Monthly Archives: July 2016

Rereading Childhood – How going back to favorite books brings comfort in rough times.

Recent surgery on my retina forced me to spend several weeks laying on my right side so my eye could heal properly.  I was prepared for the recovery and I’d set up several stations in our house.  I placed a low table for my laptop, Kindle and phone, baskets of books and magazines and a power strip at every spot to charge my electronic devices.  But three days into my recovery, I reached electronic overload. I had read through the magazines, skimmed through the books and the electronic reading was causing strain on my vision.  I needed a break. The only problem was – I love to read and just watching television or staring out the window was not going to do it.

In fact, I was feeling a little sorry for myself.  The eye surgery was a piece of cake compared to the restrictions of the recovery period.  A gas bubble in my operated eye was holding the newly fixed retina in place.  While it healed I had to keep it bathed in drops, bandaged for several weeks and keep my head down on the right side.  There was to be no driving, no work, no strenuous activity for 6 to 8 weeks.  It all sounds doable until you realize you don’t like being restricted to hours of lying still and being a hostage in your own home.

The problem was solved by happenstance.  In that, as I was heading to the kitchen for something to eat, I accidentally bumped into the bookcase.  With one eye patched I had a hard time with depth perception and sometimes came up short against objects.  Hitting the bookcase caused a stack of books to slide out onto the floor.  Although I wasn’t allowed to bend over, I could slowly lower myself to the floor and slide the books back together.  But as I went to put them back on the shelf I felt a row of books jammed behind them.  I reached back and out came an old copy of a Nancy Drew mystery!  I couldn’t believe it.  What was that doing back there?  I reached back and brought out several small stacks of books.  It was a treasure trove from my adolescence!

Whatever reason I’d been heading to the kitchen was now forgotten as I pored over the titles of  my childhood.  There was the dusty set of Little House books, The Great Brain series, the Cathy books and even, some teen novels based on The Partridge Family and The Brady Bunch!  I had spent hours of my adolescence and teen years reading these series.  I was kind of a bookworm and in those pre-internet days, I’d spent many a lazy afternoon curled up with a good book.  I thought I had given those away a long time ago, or perhaps thought they’d been lost in a move.  But here they were reappearing at a time when I needed them.

My favorite childhood books often had strong reliable characters, with good morals and exciting adventures – think Laura Ingalls and Nancy Drew.  The heroine might get into a scrape or two but she always rescued herself and came out on top in the end.  Maybe I could look at my recovery like that.  I was going through a bit of a rough spot but I was strong and I had been through rough patches in the past and gotten through those.   Maybe I could channel those childhood heroines and act as if my recovery was just a short chapter and by the end I too, would be better and looking forward to my next adventure.

It didn’t hurt to try.  I placed the books in the different baskets throughout the house and whenever I felt a little overwhelmed with my slow healing or had watched enough election coverage on the news or followed enough trending stories on social media  – I would escape for an hour with one of the books from the basket.  It helped.  I found myself getting lost in my childhood books all over again and when I’d close the book after the last chapter I’d feel a sense of accomplishment for the hero or heroine.  In addition, I felt a little better about my circumstances myself.  With each book finished I’d find myself a little more grateful for the simple fact that I was healing, that I could read – even with only one good eye and one blurry one.

I have a few more weeks to go in the recovery process until I can return to a more normal  existence, return to driving and return to work.  I’ve decided not to put the books away when I’m done but instead, keep them out.  The process of going back and rereading them has helped me on the road to recovery.  Kind of like long-ago friends.  I think I’ll keep them around.

Diagnosis of a Detached Retina

Diagnosis of Retinal Hole

I met with an Opthamologist at UCLA in late May who did a through exam and then referred me to one of their Retinal Specialists.  Since they are a pretty busy facility, my initial appointment would be with one of the teaching Fellows.  I was fine with that.  I was feeling a sense of urgency and would have welcomed anyone looking at it.  The flashing lights happened daily, sometimes several times a day and eventhough my past Opthamologist was content doing “watchful waiting” – I was not.  I wanted to have a specialist look at it and tell me what they thought.

