Archive for Aging

Caution Snowbirds

sand stormIf you’ve been reading these blog posts, you know how my recent plans to become a snowbird and escape Kingston’s blustery winters totally backfired. Back in November, I was looking forward to five months of sun and blue skies in southern Arizona where I’d rented the perfect house for Sammy the poodle, visiting friends and myself. My plans remained just that: plans. They all fell through and I was left feeling very lonely in my chosen paradise. That was bad enough, but then I got sick and ended up in hospital. Things had gone from bad to worse. Now  I was alone and helpless in a strange country. I was terrified.

I’d come to Arizona because of my lung condition. The air is said to be ideal for people whose breathing is compromised. In the early days in Arizona, even before I got sick, I often sensed  there was something in the air my lungs didn’t like. This was only a suspicion. Then I became very, very sick.

I needed my friend Barb to come and get me. She did and we started the drive back to Canada. By the time we got to the north of Arizona, I could barely breathe. That meant another trip to another emergency department. Here I was told that there wasn’t an available hospital bed in the whole state. What was happening? Arizona, of course, is the place people with lung problems come. How come all the beds were full?

I could only wonder.

Then, the other day, (in April) a friend sent me an air quality study from the very area I’d chosen for my snowbird experience.  The Environmental Protection Agency report of April 2018 reveals that Pima County, Green Valley and Sahuarita, the exact location I’d chosen, reported some serious air quality problems.

Two copper mines adjoin the suburbs of Green Valley and Sahuarita. When I first arrived in the area, I thought the yellow hills in the distance were mountains. They turned out to be piles of tailings, the ground-up rock that’s left after valuable minerals have been extracted.

Recently when high winds sent “huge dust clouds swirling” through the area where I had lived,  the Environmental Protection Agency became concerned. Their officials began investigating “how much, if at all, the mine tailings contributed to the dust problem in violation of county air-quality laws.”

Their report goes on to say:

“The particles can cause or aggravate lung or other respiratory problems such as asthma. “

There are other possible causes contributing to the harmful effect of air quality.

“Significant amounts of dust were also noted in the general Green Valley area, including the surrounding desert area and dirt roads throughout the valley.”

The moral of the story? Before you set out on your vacation, check the air quality.

There Are “Plans” And Then There’s What Actually Happens

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There Are “Plans,” and Then There’s What Actually Happens

I heard the above saying last September during my birthday trip to the Grand Canyon. It was after that trip that I boldly made plans to avoid Canada’s winter by renting a house in sunny Arizona.

As I write this, I’ve been back in Kingston long enough to reflect on my disastrous first attempt at being a snowbird. What went wrong? I’d planned it all so carefully. Five days of driving 700 miles a day would get me to the warm, dry air of Green Valley, Arizona. My friend Barb would share the driving so that Sammy the Poodle could travel by car, not airplane. We’d take a generous break in the middle of the day for a leisurely meal and a trip to the local off-leash dog park.

Barb would stay for a brief holiday before flying back to Ontario. After that, Shirley, a fellow writer, would spend November with me while she wrote her book. My son and his family would arrive for Christmas. And so on it went, until April when it was time to get back in the car and return to Canada’s warm weather.  

The rental house was perfect. It was a white stucco bungalow with generous guest space and a walled-in yard for Sammy. Afternoons I sat at my computer in the Arizona Room watching the late afternoon sky gradually turn mauve and pink. To my right was the sunset; to my left, the Santa Rita Mountains. Arizona wins the prize for great dog parks and, unlike northern parks, they have running water.  

It wasn’t long before my well-laid plans began to fall apart. First, my book-writing colleague found herself involved in a family situation that demanded her physical presence with them.

Next, the Ontario Community College strike went on and on. This meant that staff and students would not be getting a full Christmas break. Since my son teaches at St. Lawrence College, he and his family would be in Kingston for the holiday and I’d be alone.

By now it was January. Other possible guests were delaying their visits. Worse, I was feeling more and more unhealthy. I felt sick … and depressed. I was alone and scared. There were no old friends and no family in Arizona. Clearly, this was not a good place for me.  

By the time I gave up on my dream of spending the winter in the Arizona desert, I had become very sick. In fact, I could barely look after myself. It was warm and it was beautiful, but it certainly wasn’t doing me a lot of good. I needed to return to family and friends and to Canada’s health care system. And so, by the end of January, I was back in Ontario, toughing out the blizzards and the cold as I tried to recover my health.

 

A Very Quiet Winter

Screen Shot 2018-02-17 at 9.59.17 AMNow that I’m back in Ontario’s snowy, cold winter, I don’t get out much. In fact, days go by when I stay inside. Going into freezing temperatures can set off my lung disease and my allergy to cold. That sounds like a recipe for depression, but strangely, I’m feeling very much at peace. I’m actually relaxed and happy. It’s something like being on a retreat.

When I check in with the centre of my body, the physically felt “switchboard,” the place that’s in touch with how I’m experiencing my life, I feel at peace. When things don’t feel happy in my torso, I know something is wrong for me.

This “barometer” guides me in how my life should go forward. We all have this knowing in our bodies. Focusing calls it the felt sense.

My body’s felt response is much smarter than my mind when it comes to realizing what’s right and wrong for me.  If only I remember to keep checking in with it, I have a reliable guide by which to lead my life.

Recently, with the usual busyness removed from my life, I’ve had lots of time to ponder the wonders of the felt sense. There was a time, though, a couple of years ago, when I lost faith in the reliability of the felt sense. Here’s what happened.

I’d carried out my plan to move from Toronto where I’d lived all my adult life to Kington where my son, daughter-in-law and little granddaughter live. The change wasn’t working out the way I’d planned. I wasn’t happy. Worse, I’d brought my husband here and I knew how hard moving was for him. Maybe the felt sense was not reliable. Maybe this move was all a mistake. The implications were very disturbing.

It was my Focusing partner who got me thinking about the infallibility of the felt sense.

“Have you ever thought that maybe your felt sense is not just about you?” she asked.

“What do you mean?”

“Maybe it works on behalf of Harvey too. I’m just so glad you got Harvey out of Toronto. He’d have been left with his patients and his work. He worked all the time. And now that he’s in Kingston he’s really enjoying himself. He’s getting healthy, he’s making friends, he’s enjoying pickle ball, and on and on.”

This was a new way of looking at the big move.

“You think my felt sense includes those close to me?”

“And a whole lot more.”

I’d forgotten what Gendlin said in his original paperback about the felt sense. I pulled out my yellowed copy of the original 1978 Bantam paperback. It said:

Your physically felt body is a part of a gigantic system of here and other places, now and other times, you and other people – in fact the whole universe.

This sense of being bodily alive in a vast system is your body as it is felt from the inside (p.77.)

Wow! If that’s true, you and I are connected to every plant, animal, human and, indeed, the whole universe.

What do you think? I’d like to hear your thoughts.

 

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.

Love,

Mary