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.

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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A Long Overdue Thank You

I had finally decided to clean out my office closet. I started with the stuffed cardboard Unknownfile box. The first thing I reached for was a frayed manila envelope. The stack of typed pages spilled out onto the floor. After I read the first two sheets—an early attempt at documenting my nursing life—I knew I was doomed to sit on that floor by the open closet door until I had scrutinized every page. One story especially held a surprise.

In the early 70s, after my husband completed his degree at the University of Chicago, we moved to the far south suburbs where housing costs fit our tight budget. My first job was at a community hospital. Soon after I started, I found out that my salary was the same as a new graduate nurse who had never even done a simple urinary catherization. I, on the other hand, was an experienced ICU nurse. I wrote a letter of complaint and while the Director of Nursing of the hospital commiserated with me, I wasn’t offered a raise. I quit.

I decided to apply for a job at a close-by nursing home in spite of the fact that I thought I was overqualified and working at a nursing home felt demeaning to my young arrogant self. I eventually learned differently.

I wrote about this experience in my memoir:

 

. . .I had worked in a nursing home—a well-run home

with low staff turnover—for a short period of time, but long enough

to savor the slow pace after being an intensive-care nurse for years

before. The residents bestowed many hugs and an occasional slobbery

kiss as I passed out medications on the evening shift.

I had forgotten that experience the day my academic advisor and

I talked about a master’s thesis. In 1979, like most of my classmates, I

wanted to study women—women of child-bearing age. Why did she

think she had to ask me again: “What group do you REALLY enjoy

caring for?” That’s when I remembered the hugs in the nursing home.

At the end of the version of the story about working in a nursing home that had sat in the manila envelope for over 15 years, there was an added comment about Eva Harrison that I hadn’t remembered writing.

Eva Harrison, the nursing home DON, had offered me a salary higher than the one I received from the hospital. She ran a warm and caring facility, valuing her staff and residents alike. I know she felt sad when I left after only six months but a new clinic opened. At the time, I believed that this new job was more prestigious than that of pill pusher in a nursing home.

What I had written was that I wished I had gone back to tell Eva Harrison that my time at her nursing home had so influenced me that when I graduated as a nurse practitioner a few years later, I had declared geriatrics my specialty. Working in a nursing home, Eva Harrison’s nursing home, set me on a career path that would both challenge and reward me.

Thanks, Eva.

 Bedbugs and Friendships

My husband and I went to Charleston last week and came home with bed bugs—maybe. A lovely city, we have been there many times joining friends at the same hotel. This time, after a hiatus of a couple of years, the hotel was looking a bit rough around the edges. Our first room was quite dirty and we had 30 minutes of dumpster noise at 3:00 a.m. We asked for another room.

The next morning my husband came out of the shower complaining of a terrible itch.

“Stop taking daily showers,” I told him. Our usual battle over dry skin and aging.

The next two mornings, after his shower, he had the same rash and extreme itch. During the day both would subside. While driving home, he showed me the “hives.” What was he allergic to?

I had been too preoccupied with my friend’s behavior to be concerned about my husband’s “allergy.” Her short-term memory loss had side tracked my delight in sharing our mini-vacation with our two longtime friends. Sue, I will call her, and I met while working at the same hospital before either of us married. Over the years we shared family vacations, grew older and retired but continued seeing each other at least once a year. Infrequent phone conversations didn’t reveal her problem. However, at dinner that first night, after Sue asked me for the third time if I had heard from a mutual friend, and then forgot where we were going to dinner the following evening after she accompanied me to that restaurant to make the reservation, I became worried.

Conflicted as how to proceed, addressing or not addressing, Sue’s memory issues, my husband and I spent the late evening hours weighing appropriate responses. I had to call attention to my concerns. How could I ignore symptoms that maybe could be reversible?  Sue’s husband seemed untroubled. The last day, Sue didn’t join us to visit the Magnolia Plantation and Gardens due to the unseasonably cold weather. While walking with her husband past the flowering azaleas, I learned how worried he was about his wife. The short-term memory loss started just six months ago. Any concern expressed by him was met with denial and anger from Sue. Would I speak with her? He was grateful.

silhouette-two-elderly-women-who-450w-464229824That last night after dinner, I took Sue’s arm in mine and we navigated the narrow cobblestone sidewalk toward the hotel. “I’m concerned,” I said, pulling her close and looking into her eyes. How often had I had to discuss uncomfortable topics with my patients over the years; how to talk of hopeless scenarios while still giving hope? But this was not a patient-nurse interaction. Would Sue lash out at me for saying she had memory issues, deny any problems or sever our friendship? My words bypassed any resistance. Sue agreed to see her primary provider when she arrived home. If her primary dismissed her concerns, Sue would seek help from a geriatrician who knew to look for changes not necessarily related to aging.

