Saturday, October 22, 2016

Take Me Away…

At line dancing exercise class last week, our fearless leader, Ruth, said that line dancing was her way to relieve stress and take her mind off her troubles.

“That’s what it does for me too!” I said. “No matter how bad a day I might have, I leave here in good spirits.”

Part of the reason is that while I exercise, I have to concentrate on the steps. By focusing on the dance, I empty my mind of all the troubling thoughts that may have been plaguing me.

This month was our annual “take me away” Girl’s Trip for my mom, my sisters, and me. Our short vacation was a relaxing kind of busy. Still, it must have tired me out, since I spent the entire first day back in my PJ’s doing absolutely nothing beyond eating and breathing.

I haven’t figured out how to live without a certain amount of stress, but retirement alleviated a lot of it. Now, I seldom have a headache, while it used to be an almost daily event. Even so, I have too many things to do and not enough hours in the day to accomplish them.

Here it is, almost Halloween, and I’ve yet to put up my fall decorations. I planned on doing that three weeks ago, but it just hasn’t happened. I used my decorations at the October SBW meeting, and until Wednesday, I still had them in the trunk of my car. Now, at least, I’ve brought them inside, and they are currently on the dining room table.

I have been a wee bit busy lately. I thought after the craziness of September that October would be a little more laid-back. Instead, my calendar is stacked, double stacked, and occasionally triple-stacked.

This last week has been Business Women’s Week with daily activities. Fortunately, some of the events were simply stress-busters too. One night was “relaxation night” and I participated in a Zumba class. Another night, we played Bunco with a lot of laughter and visiting. Dinners and luncheons were an opportunity to spend time with my friends.

Yesterday was the second day this month that I didn’t have something on my calendar. That doesn’t mean I didn’t do anything. I caught up on some of my accounting, updated a website, and helped with plans for the Alzheimer’s Symposium that Congresswoman Hartzler is hosting in Sedalia on November 10.

I will present a program on “Caregiver Emotions” at the symposium. I’ve given this program three times before—once at the Senior Center in Warsaw, for the Men’s Support Group in Columbia, and for family members who had loved ones in a nursing home. By addressing the individual emotions, a caregiver can alleviate caregiver stress.

Managing stress is a crucial step toward staying healthy. Left unchecked, stress can leave you vulnerable to high blood pressure, acid reflux, blurred vision, irritability, and problems with concentration. Caregivers tend to ignore their own health problems, which can lead to the caregiver dying before his loved one.

The last few months of ugly political rhetoric has created stress for a lot of us. Social media has turned into a firestorm of disagreement, meanness, name-calling, and wild stories re-tweeted and shared as if they were the gospel. I can only hope and pray that after the election, people will rebuild the bridges they’ve burned with their family and loved ones.

Now is the time for all of us to look for those “take me away” moments. I find it totally relaxing to sit on the deck drinking coffee and conversing with the dog. Reading a good book is another way of getting away from the day-to-day stress that creeps up on me.

Hallmark movies, the Voice, and reruns of the Golden Girls saw me through many stressful moments. Laughter is the best stress buster, and I’ve found that the old truism “Laughter is the best medicine” is actually true!

Copyright © October 2016 by L.S. Fisher

Friday, October 7, 2016

Give More Than You Get

We are always asking kids what they want to be when they grow up. I remember my youngest son was young, he used to say, “Curtis and I want to go to Colorado and be mountain men.” One time my granddaughter told me that she wanted to be “Barbie” when she grew up.

I was watching a TV show several weeks ago and grown-ups were saying what they wanted to be when they “grew up.” One person said, “When I grow up, I want to give more than I get.”

Well, I never wanted to be Barbie or a mountain man, but I certainly admire the idea of giving more than I get. It’s only natural for us to look out for numero uno. After all, we’re looking at the world through one set of eyes and from one perspective. With our limited vision of the world around us some find it easier to be selfish than to be selfless.

Does it do any good to measure what others own to what we have? Coveting another’s possessions creates a miserable existence. Those who have little might envy those who have more, or those who have a lot might look down on people who have less.