In June I met with the Retinal Fellow at UCLA.  He did a thorough exam and then stepped back and said something that I’ll never forget.  “I would just like to page Dr. Prasad, our Retinal Specialist”.  The Fellow was very calm and professional but something about his clipped tone just then told me he was seeing something he wanted the head Doctor to take a look at.  I was in luck.  Dr. Prasad was in the building.  In about 15 minutes he showed up in the exam room and introduced himself and then with the Fellow looking on, Dr. Prasad examined my right eye.  He was very thorough.  Then he stepped back.  “It looks like you have a tiny hole in your retina and perhaps some fluid behind it.  We need to take care of that right away”.  I was stunned.  “Is that an operation?  Isn’t that an emergency?”  I rushed the sentences together.

He told me it would need an operation and although it didn’t need to be done that day, it needed to be done in the next seven days.  Dr. Prasad then took me into a lab room where he sat me in front of a computer that could take a picture of my retina.  Within moments he had the image of what he was looking for.  A definite hole and fluid building up in the retina.  “We need to get you scheduled for surgery “, he said.  I had been pretty stoic up till then but now it was hitting me.  My eye had a serious problem.  My past Opthamologist had not seen it and had just been doing watchful waiting.  I had noticed a decline in light and peripheral vision in the right eye and I knew something wasn’t right.  I just needed someone to confirm it.  Thank goodness I had made the call to UCLA that day.

We went back to the Opthamology waiting room where Dr. Prasad instructed his staff to schedule me for retinal surgery as soon as the next available opening.  As luck would have it, there was an opening at the end of the week.  As soon as it was scheduled I excused myself to the restroom where I ran into a stall and sobbed.  I had wanted answers, I had sought out a specialist to look at my eye and now, with diagnosis in hand – it was a little more than I could deal with.  I texted my husband to tell him what had happened and we spent the next 10 minutes texting back and forth.  I was in no mood to talk just yet but I just needed to know he was there.  We’ve been married a long time and he knew when I just needed someone to listen.

When I had calmed down I drove back home.  My husband and I went on the internet and spent the next week preparing for the surgery.   As we soon learned, it’s not the surgery that’s hard on the patient – it’s the recovery.  I learned that following surgery I would have an eye patch and most likely would have to spend days face down or at the very least, on my side.  The reason being that a gas bubble would be placed in the eye to hold the newly reattached retina in place against the back of the eye.  From what I read, the recovery can be pretty grueling with the requirement to lie flat at all times either on your face or side.  I did everything I could to prepare.  Bills were paid, laundry done, special pillows were ordered, I stocked the freezer with frozen meals and I called all my friends and family.  I went around the house setting up recovery areas in different rooms of the house.  I knew that trying to just stay in the bedroom would not work so I made sure I had little stations in the bedroom, living room and family room  – stocked with kleenex, wipes, sanitzer, charging cords and wastebaskets.  That way I’d have a place to move to every few hours if I needed a new vantage point during recovery.  I was ready.

Losing My Brother

Where’s your Brother?

 

They say a little piece of your family history is ripped away when a sibling dies.  Someone who remembers things from childhood is gone and so are the shared memories you had together.  My heart is breaking today as my “little” brother passed away suddenly last night.

 

When I was a little girl, there were four of us girls, with our older brother Don at one end and our younger brother Duane at the other.  Mom always said her boys were her bookends with her girls in the middle.  We lived in the woods of Maryland with a lot of property, horses and a creek.  I was the last of the four girls.  When I was three, Duane was born.  My earliest job was to keep an eye on my younger brother.

 

“Lo Lo”, my Mother would call me by her nickname for me.  “Where’s your brother?”  I think that as a busy Mom of six, she did this to help keep me occupied.  Duane would be safely in his crib about ready to be fed and she’d ask me where he was, and so I would go with her as she went to pick him up and hold him in the rocking chair.  As he got older and could crawl, all she’d have to do is ask, “Lo Lo, where’s your brother and I’d run to follow him as he crawled and then toddled about the house.

