The Exercise Class For Seniors

I live in an apartment building inhabited mostly by seniors. I’ve always known that there’s a twice-weekly exercise class. Many of my neighbours attend, but I never considered it was suitable for me. I have a personal trainer at Good Life. Twice a week I’m in a yoga class. I am a fit older woman who needs more exercise than most seniors. In order to get enough physical exercise, I need to be with younger people.

At least, that’s what thought until lung disease dealt a devastating blow to my body and my self-image. Yesterday I joined my neighbours in the exercise class in the building’s party room. It felt so good! It was just what I needed. The instructor took us through a series of exercises that worked every part of the body. Oh my, after driving all the way from Arizona to Kingston and spending weeks pretty much immobilized, my body rejoiced as muscles came alive and my energy flowed the way it’s  meant to.

Until the warmer weather comes, I’m confined to my apartment building. Cold weather is very hard on my lung condition. I also have an allergy to cold (cold urticaria.) On my brief forays to take Sammy out for a pee, I pull a mask over my face and cover any bit of skin that might be exposed to the sharp winds blowing off Lake Ontario.  All of this means I have to make a life for myself indoors.

What are the resources for a person who’s a shut-in for the winter? I’m finding there are plenty. In order to relieve my family of tasks others can do for me, I’ve found a dog walker for Sammy. The walker comes three days a week and takes him for a long hike in the countryside with a pack of other dogs. On in between days, he’s still so relaxed from the hike that he’s happy to sleep away the day in the apartment. (1)

Then there’s the drugstore that delivers for free if your order includes a prescription. It’s five dollars if it doesn’t. (2)

A resourceful young woman has a business that delivers your groceries from Loblaws. That costs twenty-five dollars or fifteen dollars if you order online. She brings them to the apartment and together we put the food away. (3)

The VON provides foot care in the building.(4) I’m signed up for their next visit.

And so, on it goes. A surprising number of services make it possible to avoid the cold winter.

I’ve given the contact information for my discoveries. If you know of some other good sources, please let me know.

As for living inside all winter, so far I’m doing fine with plenty of friendly neighbours, a stack of good books and enough projects to last me until April. I’ll keep you posted. But here’s my question to myself: Will I be able to maintain a happy, peaceful way of life without going out into the wider world? After all, while I’m aging, I’m determined to Stay In Charge of My Life!



  1. Groovytown Dog Lodge. (613) 583-3647 Owned and operated by Kristen Kadis. Pick up and delivery. Also boarding. Located in Odessa
  2. Shoppers Drug Mart
  3. Shannon O’Neil (613) 328-2698 Shannon and her mother provide cleaning services  – same number as above.
  4. Victorian Order of Nurses Brenda Adams, Community Services Manager. (613) 634-0130 ext. 2401

It’s Not Terrible Anxiety. It’s Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease!

medical-appointment-doctor-healthcare-40568In my last post I described my horrible, mysterious anxiety. Well, as it turns out, it wasn’t emotional stress. It was a lack of oxygen to my muscles and my brain. My muscles burned with tension. I was depressed and ineffective. I dragged myself through the days and slept badly at night. I was shaking inside as if overwhelmed with nervousness.

At last, I became so disabled I asked my travel partner, Barb, to fly to Arizona and drive me back home to Ontario’s healthcare and my family. Meanwhile in Arizona where I’d planned to stay the winter, I was hospitalized with a minor stroke and suffered intolerable physical anxiety. My blood pressure was out of sight and I couldn’t stop shaking.

Barb arrived at the house I’d rented for Sammy the poodle and me and we started driving north and east, back to Ontario. We decided to go via Sedona. It was in this magic place that I stopped breathing except for tiny sips. Barb took me to the emergency where the medical people rolled me onto a stretcher and gave me a bunch of pipes containing oxygen and other gases. I survived, thanks to Barb, and spent the next days lying in bed with a magnificent view of Sedona’s red rock formations, soaking up the amazing energy of this wondrous place. We even found a great kennel for Sammy while I recovered. Here, my faithrful canine companion refused to get into their car or leave the property – in case I returned and he wasn’t waiting for me.

En route we passed Saint Louis where my niece lives. She and I had planned a visit while I was in the southern USA. Mary, my namesake, agreed to inform the family of my urgent state. At last we crossed the border and headed for London, Ontario, home of my nephew and his wife. I said to Barb, “I’m sure Rob and Barb would take us in.” We ended up basking in their caring as they fed and housed us for the night. I have to admit my brain was a bit addled, but I’ve never felt more loved and cared for. Families, when they work, are wonderful. My nephews and nieces had all, in some distant time, been my beloved babies.

As I write this, I am in Toronto at Barb’s house. Barb has taken Sammy to the local dog park. We are about to strike out for the final lap of our journey back to my home in Kingston where my son and daughter-in-law, plus her whole family await my return. I can be sure of help and support in facing whatever life has in store for me.

Best of all, I am remarkably peaceful and happy. I expect this has to do with a physical system that is properly oxygenated and free from an overdose of CO2. We are, after all, chemical beings.

