Sunday, February 19, 2017

What happened when I got afraid

I got afraid twice this winter.

As a political progressive, I got afraid when the new president started signing executive orders that were frightened me. It wasn't exactly the orders that scared me. It was the idea I got in my head that the checks and balances built into our Constitution wouldn't hold against a challenge. When the executive order pertaining to immigration got overturned by individual judges and then by a court of appeals, and the administration decided to take another look at it, I was relieved. Since then, the wild ride that is the new administration is something I keep up with, but it's now out of curiosity rather than fear.

That's the political fear. The other one is entirely of my own making.

I have health anxiety. Whenever any issue comes up around my body, I immediately think of the worst-case scenario, and then I run with it. Here's what happened.

Just before Thanksgiving I caught a bad cold which I took with me on a plane ride from Tucson, where we live in the winter, to Seattle, where we have our family home. After Thanksgiving, I brought the cold back to Arizona.

The next week I noticed I'd feel out of breath after walking a block or so. I had an episode where, after walking two blocks to our activities office, I had to stand outside the door for a minute while I caught my breath. That scared me. My husband took me to a nearby ER where I was diagnosed with bronchitis - though I didn't have a cough - and prescribed meds for bronchitis.

The meds didn't work, but the breathing issues improved somewhat. I did notice, though, that when I'd read out loud, or have a conversation, I would sometimes run out of air before I was done speaking. And then, when I did take a breath, there was a soft wheeze. Probably my post-nasal drip, I thought.  I tried to put it out of my mind. Instead, my anxious brain went to the worst cases: lung cancer, COPD, heart disease. And there I resided for two months.

I told myself it was because my health insurance is through an HMO, which will reimburse in Arizona only for Urgent or Emergent care. I thought I ought to wait until May, when we return to Washington, to be checked out.

Here's what happened in the meantime:
  • I had three friends who commented that my breathing sounded funny, or my voice sounded hoarse. I told them all I had post nasal drip.
  • I started exercising less. Hardly any water aerobics. Very few recreational bike rides. Fewer walks, more driving.
  • I had two more friends express concern that I hadn't completely recovered from my cold. I told them I had post nasal drip.
  • I started missing nonessential scheduled activities because I didn't have a lot of energy, and besides, I didn't want people making comments about my breathing.
  • I isolated somewhat from friends I have at home, not emailing or texting as much. One of my very close friends, Deb, asked me what was wrong. I told her I was fine, thanks. I didn't return phone calls or messages from other friends for a week or more, and then responded tersely. 
  • I noticed that nothing sounded really interesting - not even my upcoming trip to Greece.

Finally, last week, I turned myself in to Mary Beth, the nurse practitioner at our resort. I already knew her from a shared activity. I told her what was going on. She said, "Yes, you have restricted breathing. I have noticed that for a while."

It was finally okay to tell the whole story. It felt like I'd gone to confession. Mary Beth took my history - including that my dad had tied of emphysema and cirrhosis when he was 57. She and I both noted that I have had my share of injuries - broken leg and arm and ruptured Achilles tendon - but that I have had few illnesses other than colds and flu. 

Then she said, "I think you have asthma, but I'm going to run a few tests." I got a breathing therapy session that day and the next. It was wonderful, as I rode my bicycle home after the first appointment, to feel the whole new gymnasium of air now available to me in my own body. The chest x-ray was normal. Lung capacity was normal as measured by a spirometry test. Circulation was fine.

When Mary Beth told me the chest x-ray was normal, I was thrilled and exhilarated and told her so. "No, you do not have lung cancer or COPD. Your worry about this is part of your anxiety disorder." What a relief that was. Embarrassing, but a relief.

She prescribed me meds for allergy-induced asthma to knock down the current asthma symptoms, an inhaler, and meds to minimize the possibility of future occurrences. She told me I'd feel better in a week, and I believe her.

Here's the deal, though. My fear and denial kept me from making that appointment for six weeks. During that time I ignored or disregarded the concern of my friends. I avoided activities that wouldn't allow my denial to persist. And I spent a lot of time in my anxious mind - which is a dangerous neighborhood.

Yesterday I was talking to a friend, a retired nurse. She said, "Linda, I told you twice last year that I thought you had asthma. You said no, you didn't." So this must have been a developing thing. I don't recall having any symptoms last summer in Washington or on any of the eight trips I took. But maybe I did.

