Tuesday, December 31, 2013


It began innocently enough several months ago, when I began asking around about what insurance plan I should consider. As a baby boomer, I have a set of circumstances that are not, after all, atypical. In the past three years, I have opted to work as a self-employed (1099) professional, largely due to the flexibility it has afforded my schedule in overseeing my elderly mother's care. Also, my 59 years have exacted a toll on my body, including osteoporosis, rheumatoid arthritis, and the need for arthroscopic surgery following a sudden knee injury in March of this year. I'm a single (widowed) woman, with a post-doctoral level of education, and like many in my demographic, I'm probably going to be quite advanced in years before I can mark my student loan account "paid in full." It's certainly fortunate that I've gone on record as saying I actually want to work for the rest of my life, and to not retire. I don't want an opulent lifestyle; I just want to be okay.

I've been paying for private insurance since 2006, have enjoyed a trusting relationship with both my physicians, and have been able to budget for my soon-to-be-former health insurance plan. In short, the whole arrangement was working well for me -- until this current mess dreamed up by the Obama administration. But, now the government has chosen to interfere in my life in some profound ways. And I'm taking this whole situation very personally.

Early in November, I contacted an insurance agency recommended by someone whose opinion I highly regard. The cheery representative promised me she would get back to me in early December, and would meet me "anywhere that's convenient to you." Actually, as it turned out, when I called her back (she didn't initiate the follow-up as promised), she rather curtly referred me to a colleague. Once I was in the hands of this individual, I was passed along yet again to someone else for follow-up.

I was compliant with their instructions -- downloading the application from the link they emailed me, filling it out to the best of my ability, and after some back-and-forth faxing and calls, got my finalized information to the agency by the end of the business day on December 20, to assure that they would be able to submit it prior to the December 23rd deadline. The insurance agent said I was all set, and all I needed to do was watch the mail for the first premium bill from my new carrier. I sighed in relief...mission accomplished before the Christmas holiday, right?

Wrong, as it turned out! So very wrong.

In addition to the expected holiday distractions, I had the unforeseen issue with my mother's sudden serious illness, rush to the hospital, and then transfer to a rehab center on Christmas Eve. With ordinary work and household duties, I was now even less cognizant of a insurance snafu that was awaiting me. Then on about December 28, I got a form letter (dated December 20th)from Covered California, telling me that I needed to call to clarify an alleged "lump sum payment" that was supposedly affecting the income numbers on my application. On the next business day, December 30, I called the several toll-free numbers provided, and spent no less than one hour before I got a nice-sounding "live person" who assured me that this letter "had been poorly written," and I should probably disregard it...but, in pulling up my application in the computer system, I was told that it had been filed, but that the insurance agency had neglected to complete it with the most important part -- the plan that I had selected! With no selection, I wouldn't have gotten a premium bill, and with no premium payment, I wouldn't have had any insurance coverage.

This Covered California rep offered to finalize the process with me, which, in hindsight, I should have done. But, I was so angry and blindsided in that moment, I opted to defer this and try to call the insurance agency to find out just how they dropped the ball on this. Two calls from me...no answer.

Today, what should have been a laid-back, rare day off for me, has seen me frantically making two calls (consuming almost 2.5 hours of my time)to finally secure my new insurance (which, if I'd had my druthers, I wouldn't have wanted. My old coverage was just fine, thank you very ****ing much!) before midnight. In the first call, I found out from the Covered California rep that the insurance agency had submitted income and personal data that was "totally wrong," and that I would have to settle for a totally different policy from what I was sold -- at a price tag of about $100/month more than what the agency quoted me. As an independently contracted professional with a variable income, that bill is not always going to be very "affordable." Furthermore, I was told that I needed to call my doctors' offices to ascertain their participation on the plan I figured I could afford.

My rheumatologist's office was closed. I left a message that conveyed my concern. In a call to my primary physician, I was told that he was not on the network for which I was opting.

I was up against the clock, and my head was spinning with the absurdity of the situation. I permitted myself a brief cathartic crying spell before picking up the phone again, hopefully for the last time. This time, I got a very sweet young woman who walked me through the long-awaited final steps, and assured me that, indeed, I would be covered at the stroke of midnight tonight. I thanked her profusely, and wished her a heartfelt "Happy New Year."

I then sat back on the sofa, now totally wasted from this ordeal.

There you have it. As we enter 2014, I have insurance coverage, purchased out of desperation and haste, that I really hadn't bargained for. It's for sure I'll have to start over with a new primary doctor, after many years with one I've come to trust, and I don't know what's going to happen with my rheumatologist and the treatment I need for my R.A. And who knows what this means for the medications crucial for my health and well-being.

Thanks a lot, Washington! And to that incompetent insurance agency, damn you!



What's shown is a cake I had made for the 1999 I threw. Who knew, as I gathered my group of intimate friends around me, what lay ahead for each of us? I've posted this as a reminder to stop and toast, even as life sometimes slams into us and sends us reeling.

Below is another pic -- of me at the same party. I remember Mom telling me, as I scurried around in this dress getting the festivities going, that I looked like Mae West. That continues to be a compliment to me; Ms. West's brassiness and benign vulgarity actually inspire my view of myself as an older(ish) woman.

Fourteen years later, the evening will be different, but my hopefulness for the future still just as high. In fact, I've decided to bump things up and be defiantly optimistic. 2013 stank -- with both my own health challenges reminding me to pace myself better, and Mom's continued frailty. I'm leaving this year behind as a wash, and am actually eager for 2014. Even in thinking what possibly could "go wrong," my endurance so far gives me some combat skills. The future? Bring it on!

So, here's my scintillating agenda for the next 36 hours or so:

1. As I monitor the televised festivities in Times Square throughout the night, I'm going to be pressing my shredder into service. There's ancient paperwork in the corner desk and in a large cardboard box nearby. What isn't relevant going forward in 2014, goes through the cutting blades, and out with the recycling on Friday morning. Visual clutter is as painful to me as the tangible kind. Getting organized is a common goal I hear my clients voice, and one I share with them. And as I'm faced with more responsibilities in my mother's care, being as organized as possible with be a life-saver on many levels, now and in the days ahead.

2. Get organized for resumption of life on Thursday morning. Get my wheelie-case ready to go out the door, organize my files, see that my computer calendar is up-to-date, scrub down the kitchen and bathroom, and take inventory in the near-empty fridge. With my Mom's sudden hospitalization more than a week ago, I've focused an inordinate amount of attention on this situation, and allowed my home to be neglected. I need to trust that Mom's in good hands at the rehab center. Home is supposed to be my refuge; I should feel gratitude and honor it as such. How many times do I lecture people about caring for themselves? Now, the famous saying, "Physician, heal thyself" holds real meaning for me. Maybe I can sneak out and see the movie Nebraska during the matinee hours. The themes in this film are near to my heart, and I want to see if I agree with the reviews I've read.

3. Making time for my backyard. It's been neglected for so long, and it breaks my heart to see my rose bushes hidden among overgrown tufts of grass. There's a neighbor down the block from me, with whom I've had only a smile-and-wave acquaintance as I drive by. I want to knock on his door, and in our conversation, ask him about the native plants with which he has landscaped his front yard. I'm going on record, here and now, and saying I want to restore my own front yard's beauty with some fresh-looking, water-thrifty plants. Recreational gardening used to be more than some chore -- it was real therapy for me. I must get back to it; I long to get happily dirty once again.

People reading this might think that I'm taking on an awful lot for "downtime," but that's me. I've always been happiest when taking care of my home and personal life.

And 2014 is the year to keep my life up there on my list of priorities.

Happy New Year to all of you, with lots of love.


Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Christmas 2013, With New Meanings

This year, the holidays saw a swift and unexpected change. They will never be quite the same again.

Soon after Thanksgiving, I hauled out the decorations, with an underlying mixture of eagerness, sadness, and even impatience. I have always looked forward to seeing the items that evoke memories of personal or family events, but this year I felt as if I would be doing this just for me, without much opportunity to share the displays with others. The fact that Mom was now bed-bound and rarely out into the rest of the house. The "kids"--my son and daughter-in-law--are busy with their jobs and live nearly an hour away. Other friends are surrendering to aging and limited mobility, and so their visits are becoming pretty rare. The thought of Why bother? crossed my mind more than once, especially as I pushed the bulky box with the prelit tree from my garage along the back walkway to the house, and then feeling the effects in my arthritic hands. Still, everything went up in its ritualistic place, and I felt an odd comfort after sitting back on the sofa to take in the full visual effect.

The house wouldn't look the same without the numerous hangings my mother made in the early 1980s, when latch-hook was all the crafting rage. We have small rugs, wall hangings of every design and size, Christmas stockings, and even a tree skirt, all done by Mom to relax after she would come home from her nursing shift.

