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Rewiring

Image by pasja1000 from Pixabay

On July 31, 2019, I ended a chapter of my life. I devoted more than 20 years to working with people who had hepatitis C. About half of that time was as a nurse at Stanford Medical Center; all of it was as a writer and outspoken advocate for those affected by a virus that kills more people annually in the United States than all 60 reportable infectious diseases combined.  It was hard to let go, but there are wonderful people doing great things in the hepatitis field; it is a good time to move on.

One might say that I am retiring from hep C work, and that would be accurate. However, I am not retiring from meaningful work. I prefer to use Dr. Ruth’s term ‘rewiring.’ (Dr. Ruth is a famous sex therapist known for her radio show, Sexually Speaking,)

Rewiring means that I am redirecting my energy and time towards other passions, passions that have been there a long time. What are these passions? There’s the rub; there are many, and at my age, I don’t have time to follow them all.

Writing tops the list. Exploring issues around health, aging and death make excellent subject matters. All of this rests on living a life of intention. For me, this means meaningful relationships, living simply and mindfully, giving rather than taking, and spreading as much love as I can.

The particulars will unfold as I explore this process of rewiring. As I do, I would love to hear from you. What are you learning from life? What is working, what isn’t? What is your vision for yourself?  As Mary Oliver wrote in her poem The Summer Day, “Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”

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I have two risk factors for melanoma and other skin cancers; I am fair and I got many sunburns as a kid. As a result, I get regular skin checks.

During a recent exam, my dermatologist asked about a particular spot on my arm. I thought it was a bug bite from a recent hike. She asked, “How long have you had that?” About a week,” I replied. “It just popped up.” She said she didn’t like the look of it and wanted to do a shave biopsy. She said, “It may not be anything, but I get nervous over things that just pop up.”

Well, if she wanted to be nervous about it, that was her problem. In the meantime, I realized that I didn’t want to go down the panic road. It would take a week or more to get the results. It didn’t make any sense to worry over something that could turn out to be nothing. Besides, worry would not change the outcome, and it would feel awful. So, I took the calm road.

The biopsy was negative for cancer. She didn’t tell me what it was, other than not cancer. I’m thinking it was a bug bite. I am so happy that I didn’t take the worry road over this. What a waste that would have been over a perfectly lovely summer week.

What do you do when you are at the intersection of calm and worry? If you take the worry route, perhaps it is time to take the road less traveled. Or as Yogi Berra said, “When you come to a fork in the road, take it.”

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Health Legacy

Looking at my maternal line, my grandmother was the first to graduate 8th grade. It was a big deal. My mother was the first to graduate high school, and I was the first to graduate college. My daughter just got her Master’s degree, so if she has a daughter, there might be some unintended pressure there.

Education is a privilege, and I am grateful for the opportunity. I don’t take it for granted, but I also don’t feel especially proud of it. Other than paying for it, school was not hard for me. My mother and teachers prepared me well, thus enabling me to complete it.

Today I realized that like education, I have surpassed the health measurements of all my relatives. None of my family members ever devoted as much to their health as I have, or enjoyed the results as much as I do. One grandmother was dead by my age; the other was quite feeble. My grandfather was permanently hospitalized before he was my age; the other would die by age 68.

My parents lived until ages 77 (mother) and 84 (father). However, my mother was a smoker and on oxygen. My father suffered a slow eroding of quality of life. Neither ran, hiked or went to the gym like I do. Neither made the choice to eat the organic, whole food diet that I enjoy. Both sat a lot, but neither meditated.

And here is the bad habit they taught me: neither went to the doctor unless the situation was extreme. I am not exaggerating about this. Both died from diseases that might have had different outcomes had they seen their doctors in the early stages.

Cultivating and maintaining good health is much harder than going to college. It’s for life, both in terms of goals and time frame. And although I don’t feel pride about having a college degree, I do feel pride about doing a 2-minute plank, for going to the gym as often as I do, and for seeing my doctor in the early stages of a problem, rather than having to go in an ambulance.

