Teeth

When I was sixteen, the summer between my junior and senior years of high school, I fell off a bicycle. At that time, my family had a summer home in Lake Waubeeka, Danbury CT. Some of the roads were very hilly and riding down one of them I missed a turn, tumbled over, and fell. I lost several of my front teeth as well as breaking my jaw and compressing vertebrae.

This happened over 50 years ago but some of the consequences from that accident are still with me today. The lasting impact has been on my teeth. Prior to the accident I had decent looking teeth and didn’t even require braces. I did have a canine tooth that had never descended but I liked the way that looked. It was a little funky and, a teenager in the late 1960s, I thought it gave me some panache.

My memory is that I didn’t lose that tooth in the accident but sometime afterwards a dentist decided it needed to be removed. The first apparatus I got to deal with the loss of my front teeth was a removable partial. At the age of 16 I now had something in my mouth that I thought was only for old people.

I was a self-conscious teenager, maybe all teenagers are self-conscious, so it is amazing to me that I didn’t really let the accident and what it did to my appearance bother me that much. After I recovered, I just went on with my business.

Once I was in graduate school, about six years after the accident, I switched dentists. I then kept that dentist for 46 years even though I moved away from New York City 41 years ago. Dr. John was a conservative dentist and left my mouth and the partial alone for a few years. In 1986 or 1987 – at least sixteen years after the accident – I got a fixed bridge – false teeth that stay in your mouth. They are glued in.

Besides being conservative in his treatment approach, Dr. John was also a perfectionist. As a result, I had the best-looking false teeth one could imagine. After another ten years, he decided it was time for implants. When I first started seeing him, implants were a recent technology and Dr. John wasn’t sure I would have enough bone to support them.

Eventually, after refinancing our mortgage to afford the procedure, after surgery and bone grafts, and multiple attempts to get the teeth looking pristine, I had implants. I still have them. Last summer I went to New York and saw Dr. John who told me two things. The first was that the left canine tooth needed an implant, the first time since 1996, that I would need one. The other thing was that he was retiring.

It is hard to say which news was more devastating. It has been almost a year and I am still grieving that Dr. John is no longer my dentist. A surgeon in Amherst extracted the tooth and I began the protracted process of healing and waiting. In April, the Amherst surgeon told me I couldn’t get the implant. Although I didn’t say this to him, I have kept wondering why I had the tooth extracted if I can’t get an implant. I am going for a second opinion so the story isn’t over yet.

My recent troubles with this tooth and a potential implant have reminded me of the accident and the trauma that I suffered as a result. Although, thankfully I have been able to have a happy and fulfilled life despite the physical scars and disfigurement from it,  the accident remains a terrible thing that happened to me that I can’t completely escape or resolve.

 

 

Life, Again

I recently completed a hectic ten days which is one reason I didn’t blog last week. Before this period of intense activity, I had blocked out several weeks’ worth of posts. Theoretically I have post topics for the next few weeks. Today’s topic was supposed to be about the show Stars on Ice.

On April 30th we spent the night in Boston so that I could see Stars on Ice. Everyone who was on the US Olympic team was in the cast as well as Mirai Nagasu who competed in the Olympics four years ago. Although our seats were high up, we were dead center and had a great view. I found it very exciting to see athletes such as Jason Brown and Mariah Bell.

We had a wonderful time but to be honest it feels like that was a year ago. A few days after we came home from Boston, we flew to Florida to spend time with my Aunt Ruth. She is the relative who had a bad accident last year fracturing her hip and wrist. My aunt is quite elderly and still has some chronic health problems which I am trying to help her with.

Although it was nice to be in Florida because it was at least 30 degrees warmer than it is here in western Massachusetts I wouldn’t call the five days we spent there a vacation. Although my aunt is 91, she is not ready to cede any of her authority or autonomy over her own life and there’s really no reason that she should. Her desire to remain as independent as possible does sometimes make caregiving for her more difficult. Therefore, the time in sunny Florida had a decent amount of stress attached to it.