 

I always remember Mom was busy at some task or another, whether she was washing clothes, gardening, carrying groceries, or fixing dinner – she always seemed to have her hands full.   When my older brother and my sisters went to school, it was expected that I would play with my brother while she went about the house doing her tasks.  Periodically she’d call out “Lo Lo”, and I knew it was my job to find my bother and report back to her.  And since just telling her where he was, was not enough, she often had me physically have him stop what he was doing – whether he was playing in his room, in the sandbox or out on the swings – and bring her to him so she could be assured that we were both alright.

 

My poor brother Duane, would be happy in his sandbox and I would rush over and grab him, sandy hands and all and bring him over to the kitchen window or wherever Mom was, so she could see us both.  Satisfied that we were okay and not lost in the woods, or fallen in the creek – she would let us go back to playing.  One day, when my Mom called, I dutifully began looking for Duane only to report back that I could not find him.  Mom, who was busy at the sink getting lunch ready, sent me back out to try a different place.  I checked the backyard, the basement, even under the bed.  This seemed to take some time and I remember I was almost in tears when I came back to the kitchen for the fourth time because I could not find him, sure I’d be in trouble for losing my brother.

 

Mom turned from the counter and began wiping her hands on her apron, a sure sign that this had taken a serious turn.  “Lori, where is your brother”, she said using my formal name now.  “I don’t know”, I said.  “I can’t find him anywhere”.  I could tell she was worried now trying to figure where he could be.  I began crying because it was my job to watch him and look after him and I had failed.  He was gone.

 

We began to look about the house together, finally coming back around to the kitchen where I suddenly spotted his little sneakers peeking out from behind the laundry basket tucked under the counter.  He was hiding from us.  “Lori, where is your brother”, she asked almost panicked and just then I was able to point to him hiding right behind her.  “He’s okay Mom, he’s right behind you”, I said wiping my tears.  My Mom turned around then and bent down to pull out the basket and retrieve him from his hiding place.  She was crying too and folded us both into a hug before admonishing him to never do that again and me, for letting him out of my sight.

 

I share that story because when my sister-in-law, Val called to tell me my brother had passed away, for just a moment, I heard my Mom’s words to take care of my brother.  And in that moment I felt I’d failed her and failed him.  I hadn’t done enough to keep him safe.  I’d not kept my eye on him and he’d passed away.  I cried on and off for the rest of the night.  It didn’t matter that he was a grown man and we had lives of our own now.  I’d lost my brother and it was like I was five years old all over again, running through the house and yard looking for him.  He wasn’t in the usual places he used to be and I was the one who felt lost without him.  Gradually I let it sink in that he had passed on from this world and was now in another place with the rest of my family – with my Mom and Dad and my two sisters.

I sat quietly looking at old family pictures today, reminiscing and missing the past.  I missed my family that was gone.  I missed my Mom and I missed my brother Duane.   If I could just hear my Mom one more time I would want to hear her say, “Lo Lo”, where’s your brother?”  I would now be able to wipe my tears and turn to her and say, “Mom, he’s right behind you!”

 

 

 

 

Being a Type 1 Diabetic in the 1970’s

Trouble brewing…

Being diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes in the 1970’s was very different than it is today.  They had insulin (beef and pork derived), glass syringes, urine tests (blood glucose home testing had not been developed) and a list of foods you could and could not eat.  That was about it.  Looking back now, it really seems we were in the dark ages in terms of how we manage it now.

I remember Labor Day Weekend in 1970 like it was yesterday. We were new to California, transplants from the East Coast.   Mom and Dad, six kids and  a dog living in a small rental house while waiting to move into our new home which was under construction.  I was ten, about to turn 11 and looking forward to moving into our new house and starting sixth grade at the new school three blocks away.  But life had other plans.  We’d had a busy summer.  My Dad was in a new job and my Mom was home managing all six of us kids.  My little brother was six, then me, three older sisters and my big brother who had just gotten our of the Army.  Everyday was packed with summer activities – swim lessons, library, trips back and forth to the new house to carry over boxes and supplies.  On weekends we’d go to the beach, the Sierras, or the State Fair.

