Hemorrhoids Aren’t for the Faint-Hearted

Hemorrhoids. Horrible word. Not talked about. Embarrassing subject. Who me? Happens to someone else. Pretend it’s anything but that for as long as you can. Any of those sound familiar?

Well, they do to me. Although I’ve since learned that the majority of people develop hemorrhoids at some point in their lives, I managed to make it to 65 before it invaded my every waking hour. It all started about five months ago when I ended up in the hospital overnight with what turned out to be GERD. That’s another Who Knew? moment for me. That I could end up in the ER and subsequently overnight in the hospital because GERD mimics heart attack, was quite a surprise. It took another few weeks of tests to discover that I have no heart problems and a trial (suggested by the heart doctor) of using Mylanta to discover that it did indeed stop the burping and tummy rumbling.

Fast forward to five months later. I’ve now been on a blood pressure pill and a GERD prescription and now I have extra issues: not only has the burping not gone away (although it seems better), but now I have this horrible pressure at the other end that makes me uncomfortable all day, every day. Of course, working in hospice, we have a tendency to “awfulize.” Every day we have a family member comment about how healthy and happy their loved one was just the week before and now they’re dying in hospice. Because of this, we have this tendency to advance our symptoms into terrible things. Have a headache? Glioblastoma. A tickly cough? Must be throat cancer. Back pain? Surely it’s kidney cancer. And so on and so on.

That brings us back to pressure all day every day in an area that most people don’t want to casually discuss with anyone else. Must be colon cancer. I made an appointment with a gastroenterologist, had an endoscopy and colonoscopy and was relieved to find out I have acute gastritis (a diagnosis I don’t mind discussing with fellow workers) and hemorrhoids (a diagnosis I do mind discussing with fellow workers).

Why is it that gastritis can be kept under control with a swallowed medication but hemorrhoids require suppositories? Can’t they come up with something a little more palatable? Truthfully, I hate the remedy almost as much as the problem. In any case, it has taken the suppositories almost a week for me to notice much of a difference so I put my herbal skills to work and created a salve that worked instantaneously and has continued all day.    I infused Evening Primrose, Avocado, Safflower and Olive oils with Witch Hazel Bark, Yarrow leaves, Plaintain, Chamomile, Calendula and St. John’s Wort and then added beeswax to get that salve consistency. I applied it topically this morning and it’s still working almost half a day later. You can bet I’ll be adding this product to my web site, Scentsibility. Maybe there are tons of other “closet” hemorrhoidians out there who could benefit.

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Hopefully, this will not be a retirement issue but just a diet and lifestyle issue that I can manage. However, I’m not pleased to have made it all the way to 65 and then get slapped with this indignity!

Who’ll Take Care of Me?

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I often hear people ask those of us who aren’t married and have no children, “Who’ll take care of you when you get older?” Interesting question. Yes, it has crossed my mind many times and I used to believe that my brother and/or my friends would take care of me. I ‘ve never been uncomfortable on my own and living by myself is something I treasure. I never have to argue over what television show to watch, clean up after someone else or let him know what time I’ll be home. If I want to waltz around the house naked, there’s no one to point out my flabby parts or use that as the right time to suggest a healthier diet. So it’s not loneliness that concerns me – well not now anyway. I might one day eat those words but right now, I don’t see that as the issue.

But what if I live to a ripe old age, and most of my friends and my brother are gone? I must admit, it is a concern. On the other hand, working in hospice, I see how abysmally family members can treat each other and fight over money and possessions. The patient is more often than not the one who bears the brunt of the disrespect and, sometimes, outright neglect. So, if I were married and had a bunch of children, could I necessarily count on any of them to do the right thing by me? I think not. Many times the children dislike each other and fight over who’s right concerning the patient’s care. The thing is – it’s usually the patient who suffers because the kids aren’t making a decision on what’s best for the patient; they’re deciding based on their own comfort levels. I guess I’m glad I won’t have a child who’s so determined to keep me here that he/she makes hospice staff withhold medications that would make me comfortable so I can be what they would call “alert” even though I’m thrashing around in the bed.

My biggest concern is the in-between stage – the stage where I’m no longer able to live on my own, require constant care but am not hospice appropriate. I hear horrible stories about the care the elderly get in many of the nursing homes. And I can see it clearly. Nursing homes, like most other businesses, have a plethora of employees who are primarily interested in the paycheck and not the job. Many of them have little or no empathy for the elderly people and how could they? They have zero understanding of living with legs that no longer hold them up, or having to take a ton of medications that take care of one thing but bring all kinds of side effects that may make the elderly person seem “slow, ” when, in fact, the brain works just fine. Those are the circumstances that concern me. I’m not sure the outcome of being in that environment has anything to do with whether or not I have children – and children who truly care about my best interests to boot.

