Sounds of Silence

I should be over my rotten cold by now. It’s been more than a week, for crying out loud! For those of you who read last week’s entry, I’m happy to report that my childhood friend was happy to get together for a rare Boston visit, despite my emerging symptoms. But by Thursday, I tanked. Not only was I sneezing and coughing. I lost my voice.

The timing couldn’t have been worse. We had a big weekend, celebrating one of my brother-in-law’s 70th birthday, with family visiting from all over the country. And I wanted to be there, and I could not just sit there. So I whispered and croaked through conversations. We hosted my other brother-in-law and one of his daughters as house guests, and both Mindi and Emily were home, too. It was great. Except I really shouldn’t have been using my voice, and I probably set myself back several days.

So now I’m doing my best to keep silent. This is not easy for a woman who is very verbal. On the one hand, it’s been a blessing to have a quiet house to work in so far this week. I can express myself via email and text messages and writing for clients, as well as through my own creative writing.

On the other hand, I can’t talk on the phone with anyone or conduct a meeting or get together with a friend or have a simple conversation with Al. Every time I speak, he tells me (with more than a hint of pleasure) that I need to rest my voice. He’s right, of course. There is no way to heal laryngitis other than silence. Even whispering is damaging (as Emily informed me via an article from Scientific American).

So over dinner Monday night, I wrote Al notes on a yellow pad and he spoke in response. Interesting way to communicate—totally different rhythm. At least I didn’t have to repeat myself. I wish I knew sign language.

I’m experiencing silence at another level, as well, because my left ear is blocked up. Even as my sinuses are finally clearing, my ear is not, yet. So external sounds like music on the radio are a bit muffled, although certain soft noises are quite clear (a dripping faucet, crinkling paper). And eating or brushing my teeth is amplified—as well as my tinitus. The ringing is really loud.

Scleroderma adds a layer of complexity, of course. Since I have Sjogren’s syndrome, I have to think very carefully about how to use decongestants, trading off the boomerang risks of nasal sprays with the discomfort of making dry mouth worse at night. Too much oral decongestant sets off my Raynaud’s. Adhesive nasal strips at night help my breathing but can irritate the delicate skin on my nose. Most of all, I need to do whatever is necessary to get a good night’s sleep. On and on it goes. Hard to be patient.

Fortunately (I certainly hope), my voice and hearing loss are transitory. But it surely makes me appreciate the challenges that those who live with permanent speech or hearing impairments have to deal with every day. I’m also very grateful to be able to work for myself at home and not lose income because I can’t report to an office setting when I feel this way.

Okay, enough complaining. Thanks for listening, Dear Reader, and may you avoid a rotten spring cold of your own. Be well.

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: David Di Biase

Ethical Dilemma

It’s Monday evening. About nine hours ago, as I was preparing for a video conference with clients, I noticed a swollen gland in my neck. By mid-afternoon, my throat was gucky. By dinner time, I had chills. Now my head is getting stuffy and my right nostril is clogging.

A rotten old cold. Haven’t had one in months.

Illustrations of Ventilation by Lewis W. LeedsSo what’s the big deal? I have plans for Tuesday afternoon to meet up with an old friend whom I haven’t seen in well over a decade. She’s in Boston for a conference. We’ve been planning this get-together for more than a month. Do I stay home or do I go?

Colds—really, respiratory viruses—present an ethical dilemma. Are you actually so sick that you risk getting worse by going out, or giving it to someone else (your good friend from childhood)? Or do you just power through it and take your chances (for yourself and everyone else with whom you come in contact)?

Most people tend to favor the latter approach. Do what you want to do because, well, you want to. Go to work even if you’re under the weather because, well, you have to. It’s “only a cold,” after all. Everyone gets them. If you stay home whenever you have a little sniffle, you’re considered a hypochondriac or a baby.

But that is why colds are so ubiquitous. Respiratory viruses are highly contagious. Untreated, they can develop into much more serious, chronic health challenges, such as bronchitis or pneumonia, or trigger asthma. Your little sniffle can make someone else really sick.