I have relatively few fears - health issues and falling from a height - but both have been personally limiting. It may be time for me to do something about them. 

In the meantime, I want to make amends to the friends I disregarded. That's a first step, at least.

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

The Bag Lady thinks about past-present-future

I am pretty good at letting go of the past. I rarely worry or "what if" much about it.

I'm okay with present issues, too. Yesterday I had a long travel day, flying from Tucson to Salt Lake City and then to Portland, and driving south to Roseburg for three hours in the rain and dark in a rental car. I never know what will happen on a journey, but I'm usually okay. I don't assume things will go smoothly, and when they do it's a treat.

I am getting better at letting go of the future, but it still stresses me out sometimes.
  • I am giving a deposition this afternoon. Will I remember to just answer the questions, without elaborating?
  • Will I ever recuperate completely from the respiratory stuff I've had off and on for a couple of months? Am I the only one in the world experiencing this?
  • If I lose 30 pounds, will my upper arms still look like bat wings?
  • How will we do as a nation with the new administration? Will we squabble with each other over our differences - we love the new president or we're afraid of the new president - and lose sight of the many, many things we have in common with each other?
So, with regard to these future things:
  • I will remind myself to just answer the questions.
  • I will remind myself that this is a bad winter for respiratory issues, that I am not the only one, but only one of millions.
  • I will remind myself that I am 68 years old and that my body is normal for my age.
  • I will remind myself to be a good listener, to remember that we are all in this life together and we are, mostly, doing the best we can.
Tomorrow I go home, with another long travel day of driving and flying. I will set that aside until tomorrow, when I will live in the present, with my usual "take it as it comes" travel spirit.

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Random thoughts on powerlessness

It's been two weeks since my last blog post. I have done no traveling and had nothing out of the ordinary happen. But I have been thinking.
  • I am a certified mediator and I know how to listen. In the last two weeks I have listened to three people relate their personal agony about a loved one with a drug or alcohol addiction. Whether the addict is a child or a partner or a friend, these people are in turmoil, wondering what they could have done - or what they could still do - to change the situation. The "if onlys" and "what ifs" are devastating for them. I remind these people they are powerless over the decisions of others. It takes a very long time to learn that. I can usually remember it myself, but not always.
  • I made plane reservations for myself and my husband Art to go to Greece. We leave on March 21 and return about May 5. We'll be volunteering at the Oinofyta refugee camp - me for the third time, Art for the first. After our monthlong commitment, we'll explore other parts of Greece for ten days before coming home.      Things have changed on multiple fronts since October, when I was there last. Borders are tightening. Meetings are being held between organizations regarding returning Afghans in Greece to their own country, where their lives may be in danger. And at home, tighter restrictions are being put on immigrants. It's impossible to know what will have happened by late March. Still, we have made our flight arrangements. We can't stop living just because of uncertainty. 
  • Last fall I contacted each of our eight grown children. I told them if they wanted to volunteer at a refugee camp for a week or two I would pay their expenses. One of them, my son James, is going with us! He wants to see the bigger world and, "Mom, it will be a great bonding experience for us to do this together." I can see him at Oinofyta. He will be very useful and I'm sure it will be a life-changing, paradigm-shifting experience for him, as it was for me. But probably not in the same way, as he is 37 and I am 68. The travel offer still stands for the other seven. My other son, Russell, wants to go later in the year. He is a nurse and wants to volunteer as a medical person. Maybe he'll go with me in the fall.    I would like for all eight of our grown children to have this experience, but it's up to them. That powerlessness thing, you know.
  • It's been distressing to talk, on Facebook and in person, about the current political situation. I respect the points of view of people who have different opinions than me. But I read insults and sarcasm and lack of listening. We are making things worse if we cannot be civil to each other. I keep being respectful. I think it's better that I remain somewhat engaged rather than dropping out of the conversation. I don't take insults personally, but I have suggested to at least one person that I will not have a discussion with them if they are rude. I have not been rude yet myself. 
  • It's quite windy today here in Tucson. Art and I went for a bike ride. We did okay against the wind, but when we turned a corner and the gusts were coming at us sideways, we didn't feel safe. So we came home early. You don't want to mess with Mother Nature!
We live in interesting times!

