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 livingwithscleroderma.com. Please view Privacy Policy here.

 

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

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

Midwinter Break

It’s been a busy, snowy weekend—but the best kind of snow. Lovely, fluffy, not too messy or inconvenient. I’m taking a mini midwinter break from writing my blog this week, so I simply share with you one image of the snow on the rhododendron by our back door. Sometimes the greatest beauty is found in the simplest places. Have a good week.

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.

First Attempt

I’m turning 65 this April. The time has come to apply for Medicare. Especially after a recent scare—when our COBRA plan failed to contact our insurance that we’d renewed our coverage for 2019 and we had no active health insurance for about a week—I don’t want to take a chance on missing any deadlines.

Back in December, Al and I met with a benefits counselor at our local council on aging to find out next steps. Since I have not yet applied for Social Security benefits, and don’t intend to until I’m 70, I did not receive a Medicare card automatically in the mail in January. The counselor advised, if that happened, to apply for Medicare in March. However, I recently read an excellent article in the New York Times that explained the rules in greater detail and found that I could enroll up to three months in advance.

Especially given the threat of yet another government shutdown this coming weekend, I figured I should take care of it this week. So down I went to the local Social Security office on Monday morning to apply. Al had warned me to get there early. I thought I was doing pretty well, arriving around 10:15 (I am so NOT a morning person).

What a mistake. The first sign that I had totally misjudged the situation was the parking lot. Every space in the upper lot next to the office’s front doors was taken. As I looked for a parking spot below, I noticed a steady trickle of people walking to the upper lot, and just a few coming back down.

Even with those hints, I was not prepared for what I found when I stepped inside. The place looked like a crowded airport terminal, with bland, beige walls and rows of people packed into every black vinyl seat. They were all waiting patiently, as if they had been through this many times before, facing a large video screen that streamed information about Social Security benefits and what number was next. I asked the guard who checked my bag how to get a number, and he pointed me to two kiosks. When I typed in my SSN, I got a receipt. My number was 74. On the board, the number was 23.

Within a few minutes, I was lucky enough to secure a seat. I was surrounded by families with screaming kids, a lot of adults chatting with friends or partners, and an atmosphere of pure drudgery. There were three staff members seated at desks only visible beyond glass windows in the wall that separated us from them. I started reading the news on my phone.

At least, when you go to the Registry of Motor Vehicles, there are usually a dozen staffers, and you can pretty quickly judge how long the wait will be by how often someone is called up to a window. Here, it quickly became obvious that numbers didn’t get called in sequence (we went from 24 to 27 to 4), and the wait between numbers was at least ten minutes. I did a little math in my head. At that rate, it would take me at least three and maybe four hours to have my turn.

Now, when you are in a waiting game like this, you have to decide early on whether you’re going to invest in sticking it out. Any longer than about 15 minutes, and you begin to feel you’ve invested so much time already, you might as well go the whole way. I left.

When I got home after running a couple of errands (so the time spent wasn’t a total waste), I went online to find out how to make an appointment for my next venture to Social Security. Lo and behold, I discovered that I could apply for Medicare benefits online. Of course. I hadn’t even thought to look in the first place. I guess that’s because I’m almost 65 and still think in terms of doing important business in person.

The whole process took about 15 minutes. I can check status of my application online through my Social Security account. I assume I filled everything out correctly. We shall see. At least I applied with enough time (I hope) to correct any errors. And if I do have to get back down to Social Security in person, I will make sure to force myself out of bed early, get there when the doors open—and bring a book.

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: Social Security Administration via Wiki Commons

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.

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 livingwithscleroderma.com. Please view Privacy Policy here.