THE BEST WAY TO CATCH SOMETHING – Marilyn Armstrong

In my many long years of getting sick, sicker, even sicker, and under the wings of hovering Death, I have concluded there are four ways uniquely suited to get you sick, sicker, then sickest.

I do not count sitting in a doctor’s office full of people NOT wearing masks who claim their cough is “just an allergy.”

No, I mean “out in the real world” where shit happens.

These are the four best ways to catch whatever is going around.

1 – Be an elementary school teacher. You will be sick ALL the time. Just keep the Tamaflu handy and the tissues and throat lozenges nearby.

2 – Work in a mall. You will earn very little money and you are doomed to endless disease. A single sneeze can infect everyone in half the mall. Two sneezes? Total collapse of all immune systems.

3 – Be a working reporter. You will meet everyone everywhere and at least 75% of them will have something lurking, just waiting for you and your cameraman to show up. When Garry was working, he had a cold, the flu, bronchitis, sore throats, ear infections. You name it, he had it. Four days later? I had it too. We believe in sharing.

This probably applies to politicians on the stump and performers on tour. Which is probably why they won’t shake hands. All they see are germs.

4 – Take an airplane anywhere. The recycled air is putrid. I swear this is true — takes whatever diseases every passenger has on the plane and pumps it up. I have never taken a flight anywhere and not gotten sick within 10 days.

Except Arizona. Maybe it’s that lovely, hot, dry air or something. We survived both trips to Arizona and we felt actually better after a week in the warm, dry air.

I should add one more: life in the cold north of America where it’s always damp and the air is full of allergens. And never, ever go to see the doctor if you aren’t already diseased unless you know for sure nobody sick will be there. Those allergic coughs  are not allergies.

IS THERE MORE MONEY THAN MONTH? OR MORE MONTH THAN MONEY? – Marilyn Armstrong

Depletion is our current financial state. This is because this is the time when we pay the mortgage.

It’s The Big Bill of the Month and it pretty much sucks us completely dry until the next fly by of Social Security. We get through the month, but there is usually more month than money. They would have to take away at least a week of month (and probably add one more check) to make it come out even.

I am also contemplating whether or not having taken — as of this morning — THREE antibiotics and a good deal of Flovent — if I am improved from yesterday. I thought when I could get up from the john without a sky hook and grabbing onto the sink, I must be better. But I don’t feel better right now and going back to bed sounds way too yummy.

Regardless, I need to sit up for a while. Drainage. Garry’s sore throat is gone. Now he feels bad everywhere. Welcome to my world.

Photo: Garry Armstrong

I actually had to put the drugs from the doctor on a credit card yesterday. I hate that. The clouds are piling up, the temperature is dropping and we are getting sleet for the weekend.

How is this fair? I ask you? Okay, don’t make me rich. Just make me warmer. Make a few flowers bloom.

Is that too much to ask?

YESTERDAY I SAID I WAS TOO SICK TO DO ANYTHING – Marilyn Armstrong

Glow little glow worm — glimmer — glimmer —

We are off to the doctor. Garry is deep into sore throat country and I’m just coughing. I had the sore throat earlier. It’s still sore, but I no longer feel like someone cut my throat. The microbes have moved to my chest.

Finally, the doctor comes around.

Meanwhile, since my contractor — the one who was supposed to fix the window and the front wall — has vanished, I’m looking for another one.

I bet they are sick, too. We probably GOT sick at the mall.

What IS it with these guys? They want work. They advertise for work. They complain online about how poor they are — but they don’t show up for work or even estimates. The don’t return emails or phone calls and they are NEVER in the office. Maybe they would be LESS POOR if they actually showed up to do the jobs for which they contract? And answered the calls for work? And gave estimates and then — dates to work?

At least I didn’t pay this one up front. It’s nice to be merely frustrated as opposed to out of money.

I’ve got another guy coming Monday. When I said I was sick and said “Um, I would prefer to NOT get a cold … so … like … how about Monday?”

I said Monday would be excellent, especially since I still thought today was Thursday and the doctor was tomorrow. I’ll either be better by Monday or in the hospital working on breathing without machinery. I’m expecting to be better though. I really hate when I breathe and I get that crackly bubbling noise. It sounds like I’m breathing through suds.

Glimmer. Glimmer.

More mall. People still come, but it’s not crowded . Maybe on Black Friday? To be fair, this mall has NEVER been crowded. It’s always empty yet it’s been here for a couple of dozen years.

Is that bubbling noise in my bronchial tubes anything like actual glimmering? Do people glimmer? Are my lungs glimmering? My throat is store, my head hurts and I don’t feel smart, capable, creative, or anything other than tired, tired, tired. There isn’t a pill on earth that will make me feel better.

