were more than I could ignore, and I learned how to step back and let others better equipped take on those challenges. I learned to be a supporter rather than a player.

When I talked in mind mapping today about my routine day vs. my ideal day, and drew a pie graph to clarify how my days are spent and how I wish they were spent, I had a more clear self image. I understand the limitations imposed by the ‘cog fog’ I have each day. I cannot make decisions on the spot as I once did, and had to, as a teacher. I cannot multi-task and pay attention to more than one person at a time in a group. I have not yet disposed of the crates of lesson plans, rank books, spread sheets and resource folders I relied on as a teacher, though they offer nothing to me since retirement. I cannot bring myself to dispose of the hundreds of envelopes of spiritual cards and funeral blessings that continue to arrive at my address in my name, in my mother’s name, and my father’s name. I have fabric projects in process in almost every room of the house now, and the mental weight of the unfinished works paralyzes me. I have characters in a book half-written and now still waiting during more than a year of procrastination. I have books that I want to read that I cannot concentrate on  and so cannot benefit from. I am humbled and yes, I am saddened. But I am not depressed enough anymore to want to give up.

Why does my ejoyful groupnergy lift when I am in the shop? The found answer to my friends’ question startled me … that the household clutter makes my home mentally exhausting to me. Clearing out is a challenge that faces all of us in retirement; recognizing that was reassuring … we each have a lifetime’s accumulation of clutter …  to know that I am not the only one dealing with clutter-smothering… to know that my friends allow me to be me, to speak honestly with me about limitations without judging me as failing to do what ought to be done.  My friends share their worries and self-doubts and deep wishes with me, validating that they trust me to listen well, and to make suggestions where I can and just be supportive when I can’t.

And Rick — always my best friend, now, and back during the darker times, and further back during the brighter times, but still, now, during the daunting times … Rick also listens to me with compassion, and shares my worries
and his own worries openly, validating that both of us have faced and continue to face challenges and limitations, and that we both have not given up or given in, and have much still that we want to and will accomplish in these years ahead. Together we continue, and together we will find the enjoyment in happily-ever-after-retirement. We will continue to walk upright together, with our friends at our sides sharing the sunlight and casting
shadows where we will.kiss

I’ve never asked anyone to vote for me before…

240_F_51836477_n83GtoiErR3xCDuAkZ1Pp0kvoVsF6lljBut there is a contest being run by Healthline.com, interesting in finding the best health blogs for the year. I don’t post very often, but when I do, it is to update friends, family and followers of recent health related events.

Last year a blogger I follow regularly won one of the three cash prizes, and that inspired me to give it a try. Look to the right sidebar and you’ll find the link to click. When the page opens, you can search for my blog title (Terry’s Thoughts and Threads) and click ‘vote’ when it appears. That’s it. (well, they will ask whether you want to vote as a Facebook user or a Twitter user …) You can vote for multiple blogs each day … and you can vote every day!

If you’ve found my blog interesting, or helpful, please give it a vote? And vote often ~ every day through January 21st. It’s always worth reaching for the stars!

By the way, there are multiple topic pages as part of this blog … see the very top of the post? Click on one of the titles there, and an additional page will open!

Many thanks!

Terry

Holiday Happenings

Thanksgiving is usually spent in Maine on a weekend, as our grandchildren traditionally spend the day with their other grandparents. They are grown now, adults themselves in colleges, but still continue this tstock-photo-romantic-and-nostalgic-photograph-of-a-girl-silhouette-staring-at-the-winter-sky-47175091radition. Their father remarried and they now have a little brother who is just beginning family holiday traditions, and so they go on.

Christmas in my childhood was always spent at home, with my sisters and brothers, and our new toys, and no school, and a family meal.

Grandparents had passed away before many of us were more than young children, and our parents were the oldest generation. Now, they, too, have passed away, but not before knowing all of their grandchildren, and passing on their own traditions with an expectation that they would be followed.

Our daughter (their mother) has a new partner and wanted to spend the holiday with his relative, an elderly aunt, so Rick and I made plans to have a quiet Thanksgiving here at home, just the two of us. Our son is a young firefighter and works holidays so that those with children can be with them.

