A THANK YOU NOTE TO AMERICA FROM THE CORONA VIRUS – BY TOM CURLEY

Hi America. This is the coronavirus. I’m writing you this letter to say thank you for all you have done for me.  I know I’m just a microscopic organism, literally the simplest life form on Earth.

I’m just a single strand of RNA enclosed in a protein sheath. Whatever the hell that is. But even so, you all have seemed to have gone way out of your way to make sure I survive. I and my billions and billions of copies want you to know we really appreciate it.

You may not know it, but it’s not easy being a pathogen. We have a hard time doing what we have to do, which is to make more copies of ourselves. Sadly, the only way we can do this is by finding our way into a “host.” Usually it’s an animal, like a bat or a rat. We’re also popular with certain insects, like fleas and mosquitoes.

But every so often we get to live in you humans. When we get inside you we burrow into one of your cells that is particularly tasty and we replace that cell’s DNA with our own. Then we make the cell stop doing what it was supposed to do and instead start making hundreds and hundreds of copies of us!  Pretty cool, right?

Then those hundreds and hundreds of copies invade other cells and before you know it, there’s millions of us inside you!

The only problem is, we tend to kill all the cells we invade. After a while we run out of host cells.

That sucks.

On top of that, all you hosts have an “immune system.” It’s a bunch of asshole cells that attack us and kill us.

Fuck you T-cells!

Fortunately, a lot of you are old or sick and your immune cells either can’t do a very good job, or they are busy attacking other cells, like cancer cells.

Sadly, no matter how good or bad your immune systems are, you either force us out, or you die. That sucks for all of us.

So, in order for me and my billions of buds to survive,  we need to find new homes.  New “hosts.” And for us pathogens, that can be a problem. Most of us can only survive for short periods of time outside our “hosts.” Some of us can survive in water and you can drink us. Some of us can live in fleas and mosquitoes. If they bite you, we get a new home! Let’s go Team Fleas and Mosquitoes!

But the best way we get to find new homes is when you find “hosts , breathe us out and new “hosts” breathe us in. That’s the way we get around.

I don’t want to brag, but right now I’m the envy of all my fellow pathogens. Yeah, that’s right, we talk.  Ebola, Smallpox, the Bubonic Plague, the Spanish Flu, Pink Eye.  We’re all still around.

They all had great runs. But right now, it’s my time to shine.

And they’re all jealous.

I can’t blame them. I got it just right, for a pathogen. I don’t kill most people I infect. Like Ebola. I mean, yeah, Ebola is a serious badass.  But when you burn through all your “hosts” really fast, before you know it, you got no place to live. Bad ass, but stupid. I, on the other hand, only kill about 20% of the “hosts” that I live in.

The bad “side effects” of my living in you don’t even show up for at least two weeks. That means I get to live in more and more and more and more of you before you even realize I’m living in more and more and more of you!

The only thing that fucks up my traveling to newer and better “hosts” is when you all start doing things like wearing masks and staying far enough from each other that I can’t get into your nose or eyes. You do that, and one moment I’m spreading like crazy and the next moment I’m homeless.

Fuck that!

The other thing you do is “quarantine “hosts” who have me! Not fair!

And that brings me to why I’m writing you this thank you note. An amazing number of you are refusing to do anything to stop me from finding newer and newer homes! Around the world most of you are a bunch of dicks doing every thing to make me go away . But not in something called “America.” You guys are awesome! You started out as real dicks, but then you realized how much that was hurting me and you stopped.  You were wearing masks and staying away from each other. Until you weren’t!

Irony is on speed dial

All of a sudden you went back to going to weddings and funerals and churches and bars and clubs! You sit real close to each other and you sing and scream and shout and sneeze and cough! AWESOME!

That’s exactly what I need! I’ve heard that about 19,000 of you are all going to pack yourselves into an enclosed space to hear one of you tell the rest of you that I’m just a hoax and I’m just going to go away!

I love you guys!!

So, that’s basically it. Thank you America. It’s hard being a global pathogen but you have all really gone the extra mile to help me out.

