I Am That Person.

The one you’re supposed to protect by wearing a mask.
Over 65. Several underlying conditions including immune-suppressant drugs to keep rheumatoid arthritis under control and A-fib, an irregular heartbeat that can (and did) cause a stroke.

Yeah, I haven’t been out of the apartment much. Luckily, I’m an introvert who likes to read. And watch Gov. Cuomo’s updates. And I might stay in jammies all day and think it’s okay. I’ve even watched a Sunday service at our church on Facebook Live in my jammies!

I tell people I’m okay with this self-isolation stuff. And I am. But I also know my default way to deal with fear and stress (learned as a child) is to stuff my feelings and just keep going. So I wonder some days if I’m a healthy okay or an unhealthy okay. That’s a good way to make myself crazy, so I just choose to believe I’m a healthy okay.

The retired man I live with grocery shops, a mixed blessing. He can find some odd stuff, especially at Trader Joe’s. He always asks what I want but I can’t usually think of anything. Except one time I wanted Doritos and he brought home 2 Party-size bags, 2 different kinds. He’s a keeper.

I wonder when I’ll ever feel safe going anywhere.

I want to go back to the places I used to volunteer.

I’d sure like to have lunch in a restaurant with a friend.

And I REALLY miss hugging and listening to my grandchildren.

Published in: on May 20, 2020 at 2:15 pm  Comments (6)  
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From the Far Side of a Stroke

I am one of the lucky ones.

I had a stroke on December 14, 2019, (maybe because of Afib that I didn’t know about until 3 days before the stroke when I had cataract surgery).

I was home alone and my phone was in another room.  I fell and ended up on the thick rug under the dining room table and couldn’t get up. My left arm, hand and leg were sort of out of my control, but I could think straight. I skootched on my back to where I remembered my phone was. That took maybe 20 minutes. I’ll explain later why time mattered.

I called the retired man I live with instead of 911 because I didn’t want the EMT’s to break down the door and let the dog out. (Dumb logic. Call 911. Time matters.) He was home in 10 minutes and called 911.

Here is why time matters if someone is having a stroke. There is a drug, TPA, called “the clot buster,” that can break up the clot that is blocking blood flow to the brain. It must be given by IV within 3-4 hours of the beginning of the stroke. The protocol requires a brain CT scan and/or head MRI before it can be given to be sure the stroke is caused by a clot and not a brain bleed.

After a brain CT scan and a head MRI, I was given TPA. Before the drug took effect no one could understand my speech and I couldn’t control my left arm and hand. Within a couple of hours, my speech was normal and my left side was getting better.

I was one of the lucky ones.

After  2 days in Neurology ICU and a week on the Rehab Unit of the hospital, I am pretty much good as before.

A few things I’ve learned:

  1. If you are alone, have your phone close enough to touch–in a pocket, in your bra or underwear or in a pouch hung around your neck (someone please design and market these!)
  2. If you are alone and  think you are or might be having a stroke, call 911 FIRST, even if you know they’ll break down the locked front door and freak out the dog. THEN call your significant other.
  3. Every minute matters if you’re having a stroke. There is a drug called TPA (see link above) that could save your life and/or the function of your brain and body. But you have to get it within 3-4 hours of the start of the stroke. That includes time for the ambulance to come and take you to the hospital, get you into the ER, and get a CT scan of your head and/or get an MRI of your brain. Not all strokes qualify for TPA. These tests help doctors know who is eligible.
  4. CALL 911 FIRST. Even if you can’t talk, they’ll figure it out.
  5. If you have a stroke, let people know and ask them to pray for you. I did. And I could feel those prayers surrounding me and holding me up. Hard to describe and impossible to explain, but it did help, tremendously. Thank you, friends.
  6. Those Life Alert things with the commercial (“I’ve fallen and I can’t get up!”) we all laughed at when we were younger aren’t a joke. Give it some serious consideration. I did, in the hospital. I now have an Apple Watch, thanks to the retired man I live with. I bought Apple Watch for Dummies, but all I can do so far is make a call, answer a call, read a text or email. Most of the time.
  7. My present lack of strength and stamina are mostly because I rarely exercised before the stroke. Didn’t like it, didn’t want to, so I didn’t. Don’t be like me. Go for a walk. Often. Aging will go better that way.
  8. I’m not sure how much of my current limitations are from before the stroke or if they are complicated by subtle stroke deficits. I do know they won’t get better without more effort and discipline from me. If you’d like to still pray for me, that’d be helpful and appreciated.