So the fact that I don’t have a husband or children doesn’t bother me about growing older and ending up in a nursing home. What concerns me is ending up in a home where the culture is one of “just wheel them into a corner and let them sit all day.” And I’ve seen it. We had a case of a patient who was brought into the hospice to find placement in a different home because the one where he had been living had wheeled him outside ostensibly to “get some sun and fresh air” and left him in the Las Vegas summer sun for the better part of a couple of hours. I worry that I’ll need to go to the bathroom and someone will be irritated that I ring for help too often. I worry that I’ll reach a point where I have to defecate in a diaper and no one will come to change me for hours and hours. I worry that I’ll end up with Stage IV decubitus ulcers because it’s too much trouble to constantly turn me. I worry that I’ll be hungry but someone forgot to take me down to the lunch room to eat. I worry that I’ll be physically broken but mentally alert and people will come in and talk to me like I’m a two-year-old.

Bottom line: it’s the people in the facilities who will be tasked with my day-to-day comfort that worry me.

Television Tastes

Television through the ages. My, how tastes change and how television has changed. I can remember when a television show where one person got killed was astonishing and now, it’s become so commonplace that if there aren’t more than a dozen deaths in one hour, the show seems boring. And some say we’re not influenced by what we see every day? I would disagree.

Nevertheless, I really want to focus on some of the shows I watched through the decades and see which ones resonate with other seniors – or which ones they watched instead. Until I hit the 60s, I don’t remember watching anything other than whatever my parents had on.

The first show I can remember that I found titillating and scary was Dark Shadows. It’s the only daytime drama I ever watched – then or now. I would hurry home from school to see what Barnabas was up to.

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And I, like many of my schoolmates, was crazy in love with Little Joe from Bonanza. Well, that is until I went to a dance convention in Houston and someone said Little Joe was in the big ballroom next door and when we trooped in to see him in our pink tights, black leotards and clunky tap shoes, he was smoking a cigar and had his feet up on the table while people were eating around him. That ended my love affair.

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I moved on to a succession of shows through the decades – shows like Dick Van Dyke, Laugh-In, All In the Family, Dallas, West Wing, Mission Impossible and Will & Grace. Now, I watch a lot of CNN, Survivor, The Voice, Dancing With the Stars and So You Think You Can Dance.

Self-Image

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Yes, this was me in the 80s in “Jubilee” at Bally’s Las Vegas. So, some 30-odd years later, I’m 50 pounds heavier, have these great gray streaks in my hair, too many lines on my face to count, liver spots, not an ounce of tone anywhere (of course I have to lift the boobs to see some of those areas) and dimpled thighs. The question is: do I care?

Well, I guess I care only enough that I’d like to lose about 30 of those pounds but other than that, not much. The weight gain has most definitely made me feel less feminine but then again, I’m not in the game for attracting a mate so my goal for weight loss would no longer be for outside image but health issues. And the advantage to not wearing dresses any more is that I’m able to bend and stretch and sit in my most comfortable position (legs tucked up) without worrying about exposing anything. There’s a freedom in that I really enjoy.

I find that, although most women will tell you they’re not influenced by slick magazine ads or television commercials or even the women around them, that’s absolutely BS. When I was young, I was also one of those women who professed to have her own mind, one who really loved wearing those sky-high heels that lassoed my toes and caused me to have surgery for a permanently pinched nerve in my foot. Of course, if I’m really honest, I suppose there was a time when I liked wearing uncomfortable things for the sole purpose of “looking good,” because those were the youthful, looking-for-love years. Everyone wants to be sexy, attractive and admired in those mating years, right? The problem for me was that, as a dancer, I spent so much of my time in leotards, tights and jazz shoes – comfort clothes, fit for running and jumping and striking positions you’d never dream of in a form-fitting skirt and heels – that I was always acutely aware of when I felt reined in.