Today we were supposed to get weather in the 70s with bright sunshine. The temperatures are really in the 40s. It’s grey, dark and probably going to rain. I believe we skipped right past “the nice day” and moved into nasty weekend weather.

I have more than 500 pictures I took over the weekend, mostly of the Curley’s show, but a few others. I’ve processed a bunch, but there are so many it will take a while. Lots of duplicates, too.

Mostly what I’ve got is a fierce headache. It’s going around, which is why the doctors are slammed with patients. If it’s going around, we’ve probably got “it.” I often think we should never leave home at all. It’s safer that way.

QUICK AND EASY STRESS CONTROL – PART 4

This is the final part of a four-part series. You can read the others here: Part I, Part 2, Part 3.


Stress

Everyday stress is a killer. Literally.

The greatest damage from stress is caused by excessive triggering of the fight-or flight (stress) response. These throw your entire system into high gear on a chemical and biological level. Your system is designed to handle no more than a few fight-or-flight responses a week.

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Instead, our modern world bombards us with more than fifty such (brief) episodes each day. Over time, this unrelenting stress wears down and damages every part of your body in some way.

Your body can’t distinguish between minor, everyday stress and those which threaten life and loved ones. So we respond to all stressors as if they were charging tigers.

Moreover, your body doesn’t distinguish between physical threats which require action, and psychological threats which require thought or a verbal response — or potential threats which are worries about the future and don’t even yet (or maybe ever) exist.

Thoughts alone can trigger a full blown, physiological stress reaction throughout your body. Your body “believes” your thoughts are real.

If you think about a fight you recently had or might have, your system reacts as if you were having the fight now! The good news is you can trick your unconscious, internal systems into thinking you are sitting on the beach with a tall, cold drink in hand.

This is what gives visualization and mindfulness such power.

The key is visualizing in detail. To demonstrate the power of thoughts and images on your body, close your eyes and imagine, in vivid detail, that you are eating a lemon. Soon your mouth will begin to pucker. You will start to salivate. Your stomach will start secreting the fluids to digest a lemon. Your mind will have tricked your body into thinking you were eating a lemon.

Visualization

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This is a visualization you can tailor to your mood and whatever time you have available:

  1. Close your eyes.
  2. Imagine yourself in a place you love — the woods, the beach, or some place which holds special meaning for you.
  3. Make sure it’s a place where you feel secure, safe, comfortable, and happy.
  4. Focus on the details of your imagined scene.
  5. Work with each of your senses, one at a time. Focus on everything you see. Colors. Shapes. Light. Shadows.
  6. Work from the ground up.
  7. Focus on the sounds around you, including the silence.
  8. Take a few deep breaths, then tune into the smells. Allow scents to trigger positive emotions.
  9. Focus on the variety of textures around you. Imagine yourself touching the items in your environment – smooth, rough, hard, soft, and so on.
  10. Focus on any movement in the scene you have created for yourself. Clouds in the sky, waves in the ocean.
  11. Finally imagine doing something you love in your mental oasis. Put your feet in a lake. Ski down a mountain. Play with a pet.
  12. Continue the experience until you feel a sense of peace and well-being.

Gradually ease yourself back into your day focusing on your breath, then the sensations in the room. When you’re ready, slowly open your eyes and take another deep, abdominal breath.

Mindfulness

Mindfulness is a slightly different way to focus on the present moment. Focusing on the present decreases tension and stress. It increases your enjoyment of life. You can give your body and mind a mini-vacation from worry about the past and the future, and reduce the damage stress can do over time.

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You can practice mindfulness while you are doing anything from washing dishes or folding laundry, to walking upstairs or even eating.

All you need do is spend a few minutes focusing on the details and sensations of the moment. Use all of your senses, one at a time.

Mindful eating is a good exercise for beginners. For example, while eating an orange you can focus on the color and roughness of the skin and the different colors and shapes of the segments. Then focus on the feel of the rind, pulp and juice on your hands, face, lips and tongue and the sensations in your mouth, throat and stomach as you bite, chew and swallow. Then turn to the smell and the taste of each bite and how they change as you go through the process of eating. Come back to the real world slowly and focus on abdominal breathing for a few moments before you get on with your day.

Aggravation

Life is aggravating. It just is. You can’t completely eliminate everyday annoyances or anxiety, so be prepared to change how your body reacts to them. I’ve explained abdominal breathing, Progressive Muscle Relaxation, mindful walking, visualization, and mindfulness. All these techniques can reduce the level of stress stored up in your body and mind. Using these can dramatically improve the quality of your life.

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Do what you can, whenever you can for as long as you can. Just … do something. No matter how small, anything you do will protect you and help heal your mind and body. In the process, you’ll develop skills which will serve you well in the future by allowing you to take control of your responses to the stress life inevitably brings.

QUICK AND EASY STRESS CONTROL – PART 3

I ‘ve talked about breathing and visualization as relaxation techniques. This week, I’d like to add a third element – movement.

