Photos of the Patients I wrote about in my book: Stories from the Tenth-Floor Clinic: A Nurse Practitioner Remembers

This past Saturday, I received a box in the mail filled with old photos. The nurse practitioner who took my place when I left the Senior Center sent this delightful surprise. “Rita Wisniewski” (I changed all names in my book except for my immediate family) said in her note that sending me the pictures of the patients we both took care of was “long overdue.” Rita had read my book but due to illness was unable to come to the various venues in Chicago where I promoted the book 2019. Between ill health and the pandemic, Rita had forgotten about contacting me. 

Rita read my book and recognized many of the patients I wrote about. Thanks to Rita, now I have pictures of those who appeared in my book. 

Molly, a wiry, eighty-year-old woman with an Irish brogue, lived next door to Ms. Henry. She often dropped into the clinic to socialize rather than to seek care. She didn’t take medication, and rarely complained of aches or pains.  P 103

Jerry Johnson, mildly retarded, wiggled between us, (on the dance floor) gyrating and twisting with abandon. It was a raucous moment that transcended age and ability.  (At a retirement party) P 117

Lilly Parks, a strikingly attractive woman in her seventies, stuffed her shawl down the front of her dress, and staggered about the dance floor on her matchstick legs as if she was going into labor. I had heard she kept a silver handgun in her sock but that evening she must have left it at home since her slim ankles were surrounded only by her rolled-down stockings. She waddled around in the center of the room clutching her belly to hoots from an enthusiastic audience (same retirement party) P 117

Stella Bukowski: (Sitting in a wheelchair) A dirty blond wig sat askew on her head. Only one leg, which was covered with a wrinkled cotton stocking, extended past the skirt of her housedress, and her foot was encased in a heavy black orthopedic shoe.  She reeked of a sharp ammonia smell. Urine? P 144

A picture of me that I have never seen before. However, I remember the poster, which was one of my favorites. I don’t remember where the picture was taken. The picture is too faded to read the citation on the bottom of the poster. Maybe one of you older nurses will recognize the poster and get back to me with the answer. 

Health care today is changing

Today we need someone who can help us manage our health care needs in the hospital, the home, the HMO, the school, the workplace, in long term care and in the community. 

Today we need a provider who can teach us how to stay physically and mentally healthy and how to prevent illness and disease. 

Today we need access to specialty practitioners who can provide expert heath care for individuals and their families. 

Today more than ever we need an advocate who can deliver quality cost-effective care throughout all the stages of our lives.

Today, we need a Nurse

My Cousin Irene and the Bee Gees

My cousin, Irene, loved my post: A Little Music and Movement Can Make You See Things Differently (June 6, 2017). In fact, she told me she occasionally watches the video I had added at the end, which is a Museum Workout at the NYC Metropolitan Museum of Art to the song “Stayin’ Alive” by the Bee Gees. She loves the Bee Gees. Makes her want to get up and dance. And she has always loved to dance. She took dance lessons as a child.

She met both her husbands at a dance. When she lived in an independent living facility run by the Sisters of Saint Dominic, one of the nuns gave dance lessons twice a week. “Sister Denice had a life before she joined the sisterhood at 30,” Irene told me. Besides dance lessons, the facility held holiday dances with a live band. 

Irene recently moved to an assisted living facility because of mobility issues. She no longer dances but continues to watch the Museum Workout videoThe music makes her “dance in my head.”

When I talked with her a few days ago to wish her a belated happy 96th birthday, she suggested that I reblog that post. Truth be told, I had already reblogged the post under a new title: Time to Take a Break, June 16, 2020. It’s one of my feel-good posts. Music always takes me on a journey away from current reality. 

So, I’m reblogging A Little Music and Movement Can Make You See Things Differently yet again for for Irene. Watch the video. Get up and dance. Or if, like my cousin Irene, you can’t get up and move to the music, dance in your head.

 

A Little Music and Movement Can Make You See Things Differently

Originally posted on June 6, 2017

Yesterday, I went to the North Carolina Art Museum at 10 a.m. to move to music.

Two women led, followed by a man in a suit holding an open laptop channeling the songs that were mostly by the Bee Gees. The women, in sequined dresses and sneakers, stomped, marched, trotted in time with the music. Thirteen women and two men, ranging in age from 20 to 70 plus, followed behind, mimicking the women’s movements. We didn’t talk.

