Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Tenacious G and the Vacationing Memory Cells

Memory is a strange thing.

The other day, I decided to visit my 87-year-old mother earlier than usualwe get together every Sundaybecause her assisted-living facility was having a vintage car show with live music and food, and I wanted to get a parking space. They fill up quickly when there's a family event.
Mom poses by a vintage car.

I knocked on her apartment door and she answered, surprised to see me at 11:30 a.m. instead of our usual after-lunch meeting time. I reminded her that there was a car show downstairs. I came early so I didn't have to park way down the road from her facility.

"Oh!" she said. "Well that makes sense. But I have to go down to the dining room for lunch before we attend the party."

"Okay," I replied. "I'll wait here until you're finished, then we can attend the party together." She agreed and left for the downstairs dining room.

I sat on her bed and played card games on my iPhone and lost track of the time. I suddenly realized that more than an hour had gone by. The music outside was so loud that it filtered into the room. I decided to go downstairs to see what had become of my mother.

When I walked outside, I saw her dancing in the street with her geriatric friends. I watched for a while and realized that the dining room was probably closed and she had gone outside, eaten picnic food and forgotten I was in her apartment. After the music stopped, I walked over to her and asked if she remembered I was waiting upstairs.
The bell choir in action. Mom is in the middle.

"Oh!" she said, "I forgot about that!" So we walked around looking at all the old cars and I took her picture next to a few of them. The band started up again, but Mom opted to sit in the shade with me until the Big Show. Just as she used to come see me in school productions when I was growing up, I now see her in assisted-living productions.

As 2 p.m. rolled around, the activities director called her bell choir together and my mom took her seat in two rows of chairs that had been set up for them. The bell choir rocked to songs like "Good Old Summertime" and there was also a number where they all played the kazoo. Everyone was snapping pictures and the choir clearly enjoyed being the center of attention.

I found myself quietly chuckling. Whatever possessed me to wait in her room for an hour when they were serving picnic food outside? I had passed the outdoor grills as I walked inside. Was she the one with the bad memory or was it me?

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Toe Wars

Or, My Left Foot (the Horror Story)

Last summer, I made the mistake of taking a discount cruise on the Walmart of the Seas. Well, okay, the ship was actually named the Explorer of the Seas, but when we got aboard we were horrified to see that it was populated by the People of Walmart. Unfortunately, the most lasting souvenir I picked up on that tropical cruise was a foot rash.

My unsuspecting toes enjoying a relaxing moment by the pool.
I've never had a foot rash before, so I guess I just assumed, like most rashes, it would eventually fade away. Several months later, it was still camped out on the toes of my left foot. So in the early fall, I dragged myself in to see the doctor, who gave me a prescription for MUPIROCIN 2%. This was an antibacterial cream. There was only one problem with that. I did not have foot bacteria; I had a foot fungus. So after a month of using this cream with no results, disgusted, I called my homeopath. By now, the rash was such a familiar feature on my left foot that I named it Melvin. It was a dysfunctional relationship; I wanted Melvin out of my life.

I'd never had a rash last so long, so it made me feel old and depressed. Why was Melvin making my life so miserable? What did I ever do to deserve this scourge on my left foot?

Winter was closing in as I spoke with my homeopath of 25-plus years. She is perhaps one of the most brilliant human beings on this planet and has never let me down, regardless of my niddling complaints. We spoke by Skype and she said the cause of any continuous rash was twofold. My body was not fighting it well and the topical eruption also needed to be addressed. It had to be battled inside and out. She gave me a constitutional remedy to bolster my immune system and diminish any tendencies toward yeast and other internal infections. Then she recommended I use Dr. Hauschka's organic Neem oil on the rash.
This ship's painting turned out to be a depiction of my foot rash.

In Chinese medicine, the belief is that the longer a cure takes, the better it is. So I try to be patient when using natural remedies. A few months later, I observed that the natural remedies shrank the rash considerably, but did not get rid of it. Instead of applying Neem oil once a day, I decided to apply it morning and evening and the rash actually disappeared. Unfortunately, thrilled it was gone, I stopped treating it with Neem oil and a week later Melvin was back.

