Friday, January 31, 2020

My Right Hand

Sometimes we refer to the indispensable people who support our work as a “right hand.” I have been called a “right hand” and have had people who served as my “right hand.”

In addition to the metaphorical right hand, those of us who are right-handed have a physical right hand that we count on for many tasks: typing, writing, removing medicine bottle lids, etc. The uses for our right hand are endless.

The Alzheimer’s type of disease Jim had (corticobasal ganglionic degeneration) caused a symptom known as alien limb. In Jim’s case, the limb involved the right arm. He eventually quit using his right hand and clutched it into a fist. Although we used every technique we could, his hand became infected and his little finger had to be amputated. Jim had lost his ability to play the guitar, but still it comforted me that the hand he used to fret the guitar was still usable.

Problems with hands were brought to the forefront of my attention when I began to have difficulties with my right hand. Each morning, I’d have to work out the kinks before my hand was useful. I kept thinking that the problems would go away, so I limited activities that left my hand curled up and in pain. I took ibuprofen and toughed it out for a few months. Then, my ring finger curled down, and when I tried to straighten it, it snapped into place.

My family doctor sent me to an orthopedic specialist. After x-rays, I found out that more was wrong than right about my hand. He reeled off the problems: trigger finger, bone spurs, arthritis, ganglion cysts, and carpal tunnel disease.

“I’ll give you a cortisone shot,” he said. “It helps about 48 percent of the time.” Okay, I was game. He sprayed the palm of my hand and injected the cortisone.

“Ouch!” I was not prepared for the pain. “That hurt a lot worse than the shots in my knees,” If my hand could have talked, it would have been screaming.

“You have more nerves in your hand,” he explained. No Joke! Not being a medical professional, I had not considered that.

He put a carpal tunnel brace on my wrist. “You need to wear this when you sleep and when you drive long distances.” After discussion of what constituted long distances, I told him I traveled that far five times a month. Our family band practiced two times a month and we played at nursing homes another three days a month.

“I bet they really enjoy that,” he said. “What instrument do you play?”

“Ukulele,” I said. I told him that reluctantly I had started singing. He wanted to know what I sang. I explained we sang a variety of genres and that one of my favorites was “Cowboy’s Sweetheart.”

“Do you yodel?” he asked. I shouldn’t have been surprised that a cowboy poet would recognize Patsy Montana’s old time hit. I explained that I only yodeled at the end of the song.

“Yodel for me!” he said.

I gave a brief yodel, and it brought a big smile to his face. Guess I can mark yodeling in a doctor’s office off my bucket list.

As for the hand, for the first three days I thought I’d made a bad, bad mistake. Then, like magic, it’s a whole lot better. Makes me feel like yodeling just for the heck of it.

Copyright © January 2020 by L.S. Fisher

Thursday, January 23, 2020

The Eyes Have It

We have entered the year of perfect vision: 2020. This is a year of cautionary notes, specifically not to shorten the year to 20 on checks or legal documents. It makes perfect sense since the date could be changed to 20 whatever.

I’m sure that when I was a kid that the magically sounding year of 2020 seemed so far in the future as to not be on my radar. In fact, the thought of 20/20 vision wasn’t on my radar either. I’m not sure what happened, but I lost my ability to see so slowly that I never even noticed it until I was in 7th grade. That year, our teacher for some crazy reason didn’t want us to work the problems in our math book so she wrote different problems on the blackboard. I could see she was writing on the board, but couldn’t make out the numbers. Eventually, another student and I sat at the teacher’s desk so that we could read the problems.

That summer, I got my first pair of glasses. The optometrist, a wise old man, said he was not going to correct my vision to 20/20. “You have gotten so used to not seeing that you quit trying.” Sure enough, when I went back two weeks later, my corrected vision was 20/20. I can remember being amazed that it was possible to see individual leaves on the trees.

Our eyes open up the world around us and allow us to see both the beautiful and ugly. Paulo Coelho said, “The eyes are the mirror of the soul and reflect everything that seems to be hidden; and like a mirror they also reflect the person looking into them.”

Eyes Show Emotion: Eyes are our most expressive facial feature. Before I had my glasses, I squinted a lot. Why? Narrowing the eyes helps us focus and see more details. Narrowed eyes are often associated with discrimination, disgust, and suspicion. Wide eyes are associated with fear or awe.