I felt exhilarated racing through the empty museum with music bouncing off the walls surrounded by other exuberant people. The moves were not stressful. I did most of them except balancing on one leg and I stopped halfway through the jumping jacks.

The group stopped intermittently in front of a piece of art: statue, still life, portrait, and continued to move/exercise in place. Short inspirational narratives, previously taped by Maira Kalman, punctuated the music. Normally, when I visit a museum, I would gaze at the art in quiet contemplation. This time my mind and body seemed as one, absorbing the stimuli transmitted from the environment, my thoughts suspended.

When the two women dropped to the floor, I felt as if someone turned off the lights. Lying among my fellow participants with arms and legs outstretched, I realized that fifty minutes had flown by.

Now the day after, the residual glow from yesterday remains with me.

My new goal is to have more days where I step out of the ordinary.

Thanks Monica Bill Barnes & Company!

Anna Bass,me,Monica Bell Barnes, Robbie Saenz de Viteri

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The first performance The Museum Workout appeared at the NYC Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Check out the video of the performance. 

photograph by loulex for the New Yorker

Madame X, meet Ladies in Sequined Dresses and Sneakers. For “The Museum Workout,” which starts a four-week run on Jan. 19, Monica Bill Barnes and Anna Bass, Everywoman dancers of deadpan zaniness, guide tours of the Metropolitan Museum of Art before public hours, leading light stretching and group exercises as they go. Recorded commentary by the illustrator Maira Kalman, who planned the route, mixes with Motown and disco tunes. Might raised heart rates and squeaking soles heighten perception?

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Alphabet Challenge: F

I’ve signed onto The Blogging from A to Z April Challenge 2021.

The challenge is to blog the whole alphabet in April and write at least 100 words on a topic that corresponds to the letter of the day. 

Every day, excluding Sundays, I’m blogging about Places I Have Been. The last post will be on Friday, April 30 when I finally focus on the letter Z. 

F: France

For my seventieth birthday, my husband and I went on a Road Scholar trip to France. It was our second time to Paris but we had never been to Provence in the southeast region. 

poster hanging on our living room wall

Our travel companions proved to be a most congenial group. They all had traveled together on a previous Road Scholar trip and enjoyed each other’s company so much so that they signed up for another trip. We were lucky to join them.

I’m not sure I can top that trip for camaraderie, great food, magnificent sites and pastoral, relaxing scenery. However, it’s not too soon to think of my next milestone birthday In 2022. Maybe something a little more adventurous than a placid trip to the French countryside. 

Gloria Steinem, my idol, went to India and rode an elephant on her 80th

This is what 80 looks like.

Alphabet Challenge: E

I’ve signed onto The Blogging from A to Z April Challenge 2021.

The challenge is to blog the whole alphabet in April and write at least 100 words on a topic that corresponds to the letter of the day. 

Every day, excluding Sundays, I’m blogging about Places I Have Been. The last post will be on Friday, April 30 when I finally focus on the letter Z. 

E: Eckhart Apartment

In the mid 80’s I worked in a clinic on the tenth floor of a subsidized building for the elderly on the west side of Chicago. The twenty-story apartment building proved to be a training ground for me: an inexperienced nurse practitioner and new to working with older people.  

I learned:

            that older folks were generally accepting and forgiving. That they enjoyed sex.   Some of them drank too much, hired prostitutes, carried guns in their purses, and chewed tobacco. Some sold their medicine for street drugs or money. Some were abusive and some were abused.

            that not all families wanted to care for their older members. That loneliness was the most pervasive condition among the group. I learned that family members, who suddenly showed up when someone was dying, might not be family. 

            how to plan a funeral, hand over firearms to the local police precinct, how to put folks in a nursing home, transfer them to an emergency room, and commit them to a psychiatric hospital.  

            to listen to a person’s story before I examined her. And that making a home visit told me more than I could ever learn from an office visit.

            that I didn’t need the support from a highly educated and professional staff but from people who were caring and didn’t walk away from a problem. And I learned that a sense of humor was a requirement when working with the elderly.