And the intricate knitted stockings that Mom made over the course of three decades, lovingly, for each family member, are stuff of family legend. Now there are only three that get hung on the mantle. Others are poignantly stored in a sealed box in Mom's closet, with the label in her handwriting, "Christmas stockings for deceased family."

Then, this past Sunday at approximately 1:30 AM, I was awakened to the alarming sound of Mom coughing. Her cough is not a new phenomenon, but this time there was an alarming difference. There was a desperation to the sound, an insistent struggle. I went in to find Mom in the throes of projectile vomiting and respiratory distress. After doing a clean-up and then sitting briefly at her bedside with the "barf bucket," I put my foot down and called the EMTs. Mom, in keeping with her pattern of not wanting to accept help for herself, tried to downplay the breathing difficulties as "just a little cold I've had recently." I stood at the head of her bed and gave the EMTs a different take on it. One of them said to me, "Well, it's whatever your Mom wants, and she seems pretty clear to me." My fear was that we would get so caught up in a war of opinions that Mom would have worsened quickly, and it would have then been too late for intervention. At the end of this debate, off the ER she went.

It turns out that Mom's almost-89-year-old constitution was under full assault, with bilateral pneumonia and two virulent infections. The ER staff went to work and launched their counteroffensive, with two days of inpatient follow-up. I'm grateful for the staff at Providence St. Joseph Medical Center here in Burbank, and have already sent a letter to the head of the nursing department expressing my deep thanks, with special mention of one particular nurse, Melinda. At a time when I was, frankly, scared about what was happening to Mom, Melinda's calm, cheer, and competence was itself good medicine. It's so important, despite whatever our many preoccupations, to stop and express thanks to those who help us. It feels good to give well-deserved praise; it boosts the morale of those receiving it, and it makes the world a more compassionate place.

Mom has been transferred to a rehab facility, and her absence from home has given me time and space to reflect -- not just on what this illness means medically for her, but what it means to me. The amount of vulnerability I feel has taken me by surprise. Certainly, at our ages (Mom, 89; me, 59), this turn of events is not unexpected. A part of me wants to hide behind my education and work experience as some kind of theoretical buffer against my visceral feelings. Still, the harsh reality is that someday, my mother will die. I will lose her.

I've taken to sleeping on the couch after work, as if being in the living room, closer to the street, will keep me in touch to the world. My taste in TV and music is now determinedly (or maybe desperately) brighter, the more comedic tone the better. I've probably reached out to my Facebook friends with more openness than I had since I signed up in 2008. Wherever I go, even to errands about town, I have found myself making more connections -- saying "hello" and smiling to passersby, and being more engaging with store staff. Even my "big brudda" is hearing from me by phone, text, or email at an unprecedented rate.

First thing in the morning, I have to remind myself that Mom is not waiting in her room for me to come and check on her. Who knew that the absence of a person could be so profound, so palpable? And yet, since the onset of this illness, it's only been three days.

At home, I find myself staring at the homemade decorations, and memories of sitting near Mom and watching her creative process come flooding back. Because they are such vivid reminders of Mom, I wonder when I'll bring myself to put them away after the holidays.

When I visit Mom, I find myself becoming the proverbial "parent to my parent." She resists eating, despite my pleas and my cutting up her food. She wants me to leave only minutes after I get into her room, saying that I "shouldn't have to be here." I see this woman, who once seemed so formidable and protective of me. Now, lying in her hospital bed, Mom is delicate and alone. I am now her protector.

The first night she was at the rehab center, Mom stated, "I wonder if I'll ever be allowed to go home."

That broke my heart.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

59. Whatever.

Yes, my dears, I'm 59 today. That leaves me another 41 years (more if I'm lucky) to meander around life, and see how I can leave my mark on the world.

My Facebook friends, most of whom are also old Burbank High pals, have been overwhelming me with their lovely birthday-wish posts. One thing that I've come to appreciate is the friendship and company of others -- these former classmates; my colleagues, former and present; my family; my current tenant; my neighbors; my teachers and professors in my higher education. Looking back into my teens and early twenties, I was quite moody and resistant to others' companionship, and I can only regret the amount of time I wasted in being such a loner.

So, anyway, today came, and I reflected back on birthdays past -- 13, 18, 21, 25, 40, and 50. Some were bittersweet, others spectacularly fun. All I care about now is this moment. So, even if 59 isn't one of those ones usually seen as a milestone, I don't mind. The future still beckons...

Originally, I'd considered calling off work on "My Day," but then asked myself "Why?" On my way there--the only day in the week I leave the Burbank city limits for business purposes--I found the I-5 nicely uncrowded, so I applied a bit of pressure to the accelerator. Speeding along, and pushing various preset radio buttons, I was struck by what I heard.

First was a ad spot for a local hospice, complete with sweetly maudlin piano music in the background. As the primary caregiver for my mother, I recognize and honor the work these people do. It's just that I didn't want to hear this material on this particular morning. Click...

On the next preset station, KRTH-101 (first broadcasting, by the way, during that wonderfully significant year of 1972), was Norman Greenbaum's "Spirit in the Sky." Don't get me wrong, this is among some of my all-time favorites. Again, though, I didn't want to be reminded of dying...not today...

Finally, on "The Sound," KSWD-100.3, the brash challenge of Pat Benatar, "Hit Me With Your Best Shot," provided just the right sentiment. Now I was ready to face...whatever!

The morning wouldn't have been complete, though, without the comedy segment, "Laughter at 45 After," (yes, at 7:45)about teenage girls, texting, and the comic's fear of being seen as a "creepy guy in a van."

It was a light day, and so I actually got home about an hour earlier than usual. Mom and caregiver Esmeralda were finishing dinner. Mom asked me, "How old are you today?" Ever the smart-aleck, I replied, "59, Mom, and I'll be that tomorrow, too." Mom: "Really?" She was quite taken aback, and continued to ruminate on this up to bedtime.

Oh, well...it was a good day in any case. If I don't attach any inordinate importance to my age, it won't be an obstacle.

Comedy -- Rx for Grumpiness in Aging

I love my House and Law and Order reruns, but as of last night, I'm taking a serious break from them.

My gentleman friend had the TV tuned to Comedy Central the other night, and we were delighted to see Gabriel Iglesias doing some wonderful material, which I found both hilarious and totally not subtle. One segment:

As if we did not have enough laughter to make our sides sore, we then were treated to Bill Cosby in his wonderful performance, "Far from Finished."

It's occurred to me that I've convinced myself that I'm so busy, that I've almost forgotten how to laugh, including at this absurdity called my life.

I'm starting to keep a resolution from last New Year's that I was going to make the time to read more. Recently, I finished a delightful, heart-warming book, God and Mr. Gomez, which I had heard about for years. After awakening from a recent, detailed dream about how I'm going to refurbish my 1922 Burbank home, I had the compelling thought that I had to get this book and read it now. So, even before I made my 5 AM coffee, I was at the computer, summoning up the genie Amazon to place my order.

Growing up, I faithfully read Jack Smith's column every day before going to school. His gentle, folksy humor has always been an inspiration to me, and I mourned when the Los Angeles Times published news about his death in 1996. Now that I read the story about Smith's association with Mr. Gomez, I found I have a new obsession. As I write this, I am awaiting delivery of one of his other books, How to Win a Pullet Surprise: The Pleasures and Pitfalls of our Language, and also a tribute called Eternally Yours, a collection of some of Smith's columns.

Levity is long overdue, and I intend to relish it as much as possible.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

A Paean of Praise to Starbucks

For those of you who are not on my Facebook friend queue, I'd like to share the following dream I posted about this AM:

Just woke up (OVERSLEPT) from a TERRIBLE dream! I had at least 50-60 people over for Thanksgiving (never have had more than 8-10 at most), kept running back and forth from one turkey in the indoor kitchen to another bird in an outdoor/detached structure kitchen, struggling with heavy pots of potatoes, vegetables, etc., everyone grumbling about "when's dinner?" and NO ONE HELPING ME. So glad to be awake! I ordinarily don't analyze dreams, but I'm going to be thinking about this one for a while!

As we age, I've noticed more and more of us are commiserating about our insomnia -- posting late night/very early morning reports of playing Solitaire or watching those dreadful "As Seen on TV" promos. I wonder -- has there been any marketing research done as to how many sales of silly gadgets get made on the phone or internet between the hours of midnight and 5 AM? A frightening number, I'm willing to wager.

Even though my posts and blogs have been usually very candid, I'd rather not ever disclose what I know about my insomnia's origin (except what I've said in a professional setting). Just know that my nocturnal watchfulness began in my teens, with trauma. That's all I'll say.

