A LATE NIGHT RANT. BECAUSE.

My body and I are engaged in battle. Body is winning this round, but I hope to prevail in the end.

Every condition, chronic disease, whatever that has ever bothered me is running at full throttle. Things that haven’t bothered me for decades are back. My rheumatoid arthritis is acting up. Every joint hurts. My irritable bowel is outraged and trying to kill me. It’s spring, the pollen is high and asthma is kicking my butt.

self 4-27-2914 marilyn

Of course all the heart surgery has wreaked havoc with issues I already had from the bilateral mastectomies a couple of years ago. Finally, there’s the pain from the recent surgeries. It’s much better than it was even a week ago, but it’ll be a few more weeks before I feel I’m over the hump.

I am good in the morning. Most of the time. From lunchtime onward, I slide downhill until evening when everything hurts. The later it gets, the more it hurts. I can’t figure out which pain is caused by what condition. Or maybe it’s the clammy weather. Or stress.

I want to feel good again. Is it too much to ask? Right now, it is … but I remind myself it’s not forever. It will to take a bit more time, but in a few weeks, I will be me again.

But late in the evening when everything hurts and I don’t have drugs to fix it … at times like this, I want to rant. I figure I’ve paid the dues; I’ve earned a rant.

Instead (usually), I go to bed. Becoming unconscious seems like the best idea of all.

ITCH!!

For everything, there is a season. This is my season to itch.

First, you wake up from surgery in screaming agony and after a while, it subsides. Little by little, it goes from agony to misery. The misery lasts months, though if you analyze how you feel, you recognize under the pain layer, you’re feeling better.

Until the itching starts.

itchingFirst, it’s a tickle. A couple of days later, the prickly feeling becomes a torrent of itching. Which you dare not scratch lest you open up one of your incisions.

I have seasonal dermatitis too. It kicks in every spring and fall. It’s not a disease, so there’s no cure and by itself it can cause frenzied itching. And hey, it’s spring, sort of. A bit cold and rainy, but according to the calendar, it is spring. So my dermatitis has clicked “on.” Add that to the healing incisions and it’s a perfect storm of sensation.

You can get drugs to dull pain. Sometimes you can get drugs to make pain go away entirely for a while.

Nothing makes itching stop.

It’s a sign of healing they say. Me? I hate it.

UNDERNEATH THE PAIN, THERE’S ME

I had a spinal fusion and laminectomy when I was 19. For the next 45 years, I pretended I didn’t have a problem. I rode horses, climbed mountains, went sledding and skating and hiking.

Then, one day, thanks to an uninsured driver who T-boned me because she didn’t feel like waiting for a green light, everything changed. There was nothing for me to fight or overcome. There was a flapping noise and I knew my chickens were coming home to roost.

Marilyn again

There was no possible cure, no new surgery to repair me. If I didn’t take reasonable care of my damaged spine, I’d be in a wheelchair. I gave up the horses, sledding and other dangerous stuff, but kept up the walking, hiking and an occasional wild ride on a roller coaster. Until the lump of calcification on my lumbar spine grew to the size of a small soccer ball and the bursitis in my hips made everything hurt.

Still I refused to give up my feet in exchange for a chair or scooter. I’m sure if I stop walking, I’ll never start again. So I save renting an electric scooter for those rare times when we’re at a theme park or something else that requires lots of walking. I don’t have the endurance to spend a whole day on my feet and the pain would take all the fun out of it for me and my companions.

Mind you, there have been a lot of other life threatening medical events along the way. But none of the other medical problems, no matter how potentially lethal, limited my life the way the arthritis in my spine has. Apparently for the last few years, my heart has also limited my activities. I didn’t realize what was going on. I had no reason to think my heart wasn’t just fine. As far as I knew, it was okay. So I attributed all the symptoms to something else: asthma, allergies, whatever. Now, of course, I know better.

I plan to keep doing as much as I can. Right now, I can’t do much. My cracked sternum is unhealed. When it is healed — another 7 or 8 weeks from now — then I’ll see what I can do.

The pain — and there is a lot of pain — is like a separate entity, perched atop the rest of me. Underneath the pain, I think maybe I’m beginning to feel pretty good. It sounds weird, I know, but the pain is a layer — like evil frosting. Underneath, there’s the rest of me. That part feels better than it has in quite a while.