When I ran a marketing department at a small New England college, I always used to tell my staff to go home if they were sneezing and coughing, even if it was “just a cold,” so they’d get better faster and not infect the rest of us. They appreciated it (most of them, anyway—some worried about using up sick time), and I believe our department was healthier and more productive as a result.

My natural tendency is to favor the ounce-of-prevention-is-worth-a-pound-of-cure approach, just because my own health requires careful management. I also think it really matters to take others’ health and feelings into account when weighing the should-I-go-or-stay decision. And yet—my friend and I haven’t seen each other in ages, and I don’t know when we’ll have another chance to get together anytime soon.

Complicating all this: It’s supposed to be a chilly, rainy day in Boston. Not my kind of weather under any circumstances.

What to do? After dinner, I emailed my friend and told her what was up. I don’t want to impose my germs on her, but I also don’t want to cancel our date without letting her weigh in. I said I’d let her know how I was doing in the morning. Then I loaded up on fish oil and Vitamin C.

Now I need to get a good night’s sleep. Maybe I’ll get lucky. This is a fast moving cold, and it could be resolved by morning (possible but unlikely). Or maybe I won’t feel all that bad, and we can just be careful. Worst case scenario: we can always Skype.

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: Illustrations of Ventilation, from Lectures on Ventilation (1869) by Lewis W. Leeds. Courtesy of Public Domain Review.

Swell

I turned 62 on Monday, one of those in-between birthdays that aren’t a major milestone. But this time around, instead of wrestling with the feeling that I’m just getting older, I decided to do something I’d never done before. Every year is a chance to experience new things. Despite living an hour’s drive from the Atlantic, I’ve never been whale watching, and I’ve always been curious to see live whales in their ocean habitat.

The season opened this past weekend, so we planned a trip for Sunday. I found a great company, a family owned business in Gloucester that has a marine biologist as a tour guide and that participates in whale conservation efforts. I found a discount coupon online. I found a nice restaurant nearby. The weather looked promising.

Only one glitch—when I called about reservations, I learned that there were going to be gale force winds off the coast on Saturday (despite great weather here), so it was best to check back on Sunday morning to find out if the waves had eased. Fortunately, the report was promising on Sunday—still swells, but okay for sailing—so we set out for Gloucester.

We made it with minutes to spare before departure, after getting lost along the way. But the sun was shining, everyone was helpful and friendly, and we found a good seat along the starboard side of the ship. I came prepared with all my winter gear—warmest coat, hat, mittens, leg warmers—to beat the sea breeze chill. As our ship powered beyond calm Gloucester Harbor and began to hit some swells, I was fine, enjoying the ride, like a kiddie rollercoaster.

It took about 45 minutes to arrive at the edge of the Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary, where we had a good chance of seeing humpback whales feeding. Sure enough, as we drew closer, our guide informed us that there were at least two humpbacks off the port bow at about 11 o’clock. But when I got up with Al to move around and take a look, all of a sudden I felt terribly dizzy. I immediately sat back down and tried to regain my bearings, but the ship was dipping and swaying. I felt just awful.

Fortunately, one of the crew saw me and offered to help me walk to the stern, which was more stable, and sit down. She brought me a small cup of ginger ale, half a Saltine and a plastic bag, just in case. Al was right by my side. To my surprise, the food actually helped a bit (neither of us had eaten more than breakfast, and the fact that we’d arrived so late precluded any lunch—a good thing, as it turned out).

But I was still very dizzy, so we found a space on the starboard bench, and I lay down with my head in Al’s lap. The whales, however, remained on the port side. Not an auspicious beginning to our expedition. Then they swam under the boat and began to spout near enough so I could lift my head and see. With a graceful flip of their flukes, they slipped beneath the waves. We were able to note the distinctive black-and-white patterns on the flukes’ undersides, which, our guide explained, is as unique to each humpback as a human fingerprint. These two he recognized from file photos as Mend and Evolution, familiar visitors to the Stellwagen Bank.

I felt badly about depriving Al from seeing the activity on the port side, but he reassured me we didn’t want to try to move over there. Two big, beefy guys were losing their lunches. Later, we learned that we had been in the midst of eight foot swells. Lots of people got sick. So I actually held my own better than I’d thought.