My aunt’s current medical condition has made me think about my own health and what illnesses I fear getting. My mother had Alzheimer’s so any lapse in my memory makes me panicked about getting dementia. My father died of heart disease but somehow, I don’t worry as much about that. I can’t really explain why.

Both my brother and my first cousin died of ALS, Lou Gehrig’s disease, and I do worry some about that. My cousin did genetic testing that revealed a mutated gene that may have been responsible for his disease. My brother never did that kind of testing so whether he had a genetic component or not we will never know. I just don’t want to burden my family with either dementia or ALS. I also wouldn’t want my children or potential grandchildren to get Lou Gehrig’s disease.

Even though I worry sometimes about these diseases I realize that life is a crap shoot. A bus could hit me tomorrow and that would be it. I am going to focus on the beautiful skating I saw at Stars on Ice, the shiny warm sun I experienced in Florida, and the fully in bloom trees I returned to while continuing to lead my life.

Gratitude

As some of my readers may already know, for a year and a half starting in July 2020 I used Noom to lose over 25 pounds. Noom is an artificial intelligence app that uses cognitive behavioral therapy ideas to help people change their eating habits and their relationship with food. I didn’t really consider it a diet. I feel that it taught me how to control cravings and modulate my food responses to stress. Before I started Noom, I was getting regular deliveries of an Insomnia chocolate chunk cookie. It is not that I stopped doing that entirely, but I am able to realize having a bad day doesn’t always mean I need a cookie.

I often have trouble sleeping, mostly due to anxiety and an overactive brain. Because I had such success with Noom, when I found out that the company had expanded and now had another app called Noom Mood, I decided to sign up. Cognitive behavioral therapy also informs the 16-week program of Noom Mood.

Every week you get a new daily activity. I have enjoyed some of them more than others. The first week the activity was to create some space for yourself by being quiet for 15 minutes and then writing for one minute about what came up while you were quiet. Since I already have a meditative practice, I used the 15 minutes to meditate and then wrote, often for more than a minute.

The second weeks’ activity involved grounding, focusing on your physical body and your environment. To complete this task, I either practiced my recorder or did some banging on a drum. The drum and why I have it is another story that I will save for another time.

I really enjoyed the first two weeks of activities but hit a bit of a roadblock last week. The activity involved freeing your emotions by thinking about where in your body you were feeling a particular emotion. To fully visualize where you were feeling stress, anger, or joy you were supposed to draw a stick figure and mark on it the places where you were having your somatic experience. I found this activity difficult and a bit overwhelming. It was hard to focus on one feeling at any given moment and then figure out where it was expressing itself in my body. Because the activity involved drawing, I now realize that my need to be perfect interfered with my ability to complete it.

This week the daily activity is gratitude. The exercise framed gratitude as a choice, a way to look at life and get something positive out of it. One suggestion was to see if you could be grateful for any privileges you are having on a particular day. The example they gave was time for yourself. Another suggestion was to find something in the present moment to be grateful for. Right now, I am grateful I have the means and ability to write this blog post.

During this past week while attempting to complete the daily activity I’ve tried to think about what I am grateful for and why. Monday, because the weather was so beautiful and warm, my husband and I took a nice long walk. I felt grateful for every part of the experience. The gratitude increased my happiness, which is the way it’s supposed to work.

I have 12 weeks left of Noom Mood. Although none of the lessons so far have pertained to insomnia, I am learning more about myself and am grateful for the insights I am gaining. Life is a process, and you can always learn something. You can always change and grow.

NaNoWriMo Day 23

I am still working my way through the obituaries, which has been a little draining. I am almost done with the ones I have in a folder in Word. There are still some, maybe another thirty, that are in an email folder.

Today, I wrote 557 words. The epilogue, or whatever it is, now has six pages that I wrote in three days. If nothing else, doing NaNoWriMO and blogging ever day has enabled me to pick up my pace. I can write a page or two fairly quickly now.

After I have finished with all the obits, I am not sure what I will do next. I guess I don’t have to think about that until I get there.

