Category Archives: Health

Overcoming Adversity

Early in this blog’s history, we had a contributor who wrote exceedingly well and who was excited about life and his role in the world. His name is Aaron. Aaron was a reader and regular commentator in those early years.

This week, Dale Connelly, the founder of this blog, contacted me and Sherrilee about posting some writing by Aaron’s sister, Jessica. Dale commented:

“Aaron has multiple disabilities and gets around primarily in a powered wheelchair.  You may have seen him at some of the State Fair shows back in the day.  His family is organizing a Zoom event next Saturday, (August 7) to premiere a short (55 minute) documentary about Aaron and the difficult decisions his family faced when he was born.  The event is also a fundraiser to gather money to replace Aaron’s accessible van, his primary form of transportation.” 

We thought this was a great topic for a post. I have communicated with both Aaron and his sister, and this is how Aaron describes himself:

Aaron Westendorp is a musician, online variety music show host, and a self-advocate in Hopkins, Minnesota, who uses a communication device. Aaron has a brain stem lesion which causes spastic quadriparesis, a partial paralysis from the eyes down.  He still has a independent life and a fun personality.

The following is a heartfelt statement from his sister, Jessica Westendorp:

I could have written a different speech every day this year, that’s how many different feelings I have about Aaron and growing up with Aaron. I have humorous, light, jovial speeches, and dark, scary, cynical speeches that underscore Aaron’s evil side. Just kidding. Aaron doesn’t really have an evil side. That Aaron is a bright light, most of you already know. He has always been a calm being, open and waiting for whatever the next step might be. The only time I can remember Aaron loosing his cool was for a brief period in the 5th grade when math and after school studies pushed him to desperation and low lows. He got angry. In that time there was a moment when Aaron looked at me and sighed and it was if he said to me, “so…this is how it is”. And then, he was fine again, calm, collected, open and ready to keep going.

Aaron is disabled. I know this is news to you. It’s hard to see the disability when there is so much AARON to see. But, in case you didn’t get the memo, he is special, differently abled, challenged, a short bus super kid. Other words that were used on him were Duke, Duker, King of Kids, and because there is only so much wonder and excitement I can allow to follow him around, he is also a bratty kid brother.

Aaron’s disability was large. It was another person in the family always taking all of the resources and lightness out of anything. Trips to anywhere were filled with, “but are there curb cutouts? Can he fit through the door? Are there steps inside? Will we need to ask for special help maneuvering or accessing the bathroom?” And then, the weight of carrying all emergency equipment and healthcare needs with him. The backpack needed to be packed and repacked. He needed help with shoes and jacket. He needed to be loaded into the van and tied down. Then Jill and i would translate his finger spelling, “why don’t we go on more family outings?”

I feel heavy and angry re-living that. It was not glamorous. but, the humor helps. One time, when we were all tired and in a long stint of hard times, Mom and Aaron, and Jill went to Burlington Coat Factory. They got out of the van after parking in the handicapped spot. As my mom walked away from the van someone snarked about her use of the handicapped parking spot. Used to public perception often being askew there would usually be a kind reference to my brother or ignoring the problem. On this day my mom said, in her voice we all know as the “mom is not in a great place voice”, “WE ARE HANDICAPPED!”. “we”. “are”. “handicapped”. We are not, and yet, we are and the clashing perceptions combined with the fatigue of it all was the hilarity. And then, there were the helpers. The nurses and PCAs were there ALL THE TIME. Whether they wanted to be or not, they became part of the fabric of our family. They may remember us as a job. I remember them being in my home, sharing a space, and I remember processing my life in front of them. Like any family members some were super duper cool and others, we’ll say, clashed with our brand of special. But, they were there. They helped support the constant needs. Food prep. treatments, mobility, translation. My favorite of these people were those that understood the need to keep the light, the humor, and the irony alive, even and especially when I could not find these.

This all must have been so different for my parents. They had a childhood, a million years before and now they had the weight of this adulthood that they finessed and juggled and braved with faces of intensity and love. But for Jill, Aaron, and I this was our childhood. The pieces of it leave deep impressions. The shiny medical equipment, the smells of medicine, the short quick pace of a nurse who is tasked all become your normal. I will always be a force of quiet, deep love, forever broken by the immensity of daily, weekly, monthly, and yearly struggles that are inexplicable in this speech. I am full of gratitude and am privileged to have learned so much, but due to broken perceptions and realities faced and viewed often, I will also carry a force of anger, always, a deep understanding of disparity and injustice.

Thank you for showing up. Thank you for loving the little brother i worked hard to push and challenge. Thank you for loving this guy who I prayed for, who was surrounded by the light of many prayers. Thank you for knowing that there is no clear narrative here, only people with real needs, hopes, and aspirations all in real time. 

Here is the hyperlink to the video regarding Aaron.

Who do you know who has overcome adversity? How did they do it? How have you overcome adversity?

Overheard at the Grocery Store

Standing in the canned vegetable aisle (wondering why nobody has turnips right now, either fresh or canned).

