Tag Archives: health

A Slow Fusion Is Better Than None

No matter the purpose of my appointment with the neurosurgeon, the conversation always comes down to autoimmune disease. Today’s visit was no different.

This is the same neurosurgeon’s office that–a few weeks ago–rescheduled my appointment without telling me. Beyond that, there was an additional conversation about another scheduling error.

However, we all showed up today at the same time, same place.

As I strolled through the door with my walker, I was greeted as if I were an old friend. Doors were opened for me; lots of chatting ensued.

By the time I saw the neurosurgeon, my volume was on voluble. This was my annual appointment regarding my C2-C4 neck fusion. Only screws and a metal plate are holding the donor bone in place. There has been no fusion.

Until today. What looks like a bit of a blur on an x-ray turned out to be the beginning of healing. It’s slow but it is happening.

“Is my body just slow?” I asked her. The surgery was two years ago.

“Yes. It’s the autoimmune disease, the biologic, and the steroids. They slow down the healing.”

This is always her response. She’s not wrong. The chronic disease process and the medication that limits its effects also limit the fusion process.

I’ve struggled with this since the initial surgery that released my pinched spinal cord. It kept me from becoming a quadriplegic. Methotrexate and prednisone make it possible for me to write every day AND perform my activities of daily living. They give me a life.

The neurosurgeon and I have had long, usually thoughtful–sometimes lively–conversations concerning this obstacle that is my path. We both know that stopping the medication does not guarantee the fusion process will continue, much less speed up.

The war within my body—autoimmune disease—will go on whether I stop the medication or not. I will just know its effects more readily if I reduce my troops.

This is the rock and hard spot that is my path but it is not without a sliver of light. That I am healing means more than a blur on an x-ray. Full fusion is not guaranteed but now, it is a possibility.

Consistency in diet, yoga, and meditation have had an effect. None is a quick fix; all are a lifetime practice. For now, the practice includes methotrexate and prednisone.

I work with the reality I have, and in this moment, it is a sliver of light.

Aim for Even posts offer equanimity a dose at a time. No day or dose is ever the same, even if the aim is. You may read about the origins of Aim for Even here or on this site’s About page.

On the Thin Side

Sometimes, I am keenly aware of the metal in my hips, as well the plate and screws repairing the fracture in my right femur. It’s not a sensation of pain, it’s warmth, a light sunburn.

I am in awe of sinew uniting metal with bone and muscle as I move into my next yoga pose. I am grateful there is less of my body, not only metal replacing joints but simply less of me, physically.

The words of my orthopedic surgeon return, you tend to the thin side. He has only known this body and not the one that once was so much more; as well, he speaks to this mind that, too, shed “a lot of stuff.”  This mind-body is lighter, simpler now, by necessity.

Perhaps I do live on the thin side. I meet life with as few expectations as possible. It makes meeting the impossible less daunting.

Losing weight was not about numbers. I was desperate for food, caught up in my cravings. I had no idea about real hunger versus comfort eating. The more I ate, the more difficult it was for my body to process food.

And I did not know anything about food so I had no understanding of nutrition or inflammation, an issue that has been with me for 40 years. What I did know is that tests revealed a serious allergy to both wheat and yeast (Brewer’s and Baker’s). I began there, seven years ago.

My digestive issues all but disappeared as I removed wheat (and essentially all grains) and yeast from my diet. The relationship between yeast and sugar is a close one. I reduced my intake of high sugar fruit and high carb vegetables as well.

My emphasis was on what food worked for me, understanding that my body is unique and so are its nutritional needs. It is true that weight vanishes with nutrient dense food. Inflammation is another matter but food plays a role.

To help reduce inflammation, I increased my intake of greens, my fluids, and certain fruits, for me blackberries. For a time diet controlled my inflammation but no longer, as my disease process is now chronic. Yet, medication works better when I feed my body what it can use rather than what it cannot.