So, I have to let healing finish. There’s a lot of internal as well as external healing that has to take place and there’s nothing I can do to speed the process … but a lot I could do to slow it down!

Patience is not my strong suit as I’m sure you’ve guessed. But this time, I need to find it. I can’t hurry bone and muscle. Trying to force it is likely to prolong the problem, not shorten it.

It isn’t easy! Especially with the weather turning warm at long last.

STUMBLING DOWN THE WINDING ROAD

They warn you when they send you home it will be hard, especially the first few weeks. They warn you about depression. It seems to be part of the heart surgery package and hits pretty much everyone to some degree. Some of us worse than others. The emotional healing component is a wild card. Assuming that physical healing proceeds without incident, there’s no predictable pattern — or much available help — for handling feeling.

There’s a sense of loss, that “something is missing,” though you don’t know exactly what it is. A sense of dis-empowerment, that you’ve lost your dignity, a part of your self-hood. There’s a sense of having been raped, assaulted, beaten down.

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Some feelings result from the very real physical assault of all that surgery. Your body has been invaded, redesigned, twisted, opened, broken and put back together. You may not have been conscious when it was happening, but your body remembers even if your brain can’t recall details.

Waking up after the surgery, I knew something was missing, some part of me was gone and I was afraid to awaken until I found the lost piece. Eventually I bowed to the inevitable and woke up, but becoming conscious was accompanied by a profound sense of loss. I’m not who I was. I know I am — at least technically — better, but it’s hard to imagine ever feeling whole again.

Even after breast cancer and having both breasts removed, the sense of loss was nothing like this. There was pain, confusion, fear … but surprisingly little sense of mutilation.

The complexity of my feelings combines with a sometimes overwhelming physical misery. It makes me wonder why I went through all of this. To what purpose? I know the correct answers to these questions, but as the days wear on and evening approaches, it feels as if I am wearing a too-tight iron brassière. I can feel the hard metal straps cutting into my shoulders and my chest feels crushed. It’s hard to breathe, hard to even think.

I whimper and wrap myself in a heating pad, trying to soothe cramping muscles and twisted bones.

All systems are messed up. Digestion, breathing, skeleton … everything feels off. Sleeping is difficult. Finding a position that doesn’t hurt is a major challenge. I have a headache much of the time. The headache isn’t so bad … it’s just the “insult to injury” part of the process.

I have a little mantra I keep repeating to myself. “I can do it,” I say. “I CAN do it. I can do it. I can.” Whatever it is, I do it.

I can shower on my own. Thanks to one wonderful friend, I can do my bathroom stuff and actually get up and down from the toilet without the humiliation of needing help. I can do small things. Make myself a sandwich, toast an English muffin. Read a bit, Write a bit too. My back took a beating. Whatever they did to me in the operating room, I came out of there with new problems in new places. Oh well. I guess it will heal. Eventually.

My other mantra: “It will get better. It will be better. I will be better. I will be better. The future is worth living.” I mean it. But it hurts.

If it were not for friends and especially for Garry who bears the brunt of both my physical inadequacies and my emotional messiness, I’m not sure I would be able to go on. I know this is taking a lot out of him and it adds just one more layer to that invasive sense of helplessness.

It will be better. I can do it. We can do it together.

I just hope it’s worth it.

 

Status

WAKE UP SLEEPY HEAD

Today marks a week back from the hospital. I’m not sure what I expected, but I’m pretty sure this wasn’t it. So much didn’t go the way I expected. A friend said it was like taking your car in for an oil change only to discover you need a new tranny. I needed a new tranny, timing chain, rear axle and electrical system.

How could I have failed to notice that the central system of my body wasn’t working? How did I miss that? I was short of breath, true. I had been gradually limiting my activities. I stopped driving. I passed on activities that involved more than very minimal walking … skipping stuff that required I go up and down my own stairs. Gradually, I chipped away at life until my “outside appearances” were few and far between.

I was tired. Not sleepy-tired. Weary. I attributed each lifestyle change to something. Asthma. Bursitis in my hips, arthritis in my back. Blow-back from cancer a couple of years ago. And, of course, the all-time best bucket explanation for anything and everything — getting older.

