Friday, November 29, 2013

Midnight Explosion in Missouri

It exploded like a bomb, shook like an earthquake, sounded like a tornado, looked like a wildfire, felt like the end of the world.
Still from Jason Knox Video
I was having trouble sleeping so I was lying in bed reading a book. I heard an explosion and my windows rattled. If it had stopped there, I would have been fine. Instead, the house shook and shook.

I jumped up out of bed and ran through the house while I tried to figure out what was going on. The way the house was shaking, I thought maybe it was an earthquake. A loud roar sounded more like a tornado, but I had come home at 9:00 p.m. and knew the sky was clear. I had stopped for a moment on the walkway to breathe in the fresh night and look at the stars.

What could it be? The noise sounded like the entire fleet of Stealth bombers from Whitman circling my house. Had it been a bomb? Had a plane crashed? My heart pounded as I tried to figure out what was going on. The house continued to shake and the rumble was not fading.

I called my son and asked him if he knew what was happening. While I was on the phone with him, I looked out my French doors and the entire sky was lit on the west side of my house. Could a meteor have hit close by? It felt like the end of the world.

"Why don't you just come over here?" Eric asked. He could see the fireball, but it was farther away.

I ran outside, carrying my phone and I could see flames leaping toward the sky. The sound was even louder. My brother-in-law was in the yard, and like me, he had no idea what we were seeing.

"I'm getting out of here," I said to my brother-in-law. I didn't know what it was, just that it was close, and a roaring, rumbling fire was consuming the night. I jumped in my car and headed away from the explosion. I met car after car rushing toward it. I didn't understand their thinking since no one knew what it was and whether it would explode again. I just knew that distance seemed safer to me.

Eric called back and told me it was a pipeline explosion. Of all the scenarios that had raced through my head, I never once thought of a pipeline explosion. I drove on since I didn't feel confident that it was going to stop with one big blast.

I watched from a distance and for the first time thought to snap a picture on my cell phone. The people rushing toward the explosion, or those with good cameras, captured the flames towering toward the heavens. My lone picture is not that impressive.

Thankfully, no one was hurt since the explosion was in a field. The explosion was felt thirty or more miles away. It was about seven miles from where I live.

By three o'clock the sky darkened again, and I headed back home. Soon, the night settled back into a peaceful November evening, and my heart rate returned to normal.

The view from my French doors today is still the calm wooded area it was yesterday. For that, I am most thankful.

copyright (c) November 2013 by L.S. Fisher

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Thirty Days of Thankfulness – Not Your Usual List

Best health blogs 2013 November is a time for self-examination and giving thought to our many blessings and giving thanks where thanks are due. Many of my Facebook friends have been posting one thing they are thankful for each day this month.

I’ve never participated in this delightful idea, but felt compelled to complete my monthly list in one fell swoop. I made the list and entered it into One Note on a sleepless night. After reviewing the list, I realized that I don’t remember seeing any of these items on their lists. I always suspected my thought processes might not be the same as the average person, but until now, I’ve kept some of the weirdness under wraps.

I am thankful for...

