A collection of distilled sarcastic wisdom, numerous photographs, discussions of books and stuff to learn and more stuff to think about from a retired economics professor turned blogger and photographer.
Toward the end of the summer, I shook my head in disbelief and despair as I began waking up in the night with stiff, sore, and aching hands. I had never had an iota of arthritis or pain in my life, and I was totally mystified about what was going on with my hands. My hands got worse over a few weeks so I saw my primary care physician. My doctor prescribed blood tests for rheumatoid arthritis and inflammation, both of which came out negative. He also prescribed some expensive ointment for arthritis pain which turned out to be only of limited value in reducing the pain and misery. Soon I found I could hardly bend two or three fingers on each hand and I could not hold a pencil or pen to write anything. Nights were the worst since I usually have to get up three or four times and each time I awoke, the hand stiffness and pain seemed worse.
So I began trying everything I could find or think of to try. Isn't it amazing that when you get a new and interesting ailment that it seems that everyone you mention it to also has it. Some of my acquaintances had experienced hand arthritis and arthritis in knees and joints since they were in their early 30s and 40s. I tried the emu ointment and the old goats (don't laugh, look it up on Amazon) ointment along with a couple of other ointments and essential oils; I kept trying my prescription ointment. I used ice packs and heat. My therapist gave me a bunch of hand exercises which I began doing religiously, so to speak. I began to wonder if I would ever be able to write again. When we went to one of my doctors, my wife had to fill out the paper work for me. With my usual sense of optimism (sarcasm), I thought I would lose the normal use of my hands.
Then one day I came upon Penetrex ointment on Amazon and ordered a jar of it for 20 bucks. I followed instructions and used it 3 or 4 times a day for several days. At first, I didn't see any relief. Soon, however, I experienced substantial relief. I now only apply Penetrex once a day, usually in the middle of the night. I have the total use of my hands and I can write easily and use my hands and fingers to do everything I could use them before, including typing quickly on my computer. I still have some residual stiffness and soreness, especially when I wake up. But I don't even think about the former problems I had all throughout the day.
I can't tell you for certain that Penetrex solved my problem. Penetrex is useful for reducing pain and difficulties due to inflammation, according to their instructions. If your issues are non-inflammatory, Penetrex probably won't help. My hand arthritis had shown some very modest improvement before I started using it but I could not use my right hand fingers to write even then. We all react to different treatments somewhat differently. Some things are effective for some people, but not others. All I can do is tell you about the success I have had with Penetrex and leave it up to you whether you want to try it. Read the extensive comments from users on Amazon. Then consult the Wizard of Google and ask to see reviews and critiques of Penetrex. Then decide if you want to try it.
The year 2014 was a year of struggles and health challenges for me. Fortunately, none of them were seriously life threatening. An incredible number of people deserve thanks for their help, encouragement, compassion, and kind deeds during the year 2014. At the risk of leaving someone out, here are some who deserve my and our unbounded thanks:
First, and most important, I owe thanks beyond words to my wife for her kindness, patience, forbearance, and calmness through all of my trials and tribulations this year. She sat up with me nights with severe vertigo and with abrupt hearing loss. She scolded me when I needed to be scolded. She endured countless hours in doctors' waiting rooms and exam rooms despite her own chronic pain. She took care of me when I came home from the hospital to recover from the imbalance and unwiring I received from vertigo. Her caring love and compassion are firmly implanted in my consciousness forever.
My children helped when they could, providing transportation to appointments, errands and home chores, bringing us back to St. George for the winter, phone calls for encouragement, and many other things.
My sisters and brother provided encouragement and helps of various kinds. My sister Ann was my Costco runner, bringing a monthly load of treasures from Costco during the months when I and my wife were unable to go. My other sisters called on the phone frequently to check on me, researched medical stuff and passed it on, and generally provided a continual gift of love and encouragement.
Many doctors, nurses, MRI techs, oral surgeons, took care of me in so many ways and often provided the encouragement and clarity I needed to cope with all of the mysterious forces that seemed to be clouding my life.
Neighbors in St. George and Salt Lake provided chicken soup, cookies, hot dishes, encouragement, and love and support in so many ways. Rolling out the garbage can, bringing newspapers to the front door each morning, planting tomato plants in the spring, offering to run errands and help in any way possible are only some of the gifts these wonderful people gave to us.
Members and leaders of our Church showed continual concern and provided both mental and spiritual strength to help remain calm and optimistic about the future.
My wife's sisters Beth and Evetta came to Salt Lake from Provo every Saturday to take her to lunch and to help her buy groceries and run errands when I could do nothing myself. Their willingness to take so much time (and buy so much expensive gas) are blessings my wife and I will long remember.