Sunday, January 15, 2017

The Bag Lady's refugee wish

I have made two trips to volunteer at a refugee camp in Oinofyta, Greece. My first was in August 2016, for six days. I went with an old friend, Jenean. I learned a lot about the refugee situation and about myself. You can read about that trip on these blog posts:

The second was in October of the same year, for two weeks. I took another friend, Jann. Here are two blog posts about that trip.

Most of the time I was watching and listening and learning and doing, from moment to moment. My head and heart filled up. The experience was not at all about me. It was much bigger.

The day before I left I had a conversation with two refugees, Abdul and Ali. Abdul told me his story in Farsi and Ali translated for him. Here's the blog post about that.

As of today, the post "Abdul tells me his story" has been read 966 times. I know that because Blogger, my blog host, keeps track. But I have no idea who the readers were. If I add the total number of followers of my blog and the total number of my Facebook friends (I post my blog to my Facebook page), I'm short by 450 people. Who else has come upon Abdul's story?

As a blogger, I have a responsibility to honor and care for people I talk about. Abdul and Ali both reviewed my Abdul post before I hit the "publish" button on November 9. Now they are public figures of a sort, through my blog.

I heard from both Abdul and Ali this week. Abdul is still at Oinofyta with his wife and two-year-old daughter and newborn baby girl. He wants to leave camp in the spring and move on. Ali is now in Serbia at a camp there, with his wife and baby and his parents and his brother. His baby has been in the hospital for a week with a chest infection. Ali wants to move on into an EU country in the spring.

Abdul and Ali have both asked for my help.

I still cannot give them money. I can give them my time and my listening ear and my voice. I cannot imagine their circumstances. Abdul was a tailor in Afghanistan. Ali worked for the US government in Afghanistan as an IT professional. Both left their homeland because their lives or their families' lives were in danger. In the refugee camps, they are safer now. But their lives are very, very uncertain. These men have families to take care of, and they are doing their very best with very little.

I am returning to Oinofyta in March. This time I will be there for a month, and I am taking my husband Art along. We volunteer for, a small American nonprofit. The camp manager, Lisa Campbell, was a cofounder of DoYourPart ten years ago. She is a walking wonder, the linchpin of Oinofyta. It is an honor to work with her and to observe the work she and other volunteers do to make the camp a liveable place for refugees, for however long they stay. I want to continue to be a part of that. It has been a life-shifting experience for me.

If you want to help the refugees at Oinofyta, you can contribute at Everyone is a volunteer, so all money is used "on the ground".

I wish I could do more for Abdul and Ali. And all the others. We are all the same. And we are all in this together.

Saturday, January 7, 2017

Bye Bye Javalina!

Art woke me early this morning. "There's a javalina in the trap."

And so there was. From the window of our Arizona room I could see it easily.

I texted Marc, the "javalina whisperer" from Animal Experts Wildlife Control. "We have a creature in our trap." I heard back from him right away. "I am on my way. Your neighbor Eldon already called me."

I watched as Eldon came out of his rig and took pictures. The javalina was not happy to see him. It rose to its feet, bared its teeth and hissed.

Left alone again, the animal alternated between periods of quiet - like it was thinking - and charging the crate from within, snouting at the seams and kicking. I hoped the container was strong enough to hold it.

Marc arrived in his truck.

He looked at the javalina. A male, he said. Most likely, it was the alpha male in a herd and was challenged by a younger male for the alpha position, lost the challenge, and now lived alone. "Javalinas don't do well alone." It made sense that the solitary animal would seek a safe place - like under our park model.

Marc got his dolly and manipulated the crate beneath it.

He looked inside and said, "Uh oh. He's wrapped an interior chain around his leg and he isn't going to be able to get out of it." Marc thought for a minute, then went to his truck. He came back with a small saw. He opened the lid of the crate and, talking to the javalina, leaned into the container to cut the chain off.

Once the animal was freed up, Marc resumed his work with the dolly and loaded the crate into his truck.

The javalina calmed down once in the truck. Marc said he'd drop him off at Dove Mountain, between Tucson and Phoenix, where there are several herds. "Our" javalina may be accepted by the herd.

We've been thinking about this fellow for over two months. Now we can send him off with our best wishes for a good life elsewhere.

I hope he was the only one who lived under our place!

Friday, January 6, 2017

Javalina Saga Part 2

After an absence of over a month, the javalina is back. Sometimes.

