Tag Archives: Healthcare

Pain Free

IMG_3098Sitting by the fire looking out over the snowy March landscape outside my window, I think of Emily Dickinson, a writer who perfected her craft as she dealt with health challenges throughout most all of her short life. My destiny has been the opposite. In uncompromising good health until a few weeks ago, I have avoided having to perform creative activities, or the simple tasks of daily living while being sick or in ill health.

A bout of the flu here, an allergic reaction there, mostly I’ve been blessed with opportunities to put my whole self into whatever projects and goals attracted my fancy. Like most people, I’ve been unrealistic at times, creating stress and strain by demanding more of myself than is possible for a single human being. Perhaps we identify our limits by pushing past them on occasion. Perhaps we stretch our capabilities by using the second wind that appears after the first one dissipates.

In my 30s I got good at pushing myself beyond my limits and then with the help of artistic practices, learning how to heal into a place of ease and balance. Later on, there was the juggling act of family roles and professional goals, self-care practices to stay healthy while supporting family members going through their own health challenges.

My initiation into the world of ill health began with sixteen days of excruciating headache pain. I became engrossed in symptom relief; hot showers and cold compresses, Advil, essential oils and naps while we hunted for medical professionals who could get to the bottom of it all and return me to the world of the well. Occasionally, there were short opportunities for normalcy, to teach a class or attend a dance concert, but life as I had known it seemed long ago and far away.

Finally, dramatically, I got to the right professionals, got the correct diagnosis and most importantly, the potential disaster of losing my eyesight was averted. Gratitude for that as I live into my new role as a patient in recovery.IMG_3099

My father always said, there’s a bit of poison in every medicine, and the miracle drugs western medicine has developed are no exception. The challenge now is managing both the short term and long-term side effects of the medication that is keeping me pain free.

My view of what’s realistic and doable under my present circumstances demands constant discernment. I must be cautious and careful, mindful of what energy is from the medicine and what energy is truly my own. Slowly, carefully, I’m returning to the physical practices that have kept me healthy in the past; a half a yoga class here, 45 minutes of Zumba there. Health challenges are always a reminder of our fragility but also of the gifts of a good night’s sleep, the love and support of friends, and gratitude for the opportunity to move pain free throughout our world, for however long that is possible.



physical-therapy“How long will it take,” I asked, “to heal my broken shoulder.” Everyone I spoke to, the doctor, the nurse, the physical therapist, all responded in the same vague, hesitant manner. Looking off into the distance they each said some version of “three, four months. Maybe six.” Someone who had actually had a shoulder injury said, “It was a year until I was totally back to where I was.”

Looking back now that I’ve made it to four months, and that I’m not where I want to be yet, I see that this unpredictability has made it hard to plan my future and to have realistic expectations of myself. Last week I traveled to California with my husband and I did very well. Moving swiftly through the airports and eyeing the folks in wheel chairs gave me a clear comparison of how far I’ve come since my first flight only a few days after my injury. On vacation I wasn’t able to continue my daily physical therapy exercises as I’d been doing at home, but I was active in ways I’m not in my daily life. Hiking on uneven terrain offered my biggest challenge but it’s hard to say how I would have done with two good shoulders.

Today I found out that Medicare has decided I’ve healed well enough because they are ending their reimbursements for my physical therapy sessions and my secondary insurance will cut off when Medicare does. I’m remembering this bazaar system from when my daughter was a physical therapist. At least a dozen years ago, Medicare established an arbitrary cap on the reimbursements it will make for a patient for Physical Therapy in a single calendar year. There is no accounting for where the patient is in their recovery, with the possibility of customization for patients who have experienced a heart attack or a stroke. Corinne was convinced that no one who knew anything about physical therapy and how it works was on the committee that wrote those guidelines. I am surprised that they haven’t been modified by now.

Routine is the foundation of momentum so I will need to establish a new pattern of actions to continue moving towards my full recovery. I don’t like the disruption but I am grateful that I have the resources to get the help I need. I realize that others in my situation are not as fortunate. As a feminist I know that the personal is also political, so when given the opportunity I’ll join my voice to that of the Physical Therapists and patients who have been trying for years to change this self-defeating system.

