Archive for the 'Ailments' Category

Been Sick

Yes, indeed, I am now recovering from my marathon cold. I don’t think I’ve ever had a cold that lasted as long as this one nor that got me down as badly as this one did. First it was the four days of lying around doing absolutely nothing except sleeping. On and off. Then the days of lying around reading because everything else was too hard.

After that the nose running and coughing began. And lasted. And lasted. And lasted. I am still, on day 10,  blowing my nose and coughing, though not nearly as much as before.

But today, finally, it’s backed off a bit. A box of Wal-Act — pseudephedrine plus an antihistamine — helps somewhat; much more than the four-meds-in-one cold medication I was taking. I guess the decongestant in those OTC cold meds is a weak version of sudafed, which they can only sell through a pharmacist now. No wonder it didn’t work very well!

Anyway, I got back to work today, finally. 3+ hours on Sky. Whooeeeee!

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Charge of the Mosquitos

Alaskan Mosquitos Shirt

“Enjoy Alaska! 40 million mosquitos can’t be wrong!”

This illustration is from the sketchbook I made when we visited Alaska back in 1995. One, as the hand-written caption says, that I’d seen on a t-shirt someone was wearing.

The mosquitos were indeed horrendous, biting wherever I had neglected to put Off: in my ear, in the part of my hair, on my eyebrow… They would hover in a cloud outside the car when we stopped, waiting eagerly for us to open the door while inside we were busily spraying ourselves with another round of  Off. They even swarmed in the midst of a rainstorm.

And that’s all nothing compared to the stories of those who venture into the really wild parts, full of lakes and rivers.  Yes, by itself the mosquito is a small thing, and its bite, while annoying, is hardly life threatening. But thousands of them? In a July 2000 article in the Lifestyles section of the Anchorage Daily news described living with mosquitos thus:

Greg Balogh, an endangered-species biologist for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in Anchorage, said dealing with them on the job is ”truly a mental game.” He said he has seen crew members bug out from the constant buzzing.

That explains why people who work outdoors become methodical — almost fanatical — in dealing with bugs. Some douse themselves with super-concentrated DEET; others pile on layers of protective clothing; still others invest in a mosquito head net.

It was under Colonel R.B. Thieme’s teaching that I first heard about the charge of the elephant vs the charge of the mosquito — the Colonel’s colorful metaphors for the two different categories of trials and tribulations that we face as Christians.

The charge of the elephant represents the outright disasters like seeing one’s house burn down or one’s marriage fall apart or receiving a diagnosis of cancer, whereas the mosquitos represent the little things. The little annoyances that shouldn’t get to us, but do.

And the more there are of them, the more difficult they become. I find them generally more challenging than the elephants, primarily because with the elephant I know there is nothing I can do but ride it out. I have no control over the situation and thus no choice but to leave it to God.

But the mosquitos!  Ah, now those, I think I can control. After all, I only need a fly swatter, right?

The thing about the “mosquito” problems, though, is that mostly I don’t recognize them for what they are. They seem to buzz about my head, but too seldom do I stop and take a step back to actually look at them.

Unless, as with the insect version, there are too many of them and you can’t get away from them.  Like one day last week…

I was trying to get back to my routine of writing, as mentioned in previous posts, motivated by the information gleaned from the talk John Cleese gave on Creativity. I’d set a goal of just getting into the office for an hour and a half of pondering each day, and wasn’t doing too badly. A couple of days I even managed about 4 hours of work…

But then my right elbow began to hurt and twinge. I first noticed it while I was walking Quigley (or more accurately “hauling” him off a captivating smell), but then it started intruding when I was writing. Then, in addition to that and the already intermittent throbbing of my foot from the plantar fasciitis I’d recently developed (from wearing worn-out walking shoes), my wrist joined the party, the old carpal tunnel issues resurfacing enough I had to stop in the middle of writing my morning pages (part of my attempt to get myself working every day). Thinking to give myself a break and come back to it, I went  into the kitchen to unload the dishwasher and in the process stuck my right thumb into the point of a knife when I reached down to pick up the utensil basket. Puncture wound under and alongside my right thumb — where it hurt to hold a pen. It throbbed all day.

And if all that wasn’t enough, my eyes were also giving me increasing trouble, as mentioned in an earlier post — the beginning of the shingles relapse though at the time I thought it was dry eyes (well, our dew point was something like 13 and our hmidity 24%)… Of course it’s always been dry here, especially in the winter and I’d never had a problem before. I figured I was just reacting more, maybe from age, or maybe from the previous shingles problem…

So writing was out for that day and several more and finally I just gave up.