Earlier this week a neighbor knocked on our door. "Did you know the javalina is under your park model again? It was about 3 in the afternoon. The neighbor led me out to the back yard. "See that hole? We were just standing here and it came out."

Sure enough, another hole in the skirting.

"It came out yesterday, too, at just about this same time."

I texted Marc, our "javalina whisperer". He agreed it was time to trap the animal and move it to another location.

Here's the humane trap now set in our back yard. The idea is that the javalina will approach the trap and eat the potato and the peanut outside safely, then come back for more, with more confidence.When it steps into the trap for the food inside, the gate will come down.

For the curious, here's a video about javalinas, sent to me by my old friend HeeSun Gerhardt.

Marc says he will relocate the animal in an area where other javalinas live so it can join a new family.

First, though, we wait. My husband Art thinks the animal may seek shelter under our place when it's cold, and we're heading into a warm spell, so we may need to wait.

I can wait.

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

My worker guy

Now that my husband Art is older, Washington State's climate in fall, winter and spring is troublesome. For one thing, he has allergies too many to name. Just about the only thing he's not allergic to is Larisa, our Designer Cat, who is hypoallergenic. For another, he has arthritis when there's a lot of moisture in the air. On those days, he mostly sits and reads or watches TV and I think he's going to become one with the sofa.

Arizona is a different story. Once he's been here for three days, the arthritis melts away. Art feels no pain and his "worker guy" persona comes to life. In less than two months, he has finished his chores and everything on my "honey do" list. It has been a remarkable thing to watch.

His first challenge was participating in the removal of the javalina living under our park model. The "javalina whisperer" worked with us for a couple of weeks, in person and via text. Art found it necessary to drive to Ace Hardware for a headlamp and a pair of knee pads just in case. He didn't need them for that project, but they were required the day he crawled underneath the animal-free zone to repair the dryer vent.

We had a palo verde tree on our back property that had grown so large that its limbs were scraping on our metal roof.

It also shed needles, to the annoyance of the neighbors. Our summer care guy said he didn't want to keep us as customers because of the tree. The park said removal of the tree was our responsibility. So we got four estimates ranging from $350 to $1200. Then we flew home for Thanksgiving.

When we got back, I encouraged Art to call the tree guys to come out, but he wanted to make their job easier. He bought a stepladder at Ace Hardware, and a set of new saw blades for his little electric saw. I came home one afternoon and saw that he had climbed the ladder into the tree, and then climbed the tree into the high branches. Art was an electrical lineman when he worked, but he was older now, and a bit out of shape, and without a hardhat or a spotter. I said, "It scares me when I see you do that." He said, "Then go in the house." My neighbor Dellann was just as worried. She said his risk-taking behavior was causing her blood pressure to go up!

Art limbed the tree on two days, then called the tree guys. They came out. Art decided to stand on our metal roof to supervise the cutting down of the tree. He has a pretty good eye for how and where to cut so the branch falls in a safe place rather than on the motorhome 12 feet away. While he was on the roof, he swept. I stood in the driveway with my cellphone, listening to the screech of the metal shingles, ready to call 9-1-1.

The palo verde tree in the back yard taken care of, Art turned his attention to the palm tree in the front yard. For the five years we have lived here, Christmas lights have been wound around the trunk. None of them worked. I had asked Art to either fix them or take them down, but he had other things to do instead. But now that he had a ladder - and three strings of solar lights I'd bought after Christmas last year - he spent an hour or two on the ladder taking down the old and putting up the new. This time I stayed inside and didn't look.

If we put a bag or a box on the floor, our cat Larisa gets into it. We call it a "cat trap". If boxes of unassembled furniture are dropped off by UPS or USPS or Fedex, Art opens them and begins to put the contents together. I call that a "man trap". It happened twice this month; I ordered a TV shelving unit and a new dining set. Art put them both together with nary a curse word. So I knew the directions were easy to follow and all the parts and bolts and washers were included in the packaging. And now I have just want I want in the Arizona room and in our little dining area.

I used to say that Art could fix anything. In Arizona, he still can. There is nothing like a dry climate!

In March I am going back to Oinofyta, the refugee camp in Greece. This time I am going for a month, and I am taking Art with me. He will be part-time handyman, driver and shopper and dinnertime cook. All things he loves to do. He will be very appreciated by people other than me.

The whiteboard on the fridge is blank now. Art has completed every task. Maybe now he can read his book in peace.