RIDING IT OUT – Marilyn Armstrong

For almost two years, I’ve barely used the chair lift. I was glad it was there and it was useful for hauling groceries and suitcases upstairs and that was good for both of us. But lately, I’ve started using it. I realized there was absolutely nothing to be gained by dragging myself up two staircases, gasping, wheezing, with heart pounding.

Although I can —  and do — get up and down the stairs, it’s slow and getting slower. It’s more than a bit nerve-wracking too. It takes me a while to take that first downward step (up is easier) and I’m always sure I’m going to fall. I have fallen a lot over the years, including when I was younger. I can’t seem to find my balance going down.

One step at a time and carrying packages, stairs are impossible and dangerous. Riding up and down the stairs takes the fear and pain out of the process of getting in and out of the house. I’m okay walking on the sidewalk and the floors, but the stairs put such a strain on my lower spine and hips, I went from feeling okay to feeling ready to collapse.

It was time to actually use the chair lift.

Not only is it a way to get upstairs not on my feet, but it ‘s also possible to get someone in a wheelchair into the house and up to our living level. Before that, we’ve had to tell anyone with disabilities that our house was unready for them.

I reached the end of assuming that I’m going to get better and the stairs won’t be as difficult. Asthma is worse, probably because it’s untreated and my spine is worse, especially at the S1 juncture which was never fused — unlike the three discs above it. The pressure on the spinal cord is serious and unlikely to improve. There’s no exercise that will improve it.

It’s my final nod to the realities of my life, the “giving in” to the pain as something that won’t get better. The new drugs I’m taking help quite a bit — as long as I walk on relatively flat ground. I can climb a little bit if I am very careful. I can cook and clean in the house and if the ground is not rough, I’m mobile. To a point.

When I’m tired, I have to take it seriously. I need to stop and rest. When I do that, I don’t fall apart and I stay reasonably well. No amount of goodwill, determination, or optimism will change the condition of my spine. I think not hauling myself up and downstairs will probably marginally improve my mobility.

I cannot begin to tell you how much this isn’t what I envisioned for my life as a senior. I was planning to be a dashing senior. Like in the movies. Gray and wise, but ready to do it all.

Sometimes giving in is the right thing to do. I wanted to force myself to be that snazzy senior I imagined. Overall, I think it’s better if I stay alive and able to move!

ONE PEOPLE, ONE PLANET, ONE PLAN TO RULE THEM ALL – Marilyn Armstrong

FOWC with Fandango — Repercussions

Much is made of the U.S.’s contributions to greenhouse gas emissions, as well as particulate air emission, and plastic in the oceans. Rightfully so. We make major contributions, especially considering our size relative to other areas in the world.

Carbon emissions around the globe

The United States has a big chunk of this, but China’s piece is bigger with the EU, India, and Russia not far behind. Saudi Arabia is doing its best to catch up with the biggest polluters and doing a not half-bad job of it, too.

In point of fact, in all categories of terrible things we are doing to the environment, no one country is doing even the majority of the damage. We may not be able to work together to achieve positive things like peace, but we are very good at working towards unified planetary destruction that can take down every country on this planet, regardless of its location or form of government. Race and religion are immaterial.

When we do bad things — without any forethought or planning — we do a mighty good job of it.

Biggest ocean polluters. Surprised that the U.S. is not at the top? But China is — and that’s where everyone sends the work that needs doing. They may be the biggest polluters, but we all helped put them there.

I think most people (at least people who aren’t our government!) recognize something very bad is happening to Earth. It won’t ruin the Earth, mind you. The planet will repair itself. It just needs a few hundred thousand years, but it’ll get the job done.

It is us — people and other mammals — who will pay the price. We will destroy ourselves and all the things we love. Unless we can find some way to do the one, single thing humans have never been good at: COOPERATING. The repercussions of a failure to work together as a species are overwhelming and incontrovertible unless you are the U.S.’s buffoon president — or someone who “reports” on Fox News.

International energy efficiency

We were doing better at dealing with energy efficiency, though with the changes Trump has made, we’ll need another year of monitoring to see how much his interference has altered our position.

