Saturday, December 24, 2011

When a Holiday Heart Isn’t a Good Thing

During the holidays, news abounds about those generous people who have holiday hearts and give away donations to complete strangers. Secret Santas pop up all over the place, and we hear heartwarming stories about them giving away $100 bills.

I witnessed a Secret Santa type of moment at Cracker Barrel a few weeks ago. An elderly gentleman tried to pay for his dinner and the waitress said, “You don’t owe anything.”

“What?” he said. “Where’s my bill?”

“It’s already paid,” she said loudly as she leaned closer so he could hear. “The couple sitting at that table,” she pointed to show him, “paid for your meal. They are already gone.”

The elderly man seemed a little puzzled, but he sat and leisurely drank another cup of coffee. I thought he might have taken the extra time to assure himself that he really didn’t owe anything. The couple that paid for his meals had holiday hearts—the good kind.

I would like to alert caregivers to a different type of holiday heart that physicians nationwide are talking about on television. It seems that a combination of overeating, the stress of the holidays, and partying can create havoc with your heart.

People who don’t normally drink tend to overindulge during the holidays. My son refers to New Year’s Eve as “amateur night” in reference to people who don’t know their alcohol consumption limit.

After the chaos of planning and pulling off a holiday party, it may seem like the perfect way to relax and enjoy. For some, the consequences can be frightening and life threatening.

The symptoms of holiday heart syndrome:
  • You feel lightheaded and dizzy.
  • You are short of breath.
  • Your heart beats faster than normal and you have an irregular heartbeat.
If you experience these symptoms, cardiac specialists recommend that you stop drinking alcohol and drink cold water to rehydrate yourself. Coughing also helps to reset the heart’s rhythm.

If these symptoms don’t go away within ten to fifteen minutes, it is time to call 911. You may think this seems overdramatic for a little drinking and overeating, but the holidays are primetime for a heart attack. Five percent more people die from heart-related deaths during the holidays especially on Christmas Day, the day after Christmas, and New Year’s Day.

Drinking is not the only problem. Overeating causes its own set of heart threatening risk factors for those who may have underlying heart disease. An increase in fat and sodium can put a strain on the heart that can lead to a heart attack.

Moderation in food and drink will keep your holidays merrier, not to mention healthier. It will also make that New Year’s resolution to lose weight more attainable if you don’t gain that extra five or ten pounds during the holiday season.

Here’s a non-alcoholic toast that your holiday heart is healthy and filled with joy and generosity.

Copyright © L. S. Fisher

Monday, December 19, 2011

Why Is the Sky Blue?

My mom and I sat at the kitchen table drinking coffee, and I had just finished relating the strangest of many dreams I had the night before. My granddaughter sat in a chair between us reading a book.

“I wonder why I have such strange dreams,” I said.

“I can tell you, Grandma Linda,” my granddaughter said. She flipped the pages of the Why? book she was reading and proceeded to answer my question. “Scientists think that you dream as your brain tries to make sense of all the things you’ve done and felt during the day.”

“Sounds right to me,” I said. “I do and feel a lot each day and half the time I can’t make sense of it.”

The Why? book has been around my house for years and has passed down from grandchild to grandchild. It answers a lot of the “why” questions that kids ask and adults can’t answer.

The book even answers the question my oldest grandson asked me many years ago. I picked him up from the babysitters and from the backseat he asked, “Grandma Linda, why is the sky blue?” I was stumped for an answer.

That was before I bought the Why? book. It has Bathtime Questions, Supermarket Questions, Nighttime Questions, Kitchen Questions, Farm Animal Questions, and Outdoor Questions, including “Why is the sky blue?”

The book doesn’t have any Health Questions, and doesn’t answer why a person develops Alzheimer’s or a related dementia. I guess you can’t expect a children’s book to answer questions that dedicated researchers cannot answer.

Sure, in some cases, early onset Alzheimer’s can be attributed to a genetic cause. Later onset Alzheimer’s is usually blamed on a risk factor such as age.

I guess the biggest “why” question that plagues me is why did Jim develop dementia at forty-nine? Why was his life cut short by a disease so rare that I had never heard of it until the neurologist read the autopsy report? The answers to these questions stump me more that my grandson’s question about the color of the sky.

Our lives were on track headed in the right direction until dementia derailed the train. We had made it through the hard times and were looking forward to traveling, spending time with family, spoiling our grandkids, and sitting on the front porch drinking coffee.

The house was filled with noise and laughter once again when our family was here for the annual Christmas get-together. I was reminiscing about how rarely this happens now, but we used to have a full house on a regular basis. I never knew when Jim would come home and say he was having a jam session, and oh-by-the-way they’ll all be eating dinner with us. Times were certainly different then.

Life changes. People pass though my life, and I lose touch with beloved family and friends. Years can pass without seeing people I once saw on a daily basis. New friends enter my life to renew hope and soothe my spirit. I am fortunate, indeed, to be a member of a loving and supportive family. 

Through it all, I sometimes wonder why life turns out the way it does, and how certain events fit into the master plan. When I look at my sons and grandchildren, I know that flight to Hawaii exactly forty-two years ago to marry Jim was part of my life's master plan.

The “why” questions of life may have more than one correct answer. The sky may be blue because clear light is made up of all the colors of the rainbow and the blue light waves that bounce back are the ones you see.  Or, the answer might be the one I gave my grandson to the question he asked just as I drove past Hopewell Church. “I’m sure there’s a scientific reason, but I don’t remember what it is. Maybe it is blue because God made it that way.”

Some of the “why” questions of life cannot be found in any book and can only be answered through divine inspiration.