It was wonderful.  Until about August.  Suddenly I was thirsty – all the time.  I was active and it was hot.  Back then there was no internet and most of our time was spent playing outside.  My being thirsty didn’t really raise a red flag with my Mom.  She just thought we needed more to drink and so she’d mix up another pitcher of Kool-Aid.  I downed glasses of the stuff which meant I had to go to the bathroom a lot.  Again, no one really noticed.  With six kids, someone was always in the bathroom.  Then towards the end of August I got sick.  So did one of my brothers and one of my sisters so my Mom chalked it up to a summer flu.  It ran it’s course for my brother and sister but not for me.  My stomach began to hurt and and I felt achy.  I was still thirsty and preferred something to drink over anything to eat. I was also losing weight.

Going into Labor Day weekend I woke up one morning vomiting.  I would just get over a bout, have something to drink and then feel sick all over again.  My parents growing increasingly  concerned, decided to take me to the Doctor.  Back then, it was a big deal to go to the Doctor.  You had to be pretty sick in my family to warrant a trip like that.  My parents must have suspected something was very wrong and it couldn’t wait through the weekend.  The Doctor’s office was closed and the only thing open on weekends would be an emergency room.  My Mom, worried over my fever and vomiting, constant thirst  and now, noticed weight loss- packed me into the car and my Dad (retired military) drove us to the nearby Air Force base.  They had an ER and he knew it would be open.

Diagnosis…

At the ER, my symptoms somehow fast tracked me to the front of the line.  I think a child continuously vomiting will do that.  The next few hours were a blur.  I was in agony by now.  Constant vomiting, stomach cramps, so very, very thirsty.   We wouldn’t know it for a few more hours but I was in Diabetic Ketoacidosis.  Looking back  I realized now how fortunate I was to have a Dad who was able to access a military hospital.  Doctors there see everything.  It didn’t take long for my symptoms to register with them.  Blood tests were ordered, IV started.  Within hours my labs came back with a reading somewhere in the 1200’s.  normal is closer to 80 mg/dl.  I remember needle sticks, voices, concerned faces and then going to a hospital ward.  If I had been more aware I’m sure I would have been pretty upset but  I just wanted to go to sleep.  I was lapsing into a comatose state.  I remember lying in a bed, with bright lights above and Doctos and nurses surrounding it.  I remember being so groggy and a nurse slapping my face telling me I must stay awake and not to fall asleep.  More vomiting.  More needle pricks and then nothing.

I awoke in the morning to a surreal scene.  A lab technician was pricking my finger for blood.  I looked up and saw a glass bottle hanging above the bed with a tube snaking down into my arm.  I felt so outside of my body.  A nurse came in  and began to clean me up.  I was covered in sweat, vomit and blood.  I was ten and I should have been freaked out but it didn’t seem real.  I knew I was in a hospital, I remembered my Dad taking me into the ER the day before and laying on a gurney but everything was fuzzy after that.  Now I was waking up to this – strangers in my room, procedures being done and suddenly it hit me and I was scared.  Tears started rolling down my check.  “Where are my parents?’ I remember sobbing.  The nurse was very kind and continued cleaning me up.  She assured me they were outside the room and would be in after talking to the Doctor.  She changed me into a clean gown and then changed the bed and propped me up with some pillows.

I was still kind of out of it but I had a new concern.  I was starving!  I asked the nurse if I could have anything to eat and I remember she smiled and went out of the room.  A moment later she came in with a big tray.  There was jello and chicken broth and toast and tea.  It wasn’t a feast but I was famished and suddenly, anything looked good.  I wouldn’t know till later that the IV in my arm was not only giving my much needed fluids but an insulin drip as well.  I was feeling better because my blood sugar was coming down from the incredible high of the day before.  I dug into the dishes on the tray and it was soon gone.

I heard new voices in the hall and suddenly I knew my parents were there.  My Mom and Dad in true military style had been banished from the peds room I was in until visiting hours were started for the day.  This was 1970 and parents simply were not allowed to stay with their child for any reason outside of visiting hours.  To this day I do not know if they stayed overnight at the hospital the previous night.  I never asked and now they are long gone so I will never know.  But they were here now and that’s all that mattered that morning.  They hugged me so tight.  I did learn later that it was not known if I was going to make it the night before.  I think everyone was a little in shock that not only did I make it but I was sitting up devouring the hospital breakfast tray.