It’s not just total emissions by nation, but how much each individual in a particular country uses because this metric shows what an alteration dealing with climate change will make to an individual life

We do surprisingly poorly on deaths from air pollution. Much of the problem is the result of the massive wildfires — which are the result of the heating up of the earth which goes back to greenhouse gases to which most nations are making substantial contributions.

It’s all connected. We are connected.

The World Resources Institute publishes newsletters on various environmental issues and other international issues such as air, food, water, governance, etc. It’s a good place to get summary information on the climate and other world changes.

We are one human species living on a single planet. The planet can survive nicely without us, but we cannot survive without the planet. We not only need a leader with brains in his head and concern for fellow humans living in this world, but we also need an international, united approach to dealing with climate change. That means every country on every continent, regardless of how it is governed or its race, religion, or history.

For probably the first time in our history, we will work together or we will die. Not all at once. As T.S. Eliot put it so elegantly:

This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
Not with a bang but a whimper.

WHEN YOU GET TOO OLD TO BE COST-EFFECTIVE – Marilyn Armstrong

DISCOVERING I’M PART OF THE EMERGING DEMOCRATIC RESISTANCE (ALSO LEFTWING, SOCIALIST, AND NO DOUBT COMMUNIST)


If you have asthma or any kind of chronic medical problem that requires continuing care and medication, that’s the message you are getting. We have had a brief interruption during which almost everyone had access to at least basic medical resources. You could go to the doctor, get some medicine. Have your cancer removed, your broken leg treated. Now … well … who knows what lies ahead.

If you’re on Medicare, that’s the message you’ve been getting for a while already. Several years. They’ve been chipping away at the benefits. Fewer dollars for medication. Fewer covered medications. Deeper deductibles for tests. The out-of-pocket costs for an MRI or CAT-scan are ridiculous. Garry hasn’t had any major medical issues, but I’ve had enough for both of us.

Yet, I turned down a cancer CAT-scan last year because I didn’t have the $450 co-pay … and I’ve had cancer twice, so it wasn’t a decision made lightly.

medicare__estelle_carol___bob_simpsonMedicare doesn’t cover eyeglasses, dentures, dental care of any kind, CATscans, MRIs, or asthma inhalers. In the 1990s, when my asthma finally got bad enough to require treatment, a daily inhaler cost (without insurance) about $75. Which wasn’t cheap, but I could manage it, especially if I didn’t use it every day (no matter what the label advised).

One day, two or three years ago, the same Advair inhaler shot up to more than $500 a month. Medicare will only pay for about $12 of that price. Although they are not paying for it, they will charge the entire price of the medication against my annual drug benefit.

Let me repeat that because you probably think it doesn’t make any sense.

It doesn’t make sense, but it’s true. If a drug costs $535 per month and Medicare contributes $12, they charge all $535 against my annual drug benefit. The amount of the benefit has been dropping each year while medication prices have soared. This makes sense only if the real goal is to kill off the older generation.

In another bizarre but real piece of anti-intuitive reasoning, if you are prescribed a medication, towards the cost of which Medicare pays not a penny, and you pay for it out-of-pocket, Medicare still charges the entire price of the prescription against your benefit. “What?” you cry. Nonsensical, but true.

It’s a lose-lose. If you don’t get any medication, you will have trouble breathing. If you do get the medication, it’ll break the bank and burn through your benefits, even though Medicare isn’t contributing anything towards the cost.

It’s absurd and true.

medicare confusion

From the government’s point of view, I am not cost-effective. I am sure my compassionate government would prefer I cast off my mortal coil. Save them a few bucks.

Never mind that over a lifetime of work, Garry and I paid enough taxes to fund a small country. Our contribution vastly exceeded any amount we will get back. Even now, we aren’t exactly free-loaders. We pay income taxes, excise taxes, and some hefty property taxes. And Medicare, while not expensive (compared to no medical care), is not free.

Ever since I turned 65, it’s been downhill.

The day I turned 65, I was dumped by MassHealth (Medicaid). I hoped I’d be protected by my disabled status. I’d been on disability for years which was why I was entitled to MassHealth.