Maybe it’s simply a question of time and place that makes us choose the uncomfortable over the comfortable. I may not be dressing to feel sexy or to stand out in a crowd of women any more, but I still dress (reluctantly) for the occasion. Although I’d love to spend the rest of my life barefoot and in sweats and t-shirts, I wouldn’t wear that to work (but only because I still want the paycheck or I might give it a go). I dress just enough to conform to the culture and no more. I really don’t care if anyone there thinks my shoes look cheap (they are) or whether they look at my ancient history showgirl photos where we lived in G-string underwear and wonder if I now don granny pants. Yes, I do, and some of them are ripped in places but they’re comfortable and who the hell’s going to see them?

Do we dress for ourselves or for others? I think that in a traditional environment (read office), we dress to conform to the crowd standard. In a show business environment, we can be whoever we want to be. But then one’s pretty conservative and one’s a bit more liberal, right? Hmmm, there are a few more variables to what makes us dress the way we do than I originally contemplated.

So, all in all, my self-image at 65 is pretty good. I’d like to lose some weight but mostly for health issues.  I don’t have a huge objection to getting older. Or let me clarify that: I don’t have a huge issue with looks as I age. I do object to the health limitations! But as a child, the people I loved spending time with and talking to were the adults and the older the better, especially when their faces had enough wear to know they had interesting stories to tell. I want to be one of those old-timers and have some interesting things to share. Just let me do it in sweats and t-shirts please.

The Pet Conundrum

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As far back in my childhood as I can remember, I’ve always had pets: a baby chicken at Easter one year when my dad would take it away from me because I was squeezing it too hard and then I’d cry when my older brother got to hold it (probably wasn’t the best idea regardless of our ages); a Dalmatian puppy picked up from a family in the “back woods” of Texas, a puppy that continually dug under the fence and ran free for days at a time, much to my chagrin; a couple of rabbits that, as you might suspect, gave us about a bazillion other little bunnies and the backyard resembled more poop pellets than green grass; an assortment of guinea pigs and parakeets; and over the past twenty years, pairs of cats so each would have a companion and playmate while I was at work.

Clearly I love animals. If I had property with a big yard, I’d probably have a small zoo on site. So here’s the problem. At what age must I decide I can’t get another animal? I’m torn in two directions. On the one hand, I read about what great companions animals are to seniors; on the other hand, I can’t bear to think of dying and leaving them for someone else to decide how they should live or even if it’s easier to place them individually even though they’ve only known each other for years.

Anyone who pays attention to their pets knows that animals bond with us, they understand far more than we give them credit for and they experience emotion. How selfish is it to want their unconditional love all the way to the end? Wouldn’t it be better to let someone else adopt them who can live a life span with them? But then, what if one of my cats dies and the other one is left behind to grieve? That’s happened to me before and it’s pitiful to watch an animal mourn when you can’t explain to him what’s happened and where his companion has gone. When I’m a little older, will I want to get a new companion for the one left behind? The problem with that scenario is that if I die and someone has to place them, they may decide to split them up.  And take them back to a shelter? Never.

My female, Pyewacket, adopted me so don’t try to tell me they don’t know where they are and yearn for someone to rescue them. I showed up at a local shelter, not realizing that hundreds of cats were allowed to roam around amongst several rooms. I was overwhelmed and didn’t know how I would decide which two were perfect for me. I sat down on the floor, set my purse behind me and waited to see who would come over. Pyewacket was the very first one to come check me out. She climbed up in my lap and proceeded to purr and knead but quickly got pushed out of the way by other curious kitties. After checking out several dozen, I started looking for the sweet little female who’d made the first overture but I couldn’t find her. I finally turned around to see her curled up inside my open purse. In the almost ten years I’ve had her, she’s never once done that again. So, try to tell me she didn’t want to come home with me!

I guess when I lose one of the two I have now, I’ll have to do some serious thinking about this dilemma or, rather than choose another young one, opt for an older cat. They are often the hardest to place and the ones who could really use some love and attention. And being an older animal myself, I get it.

 

Abrupt Halt to Spending

There are many things to look forward to when contemplating retirement. Curbing my spending habits to adjust to a significantly lower bank account is not one of them. I’ve had two bankruptcies in my lifetime and know full well how painful it is to give up spending habits – Starbucks was my hardest indulgence to do away with. I remember the agent at the debt restructuring firm I approached saying he’d never seen anyone spend that much on Starbucks. At the time, I would stop every morning on my way to work and often would make a second trip after lunch. And yes, that adds up.

So here I am, on the cusp of retirement, looking forward to having free time all the time with no higher-up around to rein me in and, at the same time, dreading the adjustments that will come – primarily the money thing. What will I have to do to live comfortably without forgoing heat or having to ask for Meals on Wheels to get by? Scary.