As winter turned to spring, I decided to do some research of my own to see if there was something I could do in addition to my current Neem oil regimen that would tip the scales and chase Melvin out of town.

First the inside: To further boost my immune system, I began juicing vegetables every morning. This had the added benefit of making me feel more energetic. Next, the rash: I tried a variation of a remedy that appeared over and over in my research. People with skin problems often convalesced near the ocean to bathe in seawater with very positive effects. However, I could not afford to spend a month by the sea. Instead, I reasoned, why not soak my left foot for a half hour every morning in Epsom salts? It was also recommended that after your foot was soaked that you dry it with a hair dryer to make sure the skin was not damp. After that, I added the Neem oil.

So I did this for one week. Something I didn't realizealthough I should have since it is clearly stated on all packages of Epsom saltsis that it is a natural laxative. After one very uncomfortable week, I had to stop soaking my foot. However, during that unpleasant period, something magical happened. My foot rash disappeared!

That was two weeks ago. I am still coating my toes every morning and evening in Neem oil, but have not seen a sign of Melvin since then and I believe he finally hit the road.

Thus, ends my cautionary tale of Walmart cruises, bare feet and fungal co-dependence. May you never suffer the same.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Death by Zumba

Like many Americans, I have spent much of my life tethered to a desk to make a living. The problem with this is that, unlike people who work in construction or in other physically active jobs, you don't get much exercise. After a while, you get used to that and exercise becomes a real effort rather than fun.
Just looking at this illustration makes me tired.

I didn't used to be that way. When I was younger, I enjoyed volleyball, baseball, lacrosse and soccer. Then I got married and had children, worked long hours and helped my offspring with their homework with my remaining waking time. Now my daughters are grown, so I thought I would use their homework time to go to an exercise class. A friend of mine, who is 69, suggested I join her for some Zumba classes at the local YMCA. I had no idea what Zumba was, but it was exercise, so it fit the bill.

I arrived at class with my brand new sweat pants and stylish long-sleeve, moisture-wicking exercise shirt. A woman about my age from South America was the teacher that night. She was lively and cheerful. My friend warned me that I should stand up front near the teacher so I could see and follow what she was doing. So, fighting my urge to lurk in the back row, I took her advice. The class was made up of women ranging in age from their twenties to one woman who looked to be in her eighties. I fell somewhere in the middle.

The teacher started the music. It was loud, fast and contained vocals in which men were crooning suggestive phrases about our body parts in English and Spanish. Our instructor began to dance/exercise in time with it and the class, including me, followed a beat behind as best we could. I swear that this incredibly lithe exercise guru had body parts moving that I have not yet discovered. I confided to another student that I felt like a "tight-assed honkie." Indeed, I was.

Within minutes, I realized that the long-sleeved exercise shirt I was wearingwhile trendy and moisture-wickingwas way too hot for this class. I was drenched and feeling overheated within minutes. Still, determined, I continued clumsily trying to copy the rhythmic footwork, kicking, twirling, gyrating motions led by our rubbery teacher.

Picture 60 to 90 minutes of the above with a middle-aged woman.
I only lasted for half the class then sat down on the floor to the side to watch everyone else until their self-imposed torture ended. I was exhausted, drenched and unabashedly panting. I'm a writer, dammit, not a Rockette. My 69-year-old friend, while somewhat damp, seemed to have weathered the experience much better than I. Oh, the humiliation. I comforted myself in the fact that she made her living in a more physical trade, massage therapy, so had not suffered the atrophy that we desk-jockeys endure.

The next day, I was totaled. But as I dragged around the house groaning like a reenactment of a zombie movie, I comforted myself in the knowledge that maybe someday, perhaps before I'm 69, I will be able to last for the entire class without the urge to lie down on the floor and expire. For then, I will know that I have conquered Zumba rather than the other way around.

Friday, February 8, 2013

Tenacious G and the Facade Underneath

Not all facades are on the outside, as anyone visiting a fancy lingerie department might attest. And such was my observation in the latest adventure with my 86-year-old mother, aka, Tenacious G, as we explored the seamy world of flamboyant undergarments.

