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.

NO ONE IS LISTENING – Marilyn Armstrong

When does the complexity of a problem exceed the original problem to such a degree that one would really rather run screaming into the snow than have to deal with all that “stuff”?

Let’s say it’s dinnertime. The shrimp isn’t defrosted and you can’t cook the potatoes because you are out of onions. Home fries without onions? Are you mad?

Or, it’s Thanksgiving and the oven won’t turn on. How are you going to make that big bird? Turkey stew? Seriously?

But those things are simple when compared to medicine, doctors, hospitals, and tests.

The Front Door at UMass Memorial where they said I didn’t have an appointment

Life is a mess of complications and complexities and misunderstandings.

I told you, but you heard something else. You told me everything, but I forgot what you said or I was too drugged to understand assuming I was awake but I’m sure I wasn’t.

So … whatever you said? I have no idea what it was and please don’t repeat it. I can’t hear you.

The older I get, the more simple I want my life to be. I want appointments at a time when I can get there comfortably. Nothing at 7:00 am in the morning after an hour and a half of bumper-to-bumper traffic.

There are tests they assure me I need — medically — that are so absurdly complicated, I think I’d prefer to die.

My favorite is the one where they want to examine my brain. It had taken weeks to even get the appointment. When I got there, they’d lost the appointment. It turns out they were looking in the wrong book because they really did have it — in the right book. Which they didn’t have at the lab.

They made me a new appointment, but this time, the test was ridiculous so I was glad when it rolled around, I was sick and couldn’t go. They wanted me to be in Worcester at 6 am. Get tested. Wait for two-hours for the second part of the test. Then wait several more hours until a doctor is available and he, without interpreting the test, tells me to go home. I’ll get a skeleton version of the results probably a week later. I will be told the result is “negative.”

What does negative mean? Is that good? Bad? Do I get to actually finally talk to a doctor? Or is “negative” the whole story. Since they aren’t going to tell me what they are testing for, what are they telling me?

More of UMass Memorial

I said “Why can’t I just talk to a doctor and explain what happened? Maybe none of these tests are necessary?”

“The doctor insists,” she said.

Au contraire,” I murmured because I am the patient and I insist I be allowed to talk to the doctor before testing starts. This is expensive testing because our government keeps raising the prices for tests and we are poor. So, unless someone is willing to explain what they want to test for, I’m not going.

In the end, I didn’t take any tests. My cardiologist thinks I might need them, but he wants to do some heart testing first. But he does think, as I do, that whatever is wrong is probably not fatal and not in need of expensive testing. More like a diagnostic visit.

The world is complicated. At least half the time, it’s complicated because everyone is doing what someone else told them to do. Or they think they are doing what someone told them to do, but they aren’t. Because no one is listening to anyone.

No one is listening. No one.

INTREPID BY ROAD – Marilyn Armstrong

FOWC with Fandango — Intrepid

Intrepid will always be the name of one of Horatio Hornblower’s ships. Somewhere in my 20s, I discovered Horatio Hornblower … and that’s how I learned that there was an actual use for trigonometry! If only they had mentioned this in school, I might have had a clue what I was doing instead of random calculations used to reach an answer that meant absolutely NOTHING to me.

We probably should have named The Duke “Intrepid.” He is quite the intrepid voyager. Except he likes when we come out and let him IN the yard, even though he jumped out. I guess out is easier?

Today I am off to see the wizard, also known as my cardiologist. He’s a new one. I’m trying to finally shake off Boston and get all my physicians lined up locally. Boston made the news the other night as officially (who is the official calculator of such things?) having the worst traffic of any city in the U.S. Not in the world. I think there are quite a few cities in Europe (and how about the traffic in London!) that could compete.

Boston has gotten terrible. When I moved here in 1988, traffic wasn’t great, but you could get from one place to another and generally even park when you got there. Not any more. Not only can it be impossible to get there, but if you do parking will cost the price of feeding two people for a week. Or more.

Bad. Very, very bad.

We spent something like 50 billion dollars to remodel our road and I swear they are worse than they were before we spend more than a decade redoing everything. The thing is, they move things around, but they didn’t make them bigger. Just stuck them underground (cough, cough, cough) or straightened out the crooked pieces.  So we’ve got nice straight bumper-to-bumper traffic.

Boston traffic is only for the intrepid.

We’re away shortly. As we head for UMass, a mere 20 miles away, call us intrepid. Also, please hope they don’t find anything new or interesting.

