able/disabled, health

TO BE SHOT? OR NOT?

As of 4/1/21, over 76 Million people have been fully vaccinated in the U.S.

                                    

For me, it was a no-brainer.

When the Salk vaccine to protect against polio was first released, my son received his injection at age four. About ten days after that, the nursery school he attended took the children on a field trip to the Los Angeles Music Center. This was during the 1950s when passengers were not required to wear seatbelts, so the little darlings piled into the car packed in like sardines.    

Approximately two weeks later, three of the nursery school children began exhibiting polio symptoms: fever, headache, neck stiffness, pain in the arms and legs, weakness, vomiting, PARALYSIS.  The nursery school shut down. Not only did the children become infected, but they also passed the virus on to siblings and parents. One victim was a father who had been a dentist. He recovered for a while but was severely affected and could no longer pursue his occupation. He succumbed to the after-effects at an early age.

One day, I accompanied a nursery school mom to visit her son at Rancho Los Amigos, a facility in Southern California that accommodated a large number of iron lungs. For me, it was chilling to see children’s faces protruding from these frightening-looking tanks. For the parents, it must have been devastating.

                   

Iron lungs helped patients breathe. They are now obsolete because world-wide polio has been almost eradicated. Today, ventilators are the go-to device for breathing assistance, especially common during this COVID-19 pandemic.

Meanwhile, our two nursery schoolteachers, who had been in such close contact with the children, felt especially vulnerable. After consulting with their doctors, they received large doses of gamma globulin. This was costly but health experts believed that gamma globulin boosted immune systems, and that might be one way to fight off this crippling disease. When the teachers submitted their medical bills to the nursery school parents, some parents balked at paying for the shots. I couldn’t believe it. These two women put their lives at risk in caring for our children. Why should any parent deny them this protection?

Even though my son had received the Salk vaccine less than ten days before the field trip, I believe that antibodies were already beginning to form in his body, and this spared him.

When I was growing up, poliomyelitis was the summer scourge, and no one could figure out how it was transmitted. Swimming pools were suspect because the numbers of infections rose during the summer. Consequently, public swimming pools shut down if one of the users came down with the disease.

At about 17, I met a boy a year or so older than me. I’ll call him Joe, and at that time he was on the rebound from a girlfriend named Betty. Joe and Betty had been childhood friends and during adolescence their friendship blossomed into romance. Now they had broken up.

Joe was a live wire, an identical twin with a dynamic personality. Not only that, but he and his brother sang together and often performed at social events. I fell for that, too. But not long after we began dating, Joe took a summer job as a counselor at a children’s camp. Unfortunately, several cases of polio broke out at the camp and everyone was placed under quarantine. Guess what? As fate would have it, Joe’s old girlfriend, Betty, was also a camp counselor at the same camp. During their confinement, their romance re-ignited, and he sent me the equivalent of a Dear John letter, and we would not be seeing each other again. I like to joke that after meeting me, Joe realized that Betty was the one for him. Eventually, they married.

I was crestfallen for a while, but not for too long. Yet whenever I think about polio, memories of my broken romance re-surface. More importantly, memories of the miracle accomplished by the Salk vaccine come to bear. That is why I was delighted to receive two doses of the Pfizer vaccine. After receiving each of the injections, I felt jubilant. Additionally, when my family recently celebrated Passover, a memorial to overcoming obstacles and enjoying freedom, we tied it to the COVID-19 vaccine. This vaccine has provided us with an opportunity for protection against the pandemic that has claimed more than half a million lives in the U.S. alone.    

I am also enthusiastic about taking any other vaccines that have the power to protect me from flu, shingles, pneumonia, tetanus. And why not? I am a believer in science.

Norine Dresser is a folklorist who, as a mom, was equally positive when she learned that her four grandchildren had been vaccinated against mumps, measles, chicken pox. These were damaging, sometimes fatal, diseases of their parents’ childhoods. Thus they were spared.

norinedresser.org

able/disabled, aging, disabilities, health, pets

Pain, Poop, and Patience/Patients

I never dreamed while contemplating my reverse right shoulder replacement that I would actually have a good time during the process. That never happened after previous surgeries. I’ve had my gall bladder removed; back surgery; both hips and my left shoulder replaced, yet nary one laugh escaped me during those ordeals.

 

I tried to focus on the outcome of the procedure rather than the process. Does Dr. Sawbones refer to the method of removing the old shoulder parts? OUCH!

Several days after this surgery they transferred me to a brand new rehab center. I should have suspected an unusual environment when the head nurse introduced herself as, “Nurse Anthrax,” (not her real name but one equally toxic). I was incredulous at the naiveté of her parents for giving her such a moniker. That set me off on a scavenger hunt of other ironies, such as entering the physical therapy room and noticing that they were playing “Masonic Funeral Music.”