USA!

USA!

PS: I know a lot of my “hosts” are wondering how I can be writing this blog. Or how I even know what a blog is. My answer is

How the hell should I know??!! I’m a fucking virus!

HOW COME THERE AREN’T ENOUGH TAKERS FOR TESTS? – Marilyn Armstrong

WHY DOESN’T EVERYONE GET TESTED?

Have any of you tried to get tested and been told you can’t get tested if you don’t have a heavy cough and a high fever … and because you are over 70, you know this information is not true? Apparently, you are more knowledgeable than the medical people to whom you are talking.

I had that kind of a day today.

From The Washington Post:

He was talking about this story on the front page of The Washington Post this week that found at least a dozen states have more tests than patients taking them. Health officials aren’t sure why — maybe people don’t realize there are more tests now after months of scarcity, or that you can get a test now in some states even if you only have mild symptoms. African Americans, who are being hit hard by the coronavirus, tend to be wary of medical professionals, one expert said.


If any of you have tried to be tested, you’ve run into the same barriers. If you don’t have a specific set of symptoms, you can’t get tested. Never mind that they have plenty of tests, they are hoarding them from the people who need to be tested. The point of getting all these tests was to track the disease. See who has it, had it, where are the hotspots, and are you living in one of them. Where is the virus going and are you wearing a target?

Or are you one of the people who have had it, but had different symptoms? If they are going to trace, they are supposed to be testing everyone, not just those people that happen to have the specific initial symptoms that were typical of the disease.

All the children hospitals are finding who have had heart attacks after having had the disease. Which isn’t supposed to kill children, but its after-effects are killing children. Of the people who instead of coughs and fevers get gastrointestinal problems. Diarrhea, vomiting. Or instead of coughing got severe aches and pains that go on for weeks.

Garry and I that problem in January and no one knew what was wrong with us. We went to the doctor. We didn’t have anything anyone could figure out and we went home. Some weeks later, we were better. I wrote about it at the time, but officially, there was no Coronavirus in the U.S. The virus wasn’t supposed to be here but I’m sure it was. Now, researchers at hospitals are discovering people who had it in December.

So when did it arrive? November? December? Definitely by January. How long was it lurking in China and how many people traveled back and forth to China on business, vacation or to visit family?

The symptoms for people over 70 are not the same as symptoms for younger victims or older victims. This virus is not well understood. The high fevers and coughs are less common, especially high fevers. People our age rarely run high fevers for any reason. Since I passed 65, I don’t think — even when I had pneumonia and was recovering from heart surgery. By the time I hit 99, that’s a serious fever for me because my normal body temperature is around 96-point-something-or-other. By the time it hits 99, it is a fever.

The virus shows up in with a boatload of symptoms that may or may not be the officially listed symptoms. If they actually want to get everyone tested, get the vans ready. Go into neighborhoods — rich, poor, and otherwise — and TEST people. My son has been trying to get tested for months and has yet to be tested.

In Massachusetts, we only test people who are near death. We miss the rest.

In Australia, they sent vans around to give tests to everyone they could find. I was on the telephone with a woman at our hospital and she wasn’t sure how you got a test unless you had a heavy cough and a high fever and thought maybe you would die.

So why aren’t there more people who want testing? Everyone wants to get tested, but they refuse to give tests to people who don’t meet their very specific criteria. What a waste! They aren’t even trying to track the disease and I’m pretty sure they are guaranteed an autumnal jump in cases that will be worse than the first round. Because they aren’t doing what they promised to do.

Sometimes, if you want the answer to a question, ask regular, frustrated, pissed-off citizens who have been trying to get tested but no one will order the tests, even though our insurance (Medicare) covers those tests 100%.

ABSOLUTELY NO ABSOLUTE RIGHTS

Stay at Home, Save Lives, by Rich Paschall

While we accept the precept of “freedom of speech,” we also understand that it does not apply to everything in all situations. As you probably have heard often, we are not allowed to shout “Fire” in a crowded theater when there is none. This could cause a stampede for the exits and put some people at risk of being hurt or killed in the panic.