Some people are innately generous, for example a child who gives his or her favorite toy to a friend. More common are the children who grab a coveted toy out of another child’s hands.

The odd thing is that often people who are the most sharing are those who have the least. Maybe it isn’t so strange after all. People who have accumulated a lot of wealth sometimes do so by pinching each penny until it screams. They’ve worked hard for what they have, and they don’t think anyone else deserves the fruit of their labor. Wealth can be a prison of fear and anxiety.

I came from a home with two hard-working parents who struggled to provide for a family with eight children. We never had a lot, but Mom and Dad instilled into each of us that a person’s worth was not tied to how many material possessions he had amassed.

Instead of telling us to go out into the world and try to be rich, our parents guided us toward being independent, hard-working adults who took satisfaction in being good people. We were taught that we weren’t better than the less fortunate, and we weren’t less than the wealthy. We were raised in a share and share alike environment, and it has lasted each of us for a lifetime. There is not a selfish member in my family!

One of the most generous people I’ve known in my lifetime was Jim. He would not only give someone the shirt off his back, he actually gave my brother the buttons off his uniform. He gave away a priceless tater bug mandolin and a valuable Gibson guitar. I would say throughout his life, he gave much more than he received. Greed wasn’t in his vocabulary.

Although dementia greedily snatched him away physically, he left an indelible impact on the lives he touched. Throughout his life, a circle of family and friends surrounded him with love.

Jim was one of the people who gave more than he got during his lifetime. No, he didn’t leave a monetary inheritance. What he left was a richness of memories, stories, and love of family.   That is admirable in itself, but I think even more important is that when he passed away, he left more than he took.

Copyright © October 2016 by L.S. Fisher

Thursday, September 29, 2016

A Bitter Pill to Swallow

Last week I got into the poison ivy again. Now, I have it for the second time in my life. The first time was about this time last year during the fall yard cleanup.

My husband, self confessed as never having had the itchy breaking out, told me I’d get over it if I’d quit scratching. He read up on the internet about several remedies. I tried cortisone cream, cortisone cooling gel, aloe gel, etc, etc. Anyway, before I broke out the baking soda/vinegar paste, in desperation I called my doctor’s office. The rash had stayed a week and I wanted it to be gone.

“Any questions about the prescriptions?” the girl at the counter politely asked.

“No,” I answered as I swiped my HSA card and rubbed my arms trying to relieve the itch.

Back in my car, I read the complicated directions: Take four pills today…blah, blah, blah. I hadn’t eaten much so I downed two pills and figured I’d take the other two after real food.

I seemed fine throughout the day. Toward evening, my tummy was a little upset, and I went to bed early because I was so tired. Being tired doesn’t equate falling asleep so I read until about eleven o’clock. At one o’clock, I awakened with an acidic burning in my throat and made a dash to throw up. It seemed to be my old nemesis acid reflux on steroids.

Since I couldn’t possibly lie down with the burning, I read the paperwork that came with the prescription. Golly gee, some folks have nausea and vomiting with this medication. Aren’t I the lucky one?

After breakfast this morning, I took today’s pills. I immediately noticed a bitter taste. “Wow, that was a bitter pill to swallow,” I said. I hadn’t even noticed the bitterness the other time.

Talking about bitter pills to swallow, I thought about it figuratively as well as literally. The expression “A bitter pill to swallow” means something unpleasant or painful but has to be accepted. I thought about bitter pills that I’ve had to swallow in my lifetime. The bitterest of all was when Jim was diagnosed with dementia. Oh, neither of us accepted it at first, and that’s not such a bad thing. We explored all the other possibilities—a stroke, blood sugar, vitamin deficiencies, depression, heart problems—through an endless cycle of testing.

The rollercoaster of emotions came to a screeching halt when an MRI revealed brain shrinkage consistent with irreversible, unstoppable dementia. Big bitter pill to swallow.

We all have our own bitter pills. Some of us have broken relationships, undeniable mistakes, failures, heartache, illness, pain, suicidal thoughts, stress, bitterness, self-loathing, or many other human emotions.

