Plant a Seed

In Australia, the sunflower has become the symbol of scleroderma awareness—because those of us with the disease feel better in the warmth of the sun. I like this idea a lot. Enough, in fact, to consider trying my hand at planting some sunflowers, if not this summer, then next.

1428247_41776650Yesterday, on June 29, scleroderma associations around the globe marked World Scleroderma Day. In nearly two dozen countries in North America, Europe and Oceania, a month of awareness-building culminated with a host of activities, from hospital presentations and meetings of scientists to art gallery exhibitions and a social media series of 25 second videos, in recognition of the estimated 2.5 million people diagnosed with scleroderma worldwide. Today, June 30, the need for a cure will be presented to the European Parliament in Brussels.

June 29 is significant because it marks the death in 1940 of the brilliant artist Paul Klee, who suffered from systemic scleroderma. Klee’s later work was strongly influenced by his disease, even as his last few years were among his most prolific.

Paul Klee’s legacy helped to inspire the formation of the World Scleroderma Foundation, which is based in Basel, Switzerland, and draws together world experts in scleroderma research and patient groups in an effort to support research for a cure. The WSF’s lead patron is Klee’s grandson, Alexander, and his family.

While 2.5 million individuals with scleroderma represents just a sliver of the world’s 7.3 billion people, The WSF makes a compelling argument for the importance of scleroderma research on its website: Not only is the search for a cure needed for the millions who suffer from the disease—most of whom are women of childbearing age—but also scleroderma is a “linchpin disorder”: 

A breakthrough in understanding scleroderma would doubtless have a strong impact on many other diseases involving abnormal scarring and blood vessel injury. This might include conditions as diverse as interstitial lung disease, intestinal hypomotility disorders and many illnesses with blood vessel injury as their basis.

Which brings me back to sunflowers. Each sunflower head can contain as many as 2,000 seeds, each of which, in turn, with the right soil, sun and moisture, becomes another sunflower. If we could find a cure for scleroderma, imagine how many other millions of people who struggle with related diseases could be helped, as well.

Plant a seed to find a cure for scleroderma. Visit wolrdsclerodermaday.org to see what’s going on around the globe in support of research for a cure, or make a donation here in the U.S. to the Scleroderma Research Foundation or the Scleroderma Foundation. We’re all in this fight together.

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.

Two Steps Forward, One Step Back

I made good on my exercise commitment last week—I got to the fitness center twice, once for my barre class and once to ride the stationary bike for 25 minutes, plus I took half-hour walks on two other days.

Then I developed an ulcer in the nail bed of my left big toe. It’s infected. I have no idea how this happened. I am meticulous with skin care. It might have been as simple as picking up bacteria while walking around in sandals. Or just bad karma.

So, I’m back on antibiotics, limping a bit, carefully testing pressure on my left foot. I was able to walk around the block on Monday and get through most of the exercises in my barre class last night.

This is the minutiae of living with scleroderma. Just when you think you have everything in balance, something kicks it out of whack and you have to recalibrate.

But there are much more important issues in the world than an infection in my big toe.

On Sunday, at Al’s initiative, I joined my husband, our rabbi and cantor, and about a dozen other members of our synagogue at morning services at the local A.M.E. congregation. We came to show solidarity over the tragic shootings at the historic Emanuel A.M.E. Church in Charleston, S.C., last week.

Al had called ahead, the previous Friday, to ask if it would be okay with the pastor if we came. We were welcomed with thanks and gracious hospitality. Other members of the community came as well, in a spontaneous show of support. It was heartening to be part of a mixed sea of faces, all gathered to assert that what happened in Charleston was terribly wrong, that we care, that we must pull together as a society to end the violence and bridge the widening racial divide in this country.

Will any lasting good come of all those people, from different backgrounds, gathered together in prayer on a Sunday morning? I cannot say. But I know we helped to comfort our neighbors and sent good will out into the universe, and that must count for something.

After the service, we went out with friends for a Father’s Day brunch, then to the art museum, then home. Al mowed the lawn. I lay down and rested my sore foot.

My toe will heal, albeit slower than I want it to, with a combination of medication and careful tending. I will get back to my exercise plan. There will undoubtedly be other physical setbacks, but I’ll deal with those, too.

Would that our nation’s ills could heal as readily.

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.