 

Ideas

One of the assignments for this month from my Pioneer Valley Writer’s Workshop Year Long class, was to read three essays to look at the craft tools used in presenting ideas.

First, I read “The Futurist Manifesto by Flippo Tommaso Marinetti. For the class assignment, we were not supposed to say whether we like a piece or not but rather, look at the craft elements used in the writing and determine if they would be valuable for our own writing.  However, this is is my blog, so I will  say that I hated this essay. The language  was over wrought, hyperbolic and flowery. I would not want to write in that style. The piece felt dated with racist and misogynistic elements and I had a strong suspicion that the author was a fascist. When I Googled him, I found out I was right.

Our teacher implied that Verlyn Klinkenborg’s, “Our Vanishing Light”, had  lyrical tone, and visual and sensory imagery.  The writing was okay but it seemed a fairly standard journalistic article. Written in 2008, it might have been startling then but felt like nothing new thirteen years later.

In “Sick Women Theory”, Johanna Hedva uses her personal story to make her point. I thought that was a good strategy or tool to use. By personalizing her ideas, it made thinking about those ideas more accessible. Hedva weaves her story of chronic illness into a compelling critique of western medicine. She explores how disability interacts with political participation, seeking a redefinition of both public and private.  I found her writing the most compelling of the three essays and I enjoyed reading it.

Life

As you may have noticed, I have not posted anything the last two weeks. I have been dealing, almost twenty-four/seven, with a family crisis. On April 14th, my ninety year old Aunt Ruth fell, fracturing her wrist and hip. She never had children; I am her closest relative. Ruth is my mother’s younger sister. When my mother received an Alzheimer’s diagnosis in 1989, my aunt and I were really the people who took care of her. That brought us a lot closer.

Both my Aunt Ruth and her husband, my Uncle Norm, functioned as surrogate grandparents for my two sons since my father died before I ever had children and my mother, who died in 1999, had Alzheimer’s. My uncle died in 2009.

When I read over what I have just written, there is a lot of loss reflected. That is probably why I am determined to help my aunt make as full a recovery as possible. I am not ready to let her go yet.

April has turned out to contain the circle of life – from birth to old age to death. Luckily no one has died but my cat who is anywhere from 20 to 25 years old has lung cancer and may not live much longer.

Bella is a rescue cat; friends of ours found her running back and forth on a major highway near where I live. We named her after my mother, Beatrice. Bella is a calico and has always been very pretty. Even now when her coat does not have the same shine, she is still good looking. Bella is a diva, somewhat clumsy and often mischievous. We haven’t always gotten along. As long as my oldest son, Louis was at home, she was his cat. Once he left Bella switched her allegiance to my husband, Aaron, probably because he feeds her.

Because we had to fly to Florida suddenly, we boarded the cat at the vet. While there, Bella stopped eating, so the doctor put in a catheter, took an x-ray which showed her tumor has calcified and put her on prednisone. This, obviously, resulted in a huge bill, which is not really the point.

When the vet first told us about Bella’s cancer, I though we had all agreed on letting her die peacefully, providing only comfort measures. As a nurse, who has watched many people die, I think it is important for any individual and their family to be clear about what they want to have happen as death nears.

With my aunt, both the hospital and the rehabilitation facility inquired about whether or not she had a DNR (Do Not Resuscitate) order. My aunt doesn’t have a DNR, but she does have a Living Will which specifies what her wishes are. As far as Bella goes, she can’t tell us what she wants so we have to decide for her.

I have had so much stress that Bella must have decided I needed some more. When Aaron brought her home from the vet she urinated in the carrier and it leaked onto the seat. This happened Friday; the smell has finally faded today. At first, I was tempted to buy a new car, but I realized that was an over reaction Since I don’t want to cry, I will have to laugh about this.

Amidst all the crises and illness, there has also been joy. On April 8, Nina, who is my cousin and like a daughter to me, gave birth to a beautiful baby boy, Judah. On Saturday we drove to Beverly and met Judah which gave me so much pleasure. I got to hold him and feed the baby a bottle. I couldn’t have asked for a better antidote to my stress. Judah is a gift to the whole family.