Human-Body-Muscles

Coordinating breath and movement can calm you down, center you, clear your head, and focus your mind, and help the relaxation spread to the muscles throughout your body.

Another benefit is that the physical movement gives your mind a focal point that can not only deepen relaxation but can also allow you to relax when you’re too restless, fidgety, listless or unmotivated for the purely mental techniques.

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When you are concentrating on moving your body in a certain way, it is easier to keep your mind off stressful thoughts that creep into your mind. However, thoughts will invariably intervene at some point when they do, just acknowledge them and immediately click the remote and switch back to the breathing channel. Then refocus on your movements.

One classic exercise that combines breathing and movement is Progressive Muscle Relaxation or PMR. This can be done standing, sitting or when you are having trouble sleeping, in bed. Body focus techniques not only help insomnia but also improve headaches and stomach problems if done for a period of time when you’re having symptoms.

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In PMR, you first tighten and then release major muscles, starting with feet and moving up your body. Doing this helps you learn what your muscles feel like when they are tense versus relaxed. It may sound strange, but most people don’t realize their muscles are tense until the tension gets bad enough to hurt.

You may need to learn how and when to relax your muscles. PMR not only helps you relax, it increases your awareness of muscle tension. Soon you’ll be able to prevent muscle tension from building by stopping it before it gets serious.

Progressive Muscle Relaxation

Start by squeezing your toes together as if you were making fists with your feet. Hold the squeeze and feel the tension in every foot muscle. Then let everything go, all at once, as you exhale.

Try to feel the muscles in your feet relaxing and loosening up. Next squeeze your calves and thighs, hold the squeeze feel the tension and then release it quickly, always on an exhale. Feel all the tension evaporating from your legs.

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Focus on the contrasting sensations of tension and relaxation, tightness and openness. Continue up through your body tightening and releasing, sequentially, your buttocks then your chest and shoulders, scrunching your shoulders up to your ears. Then move onto your arms and hands, making fists and squeezing them tightly.

Hold and release the muscles in your throat and neck and then scrunch your face together and squeeze your eyes shut, hold, and then release. Open your mouth as wide as you can and stick your tongue out as far as you can. Hold and release. Then bring your focus back to your abdominal breathing, perhaps counting out an exhale that is twice as long as your inhale. Gradually transition back to your day.

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Short Form PMR

There is also a short form PMR when you are pressed for time. Divide your body into three sections, from your feet up to your face. Then tense all the muscles in each section, hold them and release all at once with an exhale, as you did above. Then move onto the next section. For example, feet, legs, thighs and buttocks are one section, chest arms and shoulders are another section and neck, throat, face and jaw are the last section.

Once you’re comfortable with PMR, you can try a Mental Body Scan. As with PMR you can do a detailed body scan, or use a short form. Like before, begin at your feet and work up your body. This time, though, just mentally scan for tension. When you find tightness in your muscles, mentally release it. I like to visualize the tension floating away from my body, like steam, evaporating into the air.

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You can also imagine the tight muscle opening up, spreading a warm, heavy feeling as it releases all its tension. Then let this sensation spread slowly up your body. Scan every part of your body in as much detail as you have time for. For example, you can divide the face into scalp, forehead, eyes, nose, lips, cheeks, jaw and tongue or you can treat the face as a whole. Either way, make sure your jaw is loose and your teeth are apart, not clenched!

Mindful Walking

Another exercise that combines breathing and movement is Mindful Walking, which you can do it whenever and wherever you are walking. Start Abdominal Breathing with a 3 or a 5 count inhale and the same count for the exhale. Then count the number of evenly paced steps you take per inhale and per exhale, using only odd numbers for your count. This insures that you start each inhale on a different foot.

For 3-count walking, this means:

  • Inhale – left, right, left
  • Exhale – right, left, right.

A 5-count walk would be:

  • Inhale – left, right, left, right, left
  • Exhale – right, left, right, left, right.

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If you want to increase your relaxation, elongate your exhale and increase the number of steps per exhale. So, for example, you could inhale to a count of 3 and exhale to a count of 5 or inhale to a count of 5 and exhale to a count of 9 (remember to only use odd numbers and keep your steps steady and even).

If you want to energize yourself, increase the length of your inhalation and the number of steps per inhale while shortening your exhalation and the number of steps on each exhale. You could, for example, inhale to the count of 5 and exhale to the count of 3.

I find when I walk like this, I don’t get as tired or winded. I end my walk feeling more relaxed and centered as well as refreshed.

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Now you know some techniques that can help you circumvent your body’s stress response, reduce muscle tension and quiet your mind. This should help you get through each day feeling more positive emotionally and more relaxed and energized physically.

You shouldn’t have to get more stressed trying to find time for stress control. Do what you can when you can and you’ll find whatever you do, there will be definite benefits.