Photo Credit: Stròlic Furlàn – Davide Gabino

Pep Talk

No getting around it. I need more exercise. One weekly barre class is just not enough to stay in shape. Ever since Ginger died this winter, I haven’t been as good about taking a walk every day—no furry muzzle bopping my hands off the keyboard when it’s time to stretch and get out of the house. And I haven’t felt motivated to go to the gym. It’s chilly and impersonal and the three large flat-screen TVs broadcast an endless stream of bad news, too depressing.

But a visit with my cardiologist last week and my lead rheumatologist on Monday made it quite 2078973271_3307fc3441clear that I will feel a whole lot better if I move more. It’s critical for my longterm health and well being. (Not to mention body image—without Ginger’s nudging to walk regularly, I’ve put on five unwanted pounds since February—all below the waist.)

This has all been complicated by two issues: the fact that if I exert too quickly, I get short of breath due to some physiological complications of scleroderma, and the fact that my feet, despite all my efforts to find the right shoes, tire easily. They’re really sensitive from thinning fat pads, also due to scleroderma.

After long conversations with both trusted physicians, however, the bottom line is this: my body is high maintenance, but if I’m mindful of the boundaries of my endurance, the more I exercise, the more I’ll be able to endure.

So, I basically have to get off my butt and work out for a half hour at least three days a week.

I know I could listen to audiobooks or podcasts or music. But I’d rather read while I exercise. I have a backlog of books and New Yorker magazines. So my first strategy is going to be to try to read while I use the stationary bike. The treadmill is another option, but if I want to go easy on my feet, the bike may be a better bet.

Neither of these options sound thrilling. They don’t call it a treadmill for nothing. And a stationary bike is, well, stationary. But I can’t ride a regular bike anymore because of the pressure it puts on my wrists. So, I have to make the best of what I can actually do.

Another psychological obstacle to overcome: I will never look like all those pictures of buff, attractive people that decorate the fitness center, supposedly as motivation—”This could be you!” Nope. No way. In fact, I think those images do more to discourage me, because the ideal is so far beyond my reach. 

But the reality is that striving for an ideal body is so not the point. This is about building endurance, feeling more flexible and confident. Trusting myself that, even if I have this damn disease, I can still be physically strong.

My cardiologist said I shouldn’t overdo it, and there’s no need to do big, strenuous routines on the bike or to run on the treadmill. Just listen to my body and do what I’m comfortable doing, to start, and work up from there.

They convinced me. I know I have to. And who knows? Maybe I’ll surprise myself and actually enjoy the gym. Stay tuned. . . .

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.

Photo Credit: Harry Pujols

Hail, Caesar!

I tried an experiment last week. I had to go to New York City on business overnight. There is no easy, direct public transit from Central Massachusetts. So, because I was in Boston during the day on Wednesday, I took Amtrak to Manhattan, and planned to take a bus back home the following evening. The bus was scheduled to make three stops in Connecticut along the way, including a transfer in Hartford.

247603105_e1a7241212_zI’m not crazy about long bus trips, but the plan saved me from having to drive home late at night, either from Boston in the east or from Springfield in the west, if I had gone Amtrak all the way. 

I thought I was being very organized. I had all my tickets printed out, in addition to the email versions on my phone. For some reason, the bus tickets (one for each leg of the trip home) printed out back to back, which rarely happens on my printer. So I assumed it was intentional to save paper.

Wrong. After a full day’s meeting on Thursday, I made my way to the Port Authority Bus Terminal in Midtown and found my gate. Then I noticed, to my dismay, that everyone else in line had two tickets—one to Hartford, and one to their connection.

When it was my turn to present my ticket and photo ID to our driver, I explained my dilemma and asked if I could just show him the ticket and keep it for my transfer. No, he informed me, he had to take it. They don’t accept electronic versions. Only paper. I needed to reprint my ticket when I got to Hartford.

Now, we had 15 minutes in the schedule to transfer busses. I knew the Hartford bus station was small. But I was nervous. And frustrated. If only I’d thought to make a second copy, just in case. After everyone was on the bus and our driver was finishing his paperwork, I asked him again if there was any chance I could show the PDF on my phone to the other driver. No, he reiterated, but he was sure I’d have enough time to take care of it in Hartford.