I am one of the lucky ones. I did get TPA in time apparently to stop the stroke. One thing I read said 1 in 10 people are cured by TPA. I think I got close.

I am very grateful.

 

 

Published in: on January 25, 2020 at 5:18 pm  Comments (7)  
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Today is World AIDS Day

Did you know that?

There is a giant red ribbon hanging on the front porch of the White House today.

December 1 is still World AIDS Day.  There still is no cure.  People still get sick and die because of AIDS.

People are also living much longer and are taking medicines that really do help slow the progress of the disease.

The drugs that work are very expensive and state and federal programs that help pay for them are in danger of being cut.

Sometimes the side effects and the dosing schedule are so difficult and intolerable that folks stop taking the drugs.

I spend a lot of time helping out at Higher Ground, a day center for people who are HIV positive.   It is a free-standing program of Triad Health Project, the local AIDS service organization.  Three days a week, every week, local churches and other groups provide lunch for 25-40 hungry clients and volunteers and the one paid staff person who tends the souls and cleans the toilets for all who come through the doors.

Higher Ground is a place of acceptance for many who have been turned away by family, churches, and friends.  Believe me when I say, God is in this place and miracles do happen here.  Like crack addicts who are able to stay clean and have their own apartments for the first time in their adult lives thanks to case managers at Triad Health Project and the support and love of peers at Higher Ground.  Or men like my friend Bill who has been HIV positive since the 1980’s.  He had a leg amputated above the knee a while back because of HIV complications and was back at “The House” a few weeks later, smiling.  Many volunteers over the years, from high school students to those of us with gray hair, have been profoundly touched by the courage and faith of the men and women who pass through Higher Ground.

Did you know all this was still happening?

Today, there is much more hope.  But AIDS is not gone.  If you can, please donate your time and/or money to a local AIDS service organization.  They still need you.

Triad Health Project’s vision statement:

We will stand together for as long as it takes until HIV/AIDS is no more, promoting enlightenment, dignity, acceptance, understanding, and love; demonstrating that we are not only enduring this epidemic, but also prevailing over it.

Still.

(I first wrote this in 2010. I re-post it every year. It’s all true. Still.)

 

Published in: on December 1, 2019 at 9:19 am  Comments (2)  
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Last One Standing

(After reading this, the retired man I live with reminded me that October 31-November 2 is the Day of the Dead [more information] celebration in Mexican culture. Today is November 2, 2019.)

I drove past my sister’s cemetery in Raleigh earlier today. She died when she was almost 19. Her parachute didn’t open. Neither did the reserve chute.

It was June 10, 1972. She had just finished her freshman year at UNC. I was 20 and had just finished my sophomore year. Our brother was 16 and had just finished his sophomore year in high school. We lived in North Hills in Raleigh.

I never know what to say when people ask if my sister and I were close. We were 16 months apart in age, We moved a lot growing up. 4 elementary schools, 1 junior high, and 2 high schools for me; 3 elementary schools, a junior high, a middle school and 1 high school for her. Each time we moved, we only knew each other so we had to stick together, at least until we made new friends. We loved each other and stuck up for each other, but, boy, could we bicker and argue.

We were very different. The older we got, the more different we got.

She had (natural) fiery red hair. Mine was somewhere between dirty blond and brown. In high school, I was in the Honor Society and a senior class officer. She acted in a play at NC State University about the Marquis de Sade, known as the father of written eroticism.(click here for more information) I went to her play, was uncomfortable and slightly embarrassed and couldn’t understand what it was about. I don’t think she understood most of my my choices, either. Like having a thing for football players at Carolina.

