Resilience

Eight days after a bomb shook the Chelsea neighborhood of lower Manhattan, I am in NYC on a business trip, staying in a hotel just a few blocks from where the explosion rocked W 23rd Street. You would never know anything had happened.

I arrived here Sunday afternoon, to be fully rested for a long day of meetings on Monday. I was tired from the train ride, but I didn’t want to lose the day, sunny and clear, with a hint of fall in the air. So I took a long walk to visit to the new Whitney Museum and catch the last day of a powerful retrospective exhibit by photographer Danny Lyon. After a lovely dinner, I walked the High Line back up to 23rd and across 5th Avenue to the east side of Manhattan, passing the site of the explosion without even noticing anything unusual.

New Yorkers are hardy folk. It was incredibly reassuring, after all the horrible headlines, to see how life goes on as normal here. People were out walking their dogs, going on dates, hanging out with friends, taking selfies, eating in restaurants, smoking cigarettes, sitting on benches while immersed in deep conversations. Two men sang their hearts out, busking for the High Line crowd. I passed a man sleeping on the sidewalk. Next to his head, someone had placed a bottle of water and a fresh sandwich wrapped in cellophane.

I must have walked at least four miles, down to the museum and back. Any tension I felt when I set out in the afternoon had completely vanished by the time I returned to my room, a little after eight. There is much more to life than what is filtered through the news. So, come along with me and enjoy the view. . . .

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Evelyn Herwitz blogs weekly about living fully with chronic disease, the inside of baseballs, turtles and frogs, J.S. Bach, the meaning of life and whatever else she happens to be thinking about at livingwithscleroderma.com.

Agility Test

It’s getting harder and harder to keep a positive attitude these days. This past weekend’s bombings in NYC and New Jersey, the stabbing in Minnesota, the hateful, cynical rhetoric of this presidential election campaign—I’ve had more than my share of insomnia recently. One day last week I had trouble focusing on my work. I know I need to turn off the news, but I can’t seem to break away from it all. My fight or flight instincts are on overdrive—not a good state of mind, with real potential to impact my health.

img_2383So I was glad for a great diversion on Monday that gave some renewed perspective. I  took the day off from work to drive up to New Hampshire (even as I was listening to updates on the NYC bomber manhunt) for the Bearded Collie Club of America’s National Specialty Agility Trial. A good friend of mine has two beardies—bright, exuberant, long-haired dogs with herding instincts and personality plus—and she is seriously involved in championship competitions.

I’ve never been to a dog competition, let alone one in agility, which involves leading the beardie through a course of hurdles, fabric tunnels, bridges, obstacles and teeter-totters. The rules and scoring are complicated. Preparation requires hours and hours of practice and an ocean of patience. The dogs are very smart and clearly have minds of their own. While they can run with amazing speed and precision, they can also zoom around in circles, run off to the side of the arena to explore, sniff the judge standing in the middle of the course, jump up on hind legs in excitement and bark like crazy.

Such was my friend’s experience when she ran her dog, Mac, through his first event. Despite many perfect practice sessions in recent months, as well as past successes on the ladder to championship ranking, this morning Mac decided to create his own version of the course. He ran this way and that, refused to run the course in order, skipped some of the hurdles, all the while jumping and barking his commentary. A discouraging experience, to say the least.

Plenty of the other dogs did their own thing, too. “How do you get another creature to do what you want?” I mused. “When I figure that one out, I’ll let you know,” quipped my friend. Watching everyone else’s mishaps—even at the national championship level, these dogs are a challenge to control and can be quite comical—we had some good laughs, and she regained her sense of humor and perspective.

And, I’m happy to report, Mac redeemed himself. Later in the afternoon, he ran an event that involved jumping over a lot of hurdles, running over a teeter-totter and threading through a “weaving” obstacle (running back and forth through a row of poles, like a slalom, but on level ground) so perfectly that he took the blue ribbon.

Clearly, we agreed, he could do it if he wanted to. It was all a matter of focus and his emotional reaction to the situation at hand.