My concern is that many depend upon my getting good sleep. There are my clients, my colleagues, my family, my friends, and anyone whose existence intersects with mine, however briefly. Naps are a band-aid solution, a welcome respite when I can grab some time.

Maybe this is the time to confess that I've fallen off the wagon -- regarding coffee, that is. The fact that my mother still has some in the morning, and her caregiver does also, is one reason my recent "tea-only" resolve got chipped away. Then, there's that lovely Starbucks that opened up about three months ago within smelling-distance of my office.

Yes, folks, I'm back to my old vice: a Venti White Chocolate Mocha expresso (2 shots), plus an extra shot. Do the math. I'm loving my coffee-plus-three-shots-of-expresso. Oh, yes, and don't forget the top layer of whipped cream. Maybe I should ask one of my medical professional friends to just hook me up to a wheeled IV, with a slow, steadily-measured drip of caffeine to get me through the day.

Creative soul that I am, I even made my own version of this drink this morning. The result wasn't bad. Yesterday, I got a mailer from Bed, Bath & Beyond, and am eying affordable expresso machines.

Yesterday, at this local "watering hole," I was looking for holiday gift ideas for fellow coffee-philes. You know that screeching sound effect you hear on a TV show when people experience a "WTF?" moment? I had something similar when I saw packages of decaf expresso. Decaf?? Expresso?? Sorry, but the combination of these two words seems like more than an oxymoron; it seems positively heretical. I mean, if you're going to indulge in something, do it with the original ingredients, like you mean it.

Okay, as I follow up with the last of my morning joe (raising a toast to Starbucks), I just wonder where this latest development will go.

As far as my vivid, action-movie dreams, I think I'll resume entries in the dream journal I started when I was in grad school. My Freudian-oriented gentleman friend took enormous pleasure in giving his interpretation.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Fill 'er up!

I've been studiously avoiding recent mention of my RA. From the time of the diagnosis in late June, the subject has consumed me on so many levels. I wanted to cut my readers/friends--and myself--a break.

A sudden setback changed my mind. Besides just being a way to vent any fears or frustration, I would hope that my adding my words to those of others might add to an atmosphere of encouragement, and promotion of research for eventual cures.

After a brief symptom reprieve, my initial medication regimen ceased to be effective. So, after consultation, meticulous documentation, and submission to the insurance company, my angel-in-the-white-lab-coat, Dr. La, has now got me on Remicade. He began by giving me the educational pamphlets on this and Humira. One option was to go with a biologic with which I would inject at home, a choice I quickly rejected. My hatred of sticking any needles into myself goes back to my days in a high school summer science class, when we were asked to poke our fingers for a lesson in blood typing. My lab partner had to do the deed for both of us. When I went home and told my mother, a nurse, about what happened in school, she scoffed, and called me "a baby." Yup, Mom, and that's why you became the nurse in our family, and I pursued another path. To this day, I cannot look when I get a vaccination or any thing similar. In fact, I couldn't even do this when I took my son for any of his many pediatric appointments.

Yesterday, after my last client, I went for my first infusion. Ushered into my now-familiar rheumatologist's office, I was shown to a quiet nook away from the main corridor of exam rooms. I had my choice of either of the two cushy leather recliners behind the privacy curtain. Since this was a two-hour procedure, I had brought a book, and was relieved of my handbag. After a check of my temperature and blood pressure, I was given a Benedryl and a Tylenol, to prevent any negative effects. The doctor himself came out, asked if I had any unanswered questions, and encouraged me to signal at any time if I felt any discomfort of any kind. Then the doctor inserted the IV himself, which was the first time I had ever had an MD doing this, rather than one of the nursing staff. Then the foot rest was put up for my comfort, and I was even tucked in with a light blanket...so reassuring was my care.

To pass the time, I chose to bring my latest leisure read, Haldol and Hyacinths: A Bipolar Life, by Melody Moezzi. This feisty new memoir is something I highly recommend to anyone who is familiar--personally or professionally--with this disorder. Even with the Benedryl buzz, I was able to read at a respectable pace. At one point, however, my head snapped up, and I began coughing. I'd probably dozed off, and "swallowed wrong." A nurse was there in a flash, asking if I needed anything, like water. No, I was okay... And so, before I was even eighty pages into the book, the IV was spent, my final BP reading was taken, and I was given an order for a lab test before my next "refill" in a couple of weeks. Mission accomplished. All A-OK.

Once I was home, I called it a night early. This morning, I immediately checked out my hands and wrists, and have done so throughout the day. Just as I shared with you a few months ago after my first round of dosing, I have noticed a dramatic difference in the way I feel, and yet, also recognize the possible role of hope that a treatment will be effective. One thing I've learned is that I have to keep an eye on my response to emotional stress; any negative mental energy ripples through my bones like a tuning fork.

Coincidentally, my latest issue of Arthritis Self-Management was in my mailbox when I arrived home. Of particular interest in this very practical magazine is an article, "Choosing Home Exercise Equipment." I've been wondering just what I will do with those eight-pound hand weights I used to so easily heft over my shoulders in the quest for toned upper arms. Swap 'em out on Craigslist or Freecycle for some less heavy, I guess. The stationary bike is again my friend; recently, I've been able to dial the pedal resistance back up as I watch my recorded TV shows.

Another must-read article is "Getting the Support You Need." At the top of one page, one can see this highlighted passage, "BenefitsCheckUp, a free service from the National Council on Aging, can help you find government programs for which you may be eligible." This, and the cover feature, "RA in Young Adults: Social Relationships," reminds us that this disease cuts across demographic lines and calls for more aggressive funding for research.

As we head into a weekend, I wish everyone well.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

I hit my reset button

Yesterday's ups and downs were what I needed to get myself out of the rut I was in.

I've never been one for memorial services (sometime I'll tell you just what I want to happen to my old bones), but yesterday's tribute to Sharon was beautiful. She lived a busy life of sharing with others, and a massive display in the church social hall was evidence of this. Memorabilia from her SWE (Society of Women Engineers), photos from travels with her kids to experience archeological digs or solar eclipses, articles expressing appreciation for the MANY causes for which she tirelessly volunteered before and after her retirement...it was beyond impressive.

I knew Sharon for so many years, but to hear her story retold through the eyes of those whose lives she touched more than enhanced my appreciation. It gave me pause to consider what kind of life I'm living, and just how others will remember me. It's often the case that we do New Year's resolutions, or mark other days with some self-reflection, but now I'm considering the benefits of ongoing checks, kind of like the auto-spell check on my computer. I want to hold myself to a higher level of accountability.

The flip side of taking myself very seriously is the wonderful gift of laughing at myself with old friends. It was such a gift to see a small group of the BHS class of 1972 last night, and see again just how our lives have unfolded. The photo above was a joke posted to FB for the benefit of one of our own. That's me peeking around the door in the green shirt. Ah, I love these people!

So, on with my life, hopefully in a more thoughtful and joyous frame of mind.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

A Bittersweet Juxtaposition

Today, for the first time since the holidays, I'm taking a planned personal day off from my clients and paperwork.

The first order of business is the memorial service for my sister-in-law on my late husband's side of the family. Sharon Cascadden lost her valiant fight with ovarian cancer recently. Rest in peace, my dear lady.

My own kin, the Cooks, and my family by marriage, the Cascaddens, have always been so far-flung, it's been too easy to lose touch. In the past few decades, it seems the only connection we have experienced has been when someone passes away. This further emphasizes the personal urgency I wrote of following the Burbank High School reunion for the class of 1972. For me, with everyday life going on as usual, it has been often all too easy to say, "Oh, yeah, I need to call (fill in the name(s)), and then have that intention forgotten amid mundane household and career tasks.

Sharon, I so humbly apologize for my taking you for granted lately. Your life was an inspiration to your family, and everyone else you touched. You seemed so upbeat and hopeful when we spoke on the phone just a month or two ago. It was always on my mind to call back again whenever I got home after work...and then, to see news of your passing during a chance survey of Facebook.

I'm so ashamed of myself for all the times I've gotten "too busy" to maintain connections with those who should be vitally important to my existence and my identity.

I must come today to pay my respects and reconnect with your family, no matter what distractions exist in my life. Stopping the momentum of everyday distractions and demands runs counter to my usual mindset, but it's vital I do this. It's a matter of making amends as well as paying respects.

Then, in the late afternoon, it'll be time for a stop back home to change clothes--and mood, the best I can. Tonight, I'll be seeing old high school friends I've only kept up via Facebook pictures and posts since our magical reunion night on August 18, 2012. Now, joy at socializing and festivities will be taking on another meaning for me.

