Category Archives: Medicine

An Apple a Day?

My dad was a big baby about getting sick.  Luckily he didn’t get sick often – mostly when my mom would just be recovering from something.  Right about the time she was feeling a bit better, he would come down with whatever bug had afflicted her.  My sister and I had always joked about it but then it got really funny the summer before my junior year when he caught my mom’s “persistent stomach flu” and it turned out she was actually pregnant. 

That old trope about women marrying men like their fathers hit a little too close to home with my second was-band.  He was pathetic and unbelievably whiny when he was ill – to the point that I was usually out of patience within the first 24 hours.  Me!

With these shining examples, I’ve pretty much always kept my sicknesses to myself.  Since my doctors figured out my adult-onset allergies, I’ve actually been quite healthy for the last 20 years, including managing to get through pandemic so far without contracting any of the variants.  Then last week I came down with a cold (yep, just a cold; I’ve tested twice).  It’s the first time I’ve had a cold in at least 10 years. 

Being retired, I didn’t need to call in sick so except for an occasional “stuck with a summer cold” text, I was pretty much just laying low.  As the weekend approached, I realized I might have a couple of conflicts that didn’t jive well with having a bad cold.  First was my other book club that was scheduled at my house on Saturday morning.  One of the members is a little fragile; didn’t want to her to catch the cold and honestly I wasn’t up to cooking and getting the place picked up.  On Friday morning I contacted everybody and re-scheduled.  Was still hoping to attend Steve’s celebration in person – tripled masked and standing in the back of the room.  Saturday morning I was still too symptomatic so switched to the virtual celebration.

It made me feel a little silly, bowing out of commitments I had made, just because of a cold, and I worried a bit that I was blowing my cold out of proportion, acting like my dad or my was-band.  But if pandemic has done anything good, it’s made me realize that I really shouldn’t drag my contagious germs around and expose innocent folks, even if it’s “just a cold”.  And I did put on a dressy shirt and earrings for the virtual!

Guess I have a couple more days of laying low and looking up silly sick memes.

How do you take care of yourself when you’re sick?

Losing Your Courage

I read in a family history book recently that my paternal great grandmother was described by her sisters late in her life as having “lost her courage”. The book doesn’t go into detail of what her sisters meant, or what losing her courage looked like. This, after raising twelve children to adulthood and operating a large, successful farm after losing her husband years before. She died in the 1930’s after a long life.

I wrote this Tuesday sitting in the waiting area of the hospital where my best friend was having surgery. We drove here early in the morning from a smaller town about 30 miles away. On the drive to the hospital all the warning and hazard lights on my van dashboard came on, the low battery charge came on, the van lights automatically turned off, and the radio wouldn’t work. We barely had enough power to get to the hospital. I got my friend checked in, and the van and I limped to a nearby car dealership. My courage level was about as low as my battery charge. I got a call about an hour later saying it was the alternator, and they would replace it by the end of the day.

I am strangely anxious about any sort of travel these days. COVID and its isolation, the political climate, war, all seem to have sucked all the courage out of me. I am brave at home, but not so much in unfamiliar territory. I realize I have little to really complain about, and I know I will find the courage to solve what are quite minor problems in the grand scheme of things. Why can’t things just go smoothly?!!

Is courage just a decision we make? How is your courage level these days? Any automotive repair stories to share?

Shoulder Surgery

Today’s post is from Ben.

Well, sometimes things don’t go as planned.

I was in the hospital Wednesday for rotator cuff surgery on my left shoulder. Prognosis for recovery was six weeks in a sling and then a lot of therapy with full recovery taking eight months to a year. Woofda. Could be worse, I could still be milking cows. I think I got pretty lucky, after my dad retired from milking, I milked cows for 14 years and I don’t recall ever missing a milking due to injury. I remember a few times having a stomach bug, and I had to run up to the house to use the bathroom, and then come back and finish milking. And some days I probably moved pretty slow. But I don’t think I missed any milking’s other than random vacation days.

But it turns out my torn tendons were all old enough injuries that they couldn’t pull the tendons back into place. I will only need to wear the sling for two weeks, and then a lot of physical therapy to strengthen the muscles that are still there. And considering prior to Thanksgiving I didn’t know I had any issues, I would expect to be back to where I was then. And perhaps looking at shoulder replacement in 5 to 10 years. Yay! Only two weeks in a sling!

In November 1976, my dad had bunions removed from both feet at the same time. I was 12 years old. Dad hired a guy to come and do chores and milk the cows as Dad was supposed be off his feet for six weeks. That was a year it was cold and there was a lot of snow early in the winter. If I remember right, the guy only lasted a few days or a week, and then he broke the chain on the manure spreader and rather than fixing it, just parked it in the shed and went home. Well, you can’t leave a spreader full of manure sitting in freezing weather; it will freeze solid and we need to use it every day. You have to fix it and get it empty. That may mean unloading it by hand, but it needs to be emptied one way or another. Which Mom and I did. Then Mom and I laid in the snow fixing while dad shouted instructions from the living room window. The guy was fired and mom and I did the milking and chores. And it wasn’t long before dad had bread bags over the casts on his feet and he was back down in the barn. He didn’t really have a choice. I’ve asked my siblings if they remember helping or hearing about this. They don’t. Funny the things we forget or put out of our minds.

Point being: At least I’m not trying to milk cows with one arm.   

Here’s a photo of the dogs, Bailey and Humphrey, keeping an eye on a squirrel.

I was / am excited and scared, the shoulder was giving me muscle spasms or something about once a week or so, and they hurt like the dickens, so I hope that will be gone. They did clean up the site and realign some things and I got a balloon in there holding it all in place. And I keep reminding myself, in the long run, this will be nothing. I am still so fortunate.