Similarly, you can not shout out in a crowd that you see a gun when there is none. Due to the types of mass shootings we have seen in recent years, we know that there could be a panic that could cause harm.

Image: Mashable.com

You are also forbidden to engage in the type of speech that would incite a riot. Hate speech in gatherings could, in turn, result in attacks either at a rally, let say, or following in the days to come. There may be a politician or two who have gotten away with this, but that’s another matter.

There are laws against slander and libel as the defamation they bring may cause harm to groups or individuals. While we see misinformation spread often on social media, doing so as a respected news source could bring danger to others. A well known News network is being sued by a Washington State group for issuing false news in the wake of the coronavirus outbreak.

Yes, the Constitution promised you freedom of speech, but that does not mean you can say whatever you like. Where there are dangerous consequences to what you say, you can be held liable for your remarks. Don’t you wish that also applied to Orange politicians, but I digress?

There is also “the right of the people peaceably to assemble,” but it doesn’t mean you can gather a large group wherever you want. Try to form a parade down State Street (that great street) without a permit and see how far you get.  You can not take over a baseball diamond in a public park if another group holds a permit. You can not have the pavilion at the local forest preserve if another group holds a permit. In fact, we have many regulations regarding the assembly of large crowds. It is not uncommon to post limits of assembly, many by fire codes that are enforced by the local government.

It’s a free country, or is it?

You have probably heard of people who do not want to shelter at home during the COVID-19 outbreak. They insist it is a free country and they can do what they like. The government is not going to tell them what to do. They have their constitutional rights. But do they have such rights?

The Constitutionality of the restrictions we have described above has been tested in courts and upheld. Local and national governments not only have the right to impose such restrictions on the public, but they also have a duty to do so.

Scientific evidence has told us that the only way to “flatten the curve,” in other words lessen the spread of the virus, is to keep a “social distance.” This has caused many at the state and local level to impose restrictions. Some do not want to abide.

You can find plenty of examples of people who did not want to social distance and observe the restrictions, who have died of the virus. They not only put themselves at risk, but they also put others at risk as well.  They do not have that right.

Social Contract

Many of the authors of The Constitution were certainly well aware of the philosophical writings of John Locke (The Second Treatise of Government), Thomas Hobbes (Leviathan) and Jean-Jacques Rousseau (Du Contrat social). These works would have greatly influenced their thinking about forming a new national government. They knew that members of society must agree to give up certain rights for the good of society as a whole. It is a “contract” we have as a member of society, to act in a way that benefits all. It is the greatest good for the greatest number.

“That a man be willing, when others are so too (as farre-forth, as for Peace, and defense of himself he shall think it necessary, to lay down this right to all things; and be contented with so much liberty against other men, as he would allow other men against himself.” – Thomas Hobbes

In other words, we must do what is right for all. For those who think they can assemble as they please, including religious services, they are misinformed and violating the laws of nature, science and the social contract. No one has the right to go out and spread the virus. They are not immune. They are not free to do as they like. Governors (Republicans all) who refuse to issue stay at home orders, or allow large exemptions (think Easter services), are not acting in the interest of the greatest good for the greatest number.

Let’s put it in a way that may drive the point home. There is a post going around social media which may illustrate the problem of some states practicing social distancing, and others ignoring the advice.  We must “ lay down this right to all things; and be contented” because it is the only reasonable course of action.

Sources: “Leviathan,” Thomas Hobbes, sparknotes.com
Washington State Group Is 1st to Sue Fox News for Calling Coronavirus a ‘Hoax’,” by ken Stone, timesofsandiego.com April 2, 2020.
The Social Contract,” Jean-Jacques Rousseau, coursehero.com
Social Contract,” en.wikipedia.org

HAVING A COLD IN A TIME OF PLAGUE – Marilyn Armstrong

Everyone catches colds, especially this time of year. The end of winter is prime time for sore throats, sniffles, laryngitis, and everything else. Getting a cold this time of year is absolutely normal, especially for us. We seem to have gotten particularly prone to colds that seem to go on forever. What used to last a few days now lasts a week or more as we pass them back and forth between us.