When I was first informed that my EKG showed “issues,” though the doctors didn’t seem to feel I needed to know exactly what the issues were (did they know?) — when finally all the cards were laid out, I felt blindsided. I had been keeping track of my heart, getting an evaluation and EKG every year. Suddenly, from “no problem” to “big problem”? Heart problems don’t usually just pop up out of the blue. I still don’t know and probably never will if this was a case of misdiagnosis or some weird medical event that went unnoticed amidst the myriad other health crises which have punctuated my last decade and a bit.

Do I blame my doctors? To a degree. For failing to promptly and clearly inform me of what was happening and for giving me terrible, medically unsound advice. If I had followed it, I’d be dead.

Expect-Delays-sign

What I expected

Cardiomyectomy (shaving down the overgrown muscle in the left ventricle that was stopping the flow of blood through the aortic valve, causing the mitral valve to work double-time. There was hope the mitral valve would self-repair if the aortic valve was unblocked. Surely, at most, the mitral valve would need repair, not replacement. (Ha!)

What I got

A cardiac catheterization, a totally disgusting, intrusive horrible test that requires you be awake — the absolutely last thing you want to be. Not like you get a choice.

The next day, the aforementioned cardiomyectomy, a bypass and a mitral valve replacement made from bovine tissue (thank you Bossy, wherever you may be).

Three-for-one. Woo hoo!!

But that’s not all, no-sirree. After another few days, when my heart refused to beat on its own (stubborn to the last), it was back to surgery for a pacemaker. Now everything in my world runs on batteries, including me. Sure hope those batteries keep going and going and going.

Waking up – Let the games commence!

Round one: They tried arousing me, but I woke up fighting, struggling. Apparently tried to deck the recovery nurse. I do not remember this, but I have no reason to doubt it. Under the circumstances I’m sure I wanted to deck someone. They put me back under for another 24 hours. They were protecting me and/or the nurse.

“Tough customer,” they said.

Round two: I heard Katy, my new recovery nurse calling me.

“Marilyn, wake up. You’ve had your heart surgery.”

“NO,” I said. Liar liar pants on fire. They were saying it was Friday, but I knew it was only Thursday. What’s more, I was in the middle of a word game and the letter “U” was missing. I could not wake up until I found it.

“Marilyn, you have to wake up.”

“NO I DON’T,” I said.

“Would you like to see your husband? Your friend?”

“NO.”

“You have to wake up. It’s time to wake up.”

“NO.”

Ultimately, I realized the letter “U” was a permanent loss and they were just going to keep annoying me until I stopped saying NO. So I opened my eyes. Instantly knew why I hadn’t wanted to wake up.

Question: How much pain can you be in and still live?

Answer: A lot.

Thus I reentered the world. Screaming in anger, pain, outrage and helplessness. I’m still screaming. Silently.

CLOSE TO THE TREE

Mom-May1944It occurred to me one day I needed to see my spine specialist. When you deal with chronic pain, you learn to ignore it most of the time. Unless you want to wind up addicted to pain killers, it’s the only option. It’s not bravery. It’s a practical decision. Do I want to keep participating in life? Then I have to deal with what I have to deal with. That’s the way it goes.

Long time ago, I was doing my mother’s hair. I liked fixing her hair. It was easy to style, thick, silver and just a bit wavy. I asked her to turn her head to the right, and she did. When I asked her to turn the other way, she said “I can’t.”

“You can’t? Why not?”

“Because my head won’t turn that way.”

That seemed a curious answer. “What do you mean by that?”

“My neck is stiff.”

“Um, mom? How long has it been like this?”

She thought for a while. “Fifteen years? Something like that.”

That stopped me. Fifteen years? “Have you seen anyone about it?”

“No,” she said. “I figured I was just getting old.”

At the time, I thought her statement was bizarre. It turned out she had treatable but advanced tendonitis and it got better. She hated doctors.

Time marched on. I’m older than my mother was then. I totally relate to her response. When I called the doctor for an appointment, I discovered the last time I saw him was more than six years ago. To be fair, I’ve had a few medical crises since then and I got distracted. Besides, I know what’s wrong with my back. It isn’t going to kill me. I’ve lived with it most of my life. I’m used to it and do my best to ignore it.