The Road Back

physical-therapyIt’s been 7 weeks since my shoulder slammed into the wooden floor of the dance studio. It’s been nearly four weeks since I’ve seen the doctor and I’m looking for reassurance that I hadn’t done any harm doing my passive physical therapy directed exercises. Once or twice a day I’ve held a pulley fastened to the back of a door with both hands, and moved my injured hand up and down using the strength in my good arm. I’ve stretched my arm along a tabletop, powering that movement by leaning forward with my upper body. I’ve very carefully followed all the directives of the doctor and the physical therapist, but when I get into the room where the technician is to take the x-rays, she begins moving my body in ways that I have not been moving it.

“Put your arm all the way across your body,” she says and I can’t do that without it hurting. When I tell her that she says she’s trying to get the angle that the doctor wants to see. I’m thinking if we are going to compare the images from before, why would it be necessary for me to do something I couldn’t possibly have done before? I refrained from asking that question, but I did suggest that she and the physical therapist might need to get together.

Apparently it worked out and the doctor got what he needed. He pointed out on the image that the bones of my shoulder are still in place and showing some signs of healing. This was a great relief to me but my husband, who was accompanying me, was eager to know more. 

“What percentage is she healed, would you say?”

The doctor smiled, “Everybody wants percentages.”

My husband smiled back and stood quietly waiting for his answer.

“I’d say 40 percent.”

“When can she drive?” my husband asked, with quite a bit of eagerness in his voice. I already knew my not driving was a big drag for both of us.

“It’s a liability issue,” the doctor said. “People do sue, and I can’t protect you from that.”

“The physical therapist told me I have no strength in that arm. If I had to turn the wheel quickly, it could be dangerous,” I said.

“There are people who drive with one hand but they take a people with disabilities drivers’ training course in order to do so. The problem with that is there’s a six-month waiting list for the class. The doctor gave his advice as he exited.

“I’d suggest, drive when you feel ready. We’ll add resistance training to your physical therapy regime and I’ll see you in six weeks.”

It’s clear there will be no short cuts on this journey, six weeks will take us pretty close to the end of the summer. But I am grateful for the recovery I have gotten. I’m able to dress myself, put contacts in and out, tie my shoes. I’m grateful that I have access to excellent physical therapists, the discipline to practice the exercises they are teaching me, and for the special bonus of being able to walk to the physical therapy office from my house.Now if I can master using Uber, I’ll be able to move about the city.

A Grandmother Looks at Vaccinations

In 1945, during the only semester I attended kindergarten, I brought back to my family’s household of four younger siblings, the three most common childhood diseases of that time; measles, mumps, and chicken pox. Luckily my mother was a nurse and knew how to take care of a houseful of sick children. We all survived and since then, we’ve had immunity without being vaccinated. But survival had not been assumed, especially for my youngest sister Mary Jane, who was six to eight months old at the time and still recovering from being gravely ill at birth.

11973371-child-vaccination-2Part of how things turned out well during and after our house became an infectious disease ward, was that no pregnant woman visited us during that time. No person with a suppressed immune system came past the front door. We were able to completely quarantine ourselves so as not to become agents of illness and death to anyone else, especially someone who might not have the immune system strength to recover that we apparently did.

Flash-forward to 2015, and I’m watching the accounts on the evening news of the spread of measles in the United States – ten states, then twelve, then eighteen. I note the state where I live, Pennsylvania, is one of them as is California, the state where my unvaccinated 2½-year-old granddaughter lives. Her parents, concerned for her safety have not decided to have her vaccinated yet.

Am I worried? Yes. But my worries have changed as I’ve paid attention to the realities and the science behind vaccinations. Initially, I was worried about my granddaughter. Last fall, I didn’t want her flying through the DFW airport when I heard that some cases of Whooping Cough had been reported in Texas. Since she hadn’t been vaccinated, I reasoned, she might get the disease and die from it.

color-flu-vac-cat-webBut now I realize if my granddaughter, who is extremely healthy, contracted one of the diseases prevalent in my childhood, she most likely would survive it as I did.  My worry now moves to a concern for somebody she might infect, somebody not as fortunate as she is. Frail elderly people are at risk, as are children and adults whose immune systems are compromised, like someone in treatment from another disease or health challenge. My unvaccinated granddaughter could be an agent of serious illness and death for some one else. And in the manner that epidemics move, it would eventually become impossible to trace the trail of how many people had died from her particular linked series of exposures.

I wish I had the power and influence to make certain that my granddaughter will not be an agent of harm to someone else.  But apparently I do not. My own son, my granddaughters’ father, thinks as many of his friends do, that the government can not be trusted to tell the truth. They’ve heard stories of perfectly healthy children being harmed by vaccines as these stories are passed through the community where they live. They don’t watch television news or read the morning papers. They haven’t heard that the stories, even the study they are based on, have been scientifically refuted.