Nothing I could do but wait the three hours until we got there. We pulled out of the below-ground gate and up into traffic. Lots of it. Our driver welcomed us on the bus and introduced himself as Caesar. If it was too hot or too cold, he said, let him know. No loud phone conversations or music. No photos. I watched a flock of pigeons battling over something on a sidewalk and told myself there was no use getting upset. I just needed to sit back and see what happened.

By the time we got to New Haven, our first stop, we were already 20 minutes late. I was trying my best not to freak out. I called Al and gave him a head’s up—if I couldn’t make my connection, I needed him to drive over an hour to pick me up. Fortunately, he was his good-natured self about this delightful prospect, which at least eased the pressure.

For reasons unknown, on the way to our next stop, New Britain, we got off the highway and onto a series of side roads and byways lined with strip malls, then back on the highway. That put us behind by 25 minutes. I had no idea where we were, so I followed our route on my phone app, just to reassure myself we weren’t lost.

Finally, we pulled into Hartford, a full half-hour behind. I had traded seats with my seat-mate to be on the aisle and able to get off sooner. Caesar told us the gate number for our connection. By a miracle—or, rather, the inefficiency of bus travel—that bus was late, too, and had not yet arrived. So I grabbed my bag and ran to the ticket counter.

The ticket agent was, of course, helping someone else. And. Taking. A. Long. Time. I asked if I could just reprint my ticket, and she told me to wait my turn. Then she announced that her computer was not allowing her to print the other customer’s ticket. Meanwhile, the connecting bus had arrived.

I was at a loss for what to do. Fortunately, Caesar had come to the ticket counter. I’m not sure if he would have checked in anyway, or if he was following up on me. But given that we’d arrived late and he was due in Springfield, he could have just left. Instead, he walked with me back to our bus, pulled out his envelope of tickets, found mine, walked me back to the ticket counter and asked the agent to make me a copy. Of course, the copier was off and needed to charge. Did I mention this is not a 21st century operation? But within a couple more long minutes, it fired up and I had my copy. I thanked Caesar profusely and ran to the connecting gate.

I was the last person on the bus. We sat for another 10 minutes, for reasons unknown, and then departed. I called Al to let him know I’d made it.

“I guaranteed you would,” he said.

“How?”

“I just looked up the directions to Hartford.”

We laughed. Thank goodness. In the end, I made it to our own Union Station just 15 minutes later than I should have and was very glad, indeed, to see Al waiting for me with an open car door.

My knees were shot from the bus ride, with its cramped seating and worn out shock absorbers. And my nerves were a bit frayed. I was really tired. But if it weren’t for our driver, who took the extra few minutes to make sure I was able to make my connection—despite the fact that I was the only one on his bus who did not know the rules of the archaic ticketing system—it would have been a much longer ordeal. Maybe he took pity on me. Or maybe he thought it was ridiculous, too.

Hail, Caesar.

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.

Photo Credit: Daniel Lobo

Beta Test

This summer, I’m in charge of Emily’s fish. He’s a cobalt blue Beta named Stitch, and he lives in a large glass bowl on our living room mantel, our little guest while Em’s away at an internship for her master’s degree program.

So far, I’ve succeeding in keeping him alive. This is remarkable, because when our girls were in grade school and went through a phase of having Betas (notice the plural), at least three of them died in fairly rapid succession.

This may have been due to the fact that we kept the fish bowl on top of the shelving that held our TV, and the water could have overheated. Or, more likely, it may have been due to the fact that I tried to clean the bowl and change the water every so often and probably shocked the poor fish to death.

This time, all I have to do is give Stitch two pellets of food every morning and add a little distilled water to his tank when the level drops by about an inch. Easy enough.

It took me a few tries to figure out how best to give him the pellets. They are very tiny, and I can’t grasp them with my fingers. So I scoop them out of their bag with a plastic spoon. Then I drop them into the water, being very careful not to drop the spoon in the water, too. That would not go over well.

For Stitch, this is the highlight of his day. As soon as I walk over to his tank and say hello (yes, I do talk to him), he swims over and jiggles around, fluttering his translucent blue flippers in what I can only describe as great fishy excitement. He doesn’t always find the pellets right away, so I tap the bowl in the right direction to give him a hint. Then he gulps them down. And swims back to see if I’m going to give him any more.

At this point, I say good bye and walk away, so as not to raise his expectations that there’s more food to come.

Really, it’s amazing how much you can commune with a fish.