Medical marijuanaNo problem getting around that. Social Security reclassified me, eliminating my disabled status. Poof — I’m just old and not disabled.

They switched me to standard Social Security, so I get the same monthly check but without the extra medical protection conferred by disability or the other discounts on electricity and heating oil. They also lowered the poverty guideline so we no longer qualify for any extra help on anything — not fuel, medication, electricity and are not entitled to senior housing. In short, we get nothing. Because apparently when you turn 65, your costs go down. You don’t need money when you get old. Nice.

We’ve outlived our usefulness, so how come we aren’t dead? Why do we stubbornly cling to life? If we cared about our fellow humans, we’d get out of the way.

My doctor found some free samples of asthma medication so if I’m lucky, it will keep me breathing for another 6 months. Used cautiously and only when I’m really desperate.

As of today, we have a president — if you want to dignify him with that title — dedicated to making the lives of everyone whose life is already difficult, worse. Compassion, common decency, basic fairness? What? Huh?

medicine wheel 8

Today was the first time, I realized being a Democrat is not just being part of a political party, but makes me part of “the emerging Democratic resistance.”

I have to admit, being part of an emerging Democratic resistance sounds more romantic than just being old, sick, poor and not Republican. Maybe they’ll write books about us. Sing ballads. Talk about how brave we were right up until the moment when they put us up against the wall and shot us.

MEDICAL QUESTIONS – Marilyn Armstrong

I got a questionnaire from some group associated with Blue Cross. They wanted to know if my problem — my trip to the doctor last April — was the result of a work-related injury. Considering that I’m 72-years-old and on Medicare, the odds don’t favor this being a work-related injury, but I’m always up for a laugh or two.

It was just basic “who are you” data until they got to when I started seeking assistance for this problem, listed as “Arthritis” which is very rarely a work-related injury, but I’m a good sport. So I listed August 1, 1965, as the original date I sought treatment since I know I had the surgery that August, but it’s hard to remember which day I went to the doctor. It has been a while.

Back in the day?

It wasn’t work-related then, either. Not only was I not yet employed at anything, but it was horse-related. Riding horses has never been part of any work I’ve ever done, though I wish it had been.

Now, I’m just waiting for them to call me back and ask for additional information. I know. I should be more respectful. Actually, maybe it was 1966?

RASPY FOR THAT FIRST ANNOYING CALL OF THE MORNING – Marilyn Armstrong

For the last few days, I’ve been waking up to the realization that I’m probably going to die of heart problems. Now, being as I’m already 72 — and I recognize that I and everyone else is going to die of something eventually — this isn’t shocking or surprising. Once I finally understood that this heart thing wasn’t an attack or a disease, but a genetic problem, a lot of things made more sense.

Lego set to get kids ready for that final play date. Seriously, no kidding. You’ll probably have to buy it on Amazon and have it delivered.

The cardiologist was very good about explaining the nature of the problem and how in families that have it, one out of every two children will have the condition. That was when I realized the surgery I’d had was not a cure but a temporary fix.

It was (is) an interim solution, although I’m beginning to think that life is an interim solution to eternity.
Dress code suggestions

How temporary? No one knows. At my age, everything — even my heart — grows slowly. It might take 20 years, by which time I could have been run down by a crazed FedEx driver or been done in by something else. Or it could be next year.

What I was told is that “So far, your heart is still pumping a reasonable amount of blood and you have an adequate number of red blood cells where they need to be. But the heart is growing. Again.” The implication was they will not repeat the surgery. The heart could last — even overgrown and thickened — decades, but the surgery might easily kill me. Or, as that old joke goes: “The surgery was a success, but the patient died.”

The Last Session

So I’m not going through an “Oh I’m going to die” crisis. More like doing a mental calculation about how long I’ve reasonably got. A few years? A decade? Two decades? More? No one has a measurement, so in the end, I’m still dealing with the same thing I was dealing with before: something will kill me. Probably my heart but give me a little time and who knows what else could pop up?

I don’t think you could get this many people out for my memorial unless the food was really great

Given my family history, I figure cancer or heart. Both run on both sides of the family, but aside from my mother, most people on both sides also manage to live a pretty long life, DNA notwithstanding.