If you lead a full life, you will encounter both great happiness and immense sorrow. The past few weeks has taught me that lesson, again.

 

 

 

Cancer, Revisited

Earlier this week,  I attended the first annual Kay Johnson Memorial Lecture. Kay was a Hampshire faculty member who died in 2019. I knew her really well because our sons were best friends from birth to the age of 5.

Kay died from metastatic breast cancer. In honor of Kay, I am reposting a piece from 2009.  At that time, my Uncle Norm had a diagnosis of lung cancer. He died a few weeks later. 12 years later, we have still not made enough progress in the fight against cancer. Hopefully once President Biden gets COVID and the economy under control, he can turn his attention to defeating cancer.

Cancer  12/16/2009

As part of my research for my new book, I have been reading short stories from various eras of Harper’s Magazine. One written in 1949, “The Lady Walks,” by Jean Powell, deals with a faculty wife who has breast cancer. Although my original interest in the story was because of the faculty wife character, Ravita, as a nurse I found the description of the cancer treatment clinic she goes to unsettling. The description did not seem that different from clinics I have worked at various times in the past fifteen years.

After reading the story, I have concluded that things have not changed as much as we might think or like in the area of treatment of cancer. Today I participated in a Cancer Care teleconference, “The Latest Developments Reported at the 32nd Annual San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium.”  It was very interesting; there are new drugs that might prevent bone loss in cancer patients as well possibly prevent the re-ocurrence of cancer.  However, treatment for certain kinds of breast cancer is a five-year process, which seems extraordinary long.

Around Thanksgiving, I read a story in the New York Times about a recreational lounge for cancer patients at Memorial Sloan-Kettering, a hospital in New York City. One of the patients is Seun Adebiyi, a young Nigerian immigrant and a Yale Law School graduate. He has lymphoblastic lymphoma and stem-cell leukemia and needs a bone marrow transplant. He is also trying to be the first Nigerian to compete in the Winter Olympics in skeleton. His goal is 2014. I have participated in a bone marrow drive but I have never received a call to donate.

I have had friends who have died from ovarian cancer and relatives who have experienced lung cancer. Although we may not have made as much progress in the last sixty years as we would have liked, let us hope that we can make significant progress against cancer in the coming days.

 

COVID Vaccines

Me getting my first shot.

 

Earlier today I got my second dose of the Moderna vaccine. So far, I feel okay. The nurse who gave me the shot said the side effects kick in around the ten hour mark. If that is true, I will feel fine at skating but not so well this evening and into tomorrow. She thought I would be fine by Sunday when I go skating again.

I have been volunteering at Amherst clinics, inoculating people and also acting as the scribe for the inoculator. The  Massachusetts rollout of the vaccine has been abysmal. People have faced long waits to get an appointment and the enrollment process is apparently very confusing.

Last week  the Governor announced that people who were 65 or older or had two comorbidities were now eligible to receive the vaccine. People still had a tremendous amount of trouble getting appointments. The list of comorbidities also made little sense. If you  smoke and have asthma you are eligible but if you have high blood pressure, that doesn’t count.

The other thing the Baker administration announced last week was that they were shifting distribution of the vaccines away from doctors offices and hospitals to mass vaccination sites. At that time, the  closest site was at least fifteen miles away from Amherst and not necessarily on a bus route.

Our state representatives, Mindy Domb and Jo Comerford, along with others, worked very hard to get both Amherst and Northampton designated as regional vaccination sites. Starting Monday, Amherst will have clinics in the Bangs Center located in downtown Amherst. If you need more information you can click here. If you need more help, you can call 2-1-1.

Around here, everyone I know is desperate to get vaccinated and is willing to go to great lengths to achieve that goal. I think that is probably true of many people across the country. I did speak to someone I know who lives in Florida; she and her husband have decided, upon reflection and study, to skip  getting the vaccine. She feels they have been careful,are in good health, and therefore, if they were to get COVID, they would get a mild case.