  1. Mice. It’s easy to think of mice as pesky rodents with no purpose in life other than leaving droppings behind furniture and chewing up important papers. But mice are extremely important when it comes to medical research in general and Alzheimer’s research in particular.
  2. Sleepless nights. On sleepless nights, my brain goes into creative overdrive. My best ideas come to me in the middle of the night.
  3. Wishes that didn’t come true. Throughout my lifetime, I’ve made a lot of goofy wishes, and I’m so thankful that they didn’t come true. I don’t think the life of a fairy princess, a rock star, superhero or being married to Paul McCartney is what God had in mind for me.
  4. People who hurt my feelings when I was young. Yep, all those cruel kids made me into a rhino-hide adult. It is almost impossible to hurt my feelings, because frankly I don’t give a poop about what insensitive, rude people say to me.
  5. Failure. I’ve learned more from my failures than I ever learned from my successes. Let’s face it, when I make really bad mistakes, I try hard to not do it again.
  6. Not being beautiful. Being beautiful is a burden I wouldn’t want to carry. Besides, I had to work a lot harder on my personality.
  7. Hard times. There have been times in my life when it was a challenge to figure out how to pay the bills, feed the kids, and not have too much month left at the end of the money. Because of hard times, I’ve never had that fear of being poor that some people have. Been there, survived, and know that happiness isn’t based on the size of my bank account.
  8. Hard work. Without years of hard work, I wouldn’t have done as well in my job as I did and wouldn’t be looking forward to retirement.
  9. Having my heart broken. If a few boys hadn’t broken my heart when I was younger, my life would have turned out differently. I’m happy with the way it turned out, so thank you for breaking my heart and forcing me to move on.
  10. Rainy, gloomy days. When the rain falls and the sun is elusive, it is a perfect time to sleep in and laze around reading a book.
  11. Boredom. My life is so hectic that if I find time to be bored, I can relax...or think of something totally fun to do.
  12. Hunger. When I’m hungry, I know I haven’t overeaten.
  13. Paying bills. When I pay bills, it means I have another month of electricity, internet, phone service, and a zero balance on my credit cards.
  14. Not winning the lottery. I’ve always known that winning the lottery would screw up my life, and I like it the way it is.
  15. Flies and spiders. When I’m in a murderous rage, I can squash a spider or swat a fly and not suffer an ounce of guilt.
  16. Clear packing tape and plastic wrap. The way these two stick to themselves and trying to figure out how to get a roll started teaches me patience.
  17. Old age. Without old age, I’d have to pay to get into ballgames and wouldn’t get senior discounts.
  18. People who don’t like me. They teach me to stand up for myself.
  19. People who take advantage of me. They keep me on my toes and help me say “no.”
  20. Running late. It’s amazing how much time I’d waste waiting if I got to everything early. Besides, I’ve avoided traffic tickets and dangerous driving when I decided it was better late than never.
  21. Anger. If an injustice makes me angry, it means I am passionate enough to care.
  22. Fear. I might not be alive today if I didn’t have sense enough to be afraid from time to time.
  23. Ignorance. Since I clearly don’t know everything, ignorance means I always have something to learn.
  24. Grumpy old men. Without them, grumpy old women wouldn’t have anyone to argue with.
  25. Lousy TV shows. When a lousy show is on TV, it is much easier for me to turn it off and do something productive.
  26. Bratty kids. I’m so thankful that none of those bratty kids belong to me.
  27. Runny nose. Without a runny nose, I’m sure my head would explode from the inside out when I have a head cold and infected sinuses.
  28. Thunderstorms and lightning. We need the rain to replenish the earth and the lightning keeps me honest since I don’t want to be struck down for telling a lie.
  29. Bad lab results. Without bad lab results, I wouldn’t have incentive to work toward being healthier. I would have continued the same bad dietary habits with the same results.
  30. Uncertainty. I don’t know everything that is going to happen in my future! Uncertainty keeps me optimistic that the best is going to happen and not the worst.

One of the great things about making a list like this is that it made me realize the thing I am most grateful for is living the life I want and wanting the life I live. I am happy to be me and I don’t envy anybody else’s life or want to be somebody I’m not.

Seriously, I am thankful for everyone who is voting each day for Early Onset Alzheimer’s blog at If you enjoy reading my blog, won’t you please vote once a day until January 20, 2014?

Copyright (c) L. S. Fisher November 2013

Friday, November 22, 2013

Time Travel

My six-year-old grandson seriously asked me one morning, “Grandma Linda, have you ever time-traveled?”

I don’t believe anyone had ever asked me that question before, but it really got me to thinking about time travel. I remember the first time I read H. G. Wells’ The Time Machine and saw the original movie. The Time Traveler observes that time travel is a fourth dimension and “only another way of looking at Time.”

Then, of course, time travel was common on Star Trek. I remember one episode when Captain Kirk and the crew from the Enterprise went back in time to find themselves in a gunfight against the Earp brothers at the O.K. Corral. They survived when Mr. Spock realized that the time travel was an illusion in their minds.

We travel to the past in our dreams and in sudden flashes of remembrance. Travel to the future can be through daydreams, plans, goals, or intuition. Some claim to see the future in a crystal ball, but I’ve never had that advantage. Jim’s grandma used to see the future in coffee grounds...guess that’s a version of reading tea leaves. That her coffee had grounds in the bottom is an indication of how strong it was. I was always afraid to have her read my coffee grounds because she once told a neighbor that her daughter would “come home in a box.” And she did after a car wreck.

Anniversaries are a time that make people time travel. Whether it is a personal anniversary or historical anniversary, dates can trigger realistic memory travel. With the fiftieth anniversary of President Kennedy’s assassination, I’ve about overloaded on specials about the shooting in Dallas and the mysteries that linger. Today as a nation, many will collectively time travel to November 22, 1963. We will think about where we were and what we were doing when we heard about the assassination. I heard the news in the hallway at school. We sat on the floor listening to the radio as the tragedy unfolded. I was telling my granddaughter a few weeks ago that we were out of school and at home watching TV when Jack Ruby shot Lee Harvey Oswald.

