THE WEEK DRAWS TO A CLOSE

I got to see some really great x-rays of my spine yesterday. Garry got to see them too and I gave him a short course in why Marilyn’s back hurts. And how come what hurts also keeps my spine in one piece.

FYI, I'm a level 4 -- or was at the time of my surgery.

I was level 4 at the time of my surgery.

When I was 20 years old (1967), my vertebrae L3 through L5 were surgically fused. Not the way they do it today using hardware, but by taking a piece of my hip bone, pounding it into paste, and thence into glue. They first removed (to the extent they could back then, before micro instrumentation) the discs which were herniated and ruptured. Not doing me any good anyhow. They did their best to wrap the nerves to protect them from additional damage. Then, they  doped me up, wrapped me in plaster from armpit to knees, and told me not to move for a year.

I was in the hospital for four months. Flat on my back. Then I was at home for a long time. As soon as I felt better, I got pregnant.

They don’t do the surgery like that anymore. Nowadays, the surgery is entirely different. Plus, they get you out of bed and on your feet the day after surgery. But, this was 1967.

Treatment had begun to change even then, but change hadn’t made it to Oceanside, Long Island where I had my surgery. I should have gone to a more up-to-date hospital. I would have saved myself some pain and misery, though I think, in the end, the results would have been pretty much the same.

Fast forward 49 years. The fusion disintegrated decades ago, but nature is creative. My body provided its own version of fusion using calcium. That calcification is called arthritis, but it has effectively stabilized my spine. It hurts, but I’m not falling apart. This back won’t easily break.

There’s also nothing to be done about it. No surgery. My hips are terribly painful, but my hips are fine. The pain is reflected (deflected?) pain from my spine. So how come my back hurts too? If the pain is going to make something else hurt, shouldn’t it not hurt there too?

Spondylolisthesis-1What’s an aging lady to do? I can’t do MRI because I have a pacemaker and it isn’t one of the fancy ones that are immune to magnetism. I should have a warning label that says “Keep away from magnets.” An MRI is all about magnetism, so I’ll have to settle for a simple CAT scan.

Then, off to the spine folks and see if they are able and willing to try injecting cortisone and lidocaine to at least give me a few months of relative comfort. They might not be willing to do it. My back has scared some pretty impressive medical professionals. And if they can and will do it, there’s no guarantee it would help.

The good news? That ugly mass of calcification that has formed a solid sheath around my lower spine also guarantees that I can stand on my own feet. I may not walk well or stand straight, but I’m also not falling apart. It won’t get better, but it seems likely that it won’t get a lot worse, either. It’s pretty much as bad as it can get.

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Who knew falling off horses when I was a teenager would disable me as a senior. They don’t warn you about that … and I wouldn’t have listened anyway. When you’re 15, you don’t see yourself old and broken. Probably, that’s a good thing.

The good news? My back is close to the same as it was seven years ago. It isn’t noticeably worse, though the CAT scan will paint a clearer picture. For me, not worse is good. Great, even. There are worse things than pain.

A BUSY WEEK

This is a crazy busy week. Dogs and doctors.

Two weeks ago, Garry pulled his shoulder (the one on which he had rotator cuff surgery seven years ago) lifting Bishop into the Jeep. He needed to see the ortho doc today.

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I haven’t had the leisure to take many pictures or write posts. I’m surprised I’ve done as much as I have. It’s like dancing between the raindrops.

In answer to your unasked question, Garry is (apparently) okay. He hurts and it’ll take a few more weeks of healing for the pain to diminish. It’s probably a sprain, not a tear. Which doesn’t make it hurt less. As for me, I’m off to the arthritis specialist tomorrow. I’ve been avoiding this for a few years because the news on my spine is never good and the answer is always the same: there’s nothing to be done except control the pain. Bummer.

Garry’s going to be in New York next week. I’ll have plenty of time to write. Meanwhile, as our personal juggernaut drives relentlessly through a personal calendar that barely leaves me time to cook a meal, much less eat one, I’ll be thinking of you.

DNC democratic national convention logo_2016

Tonight, watching the DNC, I was proud to be a Democrat, the party that talks about inclusion and coming together. We ain’t perfect, but we are not demonizing minorities and spewing hate. We fight among ourselves, but in the end we are for America and for each other. And that makes me feel pretty good in a year when Orange Head is telling everyone we should be afraid of everyone, and especially each other.

