SEPTEMBER AT RIVER BEND – AND PLEASE GET A FLU SHOT

I was very organized. I’ve wanted to get over to River Bend for a few weeks, but life kept taking us in other directions. Today, though, I knew we’d make it because we needed to go to CVS … and it’s just around the corner from the farm. It’s flu shot time. Last year, we got sidetracked. Not only did both of us get the flu, but we both got pneumonia. I had to delay my heart surgery twice because you really can’t have heart surgery when you’re coughing so hard you’re afraid your heart will propel itself out of your chest.

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And we made another mistake too. Not only did we get our flu shots late — the beginning of November — but we went to the doctor’s office to get them. It was already flu season by then. There were at least two people with heavy coughs in the waiting room. One of them firmly declared she didn’t need a mask because she wasn’t sick. “It just allergies,” she explained. I winced every time she coughed.

Thought balloon: “Excuse me, you germ-ridden hag … that deep, hacking cough is no damned allergy.”

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It was already too late by the time the nurse insisted she cover up. Garry and I got our shots, but it takes about 2 weeks to develop immunity from the vaccine. It was less than 48 hours before we were both sick. I slipped seamlessly and promptly into pneumonia and stayed sick for the next 4 weeks. Garry took longer to develop pneumonia, but he eventually got there too.

Not making the same mistake this year.

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Getting flu vaccine at CVS was quick, easy, pleasant. The nurse was cheerful, friendly, and competent. We didn’t have to sit in a waiting room full of sick people. The shots were paid for by Medicare — without the “office visit” charge the doctor charged — a full $100 less than last year.

We were in and out in about 45 minutes, including a little bit of shopping we had to do.

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I recommend everyone get a flu shot. The rumor that you can get the flu from the vaccine is untrue, a classic urban legend. The flu is serious stuff. It frequently leads to pneumonia and other secondary infections. Unless you have a month to spend miserable and sick, get a flu shot soon. Before you get sick.

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River Bend Farm is part of the Blackstone Valley National Corridor, one of many parks along the Blackstone River. While there’s a bit of color showing now, the rich reds, orange, and yellow-gold of true autumn haven’t quite arrived. But close. Very close.

There is more color in the woods behind my house than along the river today. Usually, you see color first where there’s water.

So … autumn’s not here yet. But it’s on its way. You can smell it on the breeze, feel it in the crispness of the air. And see it in the bright yellow foliage.

NEED TO KNOW (NCIS, 2012) AND MY PACEMAKER

EPISODE: Need to Know (2012) – SHORT SYNOPSIS:

Alan Katzenbach, a lawyer, waits for Gibbs with his client, a chief petty officer named Leland Wiley. Wiley was busted for drugs and wants to trade his info — which he says is about national security. It concerns Agah Bayar, the arms dealer. Gibbs is interested. Wiley comes over to talk, but grabs his heart and drops to the ground.

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Gibbs comes for the update from Ducky. Turns out, Wiley had top security clearance and his workstation is locked down. They haven’t been able to connect him to Bayar yet.

Abby calls Gibbs to the lab. She tells him Wiley’s pacemaker was linked into a computer to monitor it. Someone hacked in and jacked his heart rate up to 400 beats per minute.

“Somebody murdered Wiley by remote control,” she says.


What does this have to do with me?

Well, glad you asked. This episode so intrigued the heart surgery team at Beth Israel Deaconess in Boston (where I had all that heart surgery last March), that they decided to find out if it really could be done. One of the people that performed the experiment was my surgeon.

They did it. My surgeon did point out as far as they could tell, to actually hack a pacemaker you had to be no more than a couple of feet from it. Nonetheless, they made the manufacturer change the programming.

In theory, nobody can hack my pacemaker.

I find this comforting. Garry finds it disturbing and I suppose I can see where he’s coming from. He doesn’t like thinking about the mechanical and electronic stuff that keeps me alive. It would creep me out too, but I’m a bit of a geek.

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I find the technology sufficiently interesting to overcome its inherent creepiness. It is creepy. However, it doesn’t matter. No matter how I feel about it, I’ve got this thing in my chest. It keeps my heart beating. If my heart beat on its own, I wouldn’t need the pacemaker.

Every time I go for a pacemaker checkup, they use a little machine and briefly stop the pacemaker to see if my heart will beat without it. My heart stops beating. Talk about creepy. It is a very unpleasant — and indescribable — sensation. Anyone with a pacemaker knows what I mean.

The blue tooth remote functions still work. They are (in theory) more secure than they were a couple of years ago, before the NCIS episode aired and the guys got curious about it. Remote functionality is important. After all, I might need a tune-up. Blue tooth lets my doctor access my pacemaker from … how far? I don’t actually know. A considerable distance, whatever that is.