For six months, I basically was unable to go anywhere except a couple of trips to the doctors. When I finally found my bearings and could go to the grocery store as long as I could push a grocery cart, I experienced many, many acts of kindness from people who saw I was struggling and helped in various ways. To all of these anonymous and kind souls I express thanks for unloading groceries, retrieving items I could not find, or perhaps just offered a cheerful smile and a word of encouragement. My wife has the strange idea that you need a list in order to go shopping. My idea, very enlightened, is that I don't know what I need until I see it. Needless to say, I can spend a lot more money at the store than my wife can.
And, oh yes, I and my wife abundantly thank the Good Lord above for blessing us with a continued remission in her health status and for overcoming my various health challenges.
The fact that I emerged on this last day of 2014 relatively unscathed from the long list of potential serious health disasters, is a huge and incredible blessing. We pray more when we are afraid, and I have prayed more these past years with my wife's medical challenges and my own than I have the rest of my life. Maybe we get demerits up there when we pray out of desperation, but we gain strength ourselves as we reflect on the faith that has brought us thus far and the faith that we must continue to strengthen to remain calm and hopeful in the days ahead.
To all who have helped us in so many ways, who have shown love and compassion and understanding, who have used the right words to give us an anchor to hope, we say thank you and thank you again. May you all have a wonderful New Year. And may the Utah Jazz win a few more games and the BYU Cougars have a successful remaining season, in basketball, both men's and women's. And will the snow that was supposed to fall in St. George today, but blessedly did not, please stay far, far away. Now, time to wait for the New Year and drink our $1.99 bottle of sparkling cider to acknowledge that we have passed another milestone in our lives. Happy New Year to all. The Curmudgeonly Professor and Mrs. Curmudgeonly Professor.
Just a few more hours and we will change our perspective from the Old Year to the New Year. For some of us, we hope the New Year is more promising than the Old Year. Here is a list of my adventures for 2014:
Two months severe headaches from pinched nerve in neck.
Three months chronic upset stomach.
Seven months recovery from severe vertigo attack in May.
Four months hand arthritis
Four days severe hearing loss, with partial recovery.
Three teeth cracked and fell out.
Through it all, through dozens and dozens of medical tests, nothing was uncovered as a serious cause. I passed dozens of blood tests, heart tests, two MRIs, two MRAs, Echocardiogram, EKGs, and whatever else the medical profession could devise. I was left pondering over months of semi-misery and uncertainty but grateful for the long list of potentially disastrous outcomes that did not emerge. Through it all, I ended with mixed feelings about hospitals and the medical profession. Some were careless and did not do their homework leading to at least three misdiagnoses and a serious pharmacy error in filling a wrong prescription. Fortunately, I knew enough about my own medical condition and medications to overcome these errors. Overall, I was grateful beyond words for the health care professionals who took care of me, tested me, encouraged me, joked with me, and sent me home. Please, no more surprises in 2015.
You can truly say you have had a good day when you have not had to go see a dentist, an oral surgeon, an audiologist, an otolaryngologist, an oncologist, a nephrologist, a neurologist, a cardiologist, a dermatologist, an opthalmologist, a primary care physician, a urologist, and who have I left out? You can count the day even luckier if you have escaped going to the emergency room, Instacare, or the hospital. The day will be more pleasant if an MRI isn't screeching in your brain and you have avoided another Catscan. And maybe you have not needed to have 5 gallons of blood drawn to do 200 blood tests and had to aim carefully in a little bottle for a urinalysis. While we would like to avoid all of these visits and events as much as possible, yet we have to count ourselves fortunate that we have access to such an incredible array of medical skills and talents as well as the availability of countless pharmacists who work around the clock to keep us in pills and medications. Our health can become a trial and bewildering beyond our comprehension at any age. Yet the overwhelming majority of health care professionals I have been in contact with, minus a few who should never have gone into health care, are wonderfully caring and compassionate and do their best to lift us out of our despair and our worries and send us on our way to cope with whatever we have. Some times we latch on to a word or a phrase or an uplifting thought offered by a health care professional and we lean on these words and these hopes with gratitude for the thoughtfulness of the offerer. And somehow we gain the strength to cope and brighten our hopes for tomorrow.
