Bride of Frankenstein?

Not a pretty picture, but safety over vanity. Testing for vestibular dysfunction. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2016.

Not a pretty picture, but safety outranks vanity. Testing for Vestibular Dysfunction. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2016.

I may not be the Bride of Frankenstein, but I certainly felt like it. Here’s the story of how I ended up with electrodes on my face and forehead.

While sitting in a new medical office, the clerk handed me the usual questionnaires plus one I had never seen before.

Have you fallen in the past 12 months?

Me: At least three times.

Have you experienced any dizziness or balance problems in the last 12 months?

Me: Big yes.

Do you feel unsteady when you are walking or climbing stairs?

Me: Definitely.

Do you require assistance to walk, such as a person supporting you or using a walker or a cane?

Me: My cane is my constant companion.

Do you feel dizzy or unstable rising from a sitting position?

Me: Big yes, again.

According to a brochure they gave me, I am a definite candidate for falling again. The brochure claimed that many falls are due to an inner ear disorder called Vestibular Dysfunction. And 85% of Americans over age 80 are affected, putting us at great risk especially if it results in hip fractures.

The brochure promised that falls can be prevented. According to the Centers for Disease Control: “By employing effective interventions, we can appreciably decrease the incidence of fall-related injuries, improve the health and quality of life of older adults and significantly reduce health-care costs.”

So what was the magic solution?

Melissa, a technician, hooked me up to a balance testing machine. (See above photo.) While the electrodes were in place I had to shake my head lightly six times. Melissa asked that I use my eyes to follow a laser light projected on the wall in front of me without moving my head. After about 20 minutes of similar instructions, she analyzed my eye and head movements on a specialized electronic machine. She informed me that my horizontal eye movements were okay, but my vertical ear and eye coordination needed improvement.

She gave me seven eye/head exercises to perform twice daily for one minute each. Melissa instructed me to return in one month for re-testing to determine if my ear/eye movements had improved.

Sounds simple, no? Seven minutes per day twice a day should not be a hassle, but it was. Although I tried to be diligent, there were some days when I could not make that second seven-minute commitment.

Towards the end of the first month, I found the exercises easier to do because I no longer had to re-read the instructions to see if I were doing them correctly. Then one day, before my afternoon nap I performed the first set of the day. One of the exercises required that I look at a fixed object at the end of the hall and walk toward it while nodding my head vertically increasing the speed along the way.

However, as I briskly walked, eyes fixed, head bobbing, I felt a new sensation —  like a sound but no pain, and it was on the right side of my head/neck area. Immediately afterward, I went to sleep for a few hours but upon awakening had severe vertigo.

I could not get out of bed and called my neighbor, Roxana, who made a quick pharmacy run to purchase some Dramamine-kind of substance. It helped but not completely and I was non-functioning for several days. Fortunately, my daughter, Amy, was visiting from California and she drove me to the chiropractor and elsewhere. I labeled her my Medi-Van

My chiropractor didn’t think I had done anything to the inner ear but that I had done something to my neck. I am now in my third week of chiropractic neck treatments and have temporarily suspended the eye exercises. I feel like I am back to square one, wherever that may be.

So what’s the moral of the story? I’m not sure. The irony is that by attempting to improve my balance, I acquired vertigo, the extreme of imbalance. What a dilemma. Do I resume the head/eye exercises? I’m not sure.

Decades ago, when my three children were small, at the onset of any illness symptoms, I rushed them over to our pediatrician, Dr. Naiditch. One day he scolded me, “Mrs. Dresser, you bring them in too soon. Let the symptoms develop so that we can make an accurate diagnosis and treatment.”

In a way, I am continuing that practice. In attempting to circumvent major health problems, I jump the gun. Unfortunately, I often shoot myself in the foot — in this case my head.

 

Folklorist Norine Dresser has difficulty shedding old bad habits.

Dazing Moments

Turn back the clock to November 9 and 10, 1938. We are in Germany and the infamous Kristallnacht (Night of the Broken Glass) is taking place throughout Germany and Austria. Nazis break windows of Jewish business establishments, beat, rape and murder Jews. They arrest 30,000 Jewish men and send them to concentration camps. They burn down synagogues containing sacred objects and scrolls, destroying almost all of them.