If the way I live is a tendency to the thin side, then yes. I carry less, which seems to make more possible. The opposite was true years ago when I was so much more but on the fringe of life, a side too thin.

Aim for Even posts offer equanimity a dose at a time. No day or dose is ever the same, even if the aim is. You may read about the origins of Aim for Even here or on this site’s About page.

A Congress of Old–and Getting Older–White Men

This morning, I “celebrate” the latest GOP idea about healthcare with gluten-free, chocolate chip cookies dipped in unsweetened almond milk. Yes, I know. It is this kind of decision-making and behavior that leads to pre-existing conditions.

Gluten-free or no, what is involved here is sugar, even in unsweetened almond milk, which also contains very few almonds. I just like how it tastes. It is this lack of judgment that has characterized my life. And that is an unforgivable pre-existing condition.

So be it. As a Facebook friend pointed out, being a woman is considered a pre-existing condition by most of the old–and getting older–white men in our current Congress.

Mysteriously, male members have no pre-existing conditions or if they do, those conditions are covered. Just to be safe, Congress has excluded its healthcare system from its citizens.

How can one group of pre-existing conditions be acceptable and another not? That is such dangerous thinking. Human beings evolve. That is the life experience; it is why we are here.

We make disastrous choices–witness our current Congress–then, we learn, often soaring above original intention but not always, witness our current Congress.

If I had consumed less sugar and fewer grains, including gluten-free, would I not have a pre-existing condition? How could that ever be known? There are too many variables. It can be surmised, suggested but it cannot be known absolutely.

Medicine is a science and it evolves. As it learns, it changes. What was once an accepted practice is sometimes discarded altogether. “When we know better, we do better” (Maya Angelou).

It concerns me to come across conversations about pre-existing conditions that carry fault versus those that do not. It is buying into the mindset of exclusion, witness our current Congress. It is a scramble to safety not designed for everyone.

We do not come from the same mold nor should we. We are not here to be clones of one another. We are one for all and all for one.

Human beings need loyalty. It does not necessarily

produce happiness, and can even be painful, but we all require

devotion to something more than

ourselves for our lives to be endurable.

Atul Gawande

Be careful what you wish, old–and getting older–white men.

Aim for Even posts offer equanimity a dose at a time. No day or dose is ever the same, even if the aim is. You may read about the origins of Aim for Even here or on this site’s About page.

Either Way, It’s Rain

Now is a dark night of the soul for me. It has been for a while but I have not sat with the darkness as I do now. It is all around me, mine to explore. Darkness always holds a sliver of light, elusive as it may seem to be.

Experience tells me that, and I trust it.

At best, the days are foggy, my mind muddled. Desperately, I grab at this phrase or that word, although none seem right. It is only when I stop grasping that words appear.

I have no idea if they are what I first wanted but in this moment, want takes a backseat to need. Unsurprisingly, that is comfortable, even comforting.

Meditation allows me to sit with despair; yoga keeps my body from stiffening into it. Like having one mindset, the body comes to prefer the position that is comfortable.

To invite stasis is to stay in darkness without ever exploring it. That is a hard, hard rain. Stasis is not the experience I seek.

As I have written many times, chronic illness is a great teacher. It offers a variety of lesson plans, not the least of which is learning to “crumble,” to surrender myself for one that is yet to be.

Such a shedding takes time, if I am to learn from life changing. At 65, or nearly so, I prefer learning, no matter what it requires ultimately. It is a far, far gentler rain.

Aim for Even posts offer equanimity a dose at a time. No day or dose is ever the same, even if the aim is. You may read about the origins of Aim for Even here or on this site’s About page.

Standing at the Edge of the Profound

I am in constant awe of my body’s ever-changing status. It constantly updates. I suspect even Facebook would not want to know that much. I didn’t, not for years.

My body is masterful in the day-to-day of living, always working to provide me the best experience. It’s a mystery, this genius. Mindfulness gives me glimpses into it–life unfiltered.

I am completely present, acutely aware of life all around me. As well, there is a constant chatter of my ego, an ongoing array of emotional possibilities that could present as a problematic news feed with myriad threads.