Recently, though I’m having trouble walking, even on flat surfaces and going up and down stairs is especially difficult. It crossed my mind there might be something he could do — some medical magic — to improve me without major surgery. I already know surgery isn’t an option.

My doctor is wonderful. The best. The only doctor who can look at my spine, not gasp with horror and immediately decide I need to be rebuilt with screws, pins, and bolts. He’s a minimalist, medically speaking. I like that.

I made an appointment and got lucky because there was a cancellation. It usually takes five or six months to get to see him, but I only had to wait a few weeks. He’s the king of spines in Boston, maybe in the country. I would have willingly waited six months if I had to. Of course, as soon as I made the appointment, I had to make another appointment because I need new films of my spine. I also haven’t had a CT scan or MRI in six years and he isn’t going to be able to do much without new films.

I wondered how come I hadn’t processed the fact I can’t walk normally? I suppose I wasn’t paying attention. I was busy ignoring pain.

I was being my mother. She taught me to be a soldier. She didn’t use Novocaine when she got her teeth worked on. I asked her why. She said “Pain is good for your character.”

Tree Silhouette in B & W

She meant it. I grew up believing giving in to pain was a weakness. To a degree it serves me well, but sometimes it’s dangerous. If you ignore the wrong stuff, it can kill you. One needs to find balance, but it isn’t so easy.

Watching a documentary on Ethel Kennedy reminded me of my mother, minus all the money. Mom was an athlete. I’m sure she wondered how she wound up with such a klutzy daughter. She had been a good tennis player. She rode horses, she played ice hockey. She went bob sledding. She painted, sculpted, designed and made her own clothing. She also never got past seventh grade, so she made up for it by reading everything. She had a truly voracious appetite for life and knowledge.

After a radical mastectomy, she couldn’t play tennis anymore, so she played a ferocious game of ping-pong. She played savagely. She served so hard it was more like a bullet than a ping-pong ball. As a family, we vacationed in dinky little resorts in the Catskills where there was no entertainment. The one thing they always had was a ping-pong table. So I played against my mother.

I'm in the middle, Mom and my sister Ann are on the right. Code Red.

I’m in the middle, Mom and my sister Ann are on the right. Code Red.

She didn’t believe in any of that “let the kid win” stuff. She was a competitor. You won or lost. Trying hard was irrelevant because she expected nothing less. She slaughtered me. As I got older, I played better but she always beat me. She told me she was giving me an advantage by playing with her left hand. I knew she wrote with her right hand, so I assumed she was a rightie. Until the day my aunt told me she had always played tennis with her left hand. My mother was psyching me out. Her own daughter.

I never beat her, but I beat everyone else.

She passed me her determination to never give up, to do everything I could as well as I could. Later in life, I realized I didn’t always have to be the best. Playing a game for fun is worth something too. Another lesson learned a bit late.

The older I get, the more I remind me of my mother.

So I went to my doctor and he told me there was nothing he could do except reduce the pain. Temporarily. No fix. No drug. It is what it is. Progressive. Irreversible. I sighed and accepted it. I had hoped there was something he could do. Not to be.

We all miss stuff. Some of it intentionally, more accidentally. Sometimes, I miss important something because I’m busy ignoring something else.

I am an apple. Mom was my tree. I fell, but not far.

I’m an apple, Mom was my tree.

It occurred to me one day I really needed to see the spine doctor. When you have chronic pain, you learn to ignore it most of the time. Unless you want to wind up a pill addict, it’s the only option. It’s not being brave. It’s an entirely practical decision. Do I want to keep living? Walking? Participating? Then I have to deal with what I have to deal with. That’s the way it goes. Oh well.

Sometime, when I was in my mid-twenties, I was doing my mother’s hair. I liked fixing her hair. It was easy to style, thick, silver and just a bit wavy. I asked her to turn her head to the right, and she did. When I asked her to turn the other way, she said “I can’t.”

“You can’t? Why not?”

“Because my head won’t turn that way.”

That seemed a curious answer. “What do you  mean by that?”

“My neck is stiff.”

