Thursday, January 30, 2014

Progress report

I have crossed a couple of things off my list, starting with getting a crown on a fragile molar. I had the prep work a couple of weeks ago and got the crown yesterday. At least I will have one tooth left.

Before I went to the dentist, I noticed a dark spot on the top of my lip where I had the squamous cell cancer removed. I diagnosed myself with a sudden onset of melanoma, but my dentist said it was only dried blood. Silly me.

I was in Boston this morning seeing my dermatologist, who prescribed a steroid cream and an antibiotic cream for my lips. I got back just in time for my tennis clinic with George.

George said I was hitting the ball well, and despite having practically hopped out of the car and onto the court, I felt good.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Sea of sighs

Sorry the blog has been silent. It has been down for repairs.

Well, not really, of course, but I need some repairs myself. Here's what's been happening.

Let's begin with the other day when I started lagging behind a friend as we were taking a walk. She turned around, looked at my expression and asked, "What's wrong?"

Turns out that without realizing it,  I had puffed out my cheeks like a blowfish. Katie catches me making this face, makes it back at me and makes me laugh. My mother used to do it too. Perhaps it is genetic. It is a silent sigh, a sigh of not feeling quite up to it.

It's partly because I'm still recovering from last week's bad infection, but also due to a litany of other ailments that almost sound ridiculous when recited one after the other: My teeth are falling out, my tongue is burning, my lips are cracked and blistery…oy!

Honestly, though, these issues are making it difficult to finish any meal. I went to the doctor today for a follow-up to my hospitalization and saw that I had lost a few pounds. Today I bought a salad that I really wanted to eat but then set it aside in favor of soup so that my dining companion would not have to sit for two hours and watch me try to chew lettuce. I brought it home to eat tonight, but the dressing burned my lips, so I made a smoothie instead and snacked on soft granola. The smoothie tasted good, and I'm sure it is good for me. I made it with yogurt, Lactaid milk, a scoop of protein, blueberries and frozen strawberries.

Trying to eat food that I cannot chew is at this point like my attempts to grow certain flowers in my shady garden. The perennials that I wanted need sun, but I kept planting them in the shade with bad results. A couple of years ago I gave in and switched to a shade garden and now all the plants are happy.

The problem with smoothies is not getting enough leafy green vegetables, but I draw the line at drinking a green smoothie.

On Thursday I have an appointment in Boston with my dermatologist, Dr. Lin. A few weeks ago the dermatologic surgeon gave me a steroid shot to hopefully calm my lip down. Since that didn't work, I hope Dr. Lin will prescribe the steroid cream which the surgeon said would be the next step. If I wore lipstick, I wouldn't have to put it on because my lips are bright red as is.

I'll try to be patient about getting all these things resolved.


Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Home sweet home

I am not that good at meditating because I get antsy.

But I just figured out a way to do it. You lie down on the rug and spoon with the dog in the sunny, warm spot she has picked. I might return the favor by taking her for a quick walk, but it's 5 degrees so we're not going far.

It's good to be home, despite the pile of bills that includes a whopping $439.29 from the gas company. I never turn the heat over 68 degrees, and at night I turn it down to 60. Maybe it's time to turn the heat lower and take out the sweaters. But when I do that, or when I don't turn on many lights, I hear my mother's voice saying, "Turn up the heat! Turn on the lights!" It is better for one's general mood to not be sitting around in the dark.

My discharge papers say that I had an infection with sepsis, meaning it had spread into my blood system. It's a good thing I called the ambulance.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Learning the lay of the land

It is not a skill that I like to boast about, but I have to say I am very good at finding my way around hospitals.

I figured out that the nurses would get me their own coffee with milk and even get me another one when I spilled the first cup in my bed while trying to move my tray.

I know that it is good to eat yogurt while on antibiotics, but the stuff they send up on the tray is not good. So yesterday I figured out that they would let me go down to the gift shop to buy a Greek yogurt. While there I also got a Nestle Crunch bar.

I'm going down there now. My blood cultures did not grow anything, so I will end up just needing a week of antibiotics for the urinary tract infection instead of two if it had been more serious. Discharge is scheduled for today, but that sometimes takes a long time.

I'm glad at least that although this is a double room, I haven't gotten a roommate. I have a view of the spires in downtown Holyoke, and it is mostly quiet in here. Yesterday my friend Deborah brought coffee and a treat and word of the outside world, which was a nice break from being in here by myself.