Woman #1:  Just feeling blah all the time.

Woman #2:  Are you drinking enough?

Woman #1:  Water?

Woman #2:  Liquor.

I couldn’t help myself; I laughed out loud.  Then they laughed too.

Any good belly laughs lately?

Paved Intentions

I’m not a math whiz but there is one formula that I know really well:

Yardwork + Verily Sherrilee = A Filthy Mess

When I had the new driveway put in, I also asked them to put in a sidewalk from the house to the garage.  For many years, I’ve just had paving stones, which look really good for about an hour after the grass is cut and that’s their only saving grace.  Well, that and they were cheap. Otherwise, they’ve been a pain for years.  Even so, I couldn’t bring myself to just throw them away when the new sidewalk was installed.

YA and I have wanted a little patio under our backyard table for years, so this past Saturday, I decided to re-purpose the paving stones into said patio.  And it was pretty clear early on that I would be invoking the Yardwork/Filthy Mess paradigm.  You wouldn’t think that a 4’ x 4’ square, 2 inches deep would create so much extraneous dirt; I certainly didn’t and I was quite wrong.  It was easier to excavate the space by hand to start with and pretty soon, I had dirt all over myself, including knees, ankles and feet.  I had abandoned my gardening shoes early on – too hot.  Of course sweat and dirt together meant that I was dirty everywhere else as well.

I was very careful with the paving stones as they weigh quite a bit.  As I picked up each one I said to myself “go slow, be careful”.  Every single stone (9 of them).  I even said this to myself as I wiggled the last one into place.  Right before I lost my hold on it and it crashed down on my big toe.  I got a pretty good gash and the blood looked really dark as it bled onto all the dirt on my foot.

I was so close to the end of the project – I didn’t want to lose my momentum but I also didn’t want to bleed all over and get who knows what kinds of germs into the wound.  Looking down at myself I realized that I was too dirty to go in the house and certainly too dirty to go upstairs to the bathroom where there bandaids are kept.

I had YA go inside and get a couple of paper towels while I hosed off my foot and toe.  She came out with a paper towel and DUCT TAPE!  That’s my girl.  I wrapped the paper towel around the toe first and then liberally applied the tape.  Voila – good enough to let me finish up the project!  It’s made me realize that while YA can do yardwork without attracting every dirt particle within a square mile, she HAS inherited my feeling that the wrong tool at hand is always better than the right tool that is not at hand.

What’s your favorite cleaning supply? When have you had a filthy mess? When have you gotten spectacularly dirty?

Shiner

We have rather complicated and supposedly ergonomically designed desk chairs at my work with a myriad of levers and adjusters underneath the seats. Yesterday I was trying to adjust one when I pulled the wrong lever, and the back of the chair flipped forward at an astounding velocity, slamming me square on the bridges of my nose and glasses.

I was slightly stunned. It really hurt. I was in the middle of an evaluation, so I just sucked it up and finished with the client. I then went to see our office manager/risk management person, and asked her if the cartilage in my nose should be so wobbly. She wasn’t sure, but she said it looked like I was getting a left black eye, and the bridge of my nose and my forehead just above my eyebrows looked puffy. She then sent the multitude of forms one fills out in these circumstances. She encouraged me to go to the occupational health clinic that assesses Workers Comp claims. I declined, as my self assessment suggested all I was going to have with this was a black eye and some bruising on my forehead.

I am going to a family funeral in Pipestone, MN on Thursday, and I do hope whatever bruising I have has dissipated by then. I am not hopeful. I haven’t seen these family members for a couple of years, and I imagine I will have to explain multiple times what happened. I should add that I own no makeup, and I have no intention of buying any to cover the bruises. I suppose I could make up some fantastical story of how I was injured, as being assaulted by a chair is kind of embarrassing.

What have been some of your prominent injuries? What have been some of your work injuries? Any Workers Comp stories?

In The Same Vein

YA and I gave blood last night.  I’ve been a blood donor for decades and YA has ponied up a few times herself.  Normally when I get an email from the Blood Center, I think “oh I should do this” and then forget about it.  However when they call me on the phone and I pick up, they’ve got me; I talked YA into going with me.

It was clear that the nurse assigned to me was at the end of a long shift – she had NO sense of humor.  I’ve been in a customer service kind of job for decades and I like to think that I’m pretty good at putting people at ease.  When I do encounter someone in a particularly bad mood, it normally doesn’t take much to get them in a better place.  But this woman was tough.  And it didn’t help that I could hear YA and her nurse in the next room, chatting away. 

I didn’t get frenetic about trying to humor this woman but I wanted to be myself, so I made small remarks when I felt like it.  Eventually, when we got to the “now’s the time to look away” and I told her I didn’t need to look away, she warmed up.  She never got really chatty like YA’s nurse, but she at least responded to comments and asked a few questions of her own. When she asked me what color wrap I wanted on my arm and I said “well, purple”, she smiled and said “of course, what other color is there?”  I felt I had scored a small victory.  I was her last appointment before they closed so I hope that I lifted her spirits a bit before she headed home.