Emotional victims can be emotional survivors with the correct resources or support. Life throws pills at all of us, and full bottles at some. It is so important not to lose our way or give up. Fortitude is the antidote for the poison of adversity.

When going through difficult times, I have always been thankful that I’m not famous. Just think of the stress on movie personalities, politicians, famous athletes, and others in the public eye. Not only do they have to deal with their own doubts and embarrassing moments, all the armchair pundits worldwide have to throw in their holier-than-thou tweets, Facebook posts, blogs, op-eds.

We are creating an unhealthy virtual environment. People used to do their rants and raves in the privacy of their homes where only family and close friends knew how bizarre they were. Now, the internet explodes with conspiracy theories, blatant lies, and innuendos.

Friends and family use expletives in angry, small-minded conversations with others who aren’t of the same political persuasion, religion, ethnic group, or were born with a different color skin. It’s disturbing that we feel that rudeness and hatefulness are acceptable.    

As for my bitter pills, I remembered that a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down. What kind of sugar do I have in my house this time of year? Candy corn! Two pieces of candy corn wiped the bitter taste from my mouth. I’ve solved the literal bitter pill problem. Even a semi-load of candy corn won’t help the hurting people of the world to figuratively swallow a single bitter pill.

Copyright © September 2016 by L.S. Fisher

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

September 21 Is World Alzheimer’s Day

Today is World Alzheimer’s Day. Currently, an estimated 47 million people worldwide are living with dementia. Alzheimer’s is a global problem, and researchers around the world are working diligently to find a cure.

We already know that Alzheimer’s is the most expensive disease in America. It also has a devastating economic impact worldwide with a cost of $818 billion. Healthcare for persons with dementia are too specialized which increases the cost.

According to the World Alzheimer’s Report, “Currently, healthcare systems struggle to provide adequate coverage of diagnostic services, and care is too often fragmented, uncoordinated, and unresponsive to the needs of people with dementia and their families.”

A better approach, according to the report, would be to rebalance the services to primary and community with case management. Case management could be more effective if (a) caseloads were manageable, (b) clearly defined with training and adequate preparation and (c) the case manager would be empowered to coordinate care among providers.

This sounds like the purpose of the HOPE for Alzheimer’s Act!

We are looking forward to a world without Alzheimer’s, but until then, the report rightly observes, palliative and hospice care needs to be improved for those with dementia. It is important to consider preferences of people with dementia about end-of-life issues.

Only 40 – 50% of people with dementia have received a diagnosis. The executive summary of the report concludes with, “We need to focus on achieving high coverage of dementia diagnosis and continuing care, both to ensure access to current evidence-based treatments and support, and to create systems and platforms with the capacity to deliver, with equity, much more effective treatments in the future.”

On World Alzheimer’s Day 2016, advocates will continue in their efforts to increase research funding. Caregivers will continue to care for their loved ones. Hospice teams will help families face the inevitable end of this incurable disease. Families will pick up the pieces and go on living without fathers, mothers, spouses, siblings, aunts, uncles, friends, or even children who die from dementia.

World Alzheimer’s Report:

Copyright © September 2016 by L.S. Fisher

The Crazy "Daze" of September

Every year Jim and I went camping in Colorado. The first year, 1983, we arrived in Estes Park during the annual rodeo, and if Jim hadn’t had a good line of gab, we wouldn’t have had a place to camp. Then, our planned drive up Fall River Road was cancelled because of snow. To Missouri people, snow in July was surely an oddity. Eventually, we discovered August was the perfect month to visit the Rockies. That is, perfect, except for the hordes of tourists.

So, we came up with a plan to go on Labor Day weekend after the bulk of the tourists had gone home. The aspens had turned fall colors and elk roamed the streets of Estes Park. We were in wildlife heaven! We pitched our tent at Moraine Park and prepared to enjoy the peace and quiet of cool mountain mornings.

On our third night of camping, I woke up cold. I rolled over on my back and splat, icy cold water dripped on my nose. Splat, splat, splat, the cold water began to drip faster. I covered my head with my sleeping bag and went back to sleep.