They think my advice is based on experiences from the olden days, not relevant to their generation. And it is true that, in my day, we had no choice but to take our chances with the diseases themselves, before there were vaccinations to prevent them. When vaccines became available, as they were when my three children were young, my family and most others gratefully followed the medical guidelines and had them administered to our children. Now as an elder, my own self care involves following the medical profession’s advice and getting shots to prevent the flu, pneumonia, and shingles.

But to this grandmother, as the opportunities to prevent illnesses are greater, so are the risks to humankind if such opportunities are not subscribed to. Modern life involves international travelers sharing oxygen in small cramped quarters of airplanes, newborn and young infants clustered together in daycare centers, families eating in restaurants and coming into contact with others at large shopping malls; none of this existed in my day. So my prayer for my granddaughter, and for us all, is that we not return to the days when most people were not vaccinated against highly contagious diseases. That we not return to the days when everyone knew someone who had died or been seriously impaired by diseases that, in the 21st century, are entirely preventable.

Memory 2.0

My husband and I shiver as we stand with our friend Randall at the front door of the Memory Care Center waiting for someone to let us in. “How long has Jyoti been in this facility?” Rich asks. Randall briefly details the 10-year history of his advocacy for his wife in a string of facilities of this type and, blowing my breath on my gloveless hands,  I wonder if it might be time to move her again. “This company pays its staff a bit more so their turnover is lower,” Randall says. Through the glass door I catch a glimpse of a cleaning cart and knock more vigorously on the door. A maid responds and lets us in.

We walk into the main living room and find Jyoti, one of our best friends of 30 years, asleep in a recliner in front of a dark television screen, the same spot I left her on my last visit nine months ago. She’s dressed in comfortable, warm looking grey slipper boots as Randall approaches her chair from behind and gently calls her name. Coming around to the front of her seat, he offers his hands to pull her from the chair and lead her to a more private area for our visit. My husband Rich and Randall walk on either side of her, each holding a hand, and I walk behind. When we arrive in the new space she and I look at each other and I imagine I see a spark of recognition on her face.

IMG_1162The men and I slow way down in order to be in communion with her rhythm. She and I sit close together on a love seat and she lets me put my arm around her. As we hug she murmurs and mumbles a sound that sounds like “Mama.” Randall sits in a chair across from her and teases her about looking so intently at him. Rich sits in a chair on her other side while she creates sounds a young child might make, occasionally saying expressions like, “Oh, my,” with an inflection of surprise or delight. She breaks out in a song, and I respond by singing a few lines of “Amazing Grace.” I tell her that’s what her song reminded me of. She says some syllables in a rhythmic manner like reciting a poem and we remind each other and her of what a good poet she was. Randall invites Jyoti to dance with him and she seems delighted to do that. She’s a bit more reserved when Rich and I join the two of them in a circle dance, but though shaky on her feet she allows it. 

We take pictures of us together and Randall leaves the room and bringing back a framed picture of several women and us in our spirituality group from her room. I comment, “We’re all dressed up and at a wedding but I can’t remember whose wedding it was.“ As we study the picture together I say, “I look pregnant in that picture, but that couldn’t have been the case. I was way too old by that time.” Jyoti begins making a cooing sound and pointing to my stomach. As we sit together in the silence she rubs my tummy while making cooing sounds and I get the message that she’s teasing me about there being a child inside.

Returning home to Pittsburgh I’m disoriented, having trouble picking up the threads of my usual life, as though I’ve traveled to another place beyond space and time, another place we are all headed toward, one way or another. 

Staying Healthy

Mother was a nurse who fully subscribed to the principles of the medical model that surrounded her. Like many health professionals of her day, since she worked nights at a hospital helping to deliver babies, she took pills to get to sleep and other pills to help her wake up. In between her interrupted daytime sleep, she nursed her own six children and made house calls to neighbors dealing with sick children or needing her help in understanding what their doctor meant by what he told them. HEALTH-IMAGE-1

Dad didn’t believe in sick. Beginning the day with breakfast and ending it with a good night’s sleep were his ideas of the best medicine. He didn’t get sick often and the two or three times I remember him getting the flu, most likely from one of us kids, he’d pile the bed thick with covers, drink lots of fluids, and cocoon himself there till “he’d sweated it out.”