One day, my heart skipped a beat when I saw Fritz standing in the doorway. His neatly trimmed grey beard and hair reminded me of my late husband. Imagine my excitement when he sat down on the bed, his body touching mine. I wished that he would kiss me. Instead, he turned away and eagerly kissed my red-headed woman visitor. This aroused my jealousy, but then suddenly he disappeared. Could I hold a grudge against him?  No! I knew that next Tuesday, Fritz the Schnauzer therapy dog would visit me again.

 

Stand-in for Fritz the Therapy Dog.

When you look around the dining area, superficially all you see are old bodies in wheelchairs, some with oxygen cannulas in their noses, others with drains coming from their kidneys, or those with broken limbs in splints. It’s so easy to discount these wounded folks. But that would be  a big mistake. Many of them had led adventurous lives and had had marvelous careers.

Once I opened myself up to their stories, I was constantly stimulated and amazed. I learned the gory details about a husband who dumped his wife for a much younger woman he met on a Greek Island; Wynona entertained me with descriptions of being in Tehran just before the Shah left and the Iranian Revolution began. Nursing attendants told tales of being abused by ex-mates; or about the suspicions single dads encounter when they accompany their teenage daughters to buy underwear. And do you know the difference in the way male attendants give showers compared to female attendants? Mine washed me like he was washing his car, spraying first down one side of me. Then I turned and he washed down the other side. I took care of my own headlights.

One dinner hour I said to my tablemates, “Aren’t the nights long here?” To my  amazement, one ordinarily quiet woman began reciting lines from “Macbeth.” Then she told me about attending Yale and her life’s work as a Pediatric Nurse Practitioner and nursing instructor.

I met the son of a patient who’s a retired probation officer.  Guess what he does in his retirement? He collects and repairs fountain pens. He has written articles about his collection and even had an exhibit of them in nearby Alamogordo. This was a folklorist’s delight.

Sometimes snippets of conversation captured me:

I miss my dog more than my husband;

I married a Roman Catholic priest;

If you leave off your brassiere, your wrinkles disappear;

My dog knows how to spell D-O-G-P-A-R-K.

Food services were excellent and unique for such an institutional setting. For example, one time they served eggs benedict for breakfast; chicken Alfredo over fettuccini for lunch; stir-fry steak and veggies and rice for dinner. And there was an alternative menu available for all three meals.

I met Angelica Wagner, also a patient at the rehab center. She teaches cooking and does catering when not recovering from surgery. As a special occupational therapy exercise, she taught us how to make cherry-filled empanadas. The following week we made mini-cinnamon rolls. This was a very enlightened healing environment.

 

Angelica Wagner teaching Occupational Therapy patients how to make empanadas. Step one, cutting out the dough. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2019.

Finished product. Notice fork for using tines to seal the empanada.© Norine Dresser Photo Collection, 2019.

Putting cherry filling inside dough circles. © Norine Dresser Photo Collection, 2019

 

 

 

 

Still patients complained:

“Can you believe they call this bean soup. The beans aren’t even white?” (I had a cynical hunch that her attitude applied to people, as well.)

“You know, I have to hit the TV remote button FIVE times before it will change channels.”

Overcoming pain and getting the digestive system back to normal after anesthesia and medications are the two most difficult post-op tasks.  It takes patience to be a good patient, something that I lack. Nonetheless, social interactions go a long way in helping rehabilitation. From the many colorful get-well cards to my many visitors, two laden with Stroopwaffel McFlurries, and to my almost-daily visits from Damien, a Papillion, and his driver Carol Witham, fellow patients and staff with their intriguing stories contributed toward my recovery. After almost a full month at the rehab center, I eagerly returned home and with thanks to all of you.

 

Damien, a frequent visitor who always brought me cheer. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2019.

Oops! I forgot to mention something. While I was away I had Liza Chase take care of my cat’s meals in the morning and Roxana Gillette gave Sweetie Beattie the night feeding. Liza left the TV on for the cat 24/7 so she wouldn’t feel alone in the empty house. Often Liza turned on the History Channel. However, one day as she was leaving, the History Channel was airing a show about Hitler. Liza thought that was inappropriate for a Jewish household, so she changed the channel to one about Aliens.

 

 

Norine Dresser is a folklorist who is relieved that the surgery is now in the past, and she is home at last with Sweetie Beattie.

Visit the Gallery of Folklore and Popular Culture: flpcgallery.org

 

 

celebrations, independence

Enablers Can’t Be ALL Bad

My friend, Kim, and I met for a 10:30 a.m. showing of  “On the Basis of Sex,” about Supreme Court Justice, Ruth Bader Ginsburg. No matter how hard I tried to stay awake, I dozed. When it was over, I asked Kim what I had missed and she commented, “What I got out of it was that without her husband, she never would have risen to her position. He definitely enabled her.”