Charles Dickens wrote that “every human creature is constituted to be that profound secret and mystery to every other.”  I suspect I am that to myself as well. There are moments I figure out just enough to appreciate how profound existence is.

I need only to look into the face of an iris, purple with yellow. Together, we are wild in our ways but so settled in others. We share the sentience of being.

I am only a moment, and all I have is a moment but it is enough for a lifetime. In mindfulness, the day-to-day reality is workable. It takes me to the edge of the beyond.

Aim for Even posts offer equanimity a dose at a time. No day or dose is ever the same, even if the aim is. You may read about the origins of Aim for Even here or on this site’s About page.

The Mechanics of Freedom

An ordinary life examined closely reveals itself

to be exquisite and complicated and

exceptional, somehow managing to

be both heroic and plain.

(Susan Orlean)

On Monday, my orthopedic surgeon released me from restricted activity. Replacing my hip joints with functioning metal has proven a great pain reliever. Metal is oblivious to the end-stage osteoarthritis that surrounds it.

It is rare I recognize the exceptional when I am immersed in it. For me, that is the stuff of reflection–a later look–like today’s post.

On Wednesday, a day in which there was no post, I drove to St. Mark’s Wildlife Refuge for the first time in almost three years. That it was my first solo trip only later occurred to me.

The Refuge remains extraordinary in its ordinariness. It is not without marks of our presence, attempts to preserve what we would otherwise so willingly trample. I was not the only visitor that day but I was among quiet humans, all wishing to tread as lightly as possible.

I chose a path I once walked frequently, the tires on my walker sufficiently thick to handle the terrain. I did not go far. Metal hips assist my movement but having the ability and the energy to walk are the work of “higher powers” in the body.

For a few hours or maybe longer, I sit and watch a great blue heron fish. It is a good day for fishing unless one is the fish. Yet, in a pool not far from me, there is the occasional flash of a silver belly—a fish feeding.

In our ordinariness, the Refuge and I are the same and not the same. Even in reflection, it feels freeing, like finding life anew, not without its complications but still exceptional.

Aim for Even posts offer equanimity a dose at a time. No day or dose is ever the same, even if the aim is. You may read about the origins of Aim for Even here or on this site’s About page.

Not Running Short of Small Change

On this Monday morning I am reminded of  “small change, small wonders—the currency of my endurance and ultimately of my life” (Barbara Kingsolver).

I had an appointment with the orthopedic surgeon to mark my six-week progress of my second hip-joint replacement. First there was the x-ray and then there was its viewing.

The surgeon and I chose a frontal view. The recently replaced hip joint includes an additional plate to heal a fracture at the top of the femur.

I was amazed at how large the plate is in relation to the small crack. Now I know why that area is sore from time to time. It is the plate. However, the soreness is nothing, not even on the list of my physical issues.

The surgeon assures me the plate can later be removed. The choice is mine. I think, why disturb such inner peace? Everything is in its place–balanced, mechanically fit. Such joy, and so much wonder.

This second hip replacement recovery was not an easy one; it bore little to no resemblance to the first. There were so many pivotal moments. Constant chaos. And then I came across these lines from a Robert Bly poem, “Things to Think”:

Think in ways you’ve never thought before.
If the phone rings, think of it as carrying a message
Larger than anything you’ve ever heard,
Vaster than a hundred lines of Yeats.

Line by line, I felt myself filling up rather than emptying out. Small change, these lines of poetry–the “currency of my endurance.” Stuff continued to go wrong but I did not run short of small change.

On this Monday, as I stared at the frontal view of my mechanically fit hips, I knew only gratitude. “I have taught myself joy, over and over again. It’s not such a wide gulf to cross, then, from survival to poetry” (Barbara Kingsolver).

Aim for Even posts offer equanimity a dose at a time. No day or dose is ever the same, even if the aim is. You may read about the origins of Aim for Even here or on this site’s About page.