After spending nearly six months recovering my balance from a severe vertigo attack in May, I have been rewarded with painful arthritis in my hands. I have never had arthritis before. I have never had any significant pain before. So one night I woke up and my fingers and hands were stiff and sore, and that was the beginning of my latest health calamity. A visit to the doctor and blood tests showed negative on rheumatoid arthritis and inflamation. Now my fingers and hands give me grief every time I wake up in the night. Mostly, the misery lessens throughout the day and then begins all over again when I go to sleep at night. I have consulted the Wizaard of Google and my physician. I have consulted my sisters, my neighbors, my in laws. It turns out when you get a new malady that everyone else also has it, did you ever notice that? The number of cures, or not-so-cures, exceeds the number of people who have arthritis in their hands. I have found that cussing didn't help. A tube of $42 ointment after insurance co-pay offered some relief. My sister said try EmuBlue so I ordered from Amazon and tried that, not much help. My brother in law and sister use glucosamine-condroitin-MSM, so I've ordered some, although it didn't help my wife a couple of years ago. While reading testimonial comments on glucosamine et. al. on Amazon I stumbled across the most unlikely name of Two Old Goats. I'm not kidding. Look up Two Old Goats. Turns out Two Old Goats is, for some, an effective arthritis and foot pain salve or ointment. So I ordered an $11 bottle of Two Old Goats. I'll try that. Meanwhile, my wife told me, politely, to stifle my whining since she endures an exotic variety of chronic pain. I paid attention to her. In fact, I was scared to whine any more. It is what it is, she says, so deal with it. Oh boy you can't refute that kind of authoritative wisdom. Any more magic cures out there?
After I had my epic vertigo attack in early May of this year, I didn't feel like doing anything for weeks and weeks. But I had my iPad, and I spent hours and hours each day watching movies, reading email, googling my symptoms, reading numerous books, and generally fiddling around. Then, lo and behold, about a month ago I woke up in the night and my fingers were stiff, my hands were sore, and I said, "what the heck is going on here?" The symptoms were especially distressing because I was finally making some improvement in my balance and walking, and generally feeling well enough to do a few things other than recline in my recliner and look out the window at the mountains. The symptoms got worse and the pain got worse and the fingers got stiffer and I got more and more ticked off, to put it mildly.
I went to the doctor and had blood tests for RA (rheumatoid arthritis) and inflammation. Both came back negative. So did I have the dreaded osteo? I had never had a twinge of arthritis and not even a twinge of pain in my life. Pain was new to me and I was not happy. I thought I was exempt since I am a good Democrat. In Utah, no less. I trolled the internet and discovered, which I had already known, that dark cherry juice can ease inflammation and pain. I tried dosing myself with the sweet gooey stuff for several weeks and couldn't see any improvement. Many testimonials on the internet praised cherry juice for solving the problem of stiff and sore hand and finger pain. My doctor prescribed a hand ointment but I read the warnings which said "may cause increased risk for heart attack and stroke" . I assumed my doctor wouldn't have prescribed the ointment if it wasn't safe but I didn't want to be the guinea pig to see if I could have a stroke or a heart attack. Amazon just sent me a nice rice bag which I heated in the microwave and it felt wonderful while I had it on my hands, but back to normal misery when I took it off. I paid 15 bucks at Amazon, and my sister Ann informed me she would have made me one for 50 cents. How was I to know? The thing that is so aggravating is that my hands will feel fairly good at bedtime but, as soon as I wake up for one of my two or three trips to the br in the night, the pain and stiffness comes back and I am not happy.
Consequently, I decided to consult that Grand Oracle of all Wisdom and Dispenser of the World's Trove of Miscellanea (is there a word like that?), The Wizard of Google. The Wizard of Google resides in a glass mansion way beyond the Yellow Brick Road and thinks he (she?) is better than everyone else because he (she?) knows everything and all the stupid people in the world must come begging to the Wizard saying, please Mr. Wizard, tell me how many ounces are in a pint, or what is a ten letter word for indefatigible, or is my wife wrong when she avows such and such and I know she is wrong, or what was the score in 1932 when the Detroit Tigers played the Boston Red Sox. The Wizard knows all. Some times the information dispensed is a fraud and is terribly wrong, so you do have to be wise and judicious in using and applying whatever spews forth on 6,287 answers to your measly, trivial, and bothersome question.
So I asked the Wizard, "Can my iPad, the love of my life, betray me and make my fingers and hands stiff and sore and make me mad as heck and cause me untold misery, grief, and can I get an ambulance chasing lawyer and sue the daylights out of the iPad folks for making my life a spewing forth of pain and misery?" The Wizard does not like long questions, adjectives, or any trivial insertions, but to my amazement, the answers rolled forth. Yes, the iPad or any trackpad or smart phone, can cause you misery. One post showed photos of how people hold and use the iPad or a trackpad and demonstrated how the typical way we hold the dang things and piddle around with our scrolling finger can cause this and that and all manner of miseries if we overindulge. So now I am divorcing my beloved iPad for awhile to see if that makes any difference. I have ordered more cherry juice from Southridge Farms in Payson UT. I am using my rice pad. I am squeezing my little rubber ball my therapist gave me to help break up the frozen and painful fingers. I am doing a zillion hand exercises. But my fingers and hands still hurt like heck.
At least my $6000 hearing aids finally came back from the factory yesterday after causing me no end of grief and additional misery. So far they are still working and I have reduced the number of times I say "what" to my wife to only a dozen or so a day instead of a few hundred times. Fortunately, my wife is a very quiet person and doesn't talk that much so my asking "what" is kept to a minimum.