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I made a list but I haven’t had the courage to put them in order yet from least offensive to part with to “I’ll never give that up” … and then having to do so. Here’s my list so far: Starbucks (yes, still a part of my life – just not every day), magazine subscriptions, fast food (well, truthfully, that one isn’t all bad), expensive things like meat (time to become a vegetarian?), using less electricity, trade my car down to something second-hand that I don’t have to make payments on, learn to cut my own hair, see if I can walk to more places rather than drive, cable television, dinners with the family once a month, buy generic brands at the store, and/or look for part-time work (sort of defeats the purpose of retirement but may be necessary). Who knows? Maybe I can even figure out a way to cut back enough in other areas that my Starbucks treats don’t have to suffer.

Panama – Part III

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Keep in mind that this little Panamanian adventure was taken when I was 63 years old, traveling alone and in search of a retirement location that would be more affordable when living off nothing but social security. The goal was to cash out my 401K, use it to purchase a small cottage with a backyard suited for establishing a lush garden to revel in on a daily basis and yet still be close to decent medical care.

So I drove from David, Panama to Boquete, where the instructions were to turn left just past the bank  and before the town square as I was descending into the valley. Now really, how could that go wrong? However, as you can see from the photo above, you can’t miss the fact that you’re traveling down into a valley. And here was the town square:

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I quickly found my host’s house and settled into the one-room casita in the backyard – right next to a babbling brook that attracted all sorts of birds throughout my stay. It was an idyllic setting: perfect temperatures in the day – t-shirts, sweat pants and sneakers – but cold enough at night to sleep with the window open and a blanket pulled up under my chin. The morning bird calls would wake me and I’d make a cup of coffee and sit outside the front door and watch the resident creatures come to life and dip in and out of the backyard.

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The first thing I noticed was that the town seemed to be more expats than locals and that most of them made little or no effort to talk to the locals (at least that I could see). I didn’t like that. My stay overlapped a three-day celebration on the founding on Boquete and there were “parades” daily. I use that term loosely because the first one was a constant stream of men on horseback, interspersed by pickup trucks with women freely pouring booze into plastic cups for anyone who walked up to them as they passed by. I watched one horse, made to lift his knees and prance down the street, foaming at the mouth and no none seemed to mind a bit. These same horses paraded around in a giant square for the better part of 5 hours. I sort of wished we’d made the rider prance around like that for hours with no water and see how much he liked it. And then there was the public drunkenness. When I returned to my casita, the owner asked about my day and when I told her the public drunkenness concerned me, she responded, “Well, there is that.” Hmmm. How safe would a lone foreigner be in the city with drunken men routinely tottering around the streets?

I took a tour of a coffee plantation, enjoyed that and booked a tour that only had three of us and a guide, walking uphill in the forest in a light drizzle for the better part of two hours. They may have seen this tour as “an easy uphill walk” but as a senior, there were times when I thought that if we didn’t stop for breath, I wouldn’t have any left.

I used my time in Boquete to walk some of the back streets to see what the houses looked like and how the locals lived. The houses were dilapidated but the locals were friendly. I also asked my host lots of questions. I thought maybe I could make herbal and essential oil products from my company, Scentsibility, and sell them but her response was, “Who’s going to buy them?” When I said “hopefully the locals,” she responded, “They grow herbs in their backyards and wouldn’t have the money to buy products.” She suggested I check out the weekly open market to check out the competition and so I did.

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I was mostly struck by the fact that this was the height of entertainment for the locals. There were no department stores, no big grocery stores, no library that I could see, and television programs in Spanish. I started to realize that although this would be wonderful for about a month, then what? I found the local doctor’s office and decided I’d need to head to David or even back to Panama City for health care and that would certainly not be convenient.

I talked about buying a small house and my host discouraged it. She (as well as all the expats I talked to) said I should definitely rent for six months to a year before settling there. That would mean I’d be depleting my funds for a purchase. She added further fuel to my thoughts by asking me who would buy my little cottage if I decided after a year or so to leave? The locals couldn’t afford it and the expats tended to band together in gated communities on the outskirts of town so they wouldn’t buy it.

Although I thoroughly enjoyed my time in Boquete, I realized that I probably would not want to settle there. So I flew back to Panama City for my last night’s stay in the country and was picked up by my trusty driver, Sinar (see Part I).

So it appears I’m back to square one – where to go and how to live on social security.