Last night I had the strangest experience of having a male aide who reminded me of my nurse Vytas, who died a few years ago. It was almost like seeing my old friend, and it brought tears to my eyes. He was a wonderful friend and a gentle and funny caregiver who tracked me through all of my multiple hospitalizations and was always there with reassurance and a joke, calling me by his nickname for me, Nervous Nellie. I was worrying about dying and then he was the one who died. It is extra difficult when a caregiver dies. I am crying while I write this, which means it's time to get out of here.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Hello from the hospital

I am in the hospital at Holyoke Medical Center getting IV antibiotics for a urinary tract infection.

It made a full onslaught Saturday when I had settled in for a night of watching the Australian Open and indulging in binge watching of "The Office," which my kids turned me onto recently.

I suddenly got very cold around 11 at night, and just as soon as I had covered up with blankets and turned up the heat, I started shaking uncontrollably. I couldn't even steady my finger long enough to send a text. I couldn't find a thermometer and Joe was in Boston, so Meryl came to the rescue and went to CVS and got me one. A had 102.7. I called Dr. Alyea and he of course said to go to the hospital. I dialed 911 for an ambulance because I could barely stand and had begun throwing up like crazy. It's convenient to live two doors from the fire station, because the ambulance came in the blink of an eye.

The ambulance is definitely the way to go. I got right into a room and pretty soon after that got hooked up to fluids and an antibiotic. It's amazing how quickly I felt better.

Joe came back from Boston in the middle of the night, sitting by my side for yet another emergency room visit. They admitted me for a couple of days of IV antibiotics. I soon felt good enough to walk around, but you can't go very far, making me miss the corridors at my old hang-out, Brigham and Women's. The food was pre-ordered, and when lunch came it was something I couldn't even recognize. Same thing for dinner. You could starve in a place like this. Both times a nurse was kind enough to get me a sandwich.  Last night I was happy to get a banana and a chocolate pudding. Yesterday Joe brought me a coffee, but I have already figured out the ropes. This morning I got a cup of the nurses' coffee plus some toast made on the floor so it wasn't stone cold.

Looks like I'll be getting out this afternoon. I'll have to see what kind of mischief I get into next.
Or not.

Friday, January 17, 2014

Jogging for older people is not harmful

My eye was drawn to the recent Ask Well feature in The New York Times headlined Is Jogging Bad for Older People? And I was heartened by the answer that it is not.

The column starts with this question:

Is there any scientific study to substantiate the claim that older people (over 45) should limit high-impact  exercises like jogging, sprinting, etc?

The answer, according to writer Gretchen Reynolds, is: "Actually, much of the recent science about high-impact exercise by 'older people' like me – I prefer the team 'seasoned' by the way – reaches the opposite conclusion, suggesting that in many cases high-impact exercise can be beneficial for those middle-aged and beyond."

Running and other high-impact exercises improve bone density, and, contrary to popular belief, do not increase the risk of osteoarthritis of the knees and joints and might even have a protective effect against bone degeneration, according to experts quoted in the story.

I am in no way near getting back to jogging, but I am going to try a run/walk in the spring. This despite various people telling me that I'm killing my knees and might even be too old to try it again.

Tennis has been going well, and since we play on hard courts, that is high-impact enough for me right now.

Meanwhile, at the end of the day yesterday I realized that I hadn't had any pain or taken a pain pill all day. This put me in a good mood.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Tuned up and checked out

I had three appointments today. It's an efficient way to do things but also tiring.

First stop was to see Dr. Neel, the dermatology surgeon. He couldn't explain the new flaky area on my lip except to say it was not serious and looked like a reaction to something. He gave me a shot of a steroid in my lip (ouch), froze some spots on my neck (ouch again) and sent me on my way.

From his office on Staniford Street I walked about six blocks to Mass General in what is now a familiar routine. I walked through the hospital to the other entrance and caught the Partners shuttle to Brigham and Women's. You get a nice little tour of Boston this way. I noticed that almost everyone had their head buried in an iPhone. My iPhone is a new toy, and its pull is irresistible. I tried to practice self-control and only checked a few things. I didn't watch the Golden Globes last night, and I figured it was OK to check YouTube to watch Bryan Cranston's acceptance speech since "Breaking Bad" is one of my all-time favorite shows.

