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 Please view Privacy Policy here.

Image: Artificial Photography

On the Town

I did a lot of walking last week, through and beneath the streets of Manhattan. The first half of the trip was business, the second half, pleasure—spending time with my sister to celebrate our birthdays, which are three weeks apart. And celebrate, we did.

From dinner at Ellen’s Stardust Diner, where the waitstaff are all Broadway hopefuls who belt out show tunes, to a walking tour of SOHO, Little Italy and Chinatown; from a lovely stroll up the High Line to a gourmet dinner and an outstanding performance of To Kill a Mockingbird—we had a great time. The weather was beautiful, for the most part. Our hotel off Times Square was surprisingly quiet. We discovered an excellent diner for breakfast and another for some of the best apple strudel I’ve ever tasted. And we started brainstorming our next trip together.

I’m happy to report that my new sneakers worked out pretty well. My feet certainly got tired, but not as tired as they usually do, and without significant neuropathy. Also notable: as I schlepped through the subway, to and from commuter rail, New Yorkers helped to carry my carry-on up and down steep staircases. Without my ever having to ask. Angels are everywhere.

Along the way, I enjoyed wonderful art, on the street and at the Met. Here’s a sampling for your viewing pleasure:

Art Deco with words for our times at Rockefeller Center

Also seen at Rockefeller Center

In front of 30 Rock

Street art in SOHO

Artistic and delicious pastry at Ferrara in Little Italy

Statue of Chang Kai Shek in Chinatown

Street art across from the Whitney Museum entrance to the High Line

Gardening on the High Line

High Line mural

Art Deco murals and design at the Hotel Edison

The Beatle’s original instruments at the Met’s “Play It Loud” exhibit . . .

. . . and some very decorative guitars

Berlin artist Alicja Kwade’s “ParaPivot” rooftop installation at the Met . . .

. . . and a spectacular view of the NYC skyline beyond Central Park

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 Please view Privacy Policy here.


‘Tis the Season

April showers (and we’ve had plenty) certainly bring May flowers in my neighborhood. White-blossomed cherry trees and cream-colored callery pears, fuchsia magnolias and pink weeping cherries, along with maples unfurling pale green and purple leaves, grace sidewalks and lawns. White and violet violets speckle lawns that grow lusher by the day. The air smells delightful. With all the rain of late, pollen is subdued, and I haven’t started sneezing, yet.

In keeping with the season, another sign of spring has emerged: I have an infected ulcer in my left thumb. This spiked suddenly last Monday. Fortunately, it’s responding to antibiotics, which seem to be a perennial part of my world at this time of year. A good thing, because I’m traveling this week to New York for a mix of business and pleasure.

As my thumb became irritated, I wondered if I’d aggravated it by typing. Then I realized that I never use it to type. I’ve adapted to so many finger injuries over the decades that I automatically compensate for fingers that can’t comfortably or effectively strike the keys. Which made me wonder: How many fingers am I actually using to touch-type?

This is a bit like asking a centipede how it walks. I really have to stop and notice what I’m doing automatically, which can lead to more typos. But the answer is this: I use my pinky and ring fingers on my left hand, and my thumb, ring finger and pinky on my right. And I can still type quickly enough so that my thoughts translate almost immediately to the computer screen. It helps, significantly, to use an Apple “chiclet” keyboard, which has nearly flat keys with an easy touch, and a minimal rise so it’s easy on my wrists.

When my hands fell apart with severe ulcers two years ago (also in the spring), I learned to use Dragon dictation software to write. It was certainly a big help and enabled me to keep writing. But dictation taps a different part of the brain than writing brain-to-hands, and I will keep typing, even with only five fingers, as long as I can, because it is simply faster and more intuitive.

And so, I am dashing off this entry before I leave on my travels. Looking forward to fresh adventures—and to seeing how the flowers have grow when I come home.

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 Please view Privacy Policy here.

Travel Hacks

This past weekend, I tried a new way to travel to Philadelphia to see my younger daughter. Our small regional airport now offers twice daily, non-stop American Eagle Shuttle flights⎯and so far, for a reasonable price. The airport is ten minutes from my home, as opposed to an hour-plus drive to Logan in Boston or other regional airports. And the flight itself takes less than an hour, as opposed to a slightly longer flight from Boston or
a six-hour drive.

