GratiTuesday: It’s the little things (and some big things too)

One step at a time.
One step at a time.

Gardening, making meals, climbing stairs, grocery shopping… just getting from Point A to Point B without assistance. It’s the little things that we don’t think much about until we lose our ability to do them.

It’s been almost exactly two months since I executed a rather inelegant dismount from a ladder and fractured my hip on our concrete patio. Some of you have asked how I am doing and I’m please to say that I’m doing much, much better. About three weeks after my surgery, I graduated from a walker to a cane and for the last two weeks or so I have been walking completely under my own power. Although I still have a bit of a limp, it gets better every day. I’m not back power-walking or dancing yet, but I’m confident that it’s only a matter of time.

Today, I am grateful for many things, including modern surgical procedures and the remarkable healing ability of the human body. It amazes me that two months after having my broken bone screwed back together, I am almost completely mobile and pain-free.

I am grateful for patient people: those who were behind me as I limped forward with my cane and didn’t angrily push their way around me. My balance wasn’t always great and I found myself close to being tripped several times as some people brushed by me to get ahead. I appreciated those who understood my limitations and didn’t try to shave off a few seconds by zipping around and risk toppling me over. I hope that lesson stays with me when I’m the one who needs to be patient.

I am grateful that I can again putter in the yard, drive myself where I want, walk up and down stairs, and pretty much do all the little things I took for granted before my accident. My accident gave me a brief glimpse of what it could be like when I’m much older. Maintaining my health and taking good care of my body is even more important to me now.

Finally, I am grateful to my husband for taking such good care of me, encouraging my progress, and keeping my spirits up when I was struggling. “For better” is the easy part, “For worse” is what matters.

Cherished Blogfest: Three pins holding it all together

They look like chopsticks, but there are actually three pins
They look like chopsticks, but they are actually three pins.

I had every intention to participate in this year’s Cherished Blogfest. I wrote about my U.S. Passport last year and had a couple ideas for what I would write about this time. Leading up to this past Friday, the first day of the Fest, I went back and forth in my mind about which one I would choose.

That all changed Thursday morning.

A morning that started out pretty routinely changed in just a matter of seconds. One moment, I was standing on a ladder helping my husband trim some bushes, the next moment I was laying on the concrete patio floor writhing in pain. My hip took the full force of my fall and it was immediately obvious that I had done some damage.

Looking back, I probably should have taken an ambulance straight to the emergency room but I’m kind of stubborn and decided instead to be driven to the local clinic for an evaluation. I was holding out hope that it was just a bad bruise and that I’d be sent on my way with some pain pills and an admonition to be more careful in the future.

Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case; I had fractured my hip and was transported to the hospital for surgery to put it all back together again.

I’ll spare you the details, but I now have three pins installed in my left hip. If all goes well—and there is no reason it shouldn’t—these pins will be a permanent part of my anatomy. They will allow the bones to heal correctly then live on to become the reason I can never go through regular airport screening again. They will be some of the most expensive metal bling I own, yet no one can see them.

At least my nail polish matches my walker.
At least my nail polish matches my walker.

So today, the final day of the Cherished Blogfest, my submission is about a cherished object I didn’t own just three days ago. I would rather not have to have these pins to hold things together, but I am happy that they are there doing the job.

I hope that, for next year’s Cherished Blogfest, I’ll be able to write about one of my other ideas. In the meantime, I’m planning on staying off of ladders unless I am fully encased in bubble wrap.

This year’s Cherished Blogfest is being held the weekend of July 29-31. Everyone is encouraged to participate by sharing something they cherish (limited to 500 words).

For additional Cherished Blogfest posts, click here.

Fasting to lose weight and gain health

The job I had before I retired involved food. Lots of it. Not only did I work with restaurant owners, managers, and chefs to promote energy efficiency in commercial food service, my office was located in an educational facility that regularly provided catered food to those attending our workshops. If there wasn’t something fabulous cooking in the kitchen, there was probably something yummy being served in one of the seminar rooms. I tried to avoid temptation as much as possible, but I’m only human. A little bit here, a little bit there adds up to a lot of bits… and a few more pounds than I was comfortable carrying.

Like a lot of people, I have periodically put on – then tried to lose – five or ten pounds throughout my adult life. I’ve been on various fad diets, unhealthy extreme diets, and mainstream programs like Weight Watchers. They all worked for a while but none offered a long-term solution that I was able to maintain. What I wanted was a healthy way of eating that I could stick with and not feel too deprived.

Enter Public Television. I realize that it’s an unusual place to get diet advice, but it happened when my husband and I watched a three-part BBC series on how the body works and improving ones health. One episode was titled The Truth About Exercise, one was Guts (how our stomachs work), and the third one was Eat, Fast, and Live Longer. The first two were fascinating, but the third one really caught my attention.

In that episode, the series’ host, Dr. Michael Mosley, shared own health journey. He was overweight and had been recently diagnosed with diabetes and high cholesterol and was looking for a path back to health that didn’t involve drugs. His research led him to the concept of intermittent fasting (IF). After testing different forms of IF, he developed what he called the 5:2 diet, which required him to restrict his calories two days a week and eat normally the other five days.

What interested me about the premise of IF as a weight-loss/weight-management program was two-fold: I felt that it was a regime I could follow over a long period of time and there appeared to be some real health benefits beyond just the weight loss. Scientific trials have shown that intermittent fasting could reduce the risk of a range of diseases from diabetes to heart disease and cancer. Other studies indicate it might even protect against strokes, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.