Oh, to embrace anyone I can, and not lose touch! Everyone is a piece of me, keeping me alive and existent. I'm reminded of a quote I learned in Mrs. Conery's English class in my sophomore year at BHS:

"No man is an Island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the Continent, a part of the main; if a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as well as if a manor of thy friends or of thine own were; any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in Mankind; And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; It tolls for thee."
John Donne (1572 - 1631), Meditation XVII

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Random Thoughts at Summer's End

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I find myself slightly melancholy this morning. Eight days from today will be the official start of fall. Where did summer go when I blinked? Indeed, what about 2013?

Don't get me wrong. We are actually heading into my favorite part of the year. Cooler temperatures mean I can break out my deeper-hued clothes again, like the velour shirts I like to wear so much.

And even though our family holiday festivities will be scaled back this year, they still remind me of what's important -- family ties, home. Still, as I see Halloween stuff making its way into the stores (actually, the incursion started around Labor Day), I want to call out, "Hey, Time, wait up! I'm moving slower these days. Don't leave me behind."

I've got to get to my 1972 high school class get-together on October 12. Somehow, I feel a frantic need to see everyone, and don't ask me what all that's about. In my business, I spend my days and evenings trying to help others make sense of their lives. All I want to do is be silly.

The recent bouts of insomnia have been a blessing. I think I'm going to use them to catch up on those writing projects with which everyday life has interfered, including the one I began around the time of the high school reunion, which has been a labor of love.

I have a fear of having too many undone projects being found by my family whenever I pass away. To not achieve one's dreams is a sad thing.

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Saturday, September 7, 2013

Vox Populi!


I love how the internet has shifted the way consumers can make their opinions known about companies and products!

Long before Yelp (and I've forged quite a presence on that site since 2008), there were paper responses. People like me could pour out their hearts (kudos or vitriol), but once they dropped the letter in the mail, they were at the mercy of whomever might respond. Now, with well-placed clicks, they can involve the whole damned world in their fight by making it public. It's a terrific way of keeping the corporate world honest.

My first successful David vs. Goliath spar was in 1983. We had purchased a microwave (EXPENSIVE in those days) with an in-home repair warranty from the now late-great Zody's. Shortly thereafter, Zody's folded, and Circuit City took over the warranty contracts. A repair rep came out one day, and took our microwave into the shop, where it disappeared into the abyss. Calls and letters over several months were to no avail, so I wrote to David Horowitz' show "Action 4," and promptly got a response from Circuit City's corporate headquarters. Within days, we had a brand new microwave. Gee, justice was sweeeet!

Over the years that followed, I honed my complaint skills to a razor-sharp precision. My interventions became the stuff of legend among family and friends. Still, typing the letters, mailing them, following up if there was no responses -- all this took time and energy. I have offered my services online, because my success rate has been very high. See writepowerfulwords.com, my Vistaprint website.

Today, I took on Kroger, after some recent experiences at Ralphs. I sent them a brief note on their site, suggesting that their Pet Pride cat litter be packaged in heavy duty bags, rather than the plastic containers. Not only would it be more manageable for consumers with arthritis, but I wonder if production would be less costly, and more "green"? All I know is that Tiggy demands this type of litter, and hauling 20 lbs. of litter in their current containers hurts my hands like hell.

Then there's the issue of crushed pineapple. Dole sells it for $1.79 in cans with pull tabs (which I pry up with a heavy knife). Kroger's brand costs $1.19, but one has to use a can opener. I'm in the process of shopping for a suitable electric can opener, but in the meantime, I bought the Dole brand. Grrr....

The pharmaceutical industry has long gotten it. They have their easy-open containers (like my beloved Aleve), so I think other products should follow suit.

Now, I have to get ready for work. I have to earn the 60 cents times the number of cans I bought of the Dole product.

On Being a Committee of One

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I'm beginning to think there should be another business degree program available -- one that would teach us homeowners effective techniques for the actual business of managing one's home, especially when one is a single individual with limited time.

There have been posts before on my blog about my stepping into the role of running this household, especially since my mother has become totally reliant upon care. As appliances wear out and need repair or replacement, as chores have a sneaky way of piling up, and life chugs along with our household members and our visitors, time doesn't stop.

I've expressed my love of this house, home to (so far) four generations of Cooks and Cascaddens. God willing, I intend to pass it along in due time to my son and his family.

In the meantime, I'm finding the 24 hours allotted to me (and the rest of humanity) each day to be insufficient. My mother ran this place single-handedly pretty damned well, even before my father's 1982 death and then my grandmother's passing in 1996. I'd love to ask her how she managed, even with her demanding nursing job, but sadly, that opportunity has passed with the decline in her memory. And no, she did not have a housekeeper, ever. We entered that era recently, when I engaged a cleaning service for a short time while I healed from my knee surgery. Mom did have a "gardener," someone who came for ten minutes once a week, mowed the lawns, blew the leaves down the street with his blower, and then disappeared. He then began getting careless, and actually destroyed some plants that had been thriving as part of the landscape since 1964, when our family moved in here. I would pitch a fit, replace the plants, and take the cost out of his monthly pay. His response would be to laugh at me. When this decimation continued, I sacked him.

Yes, I do need to reconsider hiring people for this help, but even that would require me being present to supervise their work and render payment. Recently, I also tried to do my own early-morning plumbing repair. The toilet in the tiny bathroom next to my home office was running...and running up my utility bill. So, I got on YouTube and watched some videos of "how to fix a running toilet." At 5 AM, I turned off the water in back of the bowl (a tight fit, even with my small hands), took the lid off the tank, and dutifully followed the steps put forth in the video. Nothing worked, and so I called upon the trusty guy who's been doing our repair work for decades. And while he was there, he also replaced the hot water tank in the utility room.

At times like this I briefly regret not becoming a plumber, especially when I get the bill.

The other day, I found a letter on my doorstep, allegedly from a realtor who wanted to make an offer to buy my home! For a brief couple of minutes, I entertained the idea of mailing it back to the person, with some well-selected, unladylike verbiage added to the bottom. Nah, I didn't want to waste the postage stamp.

My life plan includes continuing my local therapy practice (with flexible hours, and my office only 2 miles down the street), and finding freelance writing work to pursue the craft I love so much. I want to live out my life here, with steady income and choices showing life on my own terms.

This home is my love, with so much history. All I want is to maintain it well, and add an overlay of my own personal style during my lifetime. This will include replacement of the lawn with a display of water-thrifty native plants. I've long been an admirer of the Theodore Payne Foundation, and I've already put in an application with the Burbank's Go Native! program.

I like to think these current challenges are simply opportunities for me to step up and solve them creatively.

Protection Plus

Speaking of YouTube videos, here's one that reflects my optimism:

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Thoughts in quest of a light bulb

Spiritual Cinema Circle

It started with the hanging light in the back hallway going poof!

I've never been out of spare light bulbs, or any other staple for that matter. Ditto paper products, bread, or basic foods. Lately, however, it seems I've been running madly, if only to keep slightly behind where I should be.

Sighing in exasperation, I hopped into my car, thinking that the run to the store and back would be quick--and in my usual autopilot mode. Alas, the car battery was not responsive, for the second time in two days. The AAA rep came out, jumped the battery, and pointed out to me that the dashboard dial was on a position that was draining the juice. Oookay, after having this vehicle for almost five months, now I know...*wake up, Valarie, huh?*

The rep did advise that I "drive it around for awhile, maybe 20 or 30 minutes" to recharge the battery before turning it off. Because my planned trip to the store was only about 5 minutes tops, where to go in this impromptu day trip?

I drove down Olive, and turned left on San Fernando, going deep into Glendale's industrial zone, and past Los Feliz. I used to work in this area, and was struck by the changes to the business landscape that had happened in a relatively short span of time. Gee, the world has a way of moving forward, whether or not I'm paying attention...

On purely a whim, I turned left, and then right into Forest Lawn. Perhaps this post will creep some people out, and for that, I apologize. That's certainly not my intention. It's just that this trip of recharging my car battery had now turned into a journey of unexpected reflection.

"Resting places," a pleasant euphemism for cemeteries or burial plots, have always held a fascination for me. The older the plot, the longer I may stand and ponder about this person under the headstone, and those touched by this departed soul. Visiting a grave is a very intimate way to touch a microcosm of history.

I feel even more strongly since being personally affected by the Grandview Cemetery debacle (see my previous post of July 12, 2012).

So, back to my field trip. I slowed my cruising speed to a crawl, and shut off my car stereo as a gesture of sensitivity. I got it; being drawn here (yes, I believe I may have been) was about recharging a piece of my soul, even more than recharging my car battery.

At one of the first turns, I saw a sign, "Flower theft is punishable by law." Flower theft? Really? Is nothing safe? Who does that kind of thing, anyway?