I wonder what he’s thinking in his little Beta brain. Clearly, he’s learned how to recognize me, even if he doesn’t have a clue who or what I am, other than his source of food. I wonder if he hears the music on the stereo or the radio. Or our voices when Al and I are talking.

Mostly, he just floats gracefully around in his bowl, up and down, around and around. Sometimes he sleeps. Sometimes he zig zags. Sometimes he flutters. He seems content. Nothing to do, but just be.

I almost forgot to feed him one day last week—trying to do too much in too little time, juggling a lot of projects and family events and other responsibilities. I’m traveling on business again later this week, and I’ve been pushing to finish one thing and another before I go away overnight.

I’ll be sure to say goodbye to our grandfish before I leave (Al’s in charge while I’m away). And try to remember, in the midst of all my busyness, what Stitch does so well—just be.

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.

Salute

Memorial Day is just past, the unofficial beginning of summer. I know this because my email in-box has been swamped with sales promotions since last Thursday, the scent of barbecues wafted through our neighborhood for the past three days, and numerous friends posted testimonials to veterans on Facebook.

Beyond that, however, one could easily have spent the entire past weekend with no sense of the holiday that marks sacrifices made by our nation’s soldiers.

On Sunday and Monday, Al and I walked to friends‘ homes to share meals. We strolled along leafy green streets, watched kids shooting hoops in driveways, greeted neighbors working in their gardens. I thought how lucky we are to live in a place that’s so peaceful and safe—untouched by the ravages of war on home soil.

We have our nation’s strong defenses to thank for that, and I’m grateful to all those who serve to protect us from harm. There are many, many problems to solve in this country, and our security in a dangerous world is not a given.

It’s easy to forget this as we get immersed in life’s daily upsets and annoyances. On Friday afternoon, I went to CVS to pick up a prescription that I’d called in the week before. It had been misplaced. After twenty minutes of fruitless searching, the pharmacist refilled the order. But she told me that she could only give me 30 days’ worth of pills, rather than the 90 days I was accustomed to, due to an unannounced change in our insurance. This had significant financial implications—the copay is $100 for one month’s supply, but had been $200 for three months. So, now, I am stuck with a whopping 50 percent increase for medication I need. This made me quite frustrated, to say the least.

By Monday evening, however, I had regained perspective. Yes, this is unfair and extremely expensive. But I consider myself very fortunate to be able to get the medications and health care I need to stay strong—despite the many imperfections in our health care system. Elsewhere in the world, where those systems break down due to war or civil insurrection, managing a chronic disease can become impossible.

When I was growing up in the early ’60s, we marked Memorial Day with a parade in our town. I was a Girl Scout, and we marched with our troop in green uniforms and badge sashes and white gloves, along with our elementary school principal and school district leadership and the local post of the Veterans of Foreign Wars. There were bands and flags and red-white-and-blue bunting on buildings. It was both solemn and exciting to participate. I had a sense of being a part of something greater than myself.

In recalling this, I am not trying to glorify or sentimentalize war or to promote ersatz patriotism, which only serves to muddy serious and necessary debate about our country’s future. I simply think something important has been lost when Memorial Day is no longer a communal occasion for honoring veterans—when our attention span has shrunken to “liking” a salute to veterans on Facebook, and the weekend’s main events are barbecues and car sales.

In synagogue this weekend, we said a special memorial prayer for all of the soldiers who have served our country. Our rabbi called up any veterans for recognition at the end of services. Three men stood up—all in their eighties.

I’m glad they’re still with us. And I’m grateful to so many others who have been injured or who laid down their lives to protect the rest of us, so we can enjoy a good meal with friends on a warm May evening without a second thought.

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.

Photo Credit: Christopher Koppes

Believe

The world is a better place. On Monday, Mindi earned her Master of Social Work along with more than 250 classmates—idealists, all, who defy the critics and cynics who dominate our public discourse to devote themselves to improving the lives of the most vulnerable members of our society.

Am I a proud mom? You better believe it! There is nothing more rewarding than watching your oldest daughter emerge as an amazing young woman who has a great gift for helping troubled teen girls rebuild their shattered lives. Whatever she does from this point out, I know she will bring great goodness to whomever she touches.

It’s inspiring, too, to see so many talented graduates willing to take on a profession that does not compensate nearly enough for the value of the work—just because they believe in social justice, the power of empathy and the ability of one individual to make a difference for the better.