She was a risk-taker. I was a play-it-safe rule-follower. She tried LSD in high school and told me I shouldn’t. I never did and didn’t drink until I was legal.

When she was 17, she asked our parents to sign a permission form  so she could legally try parachuting with her college-age boyfriend.  They told me later they signed because they knew she’d do it either way (she would have) and they wanted to know what she was planning.

She LOVED it.

She invited me to go with them. I thought she was nuts and said so. My stomach would flip every time I thought about it. Still does.

The day she died, I remember the retired man I live with now picking me up early from my shift in the fabric department at Sears. He had met my parents for the first time that afternoon (we’d been together a couple of months). He was at our house when my parents found out she’d died and he came to get me. He wouldn’t tell me why, just that I had to come home.

I remember Mom and Dad meeting me at the front door. I remember screaming “Nooooo!” I remember my dad crying. I remember waiting a couple of hours for my brother to get home from an away baseball game. I don’t think we ever ate dinner.

I remember my brother and I went with Mom and Dad the next day to pick a grave site. I remember laughing at some things my dad said. Better to make silly (probably inappropriate) jokes rather than cry, I guess. I remember wondering what the cemetery guy thought of us.

We picked a quiet spot on a hillside overlooking a pond. Over the years, the pond disappeared and became a road. I suppose it doesn’t really matter.

My parents and my brother have all died now.  My sister is in Raleigh, my parents are buried together in a cemetery in Greensboro, where I live. Part of my brother’s ashes went in a creek in the NC mountains and my daughters and I took the rest of his ashes to the ocean on the NC coast.

I don’t visit the cemeteries. I never really have. I didn’t stop when I drove past my sister’s today. She’s not there. And Mom and Dad aren’t in the one in my town, either. I do think about all of them. I have conversations sometimes.

I wonder what my sister would have been like at 66–impossible to imagine!–and I wonder what she’d think of my life at 67.

I often hear my brother say, in his deep southern drawl, “It is what it is, Rob.”

I am the last one standing.

I miss them all.

 

 

 

 

Published in: on November 2, 2019 at 5:26 pm  Comments (12)  
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What have you missed?

“Be in today.”

“Be in the moment.”

“Be where your feet are.”

I heard those words in a book discussion about gratitude at my church. (We read Grateful by Diana Butler Bass.)

I heard them at a retreat for women in recovery.

And as part of a discussion about living life on life’s terms.

So I decided to try it.

Over pizza with 2 grandchildren at The Best Pizza In Town place (that’s what they call it), I learned from Adaline, then 8 and starting 3rd grade, that geckos can lick their eyes. You know the little guy on Geico commercials? That’s a gecko. Here’s a picture.  No, I’m not sure how she knows that, but her mom used to be a zookeeper and they talk about animals a lot, so I believe her. I love hearing the thoughts that go through the minds of my grandchildren.  If I’m “in the moment” I don’t miss anything.

I spent 4 years at UNC Chapel Hill. I walked past a statue of a guy with a gun called Silent Sam dozens if not hundreds of times. All I ever knew about the statue was what I was told at orientation–he fires his gun if a virgin walks by. (It was the early 1970’s. We thought that was funny. I have evolved.)

I didn’t know until Confederate statues became a news item that Silent Sam was erected in 1913 in honor of UNC alumni who died in the Civil War. The dedication speech was given by Julian Carr, a prominent industrialist, UNC alumnus, former Confederate soldier, and the largest single donor towards the construction of the monument. He urged his audience “to devote themselves to the maintenance of white supremacy with the same vigor that their Confederate ancestors had defended slavery.”

How could I not know that?? I never stopped to notice. Or ask.

When Adaline started kindergarten 4 years ago, I was so excited for her. I loved school. I felt safe and i enjoyed learning. I wished for her the same. I was horrified a few weeks later when her mother described the active shooter drill her class practiced that day. Adaline had her own special cupboard to climb into and hide in. All of my grandchildren are in elementary school now. I guess all three of them have active shooter drills just like they have fire drills. I wonder what the teachers call those active shooter drills.

