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Archive for the ‘Health and Its Absurdities’ Category

Are there any candies that you just can’t stomach?”

Pretty much all of them, actually.  Nobody realizes this when they’re young, but when older people talk about not being able to eat certain foods, there’s a reason for that:  Those foods cause, shall we say, “digestive unpleasantness.”  There are so many varieties of Digestive Unpleasantness that it doesn’t pay to go into details, and in any case, who on earth wants to hear about that?!  I don’t, and I live with it.

I have to be careful with candy.  One ounce of dark chocolate a day – the current recommendation of the chocolate lobby health community – is playing with fire for me.  I can have things with chocolate chips in them, as long as it isn’t an Eastern Orthodox fasting period like the seven weeks before Pascha/Easter, or the six weeks before Nativity/Christmas, since most chocolate chips are made from milk chocolate.  White chocolate, about which I rhapsodized a couple of posts ago, is a thing of the past.   😦

Hence the title of today’s post.  Friends who read my blog will remember the medical horrors  I went through about six years ago.  It has since been brought to my attention that I had what is known as a “close call” – I guess I really did come that close to dying – and since that unforgettable time, the expression “Eat dessert first” has come to my attention.

It’s meant to be a witty way of getting people to realize that there’s more to life than obsessing over one’s Perfectly Fit Condition, and any Orthodox priest worth his salt will tell you that it doesn’t matter how careful you are with your health – eventually you die, so you should devote considerably more attention to your spiritual health than to your physical health.  Whatever form that takes for you is a matter of personal circumstance, but to obsess over health is pointless; I was in pretty good shape when I went for a routine hysterectomy that turned out to be anything but routine.

And, as happens with most people who have had a close call, I changed some of my priorities.  I spend more time keeping in touch with family and friends, especially family.  (As I once told an investigator when I was applying for a job in federal law enforcement, “Polaks don’t have friends.  We have Relatives.”  He was Polish himself, so he burst out laughing.)  I spend much more time on my hobbies (reading and cross-stitching), and if my housework isn’t done by 10:00 a.m. – oh well.  It’ll still be there tomorrow.  I have a structure for spending an hour or so a day with God, and I make that a priority – it doesn’t always work out, but having that structure nags me to remember what’s really important here.

And while I don’t actually eat dessert first, I do eat dessert (carefully), something that, like too many American women, I used to avoid assiduously:  Gotta keep my Girlish Figure, y’know.  Let me tell you something:  Girlish Figures are vastly overrated.  Once you have children, you deserve a womanly figure.  You don’t have to get fat, but if your shape takes on a few more curves, you should wear them proudly; you came by them honestly.

And while you shouldn’t go overboard with sweets, I am deadly serious about this:  Do not avoid the sweet things in life.  If you’re invited to coffee, or afternoon tea, have the sweet things that go along with it.  Have Strawberries and Peaches and Cream for breakfast (if you combine it with rice and cottage cheese, you actually have a well-balanced meal.  If you use nonfat cottage cheese, you’ve mitigated the effects of the heavy cream.  It’s a great breakfast).  Eat dessert.

Because the day is coming when you wake up one day in your sixties and realize:  You can’t eat dessert anymore.  Sweet things don’t agree with you anymore.  But if you enjoyed them regularly in the past, you won’t feel regret; you’ll be grateful that you realized in time the importance of Eating Dessert First.

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Today’s prompt:  What’s the single most important thing you accomplished in 2010?

I know what it was for me, but let me take a minute here to define “important.”

Most people’s definition of “important” seems to revolve around being successful in business, or in sports, or in entertainment (and if that’s the case, please get a real life!!!).  The more altruistic among us might think in terms of how many hungry people they fed, or how many hours they put in at the soup kitchen or homeless shelter, or how many abused children they fostered, or…fill in your own favorite cause.  How many trees they hugged??  (Before you start looking up my address to throw logs through my window:  I’m a closet tree hugger.)

