Readymade

As the weather finally warms up here in Central New England, I decided on Sunday to take advantage of sales and buy a pair of summer pants. Off to the mall I went, hoping for some good luck. I really don’t enjoy shopping for clothes much anymore. I’m particular, it’s difficult to find something that fits properly, and the mirror and neon lighting can be quite cruel. In addition, all the dressing and undressing can be quite tiring on my hands. But I had some free time, the sales looked good, and I was in the right mood to give it the old college try.

The first store I tried was a disappointment. None of the pants fit properly—either too baggy or too wrinkled. As a seamstress, I know how pants are supposed to fit without “smile lines” in the seat. I also look for quality fabric and workmanship. No luck. I did, however, find a nice summer sweater on markdown, so the visit wasn’t a total loss. (Never can have enough sweaters, year-round!)

So long as I’d made the trek, I decided to check out one more store. They, too, had a good sale on pants. This time, I found a pair that fit perfectly, right off the rack. Only one problem: I couldn’t zip up the zipper all the way. This wasn’t a matter of fit; it was a matter of workmanship. The pants had a left side invisible zipper with a small pull tab, and I could not grasp it firmly enough to pull it above the waistband seam. The seam was just a bit too bulky for the zipper to easily slide past. The pull tab hurt my fingers. And there was no sense in buying pants that I couldn’t fasten properly.

Fortunately, the same style was also available in several other fabrics, and a pair of navy blue pants not only fit, but also the same type of invisible zipper worked easily. So I bought them, happy with my find at a 30 percent discount.

As I drove home, I once again thought that I really need to finally figure out how to sew a basic pants pattern that fits and just use that for the future. I had tried this several years ago, but gotten discouraged with the results. Maybe this summer is the right time to try again. Sure would solve a lot of problems.

Meanwhile, I’m glad I found what I needed within an hour. And that I can zip the zipper.

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. Please view Privacy Policy here.

Image: Artificial Photography

Extraction

So, I was hoping that my resorbing molar would hang in there at least until the summer. Not to be. After a brief hiatus a few weeks ago, the tooth began acting up, with no signs of abating. Last Monday, I realized I needed to take action, because the coming weeks are busy with Passover and travel plans, not to mention my birthday later this week, which I was not about to ruin with a toothache.

Fortunately, my periodontist was able to fit me in last Wednesday. I tried not to think about it too much in advance, and there wasn’t much time to angst, anyway. A good thing, because it is such an unpleasant experience. My periodontist is very skilled and has incredible patience, both essential to extracting a big molar from the back of my jaw when I can’t fully open my mouth due to skin that remains somewhat tight. But it’s a struggle—for both of us.

The main problem, other than simply getting all the tools in my mouth and the constant tugging at my less-than-flexible lips, was that the ligament surrounding my molar had been destroyed, thanks to scleroderma. This is the membrane that enables the tooth to wiggle when loose and be easily pulled out. Instead, as had been the case the last time I had this procedure done, the roots of my very big molar had fused to my jawbone. So he had to drill them out. Not fun. I tried to calm myself by listening to the soothing classical music in the background and focusing on my breath, which definitely helped.

Because he had to drill so deeply, it took a lot of novocaine to numb my nerves. He finally used a combination of novocaine and epinephrine, which has the advantage of intensifying the local anesthetic, but the very big downside of causing my heart to race and giving me the shakes for a while after the shot. I absolutely hate the stuff, but had not realized I hadn’t told them in advance. So that detail will go into my chart for next time.

The whole process of extricating the molar, taking an X-ray to see if he’d gotten the whole root, drilling some more, then inserting the implant and stitching me up again, took about two (very long) hours. Knowing it would be hours more before the novocaine wore off (my body processes anesthesia very slowly), I drove 45 minutes back to my home pharmacy, picked up medication (and was pleased that my new Medicare Part D pharmacy card works), got home, finished up loose ends of work, and then lay down with an icepack on my jaw. (Icepacks are tricky, because they can set off my Raynaud’s, but better to put up with that than have a really swollen face.)

Five days later, my jaw continues to heal. Swelling is receding. One of the stitches already fell out on its own, as expected. It’s not comfortable, but significantly improved from the nerve pain that was only going to get worse if I waited any longer. I charged the expense to one of our travel credit cards, so at least we’ll get some points from the ordeal.

I’m glad it’s over, and that it will be mid-summer, at least, before the next step of drilling and inserting the post for the crown. I’m also glad that the gap in my teeth is not visible, so I don’t have to look like Alfred E. Newman for the next nine months. I’m very grateful that we have the resources to deal with this, and I really, really hope that it will be years more before I have to go through it again.

And, so, another tooth bites the dust.