“Um, mom? How long has it been like this?”

She thought for a while. “Fifteen years? Something like that.”

That stopped me. Fifteen years? “Have you seen anyone about it?”

“No,” she said. “I figured I was just getting old.”

At the time, I thought this was totally bizarre. It turned out, she had entirely treatable (but advanced) tendonitis and it got better. She hated doctors.

96-Mom-May1944

Time has marched on and I’m older than my mother was then. I totally relate to her response. When I called the doctor for an appointment, I discovered the last time I saw him was six years ago. To be fair, I’ve had a few medical crises since then and I got distracted. Besides, I know what’s wrong with my back. It isn’t going to get better or go away. It isn’t going to kill me either. I’ve lived with it most of my life. I’m used to it and generally ignore it. Recently, though I’m having trouble walking, even on flat surfaces and going up and down stairs is hard. My legs don’t seem to want to support me. It crossed my mind that there might be something that could be done to improve it without major reconstruction.

My doctor is wonderful. The best. The only doctor who can look at my spine, not gasp with horror and immediately decide I need to be rebuilt with screws, pins, and bolts. He’s a minimalist, medically speaking and I like that.

So I made an appointment and I got lucky, because there was a cancellation in December. It usually takes five or six months to get in to see him. He’s the king of spines in Boston, maybe in the entire country. I would have willingly waited the six months if I had to. Of course, as soon as I made the appointment, I had to make another appointment because I need new films of my spine. I also haven’t had a CT scan or MRI in six years and he isn’t going to be able to do much without new films.

I wondered how come I hadn’t processed the fact I can’t walk properly? I suppose I wasn’t paying attention. Too busy ignoring the pain. I don’t always know I’m doing it, but I was being my mother.

She taught me to be stalwart, a Spartan. She told me she didn’t use Novocaine when she got her teeth worked on. I asked her why not and she said “Pain is good for your character.” She meant it. I grew up believing showing pain or giving in to it was a sign of weakness. To a degree it serves me well, but sometimes it’s dangerous. If you ignore the wrong stuff,  they can kill you. One needs a sense of balance, but it isn’t so easy to find.

Watching the documentary on Ethel Kennedy last night reminded me of my mother. Mom was an athlete and I’m sure she always wondered how she have wound up with such a klutzy daughter. She had been a good tennis player. She rode horses, she played ice hockey. She went bob sledding. She painted, sculpted, designed and made her own clothing. She also never got past seventh grade, so she made up for it by reading everything. She had a truly voracious appetite for life and knowledge.

Mom1973Paint

After a radical mastectomy, she couldn’t play tennis anymore, so she played a ferocious game of ping-pong.

She played savagely. She served so hard it was more like a bullet than a ping-pong ball. As a family, we vacationed in dinky little resorts in the Catskills where there was no entertainment. The one thing they always had was a ping-pong table. So I played against my mother.

She didn’t believe in any of that “let the kid win” stuff. She was a competitor. You won or you lost. Trying hard was irrelevant because she expected nothing less. She slaughtered me. As I got older, I played better and but she always beat me. She told me she was giving me an advantage by playing with her left hand. I knew she wrote with her right hand, so I assumed that she was a rightie. Until the  day my father told me she had always played tennis with her left hand. My mother was psyching me out. Her own daughter.

I still never beat her, but I beat everyone else.

From her, I got a gritty determination to never give up, to do everything as well as it could be done, or at least as well as I could do it. It turns out winning isn’t everything, but I didn’t learn that until I’d already missed a lot. Late in life, I realized I don’t have to be the best. Playing the game because you enjoy it is worth something too. Another lesson learned a bit too late.

The older I get, the more I remind me of my mother.

We all miss so many things. Some intentionally, others accidentally. Sometimes, I miss things accidentally because I’m avoiding other things intentionally. One thing leads to the other.

I wonder what else I’m missing? I know, on this Mother’s day, that I’m definitely missing Mom. I have so much to tell her.

Ouch!

I don’t want this to sound as if I think I’m special because I deal with pain. I realize I’ve got plenty of company. It’s just that sometimes, I feel like I’m in an over-crowded lifeboat. Sinking.

There a central irony to this story, so I’ll start with the irony and go from there.

