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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
I never dreamed I would become a vampirologist, at least that’s what others called me. But now that Halloween approaches, memories of that unforeseen former profession flood my consciousness.
It began when an Associated Press science reporter called me for a folklorist’s opinion about a paper delivered by Canadian biochemist, Dr. David Dolphin, at the 1988 American Association for the Advancement of Sciences. Dr. Dolphin hypothesized that those who had been labeled vampires in the past (Middle Ages) might have been suffering from a disease called porphyria.
In brief, porphyria is a rare incurable genetic disease that can also be triggered by alcohol and sulfa drugs or environmental contaminants. In Greek, porphyria means purple and for many, not all patients, their urine turns purple after exposure to the sun or ultraviolet light.
Dolphin asserted that those porphyria patients whose faces were negatively affected by sunlight must remain indoors during the day. He argued that porphyria patients had a negative reaction to garlic. Most dramatically, he claimed that they had a need for blood, but in the Middle Ages since there was no technology for transfusions, they would satisfy their cravings by drinking the blood of others.
The problem was that the Dolphin’s proposition didn’t hold up clinically. In part, this was because there are eight different varieties of porphyria, each with its own symptoms and characteristics. Dolphin had lumped them all together.
However, as a folklorist, the correlations delighted me and the Associated Press quoted me saying that I thought the proposal was, “Wonderful. It proves there is truth in folklore.”
Who knew where my flip comments would lead?
Almost immediately, I received a phone call from France, inquiring if I would be a consultant on a vampire film. Of course, I said yes. That offer, like so many that followed, never came to fruition.
Still I was buoyed by the excitement. I was instantly perceived as a vampire expert. It took some boning up on my part but eventually I became fairly conversant about the disease, porphyria (known to account for the madness of King George); Vlad, the Impaler (a Romanian hero for staving off the Ottoman Empire); and the book Dracula by Bram Stoker, that has never been out of print since the first edition in 1897.
However, some horrified porphyria patients blamed me for linking porphyria with vampires. One woman complained how ashamed the association made her feel and how relieved she was that most of her friends couldn’t remember the name of her disease.
A young male patient in Santa Barbara, CA, disclosed he was frightened to walk around the local schoolyard during the day lest parents might think he was stalking their children. Indeed, so much sensational press surrounded Dolphin’s concept, even the grammar school newspaper, The Weekly Reader, had an article about it.
But my friends and family loved it and could hardly wait to participate.
Bela Lugosi, Jr. had been a USC law school classmate of my brother, Mickey. He gave Mickey a Dracula watch that my brother insisted I must have.
My dentist, Dr. Rees Smith of Burbank, CA presented me with a custom-made pair of fangs. He assumed I would wear them on all the TV talk shows I was on, but I thought it would make me look to unprofessional.
At my very first book signing of American Vampires, Forrest Ackerman, “Mr. Science Fiction,” showed up with one of the Dracula capes and rings worn by Bela Lugosi in the “Dracula” film. He let me sign some books wearing those treasured items. Additionally, he purchased 20 copies for celebrities. Imagine my thrill autographing a copy for Stephen King.
A film company invited me to Budapest, Hungary, to be in an international TV production, “Dracula, Live from Transylvania.” I even got to play a scene with actor, George Hamilton, who freaked out having to interview a real blood drinker. He turned that task over to me. I was pretty unruffled about it, too, until I asked one of the blood drinkers, “How much blood do you drink at a time?”
When she responded, “Half a glass.” I lost my cool.
“Half a glass?” I was incredulous as I visualized a glass half-filled with coagulating human blood. To the glee of friends and family watching in the U.S., I could not disguise my shock.
In 1995, I was invited by the Romanian Bureau of Tourism to attend the First World Dracula Congress. What a strange contingent of attendees: fifty international scholars (including me) and 150 members of the press from all over the world.