So, worth the experiment. The plane is small, as in one row of single seats on the left, and double seats on the right. Cozy, to say the least. There is also no room in the overhead compartments for regular wheeled carry-on luggage. But they offer you a valet check
for your bag.

This is a great option for me, because it means that you leave your bag at the end of the flight bridge before boarding and retrieve it on the tarmac in Philly (process is reversed for the return flight). It’s great because (a) I don’t have to hassle with asking someone to put my bag overhead since I can’t do  it myself, (b) I don’t have to pay a baggage check fee and (c) retrieval is quick and easy (no waiting at the baggage claim conveyor belt and dragging my bag off before it moves away, also a challenge for my hands).

The other advantage of the small plane: being able to sit by myself in a single seat on the left. While I didn’t need to get up during the short flight, I could easily have done so. And I had the window, too. Best of both worlds.

Recently, when traveling alone, I’ve been stepping up to the gate counter when they ask for volunteers to place bags inside the plane because the flight is too full for everyone’s carry-ons to fit overhead. I get a free checked bag, and since the claim-check is given at the gate, there’s significantly less chance of my bag getting misplaced. I may have to wait at baggage claim to retrieve my carry-on, but it makes boarding and deplaning (who came up with that word?) much easier on my hands.

The only disadvantage of flying from my local airport is no TSA Pre-check. The airport is just too small. So I have to go through the rigamarole of shoes and liquids and all that. But since the airport is so small, there’s virtually no TSA line, and the agents are more patient and friendly. The same was actually true for my evening flight back from the shuttle terminal at Philadelphia International (though the TSA agents were gruffer). It takes me longer than most to put all my stuff in the bins and move it to the conveyor belt, so it’s nice to avoid all the pressure of hustling because others are waiting in line.

So, here’s to regional airports and shuttle flights! It’s not always an option, but if you can, there are some genuine advantages that ease some of the physical and mental stress of travel. Oh, and the flight was a breeze.

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 Please view Privacy Policy here.

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 Please view Privacy Policy here.

Snap Judgment

Even as I’ve adapted to my “revised” hands a year post-surgery, sometimes they still spring a surprise on me. I was working on a sewing project on Sunday, feeling quite pleased with myself that I could manipulate the fabric, stitch with great accuracy on my sewing machine, serge precisely to finish raw edges, iron and steam as I went along to get the right finish.

Then I noticed some red stuff on the handle of my iron. At first I thought it was just some shmutz from the fabric, which is a reddish brown and tends to shed. Then I looked at my right hand. Sure enough, without realizing it, I had cut the tip on my right ring finger.

Now, this can happen to anyone, I suppose, but for me the issue was that I didn’t feel the cut at all. This is one of my fingers that was partially amputated last fall due to ulcers gone wild, and the nerves at the tip are no longer as sensitive as they once were. Fortunately, the cut was only superficial, and I hadn’t dripped any blood on my project, which would have been a mess. But it was disturbing.

How could I have missed it? As I cleaned and bandaged the finger, I reviewed what I’d been doing in the past hour or so. Then it dawned on me: I have a lot of trouble manipulating pins for this project, because some of the fabric is densely woven and my fingers are now too short to leverage even a long, glass-head pin through all the layers. So I had tried using small binder clips, instead, to hold the pieces together. But I couldn’t pry them open far enough (again, an issue of finger strength), so I used a pair of pliers—and the clip snapped away from the pliers and nipped my finger. Ouch. It smarted, but eased up, so I didn’t think I’d really hurt myself. Apparently, however, that’s what did the damage.

I was able to keep sewing after I took care of the cut (and wiped the blood off the iron handle). I’m very happy with my slow but steady progress. But I realized that I have to be more vigilant when I’m using sharp tools. I may have learned how to use my hands again, but they are simply more fragile than they used to be, and I must pay closer attention to any pain sensations, even muted. Nerves are a first line of defense, to warn us when we’re endangering ourselves—but the sentinels in my fingertips are no longer operating at full strength. Time to call in the reserves.

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 Please view Privacy Policy here.