Now most of us think of enablers as negative forces: they encourage our drinking, our dependency, our other bad habits. In this situation, Martin Ginsburg, a successful lawyer and law professor, empowered his wife to aim for the stars and become a champion for gender equality. He clearly respected her intellectual talents, and she didn’t disappoint. She admits that she would never have gained a seat on the Supreme Court without him.

I thought about my own life, and for the first time realized that my late husband, Harold, was also an enabler.  When I wanted to go back to UCLA in 1968 to finish my B.A. degree, he was excited and encouraged me. We both knew it would be challenging since we had two teenagers and one pre-teen at home, who needed my attention. Would I be able to balance being a mom and wife while being a student?

 

Professional photo for Harold’s career as a movie and television extra during the last 25 years of his life. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2019.

After experimenting by taking a few classes at Los Angeles City College to reach junior standing, I believed my goal was doable. I enrolled in the UCLA Anthropology Department and discovered that most female students were the ages of my children. I thought I could pass, after all I was only 37. Not so. When I sat next to a recent high school graduate in a very large lecture hall, she outed me: “My mom is going back to school, too.”

On campus, there were services for women undergraduates but only for the young ones. I approached the Dean of Women and asked her what could be done for the housewives and moms who were just beginning to return to campus. She suggested that I create a survey of married women to discover their motivations for being there, what roles their families played in supporting them, and what university services could help them?

Harold & Norine cutting their wedding cake, March 4, 1951. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2019.

Some husbands felt quite threatened. One student’s husband was a physician and resented her intellectual endeavors, especially when his acquaintances expressed newly-found interest in her ideas and achievements. At the same time, other husbands were helpful like the Dad who took the family out to McDonald’s once a week so that Mom could have a break from cooking. Still other women revealed that they were back in school to achieve an education before they left unhappy marriages and could be more easily employable.

Harold was so proud of me, he gave me a Senior Prom after I received my B.A.  Had I not dropped out of the university to get married, I would have graduated in 1953. Instead, it was now 1970, so I asked everyone to dress as if it were the original time. The two of us purchased appropriate formal wear from a vintage clothing store; our 17-year-old son, Mark, provided the dance music with his rock and roll band. Our daughters, Andrea and Amy, handed out homemade plastic flower wrist corsages to all the women. It was a joyous and humorous celebration.

Invitation to my Senior Prom created by dear friend and artist, Jan Steward. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2019.

After graduation, Harold continued to support me for two more years. He was content to stay at home with me on weekends as I turned out research papers or studied for exams earning an M. A. degree in Folklore and Mythology.

All these memories come flooding back at this time of year, the anniversary of his death on February 2, 2007 at age 85. He died one month before our 56th wedding anniversary. If he had lived, on March 4, 2019, we would have been celebrating 68 years of marriage.

Harold had a way with words. Weeks before he died, he said to Mark, “You know, I think Mom’s almost brilliant,” causing us to howl with laughter. When Mark retold this remark at Harold’s funeral, guests also found his comment amusing and endearing.

It’s difficult to say goodbye to one’s life partner, and even though he’s no longer with me on this plane, I will still say, “Happy Anniversary, Harold.”

Harold & Norine Dresser photo by Ed Keck taken circa 2000. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2019.

 

Norine Dresser is a folklorist who greatly misses her enabler.

able/disabled, aging, disabilities, health, independence, mobility

IT COULD ALWAYS BE WORSE

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Recently, a friend with an unexpected life threatening physical condition complained that she might have to be on blood thinners for the rest of her life. Reflexively, I commented, “It could always be worse,” thinking insulin injections, chemo, radiation.

That same week another acquaintance mentioned that she had been just diagnosed with A-Fib and was now on blood thinners which she ruefully confessed might have to be taken for the rest of her life. Again, I responded, “It could always be worse,” thinking about those same alternatives given to my first friend.

Later, I wondered why I had made such automatic assertions. It could always be worse was something I even told myself when I had to perform unpleasant procedures, e.g., struggle while strapping on a back brace; wrap my left leg daily; pop in my hearing aids; deal with chronic and increasing back pain. Yet the “It could always be worse,” phrase helps me put my own physical state into perspective. And I recognized that the phrase was tied to Judaism.

Although I am Jewish, my parents were non-synagogue attendees and always spoke only English.  Because I was a sickly child, I missed a lot of public school days so I never even attempted religious school. Despite this, I obviously had absorbed Jewish attitudes and culture.

When I Googled the expression, sure enough I found a children’s book by Margot Zemach called, It Could Always Be Worse, based on an old Yiddish folktale.

As retold by Zemach, accompanied by her lively illustrations, a poor man lived with his wife, mother, and six children crammed into a small hut. With the husband and wife constantly quarrelling and the noisy children fighting and screaming, chaos reigned.