I found myself looking for some hearses, or funeral coaches as they are known in the industry. When I was able to go to Grandview, and sit by the crypts where my relatives are interred, there was a particular hearse that seemed to be always parked nearby. As I would look up and address my late husband's crypt, I would joke to him that someday I would be rich enough to buy one like it, just to raise the eyebrows of my neighbors. Since we shared a nonconformist, slightly dark humor, I liked to think he was laughing with me...

What stuck me on my drive through Forest Lawn this day was that I saw people who were celebrating the life of a loved one, not just mourning their passing. And I thought, That's how I want my loved ones to remember me--happily. There was a large gathering at a picnic table here, someone seated in a lawn chair by a grave there, all to stop and reflect.

Somehow, the issues of a car battery and a light bulb were put in another perspective. Both were irritating in their moments, but were parts of a larger mosaic.

Breathing more calmly after this tour, I exited onto Glendale Avenue, and headed to the store. I'm glad I took this detour in the meantime.

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Night Watch

Here I'm starting a post at 1:15 AM. Yes, my classical music is providing a lovely acoustic backdrop, and I can hear crickets outside my window...but given my usual busy Sunday pace, I have no business being up now.

I've struggled with periodic bouts of insomnia since I was a teenager. Now I attribute it to my arthritis, and the last few days have been particularly challenging. Not being one who is fond of staring at the ceiling, I may as well get up do something productive, and pray that blessed weariness will overtake me soon. I've read various articles that speak of insomnia being a common occurrence among us "oldsters," and sometimes when I check in with my Facebook/high school pals at this time of night, it is a theme that binds us.

Pain aside, I think I'm getting accustomed to what has come to be called a "new normal." I've already regained much of the mobility in my knee, so I've decided to give up the use of my temporary handicapped parking placard about two months early. It's a deliberate gesture of hope and confidence that I've finally regained my stride. The physical therapy, despite my high copay, has proved to be a sound investment.

Insomnia also seems to help me come up with ideas that, in the frenzy of daytime, would not occur to me. With the rest of the house quiet, I can let my mind wander without waiting for Mom to call out and have my creative flow interrupted. Making my to-do list for later on, or having flashes of insights about complex treatment plans, are wonderful benefits of such stolen bits of time.

A feeling of acceptance is coming over me. Without sounding nauseatingly Pollyanna-ish, I have a strong sense of confidence that my second half of life will be successful, that my legacy will be one that does my bit of the world some good. Tony Bennett turned 87 yesterday, and still has a career in full swing. That should be the case with me in 31 years.

Nighttime is also good for exploring all things nostalgic. Somehow, in the past couple of hours, I began reflecting on things that came to be comforting touchstones of my childhood -- the Reader's Digest that was always on the coffee table, for example. What articles I used to devour in those compact little issues, and still think of today.

Well, the Ultram finally seems to be doing its job, so I'm going to reacquaint myself with the mattress. 'Night, all.


Carlos by Carlos Santana

Something appropos from the Beatles:

Wednesday, July 31, 2013


I've been feeling pretty good about the spin I've been able to put on recent personal events.

The recent physical challenges have helped me to refocus on how precious my life is, and how making some simple changes can help safeguard what really matters to me.

There are bumps in the road, make no mistake. I recently lost about 6 - 7 pounds, and had (I thought) shaken my hardcore coffee habit. I responded to some recent stressors by relapsing, and so I'm back with the program.

Emotional stress, my nemesis...the times when I get irritable, and think, "Dammit, it's been a crappy day. I deserve that (fill in the blank with a current craving)." The problem isn't solved, and I then hate myself for using something high caloric as an oral fix.

The other day, after my latest physical therapy session, I got to thinking about how it might benefit me to take up yoga. I began a couple of basic classes in 2005, a few days before pericarditis and pneumonia put me in the hospital for five days. Then I never returned to the yoga studio. I'm ashamed to confess that "stress management" has not been a consistent practice in my life. I "know" the basic practices, and even preach it to my clients, but it's something that I run hot and cold about.

And yet, it's not a coincidence that my body is feeling the effects of my mind-overdrive. I weigh more than I ever have in my life, and it's not helping the other conditions to heal. So I can no longer afford to be careless; the consequences have already begun to show themselves.

YouTube has a number of "senior yoga" videos, and I was doing some of the chair exercises before I started this post. Here's one: javascript:void(0);

Hey, it's a start. Provided I take it easy, and run this by my doctor and physical therapist, I hope that it will help my flexibility. Flexibility could combat stiffness, and make me feel less like "a cripple."

Stay tuned.

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Sunday, July 28, 2013

Straight ahead, and NOT side-to-side

I figure, so far, I've learned how to walk three different times in my life.

Of course, there was that first launch before my earliest memory. Apparently, I mastered that pretty well.

Then, at about 21, following the break-up of my first engagement, I decided to reinvent myself in order to get back into the dating pool. At John Robert Powers, I was taught how "to float" with model-like graceful posture. Again, there was good-enough success.

The third walking lessons have been recently, at the hands of my physical therapist. Without being fully aware of it, I developed quite a full-on limp following my March 28th knee injury. Not only did I favor my right knee, I also began to do a sideways wobble with each step. Not pretty.

Two weeks ago, my physical therapist had me walk up and down in front of a full-length mirror. Clad in my shorts and warm-weather top, I saw an unflattering view of all *** pounds of me, with the florescent lighting accenting every bit of evidence of my post-injury-inactivity flab. This session was painful in many senses of the word.

Heather showed me how to purposefully step out onto my full foot, not tip-toeing as I had been doing. During the same office visit, Heather showed me how to begin walking confidently again up and down stairs--alternating the steps, rather than doing the tentative two-feet-to-a-step maneuver of many older folks.

And so it goes. I've been without my companion The Cane for almost three months, and now I'm beginning to imagine my life as it was at the beginning of the year.

Since my onset of rheumatoid arthritis seems concurrent with my knee injury, I've been seriously pursuing a more thoughtful lifestyle. In order to both lose this extra weight AND combat inflammation which would interfere with my plan to live past 100, I have been doing much online research regarding a diet which would help with this inflammation. As it turns out, many of the recommended foods are also favorites of mine, including Greek yogurt, nuts, broccoli, and berries. So eating right shouldn't be too hard. I tried my hand at cooking kale the other day, and found it a bit too bitter for my taste. Shortly thereafter, I found some smoothie recipes using kale and various kinds of fruit, and found this much more tasty.

Until very recently, I used to scoff at people who rested during the day, but have now joined the ranks of those who "power-nap." I just make sure I set the alarm on my phone, and voila! A respite of 20- 30 minutes does wonders to de-stress me and clear my mind. I feel like a new woman.

Like a vintage automobile, I just need to make sure I get the right maintenance to keep on running.

Click here to shop ArthritisSupplies.com for arthritis products, disability aids, assistive devices, therapy supplies, senior products, handicap aids, bursitis treatment products and arthritis pain relief aids that make living with arthritis easier.

Another bit of fun as I sign off:

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Reminders of Lives and Families Past

Here it is: my family home of nearly 50 years. Since we moved in on January 1, 1964, this structure has seen the comings and goings of four generations of Cooks, McKales, and Cascaddens. And...God willing, I have every intention of keeping it in the family, even into my son's (and any progeny of his) lifetime.

I want to pose two questions to my readers and FB followers: how many of you grew up in homes like this, and feel as if the house is not merely a structure, but part of your family's history? And how many of you want to remain in your long-time family homes, or gift them to your children, with the understanding that they, too, will love them as much as you have?

Although many of these structures fall to the wrecking ball to make way for more modern dwellings, I'm always gladdened by the sight of those that remain. I've also noticed neighborhoods in which people will actually restore homes of this vintage, so a precious part of Southern California history isn't lost. As a member of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, historical architecture is a passion of mine.

Yes, my house is currently in need of a massive paint job, inside and out. And work on the cracked tile walkway. And senior-living-friendly upgrades (for moi) in the kitchen and main bathroom. And, and, and....but it's my home and a big part of my heart. I'd like to take "before" and "after" pictures, and, as I'm able to fund my own restoration, proudly post them for you to see.

After all, I want to continue to grow old with my home!

Soon, I want to treat myself to the following book. It will be a fitting companion for all the others I have on local history:

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Coming Up: The "New-and-Improved" (?) Turbo-Charged Rocking Chair

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Following up on my previous post, I need to rethink my order of business.

Due to the demands of my current family life, and recent developments in my health, I need to reconfigure my social media presence into something leaner and more focused.

I will be shutting down my website to expand my efforts on this blog and my Facebook page. Writing is my passion, and competing life demands have interfered with my pursuit of it. I want to expand it from being more of a hobby to being one of my serious contributions to my generation and the future.

Aside from my therapy practice, my main goal has been to optimize the pace at which I work from home. The wish to become "rich and famous" has been adjusted to "comfortable and solvent."