It’s no wonder that the dog-trainer relationship is such an intimate partnership. We have so much in common.

On my drive home, as I caught up with the latest political news, I thought about how the narrative we tell ourselves has such an impact on our ability to stay on track and handle life’s many hurdles and obstacles. It’s all so easy to fall prey to the doomsaying that dominates the news media. There are real, substantive reasons for concern and even worry about what’s happening and what will happen next. But the future, by definition, is always an unknown.

We can choose to believe the worst and let our fears run us in circles. Or we can choose to believe that whatever comes, we will confront it with focus, courage and commitment to stay the course of living a life true to our values and all we hold dear.

I’m going to do my best to remember that as Election Day approaches.

Evelyn Herwitz blogs weekly about living fully with chronic disease, the inside of baseballs, turtles and frogs, J.S. Bach, the meaning of life and whatever else she happens to be thinking about at livingwithscleroderma.com.

 

Exposed

For a couple of days recently, I was down to one bandaged digital ulcer—my right thumb, still healing from surgery in June. Every few years, especially when there’s been a long hot spell, this happens. I can actually see most of my fingertips, a bandage vacation.

hand-2It’s very nice while it lasts. I can get going in the morning much more quickly—a couple of minutes, instead of the usual 20, to care for my hands. But it feels very strange. The fingers that have been under wraps for months, sometimes for the entire year, are extremely sensitive to touch. My left thumb, in particular, has some nerve damage that becomes much more pronounced when it goes Full Monty. By the end of the day, it’s tingling almost constantly.

Even still, I’m amazed and glad to be able to take a break from the bandages. Careful as I am to keep my hands clean, they get grubby during the day. The bandages shred at the edges and the adhesive attracts dirt. (I only use fabric bandages, which breathe and remain fairly comfortable, despite daily wear and tear.) Plus, I can’t sense exactly what I’m touching. This is the most frustrating part.

But walking around with almost bare hands can have some unexpected consequences. On one of the days when my fingers were exposed, I bought some groceries. The young cashier asked with genuine sympathy, “What happened to your hands?” I gave my standard reply about ulcers (sometimes, it’s just too much to explain about scleroderma) and went on my way. Only later did I realize that she wasn’t inquiring about all the bandages—there was just one. She was commenting on my oddly stunted fingers, misshapen by resorption of bones in my fingertips. Usually, no one can see, because of all the dressings.

Scleroderma causes a myriad of hand distortions. The oddest visual aspect of the disease, in my case, is that I barely have any fingernails left. This is actually what the cashier was asking about—it looks as if the tips of my fingers have been chopped off.

A missed opportunity for a teachable moment about this disease, certainly. At the same time, however, talking about a personal, physical disability with a casual stranger is murky territory.

My hands are strikingly different. I’ve had this disease for so many decades that I don’t really blame someone from wondering about them. The cashier was not ridiculing me. She was concerned, merely articulating what most people who meet me for the first time may be thinking.

However, I also don’t always feel like having to explain why my hands look strange. My hands are my hands, they are the only hands I have, and they serve me well, despite all the struggles inherent to this disease. They are certainly a distinctive feature. Enough said.

All of this will be a moot point, soon. The weather changed over the weekend from sultry heat to cool breezes by Sunday evening. I’m back to three bandages, and as it gets colder, I’ll have more. My stubby fingertips (the middle fingers on both hands are the most damaged) will hide under wraps again for the better part of the year. Time to find my gloves and pull out the sweaters.

Evelyn Herwitz blogs weekly about living fully with chronic disease, the inside of baseballs, turtles and frogs, J.S. Bach, the meaning of life and whatever else she happens to be thinking about at livingwithscleroderma.com.

Flights of Fancy

What better way to mark the official end of summer this Labor Day than to surround yourself with butterflies? That’s what Emily and I decided to do Monday afternoon after a hectic weekend of social events that included hosting a large, agreeable dog for a young couple who were getting married, friends of Mindi, who was home for the festivities and a big move to a new apartment.

