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.

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



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.”


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


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.

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able/disabled, aging, disabilities, health, mobility

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.

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

Colliding with Reality

Grade School age, taken on Talmadge Street. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2016
Grade School age, 1930s, taken on Talmadge Street, in Los Angeles. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2016



When my wheelchair attendant at El Paso airport introduced himself as, “Moses,” I mused, “Aha! He will lead us to the Promised Land,” but not exactly.




I was headed to the University of California in Berkeley for the 75th anniversary of the Western States Folklore Society. My dear friend and colleague, Mariah, generously volunteered to accompany me, aware that traveling alone had become much too challenging.

Early 1950s. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2016.
Early 1950s. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2016.

I thought I had properly planned ahead finding out which hotel or housing facility would be closest to the sessions. The University Faculty Club seemed the most promising with so-called accommodations for the handicapped. However, to avoid the inside stairs we had to go outside and down a steep path made perilous by the constant rain. Can you imagine my negotiating a cane in one hand and an umbrella in the other while trying not to slip just to reach the breakfast dining room?


Contemplating dim sum in Oakland, CA, 2016. Photo by Mariah Chase. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2016
Contemplating dim sum in Oakland, CA, 2016. Photo by Mariah Chase. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2016

I also struggled with the hilly wet campus terrain sloshing from building to building for different sessions. And when I finally reached my destination, I ran into another problem. In my Las Cruces home, I take a nap everyday for about two hours. My body would not allow me to break that habit, so when I sat in afternoon sessions,I automatically fell asleep.How embarrassing! I missed hearing many great papers, or so they tell me.

Most of my colleagues from the UCLA Folklore Program were not present, some of them already dead. What compensated for that loss, however, was meeting a new crop of enthusiastic graduate students.That made up for everything.

So what was my take-away from this experience? I will no longer attend academic meetings. In addition, I have just purchased the next step in mobility devices, a rollator that will allow me to sit down when walking becomes too tiring and painful.

Still, I had a wonderful time including a quasi-romantic encounter at LAX with a bizarre beau, a coroner.

Replica of my first tricycle, 1930s. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2016.
Replica of my first tricycle, 1930s. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2016.



Replica of my first two-wheeler at age 12. (Full disclosure), my dad got me a used boy's bike that I named, "Rocket." © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2016.
Replica of my first two-wheeler at age 12. (Full disclosure), my dad got me a used boy’s bike that I named, “Rocket.” © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2016.
A rollator that should improve my mobility. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2016.
A rollator that should improve my mobility. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2016.


Norine Dresser is a folklorist, who despite her age and physical disabilities still looks forward to more adventures that don’t include academic meetings.