I read about Kevlar book bags. Kevlar is what they use to make bullet-proof vests for police officers. This company, Bullet Blocker, makes “School Safety Solutions.” My first thought was, “Wouldn’t that be heavy?” My second thought was to be shocked that I wasn’t shocked. I can’t imagine explaining to a 6 or 8 year old child the need for a heavy, bullet-proof backpack.

How do we teach a child who is fascinated by a gecko’s long tongue about the world she lives in?

One moment at a time, I think.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Published in: on October 18, 2019 at 6:24 pm  Comments (4)  
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Overdose?

I keep hearing about people dying. Not the regular kind of dying I’d expect at 67 with friends well into their 70’s. No, these are other kinds of dying. Some end the life of the body. Some just slowly kill the soul.

A woman who was a member of AA for years started drinking again and died from alcohol poisoning.

Another woman who had years of sobriety drank again while caring for her dying parent and is going back to treatment.

A 60-year-old man struggled for years to stay sober. He started drinking again. He was taken from the bank to the ER and then admitted for an apparent stroke. He’s having trouble talking and walking.

A woman with grandchildren starts prescription pain medicine after a knee replacement. When the prescription runs out, she looks for other sources. She finds an opioid laced with fentanyl. It doesn’t end well.

A young woman with anorexia died because she was too weak to survive necessary surgery.

A man committed suicide after a long stretch of untreated depression mixed with a lot of alcohol and a gun in his house.

A woman dropped out of Social Work because she couldn’t leave her troubled clients behind at the end of the day.

A man is forced to retire from stressful, lucrative work because he has heart disease and unmanageable diabetes.

An 8-year-old overweight child is teased and bullied at school. Her mother gives her cookies after hearing her story saying, “These will help you feel better.”

A young woman becomes consumed by what’s in the news and what is wrong with her world. She doesn’t see how she can make a difference.

A husband with a young daughter gets hooked on internet porn. His wife asks him to leave.

An older woman whose kids and grandchildren have moved away starts to miss purpose, a reason to get up in the morning. She dwindles, begins to fade away.

Overdoses?

I say “Yes.”

An AA friend says we are all feel-good junkies, just wanting to feel better. Or not feel anything at all.

So we drink. We eat (or not). We misuse drugs. We stay busy. We become focused on sex or online porn. We care for others. We work. We just stop caring.  And because they work for a while, we do these things more and more until they start to do us harm.

Money or lack of it doesn’t seem to matter. It happens to people in good health and to those who with chronic illnesses. To those with families who love them and those who are truly alone. Some may appear happy and content.  Others may obviously feel bad.

Maybe the difference is being able to ask for or accept help. These holes are hard to climb out of alone. Love and support from others are good things, but enabling self-destructive behavior is not good. What all enablers have in common: they love someone who is out of control, and they find themselves taking more responsibility for the actions of that person than the person is taking for themselves. A woman once said at an Al Anon meeting, “Help is the sunny side of control.” Think about that for a minute.

So what do we do?

When one of my grown daughters was going through a hard time, a friend told me, “All you can do is love her and pray for her.” It didn’t feel like enough.

I think we also need to keep talking and writing, with friends and more publicly, about our own experiences with addiction and mental health issues. We have to lessen the shame.

And we need to listen mindfully and lovingly, without judgment, without trying to fix them, when others trust us enough to share their hard stuff.

And my friend was right. We need to love them and pray for them.

 

 

 

 

Published in: on October 9, 2019 at 12:32 pm  Comments (3)  
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What do you want for the rest of your life?

I want to be present wherever I am. Not checked out. Not shut down. Not drifting by.

I want to feel the feelings that surface through the day. I want to know what I’m feeling. I want to feel fully.

I want to have enough energy to do the things that help me be present: enough to exercise, enough to complete tasks, enough to be creative, enough to feed myself–nutritionally, spiritually and emotionally.