This, despite so much depressing news. In his commencement charge, the Dean ran down the list of recent tragedies—from the earthquake in Nepal to riots in Baltimore. We all took hope in the fresh faces beneath each mortarboard.

Even as I’m proud and grateful, I wonder and worry about the world that Mindi and her fellow graduates are taking on. Maybe it’s the speed with which we hear of terrible news—wars, natural disasters, exploitation and torture of innocents, riots, deadly disease, on and on—or maybe it’s the nearness of all these events via video and social media blasts, that makes the world seem so much more dangerous.

Or maybe it’s true. Or maybe I’m just getting older and feel more vulnerable.

It wasn’t all that rosy when I was in college in the 1970s, either. The Iron Curtain, China’s Cultural Revolution, Vietnam, Mutually Assured Destruction, Watergate—these were the headlines that defined my coming of age as an undergraduate. In 1980, when I earned my journalism degree (my second master’s), Americans were still held hostage in Iran, the Iran-Iraq War was raging, more than a thousand people died across the southern U.S. in a dire heat wave and Miami riots left 17 dead.

We just didn’t have 24/7 coverage coming at us from a zillion directions. CNN had only launched that June.

So, I will try to maintain my perspective and trust that Mindi and all of her wonderful fellow social work graduates will maintain their idealism and energy and belief in their ability to make a difference. And even if that idealism falters and is tested by harsh realities, I must believe that they will keep on trying. We need them, each and every one.

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.

If the Shoe Fits

Nearly every day of the past year, rain or shine, snow or heat wave, I have been wearing the same pair of shoes—my trusty black Merrell clogs. They are lightweight, the fabric breathes, they work well with my custom orthotics and they go with many of my casual clothes. As the fat pads in my feet have thinned from scleroderma, my shoe options have become significantly limited, and I’ve adjusted my style accordingly.

pink sandalsBut I still wish I could wear a nice pair of shoes—albeit flats, since heels are now out of the question—with better dresses and skirts. Plus, it’s hard to go dancing in clogs.

Last week, on a whim, I went searching online just to see what else is out there, and was rewarded by a new find: Vionic. These shoes are designed by a podiatrist. They have proper arch support and very comfortable, removable insoles—you can substitute your own, if you wish.

Best of all—they’re stylish. Finally, shoes with good support that don’t look like tugboats on my feet.

I bought three pairs—tan loafers, black sneakers and pink thong sandals. The first two arrived just in time for me to bring them along to my podiatrist appointment and ask him to retrofit a couple of sets of orthotics. He was duly impressed by the insole that comes with the shoes—designed to correct pronation, so you don’t mess up your knees and ankles.

Even with the adjustments he made to my orthotics, I realized after experimenting that the loafers are more comfortable with the insole that comes with the shoe. Amazing.

I still love my clogs. They’re the most comfortable shoes I own, and the most reliable for driving long distances (my feet swell when I sit for any length of time).

But the loafers hold up well for walking on the street and standing for extended periods. The sneakers are so lightweight and flexible that they feel like slippers. And the sandals provide excellent arch support. Plus, they’re fun. You can’t help but smile wearing pink sandals with little sequins on the strap.

Vionic also makes ballet flats. I’ll have to wait for these until I pay off my credit card. But just the idea that there might be dress shoes I could actually wear is enough to hold me for now.

I realize there are many more pressing issues in the world than whether I can have a few different pairs of attractive shoes. But when you’re living with a disease that continually constrains your options and ability to look your best, this is news worth celebrating.

I refuse to give in to looking older than I am or frailer or more disabled than I need to be. When it comes to scleroderma, dressing well is one of the most important ways I know to fight back. It’s not about being narcissistic. It’s about giving yourself the good care and mental boost that you need to keep going.

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.

Reprieve

The windows are open and James Brown belts “I Feel Good” on our local NPR station as I write at the dining room table this Monday evening. Earlier today, I took a walk without a coat, without a jacket, without gloves or a hat. All the trees on our street are leafing, the magnolias are in full bloom, joined by forsythias and rhododendrons, tulips and violets.

NYC SkylineIt actually hit 79 this afternoon when I was out running errands, although my Prius recorded the outdoor temp as 64. I think it was as shocked as I, that it finally looks and feels like spring.