TOM’S CATARACT SURGERY – BY ELLIN CURLEY

Recently, Tom’s cataracts started to give him problems driving at night. He began seeing large halos around the headlights of the oncoming cars, which made driving a challenge. He went to the eye doctor who told Tom that his cataracts were ‘ripe’ and it was time to get cataract surgery in both eyes.

Now, no one looks forward to someone slicing and dicing their eyeballs, but Tom was borderline phobic about anyone touching his eyes. We had two close friends who had recently had the surgery and they both reassured Tom that they had felt nothing during the procedure and little if any discomfort afterward.

Tom listened to them but didn’t believe them on some level. So he procrastinated about scheduling the surgery – and procrastinated, and procrastinated.

When he finally scheduled it, he didn’t feel good about it. He worried more and more as the surgery date drew near and he reached a peak of panic the sleepless night before D-Day. On the ride to the surgery center, as well as in the waiting room, Tom kept repeating that he really didn’t want to do this. I began to worry that he might make a run for it.

Of course, Tom had to wait endlessly at the doctor’s office before he was finally taken in for the seven-minute procedure. So by the time he saw the doctor, his blood pressure must have been off the charts. Fortunately, along with buckets of numbing drops, they gave him some ‘good drugs’ to relax him.

I waited anxiously in the waiting room for an hour before he came out the other end. During that time, I saw a veritable parade of post-surgery patients, smiling in their identical pairs of unfashionable sunglasses. I relaxed as I realized that no one seemed freaked out or even stressed.

So I was not surprised when Tom reappeared, gushing about what a weird but not unpleasant experience it had been. As he had been told, he felt nothing but water being pumped into his eye. He saw strange lights and heard psychedelic music, which made it all feel like a mini acid trip.

Tom in his ‘cataract sunglasses’

Fresh out of surgery, his eye was blurry and totally dilated, and he felt like he had a grain of sand in his eye, but he could already tell how much better his vision was. Everything was brighter and clearer, especially colors. Tom said it was as if he had been looking at the world through a yellow filter and suddenly now he was seeing everything in vibrant, living color.

We bumped into an old friend in the waiting room who was coming in for the same surgery. Tom went on and on about how awesome his vision was now and told his friend not to worry but to get ready to be amazed at how colorful and sharp the world is.

By the next day the dilation was gone and even though only one eye was fixed, Tom’s vision was dramatically improved. He no longer needed his glasses for distance vision but will still permanently need reading glasses. Not a big deal. He also could see that our sunroom was painted bright blue, not green or teal.  And he was telling everyone what a miracle he had just experienced!

Tom seeing great without his glasses for the first time in decades

Now Tom can’t wait for the second surgery!

REFLEXIVE AND DEFINITELY NOT FLUFFY – Marilyn Armstrong

Garry and I are off to UMass. Today he gets (tada!) his new electronic, high-tech hearing apparatus. We have NO idea what to expect. Hopes are high, nerves are taut, and it’s going to be a long day.

We shall write tomorrow, hopefully, but in the meantime, we’ll be gone most of the day.

Also, WordPress is acting weird. Again. I can’t use the “like” button and I have to sign in for every comment. But that’s okay because Chrome is behaving weirdly also. I’m ready to hide under the sofa.

Later, gang.

FOWC with Fandango — Reflex

RDP# 85: FLUFFY

A TAP ON THE SHOULDER

When Hope Pays a Visit, Rich Paschall

Bill woke with the Florida sun proclaiming the new day, as he did on most days. He did not set an alarm clock, it was against his retirement protocol. Instead, he waited for the room to brighten with the energy of a new morning.

A new morning

A new morning

As he wandered through his house, getting ready to meet the world, Bill thought of what he would do that Friday. It seems he had been on a futile mission all week. Nevertheless, he would try again, and give it just one more chance. It felt like the least he could do for his friend.

Bill’s morning routine could not exactly be described as a routine.  Rather it was haphazard at best. He went to the washroom. He went to the closet. He went to the kitchen to start coffee. He went back to the washroom to shave. He looked again in the closet for what to wear and he went back to the kitchen for a cup of coffee. It took him over an hour to get ready to start the day, but that was Bill’s retirement plan. In other words, there was no plan.

His neighbor Harold, on the other hand, always had a plan. His time seemed to be allocated to the minute. While Bill liked Harold, he was not fond of the rigid lifestyle. That was no way to retire, Bill thought. Of course, it all did not matter now.