I’m not afraid. I bet neither are you.

Today’s Daily Post theme is “unstoppable.” I’m hoping that’s exactly what we are. Unstoppable, brave, and honorable.

FORGING AHEAD WITH PURPOSE AND A HEADACHE

I have been depressed. Not that dark “can’t get out of bed” depression that some people get and that I have also experienced. This is the slow, grinding depression that accompanies having a lot of stuff to do that I don’t want to do.

As a start, I have to change doctors. Granted I’m not thrilled with my current doctor. He’s not a particularly caring, supportive guy … and he is far away. I will only go to see him if I’m sick enough to be afraid I’ll die … but that alone probably wouldn’t motivate me to change. It’s that my doctor is changing “groups” and the group to which he is moving doesn’t accept our insurance. So, I have to find another doctor.

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If you don’t have a doctor, you can always take a hike

General practitioners or “family doctors” are in short supply. Of all the specialties, they are the most necessary yet the lowest paid. They carry the heaviest patient loads and burn out fast. The shortage of these basic providers is a national crisis. It’s worst in thinly populated areas. Big practices are mostly clustered around larger cities and we aren’t a city. We’re also short of good surgeons and all kinds of specialists. They make so much better money in Boston and there are good research and teaching hospitals there. Any big city offers better choices, medically for both doctors and patients.

All my whining notwithstanding, I have to change doctors. A lot of paperwork is required, including providing a full list of all my prior surgeries, illnesses, etc. Such a bummer. I don’t remember all the surgeries. I don’t remember the names of the doctors who performed them and in many case, the exact name of the surgery or in what country or state it was performed.

This isn’t because I’m old. It’s because there have been so many over the years.

Above and beyond remembering what happen, where, when, and who was involved … I am not exactly thrilled to revisit the experiences. There are a lot of rancid memories that go with this stuff and having to dredge it up again makes me sad. I don’t even remember the name of my heart surgeon and that was just two years ago.

Medical marijuana

Regardless, I need to take care of it immediately. There is some good news in the midst of the not-so-good stuff. I think this guy may be a better doctor than the one I’ve got … and his office is a mere few miles down the road. It will be very nice to have a doctor (again) to whom I can go without driving 60 miles through heavy traffic!

Meanwhile, before I do all the paperwork, I have to go to the dentist. I need a crown for a crumbling tooth. I’ve lost so many teeth, I cannot afford to lose another. I also have to figure out how to pay for it, since Medicare doesn’t cover teeth. Or hearing. Or vision. Or, for reasons best known to someone who isn’t talking, asthma medicine. I have — such an irony — tons of credit. That takes care of the dentist, but I have to then pay off the credit and that’s trickier. Fixed incomes are — well — inflexible.

medicare confusionWhatever is right with America, our health care system is pathetic … yet it’s far better than it was before President Obama.

Forgive me if this isn’t my best or cheeriest day. Today is full of purpose and a head-throbbing determination on my part to take care of business. Mostly, I want it to be over.

DAILY POST | PURPOSE

RHYMES WITH WEALTH

Am I healthy? Is that the same as “not dead yet?”

Medical marijuanaWe all need a good whine now and then, don’t we? I mean … what’s the point in all this blogging if we cannot occasionally snivel and moan about how hard done by we are. Right?

The problem with doctors is that as far as they are concerned, if the tests they run don’t show up as abnormal, you’re fine. No matter how much you hurt, no matter how miserable you may feel, you are fine. Just fine. If your heart beats and your blood pressure does not make the cuff explode, you are fine.

If every single joint in your body is throbbing and you’ve got a five-day migraine that seems to be heading for a world record for migraine longevity, but no test shows anything wrong with you?

You are fine. Remember that.

I’m fine. How are you?

HEALTHY

WHEN ALL ELSE FAILS

Bishop, our oldest dog … a gorgeous, shaggy Australian Shepherd … had a nasty infection in his foot. It had been there off and on for a long time. Mostly on, rarely off. I’d taken him to the vet several times and he’d had multiple rounds of high-powered oral antibiotics.

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But the infection was back. Again. With a vengeance. The antibiotics knocked it down temporarily, but never knocked it out. As soon as the prescription finished, a few days would pass and the paw would be red, raw, swollen, and obviously painful.

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I didn’t see the point in another trip to the vet or more antibiotics. The vet had no idea what was causing the infection or what would cure it.

