Each morning over coffee or tea, my husband and I sit in our comfortable old living room enjoying our view of the neighborhood. Little George, our Yorkie, is either in his bed or in one of our laps, forever seeking warmth. We enjoy the huge majestic trees, the surrounding old homes, some lovely, some unloved and the passing traffic at our corner far below, as we live on a hill. There is usually one car who decides, after climbing the hill, he would rather not bother to stop at the “STOP” sign on the corner. Swearing or honking usually ensues as some other automobile escapes peril. We don’t have a lot of traffic; this is far from the ways Portland or Los Angeles but we do have our share of characters. A two way STOP with two YIELDS makes for an interesting mix of traffic; confusing at best. We have one neighbor we would have once called a “hot rodder,” and one neighbor who lives in Portland and visits the house behind us occasionally because he rents out the lower level. He is what must be called humanely challenged and we have been stressed to our limits of neighborly love with this guy as has the whole neighborhood.
Each morning there is a bird, whether it be a crow or a seagull, sitting atop a light or power pole up the block, in full view of our window, who appears to be surveying the whole area from his perilous perch. It’s reassuring to know we have a sentinel on duty. I suspect one of those large fat crows is the one who has meticulous timing and always knows when my fella has washed one of our cars and feels the need to relieve himself. He has perfect aim between his little feathery self and our car windshield. Other crows and smaller birds eat the moss that grows in our rain drains, with their little twitchy tails all that is visible over the edge of our porch roof. We once heard a window shattering on our first floor
and found a clamshell was the culprit. Since the window was sheltered from the street, we believe it was not a human but a seagull trying to break it open by hitting our walkway on the side of the house. Apparently, that is their form of a cracking utensil to get to the meaty clam.
Many mornings there are a couple of deer eating the neighbor’s flowers or even venturing onto our deck to eat ours. We are always aware of raccoons attempting to dump our trash and keep a lid on it. There have recently been sightings of a cougar a few blocks from here so I am careful not to leave George alone out on his line in the front of the house that is unfenced. Our Yorkie is not cat food. Occasionally a bald eagle will fly over in a majestic swoop or a hawk will hover and gaze down below. I do hope neither one of them decide George looks tasty because his line only reaches so far and then it would be a fall to earth for him without a parachute. I guess that is an idea. He has tried to fly off a cliff into the Columbia River a few times while chasing seagulls. Do they make tiny parachutes for dogs? Probably somebody does. You can find anything on Amazon.com. Can’t you?
Each day the colors from our windows are remarkable. The skies are always bright hues of blue, very often even while rain is falling but other times dark with rapidly moving storm clouds. Clouds don’t hover here, I suppose driven by the winds off the Pacific, they are always in motion, they come and quickly go.
My mood and thoughts are often like those clouds and the wind. I suspect each of you also find yourselves in darkness then light, alternately throughout each day, often depending on your view from your window or some force working at you from within. Often, pain and
concern over health issues is to blame. I know we each have our pensive moments when we ask the truly big questions in life. For many of us who have lived with chronic pain or illness, we don’t seek as many answers as we did when this way of life was new to us. Personally, I am worn thin by all the supplications, doubts and questions of “Why?” within my own mind. We are struck, our lives are altered, our bodies changed and we have all we can do to handle the new life, the new bodies and the constant attempt to make all the adjustments needed. That last fact alone can and does take a lifetime. Life is ever changing for everyone, well or ill.
I often ask and have been asked regarding this life of constant change and pain, “Does it ever end?” First of all, let me clarify I am not talking about surgery or fleeting curable disease, or wounds that will heal. I am addressing all of the millions of us who live with ongoing disease, progressive destruction or devastating war wounds, often destructively permanent or chronic in their nature. For each of us, we can delay its progress by seeking the best professional care and advice we can find. We can allay our many fears and anguished questions by using our faith in a higher power, using our sense of humor and staying open to the love and sharing of other, fellow humans and all of God’s creatures. I always recommend getting a pet because they will teach you love and definitely awaken your sense of humor. Let us, for the purposes of this discussion, divide this into DELAY and ALLAY.