In the days ahead, I will be seeking more social media followers, and hope to gather more than just "lookers." Among other things, I want to pose survey questions, and generate real dialogue among boomers. Monologues are tiresome over time; I want this to become a chorus. As a cohort, we have a wealth of experience and opinions, so let's use it.

Stay tuned, and let me know what you think.

Thursday, July 4, 2013

The 4th of July -- Thoughts on Another Day of Thanksgiving

I guess I'm getting more sentimental as I get older, but I'm really getting into this annual celebration.

The U.S.A. is a work in progress -- so mind-bloggingly flawed, but also daily presenting us with kaleidoscopic possibilities, on the individual and collective levels.

My gentleman friend and I will be taking in the Josh Groban concert at the Hollywood Bowl Fireworks celebration this evening. Till then, I want to shift the focus of my recent reflection. What better way to spend the morning than to think of how I will foster my personal independence, now and each day going forward?

Lately, I've been re-reading my copy of Chris Guillebeau's The Art of Non-Conformity: Set Your Own Rules, Live the Life You Want, and Change the World. What better source of inspiration for baby-boomers who want to redefine their lives as they head toward the future? Speaking for myself, my 59th birthday is five months from today, and it's like Father Time and I are having a stand-off. To hell with aging--I'm just getting warmed up.

Here's a wonderful quote someone shared with me the other day, and it's just the thing for Independence Day:

“The most important kind of freedom is to be what you really are. You trade in your reality for a role. You trade in your sense for an act. You give up your ability to feel, and in exchange, put on a mask. There can't be any large-scale revolution until there's a personal revolution, on an individual level. It's got to happen inside first.”
― Jim Morrison, The Doors

So let's do that. Enjoy the day, however you choose, and go forward with more energy.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Taking the gloves off!

First thing this morning, I realized I'd overslept--by a lot! Looking at the time, and having an "Oh, s***" moment, I got in and out of the shower in just enough time for Esmeralda to arrive for Mom's day care.

After this burst of adrenaline subsided, I centered myself and allowed a few things to register. 1) I'd slept more soundly last night than I had for several weeks; 2)I had experienced no shoulder pain last night; (3) when looking at my hands and wrists, there was only a small amount of swelling; and (4) there was almost none of the discomfort I'd come to expect first thing in the morning.

Okay...when's the other shoe going to drop?

As elated as I was by this turn of circumstances, I was able to pull myself back down to earth. This would be, after all, only my second day on my new medication regimen. It's treatment, not a miracle cure.

But, I still allowed myself to savor the first wave of symptom relief.

Remembering my extensive session yesterday with Dr. La, I deliberately retired the compression gloves to a drawer. He had said that RA needs to be treated from the inside out, and gloves were obviously not going to achieve that effect. Going out without them, though, was actually scary. It amazes me how I had ascribed to the gloves some kind of protective power. Without them, I was thinking that my hands and wrists would be too vulnerable. I took deep breaths each time I called upon my hands to do something, like dressing myself, or turning the key in my office door lock.

At no time today did my hands "break." And as I type this post at day's end, they're still intact, and attached to the rest of me. Yes, my right index finger is looking like a sausage right now, and I did wince when I braced myself with my left wrist a couple of hours ago. But that's part of the process, and I need to be prepared for some setbacks, big or small.

I also found that my mixture of euphoria and anxiety especially enriched my professional empathy today. It reminds me of how both resilient and fragile we humans are. We can fight whatever battle presents itself, and know when it's prudent to call allies to our side. Take, for example, the common reluctance to ask for or accept help from others. This is addressed in several places in the Arthritis Foundation website.

Many blog posts ago, I proclaimed my intention to become a wholly self-sufficient urban homestead woman, who, among a long list of other things, was going to continue to cut the front lawn by herself, manage all the household tasks, run my practice, tend to my mother, and have spare time for a social life.

Painfully (yes,pun intended), I have learned the wisdom of dialing things back a bit. Perhaps the old "work smarter, not harder" would be useful here.

I'll let you know when I've figured out how I'll apply it to my own life. I'm a stubborn creature, set in my ways (sign of my age?).

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Hope -- the best remedy there is.

The following song reflects my current mood:

Make no mistake, this week had rocky beginning. I had desperately purchased some compression gloves, and wore them nearly constantly, without any pain relief. My RA symptoms seemed to peak in intensity, as if my body were rebelling against me. Hands swollen like mittens in the morning, struggles to open doorknobs, turn the key in my car's ignition, get dressed in the morning, and participate in my mother's care, pain without let up. And the fatigue...

My dear gentleman friend, bless his heart, waited on me this week, encouraging me to rest in between shifts of clients, making me food ("You've got to eat something, dear"), and keeping me company. Things did get strained, though, when at times he got visibly exasperated hearing my cries and groans. "It really bothers me to see you in pain." I responded by trying to muffle these sounds, or make any statement that contained "hurt," "pain," or any of their synonyms.

I wanted to send him packing.

Two nights ago, I hit bottom. I'd taken an Ultram before bed, and tried desperately to sleep, with countless variations of positions, and several pillows for support. At nearly midnight, I took a second Ultram, apologized to my dearie, and fled to the sofa. By 1:30, I added an inflamed left shoulder to my woes. Pillows, ice bags, and...no sleep. I don't know what's worse--being awake all night, or the early morning TV programming. Despair set in, and I thought of the scripture quote, "...for dust you are and to dust you will return." (Genesis 3:19, New International Version).

Beginning on Tuesday night, I began counting down the hours until my rheumatologist appointment. Please, relief, that's all I'm asking for. My dearie came with me, for support, and, I suspect, to seek his own peace of mind.
As it turns out, Dr. La is the answer to my prayers, and I'm not just using hype here. After telling me that my rheumatoid markers are "off the charts," (gee, surprise, surprise!) I got a massive shot of cortisone in my shoulder, and a new medication regimen. Prednisone is the initial, and purposefully aggressive, first line of treatment. Dr. La was firm about this not being a long-term medication due to its side effects, but it should halt the progression of the pain and swelling. The methotrexate sodium, per the handout I received, "...also can reduce damage to joints and the risks of long-term disability." (sold!) Folic acid is to mitigate the unpleasant side effects of the other stuff.

Dr. La was emphatic about instructing me to begin taking these pills, especially the methotrexate sodium, right away. Hey, absolutely! I was also told to rotate my left shoulder as much as possible. We will see tonight how well it responds to the injection.

While on the Arthritis Foundation website this afternoon, I read that early treatment can actually encourage remission. What a beautiful word! It makes me think of another quote, "I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made..." (Psalm 139:14, New International Version).

Stay tuned.

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Shifting Gears, and Getting my Edge Back

I've been wondering where to take the direction of this blog. Yes, I want to keep it real, but I also don't want to start being some kind of self-appointed poster person for RA (rheumatoid arthritis). A big yawn, indeed.

Above is a picture of my newest accessory, which has replaced my beloved old briefcase. It became clear recently that I'm past the point of juggling -- crammed briefcase in my right hand, commuter mug in my left, purse on my left arm, and my Aladdin thermos-full of coffee cradled in the crook my left arm. How did I then manage my back door keys, and then those to my car? Good question. All I know is that, if Burbank had been hit by some freak tornado, I might have had enough added weight to keep me grounded, while everything else blew away.

After my knee surgery, I shifted to a baby-diaper-backpack, but somehow managed to keep lugging around the same poundage, while hobbling around on The Cane. Not good, either.

I've been using my new wheelie-tote for almost a week, and I can't believe I didn't make the change sooner. There's lots of storage for files, my make-up, my lunch, AND the industrial-sized thermos--perfect for my 8 AM to 6 PM Friday. My back and my hands thank me.

Recently, I got some wise feedback from a high school friend. She suggested that if there is any benefit to having a injury, it's that it makes us more aware of our bodies' workings and our environment -- mindfulness, one could say. Maybe that's why a lot of these "owies" visit us in later years. Youth is for moving fast, whereas middle age and beyond is for down-shifting, to appreciate what we've experienced so far. Our bodies remind us, "Really, what's the rush?"

Still, there are some, like me, who stubbornly bridle at this getting-older stuff. A few days ago, I got very melancholy while driving through parts of Glendale and Burbank. Looking at buildings and neighborhoods, I saw what has changed (or not), and how this reflects my aging, and that of my 1972 BHS cohort. I suddenly felt physically mortal, and emotionally vulnerable. I don't want to "just fade away," like that line that the Who sang in "My Generation."

So, I want to take my recent setbacks as a challenge. I took a class in my doctoral program about the psychology of disease, and wrote a paper on how certain conditions can be seen as a trickster. This trickster could be seen as malevolent, bent on making someone's life miserable. It could be perceived as a taunter, a bully, to crush one's optimism about life. Or it could be a challenger, saying, "Okay, here's some obstacles. What are you going to do about them?"