Eyes Reflect Mood: If you are sad, it shows in your eyes. Happiness can cause a twinkle in your eye. Eyes are the outward mirror of the inward self. Eyes can be angry. They can be filled with pity, empathy, or love. They can show exasperation—eye roll. Even if we hold the rest of our face still, eyes can tell on us.

Eyes Are a Clue to Truthfulness: Studies show that the eyes can reveal thinking, lying, or being honest. If you close your eyes when you are conversing with someone, you may either be taking a short nap (because they are boring), or you may be connecting with your inner self. Psychologists say that if a person looks up and to the right, they are lying. However, if you look up and to the left, you are as honest as Abe. Theoretically. I can’t help but think that a habitual liar will look you straight into your eyes and fabricate away. Don’t you think they read too?

Eyes Indicate Physical Health: Diabetes, stress, heart problems, kidney disease, high blood pressure, and retinal detachment can cause changes in your vision. Sudden blurry vision could indicate a migraine or a stroke. Grave’s disease can cause bulging eyes. We’ve hear of ring around the collar (old commercial for those of you under forty), but if you are under forty and have a ring around your cornea, you should have your cholesterol checked. If the whites of your eyes turn yellow (jaundice), you could have liver problems. Twitching eyelids could be from stress, too much caffeine, MS, or as I have personally noticed—lack of sleep. And, of course, red teary eyes could be from allergies.

Can a Simple Eye Test Detect Alzheimer’s? Studies indicate that changes in the blood vessels in the retina appear to be linked to dementia. By using optical coherence tomography angiograpy (Octa),  researchers at Duke University, North Carolina, compared the retinas of 39 people with Alzheimer’s and 37 who had mild cognitive impairment (MCI) to 133 people with no brain impairment. They discovered that people with Alzheimer’s had fewer blood vessels and reduced blood flow than the other two groups. Both the people with MCI and Alzheimer’s had a thinner layer of nerve fibers that surround the optic nerve. The study was small, and so far, the eye test to detect Alzheimer’s isn’t simple, or available at this time.   

When it comes to noting the motives, truthfulness, moods, and health of those around you, look into their eyes. The next time you look in the mirror, examine your own eyes for anything new or different. For many reasons, the eyes have it.

Copyright © January 2020 by L.S. Fisher

Saturday, January 11, 2020

Stuff that Makes Me Think

As I was putting away my Christmas decorations, I wondered why it seemed to take twice as long to undecorate as it does to decorate. Stuff to tumble around in my mind.

And I’ve often wondered why it takes so much longer to drive to a vacation destination that it does to get home. I know that when my mom, sisters, and I go on our girls’ trip, we often make side trips on the way to see special places. Once we head home, we generally make a beeline. That partially explains how that works, but I’ve noticed that trips to Kansas City or St. Louis seem the same with no sightseeing along the way. Is it because we feel we are “almost home” when we get into familiar territory?

Stuff that makes me think: How can people raised under the same circumstances look at the world so differently? Why do some members of the same family have different prejudices, political leanings, and different standards of morality?

More stuff … Why do some good people die young, while lowlifes live to a ripe old age? Why do children have cancer? Why do some people lose everything through no fault of their own, while others have the Midas touch?

Why are lives disrupted by horrible diseases like Alzheimer’s? How could a person who had many talents, intelligence, and a wacky sense of humor lose it all due to a disease that scattered plaques and tangles throughout the brain? How could Jim lose his ability to play his guitar and sing, when that had been a major part of his life since childhood?

Why do some of us think about everything and wonder why life is as it is, instead of its full potential? Yet, others waste no thought on abstract ideas? Why do some of us see ourselves as a small piece of a puzzle, and others believe they are the puzzle maker?

I wonder why some of us are empathetic to the less fortunate, and others care only about “they selves” as a country song says. Are narcissists and sociopaths more common, or do we just realize that’s what they are now?

As I’ve gotten older, I notice that time manages me instead of me managing time. I used to try to get things done as soon as possible, but now it seems that I won’t do today what can be put off until tomorrow.

When Jim was in the nursing home, people often asked me how I managed to work fulltime, take care of Jim every day, get a college degree, and volunteer for the Alzheimer’s Association. Could I have had magically had more time then than I do now?

Sometimes, thinking about stuff can make me tired. The good news is that my mind is still working. The bad news is that the rest of my body is having a hard time keeping up with the thoughts and ideas flowing through the neurotransmitters of my brain.  

Copyright © January 2020 by L.S. Fisher