It all began when I stopped by for my usual Sunday visit and Mom announced that she needed to buy some new bras; her current ones were tattered. Could I take her to "The Store?"

I escorted her to my trusty 2001 Saturn sedan and we drove to the mecca of everything underwear—the local mall. We struck parking-lot gold with a coveted space relatively close to the front entrance. It was a cold day, and I held her arm as we made our way to the front sliding-doors.

Once inside, we passed through the beady, sparkly jewelry department and made straight for the den of iniquity—the undies section. The lingerie department was very colorful, lacy and a tad risqué. It was forested with vertical racks, blooming with undergarments of every size and style, from modest white cotton to the most decadent G-strings and taunting underwire bras.

Mom grimaced and picked distastefully at the offerings, lamenting that the underpants were too short and she wasn't interested in "those type of bras"—she preferred something basic, thank you. It was an odd sight watching a gray-haired octogenarian clad in a practical woolen coat pitted against the racy unmentionables that surrounded her.

I asked her if she knew her size and she didn't. No matter. Her way of solving the problem was to ask me my size and assume that she was a size or two up from that. The overabundance of choices was a bit much for her, so I found some racks that offered no-underwire bras in sensible colors like white or tan. I grabbed several for her to try on.

In her lumbering gait, Mom made her way to the dressing room to determine what would fit. I stood outside the door and listened to the quiet rustling as she tried them on. The first items we chose were too big, so I went out to get the same styles a size smaller, which fortunately, was a more common size. As fate would have it, the style that fit her best was the only brand not on sale. She wanted eight, so I gathered a bouquet of them and headed straight for the register while she was still in the dressing room. I knew there would be trouble if my mother thought she was paying full price for these undergarments. She would make a scene. But I wanted her to have some quality underwear so they would last a little longer than the previous unraveling bunch.

I explained to the woman at the register that I needed to pay for the eight undergarments before my mother emerged from the dressing room because the price would upset her. She smiled knowingly, told me she had a coupon that could be used if I had a store credit card and she reassured me that she would try to speed up the transaction. I think she instinctively knew that this was in her best interest as well as mine.

The sale took a while longer than usual because I didn't have my store credit card with me—the only way to get the discount—so she had to look it up on the company database. She found it, but wasn't sure how to enter the coupon, so had to flag down a passing supervisor. All the while, I could picture my mother slowly reassembling her clothing, getting everything just so, picking up her sensible purse, leaving the dressing room and slowly plodding up to the register to claim her purchase.

The supervisor quickly entered the coupon and my mother received a substantial amount off. Even with the discount, the final cost would be more than she typically paid for underwear.

Just then, I saw Mom leaving the dressing room and heading up toward the register. I signed the credit card screen and pushed the green button to approve the amount. It all seemed to transpire in slow motion like a scene from Reservoir Dogs except without the cool sunglasses. Mom was halfway there. The register made a prolonged noise as it processed the transaction. Just as Mom reached the counter, the lingerie clerk tore the receipt off the register and handed it to me. I turned to Mom and passed her the bag of bras, while deftly stuffing the receipt into my purse.

It was well-timed. Mom was satisfied. The lingerie clerk was spared a public lecture about overpriced, shoddy merchandise. And I returned my mother to the comfort of her assisted living facility for dinner following a thankfully uneventful shopping trip.

Monday, December 31, 2012

Tenacious G: The Eyes Have It

I’ve decided that what’s wrong with our healthcare system boils down to two factors—my mother and doctors.

First, let's talk about Mom.
My 86-year-old mother nagged me for the better part of November to get her a new pair of eyeglasses because the old ones "weren't working anymore." Naturally, I'm not ethically able to accomplish this without the assistance of an ophthalmologist (aka, eye doctor). She had cataract surgery last year, so this problem should have already been cleared up. I responded as soon as I could. The challenge was finding a nearby doctor with an appointment time open in the same year that I was calling.

Which brings us to doctors.