Have a nice day. If you have a magic cure for my hands and fingers, please let me know.
Our lives may be fairly routine for stretches of time until the day or days when we sit nervously and fearfully by and wait for the results of a biopsy or a blood test or an MRI or some other medical test. Most annoying are the unexpected health events that crop up out of nowhere to plague us and cause us to be miserable and become whiny, complaining, and desperate. As a lifetime hypochondriac, I am used to worrying about each and every symptom, pain, twinge, suspected tingle, or funny looking thing on my skin. But ordinarily, for a true hypochondriac, the symptoms are merely transient and go away and nothing happens.
This past year, however, the Curmudgeonly Professor has been plagued with four unwelcome and unexpected medical events. First I had a pinched nerve in my neck that caused excruciating head aches on the left side of my head. My doctor told me he had recently had the same malady. I asked him how long it took for the stupid thing to go away. Two months, he said. And that is what it took.
Next, event number 2, I spent about four months suffering from chronic upset stomach, day and night, and complained and bellyached (a pun, ha) endlessly. The doctor told me to take probiotics, metamucil, and greek yogurt. None of that seemed to work but when I went to the hospital in May (event number 3), the stomach distress simply vanished, mostly.
Event number 3: I awoke at 2:00 a.m. the second night after we returned to Salt Lake from St. George and the room was spinning and would not stop spinning. I rode the bone-jarring ambulance to the hospital where I spent three miserable days listening to conflicting advice from conflicting doctors and waited all day the second day I was there before a doctor would come see me to tell me I simply had stress vertigo. I have struggled for three months to rewire myself and get back some walking balance and stability and feel good enough to do anything. All of this is extremely irritating since everyone else I know who has or has had vertigo gets over their little spinning events just like that.
So just as I am wearing off the effects of the vertigo (no more vertigo, thank heaven), then I wake up one night (event number 4) with stiff hands and fingers. Never having ever had a twinge of pain or arthritis, I am extremely annoyed and vexed over this unwelcome addition to the year's medical events. So now I see a doctor next week to whine about my sore hands and fingers.
All of this stuff is reminiscent of the wonderful Pickles (cartoon character) cartoon in which Opal asks Earl how is sniffles are. Worse, much worse, Earl opines. Then Earl says that he knows he has "terminal dropsy and adult galloping death syndrome" or some such. Opal then tells him to stop Googling his symptoms. Maybe I should follow Opal's advice.
About 2:00 a.m. on May 12, I woke up and the world was swimming around me. The room was moving in circles, up and down, sideways, and I was bewildered, never having experienced vertigo before. I stumbled to the bathroom, and things were no better so I awakened my wife. A half hour later, things were still no better so we called 911. The ambulance came and took me to the hospital where I remained for three days. I had every heart test possible, two MRIs, and numerous blood tests and other medical explorations. I was sent home with a diagnosis of vertigo. What I didn't expect was the length of time it would take me to get my balance back, feel reasonably normal, and be able to return to my usual activities. I talked to numerous people who have experienced vertigo, some who have chronic episodes of vertigo, and none required lengthy times to recover.
I worked with a physical therapist for two months on balance and strength exercises and then continued to work on my own. After about three months, I am finally seeing some genuine progress. I am not an optimist at heart, so I have been unfairly difficult as a patient for my wife to tolerate. Finally, I am feeling a sense of optimism that I may actually recover and return pretty much to my previous level of activity which, for someone nearly 82 years old, is not all that much activity. Yesterday I experienced three firsts: I went inside the grocery store and rounded up some groceries by myself with the aid of the grocery cart; I walked to the mailbox and retrieved the mail by myself; and I went to the barbershop and got a haircut by myself. I had to use a peg-leg walker for three months and am finally weaning myself off of that contraption and mostly use a cane and can walk short distances unaided.
For several months, I had neither the energy or the ability to sit at my computer and tend my blog, The Curmudgeonly Professor. During this time, the blog continued to wane until page view counts dwindled to practically nothing. At my best, I was averaging 170-200 page views per day. Now that I am trying to resurrect the blog, I have difficulty getting 50-60 page views per day, but I hope the numbers will rise. My photography has been mostly limited to photos I could take from my window and my deck of the mountains and the clouds. I hope you are not tired of them. I was having a fantastic dream one night and I usually don't remember anything I dreamed. For this dream, however, I saw a spectacular view and remarked to myself, in my dream, "I need to take a picture of this before I wake up." Imagine, if we could photograph our dreams.
All things considered, my wife reminds me, "it could have been worse." All of my major medical tests were passed with flying colors except for chronic a-fib. I'm happy to be back posting photos and finding some outlet for my improving energy and ambition levels, so please be patient. Thanks to all my faithful blog readers, many who have been with me for nearly seven years. As my neighbor told me at the mailbox this afternoon, "Isn't it strange how quickly we can fall, but how long it takes to mend." Amen to that. I am very thankful to still be going, and to be able to watch the incredible gifts of sky and mountain and nature every single day.