With hugs and tears, we said our good-byes at the end of the evening after I repeated my suggestions to both Sue and her husband. They had to leave earlier than we did the following morning.

After congratulating myself on my successful intervention, I slept soundly.

My daughter came to visit the day we came home. After she listened to her father’s story of his “allergies” and “rash,” she said, “Sounds like bed bugs.”

Yippes. We immediately went into action: suitcases packed in plastic bags and put it the garage, clothes washed in hot water, emailing a friend who I knew had a recent exposure to bed bugs.

I found out that a dirty environment does not always have to be part of the bed bug scenario. They are bugs of opportunity and settle in upholstery like beds and sofas and rugs and chairs.

And the “rash” that still pops up on my husband’s arms and legs can be residual of the first exposure. It can take up to a week for the sites to subside. In the meantime, I have been spared. I am on the lookout for telltale signs of infestation: blood droplets and brown spots on the bed sheets.

I texted Sue to alert her of the bedbugs. When she didn’t respond, I called her. Her voice flat, and her words curt, she cut me off before I was finished with my story.

I sat for a long time with the silent phone in my hand.

Nursing Truths for a New Era: Author Interview with Marianna Crane

A serendipitous meeting with Michele Berger reminded me of the long road I traveled conceptualizing, creating, and finally completing my book. Many folks that I met along the way inspired and supported my efforts. Most I never had the chance to thank. Fortunately, now I can tell Michele that her creativity workshop and follow-up coaching encouraged me to stay on track.

Thank you, Michele.

Below is Michele Berger’s recent post spotlighting me and my book.

The Practice of Creativity

Happy new year, everyone! It feels especially poignant to begin the first post of the year with a special Author Q&A. More than a decade ago, before I formally began my coaching practice, I taught creativity workshops at UNC-Chapel Hill’s The Friday Center. They had a thriving adult enrichment program. My classes were popular and I met and coached people from all backgrounds. It is always a delight to run into people many years later and hear about their creative adventures.

Two months ago at the North Carolina Writers’ Conference, out the corner of my I saw a distinguished-looking woman. Her face looked familiar, but I only caught a glimpse before moving on to my next panel. To my great delight and surprise, this same woman came up to me at the reception. We immediately recognized each other. She had taken one of my classes at the Friday Center and…

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SOB SISTERS

Originally posted on April 4, 2012.

Nursing Stories

Thanks to my friend Lois Roelofs and her post “Growing Older In “Style,” I found Ari Seth Cohen, a twenty-eight-year-old who is spotlighting “stylish senior citizens.” Love it. Older women—and men—who ignore the old adage: “dress your age.”

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How come a twenty-eight-year-old man finds older people so fascinating? Well, I was sure there had to be an older role model in his life. And indeed there was—a grandmother. Aha!

Back in the 80s at my first job as a gernotological nurse practitioner, Betty, a social worker, and I conducted monthly orientation sessions about geriatrics for new nursing staff. Geriatrics was a new medical specialty at the time and Betty and I wanted to sensitize the group to aging issues.

Betty had the nurses imagine themselves at different stages of life. Invariably, someone would object to the exercise, not surprisingly, when Betty had them imagine looking at themselves…

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THE CHOICE

This was published in September 2018 in The Olli Writers Group Anthology

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On our first night in a hotel room in Estoril, Portugal, the thumping in my chest jolted me awake. Still groggy from jet lag, I tried to go back to sleep but the pounding demanded attention. I pressed my hand over my heart, feeling what seemed like a bird batting its wings to escape my ribcage.

Besides a touch of anxiety, I felt fine. No chest pain, no shortness of breath, no dizziness, no nausea. Then my bladder chimed in, upstaging my clinical observations.

Slowly, I rose and sat on the side of the bed, careful not to disturb my husband who was asleep beside me. Thinking I might pass out, I sat quietly waiting to topple. When that didn’t happen, I shuffled in the dark, feeling my way along the wall, to the tiny bathroom.