Pastor Farley had mentioned something about there being times when God will temporarily shut down the operation of one’s gift for “training purposes.”  I wondered if that was what was going on.

Never before this book have I ever felt the need to discipline myself so badly.  Writing was something I had to do. It was like that burning Jeremiah speaks of that forces you to speak. I was driven to write. The other things were the intrusions, the things I shuffled aside, and let go…

Now it’s the other way around. So, yes, once again, the pendulum has swung back, and I’m thinking maybe God really has shut me down in this area for a bit. And if so perhaps I should just turn my efforts to the far too long list of things to fix and mend and take care of around the house. And read some fiction as well (I mentioned this in an earlier post)  I’m almost done with Executive Orders, in fact, (since the eye problem interfered with that a bit) and still really enjoying it. But that’s a post for another day.

Now: A Reprieve from Distraction?

Christmas Cactus blooms

Well, I had another week/weekend filled with distraction, but the Christmas stuff is almost put away, and the colonoscopy went well. There is no cancer there.  My oncologist had recommended I get checked sooner than the usual 10 years on account of the endometrial cancer.

And this time, after the screening, my gastroenterologist recommended a recheck in 5 to 7 years, which is actually the period of time he considers the longest anyone should wait between screenings, even if Medicare doesn’t agree…

Anyway, I have an eye appointment next week, as well as a trip across town to pick up a sunglasses clip that was inadvertently not included with my new glasses when I went to get them… and then maybe… just maybe… I’ll be appointment-free for a while and able to get back to some semblance of regular work on this book.

So far it seems to have been a veritable magnet for distraction.

I know. I’ve said that before. But surely at some point I’ll be left alone to get the work done, right? Right?

Please, Lord???

Quote: Recover and Recharge

I can only give thanks to our God that He has allowed me to have a case of shingles almost “in name only.” Its physical impacts have been so minimal, that except for the fact that two doctors have made confident diagnoses that I do in fact have it, I would feel embarrassed to even claim I did. The medications have worked flawlessly so far, their side effects also minimal.

The rash is nearly gone, and my eye looks and mostly feels back to normal, except for occasional zings of nerve pain in the left corner now and then.

But in spite of all that, things have conspired to keep me from the blog and the book. More on that in another post. For now, it’s late, so I’m doing another reprise from my old blog, this quote relevant to my current creative situation:

“Creativity comes in cycles. One month you’re churning out piece after piece, everything you put your hand to comes out fabulous. It seems like it’ll go on forever. You are the Productivity Queen! Next month you crash and burn. You can’t even bear to look at your studio, let alone make something. This is when you need to recognize the signs your body is sending. After a time of great creative work, your brain, spirit and body need a break. You’ve spent your creative energies and your well is dry. It’s time to recharge.”      ~ from Alexia Petrakos’s “How to Recover and Recharge from Creative Burnouton Collective Creatives – a cooperative artisan blog

Eye Saga Part 2: It’s Shingles

Yes, that is the diagnosis. I have shingles.

I saw my primary care physician on Friday, at 10:30am and after looking me over and hearing the tale, said he thought they were shingles after all. I just haven’t presented the symptoms in the normal way. The pain usually comes before the rash, and in my case, the rash came without any pain at all.

However, my eye is another story, because it is involved, too. In fact, THAT’S where the pain first showed up and that’s why it was devoid of any sign of symptom.  (Also why everyone thought it was dry eye, which is the most common cause of the symptoms I was showing.)

My PCP said I needed to see an ophthalmologist that very day and his office would see that I had one. Well, I ended up with an appointment, but it was with an optometrist after all. (In fact, I think it was the same one I would have seen the previous Wednesday, had I hung on to the 10am appointment.)

She was excellent. Inspected my eye thoroughly and agreed: it’s shingles, all right. She saw two “vesicles” on the outside of my eyeball, neither of which are likely to threaten loss of vision. One’s on the cornea, the other on the conjunctiva. There’s another on my upper eyelid.

Illustration from antranik.org

Illustration from antranik.org

The pain I felt in my eye for the last week, the weirdness of it, the way it would come and go, the kind of stinging, flash-like sensation of it, all this before any redness showed up, was the shingles affecting the nerves there.

But who would ever think that apart from the bumps on my forehead?

Anyway, I’m on meds now, and anti-viral and an anti-inflammatory, which come with their own somewhat unnerving side effects, but as I’m getting used to them, things are improving.