There’s a farmer on youtube called ‘The Harmless Farmer’, Andy Detwiler.  He impresses me with the things he can do with his feet. And we’ve got a friend who’s been dealing with cancer for years. So, a sore shoulder for a few months? One arm in a sling for 2 weeks? This is nothing. Keep the perspective.

What helps keep your perspective?

Help me with fun phrases or stories for the sling:

‘______ than a one armed__________’

‘_________with one arm tied to his side.’

A Glass of Water

Today’s post comes from Steve

A week ago I was hospitalized in an obscure room of Saint Paul’s United Hospital. My doctors were divided. Some wanted me to avoid all liquids. Some wanted to hydrate me immediately. Hours went by with all sorts of tests, and meanwhile I kept getting more desperately thirsty. I couldn’t talk because my tongue kept getting stuck to the roof of my dehydrated mouth. And then the decision came down: I could drink as much as I wanted. They serve cold water in paper cups in that hospital, with most of the space filled up with soft, easily crunched ice. I went on a crushed ice binge that was so joyful I almost wept as I chewed.

We should never take good drinking water for granted. The Saint Paul city water I get from the tap has won prizes for palatability. I keep a jug of it in the fridge, and it is a treat. Great water is the start of great coffee, which I appreciate. When I moved to Happy Valley, a suburb of Portland, the local water reeked of chlorine. I couldn’t bear drinking it, and coffee made from that water was grotesque. I had to install a filtering system before I could tolerate that water.

I was guilty of bad planning once, shortly after we moved to Oregon. Some family and friends decided on a whim to hike up a trail to a mountain peak overlooking Crater Lake. The trail was not short, and it ascended rapidly. We all began suffering from thirst in the 90-degree air. We finally hit the crest and could enjoy the view, but we all were in distress because we were so thirsty. Bright spring water bubbled out of the hillside. Water never looked so delicious, and yet we knew the prettiest spring water could be filled with giaradiasis, the dreaded “beaver fever” bug. As I recall, half of us were strong enough to resist the most tempting water we had ever seen. And in the end—which with giardiasis usually involves both ends of the body—nobody who drank that water got sick.

I was even thirstier than that once. I made a plan to “through-hike” the Superior Hiking Trail. Through-hiking means you start at one end and walk to the other end of a big trail. A day after hiking south from Grand Marais turned bad when I got confused by the trails. The Superior Hiking Trail itself is not terribly large or obvious, and on that afternoon I got lost when a bunch of smaller trails intersected with the SHT itself. It was August, blazing hot, and all streams along the trail were low. I knew I was in trouble when I began hearing traffic from Highway 61, which should have been well below me but was not. And then I found myself hiking the shoreline of the big lake.

Superior is so big and clean it is safe to drink in most places. Those places do not include shorelines, but I was not in a position to be picky. Out of my mind with thirst, I threw my body along the shore, plunged my head in the lake and began inhaling. I was there a long time. When I got up it seemed to me the lake had lowered a few inches, but I couldn’t be sure.

On the first BWCA trip I took with my father, we camped a week on a Lake called Bichu. It is a pretty place. But our campground did not give us access to water except right near shore, and my dad discovered that the lake water by the shore was absolutely filled with wriggling aquatic life. He solved the problem by dumping in enough grape Kool Aid so we couldn’t see the bugs we were drinking. That trip taught me several lessons about my father’s outdoor camping limits, but none were more memorable than the water that we drank, water surging with life if you allowed yourself to look.

Have you ever had especially good or bad water? How did you cope? What do you do now for drinking water? Ever get really, really, really thirsty? Have you found a way to justify drinking water from single-use plastic bottles?

School Jitters

One part of my current job is that of a clinician on our Youth and Family Team. School starts here on Thursday, and it seems like many of our young clients are falling apart at the prospect of a new school year.

I remember being unable to sleep in the days before school started, anxious about the excitement and uncertainty. I never had to worry about getting a potentially deadly disease or wearing masks, or worrying if I would be sent home on quarantine. Things are sure different.

The members of my team can’t wait until school starts and thing presumably settle down for our clients. At least we hope they settle down.

What about school starting gave you the jitters when you were a child? What were your most favorite and least favorite years in elementary and middle school?

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?

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?

Folie a Plusieurs

One benefit of working as a mental health professional  in the middle of nowhere is the opportunity to see people with all sorts  of different diagnoses that one wouldn’t necessarily see in urban areas due to the increased specialization there. When you are the only game in town (or a 100 mile radius) you get to see it all.  Very few of my urban colleagues have seen Huntington’s Chorea first hand, tested people with Lewy Body Dementia  or Korsakoff’s psychosis, and also treated  children with PANDAS (Look it up. It isn’t as nice as it sounds).

The recent uptick in conspiracy theories and QAnon reminded me of a case I was privy to decades ago involving a shared delusion.  Folie a Deux is a condition in which one person with a Delusional Disorder convinces someone else without a Delusional Disorder that their delusions are real. It usually occurs in couples or close relatives.   It is rare.  It barely made the last edition of the American Psychiatric Association  Diagnostic and Statistical  Manual.  The case I remember is that of  one person in a couple having  the delusion that a member of a famous  Country Western singing group loved them,  and transmitted secret messages to them over the television.  The delusional person convinced their partner this was true, and both had to be hospitalized.

I wonder if APA is reevaluating the rarity of shared delusions in our current political climate.  It may be more prevalent than we previously thought.  I love the French terms for these conditions.  Folie a Plusieurs is the term for “madness of several”,  which we certainly have observed recently.  The treatment usually involves separating the truly delusional from the ones they have convinced about their delusions.  Then they can see what is really happening.

What are your favorite non-English terms?  Make up some fun and helpful  conspiracy theories.