But I would like to submit that there are some people in this world whose most important task ever was that they got out of bed in the morning, and got back into it at night.  And that they do this every morning and every night, and it’s important because it means that for one more day, they said “No” to self-destruction.  For one more day, they consented to live with crushing despair and to trust in their Creator, Who seems impossibly far away at the moment — but they’ve decided to trust that they are on this earth for a reason they can’t imagine, but there must be some reason they are here.

That’s why you should be nice to everybody you meet, ’cause you don’t know who is fighting, with all his might, to consent to staying alive.  And you don’t want to be the one who tipped the balance.

As for my own most important task of 2010:  I got back on track with my life, at last, at long last.  Read the posts from the Summer and Autumn of 2006 for an idea of why that’s important.  For the first time since all that began — I’m able to clean my house.  I have a schedule that I can stick to for keeping my life orderly and tidy.

For the first time since all that began, I can go for walks.  True, I still crawl at a snail’s pace, and that’s because, as I recently found out, one of my legs is out of alignment.  (As an aside:  I’ve lived with that situation for  8 1/2 years, and I can’t understand why it took a massage therapist, working on my out-of-whack back, to pick up that I can’t walk because my leg is out of alignment.  What do they teach in med school these days?!?!)  I used to love to walk — my daily walk was a minimum of three miles — and for 8 1/2 years, I’ve been missing out on that.  Now I can.

So no, I haven’t saved the planet, and I haven’t saved a child, and I haven’t saved anybody’s soul — too busy working on my own soul — but baby steps, baby steps.  I have a routine back in place.  It’s a start.

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I was browsing through old posts today, with an eye towards deleting some that were a little too personal — do banks still ask for your mother’s maiden name as a password to your account? — and reading them, I could see how people could guess I was from New York anyway:  They read just like Seinfeld, “the show about nothing.”   Boy, I wrote a lot about nothing.    😉

Which serves as an introduction to this post, which is essentially about Nothing.  DH and I, approaching anniversary #41, really are incredibly alike in many ways.  We are both morning people.  We both like classical music, and did when we were dating, too.  Both bookworms.  Both Conservatives.  My mother once reminded me that at one point I had complained, “It’s like dating myself,” and although that was an unfair assessment (made with typically 18-year-old arrogance), I can see how I drew that conclusion.

So it’s always a bit of a shock to find that there are some things on which we completely disagree.  One of these is nutrition.  DH, being the child of a nurse, is completely in lock step with the medical profession.  Once he hears that “Doctors Say,” it’s carved in stone.  So, for example, for the past 19 years, ever since I became Orthodox, he has had a serious problem with my fasting — until, sometime this past winter, he heard that Doctors Say that eating fish is good for you.  And we ate fish throughout Great Lent.  Hey, I’m not complaining.  Doctors also Say that Butter Is Bad for You, so it’s anathema to him.  Meanwhile, my nutritionist is saying, “Don’t eat margarine — it’s one molecule away from plastic” (my cousin who’s an engineer says the same thing), and trying to wean DH off margarine has been, shall we say, Interesting.

I, on the other hand, had a healthy distrust of doctors even before the horrors of 2006, dating back to when my feet began to go bad on me  —  maybe 21 or 22 years ago.  Up to that point, I had done three miles a day without batting an eyelash, but suddenly I couldn’t walk from the bedroom to the bathroom without holding onto something, and doctors blew it off as “all in my head.”  A visit to a chiropractor revealed that one leg was an inch shorter than the other; when I tasked my doctor with it, he explained that doctors don’t consider that a problem unless there’s a 2-inch or more discrepancy.  Hey, when you’re five feet zip, lemme tell you, every inch counts.  So 2006 just confirmed my entire experience of doctors since, oh, about 1978:  They’re all boobs, idiots, and charlatans.