The fall transition is most certainly upon us. But inside The Butterfly Place in Westford, Mass., it was a precious ahhh moment. Enjoy, Dear Reader . . .

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Evelyn Herwitz blogs weekly about living fully with chronic disease, the inside of baseballs, turtles and frogs, J.S. Bach, the meaning of life and whatever else she happens to be thinking about at livingwithscleroderma.com.

Just Add Water

A little over two years ago, Al and I rearranged some art work in our living room to hang a beautiful, large painting over our couch. And for all that time, two unsightly holes in the wall flanked the painting—reminders of the pictures that had preceded it. They weren’t just simple nail holes; no, the paint had flaked off to reveal the plaster beneath.

IMG_2298It was one of those little annoyances you forget about, ignore, live with—nothing earth-shattering, but an irritating reminder of neglected home maintenance. I had pushed it out of my head as something my hands couldn’t handle.

Until Sunday. I woke up with a plan: I was going to fix the holes myself. Al was working at the hospital, and I wanted to surprise him.

Step One was to locate the wall paint. Sure enough, there sat a can on a shelf in the basement, unopened since 1999 when we moved into our home. I brought it upstairs, set it on some newspaper and pried open the top with a screw driver.

Our living room is painted brick red. What was left of the paint, about a third of a can, was purple. Or so it appeared. I found a dowel and began stirring. The red emerged as a marbled swirl, eventually blending to make a perfect match to the walls. It was thick, but viscous enough to paint.

Step Two was an Internet search for how to patch a hole in the wall, followed by a trip to the local hardware store. Channeling my father, who was Mr. Fix-it and had a very precise way of approaching any task, I bought spackle, a putty knife, a plastic drop cloth, a tack cloth and a sanding sponge that would be easy to hold. I considered buying paint thinner but decided it would be a waste of money for the small amount of paint that I needed.

At home, I gathered all my supplies, including some small sponge brushes from another project. To my surprise, I was able to move the couch away from the wall without much exertion. Behind it, there were two gashes in the wall where the couch had rubbed away paint, so i figured I could practice on those hidden spots, first.

Drop cloth in place, spackle container lid removed (with a bit of a struggle), I was ready to go. I scraped off the chipped paint, sanded the edges to make a smooth surface, tacked away the dust and dipped my putty knife into the spackle. And smiled. It was fun! The spackle spread as easily as cream cheese. Within ten minutes, I had two holes and two gashes neatly prepped for painting.

The spackle was supposed to dry in about a half hour, so I set out for a nice walk around the neighborhood. Upon my return, it was time to pour some paint into a plastic cup and finish the job.

However, I realized when I reopened the paint can that I probably hadn’t sealed the lid quite tightly enough. It was even thicker than previously. I stirred some more and poured a small amount into the cup. I stirred it again. I wished I had bought the thinner, but it was too late to go back to the store. So I set out to paint.

And here is where my project got a little messy. The paint had tiny little globs in it, which balled up on the wall. I had to swipe them off with a series of sponge brushes, over and over to catch them all. Then I realized that the spackle had not dried in one of the deeper holes and had sunk a bit. More spackle, more waiting. Grrrrrr. I wanted to be finished, and I wanted it to be perfect!

About this point, Emily came downstairs to investigate my progress. I groused about the clumping paint and my failure to get any thinner.

“Did you look at the label on the can?” she asked.

Duh. I had to admit that I hadn’t. I’d just assumed it was oil-based from the purple oily layer when I first opened the can. But, sure enough, the paint was acrylic. All it needed was a little water mixed in for a nice, silky consistency.

Em encouraged me to wait long enough to let the spackle really dry this time before I tested it. She promised to distract Al if he came home before I was through. Which is exactly what happened as I laid down the final swath of paint over what had been the second hole.

“I have a surprise for you!” I said, walking into the kitchen with my brush and paint cup. And, indeed, he was surprised—and impressed—not only that the holes were finally repaired, but that I had done it myself. I was, too.