The current known spread of the virus

Except now it’s different. With Covid 19 spreading rapidly and this cold that seems to be getting worse rather than better — and a lack of tests to even find out what we have got, telling anyone we have colds sets off sirens and alarms. Not only are we worried about our own health, but we are also worried about whether or not we are contagious and what exactly we are carrying.



The number of cases of Covid 19 doubled overnight and that’s just the tip of the iceberg because most hospitals and doctor’s offices don’t have tests. So really, all we know are the people who have been tested which doesn’t give us an honest result. It doesn’t give the medical community knowledge of what they are dealing with or what they might be dealing with soon. Even our pathetic version of a government has had to come forward and admit we don’t have nearly enough tests or any accurate idea of how many cases we already have in this country.

It leaves us a little bit at sea. I’m not entirely sure what the symptoms are. I know what some of them are, but not all of them. I’m sure that even this government has this information available. We might not have tests, but there have been tens of thousands of cases worldwide. Surely this has given them a pretty good idea of the symptoms for which we should be looking.

Symptoms of the novel coronavirus can mimic the flu or even a common cold. (Image: © Shutterstock)

No matter how many times I look up “symptoms for Covid 19,” I get vague answers. I don’t know what I’m looking for and I’m sure neither does anyone else. Shouldn’t there be a valid, high-quality explanation of what those of us who are sniffling and have other physical problems that make getting this disease dangerous? People with bad hearts and valve implants, who already have other kinds of illnesses which reduce immunity should know.

I need to know and I don’t.

I’m supposed to go to the hospital tomorrow to have my pacemaker checked. Should I go? What if this cold is more than a cold? I’m assuming it’s just a cold but maybe it isn’t. Someone should be giving out this information, It should be clear and unambiguous, don’t you think?

A BIT OF ADVICE ON SURVIVING YOUR MEDICAL SYSTEM – Marilyn Armstrong

I’m alive for two major reasons:

  1. Because I didn’t take a lot of advice I was given. I had been misdiagnosed and had some bad doctors.
  2. Having learned my lessons the hard way, I did my homework and sought out the best doctors for whatever needed to be done.

In earlier surgeries, I tried to make life easier for people to visit me, including a working husband. Now, I find the best, most respected surgeon … even if he or she is a long drive from home. It’s my life on the line.

Dealing with breast cancer in both breasts — two unrelated tumors — and ultimately getting Boston’s best surgeon and plastic (rebuilding) surgeon was complicated, but I found a doctor who was a friend of Garry’s brother (who lives in Minnesota, but the doctor lived in Boston). The “local” surgeon had 30 surgeries and told me what I was going to do. No choice. She believed she already knew what I needed.

I spent a month finding someone with hundreds of hours who was head of the women’s surgery unit in Boston. It was a very nerve-wracking month hoping cancer wouldn’t grow much while I sought the best doctors I could find.

There is a lot of advice I wish I had gotten but didn’t. Instead, I got some excellent advice from myself.

The most critical information I can give you is to make sure you are using the best doctors and hospitals. Local doctors may be able to set a broken leg, but for anything more complicated, they might kill you if you let them.

I took my own advice which is how come I’m here to tell the tale. I’m pretty sure if I hadn’t been my most powerful advocate, I’d be an ex-blogger.

This is my best advice. 

Life is unexpected. Shit happens. Cancer, heart issues, diabetes, arthritis. You name it, we get it. No matter how well you take care of yourself, you will at some point require medical care, maybe surgery, maybe other stuff.

Regardless of convenience, understanding the quality of the medical facilities within driving distance — even extended driving distance — are critical to surviving.

Do the research. Find out what available medical facilities and associated doctors and surgeons and support services are reachable. If you have to drive a considerable distance to obtain the best services and people, do it. Survival trumps convenience.

Your life is on the line. I’ve been there, done that, and lived to tell the story. It is absolutely worth it. You are worth it.