I received a request from a woman named Heather who is battling mesothelioma cancer and is working to raise awareness of this lethal cancer. I invited her to submit a post, and following is what she wrote. Cancer is an everyday fact of life on our short street in our retirement community. In just our little corner, we have the following cases of cancer:
stage IV pancreatic cancer
Thus, I was touched by Heather's story and I am only too happy to share it with you. Following is her post:
Learning Thanks Through Cancer
I've heard it a thousand times, and maybe you have as well: It takes a village to raise a child. My own child, my daughter Lily, was born on August 4, 2005. When she arrived, my husband and I found our home was always full of our friends and family, all of whom wanted to meet Lily and love her. At that moment, life couldn't get any better. Unfortunately, we had no idea of the pain and fear that lay ahead.
I returned to work full time after a short while, and I began to feel less than perfect. I was breathless, tired, and I had zero energy. I might have assumed that it was just a result of being a new mom, but my doctor had other ideas. When Lily was three and a half months old, on November 21, he diagnosed me with mesothelioma cancer. To be exact, he diagnosed me with malignant pleural mesothelioma; being exposed to asbestos during my childhood caused it. My doctor told me that if I did nothing, I would have about fifteen months to live. That wasn't enough for me. We had to act fast.
I decided to go to Boston and see Dr. David Sugarbaker, one of the world's best mesothelioma doctors. I let him perform surgery to remove one of my lungs on February 2 2006. For the next 18 days, I recovered in the hospital, making new friends with the people there for the same reason. These amazing people helped me so much to take things one day at a time. From there, I had another two months of recovery to handle. After that, I'd go through treatments that included both radiation and chemotherapy.
During this time, Lily was with my parents in my childhood home in South Dakota. Their friends and family were so supportive of them. This is really where our "village" came into play. The people I babysat for as a child were adults with their own families now, and they were helping to care for Lily while my parents were at work during the day. Their church friends, people I had always looked up to growing up were always around to provide comfort and support. We both had our own little villages to help us make it through. My mom always sent pictures of Lily, which is the only way I was able to see so many of her firsts, like rolling over and eating solid foods. I missed her so much; however, I knew I was doing what I needed to do in order to be there for the rest of her life, and on top of that, cancer taught me so much.
What I learned is that cancer is obviously bad, but surprisingly, with it comes some good. As a family, we appreciate every single day together, and we live each day to the absolute fullest. We always remember to laugh, and we truly don't take anything for granted. Cancer gave us that gift and, for that, I am grateful.
Note: Heather wrote me that she is now cancer free, but she is trying to "turn her pain into purpose and become someone other people can look to for guidance, inspiration, and hope in situations like my own." Heather's blog is: www.mesothelioma.com/blog/authors/heather
When I get another moment or two, I'll try to provide a live link to her blog. For all of us who are dealing with cancer with someone in our families, or our own cancer, Heather's message is one of hope and compassion. I hope you were as touched by it as I was. We spend a lot of time on sarcastic remarks and nonsense on my blog, but I receive letters and comments all the time about how a particular photo brought a moment of hope and peace and joy, and I feel that we are at least doing some good.
One phase of growing older is that of becoming a snow bird if you originally live in a cold, snowy, icy, dreary winter climate. Like the geese and the real snow birds, people snow birds fly south in the winter as soon as it turns cold "up north", and then fly north as soon as it turns hot "down south." Sooner or later, of course, snow birds grow older if they can stay alive, and then making the transition becomes more difficult. But as long as we can figure out some way to get back and forth, we love to continue our snow bird existence.
Some problems exist in being a snow bird. To spend six months here and six months there, you have to have virtually two of everything that you need for daily existence--two frying pans, four tv remotes (two each for two people), two sets of everything else. Such existence also means two repair bills for everything that stops working, two homeowner's fees, two bills for about everything. We have had our south snowbird condo home now for sixteen years, buying it on impulse one hot day in August when the St. George temp was about 116 degrees. I have made a lot of impulsive decisions, but this decision was one of the best ones we ever made. We love St. George. The red rock country of southern Utah is among the most beautiful places on earth. St. George is an uncomplicated town that has continually upgraded its facilities until it now has about every fast food place known to man. Plus the medical and health facilties here are unequaled, even in larger cities. The caliber of medical specialties in cardiovascular, nephrology, oncology, dermatology, and about every other specialty is simply outstanding, making it unnecessary to return to doctors "up north" for medical care. In fact, we prefer most of our doctors and care facilities in St. George to those elsewhere. The St. George hospital, Dixie Regional Medical Center is outstanding, serving as a regional facility drawing patients from the entire area of southern Utah, northern Arizona, and the corner of Nevada. As we meet people who have driven long distances to get to St. George for regular medical care, we are reminded that choice of a retirement destination has all too often avoided the issue of potential necessary medical care and we are grateful to be in St. George just minutes away from our medical care givers.