Parents, school advisors, well-meaning friends and family are forever urging kids to get out and get physical. Join a team. Take up a sport. Get some fresh air. Exercise. It’s good for you, right?

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It is good for you. Mostly. But. Youthful athletic activity is often the start of a lifetime of pain. How many young men destroy their knees playing football? How many girls dislocate their spines in gymnastics? How many head injuries happen during little league baseball games? How many broken backs are the result of falling off horses? It’s not rare or unusual.

These days, everyone knows about the dangers, but it doesn’t stop kids from playing or parents from encouraging their involvement. Safety equipment is available, but injuries happen anyhow. Active sports are dangerous. It’s a fact. I’m not suggesting anyone stop playing sports. Life is meant to be lived, risks and all.

The irony is that sports are good for you if you don’t get hurt. If the helmet keeps the baseball from braining you. If getting tackled doesn’t tear the ligaments and tendons in your knees. If you don’t break your ankle coming down from a jump shot. If you ride well, don’t fall and land on your butt … or head.

For me, it was horses. I love horses. I love riding. I didn’t take lessons. I just got on and rode. I fell a few times. It looks funny when you land on your butt. Everyone laughs as you get up and limp back to your mount. You’re young. You suck it up.

Ignoring pain isn’t necessarily good. Pain can mean something is wrong. I dislocated my spine. Repeatedly. Each fall worsened the problem. One day after riding, I noticed my back didn’t hurt. I couldn’t feel much of anything. My back was numb and aside from tingling, so was my right leg. That scared me. I was used to pain. I figured it was part of athletics. No pain, no gain, isn’t that what everyone says? But numbness was new and I figured maybe I should see a doctor.

My spine was 50% displaced and was pressing on my spinal cord. Which accounted for the lack of sensation. If something wasn’t done about it, I was going to be in a wheel chair before I was old enough to vote — 21 back then.

At 19, it hadn’t occurred to me I might have a real problem. In those days, we didn’t run to the doctor for every bang, bruise or pain not because we were tougher, but because we were ignorant. We’re more sophisticated these days but in the early 1960s, no one thought much about sports injures. Kids played hockey, rode bikes and horses, played sandlot baseball. Nobody owned safety equipment. If we had, we’d have been embarrassed to use it. Only a total weenie would wear a helmet on a bicycle. Has that changed or do kids remove their helmets the moment they are out of mom’s sight?

I went to the doctor. He told me to do absolutely nothing until he got me into surgery. I got a second identical opinion. Don’t bend. Don’t lift. Don’t fall. Don’t do anything. I asked if that meant I couldn’t ride. The surgeon looked at me like I had two heads, both stupid. I figured he meant “No.”

My surgeon didn’t enumerate the risks. I doubt it would have made any difference if he had. I wasn’t going through life unable to do anything active. Whatever the risks, I wanted to be repaired. I wanted to ride. At 19, I had a spinal fusion and laminectomy.

The doctor mentioned I might develop some arthritis at the site of the surgery later in life.

“Uh huh,” I said. Later in life was a million years away. After I healed — a two-year process — I went back to riding. I never fell again. I took lessons, a wise move that might have prevented youthful injuries, but my parents were unwilling to pay for lessons. Too frivolous.

Fast forward 47 years, arthritis began to make inroads. I had to stop riding. My doctor explained if I fell, I might not get up. Ever. The fusion had disintegrated. I was glued together by arthritis, nature’s way of keeping my spine intact. When the pain got worse, I went back to my doctor.

“Surely,” I said to him, “you can do something for me.”

“No,” he said. “Pain management. Cortisone shots will help. For a while.”

I’ve been down cortisone road. The shots do help for a few weeks, after which the pain returns. The human spine isn’t engineered for bipeds. Many of us have spinal weaknesses we don’t know about until after we get hurt. When I was young, a bad back was not so common. With the passing of decades, almost everyone I know has some kind of back problem. Unless you are very lucky, the chances you’ve had a back injury are high. So I live with pain and quite possibly, so do you.

75-Reclining-CR-69

There are a lot of members of the back pain club. After you join the club, you usually get a lifetime membership. I finally discovered I have a problem I can’t fix. No amount of persistence, research, medical attention or cleverness is going to make it go away. So I’ve designed the world to make my back happy. We have a back-friendly home. From our adjustable bed, to the reclining sofa, our place is kind to spines.