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. Please view Privacy Policy here.

Image: Daniel Frank

Mud Season

It’s getting warmer and muckier here in Massachusetts—but not yet so consistently warm that the bugs are swarming. So, perfect weather for a walk in the woods this past weekend, albeit stepping carefully around muddy tracks and vernal pools. Life’s cycle of renewal always boosts my spirits in the spring. I hope it does for you, too. Enjoy.

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. Please view Privacy Policy here.

Perchance to Dream

I’ve been having some trouble falling asleep, lately. I go through these bouts from time to time, when I’m trying to do too much and my mind is overstimulated, or when I’ve sat up at my computer too late, or when I watch too much news. Some of the solutions are obvious (plan in evening down time! no computer after 9 o’clock! don’t OD on the latest political crisis!). But I’ve also decided to use regular guided meditation in the morning to help me calm my thoughts.

I subscribe to Headspace, which is a great app with many guided meditation series to help with various issues. When I was dealing with my horrific ulcers the summer before last and the surgical aftermath, the series on pain management was a real boon. This time, I’m meditating my way through the sleep series, which includes both practical advice for good “sleep hygiene” as well as a mind-calming meditation to be done in the morning that helps you sleep better at night.

I was skeptical of how this would work, but lo and behold, after about ten morning sessions, I started to fall asleep more readily. I am less intimidated by the prospect of needing to fall asleep, which is the insomniac’s hamster wheel, and more able to relax. (Of course, now that I’m writing this down, who knows what will happen tonight?)

In any case, the meditation has an added benefit. Monday morning it was cold here, a drop from the mid-60s on Sunday to a wind-chilling mid-30s (welcome to New England). When I started my meditation, however, I didn’t have on any socks, because I’m ready for spring and didn’t feel like it. Of course, that meant my feet were ice cold. I wondered if meditating would improve my circulation. Sure enough, by the end of my ten minutes of visualizing a warm glow filling my body from bottom to top, my toes were actually a little pink. Not toasty, but not freezing, either.

Years ago, I had read how meditation could help Raynaud’s. I once even tried some biofeedback practice to see if it would make a difference, but didn’t have the patience to follow through consistently. Here was yet another reminder that the mind truly does influence the body. And ten minutes of calm in the morning certainly beats that nagging voice in my head urging me to start thinking-planning-doing.

I don’t expect my sleep issues to disappear, but at least it feels more manageable at present. And my toes are happier, too.

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. Please view Privacy Policy here.

Image: Cris Saur

Women’s Imaging

Monday morning. I am at one of my least favorite medical appointments: my annual mammogram. I am relieved to get through the test in a matter of minutes (even as it feels much longer when clamped in that sadistic machine). What strikes me most about this year’s visit is the new surroundings for the clinic, which has been relocated into a large medical complex. It’s the signage that gets me—a separate section within Radiology dubbed “Women’s Imaging.”

Why do they have to use a euphemism for Mammography? Is someone afraid that women are too embarrassed to go to a waiting area clearly marked for what we all know is screening for breast cancer? Do they think our sensibilities are too delicate to deal with acknowledging one of the major risks to women’s health?

I find it ridiculous. And demeaning. Being an intelligent health care consumer means being aware and informed about the realities of your medical conditions, treatment options and risks. It does not mean pretending or denying or ignoring that women have some specific health risks that merit our proactive attention.

I have made a conscious choice to follow my doctor’s recommendation for an annual mammogram. My mother had a benign cyst removed from her breast when I was in grade school. I suffer the discomfort because I want to know the results, even as the value of mammograms has come into question in recent studies. In particular, there are serious questions about whether women are being over-treated for small tumors in breast ducts that show up on the scans, but that would not actually threaten health if left untreated. (You can read more about that here.)

Fortunately, so far, I have never had to contend with a suspicious finding. I hope I never have to make a choice about such a result, but if I did, I would consult all the research to make a fully informed decision about risks of cancer versus risks of treatments. And I would want my physicians to be informed and direct with me about options.

So, let’s take women’s health seriously. Spare us the euphemisms and respect us as adults who can handle whatever life throws at us.

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. Please view Privacy Policy here.

Image: Arisa Chattasa

A Question of Identity


According to a well-known poem, March is supposed to bring breezes, loud and shrill, to stir the dancing daffodil, but so far, this most unpredictable of months just brought us a foot of snow. All area schools were closed on Monday, including the Goethe Institut in Boston, where I have been taking German classes since the fall.

I was quite disappointed. I look forward to my Monday night class each week. Not only is our instructor great, but also my classmates are a fascinating group of adults, from many walks of life, with many different reasons to pursue this singular goal: learning to speak and read German.