The Poppies Grow

Sunday dawned sunny and brisk here, one of those sharp-shadowed November days when the light accentuates every ridge of bark and edge of brick like a finely detailed etching. I bundled up in multiple layers and headed downtown for our city’s annual Veteran’s Day parade, not out of habit, but because this was no ordinary November 11. It marked the 100th anniversary of the end of World War I, and I wanted to be present.

For the past few years years, I have been working on a novel set in the Great War, in 1915, and my research has given me a deep respect for the tremendous sacrifices made during that horrific conflagration, as well as for the ways in which the Treaty of Versailles that redrew post-war boundaries on three continents shaped so many of the geopolitical conflicts that we face today.

Four summers ago, Al and I traveled to Europe so that I could gain a stronger sense of place for my novel. We walked overgrown trenches, witnessed corroded but still live munitions that continue to emerge from Belgian soil (the so-called Iron Harvest), paid respects to row upon row of white grave markers in military cemeteries, discovered delicate red-orange poppies waving in Flanders Fields. They flourish in old battlefields because they favor earth that has been disturbed.

And the earth was disturbed, shredded, pounded to a muddy, barren pulp. Millions upon millions died defending, gaining, losing, regaining mere yards of turf between the trenches. In the end, the so-called peace treaty for the War to End All Wars imposed such economic hardship on Germany for its aggression that Teutonic desire for revenge set the stage for World War II.

I thought about all this as I watched the bag piper stride beneath an archway made of a huge American flag held up by two opposing fire truck ladders, as a handful of aging Marines in their red jackets and caps passed me carrying the Stars and Stripes, as units of JROTC high school students marched by in uniforms, as police rumbled past on motorcycles. The crowd was thin but respectful. A little girl handed me an American flag to wave. My fingers went numb every time I took a picture, because it was just that kind of chilly New England fall day.

The parade culminated at a memorial to World War I veterans that marks one of the entry points to the city’s downtown. I had passed it many times over the years, but never actually entered—a semi-circular granite wall engraved with the names of battles where Americans died in the War’s last year, surrounding a modest plaza with a flagpole. The mayor spoke of local residents who served and died in the War. He drew parallels between then and now and the divisive, dangerous politics of our times. Other city officials made a few remarks and laid a red-white-and-blue wreath at the flagpole’s base. A soldier read In Flanders Fields by John McCrae.

When we were in Belgium, we visited the site of the field dressing station where Lieutenant Colonel McCrae, a Canadian surgeon, artist and poet, saved soldier’s lives and wrote his famous memorial lines. That is where we found the poppies, still growing. They were wild, scattered amidst the high grass, smaller than I had expected.

McCrae’s poem ends thus: “If ye break faith with us who die | We shall not sleep, though poppies grow | In Flanders Fields.” On this centennial, with so much at risk in the world, I hope and pray that we can remember the somber lessons of World War I, the tremendous sacrifice of life, the hardships and grief and loss, and find our way through this difficult time to true and lasting global trust and cooperation for the betterment of all. Nothing less than the future of our planet hangs in the balance.

Poppies in Flanders Fields, Belgium

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 Please view Privacy Policy here.

Wild Goose Chase

Canada geese can be a nuisance, crowding public green spaces, spackling parks with poop. But they can also be magnificent. I always love watching them fly, honking signals to form their undulating V. Strangely, I haven’t heard them yet this fall, migrating south, but I expect to, soon, as the days grow noticeably colder.

Those geese may be wild, but they are certainly organized. I cannot say the same for our local CVS pharmacies last week, as I tried to chase down a refill on a prescription to keep me warm.

Now, this medication is a vasodilator that I need to control my Raynaud’s. It’s a key part of my regimen year-round, but all the more important as temperatures drop. When I realized I had only three pills left early last week, I ordered my final refill on this particular prescription via my CVS iPhone app Sunday night. Normally, I get a confirmation text that the refill is in process (which I did), and then another text when it’s ready for pick-up within 24 hours (which I didn’t).

Hmmm. Time to follow up with a phone call. The pharmacy staff who answered the phone on Tuesday told me it was on order and would arrive later that afternoon. Fine. On Wednesday (one pill left), I received a text that a refill was ready for pick-up. So I went to the store, expecting to get my scrip and be on my way.