The paint has fully dried, now. If you know where to look, you can see traces of my handy-work. But it blends in well enough. And at long last, the painting looks fully at home on its brick red wall. Best of all, I realized that my hands can take on a light home repair project, with good results. As long as I read all the labels.

Evelyn Herwitz blogs weekly about living fully with chronic disease, the inside of baseballs, turtles and frogs, J.S. Bach, the meaning of life and whatever else she happens to be thinking about at livingwithscleroderma.com.

Speak for Yourself

"Cat and Mouse" (1975) by Robert A. Nelson, on exhibit at the Worcester Art MuseumOne evening last week, during a seemingly endless stretch of hot, muggy days, I was reading at the dining room table with the widows wide open when I heard a cat crying outside.

Our neighbors have two cats, and they often prowl around our back yard now that Ginger is gone. I looked out the window and saw the yellow tabby curled contentedly in their upstairs window, enjoying the meager breeze, silent.

Mrroww, mrroww, mrowww, cried the mystery cat.

Where could it be? This didn’t sound like your ordinary cat commentary. I went out the kitchen door and looked around. No cat.

Mrroww, mrroww, mrowww, cried the mystery cat.

I walked up the path to our front drive. No cat. I walked back to the kitchen door. No cat.

Mrroww, mrroww, mrowww, cried the mystery cat.

Then I realized that the cry seemed to be coming from our garage. I opened the back door. There was our neighbor’s white cat, hiding among my older daughter’s furniture, in storage until she moves to a new apartment in September.

It did not take much to coax the cat out of its self-imposed prison. I have absolutely no idea how it got in, since I’m not parking in the garage while the furniture is there. A mystery, indeed.

The cat ran back home, and I was quite thankful that I’d been around to hear its cry.

So, you may wonder, what does this have to do with living with scleroderma? Well, Dear Reader, it’s all about speaking out when you need help. That kitty knew how to get attention (how long it waited to complain, I have no idea—it probably snuck inside somehow to escape the heat) and kept asking for attention until someone paid attention.

Speaking up for yourself when you need help, without any shame or embarrassment, is a crucial skill when you live with any kind of disability, including the physical limitations that are part and parcel of scleroderma. In this Sunday’s New York Times, Rosemarie Garland Thomson articulates it beautifully in her essay, “Becoming Disabled”:

As we manage our bodies in environments not built for them, the social barriers can sometimes be more awkward than the physical ones. Confused responses to racial or gender categories can provoke the question “What are you?” Whereas disability interrogations are “What’s wrong with you?” Before I learned about disability rights and disability pride, which I came to by way of the women’s movement, I always squirmed out a shame-filled, “I was born this way.” Now I’m likely to begin one of these uncomfortable encounters with, “And these are the accommodations I need.” This is a claim to inclusion and right to access resources. . . .

Becoming disabled demands learning how to live effectively as a person with disabilities, not just living as a disabled person trying to become nondisabled. It also demands the awareness and cooperation of others who don’t experience these challenges. Becoming disabled means moving from isolation to community, from ignorance to knowledge about who we are, from exclusion to access, and from shame to pride.

Unlike Garland Thomson, I wasn’t born with my disabilities. I can still remember what it felt like (barely, it’s been so many decades) to have fully functioning hands. It’s taken me many years of living with scleroderma to assert myself with strangers when I need help. But I’m no longer afraid or ashamed to ask. Much as I want to do for myself, I also realize my limitations. It’s good to know, more often than not, there’s someone willing to open that door, pop that tab on a soda can, or hoist that carry-on bag to the overhead luggage rack—who’s glad to be of assistance.

If a cat knows how to get the help it needs, when it needs it, then surely, so can I.

Evelyn Herwitz blogs weekly about living fully with chronic disease, the inside of baseballs, turtles and frogs, J.S. Bach, the meaning of life and whatever else she happens to be thinking about at livingwithscleroderma.com.