Okay, one thing I could do more of is laugh-- at myself, and the absurdity of my situation. For example, how many of you ladies have struggled with dressing when your hands are stiff? Those hooks and straps can be pretty frustrating. I recently googled "arthritis bras," and came up with lots of images that reminded me of the training bras we wore in the sixth grade...plain, white, and nondescript. Really?? In today's multi-billion-dollar, international fashion industry, it's ridiculous that ladies would have to choose between functionality and femininity? Please...

And then there's the perspective of gratitude. A few days after my RA diagnosis, I was walking beside two ladies about my age. One wore a teeshirt with a logo urging continued efforts toward an eventual cure of rheumatoid arthritis. She greeted me with a bright smile.

She also struggled greatly with her walking, aided by crutches. As I was accompanied only by The Cane, I felt a bit ashamed for my recent grumblings about my own condition. I want to toughen up, or, as the now-popular 1939 English saying goes, "Keep Calm and Carry On." Hope and optimism need to be vital parts of my daily regimen.

Maybe a better song for this post would be one from Fleetwood Mac:

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

News from the Arthritis War Front

Lupus, ruled out. Gout and pseudo-gout, also nixed.

My official diagnosis, as of this morning, is rheumatoid arthritis. So begins the newest fight in my life.

While I was awaiting the test results, my moods have consisted mostly of anger and frustration. I don't have time for this s---! I'm a caregiver, family member, therapist, friend, lover, and overall eager explorer of life, with all its myriad, delightful aspects. This arthritis B.S. was not part of the plan!

When I first suspected what was going on, I recalled my late paternal grandmother. Shortly after we moved here to California in 1964, she began to complain--loudly, bitterly, and without end--about her "ar-thur-ITE-issss." Grandmother C. was not a happy person; right after we settled here, she promptly decided she hated California and "all the crazy Californians." She isolated herself, and rebuffed any attempts of others to reach out to her socially. Mostly, I remember Grandmother sitting in the living room for hours at a time, bemoaning her loneliness--and taking massive amounts of aspirin. Her "ar-thur-ITE-issss," by the way, was never confirmed by any doctor. She rarely went to a doctor more than once, especially if a diagnosis was not to her liking.

I am not going to be another Grandmother Cook.

No, dammit, I'm waging a massive counter-offensive. My primary doctor was positive in his presentation, saying that treatments are continuing to be more effective in cases like mine. As startlingly rapid as the onset has been, I'd like to think managing arthritis early on will have its advantages. As soon as I got back to my car, I called and made the appointment with the rheumatologist. The earliest I can get in is June 26, but in the meantime, I'll take my Mobic and keep reading up on the Arthritis Foundation's website. They've got a wealth of information on diet, exercise, and other everyday strategies for maximizing mobility and minimizing pain.

Writing and typing are do-able right now. I've already become skilled at grasping a pen while allowing my right index "sausage" finger to stick straight out. I've found a way to support my wrists when I'm on my keyboard. A friend uses the Dragon Naturally Speaking Home computer program. I've been fascinated with observing her using it, and now it may be time I got on board with it.

Other things are going to call for adaptation -- the opening and closing of plastic bags is pretty tricky, as are hooks on clothing and jewelry. Moving a casserole dish calls for creativity when my left hand doesn't want to mind me. If it's not a hot dish, I use my right hand and balance the casserole on my left forearm, but there must be a better way. The manual can opener will have to go in favor of an electric one. Turning pages, texting, and counting coins in front of an impatient cashier are also interesting tasks. So many things to think of that I used to take for granted!

And then...there's taking care of Mom. I'm so grateful for Esmeralda, who has stepped into her role with such cheer, reliability, and professionalism. Sometimes, though, when Esmeralda isn't here, I have to take over the tasks. Changing clothing, diapers, and bedsheets were a snap a mere month ago. Now it's a painful scenario for both Mom and me. I try not to wince or groan, but I'm not always successful at hiding my discomfort. Mom, in turn, feels bad, and wonders out loud if she can "do anything" for me.

With regard to my dear gentleman friend, I feel so remorseful when I snap at him, too. Needless to say, pain isn't the best mood enhancer. So far, he's patient and understanding. Suddenly, I have a glimmer of empathy for "grumpy old people," including my grandmother.

Still, I'm very hopeful. I've got the Arthritis Foundation website, http://www.arthritis.org/, bookmarked, and try to become as educated as I can about this disease. On my immediate to-do list is their Walk with Ease program. Not only do I want maintain my mobility, but there's the embarrassing reality of how much I currently weigh (No! I'm not going to confess it--here or anywhere else online. It's a secret among my healthcare professionals and me.).

As a proactive step toward comfort, I got myself a left wrist brace while at the pharmacy today. Allow me to show it to you. It takes getting used to, but my wrist already feels better with the support.

The AF estimates 50,000,000 of us adult Americans and 300,000 children deal with arthritis. If you can, look at the video entitled, "Faces of Arthritis." I'm glad to join this fight, because there are so many of us on the same side.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

May 11: Thoughts of the Garden, Our Anniversary & Mother's Day

It's too early to bug people with phone calls, and paper work can wait. No clients till mid-afternoon.

Last evening, while enjoying my House reruns, I tried to hop on my recumbent bike and pedal, as part of my efforts to recover my right knee mobility. Alas, my knee would not yet allow even one cautious turn, dammit!

So, I decided earlier that today was the day to carefully venture out into my long-neglected back garden and do some work. No bending, and definitely no kneeling to carve out weeds, but certainly it's okay to clip off the dead roses and make room for more blooms. I'll just fill up a green barrel and let Eric deal with it when he visits next week. And where's the harm of dragging the hose to different spots and allowing the fountainhead sprinkler to rescue the poor, parched areas? It's time.

Being outside was an immediate mood boost, with the mild temperature and a clear sky. I thought of a Young Rascals song I loved while back at John Muir Junior High (it wasn't "middle school" then).

I remembered then that today would have been our 30th wedding anniversary. Given that we married in a small, quiet rite in a friend's home--breaking the news to family and friends afterward--the day has been celebrated in my private thoughts ever since.

Lyle liked my gardening pursuits, so what better way to honor this day, and his memory, than to reacquaint myself with the out of doors? And he also liked this Rascals song.

I also wanted to share an image of my son's Mother's Day gift. He, and everyone else who's close to me, knows well my unpopular distaste for the whole holiday, and bless him, he still feels he has to "get me something" to alleviate his social guilt. The offbeat humor of this token won my heart, and I welcomed his sentiment:

Now, I have to figure out where to display it. (Haven't moms throughout time had the same thought about the sweet little knickknacks they get each May?)

I'm in a better mood than I've been for quite a while. Now, to savor those rose petals...

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Ugh! Crash landing.

I've been doing pretty well since my knee surgery last Friday, thanks to good doctors, good supportive help at home, and good meds.

Last night, however, I think I hit bottom, hard.

The pain began at about 6:30. Strange, though, it wasn't in my knee. I had fiery ache (the only way I can describe it) all over...my neck, my shoulders, my right arm, my back. It was all I could do to get up from my seat (after contemplating it with dread for about five minutes) and drive home (2.2 miles) with extra caution (by now it was about 7:30, and traffic had thinned out).

Easing myself into bed soon after, I fell into a sleep meant to escape discomfort, and then awoke at 3 AM. My Ultram bottle reads, "Take one tablet every 4 hours for mild pain, and 2 every 6 hours for moderate to severe pain."

Two it had to be.

I'm not a habitual user of analgesics, and the fact that it's now 11:53 AM, and I'm still a little fuzzy. Thank goodness Esmeralda is here to help with Mom, and it's my regular day off.

Postoperative pain/recovery. Great, two more subjects to google obsessively. As much as I love Google Scholar, I'm just not up to the heaviness of some of the material today, and then my search could extend to the other end of the readership (Ladies' Home Journal, etc.).

This episode is another reminder that I'm not invincible. Gee, it was only outpatient knee surgery. Whiny, wuss, drama queen...labels I don't like to assume. I think the answer is to just dial back the pace a bit, as one of my Facebook friends and former high school pals had gently suggested.

Saturday, May 4, 2013

The Knee: Expanding the Meaning of "Okay"

The knee surgery is over, occurring approximately 19 hours ago. According to my orthopedic surgeon, it was a pretty straightforward fix.

One of the hardest parts, actually, was forgoing my morning thermos-full of coffee yesterday, a key ingredient in my breakfast. That, and having to remind myself moment-by-moment to NOT drink any water, or take my now-routine "senior pills" (Omega-3, Vitamin D, and a 50+ women's multivitamin). Not even being allowed my anti-inflammatory pill was beginning to affect my comfort. As Laura, my dear friend and expert geriatric caretaker, bundled me into her vehicle and drove off to nearby Glendale, I kept up this manta, this will be over soon.