Before dementia, Jim was a much more effective time traveler than I will ever be. He remembered people, places, and dates from his childhood with more clarity than I could remember the previous week.

One of the cruelties of dementia is how it erases memories. In the earlier stages, long-term memory isn’t affected as much as short-term memory, and it seems the person with dementia has effectively time traveled and, in fact, seems to be living in a different time. Once an elderly lady who was in the nursing home with Jim told me that she had to get home because her dad would be really mad that she was out after dark.

Alzheimer’s is like entering a time machine that zooms into the past, wiping out the present and future. Eventually, plaques and tangles jam up the moving parts and the fabulous time machine malfunctions leaving the traveler stranded.

So, the answer is “yes.” I do time travel. I don’t need a machine with whirling dials that I have to enter to travel back and forth in time. Any little nanosecond will do. All I have to do is rev up the fabulous time machine located between my ears to retrieve another place and time. As far as the future, those travels are flashes of “coming attractions” found in the realm of imagination. Yes, I still look forward to the future and would rather travel forward than backward any day.

The mind is the real time machine, and it really is just another way of looking at time.

Copyright (c) November 2013 by L.S. Fisher

Sunday, November 17, 2013

November is Alzheimer’s Awareness Month

In 1983 President Ronald Reagan declared November Alzheimer’s Awareness Month. This year as we mark the 30th anniversary of this event, we have seen both hope and despair on the road to finding effective treatment for a disease that affects over five million Americans.

When President Reagan launched the national campaign to bring an end to a debilitating, fatal disease, he most likely never imagined that he would personally become a victim of Alzheimer’s. I know that Jim and I never suspected that this disease would cast its ugly net over our lives.

To be aware of Alzheimer’s, you need to take more than a casual glance at the disease. It is not a joke about forgetfulness that afflicts the elderly creating humorous moments of cute memory lapses. Memory is only part of the disease and often the first symptom that others notice.

Alzheimer’s is a brain disease. Beta amyloid plaques build up between nerve cells creating sticky clumps that damage the brain’s cells ability to communicate with each other. As if this wasn’t enough problems, tau tangles interfere with the movement of nutrients from food molecules and other key materials in the brain. Without these essential nutrients, brain cells die.

All this brain chaos, follows a predictable pattern in a brain diseased with Alzheimer’s. This progression can take up to twenty years!

At first, the disease doesn’t seem too bad. During the early stages the person with dementia has memory problems and issues with thinking and planning. When Jim was in the early stages, many people could not see the differences in him that I could. These changes were subtle.

One weekend we went to Manhattan, Kansas, to visit my son. We were going to drive downtown to get a pizza. As we drove down the street, I spotted Pizza Hut. “Turn left,” I told him.

“Which way?” he asked. That’s when I realized that he couldn’t tell left from right—at least not when it was spoken. I learned to point to the right or left.

Also, in the early stages, Jim developed aphasia. He was a voracious reader, but began to buy multiple copies of the same book because he couldn’t follow the story line and didn’t remember reading it a few weeks earlier.

Eventually, Jim progressed to a moderate or middle stage of the disease where his symptoms became more pronounced. His appearance changed a little as he moved into what I considered to be a more eccentric stage. He wore his denim jacket year round and decorated it with pins and the Veterans Week name tag from Branson. He wore dark sunglasses and used a cane. He just looked different and began to act more childlike. Jim was docile and agreeable—neither of which were normal traits for him. He became more silent, his speech hesitant. Jim had been a talented musician and could play any instrument with strings, and knew hundreds of songs. Eventually, he could barely play and could  remember only a few songs and often repeated the same line many times.

Reality set in for me during the middle stage. Caregiving became a real challenge and I worried about Jim’s safety. He began to wander and managed to get away from me, other family and hired caregivers. We were fortunate and found him each time, but only after heart-stopping moments.

In severe dementia, most of the brain is seriously damaged and begins to shrink. Eventually, we placed Jim in long-term care. At first he paced constantly, and seemed unaware of most people around him. He stopped talking except for a few words. He had to have assistance with the most basic functions of life. Over time, he began to lose his balance and had to use a Merry Walker, and later a wheelchair, in order to remain mobile. He went through “failures to thrive” when he became gaunt and hollow-eyed.

Jim had dementia for ten years and from the beginning to the end, we did what we could to keep him physically healthy and happy. Some days, it felt like a losing battle, but it was always worth it.

So, during this Alzheimer’s Awareness month, I hope that awareness is as close as you get to the disease. I don’t believe anyone who hasn’t seen Alzheimer’s in a loved one can truly understand the all consuming nature of the disease. I know that I never had a clue about the reality of a disease that erodes lives and steals a loved one away one memory, one skill at a time. It is because of Jim that I understand the need to find effective treatment and a cure for this incurable life-stealing disease.