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There’s no moral to this story. It’s just life. If you don’t die young and live an active life, you hurt. The years roll on, pain gets worse.

I yearn for a scooter, but the one I want doesn’t exist. I want a scooter that’s an ATV, but weighs like a bicycle and folds up. There is no such thing. I probably couldn’t afford it if it did, but I can dream.

I have had to accept reality but I do not have to like it. Sooner or later we all face an intractable problem or several. It’s a nasty shock if you’ve always believed you are unstoppable. When you hit that wall, I recommend you get some very comfortable furniture.

If the moccasins pinch, wear them

I just read another post on the power of positive thinking. I was glad to hear again how I can conquer pain and make my problems go away by believing they will.  Does God really reserve his blessing for those with a positive attitude?

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

I don’t think there’s a malevolent deity or evil destiny stalking me or anyone else. Life just is. It’s not omens and portents: it’s stuff that happens.

Positive thinking is not bad.  It’s just that positive thinkers have a way of forgetting how suffering people don’t necessarily want a pep talk. They want to be in less, preferably no, pain. They want love, comfort and sympathy. My suggestion? Listen to them, find out what they want and do your best to give it to them. Your positivity may cure your problems and you are welcome to use it to make yourself feel better. Just don’t impose it on me or anyone else. Don’t force people to smile when they want to cry so you can feel okay.

I’ve got more than a few physical problems that are difficult to manage. There are bad days. I want to avoid dragging others down, but I have given up trying to make everyone else feel better by internalizing everything.

It’s unfair to tell people to relax, be happy, smile and that will make everything fine. It’s not true. Internalizing pain and sadness increases stress and makes problems worse. Don’t stop believing, but quit imposing. If you can make your own pain go away by force of will, good for you. In the meantime, remember: only you are you. The rest of us are different. A single solution, attitude or way of thinking does not fit everyone.

It is said you cannot know anyone until you’ve walked in their moccasins. Be careful: those moccasins can pinch something fierce.

Out of action

Usually, I’m aiming for a catchy title, but I have to tell you this is not a catchy title. I really am out of action.

I have a bad back. It’s been a mess since I was a kid falling off one horse too many. It was rebuilt in 1967 — a fusion and laminectomy using saws and chisels — because  that was long before micro surgical techniques.

I'm a four and a half. Apparently that means I'm disable. I sure feel disabled right now.

I’m a four and a half. Apparently that means I’m disabled. I sure feel disabled right now.

I’ve had a lot of problems with my back over the years and the fusion, which was bone paste made from a piece of my hip, began to disintegrate about 25 years ago, to be replaced by a massive invasion and a virtual sheathing of arthritic calcification. That’s not altogether bad. Without the arthritis, I’d literally fall apart.

A couple of weeks ago, after months of bursitis in my hips making it more and more painful and difficult for me to do much of anything, I went to the neurologist in Boston. I had a couple of cortisone shots in my hips that overnight made my it possible for me to walk again. I was thrilled.

A few days later, what had been a nagging pain in my back morphed from something I could ignore, to something that demanded I deal with it. Immediately. For the last couple of days, I’ve spent all my time trying to find anything that would make it stop hurting.

Today, I gave up, took the heating pad and my agonized spine and went to bed where I’ve been all day and will probably return in an hour or two. The way it’s feeling right now, I might be back in bed sooner than that.

I’m quite literally out of action. In the 45 years since my spinal surgery, with all the problems I’ve had, I’ve never been laid out like this. I’ve been in a lot of pain, yes, but somehow, I’ve managed to gut it out. This time, I just can’t. If you don’t hear from me, that’s why.

I know I am far from the only one with back problems, but somehow I thought what with all the rest stuff I’ve gone through, all the medical crises, the uncountable numbers of surgeries, that somehow I was going to manage to miss this particular one. Apparently not. Please accept my apologies. I’ll write when I can sit up long enough without screaming in pain and I mean that literally.

Assuming doctors are back from vacation after New Year‘s, I will seek medical assistance. I’m assured that cortisone in my spine might actually help. I’m pretty desperate and right now, a needle or two in my spine sounds like a great idea.