Image: “Cat and Mouse” (1975) by Robert A. Nelson, on exhibit at the Worcester Art Museum

Gold Standard

All those perfect bodies. It’s impossible to watch the Olympics without marveling. Sculpted muscles, tight abs, toned thighs—these premier athletes look every bit like the marble statues we saw everywhere in Italy this summer—except, of course, they are living, breathing humans who accomplish seemingly superhuman feats of strength, coordination, balance, speed, grace.

the-athlet-1423333-640x480The Summer Olympics, especially, always set me daydreaming—what would it have been like if I’d had the ability and training to compete as a gymnast when I was that young and healthy? What does it feel like to be Simone Biles, dancing, bounding and twirling through the air, always landing soundly on her feet?

The gold medalists, especially those who’ve distinguished themselves as Biles has in gymnastics with her extraordinary athletic prowess, are walking Rorschach tests for our imaginations—as well as our biases.

There has been plenty of press regarding the ignorant comments by NBC sportscaster Al Trautwig about Biles’s parents—her biological grandparents, who adopted Simone and her sister when they were very young. “They may be mom and dad but they are NOT her parents,” he tweeted last Sunday. Those comments raised a huge furor, rightly so. As an adoptive parent of our older daughter, I found the initial reporting offensive and appalling. I was very glad that Trautwig not only retracted his statements eventually, but also apologized. Shared DNA is not the defining ingredient of parenthood.

But there is another bias projected onto Biles that has not been flagged—and that involves how she is described in terms of height. Like many female gymnasts, Simone Biles is petite. She stands 4-feet-8-inches tall.

For some reason, however, the sportscasters are compelled to describe her as a “4-foot-8-inch giant.” This is intended as high praise—small in stature, but a huge presence. I get it.

However, my younger daughter stands 4-feet-7-inches tall, and over many years, we have discussed the challenges of living in a society that tends to be dismissive of individuals who are shorter than average. Short stature is associated with being childlike, being “cute” (as in not taken seriously), being less capable of leadership. It’s an insidious stereotype that has no more to do with what an individual is capable of than the color of her skin, religion, gender identity, physical limitations or any other distinguishing characteristic.

By describing Biles as a giant, the sports world is underscoring the perceived irony of such a small woman looming so large over other gymnasts. The implied assumption: better-than equals bigger-than. But why isn’t it enough for Simone Biles to be the world’s greatest female gymnast—period? Why does her height have to figure into her sobriquet? Does anyone dwell on swimmer Michael Phelps’s height when describing his amazing 23 gold medal record? Of course not. He’s 6-feet-4-inches tall.

The Olympics are all about achieving athletic perfection. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if those who set the bar for how we talk about these breathtaking accomplishments strived to set a gold-medal standard for appreciating the precious uniqueness of each individual—rather than marveling at how they’ve defied expectations based on stereotypes. Imagine how that might shift dialogue and perception far beyond two weeks every other Olympic year.

Evelyn Herwitz blogs weekly about living fully with chronic disease, the inside of baseballs, turtles and frogs, J.S. Bach, the meaning of life and whatever else she happens to be thinking about at livingwithscleroderma.com.

Image Credit: Oliver Gruener

Forgetful

It was 9:30 this morning when I suddenly realized that I’d forgotten to write my blog for today. This has only happened a few times in the four-and-a-half years that I’ve been posting, and those other times, I caught it earlier in the morning so there was no apparent lapse.

I’m getting older. And memory lapses are becoming more frequent.

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I’m well past the stage when it felt novel to walk into a room and not recall what I was trying to find. The only reason I can locate my keys before I leave the house is that I force myself to put them in my purse or on the kitchen table when I come home—and I don’t always remember to do so.

Last Friday I went grocery shopping and wandered around the parking lot for what felt like a good 10 minutes before I located my car. For a fleeting few seconds, I wondered if it had been stolen.

I’m getting worse at recalling names—occasionally, even of people I know well. It’s as if a curtain goes down in my brain, hiding the information. The more I strain to remember so as not to embarrass myself, the thicker the curtain becomes. Over the weekend I read an article that explained why our brains aren’t wired to remember names as well as faces—which provided some relief, or, at least, a good excuse.