Then, as I have discovered this past week, there’s homeopathic medicine.  This past week, as I have groused on Facebook, I’ve had a cold.  Not an especially bad one, but you know what colds are:  With some of them, you’re afraid you aren’t going to die, and with some of them, you just wish you could crawl into a cave until it’s run its course.  Mine, this week, was the latter.  I had some Tylenol Multi-Symptom cold stuff around, and the expiration date hadn’t quite come due — barely — so I took some and confidently waited for it to do its stuff.  Nothing.  I spent Thursday and yesterday in complete misery, until I decided, Enough! and grabbed some stuff called Sinusalia, from a company called Boiron.  Herbal extracts in a little pill that you chew up, consuming two of them every two hours until your symptoms are gone.

And danged if it didn’t work.

For the cough, I’ve been knocking back a couple of Halls Naturals cough drops every few hours — “Harvest Peach” — same result.  So help me, if I could find an acupuncturist locally, I think I’d give it a try.  But then, lately I’ve discovered this “woo-woo” way of living, doing t’ai chi and eating vegan (Gee – I – wonder – why), and have come to the conclusion that there really are worse ways to live.  Including, in my never – so – humble opinion, putting a lot of chemicals into your body.  Regardless of what Doctors Say.

Thankfully, we have 41 years of living together behind us, so we’ve learned to roll with each other’s “idiot – syncrasies.”  I suspect that we will never come to a meeting of the minds on the subject of homeopathic medicine, and that’s just as well.  Otherwise, it’d be like being married to myself — a fate worse than death.

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It was just around this time last year — a couple of days ago, actually — that I became aware of a remarkable blog, Lemmondrops, the story of an ordinary young woman happily married to the man of her dreams (she said), and pregnant with her second child when a routine medical exam detected a carcinoma so big, and so complicated, that nothing could be done for it.  A number of things fried me about this woman’s case:  for starters, that her doctor said the thing had to have been growing for at least ten years, long before her marriage.  That means it was growing all throughout her first pregnancy, and nobody ever caught it?! My jaundiced view of modern medicine is founded on just such occurrences, but I find it particularly outrageous that this woman, with a two-year-old and a ten-month-old, died because of sloppy medicine.

Then there was the fact that she was Catholic.  Someone pointed out to me, when I was fretting about support, that Catholic priests had been very good to her grandmother in her last illness, and I don’t doubt that Emilie Lemmons herself received regular visits and lots of spiritual support; but what about after?  What about her husband, and her young sons?  I’ve never found the Catholic Church to be especially concerned about the survivors, and I was Catholic for thirty-one years before jumping ship.  They bother me to this day.  They bother me because of all the horrible times to lose somebody, none is worse than Christmas (though a wedding anniversary comes in a close second), and how did those little boys feel when they woke up and Mommy was no longer there?  The ten-month-old, in particular–how could he possibly understand why he suddenly felt so horribly abandoned?  And who’s been there to explain it to him, other than his grieving father and grandparents?

The last post on Lemmondrops reads, “Emilie passed away in her sleep last night,” and it was dated December 24, 2008.  I’m not sure if “last night” refers to the evening of the 23rd, or the very early morning of the 24th, but either way, in Orthodox reckoning, today is a good day to whisper a “Memory Eternal” for Emilie Lemmons, and to ask God to send His consolation to the family she left behind.  Go read her remarkable blog first.

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As of tomorrow evening, I will have been back a week from my annual effort to polish my meager musical talents.  This year, I was especially eager to focus on a slightly different aspect of Orthodox worship:  the Church Slavonic language that was especially formulated for worshipping God, in the Slavic tradition.  As the instructor of that course pointed out, the beauty of using a liturgical language like Slavonic is that there are no curse words in Slavonic (other than the curses in the Psalms, presumably), so it is completely suited to addressing God and talking about Him.