Are you chatty at appointments?  Do people like me tick you off?

Woodpecker Spa

A few weeks ago, Husband decided to water the strawberry bed with a rotating sprinkler that watered the strawberries as well as a section of the lilac bushes. It was terribly dry then. The backyard birds got very excited and flitted in and out of the bushes through the water. One bird, a Hairy Woodpecker, just sat very still in the lilacs letting the water fall on it, luxuriating in the shower.

One other occasion many years ago in yet another drought we had a flock of Cedar Waxwings sit for a long time in the lilacs as an oscillating sprinkler went back and forth over them. I guess we have a bird spa in our backyard!

I have never been to a spa. I have never had a massage. I know lots of people do such things. I think I fear the intimacy of such experiences. I would rather watch the birds.

What are your spa experiences? How about massage? Any good bird stories?

Navigating complexity

Husband has always been a pretty deep thinker, and lately has been talking to me quite about about how he strives to teach his clients to navigate complexity in effective and healthy ways. He defines this as paying loving attention and using carefuly planned, organized strategies to solve problems.

Husband says that to do therapy well is to navigate complexity with loving attention. He says that we do this while cooking. He says that this also draws us to musical performance. Other would do the same by canoeing the Boundary Waters, flying an airplane, and leading a rock climbing expedition. The ways we have to navigate complexity in our every day lives are more subtle but equally as important.

What complex situations have you had to navigate? What have you seen others navigate? What are your hopes for how we and others shall navigate complexity in the future? How good are you at asking for directions?

Food Pantry

I wrote this post with the help of Husband, who is devoted volunteer at our local food pantry. He works mainly on Thursday afternoons selecting meat for various sizes of families. He tries to “mix it up” so people get a nice variety of the frozen ground and whole pieces of meat. He also goes once a month to help unload the big truck with the large quantities of food that comes from a regional food distribution site in Fargo.

He mentioned the other day that they received a large shipment of of smoked turkey necks. He also stated they currently have vast quantities of smoked Chinese oysters, various dried beans, frozen pork knuckles, hocks, and necks, overgrown winter squashes, Mac and Cheese, eggs (including blue eggs), hot Jimmie Dean sausage, frozen haddock and pollock, Chinese noodles, canned tomato sauce, canned vegetables, soup, canned fruit, half and half, cereals, snacks, dried lentils and garbanzos, Lil’ Smokies, pancakes mix, Mexican and Chinese condiments, surplus diet soda, etc.

The volunteers load up the carts. Patrons can’t order what they want. This made me wonder what a person who has very few resources would do with a can of Chinese oysters , frozen pork necks, and a pound of dried garbanzo beans. Husband got the go ahead from the Pantry Board to talk to our local County Extension Home Economist about nutrition information for patrons. I also asked him if the needy folks even know how to cook dried beans or even have the right cookware to prepare a meal from scratch. He and another volunteer are going to come up with tasty recipes using the Food Pantry provisions to help make this food go farther and be palatable.

What would you do with smoked turkey necks and canned Chinese oysters ? What are the essential cooking pots that are necessary for basic cooking? What are the basic recipes that people should know to prepare?

Signs of stress

I can always tell my level of work stress. All I have to do is look at my fingernails and cuticles. The more stress, the more chewed up are my nails and nail beds.

I have been an inveterate nail chewer since early childhood. I decided when I was very young that I hated my mother clipping my nails, and I started chewing them off. It is sort of like our cats, who hate nail trims (Don’t squeeze my paws!) I think it might have been a sensory issue for me, too, because I am only comfortable with the shortest of fingernails and toe nails.

I was appaled last week to read about the woman with the world’s longest nails. She finally got them cut when their collective length was something like 28 feet. I can’t imagine how a person could even function.

I haven’t bought nail polish for decades. I have no interest in stopping my nail chewing, but I am interested in stress reduction. I have three more years to get through for my job, and I need to be a good role model for positive coping.

How can you tell you are under stress. What is stressing you these days? What do you do to de-stress and relax?

Olives

Husband really likes vegetables. He also really likes olives and preserved /pickled peppers and tomatoes. For some reason last weekend, he decided he was going to make an olive salad, and proceeded to buy six kinds of olives.  He ran short of the olives with smoked paprika, which is why I was running around in the big wind on Monday to score a jar for him while he was at his private practice.  The header photo is the olive mélange he concocted. 

I like vegetables well enough, and probably eat more because I have been married to Husband all these years. I don’t crave vegetables. He really does, and says he feels ill when he doesn’t eat enough of them.  I would probably feel the same way if I couldn’t have cheese and dairy products.  I could live the rest of my life and never eat another pickle or olive. 

Husband considers olives a free food for him as a diabetic.  He also loves green salads, which I could take or leave. I just hope he can eat that huge container of olives. They are taking up a lot of room in the fridge and not leaving much room for my skyr!

What is your favorite kind of salad or vegetable?  What do you tend to buy too much of when you go grocery shopping?