Congress passed on a unanimous basis the National Alzheimer’s Project Act which created the first National Alzheimer’s Plan. The plan is a strategy to fight Alzheimer’s and it is crucial that the proposed additional $100 million funding is included in fiscal year 2014 through the appropriations process.

Missouri Senator Roy Blunt is one of twenty-nine members of Congress appointed to a bipartisan budget committee to report budgets by December 13. I urge my fellow Missourians to ask Senator Blunt to remember Alzheimer’s and support the National Plan to Address Alzheimer’s Disease.

Copyright (c) November 2013 by L.S. Fisher     

Monday, November 4, 2013

An Autumn Weekend

You always know it is autumn at my house when the ground is littered with walnuts. Even with a handy-dandy walnut picker-upper, they seem to carpet the yard and overflow onto the walkway. Colorful trees and flying leaves leave no doubt as to the season. I left up Halloween decorations while I readied my house for company.

My sister-in-law Sissy and brother-in-law Jim had sold out and were headed to Oregon to live near their children. My nieces, Brenda and Sherry, have spent the past weeks helping and they were all flying back together. The plan was for them to spend the night and I would take them to the airport hotel Sunday.

Saturday, they arrived from two different places. Not sure how many were going to be here, I cooked a scary big pot of chili and had deli meats for sandwiches. As people began to arrive, I made pot after pot of coffee. Soon my house was wall-to-wall people. Just like the old days.

The house filled with laughter as we visited. “You know who would have really loved this?” I asked as family gathered in the kitchen. “Jim. He loved spending time with family. Sometimes he would come home and say, ‘Oh, by the way, we’re having a jam session—and I invited everyone to dinner.’ Of course, he’d have no idea just how many were coming.”

My niece, Sherry, had her video camera going, just like Jim used to. It reminded me of the two of them talking about their multitude of family tapes. “We’ll have the history, Uncle Jimmy. Everyone else will forget, but we can watch our videos and remember.” She was correct. So many slices of life would be forgotten without video.

Sherry and I walked out into the yard to reminisce. “We want to reminisce too,” chimed in my granddaughter and great-niece.

“You’re not old enough to reminisce,” I said.

“I’m half of sixteen,” my great-niece said.

The two girls seemed to be joined at the hip. They entertained with dance routines and songs, advertised with posters announcing various show times. They stood on the porch steps, facing the flag, hand over hearts and sang the National Anthem. My six-year-old grandson stood at attention and saluted the flag. The scene was amazing and touching, especially considering the flag they used was my autumn “Welcome” flag, with pumpkins on it. In their eyes, it was as valid as the stars and stripes as they sang the song without missing a word.

Sissy and I sat at the table watching the commotion going on outside with four-wheelers, interactions between cousins, older and younger.

“You can sit right here and be entertained,” she said.

“It’s like watching a reality show, isn’t it?” I agreed.

Saturday evening, Sherry and Brenda went to a Halloween party with my son, Rob, and daughter-in-law, Stacey. They came in laughing and joking at midnight. One of the highlights was Brenda winning the costume contest, without a costume. Of course, it helped that Rob was the judge. He said she was dressed exactly like his cousin Brenda from Oregon.

Sunday morning the time change helped us all get up earlier than we thought possible. After coffee, we fixed a big breakfast—biscuits, gravy, sausage, eggs—and then Rob and Stacey tackled how to fit all the Oregon bound family’s luggage into the trunk of my car. Amazingly enough, it all fit except a small overnight case.

Early afternoon, we loaded into the car for the drive to the Airport Hilton. We stopped by North Kansas City Hospital so Sissy could visit her sister who had been admitted a few days earlier. Then I took them to the hotel.

Sherry checked them in and Sissy sat in one of the big comfy couches in the lobby. Jim and Brenda were loading luggage onto a cart. When they opened the trunk, I was impressed by the neat arrangement of luggage. There was not an inch of wasted space!

I hugged everyone, determined to keep it light and happy. “I’ll be seeing you,” I said.

I jumped in my car and drove across the parking lot and stopped to have Onstar plug in the directions home. As I sat there, I thought of Scotts Mills, Silver Falls, Crooked Finger, the scent of pine on a breezy mountain. Thought of Jim and how he loved Oregon and visiting his childhood places. But I didn’t cry. I just smiled and whispered a prayer for happy trails until we meet again.

Copyright (c) by L.S. Fisher November 2013