However, in Hamburg, Isaac Schwartz, a 14-year-old, courageously rescues one scroll and buries it. But, when he returns to retrieve it at the end of World War II, he discovers it is unusable.

Now let’s move forward to the weekend of July 23 and 24, 2016. That very same scroll (torah) containing the Five Books of Moses, has been restored and travels to the Alevy Chabad Center of Las Cruces. Rabbi Bery Schmukler reads from it for the regular Sabbath service, but this is no regular service because the center is packed with Jews eager to meet, and some even to read from this miraculous Holocaust survivor.

Torah cover with history of this Torah. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2016.

Torah cover with history of this Torah. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2016.

 

Rabbi Bery Schmukler rolls open the scroll rescued in Hamburg on Kristallnacht. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2016.

Rabbi Bery Schmukler rolls open the scroll rescued in Hamburg on Kristallnacht.
© Norine Dresser photo collection, 2016.

 

Evidence of the Torah's smokey past. The rabbi invited us to sniff the smoke, but I declined. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2016.

Evidence of the Torah’s smokey past. The rabbi invited us to sniff the smoke, but I declined. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2016.

My intention was to visit the center on Sunday and photograph this religious artifact. It was number one on my “to do” list for that day. However, I was unprepared for the emotional impact it had on me. Sure, I took my photos, but I was overwhelmed by the power of seeing this holy object up close. It was as if it could speak to me and convey the horrors of the past. I had to sit down and reflect upon what it represented. Although I do not consider myself a religious Jew, that made no difference. My inner core was struck by thinking about the history of the Jews, the struggles, the sacrifices, the destruction, the constant enemies, yet overriding that was the pride of surviving over the centuries. I thought about my grandparents fleeing the Pogroms, the financial hardships endured to reach this country and start from scratch to provide for their families and glow to see their children flourish.

So what started out a just a number one Sunday task turned out to be much more. It became the reigniting of a reminder of who I am and from whence I came.

A staged photo of me reading from the Torah. Note the use of a yad (hand), a ritual pointer) to protect the scrolls from the oils on the fingers. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2016.

A staged photo of me reading from the Torah. Note the use of a yad (hand), a ritual pointer to protect the scrolls from the oils on the fingers. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2016.

Norine Dresser is a folklorist whose own emotions often surprise her. And that is a good thing.

I Love A Mystery!

To prove it, when the late Kay Hardman Enell, my folklore colleague and friend, and I were doing research in Hollywood during the 1980s, a local newspaper labeled us “The Snoop Sisters.” Decades have passed, but the inquisitiveness gene still pulsates.

Artifact given to me by Robin Hutchins. Photo by Mariah Chase. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2016.

Artifact given to me by Robin Hutchins. Photo by Mariah Chase. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2016.

I met Robin Hutchins here in Las Cruces who, with her husband Paul, moved here from Maplewood, New Jersey. At one time, she owned an art gallery there. During the 1980s, a young woman, Anisa, came into her gallery and identified herself as an artist. She and her husband were newly arrived from Israel because her husband had been hired to work in the U.S..However, shortly upon their arrival, he began getting severe headaches and was diagnosed with a brain tumor. To complicate matters, Anisa discovered that she was pregnant and felt overwhelmed since she had no friends or relatives for support.

One day, she dropped into Robin’s gallery to show her portfolio. Robin liked her work because Anisa had pen and ink drawings: precise delicate flowers as well as quiet scenes that were professionally executed. Robin offered to show Anisa’s work, taking several pieces on consignment and offering to frame them. From that point on Anisa and Robin became friends, having tea on rainy days.

Fortunately, the husband recovered from the surgery and moved on with his career. They had a son, and after a visit home to Israel, Anisa presented Robin with the above artifact. Anisa didn’t know much about it other than having purchased it from a street vendor in Jerusalem.

Because of my Jewish heritage, Robin thought I would like to have the object, but she didn’t know what it represented. I could tell by the designs above the head of the man that the individual motifs represented the Twelve Tribes of Israel.