It was a mild, quiet day together, and Rick and I enjoyed the time together, sharing a small turkey dinner. Next year, I think we’ll invite friends to go to the senior dinner here in town the week before the holiday, and leave the day itself open, as we’ll have a new daughter in law with her own family. We will take our cues.

Their wedding is next fall, and is going to be a weekend event in the White Mountains. It will be a small gathering as compared to weddings past, consisting of immediate family and the couple’s friends. It is what they want, and we will do our best to see that it is what will be.

Family holidays had always been centered around the previous generation, who have now all passed on. We are now the seniors, with grandchildren’s and great-grandhildren’s generations finding their own traditions. Our generation has shifted our focus from our parents’ to our children’s holiday celebrations, and we travel when needed rather than uprooting them from their holiday settings.

There are times when we remember our years as the parent-generation, and look back and know that uprooting our own children to visit our parents’ houses for every holiday meal may have been what we thought right at the time, but now wonder why we tolerated that expectation. It is not what our parents did. There were no grandparents to visit for holidays … they had passed years earleir. We knew little of their lives. The tradition of spending holidays at the grandparents’ homes evolved when our parents generations became the grandparents generation.  That tradition became an expectation of our generation to fulfill. It was our children’s generation that grew up with grandparents who expected to be the home base of holidays. It is a tradition that Rick and I have not held onto for our own children; instead, we have been willing to travel to them to accomodate the other half of their famiy. It is not, in that sense, following a tradition; it is, instead, allowing them to create their own… and feeling relaxed that we can play a passive role when invited to do so.

My remaining sisters and brother each handle the holiday sharing in their own family’s way. I think of our grandparents, the immigrants who came here, as the seeds that bore fruit and the fruit became a tree. The trunk of our tree, our parents’ generation, is now absent but present in our thoughts. We are the branches and our children are the outer branches and their children are the lighter branches and their children are not yet more than twigs. The distance between the main branches is great, as need be … a tree would not stand long if all the main branches were close together.  The in-laws are off-shoot branches of their own with their own network of outer branches that celebrate holidays in their own way, in other places, and to which our outer branches are connect and drawn.

Three of our main branches have died, a sister and two brothers,  but the outer branches connected to them are still growing; some of the outer branches face in very different directions from the others, and may not share the same rays of sunlight other than with their own siblings. Location makes a difference;  distance makes a difference. The outerbranches are cousins … we ourselves were cousins, yet did not celebrate holidays with our cousins. Though connected at the level of our roots, many of us were not entwined in our growth. And so why would we expect our outer branches to celebrate holidays together as adults with their own entwined spouses and their own children? They have siblings with which to share things, when sharing is possible.

In time, more of the main branches will weaken and will need to conserve their remaining energy to support only their outer branches, with little left to support the other main branches. It is what happens in a life cycle ~ despite the word cycle, it is not infinite. Trees like redwoods will stand for hundreds of years. Others will bend and break in the wind and weather. Birch trees have a short life span. Oaks live long lives.

The holidays seem to invite this kind of reflection … of retrospection, of respected perspective, acknowledged differences, and of acceptance of the finite end of the cyle of life … the death that awaits all living things. Those who have passed on are not forgotten ~ those who remain here and witness the endings as they occur are left the wiser, and the more prepeared for the inevitable changes that life requires of all of us.

Thomas Friedman wrote, in THE WORLD IS FLAT:

”Does your society have more memories than dreams?” (he goes on to say)… organizations and societies are the same. If they are focussed on the past, if memories exceed dreams, they are in trouble.”

When memories exceed dreams, the end is near. Holding on to traditions when the trunk of the tree is passed on will not strengthen either the main branches nor their outer branches … continuing to ask the same nutrients from the soil generation after generation will weaken the soil itself, and it will not be able to sustain that tree any longer, and the full tree will die and fall.