NCIS AND MY PACEMAKER – Marilyn Armstrong

EPISODE: Need to Know (2012)

Alan Katzenbach, a lawyer, waits for Gibbs with his client, a chief petty officer named Leland Wiley. Wiley was busted for drugs and wants to trade his info — which he says is about national security.

It concerns Agah Bayar, the arms dealer. Gibbs is interested. Wiley comes over to talk, but grabs his heart and drops to the ground.

ncis-need-to-know

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

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

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


What does this have to do with me?

Well, glad you asked. This episode so intrigued the heart surgery team at Beth Israel Deaconess in Boston (where I had all that heart surgery in March 2014), that they decided to find out if it really could be done. One of the people that performed the experiment was my surgeon.

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

In theory, nobody can hack my pacemaker.

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

RBB-pacemaker

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

In the beginning, they used to stop my heart will beat without it. My heart stops beating. Talk about creepy. It is a very unpleasant — and indescribable — sensation.

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

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

So there we are. Too creepy?

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

And no matter what, I will always have that Pacemaker because, after all those tests, my heart absolutely will not beat without it.

ONE THING I DID NOT WANT TO BE – Rich Paschall

Old, by Rich Paschall

When you think of all the things you want to be when you grow up, “old” probably is not on the list.  You may think about being a doctor or nurse.  You may consider lawyer or politician.  Fireman or police officer may be on your list.  In fact, in your elementary school days you may have changed your mind many times. It is OK to dream about the future and fantasize about what you should do some day.

If superhero is on your list, you may have to give that one up rather quickly, unless you are Robert Downey, Jr.  He is still playing Iron Man past the ripe old age of 50.  I guess that is a commentary on keeping yourself in good shape.  Of course, he is just play acting, like we do as kids, and he certainly has a stunt double.  Your own life does not come with a stunt double, sorry.

If we give it any thought at all while we are young, of course we want to live a long life.  Therefore, we do want to get old.  If accident or disease does not rob us of life too soon, then we will indeed get old.  It is all the things that go with it that I am not too pleased about.

Contemplating the years

Contemplating the years as the sun sets.

I did notice the changes in my grandparents as they got older.  I am certain that I threaded needles for both my grandmothers at some point in time.  I knew they could not see as well as when they were younger, but I never thought about that being me some day.  Yes, I can still thread a needle, but I probably have to hold it at just the right distance in order to do so.  In fact, I really need trifocals, but I have settled for two pair of bifocals instead.  The bottom part is the same on each, but one pair is strictly for the computer.  The top part of the glasses are set to optimize the view from where the monitor should be, a little more than arm’s distance away.

This is not fooling anyone, of course, not even myself.  People can see I switch glasses in order to see.  I should have gotten the same style glasses so it would be less obvious.  When I am on Skype, and can see myself back on the screen, I really do not like the look but I am stuck with them for a while.  At least glasses have gotten better and these are not as thick or heavy as ones I wore years ago.

72-LensCrafters-Auburn-Mall_22

As my grandfather got older, I noticed he sometimes used a cane to help him get up, or walk around.  When he was in his 80’s, he never left the house without the cane.  He just might have too much trouble walking while he was away. Sometimes when I walk past a window or mirror, I think for just a moment the reflection I see is my father or grandfather.  My stepmother once said that I should take it as a complement that people see me as my father, since he was so handsome, but I began to think they saw me as they saw him later in life.  That is, old.

When you see pictures of me, you generally will not see the cane.  I set it down for the shot.  Years ago my doctor sent me to a sports medicine guy for a foot problem of still undetermined origin.  Maybe I was playing sports in the park long after a time when I should have moved on.  Maybe I suffered some trauma that came back to get me.  Maybe it was related to some disease I contracted.  In any case, I had it operated on, which did not help.  Years later I had another operation.  That did not help either.  I had many procedures in between.  Was it just an issue of getting older?  We will never know for sure.