Garry — again — doesn’t want to know about it. I pointed out if someone murders me, this is potentially important evidence. He would still rather not think about it.

So there we are. Too creepy?

I can feel my pacemaker. It sits on my left shoulder. The outline is visible. I can feel the wires, the connections through my skin. I find it impossible to ignore. I might as well find it interesting. It’s part of me, after all.

ON THE ADVICE OF MY SPIRITUAL GUIDE …

Warning: This is a rerun — with editing — but it so precisely fits the requirements of today’s Daily Prompt: Discussion Enders, I could not resists doing a little revision and posting it. I quite like this little post. It makes me laugh every time I read it so maybe you will laugh too. We all need a laugh.


As the years have crept by, I have given up a lot of stuff, most of which (it turns out), I didn’t need in the first place. I gave up worrying. I gave up working. I gave up on the lottery, even though I still occasionally buy a ticket (just in case).

I gave up wanting a new car, expecting old friends to call (some of them don’t remember me any more — some don’t remember themselves). I’ve stopped hoping Hollywood will make movies I like, though occasionally they release something I love (like “Quartet,” a movie Dustin Hoffman directed in 2012). I’ve stopped trying to adopt new music and most new television shows.

I’ve renounced trying to figure out what’s going on with the Red Sox.

Some stuff gave me up. Some people gave up on me Other things, I gave up more or less voluntarily. In the end it works out to the same result.

When anyone asked me how or why I have given up whatever it was, I tell them it was for religious reasons.

UU Steeple 4

No one ever asks me what I mean by that. But just so you know, here’s my secret … obviously a secret no more …

I don’t mean anything at all by it. It’s just a way to end a conversation. No one wants to offend me by asking for the details of my religious beliefs. Who knows? They might turn out to be embarrassing or merely bizarre. Thus my all-purpose answer to everyone is “on religious grounds,” “for religious reasons,” or “my spiritual adviser required it.”

What power these words hold. They can make pretty much any conversation vanish without having to tell someone to shut up. It works on everyone except those who really know me. They will raise one or more eyebrows, and fall over laughing.

It’s very similar to (but different than) my all-purpose answer to “How are you?” With the biggest, broadest, fake smile I can muster and with heartfelt enthusiasm, I say: “I’m FINE!” 99.9% of the time, this does the job. Give it a test drive yourself. If you can’t dazzle them with brilliance, baffle them with bullshit.

Because I’m fine. For religious reasons.

ON RELIGIOUS GROUNDS

As the years have crept by, I have given up a lot of stuff, most of which (it turns out), I didn’t need in the first place.

I gave up worrying. I gave up working. I gave up on the lottery, even though I still occasionally buy a ticket (just in case).

I gave up wanting a new car, expecting old friends to call (some of them don’t remember me any more — some don’t remember themselves). I’ve stopped hoping Hollywood will produce movies I like, though sometimes, much to my delight and surprise, they release something I like a lot (remind me to tell you about “Quartet,” the movie Dustin Hoffman directed last year). I’ve stopped trying to like new music and most television shows.

Some stuff gave me up. Other things I gave up voluntarily, but in the end it comes out the same.

When anyone asked me how or why I have given up whatever it was, I tell them it was on religious grounds.

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No one has yet asked me what I mean by that. But just so you, my faithful readers, know the secret …

I don’t mean anything at all by it. It’s just a way to end a conversation. Since no one wants to offend me by asking about my religious beliefs, I can make pretty much any conversation go away without having to tell someone to shut up. It works on everyone except those who really know me. They will raise one or more eyebrows, and fall over laughing.

It’s very similar to (but different than) my all-purpose answer to “How are you?” With the biggest, broadest, fake smile I can muster and with heartfelt enthusiasm, I say: “I’m FINE!”

99.9% of the time, this does the job. Give it a test drive yourself. If you can’t dazzle them with brilliance, baffle them with bullshit.

I’m fine. For religious reasons.

LITTLE WIRES – A DRAMA-FREE SOLUTION

selfie in gray teeYesterday, out popped two little wires that have been working their way through the healing scar of my pacemaker.

The first time this happened, it was one wire poking through next to the much bigger scar down the middle of my sternum. I pulled it out with a pair of tweezers. Quite a long piece. Very thin. Sharp. The moment I pulled it out, it stopped bothering me. The hole closed instantly and healed up in hours. Crisis averted.

Then everyone yelled at me for doing something stupid. I tried to explain the wire was loose and came out far easier than an eyebrow hair. I didn’t have to tug, just guide it out. It wasn’t attached to anything. Just a stray wire left behind by surgeons.

Now, I had to make a choice about the new pair of wires. These were very close to the pacemaker. For obvious reasons, I didn’t want to find myself with my heart in my hand.