Our refrigerator was filled with medicines my mother bought at the local pharmacy, or got as samples from the physicians at the hospital. There might be a special baby formula for my sister who couldn’t digest cows’ milk, vials of vitamin B-12 for the shots mother gave herself, or other prescription medicines that would last longer if refrigerated. Dad complained that we were growing our own penicillin and he’d tease Mother in front of guests that when the pharmacy runs out of anything, they call our house before reordering.

I’ve tried to come down somewhere in the middle of my parents’ diverse views on health and illness. Like my father, I’ve felt it’s better to prevent an illness than to try and recover from one, and food and lifestyle are critical elements I have some control of. But like my mother, if I get ill, I want the best doctors and nurses on my team.healthy-living-web

I think both my parents would welcome the direction our culture is moving to help us care for our own health. Instruments like the Fitbit https://www.fitbit.com/cart?productId=114 and Apple’s new Watch  http://www.apple.com/watch/ can provide ongoing information on how our body’s actually doing while we go about our daily lives, and even feedback about how we’re sleeping.

A couple of weeks ago, while visiting my son in the high desert I experienced some lightheadedness, which seemed a bit odd and scary.  He suggested a late night trip to Walmart where we used a monitoring system to check my blood pressure, pulse, and weight. This, and the information on Google saved me a trip to an ER because I became reassured that my lightheadedness was due to dehydration, not uncommon in that part of the world in late summer.

Embodied Connections

Growing up as a dancer the body was, and still is, my first language. I often sense or “know” things before I can explain them to myself or anyone else. This has caused me some difficulties since I, like you, grew up in a culture where the top priority or measurement of intelligence was Mental Intelligence (IQ).

 toddler-excitedFortunately in recent years, another kind of intelligence, Emotional Intelligence,(EI) has become recognized in some circles as important to our personal and social lives. And finally, the importance of Body Intelligence (BI) is coming into our culture’s awareness.

 As a teacher and practitioner of InterPlay, an art-based approach to unlocking the wisdom of the body, and the president of Body Wisdom, Inc,. its national board, I know something about the intelligence of the body but I’ve struggled to find the language to communicate about this to others. Among InterPlayers who are working and playing together to master body intelligence we speak of “going the speed of the body,” recognizing that what may take seconds or minutes to conceive will take hours, months, or years to achieve.  During our on-line board meetings, we remind each other that we are attempting to be a “body-wise non-profit,” meaning we aim to not push people beyond the limitations of their physical human capabilities in order to achieve our organizational goals. The good life is about the journey not just the destination.

1146703_10151654919806655_830122018_n What does body intelligence look like? According to an upcoming online conference on body intelligence here are some of its benefits – From Visceral fear to embodied sense of love, Separation to deep connection, Depleted to energized, Rigid to flowing, Uncreative to Powerfully Generative, Working hard to Joyful Ease, Low-level anxiety to Calm, Stress to Dynamic Energy, Chronic body issues to Radiant health, Discomfort to Delight, Heaviness to Playfulness, Adrenal overdrive to Relaxed energy.

 Join me in attending this free online conference Monday February 10 – Wednesday February 10 2014.    http://bodyintelligencesummit.com/  We’ll hear from scientists, dancers, and health professionals. InterPlay, Co-founder Cynthia Winton-Henry, will be a featured speaker. And let’s find a way to talk about it after we attend.

Feedback Part Two

Feedback is the return of a portion of the output of a process or system to the input, especially when used to maintain performance or to control a system or process.

My friend Pam got an electronic activity tracker for Christmas, and like I’ve done with other good ideas Pam has, I decided to copy her and get one too. My husband got a different brand and we’ve been testing and comparing our models. Both offer feedback on how many steps we take each day, the number of stairs we climb, the number of miles we walk, and the number of hours we sleep. Mine even calculates how long it takes me to get to sleep. Using the numbers that are calculated, our trackers estimate the number of calories we’ve likely expended, based on our age, weight, and height, information you put into the system when you set it up. I’m sure motivations to use these systems vary but here are some of mine.