Amidst the flurry of preparations for our recent trip to Italy, I tried doing a load of laundry and was completely bewildered by the fact that our reliable washing machine refused to start properly. Why? Because I was pushing the power button instead of the start button. (This I figured out after I read the trouble-shooting section of the user manual, which, fortunately, I keep on top of the washer.)

Then there is the challenge of taking all my medications on time. I know, I know, I should use a pill minder. I hate them. I don’t know why. Maybe because they are a reminder that I can’t remember. It’s an act of defiance (or sheer ego) to take my pills morning and night without having to rely on some device other than my brain. But there have been far too many times when I can’t recall if I took them or not, and I realize, much as I don’t want to admit it, that timely medications are too important to mess with.

I was discussing this with a friend last week who is also in his early 60s, and we agreed that the real issue is too much multitasking. I forget when I’m not paying attention—to where I left my keys or parked my car, or how many cups of flour I poured into the food processor to start the bread dough, or whether I actually told Al about my schedule or just thought about it, or when I took my pills. So much of the time, I’m doing one task on autopilot while my mind is in a totally different space.

There are apps for that, of course. We can do a lot more these days because we can offload so much to our smartphones—medication reminders, parked car locators, key finders and more. But that requires remembering where the smartphone is. (Try calling it when you’ve forgotten that you left it on silent from the night before.)

The only lasting answer: Slow down, do one thing at a time, be mindful. And, above all, accept the fact that aging is inevitable.

Evelyn Herwitz blogs weekly about living fully with chronic disease, the inside of baseballs, turtles and frogs, J.S. Bach, the meaning of life and whatever else she happens to be thinking about at livingwithscleroderma.com.

Image Credit: Szilard Gabor Fulop

Immersion

Could it really be that Al and I were in Pisa, Italy, on Sunday? And in Venice, Florence and the Isle of Elba over the preceding two-and-a-half weeks? Air travel makes it possible to be halfway around the world in the morning and back home late the same night (depending on which direction you’re traveling). But my mind is somewhere in-between. And I want to hold onto the memories of our journey for as long as I can.

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Venice has been a lifelong dream—ever since my father showed me a series of small, black-and-white photos of the canals from his military service in Italy during World War II. Those images made a big impression on me as a little girl. So much so that in first grade, when I had to answer a test question, “True or False, All cities have streets,” I marked it false. My teacher, Miss Kelly, called me up to her desk and asked me why. I explained that Venice has canals. She laughed, and she didn’t mark my answer wrong.

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Whatever I imagined as a child, however, could not compare to the wonder of Venice—a magic puzzle box of winding pedestrian passageways, bridges and canals. Around each corner is yet another stunning, surprising view. We heard jazz and Vivaldi, saw fireworks and Kandinsky, ate delicious meals, drank wonderful wines, and continually got lost and found. We stayed six days, and it wasn’t enough.

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For four days in Florence, we marveled at art, ancient to modern. I could have stared at Botticelli’s The Birth of Venus for hours, were it not for the crowds in the Uffizi—for all the images I’ve seen, and the memes, there is nothing like witnessing a major art work in person. Michelangelo’s David, too, is breathtaking. So is the view of the city and Tuscan hills from Forte di Belevedere, across the Arno, and so much more.

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Our final stop, Pisa, has also been a source of intrigue since childhood. My sister and I had a wall map of the ancient world when we were young, which included a small drawing of the Leaning Tower to indicate where Pisa is located in Italy. How could a building lean like that and still stand? I wondered.

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Well, now I’ve seen it with my own eyes. It does lean and stay standing (thanks to some extraordinary feats of engineering), and the architecture is exquisite. There is much more to the city, of course, which is full of surprises—from the serene Botanical Garden of the University of Pisa to an exhibition of book illustrations by Roberto Innocenti at the Palazzo Blu.

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But our favorite adventure was our four days on Elba, an island off the west coast of Italy, part of the Tuscan Archipelago. Truly, one of the most, if not the most beautiful place I have ever seen. Panoramic mountain views overlooking azure seas, crystal clear water, beautiful hiking trails, salmon sunsets. It was a vacation in the midst of our vacation—calming, quiet, a time to get away from the crowds and contemplate.  