Well, I took the third-year course and didn’t pass it, which isn’t too discouraging, considering that I took four swipes at the first-year course before I passed that.  The “trouble” with these courses is that they are designed to address the needs of someone who reads this language on a weekly basis, and needs to be familiar with the grammar of what he’s looking at so that he knows how to read it.  That isn’t my situation at all; I just want to have passed the course, and to be able to read/sing the funeral service, should we ever have another Russian funeral in our parish.

However, the beauty of Jordanville is that there are always extra snippets that come my way.  Last year, there were fewer than usual, and so this year, the balance was restored; it felt as if I was running smack into grace every time I turned around.

There was the young woman (32 years old) who was literally dying of cancer, who had just begun her second round of chemotherapy.  So, doesn’t chemo cure cancer?  Not always, and in her case, definitely not — at this point — she has peritoneal cancer, which so far is always fatal, and this is her second bout with it.  She told me that had it not been for the intercessions of St. John of San Francisco, she should have been dead three years ago.  And she talked about all the blessings that had come her way because of her disease. Can you picture talking about cancer in terms of a blessing?! I would feel as if I were betraying a confidence if I mentioned them here, so I won’t, but the peace on her face, and the smiles she had for everyone, were more than remarkable; they were like a benediction from God Himself.  This is a girl completely aware of, and completely in acceptance of, her limited time on earth.

Then there was the bonus class — no extra credit, just extra proficiency — in reading Church Slavonic aloud.  This was the course I really wanted, and the monk who taught it was very aware of my goals.  Nevertheless, we would get sidetracked from actual reading into actual theology, and at one point, he mentioned that one Christmas, he and his brothers stopped in to visit the man who had been choir director of their parish, to say goodbye to him:  He was dying of cancer.  When they got to his house, the man’s wife said, “Don’t mention anything about cancer or dying to him; you know, Christmas and all that.”  So these guys get in to see their former choir director, and the first thing they say is, “You’re not looking so bad, considering what’s going on.”  “And the man started crying,” said the monk.  “He was so grateful to be able to talk to somebody about what it was like to be dying.  Christmas and all the festivities and all the carols and all that stuff had no reality for him.  What was real was facing his own imminent meeting with his God.”

OK, I don’t need to go into how I feel about all of this.  If you don’t know by now, you haven’t been reading my blog for very long.  So when I got home, I e-mailed this monk to ask him:  What’s better, to use any means to prolong life, or to accept that it’s at an end and prepare for death?  And he answered, God bless him, exactly as I had hoped he would:  That we do need to take care of our life in the ordinary way, not take ridiculous risks, eat healthy, and all that stuff, but that when serious disease like cancer strikes, we need to decide what we want:  Do we want more time for repentance, or are we able to come to grips with our mortality and go from there?  Phew, what a relief that somebody can grasp the real question and answer it!!

The young woman, by the way, is married (no children — thank God for small blessings).  Her husband is a deacon, preparing to spend the rest of his life as a monk.  What was so remarkable about this couple is that this obviously not the life they had planned for; but they are able to accept it as God’s very clear laying out of their path, and are planning the rest of their lives with this direction in mind.  Phenomenal blessings, this trip!  More in my next post.

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This is, what, the fourth or fifth Sunday with measurable snow?!  Last week, I missed church, and Father told me on Monday that there were four people in attendance, besides himself and his wife — and two of those were chanters.  This weekend, he cancelled Liturgy altogether.  A good thing he did, because the projected snowfall for today is 8 inches.  Enough, already!!

That’s enough of that, too.  For about 30 years now, I have been trying to lose weight.  Like, who isn’t.  Thirty years ago, I weighed 150 lbs. and wanted to lose 25 of that.  Twenty years ago, I weighed 170 lbs, having put on another 20 after a mysterious foot ailment that kept me from walking, but for which doctors could find no reason (this was the beginning of my sterling opinion of the medical profession, BTW, not altered by more recent events).  By “foot aiilment,” I mean that when I would get out of bed in the morning, I literally had to hold on to furniture and walls so I could get to the bathroom, and after I’d been up for about half an hour, the pain subsided to a level that allowed me to walk unaided, but not altogether without pain.