However, as it turned out, the refill was for a different med, one that I actually did not want refilled (it was on autopilot and I didn’t catch it in time). The medicine I needed was still on order. I inquired why. So it turns out that my local CVS did not have any of the required pills in stock, and none were available from the manufacturer (what?), and only one other CVS in the city had any. The clerk transferred the prescription to that store, so I wouldn’t lose any more time (theoretically), and I went home.

By Wednesday afternoon, still no text that the scrip had been filled. Hmmmm, again. I looked up the address of the store in question and discovered that there were two different stores on the street she had mentioned. So I called both. Had they by any chance receive my prescription? Nope. Even if they had (they could see it in the system) there was a problem. Why? Because my scrip was written for the generic version of the drug, not the brand name. And no CVS in the entire city had the generic pills in stock. I was directed to yet another CVS, on a different city street, that had the brand name showing up in the computer.

By this time, I was getting pretty annoyed. Already it had taken me more time than I had available to track this down. And it’s not an unusual drug. There was not one, not two, but three CVS stores on the newly designated street, according to my Internet search. I picked one and called. This time, I got lucky (or so I thought). The pharmacy clerk told me that they had my medication, but the problem was that my prescription had to be rewritten only for the brand name, and not the generic as an option.

Are you still with me? Aargh! I called my local rheumatologist’s office and got hold of one of the nurses who knows me. She readily took care of the new prescription and assured me she would put it under my doc’s nose as soon as he finished with a patient. Twenty minutes later, the pharmacy called back. They had the prescription, but it was still written incorrectly. There could be no mention of the generic on the scrip, only the brand name. Good grief. I called back my doc’s office, got another nurse on the line, who promised to straighten it out and get back to me when all was set, which she did by that evening.

The next day, Thursday, still no text that the scrip had been filled. I was out of pills by now. So I called the pharmacy to see what had happened. A different pharmacy clerk named Cindy answered the phone. I explained my dilemma, trying unsuccessfully not to get agitated. She calmed me down and found all the information. Apparently, they did not have the drug in-house, but she promised to order it right away from the warehouse, and expected delivery the next day. “Call me by noon to check in,” she said in a motherly voice. Thank you, Cindy, for being human.

I didn’t make the call because I got another text on Friday morning, telling me that the scrip was filled. After a client meeting downtown, I double-checked my app. Once again, it was the drug I didn’t want, still waiting for me at the original CVS (even though I had told them I didn’t need it). I called the new store to check on my quest. A different clerk answered and found out the pills were there, but my scrip was not yet filled, so she would ask the pharmacist to move it to the front of his orders.

I drove across town and found the store, a small, old CVS with a tiny parking lot, then waited at the pharmacy counter for another person to finish buying what looked like a dozen bags of pills. But when it was finally my turn, hallelujah, the scrip was filled. Not only that, but the young woman (not Cindy) who served me, who turned out to be the Wednesday clerk on the phone who had said the pills were in stock two days earlier, recognized my name and apologized for her mistake, due to an inventory error (not her fault) in their records. She was so pleasant, so committed to making my experience a positive one, that I might just leave that prescription at this out-of-the-way CVS pharmacy, despite the inconvenient location.

Wild goose chase, indeed. Any flock of Canada geese that had set out for their southern nesting grounds the day I first put in my order were probably long settled somewhere nice and warm by the time I got my pills. Thanks to some thoughtful individuals who believe in old fashioned customer service, I’m a bit warmer, now, 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 Please view Privacy Policy here.

Image Credit: Jessica D. Vega

Progress Report

A year ago today, I was two weeks away from my second hand surgery to repair damage from severe ulcers in five fingers—damage that had exposed bone and broken two of my knuckles. My left index and right pinky were held together by steel pins, and I didn’t know if I would lose them in the next procedure. My hand surgeon felt that skin grafts were worth trying, but we didn’t know if they would heal properly. He had warned me at the outset that these were the first of many surgeries.

What a difference a year makes! I’ve been extremely fortunate. A gifted surgeon, excellent wound care and 60 dives in a hyperbaric oxygen chamber, plus effective occupational therapy sessions (and health insurance to cover it all), combined with a lot of support from family and friends enabled me to heal.