My own desire was sparked by our European trip last summer to honor the memory of my great grandparents, who died in a concentration camp near Prague in 1943. Our visit to Terezín and the Stolpersteine ceremony commemorating them in Berlin impacted me deeply, in ways that I found very difficult to verbalize and am still sorting out, months later. Upon our return, I suddenly realized that I needed to learn their language, the language of my mother and her parents and all my German ancestors, to process what is still beyond words for me in English.

This has turned out to be a highlight of my week. I am no foreign language maven, and I am forcing some rusty synapses in my brain to start firing again. But I am loving the challenge. Doing my homework—Hausaufgaben—is fun, a meditation of sorts that completely clears my mind of all noise and worries. There is just the puzzle to solve: How do you say that? What does it mean? How do these words fit together? How does it differ from English? Why are the words arranged that way? And how is the way that Germans think and express themselvesthe way my mother as a child and her family thought and loved and argued and dreamedhow is that defined by and encapsulated in their native tongue, in a way that was passed down to me without my even realizing it?

So much of who we are is framed and molded by the words we use to interpret the world. My mother and her parents were formal people in many ways. So when I learned that, in German, you use the formal version of ‘you’—Sie— for addressing someone older, officials, and anyone you don’t know well until you’ve met them a few times, it suddenly all made perfect sense to me. That careful adherence to rules of social etiquette conveyed to me directly and indirectly by my mother was the way she learned to understand the world from her first spoken words. Such is the power of language.

When she was dying, 20 years ago this April, my mother reverted to German. Over and over, she murmured, nein, nein, nein—no, no, no. I will never know what she was referring to. I wondered if she had traveled back to her childhood, when she had to leave her homeland to escape the Nazis. So many years later, I wondered, had a part of her remained forever trapped in a time capsule.

The search for identity is a lifelong quest. We can become mired in tragedy, loss, trauma, a chronic disease that profoundly alters our whole way of being, and let that become the focus of how we define ourselves. But I’d rather keep pushing, discovering, learning more about the world within and without. I don’t know where this new passion will lead me, but the journey fascinates.

So, until next week, auf Wiedersehen.

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. Please view Privacy Policy here.

Image: Berlin graffiti seen last summer near Alexanderplatz

High Wind Warning


Monday morning. I awake to wind, rushing and subsiding, like an angry tide. A quick check of the weather forecast on my phone reveals high wind warnings all day, with gusts over 50 miles per hour throughout the afternoon. I have to drive into Boston for an evening class. I imagine a tiring commute, fighting the wind, but am determined to go, despite plummeting temperatures.

As I make the bed and bandage my chronic thumb ulcers, I listen to the The Daily podcast by the New York Times. Today’s topic: whoever controls the incipient 5G network, which will integrate all things hooked to the Internet—self-driving cars, smart TVs, home security systems, communications networks, the power grid, artificial intelligence, our brains—will basically control the world. This is the new Cold War. The wind howls outside. I sit cross-legged on the floor, try to quiet my mind and meditate.

While cooking oatmeal and boiling hot water for tea, I call the lab that has sent me two invoices for recent bloodwork stating that we owe $150 because the claims were rejected by our insurance. This happened while our COBRA administrator had not yet told our insurance company that we had renewed our policy back in January, so I have to get the lab to resubmit.

I work my way through their phone tree until I reach the customer service line, which promptly puts me on hold. I put the call on speaker and stir the oatmeal. Winds rush through trees and around corners. I sit down at the kitchen table, sip my tea and begin to eat my comfort food. Peppy music crackles through the phone, interrupted momentarily by a male voice: We apologize for the delay. A customer representative will be with you soon. Your call will be taken in the order it was received.

Over the cycling music, another male voice cheerfully ticks off all the possible lab tests I could consider: prenatal screening with a non-invasive blood test that could inform expectant parents of any chromosomal abnormalities at ten weeks, an eight year risk analysis for diabetes, a comprehensive heart health profile. I wonder about lab test results in a world of 5G interconnectivity. Who will have access to what about me in the future? Who does already?

Eight minutes in, a woman takes my call. She asks for the invoice number, my name, address, insurance policy ID, group ID (name, rank, serial number). I answer. She goes silent. The wind rushes outside the kitchen windows. She tells me to disregard the invoices and that the claims will be resubmitted. I hang up, finish what’s left of my oatmeal, rip the invoices in half and text Al the good news.

I think about the bits of data shooting from my fingers through the Internet to his phone. I think about the digital footprint of this blog, drifting forever in cyberspace. I think about a video clip of three horses galloping away from a swirling wind turbine, seconds before it disintegrates in a powerful storm. As I type, the evergreen boughs of the yew beyond my office window chop and sway in the rushing wind.