Letting It Go

I connected with Antoinette Truglio Martin over a year ago when I sent her a text to learn about her experience with She Writes Press and finding a publicist. She was so helpful. And I have since spotlighted her book: Hug Everyone You Know: A Year of Community, Courage, and Cancer.
I enjoy her Sunday posts: Weekend Coffee Share. I join her at her kitchen table while she shares her feelings and life events of the past week. She seems like a friend whom I have known for years.
Her most recent post spoke of her decision to let her hair go natural. Since I am a strong believer that women of a certain age shouldn’t try to emulate youth but serve as role models showing that aging is not a negative life stage, I am reblogging her post.
I hope you enjoy her post, Letting It Go, as much as I did.

Stories Served Around The Table

Frozen | Let It Go Sing-along | Official Disney UK

Dark and generously thick hair is a dominant family trait for the women on both sides of my DNA tree. But as years tumble forward, our heads fade to gray well before the mindset of middle age. Each generation of women had their method to combat and come to terms with the inevitable. My maternal grandmother enjoyed regular salon visits when she retired. Her hair looked like a blue helmet. The steeliness of her hair color was evident even when she twirled and set pin curls in a net for the night. My mom fought the gray with home dye colors. Her choice was a flat black, very close to her natural color but without the light brown tints. She spent the evening with her head covered in a plastic bag and scrubbing the drips of excess black streams off…

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An Unethical Question

You May Be Only as Old as You Feel was a thought-provoking read in the New York Times on Tuesday October 22nd by Emily Laber-Warren.

Warren noted that studies show “(W)hen scientists ask, ‘How old do you feel, most of the time?’ the answer tends to reflect the state of people’s physical and mental health.”

Therefore, folks who feel younger are usually healthier than those who feel their age or older. Not surprising. On a lark, I asked Helen, whom I wrote about in my last blog, how old she feels. She just turned 80 and looks much younger, is exercising, and now doesn’t need her blood pressure medication anymore. She said she feels 50! Again, not surprising.

Then I felt guilty asking Helen that question because Tracey Gendron, a gerontologist, questions subjective age research. She thinks that asking the question is perpetuating our cultural bias that aging is fundamentally negative.

The essay stated that in some “cultures where elders are respected for their wisdom and experience, people don’t even understand the concept of subjective age.”

Furthermore, Dr. Gendron suggests that “the study of subjective age may be inherently unethical.”  She goes on to say, “I think we have to ask ourselves the question, are we feeding the larger narrative of aging as decline by asking that question? Older age is a time that we can actually look forward to. People really just enjoy who they are. I would love for everyone to say their age at every year and  celebrate it”

I agree with Dr. Gendron. There are so many subtle “beliefs” in our society that undermine positive aging. I revisited a past post of mine Rethinking How to Handle this Age Issue. I wrote that post not only to promote being proud of our age—at whatever age we are, and as a reminder not to support the premise that old age means decline.

I listed on the Rethinking post a wonderful resource that I will again cite: Old School: An Anti-Aging Clearing House that educates about ageism so we know ageism when we see it.

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Update on Tom and Helen

There are many good things about getting older but unfortunately our society holds aging as an inevitable downward spiral. That’s why I like to post about the positive when I find it. Tom and Helen are wonderful examples of a happy circumstance.

I have written two posts about them. After the excerpts below, I will give you an update.

 

 

 

1/10/2018

Dream Deferred

My friend, Helen (not her real name), called me a few weeks ago. Without salutation she said, “I am in love.” I knew she was taking about Tom, a friend of more than 30 years.

Helen and her husband, and Tom and his wife, were friends back in California. After Helen and her husband moved to North Carolina, both couples sent Christmas letters over the years. Tom and Helen were the scribes. Helen called to give her condolences after Tom’s Christmas letter noted the tragic loss of his beloved wife after a brutal battle against Alzheimer’s. Soon the two were reconnecting and updating their lives. They found they had much in common.

“I’m going to tell him that I am not interested in a relationship,” she had told me. And then her phone call.

Their frequent phone calls and messages erupted into deep emotions. Tom flew from California to North Carolina for Christmas, leaving two days after the New Year. He stayed with Helen in her one-bedroom apartment. They laughed constantly. Sang familiar songs. Finished each other’s sentences. Fell into a routine as if they had co-habited for years!

And the sex was great!

Helen will visit Tom the end of this month. Both in their seventies, they are investigating on which coast they will live—together.

 

 

8/15/2018

New Love in Old Age

. . . Then there is my writing friend I call Helen who found true love with Tom. Longtime friends, they both lost their spouses and reconnected to find a “spark” that ignited “true love.”