Plus, it feels good. Sure, I don’t particularly want to work out sometimes, but I have never regretted exercise; I’ve only regretted NOT exercising.

And if I can pass this health legacy on, that would be even better. What is your health legacy?

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Image by Thomas Wolter from Pixabay

Recently I had a health scare that rattled me a bit. I lost my hearing for 2 weeks, and because I have Meniere’s disease, my health team was alarmed. Their alarm was contagious, and I started down the “what-if” road. That road leads to more suffering.

Eventually I reached out to a few friends and shared with them what was going on. Those conversations were doubly hard since they had to shout in to my one working ear. The other one was useless. Word spread, and friends and acquaintances gave me lots of love and support. However, a few also showed me what NOT to say. It forced me to look at how I respond to others. What well-meaning words do I say which maybe aren’t all that helpful? Is my comforting actually making things worse?

Here are a few things people told me that perhaps could have been left unsaid:

“ I had a friend who had a similar thing happen. Her hearing never came back.” This scared me more.

“I know what you are going through. I had a stomach thing last year that really derailed me.” I believe this person was trying to show empathy, but then he went on and talked about himself the rest of the conversation.

“Don’t worry about it. Worry makes it worse.” I know this is true but telling someone not to worry doesn’t help them stop worrying.

Another thing that didn’t help was questioning my decision not to keep going back to the doctor or urgent care after I had already been to the doctor twice, was on medication, and had a timely follow-up appointment.

Here is what helped:

“I am sorry you are going through this. Is there anything I can do to help.”

Hugs.

Here are 3 more things I learned:

If someone else is suffering, even if the source of their suffering is relatively minor, I can be a compassionate listener, even if I am deaf. Problems shared are best carried together. I hope I never ever am tempted to say, “You think you have problems.”  This doesn’t help; compassion does.

I can share my problems with people who have bigger problems. I didn’t want to tell a close relative about my hearing because she has cancer and is on chemo. However, she doesn’t need my protection; she needs me to be real.

We all do the best we can. If someone doesn’t respond to your needs the way you want them to, that’s just life. We can love each other as we are, without expectations.

My hearing is coming back and although I may end up with hearing aids, that seems much more attractive than the alternative. I am grateful for the lessons this has taught me.

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On Retreat

Image by Thomas Mühl from Pixabay

I am posting this in advance of my annual 7-day retreat. A week of silence, meditation, walking, eating vegetarian food, working in a garden, and no electronic media. See you next week.

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Are Colds Ever Common?


Image by PublicDomainPictures from Pixabay 

This week I got a common cold. Nearly everyone I saw in the
past few weeks was in various stages of a cold, so I wasn’t surprised when I got one.

What did surprise me was the conversations I heard about each person’s cold. Although most of us have had many colds, it’s almost as if this one is going to be different. One family member who had a lot of mosquito bites wondered if she might have West Nile. Another was pretty certain he had pneumonia. Another was wondering if she had a sinus infection. She was under the impression that the color of one’s mucous determined whether a runny is caused by a virus, bacteria or allergies. This is a myth, one which even some medical professionals believe.

So when I felt the first symptoms coming on, I vowed to accept that I just had a common cold, from whatever virus everyone else was sharing. Day 4, with a sore throat, swollen glands and no nasal congestion, my imagination kicked in. I caved and called the advice nurse. She said I needed to be seen.

The thing about imagination, is I can use it to make me feel better or to feel worse. Urgent care didn’t open for 4 more hours, so I decided to rest. And not feed my imagination.

A few hours later the nasal congestion and cough kicked in and my cold seemed like everyone else’s. I wondered if the best thing would just to keep my cold germs to myself and let rest, liquids, and the tincture time do their thing. It was just what the doctor ordered. My cold was indeed common.  

If you have a fever, breathing problem, or just feel like something is wrong, call or go to your doctor. Not all colds are common. However, don’t let your imagination run wild. Let a health professional tell you what you may or may not have. And although a common cold sounds so ordinary, don’t let that fool you. A common cold doesn’t feel good.

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