Then I became Orthodox, and discovered the wonderful world of fasting.  Now, there’s a school of thought out there that says, “Calories in = calories 0ut” is the best way to maintain weight, and the best way to lose it is to take in fewer calories than you expend.  You’d think, then, that eliminating all meat and dairy from one’s diet for half the year (add it up, you Orthodox folks — it really is half the year) would result not only in spiritual enlightenment, but also in a trimmer figure, wouldn’t you?  So, would anyone care to guess how it was possible to gain another 100 lbs.?!?!

I think I have the answer.  Last year, I joined a forum called SparkPeople which enables one to track nutrition as well as exercise and weight.  Great.  I tracked my nutrition for a couple of weeks, found that what I was eating was actually under the recommended calorie count, and figured I was all set.  Not so — here I am, a year later, still vastly overweight.

During this past Christmas Fast, I decided to keep close track of just what was going on with my body when I eliminated the usual suspects (i.e., meat and dairy), and sure enough:  Within two weeks, I had gained five pounds and ballooned in my shape.  At that point, I told my priest I was going to need a different spiritual discipline because it was clear that fasting was hazardous to my health, and he, bless him, agreed.  (The first priest I’ve had to do so, probably because his wife is a doctor.)  So I stopped fasting, lost the five pounds, and whatever was causing my face and belly to swell up.  Great.

Then, at the beginning of the new year, I got back onto SparkPeople.  Figured, I had to try something, already.  I saw that I was still under the recommended calorie count — for someone my size, the minimum calories to be consumed is 1,510 — and said, “Maybe I need to pay attention to that.”  A couple of cups of yogurt and a slice or two of bread was enough to boost it into that 1500 range.

So far, I’ve lost three pounds.  Not a lot, when the goal is 130, but I’ve proved to myself that — eep — fasting was the problem.  Apparently, if you eat too little, your body thinks it’s starving and converts everything you do eat to fat so you will have enough of a reserve, or something else completely incomprehensible.  So, if you are Orthodox and fat, I suggest you try SparkPeople and see if you are actually getting enough to eat.  I am shocked by the results of my explorations.  Maybe you will be, too.

(Of course, this could all be a fluke…)    😉

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Two posts ago, I wrote about a young woman named Emilie.  I didn’t want to be specific about her condition, but since the link I used apparently didn’t work, I will say that I read about her on her blog, “lemmondrops” (http://lemmondrops.blogspot.com), and rather than writing about her, I provided the link because she herself was such a good writer.

The latest post was dated this morning, December 25, and noted that Emilie had reposed “last night” — presumably, December 24.  Her situation was atrocious on several levels:

1)  she had two very young sons, one three years and one just nine months old

2)  she was married just five years

3)  her cancer, a soft-tissue sarcoma, was found while she was pregnant with her second child

4)  it was as big as a melon, and

5)  it had been growing, according to her oncologist, for about five years.

It is this last that shakes me up particularly.  If it was growing for five years, why wasn’t it detected sooner?!  Pregnant women have ultrasounds all the time.  I’m hoping it was obscured by her growing uterus, but still — shouldn’t something abnormal have shown up in a blood test, or something?!  Instead, she has a second child, and now, not only will her older child go through life feeling abandoned by his mother, but also, her younger child will never really be fully aware why he has this huge empty place inside him — and that will stay with him his entire life.  It has with me.

So I ask your prayers, not only for Emilie’s soul, but for her husband and her young sons.  And for her priest, who, if my own experience is anything to go by, will offer a few words of condolence to the grieving father and get back to the “real” business of social activism, or whatever his pet project is.  Oh, not to mention the funeral — Catholic funerals these days are all about Joy and Celebration, and completely ignore the realities of life, such as feeling cut in half by the death of your spouse.

Or having your heart carved out of you by the death of your mother.

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