As our ship motored to a better viewing location, our guide explained more fascinating facts about humpback whales—including that it’s the males who sing, and that their songs are unique to each breeding ground. One whale will start singing, and then another picks up the melody and modifies it a bit, to demonstrate his prowess to the females. This continues throughout the breeding season like a game of telephone, so by the end of the season, the whale song is completely different.

I closed my eyes (which helped my dizziness) and did my best to relax with the boat’s rocking, which also helped, and listened to the guide’s narration. Then, our tour group got lucky. A juvenile humpback breached halfway out of the water and flopped back. Of course, it was on the port side. But then the whale (we dubbed it Hubert Humpry in honor of this presidential election season—yes, we’re dating ourselves) swam toward the bow and breeched again. This time, I managed to stand up on tiptoes, hugging Al tightly to steady myself, to see the action.

Our guide explained that humpbacks breach for four reasons: to rid themselves of parasites, like barnacles; to help their digestion; to signal other whales with the sound of their hitting the waves (sound travels farther under water); and to play. Hubert, I decided, was definitely playing, because he was putting on quite a show, smacking the waves with his huge flipper and breaching at least a half dozen times, all around the ship. Magnificent.

Between the two of us, we managed to capture it on video. I include the edited version, above, for your enjoyment. (If you can’t see the embedded video, click here for another view.) But there is nothing like seeing these extraordinary creatures in person—even risking motion sickness to get there.

There is so much to learn, to see, to do. I’m 62.

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.

Too Late

I hate waiting in doctor’s waiting rooms. If I were to add up all the time I’ve sat around over the past thirty-odd years because my docs were running behind, it would probably add up to at least a few months.

traffic-jam-1549835-639x478So I very rarely arrive the prescribed 15 minutes early. Rather, I’ve cultivated the fine art of arriving just on time, to minimize any additional wait because of inevitable delays.

This gets a bit tricky when I have appointments in Boston. Traffic can be unpredictable. My strategy is to schedule my appointments in the late morning or early afternoon, avoiding rush hour.

Usually this works. Not so on Monday. I was cruising along, right on schedule to arrive in my Boston Medical rheumatologist’s office at 1:00, when I hit a long line of traffic trying to exit the Mass Pike at the Prudential Center. This means nothing to anyone who doesn’t know Boston’s spaghetti noodle road system; basically, it’s a really long exit from a tunnel. You can’t see anything ahead of you but the few cars in front.

Forty-five minutes later, I finally arrived at my doctor’s office, a full half-hour late. The grace period is 15 minutes. I had called, twice, to let the office know I was running behind. As I entered the hospital parking garage, I got a call: my doc could fit me in at 3:40—only because someone had cancelled out. Nothing earlier available.

I was not happy. But there was nothing to be done. To turn around after driving more than an hour-and-a-half would have been a total waste of time. Throwing a tantrum wouldn’t change the situation. Why should others have to wait for me, if there really was an option to jump the queue, because I got stuck in traffic? Not their fault any more than it was mine.

At least I had some reading material with me. Might as well get lunch and then sit in the lobby, which has a great view, and read. So that’s what I did.

Fortunately, my rheumatologist was running on time. We had a good talk, I took care of some diagnostics afterward, and I beat it out of Boston just as the Red Sox opening game was ending and Fenway crowds were walking across the bridge that spans the Pike Extension.

It was too late to get to my Pilates class. But other than that, I accomplished everything I needed to. It was actually a pleasure to sit and read. I’d been trying to get to this book for weeks to check some historical details for my novel.

Lessons learned: It’s wise to allow more commuting time for Boston appointments so I don’t get stuck again. Always bring my laptop, just in case, to have the option to write. And as long as I have some interesting reading or writing to do, any big delay won’t really matter, after all. Getting upset about stuff outside my control is the biggest time-waster of all.

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: Niall Crotty

Season’s Greetings

IMG_0491 3Punxsutawney Phil is a liar. The prognosticating ground hog promised a short winter when he failed to see his shadow back in February.