Life hurts

My granddaughter and many of her friends are having big problems in high school. Their problems are identical to those of my generation but this generation is even more clueless than we were. They have no idea how to cope. They are like those monkeys raised with wire mothers, at a loss to relate to other monkeys. 

They don’t know the difference between a real friend and a casual acquaintance. The glib labeling from social media is, for them, the real deal … until they discover it’s not.

Becoming a misfit in high school is easy. If you are different, you are going to have social problems. How large these problems loom is a function of the vulnerability of the individual.

In the “good old days” when I was growing up, rumors and lies spread no faster than however long it took to pass the word from person to person. Today, with the click of a mouse on a Facebook page or mobile phone, the same meanness, backbiting and gossip that has always been with us can be distributed instantly to hundreds, thousands, even millions of people. It’s the same stuff, but it gets around faster.

Schools can’t deal with the problem. It’s too amorphous. They can’t control the Internet, text messages, and social media sites. It’s so easy to pick on someone. It doesn’t even have to be intentional.

A moment of pique, thoughtlessness, a casual reference, ordinary gossip can do an enormous amount of damage to a fragile adolescent ego. The electronic world is as real to them … maybe even more real … than traditional relationships. I’m not sure they understand there is a difference.

I’ve watched the dynamics of this first generation of young people for whom cell phones and computers are as ordinary as electricity was for us. I’ve watched them sit together in groups preferring to text each other rather than talk. I’ve wondered how in the world they would ever learn how to have a real relationship, to make the kind of friends that last a lifetime.

The answer is that they haven’t learned. They are lost.

They are starting to pay the price of hiding behind electronic communication. They have used it as a substitute for face time, conversation, of really being with other people.

Shy kids have had no motivation to get over it. They can’t handle even the simplest conversation. They don’t get it that people can be two-faced, dishonest, and just mean and that it isn’t personal. People are what they are. We older people could help if they let us, but we’re fossils, stupid old people suggesting they talk to each other, spend time together, that you can’t become “best friends for life” by exchanging emails.

They’ve relied on words alone, out of context of the rest of the package: facial expression and body language.  They have never learned to “read” people. They can’t see when someone is lying.

Growing up is hard. Being a teenager is rough. It was as true 50 years ago as today, but we never had the choice of hiding behind a computer.

A lot of young people have had only minimal contact with other kids. There are a lot of forces at work, not only the hyper-availability of technology but also the fearfulness parents, the limited availability of free time, the overly structured lives kids have. They can’t just hang out. They aren’t encouraged to do stuff  independently.

If my generation suffered from unwillingness to discipline our kids, this generation of parents not only doesn’t discipline kids, they smother and over-protect them from life itself. They label everything as bullying. They do not encourage their offspring to face problems and assure them they can handle it, that you don’t get emotional strength by avoiding life. Instead they buy into the endless psychobabble and make their kids feel even more helpless.

I’m not surprised at the problems. Despite my son and daughter-in-law’s contention that kids are meaner than they were, I don’t agree. Kid, people, are no different than they ever were.  The difference is that parents are afraid to let their kids work out their problems. They don’t let them grow up. Sometimes, I think they don’t really want them to grow up, as if they want them to stay permanently dependent and childish. They have no idea how much they will regret it.

It’s natural to want to protect your children from hurt, but you shouldn’t protect them from life.

Life hurts. Life is also wonderful, rich, rewarding, exciting. But never pain-free.

There’s no turning back from technology. Nor would most of us want to dump our computers and cell phones. There does need to be a better balance. Technology won’t produce relationships. Exchanging words is not bonding. Sending texts and emails can’t establish closeness.

It’s a tall order convincing teenagers that emotional pain is part of growing up. Nothing but experience will help toughen them up so they can function in the world.

No one gets a pass from pain. Money won’t buy it. Private schools won’t keep life away. There’s only one way to become a survivor — experience. These kids need to get out and live. Put the cell phones away and talk to each other. Get involved. Let life happen to them, be swept away by events and emotions. Learn that feelings are manageable … with practice.

They aren’t getting the message. Maybe if they read it on Facebook?