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And, best of all, I went swimming in the Mediterranean—the first time I have been able to swim in at least a decade. The water was warm and so clear and clean that, for once, I was not worried about risking an infection in my fingers. Indeed, the salt water seemed actually to help my ulcers to heal.

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All of this, plus the fact that I was able to tolerate the long plane rides, walk and walk in intense heat (high 90s most of the trip), eat new foods, get enough sleep most nights, and avoid any scleroderma complications—all of this, on top of being able to swing the trip in the first place, was a great gift.

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I’m glad to be back home, where the scenery is familiar. I know where to find just about everything in our house. Family and friends are close by. It was very good to sleep in our own bed once again. But there is so much more of the world to see. As long as we both are healthy enough and able, we hope to keep on traveling. My “Next Trip” list is already in the works.

Evelyn Herwitz blogs weekly about living fully with chronic disease, the inside of baseballs, turtles and frogs, J.S. Bach, the meaning of life and whatever else she happens to be thinking about at livingwithscleroderma.com.

Vacation Override

It’s been a very busy few weeks since the beginning of July. Al and I leave soon for our first-ever trip to Italy, and to prepare, I’ve been drilling through a month’s work of client projects in 10 days. Usually I pace myself very carefully and keep most evenings and weekends free of work—to manage my energy and keep a good work-life balance. But freelancers don’t get paid vacations, so late hours were necessary to make sure I met my clients’ needs and our family budget for the rest of July.

pills-1417417-639x462Now it’s done, and I have to concentrate on final trip preparations. (It’s probably been good to have had so much work to do—a distraction from inevitable nervousness about how I’ll hold up during a long haul trip.) Tops on the priority list is making sure I have enough of my prescription medication to last the journey.

Only one problem: the timing of my most recent refills works out to being a few pills short for when we’re out of the country. Three prescriptions were affected. So last Friday, I went to my pharmacy and asked what to do. They advised me to call my health plan’s pharmacy and ask about a vacation override. Since we would be abroad, there was a good chance I could get the refills authorized.

Monday morning I called CVS Caremark and explained the situation. The helpful person on the other end of the line told me to submit the refills at the pharmacy, which would be rejected as a premature request, and then have the pharmacy call them for the override, which, fortunately, our plan covers. So after I finally finished all my work, I went down to my local CVS on Monday afternoon.

And here’s where the situation got complicated. Two of the three scrips got through the process without a hitch. But a third hit a snag. For whatever reason, the insurer suddenly decided I needed a prior authorization for this particular medication, not only to get the vacation override, but also to get any refill for a med I’ve had authorized for years. It made absolutely no sense.

But this is how health insurance works these days.

So back home I went and wrote an email to my BMC rheumatologist’s nurse who handles refills and rescued me from yet another refill emergency last week—when I tried to refill an essential medication, I was suddenly told that I was correct that refills remained on the scrip, but, unbeknownst to me, despite checking last month, the scrip had expired. Unbelievable. She worked her magic and the prescription was on its way from a specialty pharmacy that afternoon. It arrived on time on Saturday.

No way to know if we’ll be able to get through the prior authorization process for this med before we leave, but if anyone can make it happen, she can. And if it takes longer than I can wait, I’ll just have to skip a few doses every other day at the end of the trip. Certainly not ideal, but not life threatening, either. Fortunately. This is a pill that helps my hand circulation, but we’ll be in a warm climate, anyway.

Time to get packing. I’ll be taking a vacation from this blog for a few weeks, too. I wish you, Dear Reader, a lovely, restful deep summer (north of the equator—to those of you down under, I hope your winter isn’t harsh). Be well.

Image Credit: Cathy Kaplan

Evelyn Herwitz blogs weekly about living fully with chronic disease, the inside of baseballs, turtles and frogs, J.S. Bach, the meaning of life and whatever else she happens to be thinking about at livingwithscleroderma.com.