The next morning, Jim woke up early, as usual. He sat up and hit his head on the tent. He started punching the drooping tent trying to remove the six inches of snow that had fallen during the night. Ice water pooled in the floor of the tent and our sleeping bags were soaked. Snow continued to fall during the day; luckily, we found a cabin for the next night. Jim’s comment on the situation: “This will be a good story to tell our grandchildren someday.”

Life was much simpler then than it is now. September is one of my busiest months, and sometimes, I think the days of September have become the “daze” of September. The month whirls and swirls as events and deadlines surround me.

My to-do list has turned into a to-do book. I’ve broken it into four different categories trying to keep up with everything. The month begins for me on Labor Day weekend with the first of two family reunions, followed swiftly with our team fundraiser. Walk to End Alzheimer’s is always in early September, and I haven’t missed one of those since 1998. That definitely leaves out vacationing of any kind.

Just for fun, let’s throw in a club meeting, speaking at a conference, updating websites for numerous events, two dinners (on the same night!), appointments, mowing grass at home and in town, new projects, finishing old projects, and on and on.

A few days ago, I complained that I retired from a forty-hour-a-week job to sometimes work from daylight to midnight. The problem with retirement, as I see it, normal work hours don’t apply. It’s like being on call twenty-four hours a day without defined meal breaks.

Harold looked over my to-do book, and said, “It seems to me that most of your time is volunteer work.” This was after a marathon of working on my photo drive, at his insistence, which had nothing to do with my volunteer work, or did it? After all, other than my sunset photos, most of the photos were of, you guessed it, volunteer events.

“Well, I don’t want to work all the time,” I insisted, “but I don’t want to sit around doing nothing all day either.” There you have it: the dilemma—too busy, or too bored. Where is the happy medium?

One new thing I’ve thrown into the mix of activities is line dancing exercise class three days a week. I get my exercise, laugh, and forget the busyness and “daze” of September.

Yes, sometimes, I’ll look at the calendar and wonder what the heck I was thinking. Or not thinking. But, you know what? I’ve chosen this lifestyle of my own freewill. It is the life I find meaningful, fulfilling, and purposeful.

Besides, before you know it, it will be October. Mmmm. SBW pajama party (guess who’s in charge), Business Women’s Week, proclamation, board meeting, chicken dinner, Halloween, …the to-do book is already running out of pages.

One thing I really look forward to in October is our “girls” vacation with my mom and sisters. Life is good. Busy, but good.  

Copyright © September 2016 by L.S. Fisher

Sunday, September 11, 2016

A Little Help from Friends

Saturday morning, Walk to End Alzheimer’s day, was the big day we’d been planning for since shortly after the last walk. A night of thunder and downpours had calmed to a spattering of rain. Almost zero percent chance of rain, yet there it was big as life.

“It should be out of here by eight o’clock,” Harold told me.

“We start set up at six,” I groaned. I pushed the button on the coffee pot. For once, I’d prepared it the night before. I might have been a little concerned about hearing the 4:30 alarm.

I had been loading my car for days in preparation for the Walk. Banners, table, books, supplies, camera, notebook, clipboards, etc. had been loaded and checked off my long list. The first text of the day came in letting me know we were shooting for 6:30 to give the rain a chance to move out.

“You better put your books in a Rubbermaid,” Harold said. “Even if the rain quits, the ground will be wet.”

“Good idea,” I said. For once, I had not worried about rain and had left the books in the shipping boxes. We transferred books to the tub and Harold carried them to the car and placed them in the back seat like the final piece of a puzzle.

With my extra thirty minutes, I had time to sit down with a cup of coffee, and to look at the latest text messages. WyAnn had run out of space in her vehicle, and Jessica’s was already fully loaded. I admitted, I was out of room in my car too. Then, a text from my daughter-in-law asking if I needed her to bring her truck. She offered to help WyAnn, but when I called, WyAnn had recruited help from family.

The rain let up, so I gathered my purse, water, and my just-in-case rain jacket. On my way out the door, I saw the tub with my team’s T-shirts. I grabbed them up and put them in the passenger seat.