It’s now been three years since I began fasting weekly. At first I fasted two days a week and slowly lost the ten pounds that I had gained. Once I reached my desired weight, I settled into a one-day-a-week maintenance routine.

Broths and other soups are a big part of my fasting days
Broths and other soups are a big part of my fasting days

When I retired, I wondered if I could stay with the regime but it hasn’t been a problem at all. I typically fast on my busiest day each week so I have plenty of distractions and I never choose a day when an event or a party would make me feel deprived. If I’m traveling or have another reason I can’t fast one week, I don’t. But, out of the 52 weeks each year, there are probably only two or three in which I don’t fast. If I see my weight creeping up, I return to fasting two days a week until it comes off.

There is a lot of information – both pluses and minuses – regarding intermittent fasting and the 5:2 diet. A recent New York Times article, Fasting Diets Are Gaining Acceptance, outlined the history and science of IF and highlighted different ways it can be done. The three-part PBS/BBC series that started me going is fascinating and can be found online. Dr. Mosley has written several books based on his findings, including the best-selling FastDiet and a few about managing diabetes.

I realize that IF is not for everyone. I’m not the most disciplined person in the world, but it works for me. I think knowing it is just one day (or two, when I want to lose a few), and that I’ll go back to my normal eating the next day, makes the fasting day doable. I don’t have to eat weird food, I don’t have to keep track of points, and, best of all, I don’t have to say “no” every day… just the day that I choose to fast. The weight loss and easy maintenance is great, but the possible health benefits make this lifestyle choice a good one for me.

Is this when the wheels start to come off?

I have a friend who is battling colon cancer. She has undergone several series of chemotherapy over the past year and has yet to receive an “all clear” diagnosis from her doctors. Each time she thinks she is done, they’ve found new reasons for concern. After completing her last round of chemotherapy, she is now in a wait-and-see holding pattern and we are all cautiously optimistic.

Another friend is currently undergoing chemotherapy for Lymphoma.  She is one month into her treatments and after another 4 – 5 months her doctors will do another evaluation. She is getting a lot of support from her husband and friends, and we are cautiously optimistic about her outcome.

A neighbor who is also a good friend had a mastectomy a few years ago when a small tumor was discovered in her left breast. Recently, during a routine follow-up with her oncologist, it was discovered that her HCG levels were unusually high. High HCG levels are normal in pregnant women; high levels in a non-pregnant woman can be an indicator of ovarian cancer. She will get her test results later this week and her friends and family are cautiously optimistic that she will get a clean bill of health.

Then, just the weekend, I called a friend that I’ve known since grade school regarding an upcoming get-together. She told me that her attendance was up in the air at this time because her husband was recently diagnosed with severe Myelodysplastic Syndromes (MDS), a bone marrow disorder. In general, the prognosis for patients with advanced MDS isn’t encouraging, but she is doing her best to maintain a cautiously optimistic perspective for her husband and her family.

Hope

These four medical challenges are not the only ones faced by friends and acquaintances; I know a few who have battled cancer and won (at least for now) and several others who are living with MS and other long-term health issues.  But, these are the most recent and I can’t shake the feeling that there seems to be an uptick in the number of serious diagnoses received by friends, friends of friends, and their family members – all close to my age.

In general, when we reach retirement age, we are focused on our finances and our emotional well-being. Many also realize that it is important to exercise regularly and eat a healthy diet. When we think about the future, our concern is often how to ensure adequate care in our advanced age. I don’t think most of us put a lot of thought into facing an early death – of either ourselves or our loved ones.

A recent article in the New York Times titled Why Everyone Seems to Have Cancer discusses how cancer is slowly overtaking heart disease as the number 1 cause of death. Due to an increased focus on the benefits of exercise and a healthy diet, and the availability of medications to control blood pressure and cholesterol, heart disease is less likely to affect someone between 55 and 85. Because of the way cancers develop (over time, due to errors in cell evolution), just the fact that we have lived a long time makes us susceptible to these cell mutations.

Although there have been a lot of strides made in the treatment of some cancers, preventing it in the first place seems to hold the most promise. Governments do this by improving sanitation, regulating and banning certain toxins, and promoting research and the development of vaccines. On the individual level, we can make sure we pay attention to what we eat and get plenty of exercise to keep our weight at a healthy level, stop smoking – and if you don’t smoke, stay away from second-hand smoke, and avoid excessive sun exposure. Of course none of this is a guarantee: not one of the four friends mentioned at the beginning are overweight or have poor eating habits, they don’t smoke, and none of their cancers resulted from too much sun exposure.

I’m not sure what the takeaway from all of this is. I don’t want to live my life in fear of what could be waiting around the corner. I am fair-skinned but I love the being outdoors, so I slather on SPF 50 and go out and enjoy myself. Although I’d love to be able to encase my husband in bubble wrap when he goes on one of his routine 50-mile bike rides, I know I can’t. We both try our best to avoid unhealthy food but, sometimes, something bad is just the thing that makes us feel so good.

So, we do our best. We try to get as much out of this life that we can, love the people who we hold close as hard as we can, take as good care as we can of our frustratingly aging bodies and minds, and always strive to treat others with patience, kindness, and respect.

We remain cautiously optimistic about the future.