Even better, I’m down to only four bandages on my fingers. Still on oral antibiotics to ensure that one very persistent infected ulcer continues to recede, oh so slowly. Both thumbs will also take more time to heal and a chronic spot on the inside of my right ring finger has acted up. But compared to where I was just a month ago, it feels like my hands are nearly bare.

This is all the more amazing, given that I did a lot of traveling last week. Business took me to Manhattan for an overnight and then a train ride back to Boston for another overnight, to conserve my energy for a writer’s conference the following day. I schlepped my wheeling carry-on bag around Midtown and Chelsea, down and up subway stairs (why are there so few escalators and elevators?), over curbs and streets and sidewalks being torn up and repaired, in and out of hotels, up and down train platforms. One very considerate New Yorker (yes, they do exist) helped me carry my bag up a second flight of subway stairs, but I did much of the hauling myself.

My hands, for the most part, did okay, since I was extremely careful with how I grasped the bag’s padded handle. But my right arm began to protest by the end of the trip. What a relief to discover that there’s a working escalator from the Amtrak platform to Boston’s Back Bay Station (not so for commuter rail tracks) when I arrived late Thursday night—and only a three minute walk to my hotel.

I was also compulsive about wearing gloves and using hand sanitizer throughout the trip. It paid off. No new infections.

I’m getting better at travel logistics. Definitely easier to pull this off as the weather improves. My new coat was just the right weight and protection for cooler, 60ish temps last week. And the travel blanket I carry with me provided the extra layer of warmth I needed on the train, which was way too air conditioned, per usual.

Coming home on the commuter rail to our home station, after a stimulating, rewarding few days, I was wiped. No energy left to read much or write on the train, just watched the scenery fly by. I was grateful I wasn’t driving. I was very glad to see Al, standing near the platform, as we pulled into the station. We enjoyed a lovely Shabbat dinner together at home. I slept soundly.

Tonight, the windows are open and its still 70 degrees. Soul Serenade is wrapping up with “Lord, I Feel Like Going Home.” It’s finally spring.

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.

Coat Check

Would someone please explain to me, when it’s still 50 degrees out, why stores are out of coats? I know it’s the end of April, but we’re far from the dog days of summer here in New England, and I don’t do all my shopping online.

104419903_e9171aaf64I discovered this strange fact of retail seasons over the weekend when I went hunting for a coat to replace my old spring/fall standby, which I’ve worn for at least ten years and is looking its age. I had a simple mission: find a shorter, wool coat that will keep me comfortable during transitional weather. Apparently this is something I should have thought of last August.

When I walked into a local Burlington (formerly Burlington Coat Factory, an off-price retailer specializing in outerwear—where I bought my now-ratty coat a decade ago), I encountered racks of summer shifts and prom dresses and all kinds of sports clothes. But where were the coats?

I asked a sales clerk. She brought me deeper into the store and showed me a few aisles amidst all the other clothes. “It’s the end of our coat season,” she said. “You’ll find the smalls over here.”

Did I mishear? I thanked her and went to look. There was one rack of small coats—including left-over winter jackets, a few raincoats and a collection of picked-over styles that clearly weren’t going anywhere. I walked around to the other side. All mediums. The next row were large and plus sizes. That’s it.

How could this be? I came here because of the coats. It can snow here in April. I know everyone else is running around in shorts and flip-flops because the sun is out, but I’m still cold, dammit!

So I started picking through the rack. I tried on long coats and short coats, designer labels and unknown brands, black, taupe, camel’s hair, red. Nothing looked good. They were either too big or too long in the sleeve or too wide in the back or too tight. Another woman was sifting through the rack, and we commiserated.

I was about to give up my quest when I discovered the clearance rack, with a few smalls mixed in with the rest. And there, hiding between an ugly black wool duffel and another black coat with a garish brash zipper, was a chocolate-brown-wool Calvin Klein trench, mid-thigh. I tried it on. The back didn’t ripple or buckle. The sleeves were roomy and didn’t bind. The pockets were in the right place, easy for my hands. I liked the color and the cut. And it cost only $55. The only drawback was the fact that the sleeves were a bit long, but I figured, at that price, I could always have them altered. Meanwhile, they’d keep my hands warm.

So, I bought it. One of life’s little victories. I’ll be wearing it when the rest of the world is going barelegged, but at least I’ll have style.

Photo Credit: Doug Ellis via Flickr

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.