The pains have also moved to other areas on the left side of my face — the back of my tongue, in the temporomandibular joint, sometimes in my neck, on the top of my head, just to the left of the centerline — all consistent with the diagnosis.

And I can actually work on the computer for a bit without my eyes going completely bonkers.

I see the eye doc tomorrow morning, and the PCP on Friday. I’m hoping the meds will take care of it, but one thing I’ve learned about shingles is… who knows what it’s going to do.

I was feeling guilty because I didn’t get a shingles vaccine last summer when my PCP told me to, but he said the vaccine has a 60% success rate so it’s pretty much a toss-up whether it helps. A third of his shingles patients this year had gotten the vaccine, and ended up with it anyway. So there you go.

The coolest thing about it all was that when I went across town on Saturday morning to look at the new eyeglass frames I’d ordered two weeks previously, I stopped at Starbucks first for breakfast, took one of my new anti-inflammatory pills and drove on to the optician. While I sat in the waiting area, my heart suddenly seemed to be pounding in my chest, faster and harder than normal.

I grew alarmed. It was only 20 minutes since I’d taken the pill. Was this a side effect? Was I going to suddenly have a seizure? Collapse in a fit of anaphylactic shock?  I got up and went to speak to the woman at the desk…

And it turned out that she had shingles , too! Was just getting over it, in fact. How’s that for a “coincidence?” We had a fascinating conversation, and in the end I was much comforted, so I know that was a provision from my loving Father, reminding me He has everything in hand. As always.

My Eyes

Sketch done for a project in the book Keys to Drawing by Bert Dodson

Well, the Lord seems to be helping me out with my blog/news reading intemperance. Which is nice, considering I asked Him to do just that. As usual, I am not surprised that He answered, merely by the way in which He chose to do so.

I’d been having great success with my plan of getting in at least 2 hours of writing time every day, and giving myself a star on the calendar when I meet that goal. I had six straight days the week before last, two this last week. In fact my writing block had just begun to give last Monday and I was excited to get to work Tuesday.

But then on Tuesday, for some reason unfathomable to me now, I decided before I got started to just take a quick look at Drudge… and Diplomad… and then Powerline… and then… there I went like the White Rabbit down the rabbit hole to Wonderland.

Several hours later, my eyes by then burning, throbbing and itching, I finally managed to convince myself that I wasn’t going to get the answers I sought from the news that day and likely never. For awhile I think I was looking at the scandals of Benghazi and Petraeus as part of some sort of riveting spy thriller, and was eager to get to the end of the story, were all would be revealed. But it wasn’t a novel. Or a movie. And in real life things don’t get revealed. At least not to the general public, or if to them then it’s decades later.

In any case, there I was, my thirst for closure thwarted with my eyes tired, but I still wanted to get in some more work on Sky. I did that — fulfilled my 2 hour goal, and then left to walk the dog.

By the time I returned home my eyes were burning like mad, feeling scratchy and even like something was in one of them. They hurt for the rest of the evening, and that night woke me up at 3am hurting. I got up to put some drops in, and went back to bed, wondering if I was going to be able to sleep at all – I was, eventually — and what I should do the next day if they continued to hurt. I was pretty sure it was eyestrain by then, but it still felt like I had something in my left eye. What if I did? And how would I be able to get in to see anyone on the Wednesday Thanksgiving?

Well, they were just as bad when I work up in the morning and I ended up calling the Nurseline that UHC provides. The nurse recommended I go straight to Urgent Care. Well, I had already somewhat triaged myself. There was no redness in my eye, no swelling, no discharge, no pain in my temple, I didn’t have a fever, wasn’t dizzy, and didn’t have double vision. The book I was using recommended rest, cold compresses and eye drops for dryness, not a trip to NextCare. When I asked her why she thought I needed more than that,  she said, “Because it’s your eye and we don’t know what’s wrong with it.”

Well, that was lame. So I called my optometrist, whom I’d just seen the previous Monday. He wasn’t there, but the optician who’d help me Monday was, and she agreed it probably was just overuse. When you spend hours staring at the computer, you tend not to blink your eyes, and they get dry. Then if you rub them, there’s the potential for scratching them. She’d heard these symptoms from many people and recommended I get some OTC gel eyedrops and use them that day and Thanksgiving, If it wasn’t better Friday I was to give them a call and get an appointment with the doctor. In the meantime, along with the drops, I should rest my eyes as much as possible and stay away from the computer.

