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, 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.

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.

 

 

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

“My Dog Has Fleas”**

Novice playing the ukelele.  Photo by Mariah Chase. ©Norine Dresser photo collection, 2015.
Novice playing the ukelele. Photo by Mariah Chase. ©Norine Dresser photo collection, 2015.

 

Last weekend I had an “Aha!” moment while attending a ukulele concert given by the Las Cruces Ukes. While listening to the music, I realized a ukelele could solve my need for music involvement, so after the concert, I purchased one.

During the Folk Music Revival in the 1950s and 1960s, I played and taught folk guitar. I consider that era as the most satisfying time of my life. Musicians trooped in and out of our Los Angeles home; students came to take classes from me; guest guitar teachers gave lessons to me and my guitar-playing friends. We verbally contracted for them to come for six consecutive Monday nights to teach us different styles: Hawaiian, Mexican, Swedish, Jazz, Blues, and American folk music. But one teacher, Marlen Rabiroff, was so outstanding that instead of being our instructor for six weeks, he stayed for three years until he and his family moved to Palo Alto.

But that was then and this is now when lifting the guitar out of its case is cumbersome and hurts my arthritic shoulders. Transporting the instrument becomes problematic. Carrying it while walking with a cane in addition to my inherent clumsiness puts me at risk for falls. Because the ukulele is so much smaller and lighter than a guitar, it seemed like a possible solution for playing music again.

With osteoarthritis and age (83), I have had to make other adjustments. I used to feed the cat on the kitchen floor. That is too tough to do anymore, especially putting down fresh water without spilling it. Now, I feed Sweetie Beattie on the back counter of the kitchen away from human food. She easily jumps up to eat and to drink from an automatic water dispenser.

Sweetie Beattie dining. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2015.
Sweetie Beattie dining. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2015.

Currently, I keep my dishes on racks outside the cupboard. If I keep the plates and bowls inside the cabinet, I must stretch my damaged shoulders and torque my body – not good for artificial hips.

Dishes stacked on the counter.  ©Norine Dresser photo collection, 2015.
Dishes stacked on the counter. ©Norine Dresser photo collection, 2015.

I avoid using the bottom drawer in my fridge because doing so requires that I drag a chair over to reach its contents. And safety bars in the bathroom and inside the shower are a must.

Back to the ukulele. I don’t know if regular practice for weekly lessons will fit into my already crowded schedule. Nonetheless, I am going to try and will let you know how I fare. Meanwhile, stay tuned!

**”My Dog Has Fleas” refers to the melody used to tune a ukelele.

Norine Dresser is a folklorist who feels bereft without music.