I made an appointment with an ophthalmologist and after three weeks of waiting, we arrived to get her glasses prescription checked.

When I was a child, we went to an eye doctor who had a practice in his home, a lovely Victorian house near Main Street in Boonton. We would sit in his parlor listening to a grandfather clock tick until the patient before us was finished. There were no televised commercials blaring. Just blessed silence. And the ticking sound. Then the eye doctor would invite us into his examining room and spend the next hour with us. He knew us by name and asked us how everyone in the family was doing. On the way out, I got a lollipop.

Today, eye doctors are strangers located in office buildings and deal in patient volume. We stood in line for 15 minutes, much like is done at the Division of Motor Vehicles, waiting to check in with the receptionist. Then we spent another 20 minutes waiting in a room packed with dozens of other patients before being shown in to an examining room. Mom was complaining loudly and bitterly about the wait time throughout.

Patient volume is important. That means standing-room-only.
The examining room allowed Mom and me plenty of additional quality time until a young girl with a perky smile came in and gave my mother several vision tests. Unfortunately, the girl had a thick accent and I am hard of hearing, so it was difficult for me to understand anything she said. She asked Mom a number of rapid-fire questions about her eyesight and my mother had no idea how to answer the technical terms that were being thrown her way. So, Mom denied having any problems whatsoever. While this was happening, I experienced more flashbacksthis time, of her nonstop eye complaints during the past two months.

We were escorted back into the standing-room-only waiting room where we sat for another 15 minutes before being re-invited into a second examining room. Like sands in an hourglass, more of our lives passed into a sandy lump of boredom. Just as we were both about to doze off, the doctor swept into the room. He reviewed what the young girl had written on Mom’s chart and asked Mom if she had any vision complaints.

Which brings us back to the patient:

Eye problems? Me? No way.
Like the Biblical disciple, Peter, in the high priest’s courtyard, Mom denied her vision problems a second time.

“No,” she replied. “I’m fine.” Mom comes from that generation of women who were taught never to complain—except to their daughters. I reminded her that she was having problems seeing out of one of her eyes and as a result wasn’t able to read as much or generally see things when we went shopping.

She denied this a third time, looking irritated, and I gave up.

Which returns us to the doctor:

The doctor smiled, peered intently at her eyeballs, then announced that in 30 percent of cataract surgeries, the eye clouds over, and that’s what happened to her. The solution is a five-minute laser surgery that corrects it. Having delivered his prognosis, he left as quickly as he had come.

By now, both Mom and I had lost interest in her eye problems. We just wanted to leave. As the afternoon wore on, Mom’s primary concern became getting back to her assisted living facility for dinner.

Dinner became Mom's focus.
This day’s appointment had been for 12:30 p.m. and it was now almost 4 p.m. I must assume that the eye doctor believed that anyone who had the audacity to schedule an appointment with him was grateful to spend a half day playing musical chairs in his office.

The young girl returned to fill out paperwork for my mother’s office surgery that would take place in about six weeks. She asked my mother detailed questions about her eyesight, trying to establish what needed improvement. Nothing, according to my mother. The young girl flashed a disingenuous smile and told us someone would be calling the following day to set up a surgery appointment.

Two weeks later I received the call. In a month, she will have another opportunity to spend the better part of a day with this doctor. We can only hope the surgery will clear up her vision. I don’t know if we have the stamina to return to his office again.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Coming to Terms with the Unacceptable

When I heard about the shooting at Newtown, Connecticut, my gut reaction was disbelief and tears. I am a mother, after all. So, in a universal sense, those children were my children, too. My husband, on the other hand, reacted in an entirely different fashion. He became very angry. He wanted to find the parties at fault and punish them. But who would that be?

The carnage at Sandy Hook Elementary School was heinous, but since Columbine in 1999, I have seen too many mass shootings in the news to believe that any simple fix will put an end to them. Even before the smoke clears, the news media begins finger pointing. And the scenario always seems to go like this: Senseless tragedy, news reports featuring the killer like a celebrity, political pontification, days or weeks of analysis including a scorecard of number of people killed in past shootings versus the current one, and finally,  human interest stories that follow up on the courage of survivors or lament lives cut short.