It was at that moment that the phone rang. It nearly jarred me right out of bed. I swear it’s louder sometimes than others and this was a really loud morning.

I’m not kidding. It was the “Death Insurance” saleswoman. Alive, not recorded.

“How are you?” she said.

“Fine,” I rasped.

“As you probably know,” she began, “the price of funeral arrangements is exorbitant. So, we are selling … ”

“No!” I choked and hung up. Gee WHIZ!

My people

Seriously. Did I need that particular call as my first call of the week? It’s bad enough to get all this crap on television.

Please see Tom Curley’s ONLY OLD PEOPLE WATCH CABLE NEWS for more details on special advertising for the aging.

Couldn’t they at least have waited until after lunch?

SOLITUDE AND A STOMACH VIRUS – Marilyn Armstrong

RDP Thursday – SOLITUDE / SOLITARY

I was going to write something thoughtful about solitude, being solitary while writing and editing and processing photography. Something thoughtful about being artsy and creative.

Except I have this stomach virus and it is making me miserable.

I could go to the doctor where he would tell me I have a stomach virus, but I already know that. I’ve ruled out medication changes because, it turns out, a lot of people have this and I drank from the fountain at the hospital the other day.

There’s no better, faster, or more efficient way of catching a stomach virus than drinking from the bubbler at any hospital. That’s why so many of them have been disconnected. The problem was I was really thirsty and there was no water machine with cups anywhere. I was ready to find a bathroom and stick my head under the faucet, but someone pointed me at the bubbler (that’s what we call them in New England) and I was so glad to get something wet into my mouth, I wasn’t worrying about viruses.

I should have. I had just explained to Garry that the reason they’ve disconnected most fountains is that they are the best way to pass on viruses. They recycle the water and the viruses with it. You can pick up all kinds of things at a fountain — especially at a hospital which you just know is full of sick people. I was just there for an eye checkup, but who know who hit that fountain before I got to it?

Stomach viruses are easy to pick up and equally easy to pass along. Somehow, I have yet to pass this to Garry, which is nothing short of a miracle, but that’s probably because I’m refusing to cook. Just looking at the food is making me ill. Usually, we both get whatever the other one of us has. But this one is probably either water or food-borne, so maybe he’ll get lucky and miss it.

It coincided nicely with upcoming vacation plans. I think last night was the worst. All I wanted was to lie down and sip something with bubbles. Lacking ginger ale, I settled for coke.

It helped.

I didn’t want anything to eat, but Garry more or less forced me to eat something since I hadn’t eaten anything in 24 hours. Even bland food makes me sick. And I have a headache I can’t shake and I’m exhausted.

Today I’m just super cranky, the kind of person no one wants to be around including me. The only people not avoiding me are the dogs and they seem to be immune to people’s moods. Sweet old things.

I grumpily washed the kitchen floor this morning and grumpily straightened the bed and crabbily got dressed. I even snarled at the shower, which I have not forgiven for helping me fall down the other day. We did buy a bigger bathmat so I can reach the towel without having to step on the damp floor with my wet feet — which is what made me fall before.

I haven’t defrosted anything for dinner because there’s nothing in there I want to eat. I  may send Garry back to MacDonald’s. I can’t bring myself to defrost anything because I’ll put it on my plate and then I won’t eat it. The dogs are always willing to help me with unfinished food, but they are hefty enough without additional help.

I’m always surprised, even a little shocked, at how bad something minor like this makes me feel. It’s not lethal and not going to kill me. It’s not even bad enough to see the doctor or need antibiotics. I just feel like I want to yell at anyone who is near me. Washing the floor was good. It did not care that I was grousing at it the entire time. Why can’t it stay clean? Why does it keep needing to be washed?

I really need this to go away and I also need Garry to not catch it!

It’s going around. I discovered this morning if you type “what’s going around” into Google, it’ll tell you. Who needs a doctor when we have Google?