Several Doctors came in with my parents and came over to my bed.  They explained what was happening to me and why I was in a hospital room and then they said words I didn’t understand at the time but which I’ll never forger.  “You have diabetus mellitus”, they said carefully.  “Your pancreas does not make insulin anymore.  You need insulin to live.  You will have to take insulin shots every day for the rest of your life”.

A Different Life…

My life that morning took a drastic turn.  Yesterday I was a normal girl – this morning I had diabetes.  I couldn’t take it all in at the time.  I remember the Doctors pulling my parents aside and talking to them about all the things I could and could not do.  My parents never knew but I heard everything the Doctors said.  I heard I might go blind, I heard I might lose a limb, I heard about shortened life expectancy but all I really focused on was that I would have to take shots every day.  For a 10 year old kid, it seemed there could be nothing worse.

I am a little envious of newly diagnosed diabetics today.  Diabetes is managed with pumps and CGM’s and blood glucose meters. All foods can be eaten in moderation as long as carbs are accounted for.  The prognosis is better now for a life with fewer complications as long as Diabetes is controlled and managed.

It was different in 1970.  There were no BG meters for diabetics to use.  We tested our urine for glucose!  It was an ‘after the fact’ way to test something.  Back then you took a sample of your own urine in a little cup then you took 5 drops of it and put it in a test tube.  To that you would add 10 drops of water, then add a clinitest tablet to the vial and watch the chemical reaction as the tablet sizzled in the test tube.  After a minute the mixture would turn a color in the tube and you could guestimate what the glucose level in your urine was.  A blue color meant no sugar in the urine, green meant a trace amount, yellow a moderated amount and orange, a maximum amount.  I don’t know if if I was ever told what amounts of glucose corresponded to the the colors.  I do know that it was very good to have a blue or green color in the test tube.  Yellow and and orange were bad.  Not that they were really that helpful because urine lagged behind blood glucose.  High levels of sugar in the urine didn’t necessarily mean high blood glucose levels and vice versa.  But in 1970, that was all we had and the doses of insulin I would take would be based on those readings.

The first few days, the nurses gave me the insulin shots I needed each day.  They were mixes of long and short acting beef/pork insulin and they had glass syringes and huge needles.  I hated shots.  All kids did.  I thought it was awful to have them several times a day.  But it got worse.  After a couple of days, a nurse walked in with a tray with two vials and a syringe and told me from then on I would be doing my own shots!  Did I mention I was ten?  I burst into tears.  No way, was I going to do that!  But these were military nurses, I should have known better.  “Fine”, she told me.  “When you take your shot, you can have your breakfast.  We’ll hold it at the nurses station.”.  I stared at the syringes and vials.  The nurse softened a little and actually put her arm around me.  She told me that she knew this would be hard but it was something I would have to do the rest of my life.  I would have to do start sometime and ten was a good age to learn.

I watched her draw up a syringe and demonstrate how to give the shot in my thigh.  I could smell the breakfast trays going up and down the hallway.  I was so hungry.  She put the syringe in my hand and made a fist around it.  She had me pinch up my skin with the other hand.  She guided my fist with the syringe and plunged it into my thigh.  Together we pushed the plunger and we were done.  She was happy but I was a mess.  “Every day”, I asked. “Every day”, she said.

Back then, you could be hospitalized a long time when you were diagnosed.  Because I had been in Ketoacidosis, I stayed in the hospital for two weeks till I was stable enough to go home.  It was a pretty intense experience with a lot of teaching about urine testing, insulin shots and what foods I could and could not eat.  Food was counted as “Exchanges” and you were given a diet plan to follow.  My parents came daily, more often, my Mom – and that helped to have that support.  Visiting hours were limited and I was so homesick each night when they went home.  At the end of two weeks, it was decided I could finally go back home and begin my new life with Diabetes.