Successfully back in bed without tripping, falling, or fainting, I couldn’t help but let the jet lag overtake any further analysis.

The next morning, I awoke to the same sensation in my chest. More alert than the night before, I diagnosed the uneven heartbeat as atrial fibrillation. A geriatric nurse practitioner until my retirement three years ago, I had treated many patients with this condition—its occurrence increases with age. A fact I couldn’t ignore. A-Fib, as it’s called, isn’t life threatening and often stops on its own.

I remembered that the day before, as my husband and I explored the neighborhood around the hotel, we had walked past a medical clinic. Through the large glass window, I saw several people sitting in a waiting room, some reading magazines, not unlike our clinics back home. I had no desire to seek help there. I didn’t speak the language, and who knew about medical practice in Portugal? Besides, I was counting on this event ending soon.

Getting ready for the day’s adventure, my husband slipped a sweater over his head as I laced my shoes. “By the way,” I said, trying to sound causal, “I’m having a little irregular heart beat. It’s nothing serious and I suspect it’ll end on its own. I just want you to know, that if by chance I pass out, get the tour director to call an ambulance and tell the medical folks what’s wrong with me—A-Fib.” Before my husband could become worried, I added, “I’m sure I’ll be fine.”

My husband of forty years trusted me, the knowledgeable nurse, to accurately assess my situation, and nodded. I figured he would be happy to be spared an interruption in our itinerary.

We rode the elevator down to the lobby, queued up with our tour group, and boarded the bus to Cabo de Roca. I grabbed a window seat. The vibrant, coastal city gave way to dry grasses clinging to rocky cliffs. I slid down in my seat and discretely put my fingers to my neck, checking my carotid pulse. The irregular rhythm ticked off around one hundred beats per minute. Not too rapid to worry me—yet.

After a couple of hours, the light blue sky became cloudless as we ascended into the thinning mountain air. Would the high altitude affect the rhythm of my heart? Would my pulse become so erratic that my blood stagnated, forming a clot that would migrate to my brain and spawn a stroke? My husband remained deep in his book. Or was he consciously ignoring me? The medical clinic near the hotel began to seem inviting, but very far away.

The bus turned into an empty parking lot. We arrived before other tourists. My husband was the only one who headed over to the one-story building that stood at the far end of the lot where one could obtain, for five euros, a certificate validating that one had stood at the westernmost point of continental Europe. The others headed to the bathrooms or the gift shop.

I stepped off the bus last. I felt something strange. Or, rather, I felt nothing. Had my heart stopped? No, it just felt that way with the fluttering finally gone. My chest was silent. My pulse was regular. The air smelled cool and crisp. Released from potential calamity, I dashed off to find my husband. No further health alarms marred the remainder of the trip.

When we returned to the States, my internist insisted I wear an Event Monitor: electrodes attached to my chest at one end, and at the other end to a plastic box that would hang around my neck for a month. When I noted any flip-flops from my heart, I was to depress the start button and the monitor would record the “event.”

One night during the first week, after I wrestled with the monitor to find a comfortable position in bed, I settled into sleep. My heart, booming loudly in my ears, jarred me awake. I pressed the record button. The monitor gave off a high-pitched sound and began taping. As instructed, I lay still. When the whining stopped, I stumbled into the kitchen to call the toll-free phone number.

The nurse talked me though the process of sending the recording across the phone lines. I hung up, relieved that she hadn’t told me to go directly to the hospital, as had happened with my friend, Norm, after his first submittal. “Get to the emergency room, NOW,” the nurse told him. The next day, a cardiologist installed a pacemaker in his chest.

I reassured my husband, who woke up during the taping and rushed after me, concern covering his face. We ambled back to bed—him to sleep and me to await any further malfunctioning of my heart.

Three weeks later, I mailed the monitor, wire, attachments, and unused batteries back to the company. I wouldn’t miss the nightly struggle to sleep with a rigid box digging into my ribs. Or the monitor’s beeping at inappropriate times during the day. Or most of all, the constant surveillance for any twitch in my chest.

The only two episodes I had during the month were not atrial fibrillation but sinus tachycardia: a regular, rapid heart rate, usually benign. Wearing the monitor for a month seemed too much of an inconvenience for such a paltry yield.

No doubt there will be other assaults to my aging body, mildly annoying or life threatening. The trick is to know the difference: whether to stay back and seek medical care or take a chance and get on the bus.