After an impressively efficient pre-op, the anesthesiologist gave me "a little something just to relax" me. Relax, indeed; the next thing I remember was hearing a cheery nurse say, "Hey, honey, you okay? It's all over."

Laura schlepped me home, and in my feel-great afterglow, I seem to recall telling her, "Yeah, the doctor says I can walk on this as much as I can tolerate." She guffawed, and cautioned that my momentary can-do confidence was influenced by the anesthesia. "Just see how you feel tomorrow."

Once home, I was ready to party. I decided I deserved some post-op comfort food. I shared a steak-and-cheese pizza, barbeque wings, and diet Coke with Esmeralda, the newest member of my mother's tag-team of care providers. My base camp was set up in the living room, with Law & Order reruns as background noise. I wasn't capable of much focus; I kept reaching for my 8-inch-high stack of magazines, picking one at random, then perusing it for about three minutes before putting it back down. Poor Tiggy, usually so blase, kept coming over with wide eyes, wondering why Mom was lying wasted on the sofa on a weekday.

Moments of "This isn't very productive" messages instantly gave way to "Yeah, so what?". I became strangely fascinated with my discharge paperwork, with its list of at-home exercises I was to begin as soon as possible...tomorrow maybe...

3 PM. "Purple haze" was giving way to "When's the pharmacy going to get here?" When the doorbell finally rang, I almost forgot my condition, and Esmeralda had to remind me that she also could answer it.

Little blue bottles of Ultram and Toradol...come to Mama!

8 PM. It was amazing how fast post-op sleepiness came. And how wide-awake I then felt at 11:30. I resisted the temptation to trundle out with the walker to watch TV, opting instead for nighttime classical music radio. That cushy pillow between my knees felt soooo good...ahhh...

5 AM. My usual wake-up time. Forgetting yesterday's events for a moment, I started my usual slide to the bedside, and was brought up short by the massive wrapping around my right knee. Oookay, I need to make some adjustments...

I eased myself up, and was amazed that the sensation was more rigidity than pain (which evened out over the next hour or so). Yeah, those exercises are going to be necessary.

While leaning heavily on the walker, I began to consider how easily a patient could develop carpal tunnel. Last week, my new crutches were simply handed to me at the front door by a delivery person, without even a cursory how-to instruction. My use of this equipment has been by a self-taught process. Is this more often the case than not? How many others out there risk injury by not using assistive equipment properly? This is a topic for another time.

I checked in on my mother, reminding her that Esmeralda would be here momentarily to assist with her morning routine. The fact that Mom remembered this arrangement was a good sign. Anticipating the front door opening filled me with relief. It's another sign that I won't be a wounded caregiver for long.

Hobbling around for brief periods of time, followed by exercises prescribed by the doctor. Showing Esmeralda the breakfast routine, then staying out of her way so she can assist both Mom and me. It's an elaborate dance.

I can do this. I will be okay, and then eventually more than that.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

On Becoming a Chessmaster*

*Nothing to do with the board game, by the way.

In order to conduct my life these days, I have had to call upon whatever executive skills I have -- and even those I didn't realize I did.

Life is always chock-full of inconvenient occurrences. Right now,there's the pool of water on the utility room floor, most likely from a leak in the refrigerator filtration...the pharmaceutical refills...a mother who has decided she DOESN'T WANT ME to do necessary care for her this morning...the work-related deadlines and paperwork facing me this morning...all to be dealt with before my knee surgery tomorrow.

Whatever. One thing at a time.

All the while, there are these slow, subtle changes in my health. I've already written plenty about my knee injury. When I went to the orthopedic surgeon on April 22nd, he used a detailed wall chart to point out to me what was injured, how it probably occurred, and how he was going to go in and fix it. I felt like I was in a medical school lecture hall. Fascinating...but just being given (for me) what was "TMI" made my knee throb.

And now...my hands. I recently posted my layperson's opinion that my left hand's ache has been due to my improper grip of The Cane. Then, in some private moments of honesty, I have had to acknowledge that more might be going on here.

For about a couple of months "pre-knee," I've noticed pronounced swelling, stiffness, and warmth on my right index finger. While reading the Arthritis Foundation's website, http://www.arthritis.org/, I saw the word "sausage." OMG, my finger looks just like that! Then, taking a swallow, I looked more closely at my left hand, and admitted that the top of the knuckles are beginning to puff, too, even with my ergonomically-correct cane grip.

Gripping a pen, with right index finger extended stiffly out, is so awkward. Typing on this keyboard, ditto. Trying to tend to my mother is getting more difficult. And the list of impositions goes on...

Let me clearly say here, I'm not qualified to diagnose arthritis, even in myself. This is a conversation I need to have with my doctor, and the sooner the better.

Going back to the chessmaster metaphor, I find myself going into strategy mode. How can I cope with this, if indeed it is the onset of arthritis? I've begun reading articles, online and in print, many of which include the word "fight." Line up my game pieces, survey the other side's moves, proceed aggressively but thoughtfully...

One idea that comes to mind is to investigate any treatment clinical trials that might be available. In addition to making any interventions affordable, I'd be honored to contribute to the necessary research for prevention, treatment, and eventual cures of arthritis. Education. Treatment compliance. Cooperation with my doctor.

All designed to gear up for a successful battle for a good quality of life.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

The Wild-Goose Chase Search for Elder Care

Since January, our hospice staff has been faithful and professional, and I'm so grateful to them.

It has only recently dawned on me, however, how lonely the struggle (this word is not an overstatement) can be to find the right sources to fill gaps in my mother's care. As a former geriatric social worker, I wasn't prepared for the frustration this would bring up for me, now that such care is a personal issue.

Suggestions from friends. Calls placed. Calls unanswered. Calls placed again. Services promised, but never delivered. More unproductive referrals, which lead back to one's starting point.

The application for Medi-Cal has begun, and it's proving to be a long and complex process. Still, it's a necessary first step. There were some initial glitches. After putting in an internet application, I was told by an IHSS staffer that I shouldn't have done that, and was advised to cancel the application; a phone application to IHSS was sufficient to start the process. A follow-up from another IHSS worker contradicted this, and I was then told to reapply.

In the meantime, I'm being given facile advice to "just take out a reverse mortgage." How easy this seems when it's not your family home of almost 50 years on the line! Others advise caution before taking this step. In fact, AARP Magazine printed such an article just recently. I also get asked daily from various case workers and staff to "just try" hiring a private-pay caretaker, even when I express concern about cost concerns. Many people seem to be pushing their own agenda, or trying to quickly sell me their services, or those of "a friend who needs work." The need to carefully interview anyone, and present them as a trustworthy and consistent person in my mother's life seems also be lost on a lot of these people.

Acting on a suggestion by a family member, I called a referral service almost two months ago, seeking to get as unbiased information as possible about in-home care through In-Home Supportive Services versus placement in a skilled nursing facility. After just a few minutes of conversation, I was told my mother wasn't eligible for their services, but certainly "this other place can help you."

Fine. I called Agency #2, and had to follow up twice. After the second message, I got a return call, and gave clear details about my mother, our available resources, and the care options I was weighing. I was told that a mobile physician would be calling me back "soon" to arrange a home visit for assessment, and this in no way would conflict with the hospice service or physician we want to continue to have in place.

Two or three weeks later, I was contacted by Agency #2, and told them that no physician had ever contacted me. I'd given my cell phone number, because, gee whiz, I'm just stuck with being my own secretary. So, a follow-up was promised, and still, no doctor called. In the same conversation, Agency #2 gave me the name of Agency #3, and said they "would call me." Agency #2 was now saying Mom wasn't eligible for their help, which they might have said in our original conversation.

At another two week interval, and no word back from either Agency #2 or #3, let alone any mobile physician. I researched Agency #3's phone number online (they have sites both here in California as well as Nevada), and called. Again, I believe I clearly communicated the situation, and now I was being passed along to someone at a hospice, even though I told them we were totally satisfied with our current one.

This time I actually got a call within the day, but found myself talking to someone who said, "I was told you're not happy with your hospice, and want to change." Even though I again gave the details of my goals to meet my mother's needs, I felt I wasn't being heard. At that point, my patience ran out, and I told this particular individual, in no uncertain terms, that I felt shuffled around by the system. (Indeed, is there any kind of "system" in place here?) End of conversation.

I called Agency #1, bluntly voicing my disappointment in lurid detail. As I recall, I used the word "idiot" to describe the caller from Agency #3. Too bad it was only heard by an answering machine.

Back to Square One. Here ends my rant.