On the other hand, I didn’t feel like making an appointment with a surgeon — requiring Garry to defer his trip to New York — then driving 140 miles, round trip. All of this so a surgeon can take a pair of tweezers (just like mine) and pull out the wires.

Or worse, decide to open me up just to see what’s going on. I’ve had enough of that, so no, thanks.

Screw it, says I.

I picked up my trusty tweezers, grabbed the wire and gently removed it. No pressure. It was less than a quarter of an inch long. The second piece was even smaller.

My pacemaker is still in place. My heart continues to beat. Those spiky, itchy, annoying little wires are gone.

Call me stupid if you want, but I can’t bring myself to make an epic drama out of a tiny piece of wire.

I JUST WANT TO FEEL BETTER – A MANIFESTO

I visited my favorite doctor last week. She is the only one of my original set of doctors I have kept. Despite her not being covered by my current insurance. She is irreplaceable. Unlike the rest of my doctors, she “gets me.” For me to start over and try to establish this kind of relationship with a new doctor? I’m not sure I’ve got that many years left to me. Or if there is another doctor like her anywhere.

I hadn’t seen her since before all the heart surgery in March, so we had a bit of catching up to. We talked about me, her, life, getting older, Garry, drugs and how some things — like marijuana — just don’t do what they did when we were young.

And the importance of feeling better.

The garden in front of the clinic where my favorite doctor works

The garden in front of the clinic where my favorite doctor works

Anyone who has been sick for a long time knows what I mean when I say “I just want to feel better.” There comes a moment in time when whatever is wrong with you has dragged on and on. It feels like an eternity, like forever. You can’t remember what it was like to feel good. You’ve done everything you are supposed to do and still, you feel like crap. Whether it’s cancer, recovering from surgery, anxiety, bipolarity, the pain of chronic illness — or any combination of the above plus whatever I didn’t mention — one day, you just want to feel better.

You really don’t care how.

Whatever it takes, whatever drugs, surgery, therapy, whatever. Just — make me feel better. I want a day without pain, without anxiety, without nausea. I want to feel normal or at least close. Whatever normal is. Because I am not sure I remember.

The problem is, doctors don’t see medical value in feeling better.

Feeling lousy isn’t a medical condition. And feeling better is not a definable goal for medical professionals. The doctor keeps telling you you’re fine … and you don’t feel fine. You are tired, in pain, crabby, unable to sleep. Nauseated. Exasperated. Fed up with everything.

Just two doctors — out of so many in my world — believe feeling better is a legitimate goal. One is my cardiologist and the other is my shrink. Technically, she is my psycho-pharmacologist, but shrink is easier to say. Her self-assigned task in this world is to help me feel better.

“After all you’ve gone through,” she says, “It’s what I can do for you. I can help you feel more like you used to feel before all of that horrible stuff happened.”

That she understands the concept  is nothing short of a miracle. So I’m going to keep her. Despite insurance.

I JUST WANT TO FEEL BETTER – A PERSONAL MANIFESTO – Weekly Writing Challenge

NO PRANCING FOR ME

I went to the doctor today. I made a list of the things I needed to talk about, among them trying to get some Prednisone or something to make me able to actually enjoy my vacation in Maine in October. I just want a week off of the whole pain and misery thing. I checked with my cardiologist and he seemed to think a week of Prednisone would be fine, at least for my heart.

I know Prednisone is evil and will — with prolonged use — melt my bones. But really, I’m not asking for a long-term run. Just a week. One lousy week of living without pain.

Dr. Marc Jacobs filterHe said (really, no kidding, he said this), “I don’t want you prancing around like a 20-year old, hiking all over Maine.”

Prancing? Like a 20-year-old? When I was 20, I was wrapped in plaster from my rib cage to my knees following a spinal fusion and laminectomy. I can’t remember ever doing any prancing even when I was a kid. But hey, he doesn’t know me yet. If we had a longer relationship, he would realize what an absurd statement that is.

Not only am I not doing any prancing, but we’re sharing our vacation with our best friends. He will be one month past knee replacement surgery. She’s almost as arthritic as me and she is way past prancing. Garry is in better shape, but he’s not bouncing around either.

I pointed out I was unlikely to take up bungee jumping or mountain climbing, but the doc was convinced I would do something stupid and potentially damaging to what we humorously call my body.

“You’re 67 years old. You’re recovering from massive and extremely serious surgery. That’s reality. You aren’t healed yet.”

“When,” I asked, “Is yet?”

“Six months.”

“Six months,” I repeated. And I sighed.

I should be used to it. Maybe I am, but I don’t like it. Not at all. I just wanted a week off. One week, so I could walk, take pictures. Enjoy myself and not be in pain. Go out, find a moose unaware, take great wildlife pictures. In the wild, not in a zoo. But no. I have to be sensible. Bah.

I’ll deal with it. But I really wanted that week. One week without the pain. I guess it is too much to ask.