Grocery and gas prices tend to run a tad higher in St. George than they are in Salt Lake and other snowbird destination places farther north. Getting used to such prices always is a bit of a jolt after returning from a six months' absence. About every other restaurant is a Mexican restaurant, with a smattering of everything else. More than a couple of decades ago, K-Mart was the only "big-box" store in St. George, but we now have two WalMarts, a Costco, BigLots, and other large chain specialty stores which again draw from a large regional geographic area. I am told that the one St. George WalMart has one of the highest volumes in the WalMart chain, augmented by the large bulk quantity sales to polygamous families from Colorado City and Hildale on the Colorado-Arizona border (not members of the LDS Church). Women in long pioneer dresses and long plaited braids are often shopping in clusters, trailed some times by groups of children in identical dresses or shirts and jeans. They rarely speak to anyone else, so it doesn't do much good to try and be friendly to them.
Proximity to Zion's National Park, Bryce Canyon, and a multitude of over scenic spots of breathtaking beauty is a huge draw for southwestern Utah, as well as a more salubrious winter climate. Unfortunately, the winter St. George climate is not as balmy as in the Phoenix area, but getting to Phoenix from the north is a real pain, as there is no really convenient north-south route to get there. St. George, on the other hand, is only a few hours away from Salt Lake on I-15.
Now our streets are becoming abandoned in our condo community in St. George as everyone is packing up their pickup trucks, SUVs, cars, and whatever else to flee north once more for family, familiar haunts, and to escape the summer furnace of St. George heat. Our Michigan neighbor just left this morning. We miss this couple because they always do a lot of the work when we have community functions at the club house. Our Chicago neighbor, a retired Northwestern U professor, is leaving in a couple of days. Our neighbor across the street for 16 years sadly sold his place to a new couple who aren't quite retired yet, so they are rarely here. Our orthopedic surgeon friend down the street is leaving in a couple of weeks. Our North Carolina friends left a couple of weeks ago. (You may ask, how did someone from North Carolina end up in St. George UT for the winters?) The Montana folks have hied themselves back to Montana. The artery through Utah, I-15, is clogged some days with huge pickup trucks pulling "fifth wheels", mobile homes, camper pickups, and about everything you could sleep and live in for a few months to come to Arizona, Nevada, and southwestern Utah to get away from the miseries of cold winter and their effects on arthritis and aching and aging joints and bodies. The presence of Canadian license plates on I-15 is especially noticeable, as Canadians hurry back to make sure they keep the required residency requirement for Canadian health insurance.
Soon my wife and I will join the northward throng, the geese, the birds, and the remaining snow birds on this northern trek. We always look forward to returning north as long as the snowy and cold season is over, and we always look forward to coming back south when the first cold day of winter returns. But one day, we all have to decide, stay north and freeze, or stay south and fry, if we are still hanging around this mortal earth and mobility has creaked to an end. What then? We don't quite know yet.
When I last reported my doings, I was on my way to see my cardiologist. Dr. M has been my cardiologist for about 12 or 13 years. We have traded book reading lists and discussed the books we have read. We discussed our mutual and hopeless problems with stuffy noses. We shared our mutual fear of having our blood pressure checked since we both have hypertension, and she said "We're afraid to get it taken because it may be high." Several years ago, I gave her a framed enlarged photo of white blooming saguaro cactus. We have traded life stories.
I told her this story the other day: "When I went to have my pre-induction physical at Fitzsimmons Army Hospital in Denver after being drafted out of school during my senior year at the University of Wyoming in 1953, I was held back by the main examining physician and sent to see a cardiologist. The cardiologist diagnosed me with 'psychoneurosis with psychogenic cardiovascular reaction'. When I returned back to Laramie, I was thankful not be drafted into the army because I was newly married with a baby on the way but, at the same time, felt a tinge of guilt as all of my buddies were on their way to training and then Korea. I went up to the University infirmary to see the kindly lady physician who mothered the UW students to find out what my diagnosis meant. I asked her, 'does this mean I'm nuts?' " At this point in my current exam, Dr. M. burst out into hilarious loud and sustained laughter. She said, "If only I had learned that diagnosis before. I can use that on a half dozen of my patients."
But then the bad news came. I learned Dr. M., who has been threatening to retire for several years, was actually going to do so on July 1. When she semi-retired several years ago, cutting back to a couple of days a week, she got rid of many of her patients. I had told her a couple of times that she was really mean, after which she just told me "shut up and take your pills." I thought I would be a logical person to dump. But she kept me.