At the beginning of the week, Harold was found lying on his screened in patio and carted off to the local hospital, just a short distance away. It was not unusual for the Emergency Medical Technicians to pick up old timers in this part of Sarasota County, but it was still a shock to the few who knew Harold. Bill was one of those few.

Although a daily purpose was never part of Bill’s retirement goals, he nonetheless scheduled himself into a visit to the county hospital every day in a vain attempt to learn something, anything, about Harold’s condition. He was not immediate family and he was not named on any medical documents, since Harold, Planner Supreme, had no plan for this life-altering event. So Bill had learned nothing all week-long. Still, he could not settle his mind over the thought of Harold just falling over on his patio. So he kept trying to get a medical update.

When coffee was gone and toast was eaten, Bill was ready to make the trip to the county hospital. He stepped out into the Florida sun to find the day was already hot and humid.  Neighbor Mabel Crockett, would tell anyone who would listen that “the air was so think you could cut it with a knife.”  And so it was exactly that.

Bill hopped into his car in the driveway of his townhouse and hoped that the air conditioner would be at work right away. He was a bit disappointed at that, but he did not have far to go.

He arrived at the parking lot that was just two dollars for patients and visitors for four hours. “Don’t forget to have your ticket validated,” the guard warned Bill. If he forgot, the charge was double. Bill did not seem to care too much about that.

He entered by the Emergency Room and walked past the Trauma Triage and down the hall to the main lobby area. There he walked right up to the same receptionist who greeted him every day that week.

“Yes?” the elderly receptionist said with a sigh. She recalled Bill immediately and was prepared to go through the routine again.

“I am here to see my friend Harold. He came in through Emergency on Monday.”

“I know,” she said with a tired sound. It is the same sound that came with all of the disappointing statements she must give to visitors. “I’m sorry,” she continued. “Your friend is in intensive care. I can not give out information to anyone but immediate family.”

Bill started with his usual response, “But I might be…”

“I know, sir, and I am very sorry. It is the regulation and there is nothing else I can say,” the grey haired woman proclaimed with a heavy dose of sadness.

They stared at each other for a moment when Bill finally conceded. “I understand,” he said with a bit of a choked up sound. He could understand the rule, just not the dogmatic enforcement in this circumstance.

Bill started back down the hall toward the exit by the Emergency room. He passed pictures of important donors, including the Ringling Family of Circus fame. There were also paintings of peaceful ocean scenes that would seem to go with the best rooms at a Holiday Inn. Bill noticed none of it all week-long.  He just knew how long the walk would take to the exit.

As he got half way down the hall, Bill felt a tap on his shoulder.  “Excuse me,” a voice announced. “Excuse me, sir.”

Bill turned around to find the elderly receptionist right behind him.  She seemed a bit out of breath, probably from her pursuit of Bill.

“I am not supposed to say anything,” she said softly, as if she was telling a big secret, “but what are they going to do?  Fire me?  I am a volunteer.” At that, Bill saw her first smile of the week.

“Your friend is doing better,” she stated, “And they should move him out of Intensive Care soon, maybe tomorrow.”

Bill grabbed the old woman and gave her a big hug. Tears formed in his eyes as he told the receptionist, “Thank you so much!”  This was followed by another big hug.

So Bill thanked some woman he didn’t know for some news about a neighbor he hardly knew. The news itself really wasn’t anything at all, but it made Bill’s day complete.

Note: The next “Harold story” appears Friday.
Previously:  “Missing Monday,” “Sunshine, Spring Training and Survival,” “Wednesday Wondering,” “Waiting For The Story To Continue.”

MISSING MONDAY – RICH PASCHALL

If you have been stopping by this space for a while you may recall a series of stories about Harold, the retired planner from the Midwest.  He tried to organize all of his time with care, but life had a way of throwing up little distractions along the way. Then came something he did not plan, a major detour.  Links to the original stories follow this unexpected event:

In Need of a Plan, Rich Paschall, Sunday Night Blog

Bill rolled over to take a look at the alarm clock. It was almost 8:30 so he decided to spring into action. He never set the alarm clock. He saw no need. He was retired and had always longed for the time when the alarm clock was not to be used to alarm him out of his sleep. Some days he got up by 7:30 am, other days it was 10. It depended largely on how late he stayed up reading or watching television.

Since he needed to make a call at 9 am, the affable retiree rushed about the house in a rather disorderly fashion, leaving a bit of a mess in his wake. That did not bother him as there would be plenty of time later to clean up the place. Now he was making coffee and giving just the slightest thought as to what he would buy today at the supermarket.