Well, it’s the first week of April, and it snowed here Sunday and Monday. Today’s low is in the teens. My Pilates class was canceled last night because the roads were a mess.

Saturday afternoon when I took my walk, I was marveling at the green lawns, the daffodils and hyacinths in bloom, budding leaves. All that is blanketed in white, now. And even though I know the snow will melt in a few days and be forgotten soon enough, I’m just sick and tired of winter weather.

I’m tired of wearing layers of sweaters.

I’m tired of mittens.

I’m tired of leg warmers.

I’m tired of wool hats, chap stick and full-length down coats.

I’m tired of my hands turning blue and my digital ulcers smarting if I don’t pile on all that stuff.

Yup, I’m more than ready for consistently warm weather. (Hear that, Phil? The key concept is consistent.) We’ve had some crazy fluctuations lately, from balmy teases to frigid temps, sometimes within a period of hours.

I know, I know. It’s New England. “Wait a minute and the weather will change,” and all that. April here is finicky. I still have snow tires on my Prius (thank goodness).

But, come on. It’s enough already. You’ve had your turn, Old Man Winter. Give spring a chance. Is it really too much to ask for enough warm afternoons to unfurl leaves and unleash the smell of freshly turned soil? Do you have to freeze the tulips before they’ve flowered?

I’m not the only one asking. After such a long, dark season of too much political angst and bad news, we could all use a boost.

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 Living

rain-1199464-639x425It’s raining today as I write, a chilly, damp, late March Monday. I’m still in layers of sweaters. The heat is on. I’m wearing my spring green wrist warmers to thaw out my fingers and remind myself that warmer weather is on the way. Really.

But this is not what’s preoccupying me this morning. Nor are my latest episodes of living with scleroderma. (Should I write about the odd tic in my left eye? my search for adaptive tools? the challenges of getting dressed?) No. What’s on my mind is just living, right now, right here, wrestling with all that’s at risk around us.

There is the U.S. presidential election, which has me profoundly worried. I have no intent of turning this blog into a political platform for my personal views (or anyone else’s, for that matter). But I have become a political junkie, reading, watching and listening to the best news analysis I can find to stay on top of developments. I also am inexorably drawn to fiction and histories about the rise of demagogues and Fascism. And I am struggling with my own role: What should I be saying, writing, doing in response?

There are other issues that weigh heavily on my mind—not only the proliferation of terrorism, once again making headlines with last week’s attack in Brussels, but the insidious cultural conflicts fueling this evil; the growing disparities between the haves and have-nots of this world and where that will lead as our planet becomes more crowded (which is intrinsically connected to the rise of terrorism); the existential threat of global warming. And, again, I struggle with my response. What will I be able to say, at the end of my life, that I did to help set things right?

I am not one who can easily compartmentalize and shove all this to the back of my mind. In some ways, I envy those who can. I always have to catch myself from spinning in my head about all the what-ifs, whatever is making me feel vulnerable. These days, however, I feel like I’m in a constant state of orange alert. (Obviously, this is not good for my health—physical, mental or spiritual.)

By comparison, my scleroderma and the challenges it presents are just a lot of white noise. I’m confronted by it every minute of every day—how to pick up a cup, handle a pen, turn a key in a lock, put on a sock, brush my teeth. It is frustrating, angering, time-consuming, exhausting, sometimes painful, often a real nuisance. But it is not what concerns me most in my life.

What concerns me are my family, my art, my work, my friends, my community, my country, our planet. What truly preoccupies me is how to live a meaningful life, how to make my small corner of the world a better place. And this is the real point of writing this blog. Living with a chronic disease can absorb a lot of physical, mental and emotional energy—for many good reasons. But it simply is not and cannot be all that we are about. Scleroderma is only a piece of me. It is far from all of me.

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: Griszka Niewiadomski

Excavations

Decluttering the house remains high on my list of things I want to accomplish this year. So last Thursday, Al and I agreed to take time out from work responsibilities to once again tackle the basement family room.

recycling-1239302-639x426It’s really a family room in name only, now. Both of our daughters are grown and living on their own, and neither of us spends any time in that space anymore.