What made Dr. M. so exceptional was that she was more than a physician. True, she had a gruff exterior and could be blunt and a tad grouchy if the occasion warranted. But underneath she had a heart of mush, and it took me a while to learn that. When I went in the other day, the first thing she asked me was "How is your wife doing?", since she knew from the time before that my wife was battling critical and serious health issues. When we were finished, she accompanied me out to the waiting room to speak to my wife, something she had done before. My wife was touched by her caring.
Some doctors I had in the past weren't much of a doctor. One physician never listened to my heart in about ten years of occasional visits despite my high blood pressure. He would take my blood pressure and say, "Hm, a bit high, we'll just watch it." Dr. M., on the other hand, when I first went to see her, started me on a rigid and uncompromising regimen of medications and tests to make sure I was all right. There was no fooling around. It took several years to find the right combinations, control excess fluid weight, control A-fib, and straighten out a few things. While I was being put through the ringer, I was seeing her once a week. During this period, she sent me to a GE for a colonoscopy, discovering diverticulitis. She sent me to a heart surgeon to do an angiogram. The surgeon told me he was disappointed I didn't need a stent, he was hoping to put in a couple of them to make a payment on his boat. She sent me for nuclear stress tests, which makes you feel like having a heart attack. I called her Mean Dr. M. She never suggested you go do this or that, she went out of the examining room, made the appointment, and told you to be there at 8:00 o'clock the next morning. You got the idea you had better be there.
The point is, I strongly believe Dr. M. at least prolonged my life, and perhaps even saved it. She is easily one of the most influential and important people I have known in my entire life. And now she is retiring. What am I supposed to do? I know there are other competent cardiologists and, in fact, Dr. M. referred me to one of her colleagues in the same office. But how do I know that will work out? The problem is, there has been, and is, only one Dr. M. And now she is gone.
One of the multitude of things people don't want to admit and face up to is loss of hearing. My wife got eternally sick and tired of me saying "What? What?" every five seconds. Finally, I was forced to go get my hearing checked. I first went to Costco since I thought this task would be a simple one: I would walk in, the tech would stick something in my ear, and I would walk out with hearing aids so I could hear every golden word my spouse uttered from then on. Not so. Hold on, the tech said, the hearing in your left ear is worse than the hearing in your right ear. You need to go see an ENT (ear-nose-throat) specialist. So that was the next step
I went to a wonderful ENT guy who used the latest electronic gizmos to measure my hearing loss. He turned me over to a charming audiologist who decided which of dozens of possible hearing aids she would recommend for me and settled on a pair that cost only $2,000, of course, not covered by insurance.
I have now had my hearing aids for about three months. As I talked to other "wearers" of hearing aids, I have learned that most of those I have talked to don't bother to put in their hearing aids. Their wives gripe continuously about this level of incompetence after spending thousands of $$$ to solve their hearing problems. My wife's favorite question now is, "Did you put in your hearing aids?" Once in awhile I have done so. Most of the time I have not. Meanwhile, experts advise that once you get hearing aids you must wear them all the time for them to be effective and for your own hearing levels to adjust to the stuff stuck in your ear. More frightening, one is warned that failure to wear your hearing aids can lead to senility and all manner of egregious stuff.
My reasons for not wearing my hearing aids are: (1) I forget to put them in. (2) I don't like to wear them, (3) the left one is hard to put in, (4) they are little bitty things and they are hard to clean with my big broad clumsy fingers without losing the little itsy bitsy white end cup; (5) they some times make my ears itch or feel uncomfortable, (6) I am forced to go get a haircut every six or seven weeks and I am afraid the Great Clips barber will nick my hearing aid wire, and (7) the blankety-blank batteries are always sounding warning beeps, like in church, telling you that the batteries are now deceased. So you can either sit there listening to them beep, or take them out and hope you don't lose one of the thousands of dollars of little bitty parts of which they are ingeniously made..
Meanwhile, the hearing aid industry seems to be booming. Several times a week full page or even page and a half inserts appear in all the newspapers wherein some celebrity opines that he has tried each and every hearing aid and that the one he is being paid to advertise is the one and only good one on the market. Hearing aid ads tout free steak dinners, seminars, happy hours, or whatever, to draw one in to their hearing aid world and convince you there version is the one and only. However, I quickly ascertained that a good audiologist has access to every model on the market anyway and can capably recommend the one that he/she feels is best for your situation.
As my wife and I talk to people about hearing aids, the most frequent comment we get is from wives who opine that they wish their hard-of-hearing husbands would go to the ENT or an audiologist because they are tired of them saying "What? What?" 24 hours per day. My audiologist confirmed that, indeed, the psychological issue of facing up to and admitting that one needs a hearing aid is a difficult hurdle for many to pass through. However, I am now committed to being good and trying to get my hearing aids in each day. It is now 11:15 a.m. and I just remembered I have to go clean them, replace the batteries, and then try to get them stuck in my ears.