For those of you who are interested, I’m attaching the note I wrote for my family in an attempt to explain what had happened to me. Please keep me in your thoughts and prayers.


Dear Family:

Now that my health situation finally makes sense to me, I want to let you know what’s been happening. For months, I’ve been experiencing anxiety that made no sense. My muscles burned with tension and my head clouded over. There was nothing in my life to warrant this. My BP went sky-high and I was constantly racing or trebling inside. It felt like the worst possible fear/anxiety. Turns out that COPD was responsible for all of this and for my high BP. It also caused a small stroke for which I was hospitalized in November. I still had not clued in to the underlying cause. I had not been careful to use my medication or equipment properly and this was a lengthy exacerbation for which I did not seek treatment. I’m really paying the price.

In Green Valley I got to a place that I was incapable of taking care of myself. I believe there was something in the air (sand or invisible smoke) that was poisoning my lungs. I asked Barbara Beresford to fly down and drive me home (5 days of driving.) Barb came and we have just now arrived at her house in Toronto.

En route when I could take only tiny sips of air she rushed me to the emergency at Sedona where they rolled me onto a stretcher and started giving me pipes-full of oxygen and various gasses. They would have hospitalized me, but fortunately there wasn’t a single hospital bed in the state. Barb and I headed for a hotel where I lay comfortably in bed soaking up the wonderful vibes of Sedona until I could do a little walking.

Conclusion: the agitation came from muscles starved for oxygen and given too much CO2. Same with the stroke, the confused thinking, high BP and all the other systems.

You can bet I’ll be looking for expert guidance around COPD in the Kingston area and that from now on, COPD awareness will be central to my life.

I’m hoping to be able to drive Sammy and me to Kingston tomorrow (Saturday) – but if I can’t Barb will drive me in my car. I look forward to being with all of you again.



It Was “Just Stress”

Zen stone reflectionIn my last message, I told you about being hospitalized with what seemed to be a stroke-related episode. At least, that’s what the doctors and nurses told me. Granted, it seemed peculiar that all the imaging of my heart and brain revealed no damage as a result of that scary event.

Over the phone, I got a different diagnosis from my husband Harvey, a psychiatrist who specialized in trauma until his retirement. (He and I are separated, but on good terms.) His conclusion was that I was suffering from hyperventilation syndrome as a result of many months of tension and lack of exercise. That really fit for me. For months my muscles had been hot and tight with tension. But never mind, I was bent on my goal of driving to Arizona for the winter.

How ironic, though, that I, a former yoga teacher and trauma therapist who taught thousands of others how to relax, should now be overwhelmed by stress-related physical symptoms. All I can say is that we humans usually teach what we most need ourselves. It was anxiety (or fear, as I see it) resulting from childhood trauma that led me to a serious practice of yoga when I was in my thirties. I have a deep and personal appreciation of the role of fear and the resulting damage to our well-being.

Somehow, recently, with moving to Arizona for the winter and numerous other stressors, I neglected my routine yoga practice. Focusing and cardio workouts were also set aside. I’m on a journey to discover my biggest Self and to take charge of my own life. That often means taking on stressors I would not otherwise encounter.

My message to myself? If I’m going to go on this journey of independence and taking charge of my own life, I need to take stress reduction very seriously.

Just today I was listening to a podcast of Elizabeth Gilbert about women who never got the message that their lives belong to them. She spoke of the importance of honouring your own life. If you refuse to answer the call to do what you need to do, she says, you atrophy. I like to think of myself on a hero’s journey with the classical unfolding of events: the challenge, the fear of accepting the challenge, the setting out on the journey, meeting countless challenges and – I hope – finally emerging as the individual I am meant to be.

Maybe, I tell myself, I’m taking this whole journey idea too seriously. Then a scene from my childhood comes to mind. I recall how, when I was in public school, I used to race home at lunchtime to listen to the soap opera Helen Trent. The very serious music would come on and the announcer would say: “Helen Trent is a woman who will not let life pass her by because she is over forty,” to which my mother would sigh, “Oh dear. If only Helen would let some life pass her by, she’d be much happier.” Maybe she was right.

What do you think?

Far Away From Home

DSCF5595It started out like any other morning. I got out of bed, pulled on my dressing gown and settled in for morning meditation. Then, as always, I had a breakfast of fruit, yoghurt and a bit of cereal.

The day before when I was sight-seeing, I’d been deeply touched by a trip to a mission church on an Indian reserve here in the Arizona desert. The church rises up, white and ornately carved, a surprising contrast to the beige surroundings of the desert. One of the features that impressed me was that the original parishioners went in search of Jesuit Father Kino who was respectful of their religion and synthesized the two spiritual traditions.

The pamphlets about Mission San Xavier were beside me that morning. I picked them up to read and found that the site had been in continuous use as a parish church since 1692. Of course in those early days it was a simpler structure. Subsequent generations had improved on the building until, today, it stands as the finest example of Mexican Baroque in the United States, so says the pamphlet. Interestingly, it has remained as a working parish throughout the years. Its parishioners are still the local First Nations People.