I don’t mean to trivialize this terrible event. We all are going through a group grieving process. And we follow these rituals to come to terms with what has happened. What I do disagree with is the naïve notion that any one piece of new legislation or mental health band-aid will put an end to this type of bloodshed.

It seems to me that someone who murders groups of innocent people is already profoundly deranged. Maybe they were born that way; maybe circumstances pushed them over the edge. It surely differs from one instance to another. So, why can’t we stop these madmen? Because of one simple fact—no one can ever truly know what is going on in the mind of another human being.

Should we ban assault weapons? Makes sense since they are not used for hunting. Would be a good start. But even in countries where people have no access to guns, mass killings take place. In China, there have been a series of grammar school massacres by disgruntled, knife-wielding perpetrators. Will more access to mental health support solve the problem? Perhaps.  Although many psychotropic drugs dispensed by psychiatrists have side effects that can trigger aggressive behavior and suicide. And if someone is psychotic, can any amount of care truly help them or must we just learn to identify them and remove them from society? Is it deficient parenting? We all try our best, but with the loss of the extended family and the necessity of two parents in the workplace, parenting is more of a challenge than ever.

We live in a pressure-cooker society with long work hours, negativity-drenched media, a lack of community safety nets and a hunger for simple kindness on an everyday basis. None of this can be fixed by the federal or state government.

Only on an individual basis can we begin to change our world. That may include turning off vitriolic news commentators, building stronger relationships with family and neighbors, and reassessing how we treat ourselves as a part of the global environment. Everything we think, say and do shapes the world in which we live. Granted, individual behavior shifts are also unlikely to deter all potential killers, but they represent a first step at creating a world that is less likely to incubate them. And in the meantime, it could make life more pleasant for the rest of us.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Shatner's World: We Just Live in It

William Shatner reflects on life.
In a departure from its usual high-brow showcases of classical music, opera and plays, this past Sunday the New Jersey Performing Arts Center hosted Canadian actor William Shatner in a one-man show befitting his infamous humility titled, Shatner’s World: We Just Live in It

As admitted long-time Star Trek fans, my husband, Stephen, and I couldn’t resist attending this gathering of gray-haired geekdom. (I also must confess to a sneaking admiration for Shatner’s more recent character, Denny Crane, from Boston Legal.)

When I was a teenager, in the late 1960s, my friends and I were glued to the television every Wednesday night when the original Star Trek television show was aired. We thrilled to watching Captain James T. Kirk, his first officer, Mr. Spock, and their trusty crew careening through the galaxy, sparring or smooching with aliens and attempting but usually failing to follow the prime directive of noninterference with indigenous cultures. This often resulted in the ship’s doctor, Bones, announcing, “He’s dead, Jim.” as red-shirted ship’s crew collapsed around them. And who could resist that well-oiled chest peeking out of Kirk's oft-ripped Federation uniform.

But this performance was not an homage to Star Trek as much as a celebration of its famed over-acting star, William Shatner. At a spry 81 years old, he was remarkably witty, philosophical and engrossing to watch as he strode across the stage talking, and occasionally screaming, for emphasis.

Shatner backed by his projected crew.
Shatner began with a chronological sharing of his life and career, which was funny, touching and thought-provoking. We learned such cocktail party trivia as the last words of Steve Jobs, which were “Wow, wow, wow.” but with no certainty as to if his dying statement was an expression of wonderment or trepidation. We reviewed his career from stage to television to screen and heard many amusing anecdotes related to each. We shared his love of horses, which brought him and his latest wife (number four, I think) together. They’ve been married for 13 years, so it would seem he has finally found some peace in his personal life.

At the end of the performance, he offers a projected collage of scenes from throughout his long life and makes the point—obviously important to him—that no one should ever expect him to save the world or look upon him as an authority figure. “I’m only an entertainer,” he reminds his audience. Indeed, that’s true. And as his fan-base slowly filed out of the auditorium there was a satisfied consensus that he was correct. William Shatner is an entertainer—and a very accomplished one at that.