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

 

 

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.

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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

celebrations, folklore, health, vampires

Escapades of a Vampirologist — Now Retired

Pin replica of the USA Dracula postage stamp. Photo by Mariah Chase. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2017.

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.

A gift from my brother, Mickey, after Bela Lugosi Jr., gave it to him. Photo by Mariah Chase. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2017.

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.

Custom-made fangs by Dr. Rees Smith, DDS. Photo by Mariah Chase. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2017.

 

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.

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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.

norinedresser@yahoo.com

able/disabled, aging, health, mobility

Zack, the Rack

 

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.

Zack, the Rack, a spinal decompression table. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2016
Zack, the Rack, a spinal decompression table. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2016

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.

Norine strapped into harnesses before boarding Zack. Photo by Doug Zischkau. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2016.
Norine strapped into harnesses before boarding Zack. Photo by Doug Zischkau. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2016.

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.

Norine relaxing during spinal decompression session. Photo by Doug Zischkau. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2016.
Norine relaxing during spinal decompression session. Photo by Doug Zischkau. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2016.

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.

 

Folklorist Norine Dresser is willing to take risks while seeking a physically improved life.