The television is huge and old and no longer attached to our cable, because we would have had to pay for an extra signal conversion box. The DVD player stopped functioning at some point. Toys and games from the girls’ childhood gather dust.

We had started the decluttering project last fall, but stalled when we discovered a major plumbing leak, fixed soon after. The room needed to dry out and, well, we got busy. Not that I didn’t think about it every time I went down to the laundry room on the other side of the basement.

But one of my greatest frustrations with my hands is that I cannot take on any part of major cleaning and organizing on my own. If I try to dust or vacuum, I inevitably smash my fingertips, which are severely resorbed and very painful when banged. Same goes for when I pull old papers out of boxes or move cartons or sort through books.

Fortunately, Al gets it and knows how to help me. He pulls stuff out of boxes and off the shelves, reviews it with me, and then we make a decision about what to do with it: donate, recycle or toss.

We must have sorted, stacked and bundled for at least four, maybe five hours. In the process, we filled several cartons and bags with print materials from my years working in higher ed marketing (I saved my favorites and sent the rest to recycling). I fished through a carton of old sewing patterns, many of which were decades old, and relinquished them for recycling, finally admitting to myself that they were really too dated to ever reconsider making. (The only ones I did save were patterns for a teddy bear, a timeless summer dress and my wedding gown.)

Of the toys, we saved the classics—LEGO sets, wooden Lincoln Logs, blocks, a box of flocked horses, jacks, marbles, a traveling backgammon board that I thought we had lost, a magnetic Scrabble game, jigsaw puzzles and the like. The rest of the old board games, baby puzzles and toys, we donated to a city neighborhood center. The spare office chair went to Goodwill. We pulled together family videotapes to digitize on DVDs. I wound balls of yarn from half-finished knitting projects to bring to my weaving class.

So, we made progress. But there is still a lot more to do. And it’s dusty down there. It took me at least a day to feel like my lungs were clear. I may just have to hire some help to get that under control before we excavate some more.

We are fortunate, I know, to have had the resources to acquire all this stuff over the years—and a home to fill. But the older I get, the less I want to keep. The most precious finds in our family room didn’t take much space at all: a few loose photographs of family events long forgotten, memories of the tapes we used to watch together when the girls were young, a little wooden toy village small enough to fit in a matchbox that had once been my mother’s.

Ultimately, the best way for me to preserve what I really care about, in the least space, with no cleaning or dusting or other maintenance required, is simply to write about it. Thank goodness, I can still rely on my hands for that.

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: Griszka Niewiadomski

Thumb’s Up

I’ve been getting clumsier in recent months. I drop all kinds of things—keys, coins, bottle caps, you name it, anything that involves dexterity and a good grip.

hands-1436113-640x480The other day I was cooking and picked up a full bottle of olive oil by the top, not realizing the cap was loose. Unable to hold on (fortunately, the bottle was plastic), I dropped it on the kitchen counter, spilling oil all over my favorite cookbook.

The cookbook is now well stained—not a disaster, once I unstuck the pages, since I consider my spattered cookbooks to be well-loved, like the Velveteen Rabbit. But still, I wish I hadn’t made such a mess.

There’s a good explanation for all of this klutziness: My right thumb (I’m right-handed) has built up layers of dead skin over abnormal thickening. It’s gotten so bad that it’s becoming difficult to hold even a pen or pencil. I’ve been tolerating this as best I can, bandaging it and even applying some urea emulsion cream that I got from my podiatrist to try to loosen the layers so I can remove them.

But none of this has really worked, and I realized this winter, when Al’s employee health insurance coverage improved (thank goodness), that it was time to see my (once again affordable) hand surgeon at Boston Medical and get his assessment. I knew my thumb needed debridement, and I knew I couldn’t possibly do it myself.

It took two months to get in to see him, but I finally had my appointment last week. It’s been years since I last needed his help—once to remove stubborn calcinosis from my left thumb that had adhered to the bone, and another time to remove two surgical pins from my right index finger, left from previous hand surgery to correct a severe flexion contracture, which were causing pain.