Upon arrival in Bucharest, my husband, Harold, and I were warmly greeted by Nicolae (Nicky) Paduraru, President of the Transylvanian Society of Dracula. But when Nicky began extolling my virtues in his Bela Lugosi-like accent: “No-rine, I love your mind; I love your brain…”, an irritated Harold demanded, “Leave the rest to me!”
I joined both the Canadian and Romanian chapters of the Transylvanian Society of Dracula. In 1997, in Los Angeles, we sponsored a celebration that drew thousands for the 100th anniversary of the publication of Dracula.
After that, my interest in vampires waned, but still I have my old contacts with new ones always welcomed. When Frankenstein Jones requested to friend me on Facebook, how could I say, “No”?
If you’d like to see more vampire memorabilia, visit my online folklore and popular culture gallery: http: flpcgallery.org. While you’re there, check out additional cultural artifacts: Day of the Dead skulls; Milagros for healing; Evil eyes and hamsas for protection; Political gags.
Folklorist Norine Dresser is the author of American Vampires: Fans, Victims & Practitioners (Norton, 1989; Vintage 1990), nine other books as well as an award-winning column for the Los Angeles Times (1993 to 2001).
Portions of this blog first appeared in the October 2017 edition (Vol.22 No.10) of the Southwest Senior (Las Cruces, NM), pp. 1 & 5.
I’m not into torture, nor am I in pursuit of the fountain of youth. I am, however, in search of new ways to increase my physical well-being. I am persistent in search of new enhancements. Here is my latest discovery about which I have high hopes.
First, here’s a bit of my history. In junior high and senior high school when physical education was mandatory, I was always placed in “Corrective Gym” because the teachers diagnosed me with lordosis (inward curve of the lower spine). Because I was loathe to participate in competitive sports, I didn’t mind that at all..
Now, as an octogenarian, the lordosis has gotten so much worse that it is easily detectible by the way my clothing reveals my left hip much higher than my right. In addition, I have spinal stenosis, a condition that often comes with age. This is partly a result of gravity and the compression of spinal discs, those pads between the vertebrae.
I heard about a new machine here in Las Cruces at Millennium Health and Wellness that aims to decompress the spine and bring a non-invasive alternative approach for chronic back pain. After being assured and reassured it could not damage my spine, I signed up. That’s when I met Zack, the Rack.
The entire procedure takes about two hours. After a preliminary warm-up of electrical stimulation, heating pads and massage, they strap me into tight fitting harnesses.
Then I back up against an upright Zack. The technician presses a button and very slowly the table changes to a horizontal position and elevates. After reaching the appropriate height, the technician firmly secures more straps and hands me a button to start the twenty-five minute procedure.
Unlike regular traction machines where you feel the pull as it stretches the spine, Zack does so without detection. Additionally, the discs are oscillated and that is undetectable, as well. Therefore, I feel no discomfort during the procedure; the treatment is quite relaxing.
The theory behind spinal decompression therapy is that the oscillation creates negative pressures within the discs. This reversal of pressure creates an intradiscal vacuum that helps to reposition bulging discs and pull extruded disc material back into place and remove pressure from pinched nerves. Spinal experts believe that nutrients, oxygen and fluids are drawn into the disc to create a revitalized environment conducive to healing.
A beeping signals when Zack is finished, and after I descend, I enter another room to receive a ten-minute laser treatment that stimulates the cells thus promoting additional healing. Application of electrical stimulation pads plus ice packs complete the session.
As of today, I have gone through this procedure 19 times. In total I am scheduled for 36 sessions and am committed to treatments three times a week.
Now this is a huge commitment in time, and money, too. But I am determined to find a solution for the chronic pain that I have endured for decades. It’s only after the pain abates and I feel more sprightly, that I realize how much the chronic pain has deprived me of a full life.
At age 85 (almost), I don’t know how many years I have left, but I want to feel as tip-top as possible for as long as I can. And I might even regain part of the two and one half inches in height that I have lost!
In just a few months, Zack has become so popular and in demand that Millennium has purchased a second table that I have dubbed Mack, the Rack.
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?
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.