When dreams outshine memories, new growth is possible. New growth may require new forms of nutrients, and may turn in new directions, and establish in new locations. I look forward to the differences in holidays of our future. My memories do not exceed my dreams. I am open to change, and to difference; if shedding the memories’ expectations is choosing new nutrients, I am willing to do that. It is the outer branches of any tree that blooms most beautifully. It is the main branches that must bend in the wind while bearing the weight of the weather to allow the outer branches’ twigs to reach for the sun and shine.

Our grandparents came from across the ocean, leaving all family connections behind and broken, and their children, our parents, chose their own traditions which became expectations upon us. To sustain life, it is time for change. The outer branches will spawn seeds that will perhaps blow in the wind, in a new direction, where they will establish their own holiday traditions. I wish them well. Our generation is one of memories, as we were taught to remember those who have gone on before us. We lived to meet our parents’ expectations. In many ways, we did just that.

I think our grandparents felt differently about memories and dreams. I believe they had dreams and the courage to seek them out. I wish for our grandchildren more dreams than memories, so that in their lifetime they, too, will find happiness and light. As our grandparents did.

Beautiful weather, changing temperatures, trying to keep pace

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It is nearly the end of October; the fall is a quieter season for us … the activity in the quilt shop has dropped back down to just a few customers each week. My health has been up and down as the season’s changing temperatures are fluctuating above and below seasonal normals. And I find that I don’t handle the differences as well as I would like.

Fatigue was a large issue during the heat of the past few months. As cooler weather arrived, I looked forward to returning to a better level of energy. The change in temperature isn’t really a factor when I stay indoors, but when I walk outside if only for a few moments, I feel the drop in degrees immediately, and react with a full body tremor. When I go back indoors, the shaking continues for quite a while, even though I try to warm up quickly with a quilt or afghan on the couch. It seems to take me much longer to get back to a normal temperature than I would expect.

Rick and I took a walk a week ago, just around the block to the funeral home for the wake of a former neighbor of ours. Bob was a wonderful man who lived across the street from my parents’ home, and he developed his property into a wonderful agricultural spot, growing fruits and vegetables abundantly enough to have a farm stand roadside. When I was still single and living with my parents, I would babysit for Bob and his wife Barb, and Bob would walk me home late at night, making sure I was safely across the street and all the way up the driveway to the back door. I remember shivering in the night air then, but the shivering stopped as soon as I was back into the warm house. But this fall, walking home from Bob’s wake, the cooling air again chilled my skin, and returning to the house didn’t bring that quick relief … it took a while for my body to warm up. And the same thing happens when I eat frozen yogurt.  My body temperature drops, I shake and shiver for at least half an hour afterwards.

I’ll mention this to the neurologist when I next see her, this winter. It may be related to MS, or it may just be something that comes with age.  I remember when my wonderful family doctor, many years ago, told me to wear wool socks from fall through spring, and so I know it is time to dig them out and put them on each morning.

As for the melanoma: I saw the dermatologist a month ago, and he did a small biopsy on the back of my neck. As he did not call with results, I am to assume that it was negative for skin cancer. It seems that each time I go, there is almost always something to be cut or frozen … one is no more difficult than the other at that diagnostic level. And I haven’t had to go to the skin surgeon to remove anything for quite a while now … because, I think, we are catching these recurring sites quickly. I still see the dermatologist for a skin check every four months now (an improvement over the three month schedule for the past two years.)

Rick and I are planning to take a winter vacation this year. We will probably close the shop for the worst of winter, reopening in the spring. It doesn’t make sense to keep the heat on when few customers come in for fabric and notions. I will still have lessons with my students, but they will take place here in the house, in the room with the attached greenhouse and the woodstove. It’s always cozy in that room, and the geraniums that my friend Mary brings in each fall brighten the spot throughout the winter.

I did finish a few quilts this summer, one for our grandson and one for my sister’s birthday … I have two more to work on in the family before I can work on the additional customer quilts that I had agreed to make last fall. I have had a few more customers come in since, asking if I would make or finish a quilt for them.  But I answer differently now … I offfer to connect them with one of the two women in the quilt guild that enjoy finishing quilts, and/or I offer to teach the customer how to make and finish the quilt on her own. It’s not as hard to say no to making quilts for customers as I thought it would be, and I have to say no more often now. It takes longer to finish things, as I have to sit and rest for a while after each half-hour of sewing at the machine. As long as I do this, I can stay ahead of the worsening back pain. If I try to push through it and continue sewing without these frequent rest periods, I pay dearly the next day.