Seeing him was well worth the wait. He is the antithesis of the stereotypical surgeon—patient, empathetic, willing to discuss all options at length. He took a look and commented that some of the pain I’m experiencing is probably due to more calcium stuck under all those thick layers of skin—right at the pressure point (why I can’t hold onto stuff).

I mentioned my bad reaction to lidocaine with epinephrine when I had calcium removed from the bridge of my nose last month. “I never use that combination with scleroderma patients,” he said. “The epinephrine causes the blood vessels to constrict.” Who knew? My other doc (and his resident, who gave me the shot) should have. And this is why I love my hand surgeon—he understands this disease really well.

He was not gung-ho about operating, because of all the risks of infection and my poor digital blood circulation that exacerbates healing. But he explained the choice as one of two options: either continue to live with it, as best I can, or solve the problem surgically. “That’s what we’re here for,” he said.

We agreed that I’d come back to see him in May, get a hand X-ray and discuss how to proceed. I could either have the surgery later that week or wait until June, when the weather is warmer (I hope), to boost the healing process. I have to balance my desire to take care of this as soon as possible with the most favorable conditions, including adequate time for my thumb to recover, pacing between family celebrations at the beginning and end of May, and anticipated balmy weather.

Of course, I can only guestimate the latter—the day of my appointment, the mercury hit 77° F, a record-breaking day in Boston for early March.

But at least there is a solution in sight. Meanwhile, I’ll just need to be more mindful when I pick up the olive oil bottle, or my house keys, or spare change from my wallet. And give myself a pass next time I drop something else.

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: Tibor Fazakas

Turtling

I wish I could just roll out of bed and get ready for the day in fifteen minutes. Of course, this has been an impossibility for the better part of thirty years that I’ve had scleroderma. But for whatever reason, lately, I’ve been getting more impatient with the amount of time it takes me to get up in the morning.

box-turtle-1409099-640x480Maybe it’s the tease of spring in the air, or the fact that I’m so ready for longer days and shorter nights (at least Daylight Savings Time starts this Sunday).

Or maybe it’s the fact that I have seven digital ulcers right now, which drags out my morning routine.

In any case, there seems no way around the fact that I have to plan at least an-hour-and-a-half, and sometimes two hours, just to get ready for the day.

It starts when my alarm goes off. I don’t wake easily, no matter how well I’ve slept. So I have to plan for a half-hour from the time I set my alarm to the time I actually need to get out of bed, just to give my brain enough time to come to.

After the first of far too many trips to the bathroom (my internal plumbing needs time to wake up, too), I make the bed. It’s how I start moving and stretching and setting everything in order while I clear my mind for the day ahead.

Next I have to wash my tear ducts, first with warm water and then diluted baby shampoo. This is essential so my tears don’t get blocked during the day, a complication of Sjogren’s Syndrome, a secondary autoimmune disease that can accompany scleroderma. It always feels good, and washing my face with warm water followed by skin moisturizer also relaxes my facial skin. (I used to shower in the morning, but it added even more time onto my routine, so now I save that for evening.)

After my eyes are done comes the longest step—hand maintenance:

  1. Remove overnight bandages from my fingers and wash my hands and digital ulcers thoroughly.
  2. Wipe away any adhesive residue with baby oil and wash hands again.
  3. Swipe my fingers with an alcohol wipe. I also clean any mushy ulcers with a dab of hydrogen peroxide.
  4. Prepare all my bandages and cut pieces of absorbant calcium algenate silver dressing to size.
  5. Bandage fingers. Each ulcer takes three layers: Aquaphor ointment, dressing and bandage on top.

Sometimes I’ll do this in silence, as a meditation; other times, I’ll listen to music. Lately, I’ve been reading or listening to election coverage on my iPad while I take care of my fingers. The whole process of bandaging my ulcers takes about a half-hour.

Once I’ve cleaned up all the bandage wrappers and reordered the basket that holds my hand supplies, I take my medications and eye drops. Then I brush my teeth with prescription tartar control toothpaste, an hour before I eat (another maintenance step recommended by my dentist, related both to Sjogren’s issues and trying to hold onto my teeth as long as possible despite root resorption from scleroderma).