Harold, who planned on going to the walk at a more appropriate hour, opened the garage door for me and began to quiz me: cell phone? camera? purse? Yes, yes, and yes.

I slid into the driver’s seat, slammed the door, and turned the key. Click. I didn’t believe my ears. My super dependable car didn’t respond. Another try…click.

“Raise the hood,” Harold said.

“I don’t know where the lever is,” I replied. I don’t recall raising the hood in the six years I’ve had the Malibu. Still, finding the release was much easier than finding the battery. It was well hidden.

I texted the group, “My car won’t start. I may be late.” Then, I texted Stacey, and she said she was on the way. I didn’t even want to consider how long it would take us to transfer everything from one vehicle to the other.

About the time Stacey arrived, Harold had attached jumper cables and the car started. “Don’t shut it off until you get there,” he warned me.

Stacey followed me to the fairgrounds. I was anxious because I knew we only had a short time to set up. When we arrived, the streets were lined with vehicles. Oh, great, I thought, there’s another event going on.

What? There must have been twenty guys setting up tables and chairs, tents, banners, flags, and holy cow, to help me unload my vehicle. I knew WyAnn said some of the baseball team from SFCC would be there to help, but we’d never had this much help!

For such a disastrous start, everything was smooth sailing after that. The sky cleared and with a little help from my friends, and friends of friends, the stress just evaporated like a drop of water on a sunny day.

My son took my car to W-K while I was at the Walk. That’s when I learned my six-year battery had gone belly up. How long had I owned my car? Just a little over six years.

But, hey, the sun was shining, people were smiling, and with a little help from my friends and family, all was well.

Copyright © September 2016 by L.S. Fisher

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Jim’s Team

Doctors don’t want to diagnose a forgetful forty-nine year old with early onset dementia. First, they look for tumors, vitamin deficiencies, stroke damage, or something as simple as prescription drug interactions.

After numerous tests eliminated other conditions, a doctor finally diagnosed Jim with dementia of the Alzheimer’s type. Jim was emphatic that he didn’t have “that.” The doctor that gave Jim the bad news was named Worth, and Jim immediately dubbed him “Dr. Worthless.” 

I wasn’t as sure as Jim was that the doctor was wrong. After I contacted the Alzheimer’s Association, I had attended a few support group sessions. When my contact at the Association told me about the Memory Walk, as it was called at that time, I signed up for it and raised $600.

I didn’t mention it to Jim since he was so adamant that all that was wrong with him was a stroke he had “five years ago.” As the years passed, it was always “five years ago.”

One day he was looking at the newspaper and saw an article about an upcoming Memory Walk in Sedalia. “I have trouble with my memory,” he said, “and I’d like to go to this walk.”

Well. The Big Bad Wolf wouldn’t have had to huff and puff very hard at all to knock me over.

We showed up at Liberty Park on a warm September day in 1998. We quickly discovered that we were the only two people from Sedalia. Still, we walked, and Jim’s Team has walked in every Sedalia Walk since that day.

With this year’s Sedalia Walk coming up in less than two weeks, my thoughts turned to our team name this morning. Jim’s Team—what a natural choice.

Jim’s Team turned out to be so much more than a Walk team. Jim’s Team was really all the people it took to help him, and me, through the dark days of dementia. Jim’s Team was made up of family, friends, co-workers, neighbors, and occasionally total strangers who stepped up to offer a helping hand when it was needed.

Included on Jim’s Team were physicians, nurses and nurses aids, housekeeping, social workers, and, eventually, hospice. Every step of the way, we needed the support and guidance provided by the Alzheimer’s Association.

We needed the prayer team who never forgot us, and the love team who never gave up on either of us. You can never underestimate the “doer” team, the ones that didn’t just offer, “if you need anything,” but instead came up with, “I’ll mow your grass,” or “here’s a cobbler I baked.” What would we ever have done without the companion team—“I’ll drive you to Kansas City for your doctor’s visit,” and “here, I’ll help you get Jim loaded into the car.”

Everyone that stood by us and helped us was a part of Jim’s Team. The core team was immediate family: Jim’s mom and my two sons. They were the ones that helped me make the tough decisions: making it through day-to-day, home care, the nursing home decision, and heartbreaking health care decisions. They had my back at all times.