I don’t know how she came to that conclusion. My cousin was very careful and wore a mask wherever he went; he still got COVId and spent five days in the hospital. Now his wife has it.

Everything I have read says that getting the vaccine is preferable to getting COVID. If you have read things that convinced you not to get vaccinated, I would love to know more about that. My advice is, if you can get vaccinated, please do that. More people getting vaccinated will bring herd immunity more quickly.

Proof I got both shots.

Sepsis

On January 5, news broke that the actress Tanya Roberts died from sepsis following a urinary tract infection. Roberts was sixty-five; she had been both a Bond girl and a Charlie’s Angel. She collapsed on December 25th, 2020. Roberts was hospitalized and put on a ventilator. Before her collapse she had not appeared ill.

Over thirty percent of UTIs lead to sepsis; this is 2.8-9.8 million cases in the United States and Europe. These result in as many as 1.6 million fatalities. Sepsis occurs when the immune system, in response to a perceived threat in one’s blood stream, goes into overdrive and starts attacking the body.

UTI’s are usually contained within the bladder and antibiotics easily cure them. If a UTI goes untreated, it can progress to a kidney infection which in turn can became sepsis. Tanya Roberts death resonated with me for two different reasons. The first is that my paternal grandfather, Frank, died in 1937, following a sinus infection. Antibiotics were not widely available; his infection went unchecked and he died. My father was eighteen; his older brother twenty and his younger brother eleven.

The other reason I felt deeply about Roberts’ death was that I had a similar, although obviously not fatal, experience. From December 2011 to the beginning of January 2012, I had a urinary tract infection that went untreated for as long as four weeks. (The reasons for my lack of treatment is another story for another day).

By January 2, 2012, I had a very high fever, was chilled to the bone, and was ashen in color. I had a raging kidney infection and my doctor sent me to the hospital. One of the ER nurses said my white blood cell count was the highest she had ever seen. If the infection had continued to go untreated, it is likely I would have developed sepsis. Once sepsis sets in, there is a very high rate of mortality.

As women age, they are more susceptible to UTIs and often the infection does not generate any symptoms. That certainly could have been true for Roberts since she did not seem ill before she collapsed. As with most illnesses that occur more frequently for women, the progression from a urinary tract infection to sepsis is not well studied.

Tanya Roberts’ story is very sad, and I wish she could have received treatment before she became septic. My kidney infection was the sickest I have ever been but I am glad that I did get treated and did not become septic.

 

Visiting Brooklyn During the Pandemic

Last Friday, my son got married in Brooklyn. It was a beautiful wedding, but as Arlo Guthrie might say, that is not what I came here to talk about. Being in Brooklyn from Thursday afternoon until Friday afternoon was very unnerving, because of COVID-19.

We drove down on Thursday. It was the longest car ride we have taken since some time in February. We parked the car in a garage about three blocks away from our hotel. Walking on the streets of Williamsburg, Brooklyn, we saw everything. There were a lot of people, many more than we have seen during the five months of the pandemic. Some were wearing masks, but some were not. It wasn’t very easy to keep six feet of social distance on city sidewalks.

The hotel, itself, felt safe; we didn’t really see many people. Thursday, we met my two sons and my daughter-in-law for dinner. Again, we had to walk on sidewalks with lots of people, masked and unmasked. We ate outside and tried to keep on our masks when we weren’t eating.

Friday morning, we walked toa bakery to get something to eat for breakfast. The store did have social distancing measures in place. Only one patron was allowed in at a time and the line outside was spaced six feet apart.

These experiences of the pandemic in a big city made me realize how fortunate I have been to sit out the pandemic in Western Massachusetts. We have not eaten at a restaurant at home; we have just gotten takeout. We can walk at home not wearing masks and often we don’t see anyone else.

Being in Brooklyn made me realize the enormity of COVID-19 and the fear and anxiety I have lived with for over five months. I do not want to get sick and I do not want anyone I love to get the virus either. I wish no one else would ever get sick from Corona. My heart goes out to anyone who has gotten the virus and all the families affected by the disease.

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