From the lip doctor I went to the tongue doctor, aka Dr. Goguen. She said the suspicious spot on the side of my tongue is gone, and the burning sensation on my tongue does not appear to be serious. It might be from the strong mouthwash I used when I had an abscessed tooth, or from the antibiotics I took or all the dental work that might have disturbed the top protective layer of my tongue. So it could pass with time or be helped by eating healthful foods such as green leafy vegetables. So surprise, surprise, I don't have tongue cancer. Dr. Goguen also told me that Dr. Treister, the dentist I have seen at Brigham and Women's, specialized in burning tongue. Who knew? I guess there is a specialist for everything.

Finally I saw Melissa. She said my counts are good and my liver numbers are a little better, so I can try going down from 3 mgs. a day of prednisone to 2.5. Then I took another walk down Longwood Avenue to the T station and got a train to Diane and David's street. Now I am happily ensconced at their house and will head back home tomorrow.

Friday, January 10, 2014

A New Year's resolution with (some) teeth

I am getting my tennis game back…again…but it's good that I did not sign up for the team. I am having fun out there, and at this point I wouldn't do well under the pressure of a match.

Also I'm finding that after an hour and a half I've just about had enough, and in a match you have to be able to last two hours. I don't feel especially fragile, but I think I am in the sense that I'm never sure which part of me will act up next. Pneumonia, the kidney thing, the legs the ongoing saga of the teeth came one after another. But I'm still here.

Time for a little Stephen Sondheim music:

My New Year's Resolution is to save my teeth. Not your ordinary goal. I regret that I just learned through conversation with a friend that AARP has dental insurance. I could have saved a lot of money had I signed up earlier, but I'm on board now. I am getting some extra work done – a crown and a bridge – so that I don't end up chewing on my front teeth too much and damaging them. Those things are not actually covered at this point (I might have partial coverage in a year), but I'm willing to spend the money. My nightmare scenario is to lose my front teeth. But as usual, I'm jumping ahead.

I got philosophical in this week's Newsmax blog, headlined "Time Lost can be Time Gained."

I had been thinking about how I sometimes talk about time lost when I was in treatment for leukemia. But really there isn't such a thing, because you're always doing something (unless, like me, you were in a coma).

To read the post, click here.

Monday, January 6, 2014

(Sort of) Oxycodone-free zone

I woke up yesterday with my usual toothless-ache and took 10 mgs. of oxycodone, followed by another dose about five hours later.

Then I went out for coffee with a friend, and a strange thing happened. It didn't hurt again for the rest of the day. I thought that maybe coffee, conversation and a raspberry-oatmeal muffin at Rao's in Amherst had cured me. I felt so good that I even went to the gym, where I rode a bike and had the refreshing experience of listening to a reasonable discussion on Fox News. Then I did some mini-weightlifting and came home to settle onto the couch for the two-hour season premiere of "Downton Abbey."

I told Katie how much I still missed Matthew. She said to get over it, that actor (Dan Stevens) doesn't want to be on the series anymore. It's so sad when reality intrudes on a good story.

Today I woke up in pain again, but I guess it's a sign of progress that I went so long yesterday. Maybe I need another dose of the medicine I had at Rao's.

Friday, January 3, 2014

Pain and progress

I saw my dentist yesterday and he took a photo to show me how inflamed the area around the tooth that was pulled still is. That means I have a choice between staying home and being pain-free through oxycodone or going out and doing things in pain. This could last for at least another month.

I am trying to strike a balance. So yesterday I went to a tennis clinic and then raced home to medicate. Today, the same thing. Physical therapy, home to take oxycodone, and going out later when it wears off to play in the Sunday round robin, which I don't want to miss because there will be a Yankee Swap and pizza – a good way to get to know these fun ladies better. Besides, I have to break into the six-pack of tennis balls that Ben and Meghan gave me for my umpteenth comeback.

My phantom tooth hurt like crazy at the end of physical therapy (where, by the way, I am making a lot of progress in strengthening my quads and improving my balance), but not enough to keep me from stopping at Tailgate Picnic to get some muffins and scones to share with Joe and Katie. Actually I got enough for a small party. Everything looked so good.

A second cup of coffee, sunshine in my dining room, the dog lying at my feet, a book to read, and a cinnamon scone. This is good medicine.