I have heard it said that the aches and pains we feel as we get older are not a natural part of life and we should not just accept them.  Perhaps some accept them when they could feel better, but I have never accepted them.  I have spent a good deal of time getting to know my doctor and all that goes on in his business.  Yes, I might as well interview him a little, he interviews me a lot.  Together we have looked for solutions to my various problems.

The Gabapentin for the foot nerve pain does not seem to eliminate the problem, even if it lessens it.  The Lidocaine patch may numb the pain, but I cut the patch down because a completely numb foot is not a good thing for walking and creates a dull pain, which actually is not much better than a sharp pain.

My doctor does not like my diet or my cholesterol.  He seems to cast a skeptical eye at my insistence that I watch the cholesterol rating on the food I buy.  That does not include restaurant food, however.  Or what John cooks for dinner.  Statins did not work.  They created muscle and joint pain I could not stand.  The non-statin anti-cholesterol pills are not as effective, but hold less side effects, apparently.  Other problems and medications have come and gone. Parts wear out, you know.

Recently a high school class mate of mine wrote to say he had finally gotten in to a senior center he had applied for a while ago.  He had a variety of health issues in recent years and needed to get into such a community.  I wrote back that I could not imagine that any of us would be talking Senior Center, because it seemed like just a few years ago we were in high school together.

With any luck at all, old age will catch you some day.  You will probably feel it coming.

Related: Share If You Are Old Enough To Remember (humor)
To Not Grow Old Gracefully (Sunday Night Blog)

THE STRETCHY BITS – Marilyn Armstrong

“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 your head hasn’t been bashed in, no one had a heart attack or brain aneurysm, it’s “No big deal.” Most people break.

I do not break. I stretch. I have never broken a bone — not counting my big toe which I broke diving into the water with my toes pointed, something I only did once. Talk about stupid.

I’ve done a ton of damage by stretching, banging, bruising and generally disarranging parts in and around some kind of joint (knees, fingers, feet, ankles, chest, shoulder, wrist, etc.). You non-medical people might be surprised at how many joints we have, many of which are really tiny.

Nonetheless, it’s official. A sprain is no big deal because all the doctors on television said so. We nod like good 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 won’t. 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 even try to fix the stretched ligaments in my right shoulder. Healing is slow at my age.

I don’t get repaired. Instead, 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 the shoulder. 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’d like to point out that a strain is not less painful than a break or a sprain and is far less likely to heal properly. Strains are like taking the elastic in your pants and stretching it beyond its ability to come back to the correct size. So you either have to replace it (in a human being, that’s called surgery) or throw your luck into the strength of a safety pin.

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

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!

FANDANGO’S PROVOCATIVE QUESTION #27 – Marilyn Armstrong

Fandango’s Provocative Question #27

The question this week is exactly the kind of question I do not ever want to answer. It might be a question nobody wants to answer unless they are a medical researcher with skin in the game, so to speak.


“If you could choose one — and only one — particular malady, condition, or disease for which a safe and effective treatment was available, what one condition would you choose to treat and why is that your choice?”


As someone with more maladies than I care to list, some likely to kill me, others just likely to be a serious pain in my back, exactly how would I pick?

I have absolutely no idea what I should pick. Cancer? It has managed to kill about three-quarters of my closest family. Heart disease took the rest — and I’ve already had both, big time. Or maybe I should vote for arthritis? Unlikely to kill me, but very likely to make living increasingly unpleasant.

I’m pretty sure they are doing significant research on all of these diseases. Cure them? Who knows? But they have come a very long way in treating both cancer and heart disease. Arthritis lags behind, likely for a couple of obvious reasons the first being that almost everyone gets it.

It probably is not preventable unless old age is preventable. Also, it isn’t lethal, which means it doesn’t generate the money for “cures” that more fatal diseases garner.

I’ve got it! Let’s cure aging!

I don’t mind going gray or wrinkly. But let’s dump arthritis, exhaustion, bad hips, worn-out knees, loss of memory, and insomnia. While we are at it, cure dementia and Alzheimer’s. Add a little zip to our steps so we can be old, wise, and energetic. So we can still be who we have always been — right up until that last breath.