In all, life is good right now … manageable, and I’m learning to pace myself and save energy … so I can continue enjoying the company of customers in the  quilt shop, and the group mind-mapping days with other artists in town, and planning fundraising events with the Friends of the Library, and meeting with the fire company’s association members, and the historical society.  The piece that is missing in my days now is my writing … Henry and Helen are still waiting patiently for me to finish their second book. Perhaps  after my niece’s quilt, and before my son’s fiance’s quiet, I’ll be able to write in the quiet of winter.

Be well, all, and thanks for keeping up with me.

Terry

Balancing Happy Relief and Admitted Losses

I read comments on a closed page of Facebook ~ only members of the page can read it, so comments remain unseen by non-members. Reading them, one after another and all posted within a time span of two hours, from patients newly diagnosed and from those who have dealt with MS for years … well, they do have a common theme. Many with MS believe that, because some symptoms are invisible or misunderstood, friends and family have difficulty believing the reality of the symptoms.

I also answered the post, in a rather long-winded way:

Reading all of comments saddens me … Yes, there are friends I’ve lost but that may have been due to my retiring early … they are all still working, and most of my friends were workplace friends. My time is more my own, but theirs is not, and I understand that.

What saddens me is the pervasive sense among us that we believe some in our lives have an impression that we are ‘just making this up.” Not that many diseases or conditions today are still considered uncurable … so it’s hard for us and others to believe that this can’t be cured, eventually. We walk miles upon miles and raise tens and hundreds of thousands of dollars for MS research, and they come up with ‘new treatments’ and ‘new theories about causes’ when in fact we and others may believe that a cure will never be identified because it will put hundreds of medical people out of a job.

In my depression I believed that people thought me a fraud … in fact, it was myself doing that thinking. Most people have many other concerns in their lives, and my existence and diagnosis is just one among the many they have to think about. I’ve adjusted my thinking in the past year or so, recognizing that I’m projecting my thoughts about MS on my family and old friends. Because I feel like a fraud (my symptoms are most often all invisible: pain, cognitive and emotional) I think others must think me a fraud. That is ‘my bad,’ as the kids in my classes would have said.

Because I don’t want to seek pity or empathy I continue to put up a good front, and as my therapist pointed out, why then would I expect others to show empathy? MS is nothing I ever knew anything about until going through the diagnostic tests, and even now I only know as much as any of us know, which is still based on a lack of foundation, or cause. It is not enough knowledge for me, and I continue to look for more. But that is my focus. It does not have to be everyone’s focus.

I live each day as a new day (and the joke of meeting new friends every day is actually true for me!) I have found a new me, not a ‘new normal,’ but a new me, with new limitations in my cognitive abilities and social capacity. I live by the golden rule, and keep believing that if I am empathetic and compassionate to the world, the world will be that for me. I wish all MSers some semblance of peace and acceptance that life may never be the same, but it is still a life, and there are those few who do truly love us, and that is always enough. 

It’s not my wish to offend or trouble anyone by writing this post – it is not a post I would put on my open Facebook page … as I said in my former post, I don’t want to impose my thoughts on others … but I do want to share my honest journey with those who are interested, in both the journey and my observations along the way.  There may be those who are struggling with their own path and might, as one poster said at the closed page, find these words reassuring.

And the good news is … I saw the endocrinologist today … and shared this good news openly on my Facebook page:

– all good news. All of my numbers are right where they ought to be, even vitamin D. Bone Density is BETTER than it was three years ago (though still in the high risk for fracture range) … the Reclast is working! Doctor K. is happy, I’m happy … I know that what I am doing for my health is the right thing for me.