DSCF5521I was fascinated watching the recent renovations of the original egg tempera paintings high up around the alter. A woman who worked on the Sistine Chapel heads the painstaking restoration, carefully removing the shellac a former restorer thought would preserve the paintings. In fact, the shellac darkened them.

But I’m getting carried away and forgetting to tell you what made this a remarkable morning. An hour or so later, having put down the church’s story to eat and then clean up the kitchen, I returned to read more about San Xavier. This is the scary part. I could see the letters, but I couldn’t make sense of them. They simply didn’t compute.

Terrified, I dialled a friend to take me to the emergency department at the hospital. He came and got me. We went to the local hospital where they did all the modern technical things; brain scans, heart monitoring and chest e-rays. They found nothing wrong, except that my normally healthy blood pressure was out of sight. They wanted me to see a neurologist, but this hospital didn’t have one. They’d take me by ambulance (for $1,000 plus) to nearby Tuscon’s larger teaching hospital. Here I remained for three days with every conceivable test on my brain and my heart. Still, there was nothing evident except high blood pressure. At last they sent me home with a prescription to lower my blood pressure.

Of course I had bought travel health insurance before leaving home. It cost me over $4,000. I felt sure I was covered, regardless of any catastrophe. The trouble is, there was a three day gap between one insurance company and the next. And when did I go to hospital, ride in an ambulance and spend three days in bed in the Tucson hospital? You guessed it: I lacked coverage on the very days I was hospitalized. I am now faced with a huge bill.

Maybe you’ve had the experience of your usually reliable body giving out far away from home. If so, you realize how frightening it is when familiar faces are not surrounding you.

Do you have a story you’d like to share? I’m sure I’m not the only one to have fallen ill in a strange country.

Photos from

Amazing Arizona

IMG_2353I’ve been here in Arizona for a few weeks, and I’m still baffled by highway signs saying,“Do not enter when flooded.” Flooded! This is the desert and everything is crackling with dryness. The signs usually appear before a steep dip in the road.

Then there are countless dried-up river beds. A block long bridge carries me over The Santa Cruz River. Below, a wide and absolutely dry bed lies where there must have been fast flowing water. Today, all I see is a sand bottom etched with wavy lines. It’s been dry long enough to grow grasses and bushes.

In my own neighbourhood, deep river beds run under bridges and sand bottoms ripple in gorges where there’s no water. It’s hard to imagine the drama and excitement of fierce floods coursing through this dry land. I’m told it actually happens in the Spring, during the Monsoon.

IMG_2356Cactus is everywhere and comes in a number of species. I’ve learned to respect these succulent plants. When I got too close to a banana yucca, I’d swear it deliberately reached out and stabbed me in the shin with its sharp, dry pointed blade. Ouch! Weeks later, the resulting infection still itches reminding me that the desert is a wondrous – and potentially dangerous landscape. As proof that I’m not the only human to imagine a deliberate attack on my person, I came across a cactus labelled Shindagger Cactus.

As I learn more about the cactus family, I find that many of these plants propagate by “jumping” at passing animals, human and non-human. The Chainfruit or Jumping Cholla is an example. It’s a tree. Its branches bear short joints that break off easily.

As you pass by a cholla, spines catch onto your pant leg or shirt. You feel a tug and look down just as the joint breaks off from the plant, and the recoil from the stretched cloth snaps the joint into your flesh. The experience is memorable. (Getco Guide’s “Cacti of Arizona.”)

IMG_2352The giant of the cactus family is the Saguaro. Typically, the Saguaro is 20 to 40 feet tall. It’s the one you see in cartoons with branches growing parallel to the main trunk. It’s eight to ten feet high. These giants are common in my neighbourhood, along with tall palm trees.

Organ Pipe cacti is another tall species. It grows six to eight feet tall and has many branches growing right out of the ground. I usually see it in the company of the Barrel Cacti. Both of these are favourites on my neighbourhood’s gravel covered lawns. (no grass here in this dry state.) The barrel cactus grows 2 to 4 feet high. A ring of bright flowers surround its top. Most of the flowers I see are bright orange, red or yellow.

IMG_2369Maybe Arizona’s hills don’t belong in a discussion of cacti, but they do fit into my “strange and unusual”category. The Santa Rita mountains lie to the east of my house. Numerous ranges surround the Tucson area. These ranges are old. Their peaks are jagged and for the most part they are bare of trees.

Then there are the other “mountains.” These are tan coloured, flat on top and ridged, both vertically and horizontally. Some have spotty green growth. You can imagine my surprise when I was told that these beige hills are piles of tailings dumped there from the nearby copper mines.

IMG_2355How long will I wander about, curious and amazed? I know from experience that even the most remarkable scenery finally becomes just part of everyday life. I’m here for five months. By the end of this time, will I take for granted these amazing cacti and the warm sunny weather? Time will tell. I hope not.