Copyright © December 2011

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Tis the Season to be Joyful—or Stressed

Holiday Lights in Branson
We all hold tightly to traditions that lift our spirits. Some holidays are so special they create golden glows in our memories. It may be challenging to remain joyful about the holidays if you are a primary caregiver for a loved one with dementia.

Much of the season may be spent running interference between your loved one and relatives, friends, or neighbors that just don’t get it. You may need to make adjustments to protect your loved one and your sanity. With careful planning, even these difficult times may seem like small miracles on your own street.

After spending ten holiday seasons as a primary caregiver, I had time to learn how to survive the holidays. I would like to share a few tips I learned—mostly from trial and error.

  • Keep it Simple. Less is better in all things holiday. Just because you have a thousand points of light, don’t string them everywhere. Avoid going overboard with decorations, food, and celebrations.
  • Don’t Shop Till You Drop. Slash your gift list to immediate family. Consider the advantages of shopping online or purchasing gift cards. If you enjoy shopping, find someone to stay with your loved one and plan a weekend away. Shop. Relax. Shop. Relax. Repeat the relaxing as often as necessary.
  •  Strive for Peace and Joy. Go back to the basics and the reason for the season. Read inspiring holiday stories. You can enjoy a tin of popcorn and watch a movie on TV. If your loved one can’t make it to the grandchildren’s holiday program, have mom or dad record it and watch it at home.
  • Jingle Bells. Enjoy traditional Christmas music with your loved one. You may love the Trans-Siberian Orchestra, but your loved one will more likely enjoy “White Christmas” or even “Frosty the Snowman.” Music can trigger happy memories.
  • Keep Traditions You Love. Only you know which traditions you keep because you enjoy them. If you spend hours baking or making candy just because everyone expects you to do it—stop!
  • Allow More Time. When you are a caregiver, it just takes more time to get things done. You will want to avoid getting frazzled and cranky because you ran out of time. Plan ahead and let your loved one with dementia help you. How about letting her slather icing on sugar cookies? Does it really matter if they are perfect? Maybe he would like to stick bows or nametags on packages for the grandkids.
  • Give the Gift of Love. If you are so stressed out trying to make the holidays perfect for everyone, you forget the most important thing. Slow down, take a deep breath, laugh and find happiness in the moment. Remember the greatest gift of all is love.
In the early stages, I would drive Jim around town to look at the holiday lights. In the late stages, Jim would spend hours looking at the little fiber optic tree I put in his room at the nursing home. Feeding him on Christmas day is, believe it or not, a memory I cherish. I remember holding his hand while we watched the little tree whirl round and round and listened to the same Christmas songs we sang in elementary school.  Even the most poignant times have turn into precious memories.
Copyright Dec 2011 L.S. Fisher

Monday, December 5, 2011

Hard to Swallow

Don’t you just hate it when you go to the doctor and he tells your problem is because you are getting old? Well, he most likely will use a euphemism like, “As we get older…” and then fill in the blank with whatever has gone wrong now.

The health issue that took me to the doctor a few weeks ago—just at the end of the year when I had not used one penny of my high deductible insurance—was a problem with swallowing. For quite some time, I had noticed that my food felt like it was caught in my esophagus, but I was doing a great job of convincing myself that it was only a minor problem until a bite of bagel hurt so much going down that it brought tears to my eyes.

I knew this was not going to be an easy or cheap fix. We went down this road with Jim when he developed problems swallowing because of his dementia. It was something we struggled with throughout his disease. In the later stages, Jim was put on mechanically softened foods and then eventually on pureed food. I think by that time, it distressed me more than it did him. I hated that he couldn’t eat the things that he had always loved.

So, I knew a little bit about swallowing problems, not my own, but Jim’s. After contemplating the situation, I just felt like this wasn’t a problem that was going away on its own.

I had barely walked into the doctor’s office when they told me step on the scales. After seeing those numbers, it reminded me that I need a new battery for my scales so I can keep a closer eye on the pounds I’m packing on. After my blood pressure check, the doctor listened to lungs and my latest complaint.

He explained how “when we get older” the esophagus narrows, which makes it hard to swallow food and move it to the stomach where it belongs. It’s a fairly easy fix. After explaining that they just stretched the esophagus, my family doctor ordered an endoscopy.

Between my other commitments and vacation, the doctor that was to perform the scope and I couldn’t easily find a date that worked for both of us. Three weeks passed before the day our schedules meshed. The endoscopy didn’t require any prep, just lay off the food and drink after midnight. I would sleep through the whole procedure or at least be so loopy that I just wouldn’t care.

The procedure took about seven minutes—everything else took about two hours. I could hear them talking while they worked and I heard the word “ulcers,” and something about biopsies, another scope, and then things got a little fuzzy.

Later, I learned that I had ulcers in my esophagus, and a hiatal hernia. I still haven’t had my follow-up appointment with my family doctor, but I’m trying to eat things that go down easy. In the meantime, I’m trying to follow a recommended diet that says you should eat enough food to get nutrition, but not a lot at one time. It has lists of what to eat (oatmeal, applesauce, yogurt, fish, chicken, etc. along with low-fat everything) and what to avoid (cabbage, broccoli, corn, tomatoes and tomato products—and worse yet chocolate and caffeine).

I’m working on changing some of my eating habits, but I can’t bring myself to cancel my morning coffee and pray the doctor doesn’t tell me to quit chocolate. I’ve decided not to panic until I hear the details tomorrow about the doctor recommended diet. Hopefully, it won’t be as strict as the one I found on the Internet and won’t last forever.

Copyright © Dec 2011 L. S. Fisher