The only thing Bill tried to be punctual at all week was the Monday call to his neighbor, Harold, who lived just a few doors down. The way Bill saw it, old Harold probably relied on the weekly call.

The Midwest planner from down the block seemed to know no one and had little contact with the world. Bill was convinced he was doing Harold a big favor. He did not know exactly how Harold felt about the weekly sojourn to the giant Publix supermarket, however. It must have been a Monday highlight for the newly retired neighbor and new friend.

A very quiet neighborhood

The quiet neighborhood

A quick glance out the window revealed a perfect Florida morning. Bill loved this area of Florida. In honesty, he settled there because the property values were quite depressed in Sarasota County after the big recession, and he got a good deal in a good neighborhood of old timers, like himself.

Now it was time to help out an old guy who needed a friend, so he called Harold on his AARP phone and waited for his tentative voice to respond. Bill was quite amused as he thought of the same surprised tone Harold had each Monday morning when he answered the phone.

Much to the amazement of Bill, there was no response. He let the phone ring a long time before giving up. “I wonder what the old guy is up to this morning,” Bill thought. So he decided to wander down the street and ring Harold’s doorbell.

As he went up the steps to the front door, a voice called out. “You ain’t gonna find no body at home, young man,” Harold’s next door neighbor called out as Bill chuckled to himself. Not too many people referred to him as “young man.” In fact, no one did. He turned around and walked in the direction of a woman who did seem to be a lot older than Bill or Harold.

Mabel Crockett was well into her eighties but still rather spry. She kept up on the neighbors by frequently finding an excuse to do things around the outside of the house. It was unnecessary as there was an Association to deal with maintenance and yard work, but she liked checking up on things.

“So where is old Harold this morning?” Bill asked in a cheery tone.

“They carted him off pretty early, I reckon,” Mabel said in a deep southern drawl.

“What?” an astounded Bill exclaimed.

“Well I ain’t one to meddle in other folks’ affairs,” she lied, “but I seen that Sunday paper still settin’ there on that landing he calls a porch, so I just took a walk over there. In the back I could see he was, uh, just layin’ there on the ground in that screened in patio. So I went on home, dialed 911, and it’s a good thing.”

“Good thing?” Bill questioned.

“Why, he was still breathin’ when they loaded him into that big ol’ ambulance. Leastwise, I think he was still breathing. The young feller drivin’ that big vehicle said he still seemed kinda fresh.”

“Fresh?  That seems a strange way to put it,” Bill said with a rather incredulous tone.

“Well, I guess it was because he couldn’t a been layin’ there too long. Anyways, they said they was taking him over to the general hospital. Right over here a piece,” she said pointing to the south.

“Oh my,” Bill responded with a great deal of concern. He said good-bye to the old woman and rushed to his car.

72-StPete-Pelican_2When he arrived at the general hospital, he went right to the emergency room and inquired about Harold. His questions only got questions in return. “What time did he arrive? What was the problem? Did he come by ambulance or did someone bring him?”

Finally, the woman without the answers invited him to take a seat and someone would come out shortly. By “shortly” she must have meant an hour.

After the long wait, a nurse with a clipboard in hand appeared. “Are you here about the elderly gentlemen who had a stroke?”

“Stroke!” Bill exclaimed as he got all choked up about someone he barely knew.

“Yes,” she said calmly. “Are you the next of kin?”

“No.”

“A relative perhaps?”

“No.”

“Do you know who is next of kin or related somehow?”

“No.”

“Do you know who his doctor is?”

The series of questions went on until Bill finally explained that he was just a neighbor. In fact, Bill did not even know Harold’s last name.  The nurse looked disappointed but thanked Bill anyway and went back to her station. Bill followed.

“Excuse me, nurse, will I be able to see him?” Bill inquired.

“No, only immediate family,” she explained.

“But we don’t know if he has immediate family,” Bill said with a sense of urgency.

“I’m sorry,” she said as if she has had to say that a thousand times before.

As he left the hospital Bill realized that the master planner from the Midwest had no plan for this. Although Bill rarely planned anything, he decided he better go home and make one.

Note:  The next “Harold story” appears Friday.

Related:  The first series of “Harold stories” in order: Soup and Sandwich,” “The Case With The Missing Egg,” “Come Monday, It Will Be Alright,” “A Tuesday Mystery,” “A Tuesday Fantasy With Harold,” “A Wild West Wednesday,” “A Library Lesson,” “Harold and the Tiny Wizard,” “At The Old Ballgame,  The Saturday Schedule. Click on any title to jump to that story.