  • Monitoring the progress of one of my most important goals, to move more. I’ve read about the health risk of inactivity as we age and no longer do work that requires physical activity and effort. As a writer, spending long hours everyday at my computer, I don’t want my obituary to read, poor dear, she died from sitting too often and for too long.
  • A reality check – I wanted an objective measure of what I actually do, because my own perception is not always reliable. Some days a mile walk in my neighborhood feels easy, but on other days it can feel like a hike up a steep hill.
  • Rewards – The five year old inside me still likes some version of the gold stars and “good job” my teachers wrote on my school papers. Knowing that my tracker is noting the steps I climb encourages me to climb more of them. It feels like I’m getting credit for my efforts.
  • Learning something I didn’t know – When I saw the estimation of calories I used during my eight hours of sleep, (420 or so), I thought the instrument must be broken. But checking on line, turns out we do use calories while we sleep. And maybe I use more than some other people because I get up often to go to the bathroom, and I turn from side to side fairly often during the night.
  • Accuracy – Sometimes my instrument doesn’t recalibrate correctly, when it switches over from daytime to nighttime analysis. Waking in the morning with the report that I have walked 400 steps in the night (which has happened) gets me to wondering if I walked in my sleep. I know how many steps it is from my bed to the bathroom and back, so that information is not likely to be accurate. Starting off the day with 400 steps gives me a head start on the number I hope to do each day. But I don’t need help in cheating; I can do that all on my own, without any help from a technological accomplice.



Happy Birth Day!

Enter the darkened birthing chamber. Nurses scurry around, a mother wipes her daughter’s brow, step-dad and the doula have cameras at the ready, the baby’s daddy massages and coaches the soon-to-be mom, while she follows the movements springing from her belly with her chant-like breathing.

Relatives and friends have been excited for months, looking forward to the miracle of these moments. There’ve been doctor appointments; scans and sonograms, prenatal vitamins and infant care seminars, parenting and breath classes. Baby showers and contest winnings have provided enormous amounts of baby paraphernalia, now all at the ready for this momentous event.

But the baby’s coming three weeks early from her expected date! Are we sure the carpets don’t need another cleaning? There are still some paper work matters we’d hoped to get handled before this time. The mural in the baby’s room needs a few more butterflies. And for added drama; one of the Grandmas is coming from across the continent. Will she make it in time?

What about this day and place is distinct and different from all others? The desert is exceedingly hot, as expected in August. The Zodiac sign is Virgo, the only one represented by a girl or woman. Qualities are creativity and a communicator. The day is Tuesday, and “Tuesday’s child is full of grace,” as the saying goes. This particular year, 2012, is the ending of a 26,000-year cycle according to the Mayan calendar. It’s a Water Dragon year to the Chinese, one that comes around only every 60 years. This auspicious year is one in which many Chinese couples hope and plan to have a child.

The doctors said this child couldn’t happen, family members though it highly unlikely. But love and longing win out and this child is born. Our family receives with gratitude, this gift, and later we realize that on this particular date, 29 years ago, our mother, (the baby’s great-grandmother) died. The day this child will come home from the hospital is the 13th anniversary of our father’s, (her great-grandfather’s) death.

So every year on this day we family members will celebrate this child, this miracle. Later, friends at school or camp may be served cupcakes on her behalf. Still later, Facebook friends will take the opportunity, on this day, to post good wishes, reminding this toddler, this child, this girl, this woman, “You were so deeply and widely loved, and you still are. Happy Birth Day!”

Nuns’ Bus Stops In Pittsburgh

The enormous graphically decorated “rock star” type bus pulled up in front of the office of Tim Murphy, (R) in Mt. Lebanon and stops before a cheering crowd. A couple of men in suits start a chant to welcome them. “The nuns on the bus say fairness now,“ fairness now,” to the tune of a children’s folk song.  Looking around at the crowd, I’m guessing many of them learned fairness principles from the nuns while they were in  grade school. It’s one of the principles they taught and one of the principles they live, as they operate social services agencies and hospitals around the country, serving the poor and disenfranchised.

Sr. Simone Campbell disembarks waving, along with several other sisters from Network, a social justice lobby in Washington DC. They’re on a two-week tour of the Midwest to highlight the need for economic justice in our country’s budget. They visit the representative’s staff and then talk with the crowd of mostly seasoned activists, holding signs that attest to the sisters’ moral authority –

 “Do Corporate Prophets help all people? Nuns do!”

The nuns have been in trouble lately, some say for their support of the health care bill. While the American bishops were worried about contraceptives in health care plans, the nuns worked to help the bill that would insure 40 million people will have health care.

The Vatican assigned a male representative to oversea these “radical feminist,” whose message is about economic justice. Their tour is to highlight the disaster to the poor and middle class of the Ryan budget.

Sr. Simone taught us their chant. “Reasonable Revenue for Responsible Programs, Reasonable Revenue for Responsible Programs.” Sister urged us to chant this message at the state and local levels as well.