The Stages of Grief in a new Graphic Illustration

This is a graphic than I ran across at Facebook. I found it very validating to read through it and reflect on my passage through the depression that came with the diagnosis of Multiple Sclerosis eight years ago.  It may take some people less time to move through these stages, and it may take some people more. I can look at this image and see the low point as four years after diagnosis … just over four years clouded with nightly injections in which I had no faith and during which I resented  every one of the one thousand five hundred  “one size fits all” prescription for a DMD (disease modifying drug.) I was angry and disappointed with myself for having accepted that prescription. I feared that I was becoming too passive as a patient during those four years. And when I lost my classroom, my daily contact with treasured colleagues,  and all that I had worked so hard for through so many years, my fears reverted to a self-defensive anger, and the tide turned.

I posted my reflection on Facebook, but have since deleted it as I think it is better left here in my blog … the blog that only the people who want to know how I am doing will go to and read, no one that doesn’t want reminders of my diagnosis will encounter it on their home page.

There are those who don’t want reminders, and I understand that  … and there are those who accept updates that I make accessible here but not imposed, and I appreciate their willingness to share my story.

Here’s my analysis of how this graphic depicts my eight year passage down into depression and loss and back up again to a life worth living:

 Eight years since the trials of my MS diagnosis; at year four I was so low I had to leave my profession in the classroom …

  • Year one I was in total denial, disbelief and loss
  • year two began with anger that turned to fear,
  • year three I was quietly looking for support in my classrooms and family life,
  • year four realizing that I couldn’t remain a teacher if I couldn’t be at my best anymore, and during that year my brother and my sister died within six weeks of each other. I had no strength to continue to give of myself, and reluctantly retired. I also left my neurologist, and stopped the prescribed nightly injections that had overwhelmed my emotions.
  • In year five, at home and without a schedule or students and parents depending on me,  I published several small books, writing it all out before I lost recall of it;
  • in year six  I published a few more and began helping other new authors to self publish.
  • Year seven I opened my own quilt / fabric shop, opening the door to a new self-image.
  • and now eight years after diagnosis,  I am teaching children and adults to be comfortable with their sewing machines, and am converting antique and vintage machines to hand cranks to share with my shop customers.
  • I’d say this cycle is right on, as witnessed over these past eight years. Look out, world … I’m out of the low ditch, and back on top, doing my “new best.”

Does this mean that life is hunky-dory now? By some measures, certainly. I have a strong, loving husband, two grown children living their chosen paths, two grandchildren finding their way through college in preparation for the choices ahead for them. I have replaced my chosen career, hard won and long enjoyed, for another that came about through a series of new choices and different talents. In my quilt shop I meet new people every week, and enjoy sharing my love of fabrics and colors and  mechanical sewing machines. If I break even in the shop at the end of each quarter, I feel that is enough. I have my teacher pension, albeit slightly less than I’d planned due to the early medical retirement, but it is enough to pay our bills and share what we can with our family.

MS may never see a cure in my lifetime … tens of thousands of people continue to raise money for research toward a cure, but all I wish for is symptom treatments that would help those who cannot walk … I would say I am ‘blessed’ with mobility but that phrase suggests preferential blessings, and I would not assume that. My symptoms remain primarily invisible to others, but are very real to me and to those who live and work with me. That so many people in my life can accept and accomodate the shorcomings that come with the cognitive changes I experience … the forgetfulness … the relentless fatigue … the disorganization … the loss of concentration, the inability to enjoy reading … all of the things that I once saw as strengths are now challenges for me.  and for those who might have depended on the old me. That I continue to try to promise things and then have to apologize for not delivering what I’d promise is a humbling realization that I haven’t yet reached a full acceptance of this new path, but I am trying. I appreciate all who understand that and continue to encourage me to offer what I can deliver, and accept what I may not really have to give.

The above graphic is more optimistic than the old “cycle” of depression, which could seem like an endless loop. I’ll go with this one, and continue to pray that what looks like a U shape does not become a “double-U.” At least not in my lifetime.  And I’ll appreciate the doctors who do recognize my wish to continue to share what I can in my life, and understand my reluctance to take medications that would limit my ability to do so. I’m not a very compliant patient, but I am content with the person I am becoming. As I’ve said before, quoting Carl Rogers, “I am not perfect. But I am enough.”

 

 

 

 

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