Then it’s time for a ten-minute series of stretches that help me to work out any kinks from the night and limber up for the day. Sometimes I’ll listen to music, sometimes not. I try to sit and meditate for a few minutes at the end of my routine, to get centered.

Now it’s finally time to get dressed and put on my makeup, comb my hair, clean my glasses and finish up. This includes using ammonium lactate cream on my feet before I put on socks, to protect my skin from abrasions. The amount of time involved depends on whether I’m just wearing relaxed clothes for work in my home office or dressing up to go to appointments. Skirts or dresses with stockings take longer to put on than a pair of pants and a top. Jewelry can be tricky, since it requires more coordination; I’ve become a scarf aficionado because scarves are easy to put on, colorful and warm.

Downstairs in the kitchen, while heating water for tea, I use a sinus rinse in the adjoining bathroom—another step in Sjogren’s maintenance. And after breakfast, I take my Ibuprofen, for managing joint pain, with some yogurt, which helps my GI tract function better.

It’s a lot to do, a lot to remember. I have my routine worked out as best I can. I wish it weren’t so complicated and often tedious. Sometimes I wonder how I’ll be able to manage all these tasks when I’m older and frailer and need help. Other times I wonder if I’d actually be able to save time if I had some help. But being able to take care of my own needs remains my priority for as long as possible.

So, I keep on plugging. Every morning, I feel like a turtle. Slow and steady, slow and steady.

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: Bill Sarver

Election Season Survival Kit

12522068044_b73c88f4e9_zToday is Super Tuesday, and here in Massachusetts I’m headed to the polls to cast my ballot in the Presidential Primary. I’ve become a political junkie this election season. So much hangs in the balance for our country.

I do my best to keep on top of political news and analysis, but being a responsible citizen is also raising my blood pressure and keeping me awake at night. This is not good for anyone, whether you have scleroderma or not.

So I’ve discovered a few antidotes to election season stress, which I share with you, Dear Reader, in the hopes that we all can keep our sanity while doing our civic duty, staying informed and voting:

  1. Get the facts. Forget the misinformation, innuendo, insults, lies, Twitter rants and Facebook memes that have characterized this race so far. Find a reliable source of balanced reporting that goes beyond hyperventilating pundits and hysterical headlines. I recently discovered Nate Silver’s 538 website, which provides insightful, nuanced election analysis through a careful examination of polling data. It’s solid reporting. Reading their posts each morning helps me breathe and stay focused.
  2. Exercise. There is nothing like a walk in fresh air to clear my head of election season angst—that, and my Pilates class, or walking the indoor track and riding the bike at the gym. I can’t recommend it highly enough, whatever your favorite form of exercise. Just do it.
  3. Listen to great music. When I feel like I’m getting too wound up or depressed about the latest outrageous political headline, I immerse in wonderful music. Here’s one of my favorites, Gershwin’s Cuban Overture, performed by Lorin Maazel and the Cleveland Symphony (click on the link if you can’t see the embedded video):
  4. Watch Fred Astaire dance with Ginger Rogers. Simply the best, guaranteed to make you smile, regardless of what’s weighing on your mind, political or otherwise. Here’s a number from their 1936 classic, Swing Time, a great tap dance to “Start All Over Again” (again, just click on the link if you can’t see the video here):
  5. Look for the good in others. Despite all the darkness and truly depressing news we hear every day, and all of the candidates’ dire predictions about the future if we don’t heed their warnings, there are still good people out there doing good things. Keep perspective with a dose of positive stories from sites like David Freudberg’s Humankind.

None of this is to say we shouldn’t take this presidential election seriously. This is certainly the most important presidential race of my lifetime, one that will define the direction of this country for years to come. It’s never been more crucial to be an informed citizen and participate in the electoral process.

But it’s also essential not to get swept up in all the Sturm und Drang—especially when you’re managing a chronic disease like scleroderma that’s exacerbated by stress.

Hope this helps. And God bless America. Please.

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: DonkeyHotey via Flickr Creative Commons