The wonder of hearing aids today is that they are an electronic marvel. Before computer software, hearing aids had to be manually adjusted in a tedious and imperfect fashion. Now the hearing aid is stuck in one gizmo, the audiologist turns on the software which has registered the technical details of your personal hearing levels in each ear, separately, and so the hearing aids are automatically adjusted.
And so, in conclusion, the Curmudgeonly Professor advises you to go get hearing aids if you are getting hard of hearing, if background noise drives you nuts, if you want to hear the continuing advice and words of affection from your dear spouse. There's a whole new world out there once you realize what you have been missing with poor hearing. Have a nice day.
Last October, just after my wife and I returned to St. George for what we thought would be a normal winter out of the cold, snow, and icy roads of northern Utah, we received an urgent call from her internist's nurse telling us we needed to see a nephrologist immediately. A routine blood test taken just before we left Salt Lake showed an abnormal level of protein and creatinine, among other markers. We made an appointment with a kidney specialist and a week later sat in his office as he looked at her lab numbers and told us that these numbers were consistent with a diagnosis of kidney failure and multiple myeloma. My wife's face fell in shock, and I reeled from the news. She had just had blood tests a few months before and all results from that test were normal. How could these abnormal markers come up out of nowhere?
I thought about blogging about our experience with this disease, but my wife asked me not to do so and the effort was just too much, just too heavy for me. Now that nearly six months have gone by, my wife is in remission from the myeloma and is about to be taken off dialysis. Her main problem now is that she has had excruciating sciatic pain from her hip down her leg and is basically immobile from that pain. I have had to learn to do the cooking, laundry, cleaning, vacuuming, grocery shopping, and any and all other household tasks to keep our home going in some kind of rational order. We are trying to schedule an appointment with another pain specialist to see if any relief is in sight.
Most of us have mixed feelings about going public with our personal illnesses, trials, and tribulations. Yet, any time we confront a crisis, we find that we are members of the select fraternity of people suffering from whatever malady we have. And there always seems to be some comfort in sharing experiences and bolstering each other's spirits. We have learned that the key is hope, the route is through countless prayers from countless friends and family, and that, somehow, we must keep going from day to day.
Throughout the coming days, I will recount the highlights of this six month odyssey into the spiraling darkness of multiple myeloma and our moment of sunshine, at least for the moment, from a remission, however temporary, in the hope that someone else may relate to this story and find some hope in their own situation.
Once again we called 911, bringing the ambulance to take my wife to the ER with an annoying health issue. We have been there three times in the past month. You're never quite sure whether to call 911 and bring the ambulance with all the flashing lights and sirens, but I have learned to opt for the side of caution. After a night in the ER, my wife was admitted to the hospital where she remained for a week. Here are a few observations from that week.
Health care professionals are truly our guardian angels when we are in need of urgent care. Nurses, student nurses, hospital staff, doctors, physician's assistants are generally and incredibly dedicated to kindness, encouragement, and compassionate care.
I can't even begin to count the numbers of health care professionals needed to staff a hospital.
The elderly lady at the reception desk had been volunteering at that desk for ten years.
A young man had dropped out of college a year and a half ago to earn money to support his ailing mother and then to have time to take care of her.
A nurse with a bachelor's degree in finance and economics wondered why politicians were so ignorant about basic principles of finance and economics. Imagine.
The initial surgeon (my wife did not require surgery) had been operating until 6:00 a.m. on the first day he visited my wife just a couple of hours later and then worked the remainder of that day.
After a week on only IV's, the hospital staff brought my wife her first "real" food: clam chowder. My wife hates clam chowder.
The hours are long, long, long in the hospital. Pacing the corridors, sitting for hours in uncomfortable chairs, waiting for my wife to recover, the time ticks slowly, slowly off the clock.
Hospital beds remain torture chambers, uncomfortable, making your seat sore. When connected to a half dozen hoses, tubes, etc., you just lie there and endure.
Nurses who smile and spread sunshine make people well faster than those coldly efficient ones who lack a human touch so critical to help people get well.
Neighbors, friends, family and even people we don't even know performed incredible acts of kindness and support. We would never make it without them and our gratitude is boundless. Learning to accept help after being independent "doing it ourselves" all of our lives is a lesson in both humility and thankfulness.
You can quickly adjust from an occasional random prayer to more prayers than you have offered in decades. You just hope someone is listening. And answering. And is willing in a pinch to overlook your years of slothfulness and answer your prayers anyway.
Hope remains the guiding light in a health crisis.
Now my wife is home again and we are back to our regular routine. We remain thankful for hospitals and EMTs and ambulance personnel and nurses and doctors and the entire cast of people who help make us well. But we hope we don't have to see them again for awhile.