Solitude and solitary is my best bet. The less I interact with humans, the better for everyone. For one thing, they won’t catch this from me and I would be happier knowing I’m not passing it around. Also, I won’t snarl at them for no reason. I want someone to take care of me. Just … don’t talk to me when you do it. Bring me what I need (take your best guess). And be really quiet. Tiptoe.

This is bound to go away soon. I know I must be better than I was yesterday because I’m sitting up. I managed to get out of bed. That’s something, right?

According to several articles I’ve read, water fountains rarely contain viruses. But the problem is, the water in hospitals is suspect in the first place. A lot of public water isn’t very good and is of dubious quality, so if you don’t trust the water coming from your tap, you probably aren’t going to trust a fountain, either.

Our water comes from our own well and it is very clean, very cold, and the only thing it suffers from is an excess of iron which turns my white hair kind of yellow and leaves hard to remove rings on toilets. It’s probably good for us since iron is iron, whether you take it in a pill or drink it in your water. But the quality of most tap water in many parts of the world — this country too — is more than a little dubious. I’m sure folks in Flint and for that matter, in downtown Uxbridge, would attest to that.

STRAINS? NO BIG DEAL, RIGHT? – Marilyn Armstrong

RDP Tuesday: STRAIN

“Oh,” said the doctor on television. “It’s just a strain. Nothing to worry about.”

I always laugh, without much mirth when I hear that and you hear it often. If a bone isn’t broken, if a head hasn’t been bashed in and no one had a heart attack or a brain aneurysm, it’s “No big deal.”

It’s official. The doctor on television said so and we all nod like good little viewers.

Strains, sprains, and pulls are harder to heal than breaks. Bones usually heal, but cartilage, tendons, ligaments, muscles may heal and then again,  maybe not. All those stretchy pieces are in places that can’t be conveniently set. Ribs. Chest walls. Joints. Knees, hips, backs, groins. Ankles, feet, hands. Spines.

You can’t wrap these human parts in plaster or whatever they are using these days because the parts to which they are attached have to move. You break a small bone in your foot — common among hikers, skaters, skiers, runners — and while you can put a boot on the foot or a brace on the knee, you can’t lock it in place. It has to move because there are attached things that need to move.

We are all connected with strings

Your chest needs to move because you need air. When I was just out of the hospital, I asked how long it would take my sternum to heal.

“Three months,” they said.

Five months later I asked, “Really, how long before my chest heals?”

“Six months,” they assured me.

Five years later, it has not healed. The truth is, you can’t make it heal. There’s no magical medical voodoo that will make anything heal. Bones usually heal — but not always. Those stretchy bits are even less cooperative.

Anatomy. Knee Joint Cross Section Showing the major pieces which make the knee joint. I had the meniscus removed years ago. That was nothing. A bandaid!

When I tore all the ligaments and tendons on my left knee — just about 50 years ago — they wrapped me in plaster from thigh to ankle. I was young and everything healed except the anterior Crucis ligament — which has remained torn. Only surgery will fix it and the surgery doesn’t always work. It was considered a 50-50 bet when I was in my 20s and I turned down the option.

Maybe they’ve improved how they do it now, but since they can’t make my chest heal, I’m betting it’s the same story now. They just work with different equipment. They won’t fix the stretched ligaments in my right shoulder. Healing is slow at my age. So I don’t get repaired. I am told I have to be more careful.

Exactly how careful can I be beyond how careful I already am? All it takes is a shoe catching on a rug, a damp spot on the floor, a dog underfoot, or getting tangled in my own feet. Garry fell trying to put on his pants and all I did was hit a slightly damp patch on the linoleum floor. We weren’t trying to climb mountains or run the marathon.

Design of the shoulder (Garry had this surgery)

Strains may not kill you, but they sure can limit you. It took me years to remember to not fully extend my right arm or it would dislocate and more years to remember to put my feet down carefully so my knee wouldn’t slide out from under me. One error, one little fall, and you are back where you were. It is extremely frustrating, not to mention painful. But really, the pain is less of a problem than the aggravation. There nothing you can do but let that piece of you rest until it decides to feel better.

I often believe we haven’t been strung together with sturdy enough materials. I know I could use a major restringing!