And I am cooking again. Al had picked up the slack in the kitchen for well over a year, ever since the ulcers became too painful for me to handle any utensils. He cooked up some great meals and discovered that he really enjoyed experimenting with new recipes. I was grateful for all that good and healthy food.

But a part of me missed cooking. It’s never been a major focus in my life. I don’t spend hours pouring over cookbooks and savoring the thought of new recipes. However, I do like making a good meal, especially for the holidays. It’s exhausting, but satisfying to turn out a gourmet, multi-course dinner. It gives me pleasure to prepare food that brings others enjoyment.

At some point over the summer, I began baking bread again for our Friday night Shabbat dinners. Al had gotten quite good at this, and he was deservedly proud of his delicious braided loaves, but he was happy to have me pick it up again. I also was able to help clean up after meals, which had been impossible with the ulcers and ensuing surgery.

The Jewish New Year, Rosh Hashanah, arrived just a few days after we came home from Europe last month. I knew it would be too much to have a big crowd, so we just invited a few close family members for the first night. But, to my and Al’s surprise, I was able to do most of the cooking myself. He served as sous chef, cutting vegetables. Even still, I was able to handle the chef’s knife and do a lot of prep myself. Everyone enjoyed the meal, and I felt like I had crossed the finish line.

I have been doing most of the cooking ever since, although I still have to be careful. I developed an ulcer in one of my skin grafts shortly after we returned from our trip, but I think this was actually caused by some calcinosis lurking just under the surface. It is gradually healing. Al is enjoying a well-earned reprieve, although I recruit him for help as needed.

Mostly, I’m amazed and extremely grateful that I can actually do so much with my hands again. It’s taken all this time to relearn how to use them, and I certainly have my limits. But it’s wonderful to see that, despite all the challenges, my body can truly heal.

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 Please view Privacy Policy here.


I spared myself a visit to my hand surgeon last Friday. Don’t get me wrong. He’s a great physician. But the presenting problem resolved itself, so to speak.

The presenting problem was a piece of calcium the color of volcanic ash that has been emerging from the pad of my right thumb for nearly a year. It almost surfaced back in the winter, then receded for several months before pushing closer and closer to the top layer of skin. Finally, a few weeks ago, my thumb  erupted.

But all I could see was the tip of the iceberg (mixing metaphors, here—for some reason, the calcium deposits that my scleroderma manufactures have changed in color from white to dark gray in recent years—no idea why). Slowly, it revealed more of itself, but not enough so that I could pull it out easily.

So I resorted to trying to gradually soak it out of my thumb, using peroxide morning and evening, plus antibiotic ointment with gauze and fabric bandages to protect it during the day and overnight. This seemed not to accomplish much, other than protect me from infections. I finally decided to make an appointment with my hand surgeon to see if he could extract it in the office. I was hoping that would help the pit to make up its mind to come out on its own.

Still, it needed more coaxing. This required the proper tools. I turned to my father’s old dissecting kit. Made of black fabric, lined with purple felt, it contains everything you need for high school biology to dissect a frog, including a pair of very fine needle-nosed tweezers. I have some unkind memories of those tweezers—my dad used them to pull splinters out of my fingers when I was a kid, a procedure that never failed to make me squirm and scream.

However, they are the best tweezers for pulling calcium pits out of my fingers (especially since I’m the one doing the operation). Every morning and night last week, leading up to the scheduled Friday appointment, I wiped the tweezers with an alcohol pad, daubed peroxide on my thumb, and proceeded to try to loosen up the calcium pit from surrounding skin.

Finally, on Thursday morning, I got lucky. The calcium pit gave up and I plucked it out—a quarter inch long and eighth of an inch in diameter. The biggest pit I have ever extracted. Lots of blood, but pressure stanched the flow. I filled the hole in my thumb with antibiotic ointment and covered it up. Then I cancelled my appointment.

A few days later, the skin has nearly filled in. As strange as this disease gets, it’s always a relief to see that my body can heal itself, 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 Please view Privacy Policy here.

Image Credit: Jack Ebnet