NOT FRANTIC – THE ONGOING MEDICAL MESS

NOT FRANTIC

The past few weeks have been intense. I lose track of time. Retirement tends to make our days and weeks run into each other seamlessly. It can be difficult to remember when something happened — whether it was yesterday or a week ago.

I generally don’t mind the streaming life we lead. It’s peaceful and I’ve grown fond of our quiet life in the country.

Photo: Garry Armstrong

The medical stuff, though, has lent a level of pressure and complexity that has made me more alert. The first was the realization that the hospital we supposedly depend on is a genuine, card-carrying mess. It’s not just me saying so, either. The Internet is full of upset people who have registered complaints and never had them addressed. Nurses assure us that the hospital is “atrocious,” which isn’t the word you want used to describe your primary medical facility. This wouldn’t be such a big deal for me because I have my cardiologist and oncologist at other facilities. I am graced by Blue Cross’s PPO for Medicare patients which lets us use any doctor and hospital.

While I’ve been getting aggravated about my own little issue, I’ve been getting more worried about Garry’s cochlear implant. We have only seen the doctor at UMass. There is more I don’t know about this procedure than I ought.

There are many ways to do it. I haven’t done my homework. Meanwhile, putting Garry in the hands of the people at UMass? If I can’t trust them to take a simple message, why would I want to put my beloved into their hands?


Hospitals aren’t about doctors. The people who run hospitals are receptionists, office managers, nurse’s aides, and nurses. You don’t see doctors much. They come, perform surgery, drop by to tell you you’re fine (or not fine or will be fine), but they are rarely visible on a hospital floor. All  your daily business will be managed by the underpaid, overworked, and often foreign-language-speaking minimum-wage workers who slouch your way when you press that “I need help” button.


I’ve been overdosed with medication to which I’m allergic despite my urgent warnings. Found myself with no functioning lungs and a stopped heart — information that was conveniently never written into my records. Hallucinating from morphine, to which I am allergic.  Fed food guaranteed to kill me if I was foolish enough to eat it.

Why?

Because nurse’s aides in most big hospitals don’t speak or read English. The doctor’s messages are meaningless to them. They have no idea what they are doing because no one trained them. And some of them just don’t care. All they want it a paycheck and to get off their tired feet.

They are greatly overworked and deeply underpaid. What do their bosses expect will happen? Are you really going to get top quality service from these downtrodden people?

Only at Beth Israel were real nurses attending me. Everywhere else, my interactions were with aides and orderlies and occasional a receptionist at a desk somewhere. Conversations were with rude, short-tempered women (sometimes men) who followed “rules” that could kill you because the human mouthing “the rules” didn’t care if you lived or died. The rules were the important part. They were trained to follow the rules. If something went wrong, well, no one can blame them. They followed the rules. They did what they were supposed to do. If there was collateral damage — like a few deaths here and there — oh well. Oops.


No hospital will ever be better than its lowest paid, most exhausted worker. If you can’t improve the quality of your staff with intelligent training, your hospital will always be a horror show for patients.


I should be frantic and would be, but my Blue Cross Plan gives me choices. My alternatives will be less convenient, but at least we will feel safe.

Safe seems the place to be.

HARD DAY WITH CROCUSES

Yesterday was a long day. Between the telephone all morning trying to arrange a simple doctor’s visit — then going off to find out if I have cancer again (if you’ve had it once, you always wonder if it will come back), I was well and truly done by the time I got home.

I know I must be improving, though. A year ago, a day like today and I’d be barely able to crawl into bed. Now, I can manage to put together dinner, even eat dinner. I’m tired, but I’m still human. It may not seem like much to you, but it’s a big deal for me.

Garry thought I should write to the hospital and tell them it had a few issues it needed to address. It’s the only big hospital in the county and it is important not only to us, but to every family in the area. It’s not like Boston where you have 20 good hospitals at your doorstep.

I agreed with him in principle, but quickly discovered UMass doesn’t actually have an area were you can comment about “customer service” issues. The internet is full of complaints they’ve yet to answer. There are a lot of people upset about it. It’s infuriating to have just one really good local hospital and so many problems. There’s no reason for it, either.

They have a serious communication problem.

So I wrote to the head of the hospital and its PR consultant. I casually mentioned Garry and they casually called me back in less than half an hour. I’m pretty sure I’ll get to see a neurologist. Pretty sure. Not positive, but at least I feel I have a better grip on it.

Between UMass Memorial, Dana-Farber, and a trip to the grocery, we came home beat. I believe this was a productive day, but I am exhausted. Every part of me hurts.

I’m going to need a long sleep to get myself glued together again.

The best news of the day? We have flowers. Crocuses and the shoots of day lilies to come. And it was warm enough to go out in a light jacket. Spring really is coming, finally. I have proof!