Jim’s Team held us in their embrace and listened to my rants, dried my tears, and made me laugh when I thought that was impossible. Jim’s Team made all the difference in his and my quality of life.

Jim passed away April 18, 2005, but Jim’s Team continues to walk in his honor and in honor of others lost to dementia. Over the years, Jim’s Team has raised around $50,000.

 Jim's TeamIn less than two weeks, we walk again. In my heart, I’ll remember Jim’s joy during that first Walk. I’ll think about the good times, bury the heartache, and hope that someday soon researchers will find a cure making Alzheimer’s a distant memory.

To join, or donate, to Jim’s Team, click here or on the Walk to End Alzheimer's logo.

Copyright © August 2016 by L.S. Fisher

Thursday, August 25, 2016

All Roads Lead to Home

When Jim returned from Vietnam, he was stationed at Fort Riley, and we spent about a year and a half living in Manhattan, Kansas. With barely enough money to get by, we often took drives in the country for entertainment. We explored the back roads, and often toured tiny towns that were barely blips on the maps. Not that it mattered to us, because we never used a map. 

Jim had a good sense of direction, and eventually, we’d wind up at the small apartment where we lived. He always said, “All roads lead to home.”

One summer day, we headed down this long, winding road through the middle of nowhere just to see what we could see. Our car didn’t have an air conditioner, so we drove with all four windows down and breezy hot air gave us the illusion of bearable heat.

After driving for about an hour, we rounded a corner to see a big sign that said, “Dead End.”

“Wouldn’t you think they would have put that sign several miles back?” I grumped. It didn’t help that I was pregnant and couldn’t seem to get comfortable. Jim, on the other hand, handled the situation by merely turning around and going back the same road.

Life’s bumpy road has significant, unexpected detours, and dead ends, that change the course of our lives. My life’s journey, of course, was forever altered when Jim developed dementia.

Sometimes, when life gets about as bad as it can possibly get, it takes a turn for the better. I had to remind myself of better days ahead last Saturday when I went to a memorial service for Linda Newkirk, a woman who became my mentor, champion, and my friend.

On the drive over, I thought about Linda and the positive influence she had been in my life. When I came up with the idea for Alzheimer’s Anthology of Unconditional Love, Linda was the Executive Director of our local Alzheimer’s chapter.

In my memories, I could still see her smile and appreciated her wholehearted support of the project. She, Joetta, and another staff member selected the stories. Linda helped me promote the book and offered her encouragement throughout the entire process.

Because of Linda, I had the audacity to believe I could gather up slice-of-life stories and publish those stories in a book. Publishing the Alzheimer’s Anthology was one of those pivotal moments that launched more than a book—it launched a new and exciting chapter of my life. 

During an invitation to share memories, several individuals spoke about how Linda had been a positive influence on their lives. Her sons talked about how much courage she showed in the face of a terminal illness. Her main concern during her last days was not that she was dying, but her worry that her family would be devastated. Linda was a woman of strong faith, and she rested easy knowing that God was good, and He would hold her in His loving embrace.

I felt compelled to share my memories of her. The enormity of losing a woman who had done so much for me threatened my composure. My voice was a little shaky as I fought back the tears, but in a couple of minutes, I paid homage to the pivotal role Linda played in my life. I don’t remember my exact words, but I ended with “I will never forget how she completely changed my life, and I’ll never forget her.”

Throughout life’s journey, we encounter people who have more confidence in us than we have in ourselves. Because of them, we have the courage to leave the familiar path we’re traveling, and go into the unchartered territory of a new direction. We take a chance on navigating the route without an itinerary or a map.

I left the memorial and headed home with gratitude in my heart that Linda had been part of my life’s story. With her radiant smile, dignity, encouragement, generosity, and kind heart, she provided a living example of how to walk through this world. Through courage and faith, she demonstrated that she knew the way to her Heavenly home. She broke the chains of earthly tribulations and embraced the joy of God’s amazing grace.

Copyright © August 2016 by L.S. Fisher