I have heard from Helen recently. She and Tom are now living together in California.

“Tom and I have ten children and stepchildren between us. His live on the west coast, mine on the east coast. And he has a fulltime job in California. We haven’t figured out how to navigate these difficulties yet.”

Recently, they traveled to the east coast to attend one of Helen’s grandchildren’s graduations. “Thanks for making my Nana so happy,” her fifteen-year-old grandson told Tom during that trip.

“Our love is truly a miracle for us both,” Helen writes. “Tom is one of the nicest people I have ever known, and there is an ease and flow to our days.”

They work out at a gym several evenings a week and they both swim a quarter of a mile most nights. Both have lost weight—fifteen pounds each–and leave the gym “energized and with a sense of relaxed well-being. Not bad for almost seventy-nine.”

Helen ended her email by writing, “We have trouble letting go of the evening and going to bed, like two little kids. I joked recently that we need a parent. But all is not lost — we do still brush our teeth.”

 

Tom and Helen now live in Florida. She turned 80 the week before we met. Tom is a few years younger and just recently retired. They came to Raleigh last week to see Helen’s daughter and granddaughter.

During their visit, I had lunch with Helen at a Thai restaurant. Tom dropped her off so we could have some “girl-friend” time together.

Helen filled me in on her life with Tom for the past two years as her vegan noodle dish cooled in front of her. Happiness lit up her face when she described their partnership filled with respect, trust and intimacy.

As impressed as I was over the psychosocial gains their relationship provided, the gerontological nurse practitioner side of me rejoiced in the physical gains, too.

They continue to swim three times a week, reaching a mile at least twice a month. With the exercise routine that Tom developed and a new interest in ping-pong—they bought a table and take private lessons—both have lost weight. Helen no longer needs to take blood pressure medication.

Sitting next to them on a park bench near the Thai restaurant after lunch, I observed the obvious affection they hold for each other.

Getting older isn’t always a bummer. There are truly magical moments. I have witnessed one.

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Rethinking How to Handle this Age Issue

I’ve had second thoughts about my last post: “How to Handle this Age Issue,” where I decided that the best way for me to deal with being an older woman was to ignore my age.

That decision nagged at me so I did a little research.

I reread an essay that I had saved from the New York Times on April 30, 2019 written by Paula Span titled: “Ageism Is a ‘Prevalent and Insidious’ Health Threat.” Span listed research studies that show that believing in negative stereotypes can have an effect on an older’s person’s health and function, such as an increase in dementia. However, older folks who have a positive attitude toward aging “experience less depression and anxiety. They live longer.”

She goes on to say that “(i)t’s not always easy to find the balance between shrugging off offensive messages and counterproductive scolding . . . .” when speaking against agism. I can certainly relate to that. I describe, in my last post, how I reacted to an ageist comment by a Weight Watcher representative. Definitely counterproductive.

Paula Span gives us a great resource: Old School: An Anti-Aging Clearinghouse.

I found this two minute presentation while visiting Old School that now convinces me that I will tell my age.

How to Handle This Age Issue

The woman who was interviewing me asked my age. She was apologetic. “My boss wants me to get ages.”

I was ready for her.

“I am 76,” I said. “Not a problem to ask. I think it’s good that folks realize that older people can still be productive.”

“That’s one way to handle it,” she said, flatly.

Handle what, I wondered? But I didn’t ask just in case she would think I was being snarky and end our conversation. She was a columnist from a newspaper published in my old home town, calling to conduct an interview about me and my first book, a memoir.

Quite a few years ago, when I was dipping my toe into the writing life, I heard a local cookbook author being interviewed on a radio program. When the interviewer asked the author her age, she said, “I never tell my age. There are too many ageist readers out there.” I was floored. How would ageist beliefs disappear if those who are successful and of a certain age don’t sing their own praises? I wanted to reach into the radio and shake this woman. Since then I had been on a mission to tell my age. That was the way I was handling the age issue.

Once I stopped into a Weight Watcher’s storefront to get help in dropping the ten pounds that I have habitually lost and gained over the years. The helpful clerk was promoting the additional support one could find on the internet. “There is a Weight Watchers’ Blog,” she said, eyeing me before she continued. “Do you know what a Blog is?”