Overcome with frustration, the husband sought advice from a rabbi who counseled that he should bring his chickens, rooster, and goose to live inside with them. Obligingly, the man did, but it only made the household more frenzied. He returned to the rabbi, who then instructed to now bring his goat and later his cow inside the shack.

Their abode became even more unbearable, so the desperate man returned to the rabbi who told him to let all the animals back outside. That night, the family had a wonderful night’s sleep and, the message was clear: At least you don’t have to sleep with your livestock, and that is always worse.

To my regular blog readers: Several months have elapsed since my last posting, and I apologize. I have been sidetracked with chronic pain and reduced mobility that also decreased my ability to write. Although, I am trying a wide variety of treatments, so far I have been unsuccessful. Despite feeling sorry for myself, I must take my own advice and remind myself, “It Could Always Be Worse.”

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Norine Dresser is a folklorist, who, like most people, unconsciously absorbed ethnic attitudes from her family.

 

 

able/disabled, cats, disabilities, Dogs, health, loneliness, loss, pets, Uncategorized

TIDINGS OF COMFORT AND JOY

The first thing I did when I got home from the hospital was to lie down and cuddle my girl. She seemed to enjoy it, too. Photo by Mariah Chase. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2018.

****

Many of you know that I have been incapacitated since mid-February. At first, the doc thought that my problems were respiratory– bronchitis and perhaps pneumonia, so he sent me to the ER.

My daughter met me there, and after I was finally admitted and assigned to a room, we noticed a couple walking two large therapy dogs down the hall. We invited them in. One animal was a Rhodesian Ridgeback and the other an Akita. It lifted my spirits just to have these animals near me. Nuzzling the furry ruff of the Akita and wrapping my arms around its neck brought me great pleasure. Of course, I know that when we pet an animal, our blood pressure goes down. Aside from the science, when embracing another living creature, it makes us realize that all’s right in the world, or more precisely, I was going to be all right. And eventually I was after surgery for unexpected two compression fractures of the spine and a one week stay in a rehabilitation facility.

Therapy dogs at Las Cruces Memorial Hospital. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2018.

 

Decades ago, I wrote a paper called “The Horse Bar Mitzvah,” that became a chapter in a veterinary medicine textbook.* I presented examples and analyses of the relationships between humans and animals in different settings: horse bar mitzvah; cat mitzvah; dog wedding; festivals honoring the human/animal bond, for example, Blessings of the Animals. In addition, I researched the role of service animals: therapy horses, war dogs, rescue dog, therapy dogs.

Since publication (2000), dogs have increasingly played a vital role in our culture, e.g., at airports, sniffing out the taboo garlic and sausages, as well as drugs. And since 9/11, new roles have developed especially at airports, with the focus on explosives and terrorism.

Human/animal relationships keep evolving. Comfort dogs is a new title given to animals that  show up at scenes of disasters. I was moved seeing televised dogs disembarking from a van within 48 hours at the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School after the school massacre in Parkland, Florida. Who could not be cheered by seeing these eager animals there to be stroked and embraced by traumatized children and staff?

 

Doesn’t your heart melt at the sight of these comfort dogs brought to the school by a Lutheran Church Charity helping to dispatch K9 Comfort Boots and Paws on the ground?

 

New duties for dogs progress. Yale University has developed a program utilizing rescue dogs in New York low-income public schools. The dogs become reading buddies and foster social development. At my local university (NMSU), dogs are brought in at exam time to lower the distress students feel during this time of high anxiety. Courthouse Dogs allow specially trained service dogs to accompany children during testimony in a courtroom.

Since my return home from the hospitals, my cat, Sweetie Beattie, is never more than inches away from me. At first, I employed a caregiver to help me with pain issues during the night. Whenever, she came into the bedroom to take care of me, Sweetie Beattie lay at the foot of my bed skeptically eyeing all the caregiver’s movements. Or else she sat on the dresser warily watching the activities. During that time, I called her the Night Nurse for she acted as if she were supervising – definitely looking out for my interest.

The Night Nurse, aka, Sweetie Beattie supervising my activities. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2018.

As aloof as she may ordinarily be, Sweetie seems to sense that I need more of her attention now. Even as I am here at the keyboard, she is on top of my desk backed up against my computer, and with my extended pinky I can stroke the fur on her back. Can that compete with steroids and antibiotics? No, but she is a fantastic supplement.

 

Norine Dresser is a folklorist who is mad about her Sweetie Beattie.

 

*Companion Animals and Us:Exploring the Relationships Between People and Pets. Eds: Podberscek and Serpell. Cambridge University Press, UK., 2000.

Visit my online museum: Gallery of Folklore and Popular Culture, https://flpcgallery.org