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. Please view Privacy Policy here.

Image: Benny Jackson

Excuses, Excuses

My desk is a mess. So is my office. Stuff is being fruitful and multiplying when I’m not looking. Honest.

I blame this cluttered state of affairs on my hands. It’s hard to pick up piles of paper and sort and file, because I’ll inevitably bang my fingers. There’s not enough room to properly store my books. I need to have that stack here and this stack there for easy reference. Right.

Then again, I like having lots of interesting stuff around me when I work. There are my little turtle statues to play with. And a bronze T-Rex that I got when I was maybe five years old at the Museum of Natural History in New York. And a cube that I can rearrange to show various paintings by Edward Hopper, depending on my mood.

Of course, I must have at least two pens nearby and a red marker and yellow highlighter and pencils to keep track of my work progress in my handy Bullet Journal. (Yes, I’m addicted.)

And how can I NOT have that pile of reference books on the side of my desk? Or those mail solicitations that I need to remember to follow up? Or those really cool beads that I bought on sale last week to string into a necklace?

Then again, it would be nice to have a clear space in front of me and to get rid of those papers I really, really need to shred, already. And move that stack of old files to the cabinet in the basement. And make some decisions about what stuff is truly necessary.

Al has offered his hands to help anytime. Maybe when I can no longer move in here, I’ll take him up on it.

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. Please view Privacy Policy here.

Standard Time

So, we set the clocks back this weekend, and the days feel much shorter—even though the amount of daylight is actually only a few minutes less than it was before. It’s all relative. How you perceive length of days depends on  how the rising sun and impending darkness encircle your waking, working, active hours.

Even as I know this, the shift to an earlier sunset always feels claustrophobic. My body has to adjust. The older I get, the less I’m convinced that switching the clocks is really necessary. It’s an artificial imposition on nature’s true rhythms.

But this is just howling at the moon. I try to remind myself that our reversion to standard time also means that in a few weeks we will arrive at the winter solstice, and the days will grow longer, once again.

The earth spins, the pendulum swings, the tides ebb and flow. Election Day has finally arrived, and tomorrow, whatever the outcome, the sun will still rise and set. I try to remind myself that the longest nights eventually give way to more daylight. I try to remind myself that change is the only constant.

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. Please view Privacy Policy here.

Image: United States seen from orbit photo by NASA

What I Want

I want to write something positive, but I’m having a hard time. The events of the past week and weekend are weighing heavily on my mind, and to pretend otherwise would be disingenuous.

Back in the ’70s, when I was in graduate school at Carnegie-Mellon in Pittsburgh, I lived in Squirrel Hill. I was not involved in Jewish life at that time, but I remember the community fondly, as an intimate, comfortable urban neighborhood where I felt safe walking any time of day or night. I received my master’s degree in public management and policy analysis from what is now the Heinz College at CMU, at a graduation ceremony in a synagogue near the university—not the site of Saturday’s massacre, but a few blocks from there.

It is heartbreaking to comprehend what happened at the Tree of Life Congregation Synagogue on Shabbat. Just as it’s terrifying to comprehend that a dozen-plus pipe bombs were sent to critics of the president last week. Thank goodness the bombs never exploded and that the alleged bomber was quickly apprehended. So much violence that the fatal Kentucky shooting last Wednesday of two people of color by a white man who had been unable to enter, and presumably attack, a nearby, predominantly black church was barely noted by the national media

I could tie these events and so much other bad news (climate change, anyone?) thematically to the issue of stress and how it affects health, so that I could relate it more directly to the focus of this blog. But what’s happening to us in America today is about much more than that. So much that I have taken for granted about our democracy feels like it is unravelling. It seems as if we have reached some monstrous tipping point, and that more blood will be shed before we get through these dark times.

I try to remind myself that I grew up in the ’60s, when there were riots in the streets, we practiced duck-and-cover in grade school against the threat of nuclear attack, the Vietnam War was raging, and political leaders were assassinated. Our nation survived all that. Somehow, we have to get through this, too.

I want to live in a country that champions empathy over narcissism, that respects the rights of individuals without shredding civility, that prizes heart over hate. I want fair and free elections. I want the voices of calm and reason and hope to prevail over the voices of anger and fear and divisiveness.

I have to believe we are all better than this. As of this writing, a group of Muslim Americans has raised more than $130,000 to help Jewish victims of the Pittsburgh synagogue massacre. This is the true spirit of America. This is the America we need to cherish and support and strengthen.

Election Day is one week from today. Please. Vote. The health and future of our democracy depends on us 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. Please view Privacy Policy here.

Image Credit: Zoran Kokanovic