I immediately assumed she thought that I was too old to know what a Blog was. Since I had just recently set up my own Blog following advice on how to promote my future book, I huffed and puffed and said rather haughtily, that I have my own Blog, thank you, then turned and marched out the door. Only later did I recognize that was the wrong way to educate the clerk. Now she knew I was not only older but super sensitive. I should have just laughed and told her I had a Blog as if it were no big deal. Then she would be impressed by my age and my poise.

Since it is obvious that I am older, my new tack is to just be me and disregard any real or imagined mannerisms of others that are demeaning. While I don’t shy away from confrontation, and in some instances enjoy the battle, I would have to make an extra attempt to be cordial. Why call attention to my age? Let my actions and accomplishments speak for themselves. Yet another way to handle the age issue.

Now you can see that I am conflicted. Tell my age or not call attention to my age?

A week ago, a woman contacted me via email. She had seen my memoir on the publisher’s website. Could she talk with me about the indie publisher I had chosen? She finished her first memoir and now was exploring options. The memoir was about her grandmother who had sold alcohol during prohibition to support her family. The woman told me that she had written a few professional books and self-published a fiction story. We spent almost an hour discussing the pros and cons of self-publishing versus using my indie publisher.

During our conversation, we never mentioned age. Afterwards, looking over her website, I discovered that she was 82. I was impressed with her vitality, and enthusiasm to get her memoir published and promoted. Oh, to be so cavalier about one’s age! I now know how I will  handle this age issue.

Just ignore it.

 

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We Agers Are Experts On Our Own Aging Experience

A fellow nurse clued me into Doris Carnevali’s blog. Here is what a Seattle news station, K5News, wrote about her. Her blog follows.

A retired nurse is helping explain what happens when we grow old. Some of it might surprise you.
Author: Ted Land
Published: 7:10 PM PDT June 5, 2019
Updated: 7:25 PM PDT June 5, 2019
SEATTLE — A 97-year-old blogger is helping explain what happens when we grow old. Some of it might surprise you.
Each morning, Doris Carnevali sits at a desk in her West Seattle home and starts writing.
“The ideas are bubbling in my head between the time I’m asleep and awake,” she said.
She has plenty to say about what it’s like to age and she’s sharing it all on her blog, Engaging With Aging.
“Sure, there are times when I am down, and the 14th thing I drop in a day makes me frustrated as all get out. But on the whole, it is so much more exciting than I ever thought it was going to be,” Carnevali said.
She is retired from the UW School of Nursing and has written medical textbooks. Then at the age of 95, she picked up a new hobby: blogging.
“I had been ranting about the fact that I thought aging had gotten a rotten deal. That it was much more pleasant, exciting, and challenging than I had been led to believe,” she said.
After hearing that rant, the dean of the UW School of Nursing urged her to publish her thoughts. So Carnevali’s granddaughter created a blog account and the words flowed.
Today, she’s written dozens of passages on what she calls age-related changes.
“My hands don’t pick up things the way I used to, do I say I’m losing my hands? No, I’m changing how I use them and that way I don’t get down in the dumps,” Carnevali said.
Engaging With Aging isn’t a how-to advice blog. It’s more of a diary about what she’s going through. If her readers extract lessons, great. If not, the exercise keeps Carnevali sharp.
“I’m still growing, I’m green, I’m inept, I’m clumsy, I’m learning every day, but I’m green, and I’m growing,” she said. “I thought of aging as being grey, no, it’s green.”
She does not shy away from the fact that there will come a day when her hobby is no longer possible.
“When it happens, it happens, and it would be nice if it didn’t, but I’m too busy doing other things to worry about it right now,” she said.

Engaging With Aging

With that expertise come responsibilities

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Many of the people who study old people, theorize and write about us, take care of us, or relate to us are not “old’ themselves. They experience old age second handedly. Earlier in my life as a nurse I often had older patients. As a daughter I shared my parents’ aging. In my 50’s I blithely participated in three editions of a nursing book about caring for the elderly without taking note of myself as the “outsider.”

Now I feel as If I had been a pilot flying over the city of aging, assuming I knew how the residents lived. What an illusion!   It’s not that what I knew, used or wrote about elderly people was inaccurate. But it paid only narrow attention to the significant ways normal aging was changing agers’ capacities to manage their ever-present tasks and relationships. I had looked at them…

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