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I was feeling that particular kind of helplessness one feels when a pet is sick — and not getting better. When you’ve done everything you can think to do … and it isn’t working. Being me, I had to do something, however ineffectual or lame, so I slathered his paw with over-the-counter triple action antibiotic cream. The stuff I keep in the house for my own and Garry’s cuts and bruises.

Bishop Almost Christmas

The next day, the paw looked nearly perfect. Most of purple mottling and swelling was gone. I slathered the paw again that morning and a second time in the evening. The next day, there was no sign of infection. Unable to believe I had somehow cured an antibiotic-resistant infection with an over-the-counter remedy, I kept applying the cream to his paw for another few days. Then, when there was no sign of returning infection, I stopped. And waited.

When the frame is completely full, your picture is by definition in the middle!

Three weeks later, his paw looks normal. No limping. He will let me hold the paw and examine it without any sign of discomfort. He had that infection for more than a year. I despaired of curing him, yet in less than a week, it’s gone. My son wonders if maybe, that was all Bishop needed in the first place. Antibiotic cream applied directly to the infection site rather than oral antibiotics. Hard to argue, considering the outcome.

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Talk about a Hail Mary pass, this was a classic. I did it because there was nothing else I could think of to do.  It worked. If it weren’t me, I wouldn’t believe it either.

Cee’s Fun Foto Challenge: Pets

cee's fun foto chall

WHAT INSURANCE DOESN’T COVER

Seeing.

Hearing.

Eating.

Breathing.


Breathing.

No one covers asthma medication anymore. A while ago, insurance companies universally decided to stop covering medication to prevent asthma attacks. Most of us don’t have the medication anymore.

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We buy emergency inhalers because they cost around $50 — without insurance. The daily medication which would prevent the need for an emergency inhaler is about $500 for a month’s supply. No one I know can afford it, so we don’t have it.

Breathing, it turns out, is not medically necessary.

Seeing.

Vision is medically optional. Most insurance will cover a routine annual eye exam. A few will cover part of the cost of a pair of single vision eyeglasses per year. That’s pretty much it. If you need bifocals, or anything other than one cheap pair of corrective lenses, that’s too bad.

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Chewing.

Teeth falling out? Need a root canal? Tough luck. Your teeth are entirely cosmetic (bet you didn’t know this!) and therefore, are not covered by medical insurance. You can buy private insurance, but it covers less than half the actual cost of most dental procedures (usually a lot less than half) … and it’s expensive. It is never part of standard medical insurance. They don’t cover dentures either.

Hearing.

What?

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No one covers hearing aids, probably because they are extremely expensive. Thousands of dollars and the average lifespan is four to seven years, after which you need another set. If you are a state or federal employee, or you lost your hearing while serving in the military, you are probably covered. If you are anyone else?

I’m sorry. What did you say? Could you speak up please?


Private insurance plans sometimes offer riders which will cover corrective lenses and basic dental work — a cleaning, x-rays, and a filling. Maybe. Not a root canal or a crown.

No one covers hearing aids.

Classifying hearing, seeing, and anything in your mouth as “non-medical and cosmetic” is standard in the insurance industry. It saves them billions of dollars a year … and leaves you with a bill you probably can’t pay.

What’s the solution? Don’t be old. Or poor.  Especially, don’t be both.

REFRESH!

REFRESH

Today, after having postponed this appointment three times, I finally went for my annual checkup with the oncologist.

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I like my oncologist. He’s a very pleasant, easy-going, friendly guy. Low key. Not an alarmist. Sensitive and sensible. But, in the end, he’s the one who will tell me if I have cancer. Again.

So, as much as I like the guy, I’m not eager to see him. Too much history.

I’ve been doing well. I’ve got more energy than I used to, probably because of all the heart surgery a couple of years ago and having a pump that actually is delivering oxygen to my body. I think my breast bone has finally knitted. I no longer hear it grinding when I move.

Fake breasts

My double round of breast cancer is now 5-1/2 years past. This makes me an official survivor. I have no symptoms, no lumps, no nothing. I have exactly the same chance of getting some (new) kind of cancer as anyone. Maybe a little higher because it runs in my family, but basically, I am (finally) regular folks.

If you think of “refresh” as that thing you do on your computer monitor to clear up garbage and update your open apps? Today was my “refresh.”

I’m clean. My panel of tests are spot on normal. The lab lady found a live vein on the first stab, too!

It doesn’t get better than this.