So I did as she suggested. The drops helped a lot, and by Friday the pain had reduced considerably.  So I tried to use the computer, setting the timer for 25 minutes to make sure I stopped before too long. No need. After 12 minutes of reading just headlines, my eyes were throbbing and burning again and that was enough of that. They were uncomfortable for the rest of the day.  I didn’t try again until today, after Church. And even now as I’m typing this I’m closing my eyes.

Today, I tried earlier to read my blogs and news, and could feel everything heading south, so I quit. The discomfort arises to the point it’s not worth it to me to fight on through it just so I can read…. what? Some person’s opinion of the dire/messed up/stupid state of something? It’s the devil’s world. Of course things are going to be dire, messed up and stupid.

In any case, the result is that I haven’t really read any of my usual stuff, and the inclination is going away. I think I’ll be able to work on Sky tomorrow, especially if I do a lot of stuff with hard copy. Which is what I usually do.

For now, my eyes have had enough of even the partial staring at this screen I’ve been doing, so I’m going to quit and get this posted.

Vulnerable to Distraction

In the middle of when I was supposed to be writing last summer, I saw these bees and decided to run out and try to get a picture!

Well, today, I’m sorry to say that in the middle of doing an “Open Ended Writing” about the book, my hands suddenly went AWOL, started typing the keys to open my email and the next thing you know… I was checking email.  Even as I asked myself what in the world I was doing.

Worse, they went on to type in the commands to open Internet Explorer and…. alas.

Half an hour later I recovered from my fit of rebellion. Even then I had to ask myself if it was really bad. I am very interested in the news these days, and I’m not exactly sure why. If it was just some military guy committing adultery I know I would not be interesting. But this thing with Generals Petraeus and Allen and the Lebanese socialite who has a psychologically unhinged identical twin sister, and the FBI and drop boxes… all erupting three days after Obama was elected to his second term… is so weird, so bizarre, so… unbelievable on the surface… there just has to be more behind it…

But I digress. Sort of. Because all this is perhaps an example of behavior the post I’m about to reblog gives explanation for. Finally!

I was searching my old blog to see if I’d already posted something on a related subject, and found the following post, dated 2007. Since it specifically applies to the need to reduce the distractions in my life, I found it helpful to revisit and decided to put it up again, as another step in the movement I’m making back to seriously working on the book.

Vulnerable to Distraction

Over the vacation, my friend Ed Willett’s science column noted an article on how older adults are more vulnerable to distraction from irrelevant information. Well, being an older adult, that caught my eye at once, though I don’t think it was irrelevant information!

Aha! So there is a reason why I’m so distractable these days. The study, conduced by Canadian scientists at the Rotman Research Institute at Baycrest and the University of Toronto, “has identified changes in brain activity that begin gradually in middle age – and which may explain why older adults find it difficult to concentrate in busy environments and filter out irrelevant information.”

So it really is age that allows my son to concentrate with music blaring, and me to be totally distracted by it. I used to be able to write with music, but only if there were no words. In the last few words I’ve had to go to total silence, because even the notes distract me. Or worse, sometimes the music generates “scenes”, which seems like it would be a good thing, but isn’t because it’s usually not a scene anywhere near to what I’m currently writing, and it’s always the same scene. So even if I write it down, every time I hear the music, I go back to the same scene and whatever I was doing breaks off.

I digress. Apparently there are two regions in the brain’s frontal lobes that shift into a “seesaw imbalance” (not sure what that is) — causing older adults to become less efficient in inhibiting distracting information.” Instead of focusing on the task at hand — reading, for example, or, writing one’s book — we are unable to resist the sudden thought that we need to go check the mail, or we should see what is on so and so’s blog today, or how dare such and such reviewer make those comments about my books last year.

As younger people concentrate on a task, activity in the region that is associated with concentration increases while activity in the region associated with thoughts about yourself, what happened yesterday, or what’s going on around you decreases. As people age, the activity in the second region doesn’t turn off so easily, and the activity in the region that governs concentration decreases.

By the time we reach 65, it gets really pronounced. So the researchers recommend that “Older adults should try to reduce distractions in their environment and concentrate on one key attentional task at a time. It may be as easy as turning down the radio when reading, or staying off the cell phone when driving a car.”

A cell phone would be a disaster. I can’t even talk to my passengers when driving a car, because I get way too engrossed and who knows where I’ll end up. On more than one occasion I’ve found myself driving home when I’m supposed to be driving somewhere else.

But this does affirm the importance of reducing external distractions and internal ones as well, since it’s not just external monitoring that happens in the region that won’t turn off. Which fits right in with my decisions to start simplifying my life again.

You can read the full article about the study here.


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