I want to stay connected to my daughters–not interfering and not staying too detached.

I want to have fun with my grandchildren, I want to be present every moment I’m with them. I want them to know me and want to be with me.

I want to remember gratitude.

I want to be healthy enough to be present to other people, to be able to listen to them. Listening, really listening, is a gift I can give.

I want to remember that God is always present, that I am never alone.

 

 

 

 

Published in: on September 27, 2019 at 11:13 am  Comments (2)  
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A Family Disease

Addiction is a mean, nasty brain disease.

Sometimes people die.

Last week a 39 year old husband and father, married to a girl my kids grew up with, committed suicide in a very public way. A recovery friend said, “Addiction had him around the neck and destroyed his life.”

We hear a lot these days about the opioid epidemic. Many more struggle with alcohol. It, too, can be an addictive drug. Mental illness and addiction may both be present.

In the last couple of years, I’ve known at least 3 women my age who have had to bury GRANDchildren due to addiction/suicide. More have lost sons and daughters. I heard about another young woman recently who struggled to stay sober who fell out of bed, broke her neck, and died.

Death can be sudden or slow and painful.

Years ago, one of my daughters asked me why some people stay sober and others don’t. “You have to be able to tolerate some discomfort,” I told her. More in the beginning, then it can get better. Cravings ease. You’re left with Feelings. And Life on Life’s terms, as they say in AA. With nothing to numb you.

When I got sober, I had no idea how to do “Big Feelings,” as my granddaughter calls them. My family didn’t do feelings; we stuffed them. And the adults drank to make the day go away. My first therapist gave me a list of feeling words, a whole page of them!

I’ve been sober 32 years, thanks to a Higher Power, the love of my husband and my daughters and grandchildren, a lot of AA meetings, several sponsors, healthy and balanced friends, a great therapist, and never forgetting that I can’t drink.

Slowly but surely, I learned how to do “Big Feelings.”

Chances are you know an addict or someone who loves one. It is a family disease.

There is hope. Sobriety is possible. Help is available.

The young woman whose husband died asked on Facebook today for any video friends have of Tyson. His little son wants to hear his dad’s voice again.

Please find help if you need it.

For more information:

Alcoholics Anonymous

Narcotics Anonymous

Al Anon (for friends and family of alcoholics)

Nar Anon (for friends and family of drug addicts)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Published in: on May 21, 2019 at 5:31 pm  Comments (6)  
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What Kitchen Tool Am I?

(The title was a writing group prompt.)

When I looked around the kitchen I realized most of the tools are made to change stuff. They are the movers and shakers of food world. The potato masher smashes. The whisk stirs things up. The mixer combines. The different spoons stir and serve. Nothing ends up like it started.

I’m not a potato smasher. Too violent.

The mixer, maybe. I do like to combine people in groups.

Not the whisk. I try not to stir things up. I’m more a peacemaker.

I’m an ingredient rather than a tool.

An ingredient is “a component part of something.” (dictionary.com) It add taste and spice and color. Without ingredients, you have nothing to cook and serve.

I am a component part of several communities: my family, my friends, my church, AA, Triad Health Project. Sometimes I’m the spice. Sometimes I’m the humor. Sometimes I’m the quiet presence.

Each group I participate in has changed me. I’ve tasted new ideas, laughed and cried, and gotten to know people I would probably never have met otherwise. I am not the same as when I started.

Without me, those groups would be different. Something would be missing. They would be incomplete. Because I joined with them, they are not the same as when they started.

We all are part of God’s creation. Each of us is an essential ingredient. We each add a unique taste or spice or color.

Moment by moment, we are co-creating God’s world.

 

Published in: on May 8, 2019 at 2:27 pm  Leave a Comment  
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A Thanksgiving Thought

 

What if you woke up tomorrow

and all you had

was what you thanked God for today?

From a man named Jim

who was HIV positive for many years

and died of cancer a few years ago

 

Published in: on November 21, 2018 at 9:23 am  Leave a Comment