We can delay the progress of many of our diseases and chronic pain by keeping ourselves informed. One bit of advice I have for others who are in this “boat” with me along with staying afloat, is to stay informed. Don’t leave your health and your very lives in the hands of your
physicians and medical caregivers. They can be wonderful, but they are not you, they don’t live with you, they don’t feel what you feel, they can’t stay on a special diet nor can they exercise or stretch for you. Ask questions just as you would a carpenter, or anyone working on your home…your body is your most valuable and important home.
One day last week I was seeing a new doctor, at least new to me; an endocrinologist. The physician, is a kind young woman from Russia. She had a very friendly, chatty medical assistant who was giving me her life story. When I mentioned to her I was a retired RN, she blurted out, “Oh, we have a few patients who are RN’s and boy are they a pain in the ass.” I laughed out loud and said, “Well, now you have another one.” I loved her candor but also understood the source of her remark. Nurses like others in the medical profession know the imperfection of medical care as well as the benefits of medical care. We’ve seen caring but incompetent physicians, cold hearted physicians who are lackluster in their concern and care as well as many dedicated doctors who always give it their best “shot.”
Those of us who suffer from progressive disease like many in the rheumatoid family, MS, MD, cancer, and hundreds more, must seek the latest and the newest ideas, treatments and medications. Science is ever flowing like a stream or river. Try to avoid those doctors who are stuck in a stagnant pond of information. You may have doctors of high caliber in your community or you may have to drive a distance to find them at a university hospital or medical school. Like turtles, we carry our homes on our backs…boy, do we ever. Take your shell and get to the best care because you deserve it. Seeking the best care, following their advice if you are made to understand it can give you years more life, greater comfort and a better way of life. Never be afraid to ask questions, take in a list if you need to because most of us forget what we wanted to ask and
be sure your history is correct. I recently saw a report of my history from a physician I didn’t like and will not return to and my medication allergies were all listed but no reasons given. I redid my medication list and wrote in all the reasons and asked the last doctor I saw to please update it. Someone along the line was careless. Remember all computer printouts can only spit out what they are fed. Watch for inaccuracies in your computer printouts and tell someone. Keep a file at home of all your tests and visits. It is particularly important to keep copies of lab reports, X-ray reports and any other invasive or imagery procedures.
Depression, worry and anxiety are all forms of fear. We must allay fear or it will cripple us emotionally and mentally. Winston Churchill, the former and most famous Prime Minister of Britain once said, “The terrible “ifs” accumulate.” How many nights both you and I have stayed awake thinking of what could happen? What if? Most of those ifs do not occur and if they do, that is the time to act on them. How much time and effort we waste on the what ifs which may never be.
I have had a lot of experience with fear and the need for calm peace and particularly love what Dr. Norman Vincent Peale has to say about fear. He prescribes the prayer of affirmation. It is not a prayer asking God for something we fear might happen not to happen. Affirmation is a prayer of thanking God for the results of what you fear, knowing others are praying for you and aiding you in your life and helping you face what you fear, whether it be illness, a new job or some other journey you face. There is the overwhelming feeling of letting go when we pray a prayer of affirmation. We “let go and let God.” That is one of my favorite quotes of the late Rev. Billy Graham. Treat your fear like a hot coal and when you pick it up, drop it again as fast as you can. Remember, no
matter what church you attend or don’t attend, you can talk to God directly. Christian, Jew, peaceful Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, God cares about you and is a force that is always there for you. Ring him up; He always answers.
Dr. Peale also explains the importance of letting our fear motivate us. He tells this story, if I may paraphrase for brevity. There was a man who always took a short-cut through a cemetery every night to get home. He did it often therefore when the seasons changed and it grew darker, he knew his path he took nightly and felt at ease and not afraid. One night he felt his foot go out from under him and fell into a freshly dug grave. He clawed at the sides but only pulled more loose soil into the grave. He decided he had no recourse except to wait until morning when the grave diggers would return so he curled up with his coat, leaned into a corner and tried to sleep. A short while later he heard footsteps and suddenly another man fell into the fresh grave with him. The second man started clawing at the sides of the grave, also as the first man had done. The first man said, “Boy, you’ll never get out that way.” But the second man did—like a shot. The second man had motivation the first man did not have. In that case fear was the motivating factor. Rarely is fear the motivating factor. Faith always can be.
Remember the key to being chronically ill or in constant pain is to delay the progress and to allay your fears and worry. Oh, and also, avoid those open graves.