At first, a Hebrew School teacher translated it, but his results didn’t quite make sense to me. I next showed the artifact to Rabbi Schmukler of the Alevy Chabad Jewish Center of Las Cruces. He immediately identified the script as Aramaic and not Hebrew. He said he didn’t want to mis-translate it and after taking a photo, he promised to confer online with other Chabad rabbis. I loved the idea of these sages discussing ancient matters in cyberspace.

Within a week, Rabbi Schmukler sent me the answer. The lines are from Solomon’s Song of Songs. The male is speaking to the female. “At the gathering of the steeds of Pharaoh’s chariots have I silenced you, my beloved. Your cheeks are comely with rows, your neck with necklaces. We will make you rows of gold with studs of silver.”

Mystery Solved!

Norine Dresser is a folklorist who believes her love of mysteries has to do with her astrological sign. Scorpios are considered the “Detectives of the Zodiac.”

Confessions of a Bearded Lady

I love pulling pranks, but it’s so much more fun when you have a playmate. And I have one — my fabulous friend and neighbor, Roxana Gillette.

Bearded Ladies, Norine Dresser and Roxana Gillett at the Las Cruces Ukes. Photo by Bob Hull. © Norine Dresser Photo Collection, 2016.

Bearded Ladies, Norine Dresser and Roxana Gillett at the Las Cruces Ukes. Photo by Bob Hull. © Norine Dresser Photo Collection, 2016.

After discovering the above pictured wonderful bearded masks on an obscure website, Roxanna ordered two.Then while waiting for delivery, and as a surprise for us to perform for the Las Cruces Ukes, she wrote a parody, set to the tune of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah.”

Based on the assumption that the beards and wool head coverings were filled with cooties, she changed the chorus from “Hallelujah” to “We’ll Shampoo Ya,” creating an absurd juxtaposition.

We rehearsed numerous times and arranged that both ukulele classes would be present when we emerged in our hirsute conditions. I assured Roxana that even if the audience didn’t laugh at the song, they’d laugh at our appearances. And so they did. We were a hit. Mission accomplished.

Pulling pranks has no statute of limitations.The only requirement is being willing to take a risk that might make one’s self look foolish (over and over again).

Sisters Saggitarius, Norine Dresser and Janice Garey, 1950s. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2016

Sisters Sagittarius, Norine Dresser and Janice Garey, 1950s. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2016.

During the 1960s, I had a different playmate, Janice Garey. My niece, Madge Dresser had consulted with me in planning her November Sweet Sixteen birthday party. She selected an astrology theme concentrating on her unique choices of food, activities, flower arrangements.

Janice collaborated with me in making a surprise entrance at Madge’s party as the Sisters Sagittarius.We dyed sheets black for our cover-ups, wore very tall black cardboard hats, slathered our faces with zinc oxide and exaggerated our features with black eye liner. For an added touch, Janice dried out a cooked chicken leg to use as a witch’s wand.

We stashed our four daughters into my car and parked it half a block away from the party. After pounding on the door, my startled sister-in-law answered as the two of us burst in and in witch-like voices and with Janice wielding the chicken leg, we menaced the teenagers, threatening acne or cramps if they didn’t obey us. I don’t remember much else except we ad-libbed drawing upon our inner witchiness. After about five minutes, we tore out of there, ran down the street and got back into the car laughing all the way.

Why do I and others commit such silly acts? Because making others laugh is a great motivator. Even at 84, I get a kick out of the scheming and wondering if the prank will work and will I get some laughs? But sometimes the prank falls flat.

 

Black wreath, example of style of wreath I hung on Lillian's front door. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2016.

Black wreath, example of style of wreath I hung on Lillian’s front door. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2016.

In the 1950s, I met Lillian, a lovely woman whose children attended the same nursery school as my children. She invited my husband and me to a Halloween party. I volunteered to help with the decorating and while at her home asked, “How about a black wreath to hang on your front door?”

She thought that was a wonderful touch, so I offered to make it for her. I bent a wire clothes hanger into a circle and threaded a ribbon of twisted black crepe paper on it. Hanging in my car, the wreath actually cast a pall over me as I drove to Lillian’s house to deliver it before the festivities began.