Photo: Garry Armstrong

And please, while you are at this curing business, make sure everyone has full access to medical care, no matter what is wrong with them.

AND STILL ALIVE – Marilyn Armstrong

In 2010, I discovered I had cancer in both breasts. Two tumors, unrelated to each other. Just twice lucky. They removed the tumors and the associated breasts and gave me very attractive fake replacements. Much perkier than the old ones in an artificial implant sort of way. I have a little ID card for both breasts as if they each have their own identity.

Maybe they do. Thus, a little more than 8-1/2-years after the siege began, I’m officially a survivor. Almost but not quite.

My mother died of metastasized breast cancer. My brother died of pancreatic cancer more than 10 years ago, having never gotten as old as I now am. This is not a reassuring family history.

All chronic illnesses make you paranoid. The thing that’s so insidious about cancer is its absence of symptoms. The possibility that it is growing somewhere in your body and you won’t know it’s there until it’s too late, is about as scary as a disease gets. Nor is it a baseless fear.

I had no idea I had cancer — much less in both breasts — until it was diagnosed twice during a two-week period. One diagnosis of cancer is hard to handle. A second diagnosis a week later is like getting whacked over the head with a bat. It leaves you stunned, scrambling to find someplace to stand where the earth isn’t falling out from under you.

I don’t think most of us are afraid of dying per se. We are afraid of the journey we will have taken to get there. We’re afraid of pain, suffering, the humiliation of dependence and gradual loss of control of our own bodies. After having one or more close encounters with the dark angel, no one is eager to feel the brush of those wings again.

We are called survivors, which means that we aren’t dead yet. The term is meaningless.

Put into perspective, we are all survivors. Anyone could be felled by a heart attack or run over by a beer truck today, tomorrow, in five minutes. The end of the road is identical for all living creatures. It’s only a matter of when it will be and what cause will be assigned. Everyone is in the same boat.

If you’ve been very sick, you are more aware of your mortality than those who’ve been blessed with uneventful health, but no one gets a free pass. The odds of death are 100% for everyone.

Recovering from serious illness is a bumpy road. Each of us has a particular “thing” we find especially bothersome. For me, it’s dealing with well-wishers who ask “How are you?”

If they wanted an answer, it might not be so aggravating, but they don’t want to hear about my health or my feelings about my health — which are often more the issue than anything physical.

They are being polite. So, I give them what they want. I smile brightly and say “Just fine thank you.”

I have no idea how I am. All I know — all I can possibly know — is that for the time being, I am here. To the best of my knowledge, nothing is growing anywhere it’s not supposed to be.  Eight-and-a-half years after a double mastectomy, I am in remission. That’s as good as it gets.

The real answer for those of us who have had cancer, heart attacks, and other potentially lethal and chronic ailments is “So far, so good.”

That is not what anyone wants to hear.

We are supposed to be positive. Upbeat. You are not supposed to suffer from emotional discomfort. Why not?

Because if you aren’t fine, maybe they aren’t, either. They have a bizarre and annoying need for you to be bright-eyed and bushy-tailed no matter how you actually feel. It’s their version of a vaccine. If you are fine, maybe so are they.

Since cancer, I’ve gone through major heart surgery and having survived that, I figure I’m good to go for a while. None of us are forever, but I’m alive. Presumably, I’ll continue to stay that way.

Welcome to surviving. It’s imperfect, but it beats the hell out of the alternative.

A CALL FROM THE HEART GUY – Marilyn Armstrong

I hadn’t heard from the heart doctor. Having not heard anything, I eventually concluded that there must be nothing important to talk about because if there were, someone would have mentioned it.

This evening, the doctor called.

So it turns out — by the doctor’s reckoning — there’s not much to discuss.  From my point of view, a bit more to talk about.

My heart is as good as one can expect it to be — given how much surgery has been done and its condition to begin with. Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy is a big deal and I had it for a long time before I knew about it.  I’ve had two replaced valves — aortic and mitral, as well as a replaced artery and an implanted pacemaker that will — in maybe four or five years — need a new battery. Assuming I’m still kicking around in four or five years.