Several hours later, when my husband and I arrived at the party, the black wreath was missing from the front door. Surprised, I asked, “Lillian, where’s the wreath?”

Before she could answer, a distraught relative of hers pulled me aside and demanded. “How could you do such a thing?”

I was dumbfounded as she explained, “When we pulled up to the door and saw the wreath, we thought the worst. So we drove to a public phone booth and began calling relatives to ask who had died.”

I couldn’t believe what she was saying. It was Halloween. It was a Halloween party. If she did take it seriously, why not enter the house and find out?

I did not act defensively. I couldn’t. She was so genuinely upset, and I found it so irrational that I just stood there mute.

And that was the last time I ever made a Halloween funeral wreath.

But it was not the last time I have played a prank, and I hope there will be more opportunities to do so in the future.

 

Norine Dresser is a folklorist who believes that we need to create fun and to keep on laughing as long as we can.

Good Night, Sweet Prince

And how tragic that he died too soon. I empathize with this 57-year-old who had to live and perform while suffering from chronic pain. Yet his need to dance and sing demanded that he be exceptionally mobile. No doubt, he tried everything to erase the pain and then opioids became his salvation, or so he thought.

In contrast, I am an 84-year-old woman whose major mobility demands consist of just getting out of bed in the morning, sitting down in a chair and then rising from it. I also struggle with getting into and out of the car.

Like Prince, I possess prescription opioids, specifically, Vicodin. However, I am reluctant to use it because it works too well. One recent afternoon, my pain was so extreme that I resorted to taking one tablet. It knocked me out so intensely I was unaware that my friend, Mariah, had rung the doorbell, entered the house and walked into my bedroom, talked to me, banged around the house while resetting quail blocks, left a note and stuck it to the cellphone lying beside me before departing. Despite all this activity, I was totally out.

That scared me and reinforced my distrust of strong pain medications. Because I know that they are easy to get hooked on, I have tried many alternative pain relief methods: acupuncture, epidural injections, wearing a supportive belt, daily gym sessions, physical therapy, massage therapy, traction, chiropractic adjustments. The results have been mostly unsuccessful.

Finally, I consulted with a medical marijuana guidance counselor. She thought that the herb would be helpful and explained the steps needed to become a licensed New Mexico user. I received my license five weeks after sending in the paperwork.

At first, I felt self-conscious waiting in the NM certified dispensary. I wasn’t alone in my discomfort. One day, a middle-aged woman admitted that she used to scold her teenagers when they were experimenting with “pot.” Now her amused son accompanies her when she makes a purchase.

Likewise, my late husband used to warn our teenagers: “If others at the party are smoking pot, you have to leave.” Yeah, sure.

Norine wearing t-shirt from MJ Expresso. Outline of the state of New Mexico. Indicates that the cannabis is grown in New Mexico. Note the small Marijuana plant in the "O." Photo by Mariah Chase. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2016.

Norine wearing t-shirt from MJ Expresso. Outline of the state of New Mexico to indicate that the cannabis is grown in New Mexico. Note the small Marijuana plant in the “O.” Photo by Mariah Chase. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2016.

My now-adult children often tease me about what Dad would say if he knew about my taking marijuana. I’m sure he’d be happy that I am getting pain relief via an ancient natural herb without fatal consequences. Medical records show that no one has ever died from marijuana. Besides, I only take one capsule at night allowing me to get out of bed pain-free. Consequently, by morning I feel competent to drive without endangering anyone, including myself.

I have become a familiar and welcome customer at the cannabis dispensary. They open the door for me without first having me show my ID outside the establishment; one of the workers regularly greets me with, “Hi, Norine.”

The last time I was there, they had a sign: Become a life member All I had to do was buy a t-shirt and wear it for future purchases to receive a 4% discount.

What a difference. Marijuana is safe. Vicodin is dangerous. Besides, with Vicodin, you get No Lousy T-Shirt.

 

Norine Dresser is a folklorist who realizes that cannabis is not a panacea. As she ages (deteriorates) she will have to supplement with other modalities of pain relief.