How is my heart doing? As well as can be expected, thank you very much. The atriums are oversized, the ventricles are over-muscled, but all things considered, the heart is pumping reasonably well.

“So I’ve got another year you figure?”

“Probably.”

“That’s good. I don’t have to start packing yet.”

Of course, I don’t have the results of yesterday’s test yet, so who knows?

SLEEPLESS ELECTROENCEPHALOGRAM TOMORROW! THE FUN NEVER STOPS! – Marilyn Armstrong

I’ve got a “sleepless” EEG (electroencephalogram) tomorrow morning. It means I can’t go to sleep until midnight and I have to be up by four in the morning and be at the hospital by eight in the morning. No caffeine, but I can have breakfast.

I don’t know how to have breakfast without coffee. What am I supposed to eat? Without coffee, am I supposed to cook? Like … food?

I suppose it will be something to do while I have to wait to leave for the hospital. Do I need to tell you how much I’m not looking forward to this?

So please do not be surprised if I don’t make comments in the morning or write much. I am likely to go back to bed. Quite probably Garry and I will both go back to bed. Except I will have to take a shower and wash my hair first because they use a kind of glop to attach the electrodes to my head and I have to wash it out or it will turn to cement and I might never get it out of my hair.

Meanwhile, no one has called to give me information about last week’s echocardiogram. I called the office and she pointed out if there was anything wrong, they would have called me. So I can assume if there is anything amiss, I’d already know it.

I guess I’ll stop worrying.

Now all I have to do is worry about surviving without coffee and getting the goop out of my hair.

It’s going to be a really terrific day. And a great night, too. I can hardly wait. The high point of this day was that the hospital called me — a human BEING called me — to remind me about the test. A real live person called and asked me if I was going to be there. I said yes and she said “Great!” We both hung up.

Wow. A living person called me. How often does THAT happen?

PLEASE, JUST MAKE ME FEEL BETTER – Marilyn Armstrong

FOWC with Fandango — Health

I visited my favorite doctor last week. She is the only one of my original set of doctors I kept when I changed insurers. Despite her not being covered directly by my new insurance, she “gets me” in a way that only someone who has known you for a long time possibly can.

I hadn’t seen her in while — she was on vacation — so we had some catching up to do. We talked about me, her, life, getting older, and how things don’t feel like they did when we were young. Mostly, we discussed how important it is to feel better.

Anyone who has been sick for a long time knows what I mean when I say:


“I just want to feel better.”

There comes a moment in time when whatever is wrong with you has dragged on for what feels like an eternity. You can’t remember what it was like to feel good. You’ve done everything you are supposed to do yet still, you feel like crap.

Whether it’s cancer, recovering from surgery, anxiety, bipolarity, the pain of chronic illness — or any combination of the above plus all the other things I forgot to mention — there comes a day when all you want is to feel better.

You really don’t care how. Whatever it takes, whatever drugs, surgery, therapy, whatever. Please, make me feel better. I want a day without pain. Without anxiety, depression, or nausea. I want to feel normal, whatever normal is. Because I am not sure I remember “normal” anymore.

The problem is that feeling better isn’t considered a medical issue. As far as doctors are concerned, feeling better is your problem, not theirs. You can’t test for feeling better. You can’t plot it on a chart.

There is no medical value to how you feel. If you can’t put it on a chart or turn it into a statistic, it’s not real and not important.


To me, it’s the only important thing. Since feeling lousy isn’t an illness, feeling better isn’t a cure. If it isn’t a cure, the medical community isn’t all that interested.

Meanwhile, the doctor keeps telling you you’re fine. Except you don’t feel fine. You are tired, in pain, crabby, unable to sleep. Nauseated. Exasperated. Depressed. Fed up with everything.

Just three of my doctors believe feeling good is a legitimate medical goal. One is my primary care doctor, the next is my cardiologist and the final one is my shrink.

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

She understands. She gets it. I’m going to keep her. The hell with insurance.