vertigo alert!

Just spoke with a friend whose husband had a severe bout of vertigo, which began a couple of days ago. Seems he awoke feeling extremely dizzy. Thinking it might pass, they waited a few hours before my friend finally carted her husband off to the doctor. Against his wishes, I might add.

Though nothing serious, like a stroke or heart attack, the diagnosis of “benign positional vertigo” was unexpected, and the symptoms distressing. The doctor explained that the cause might have been something as simple as ear wax or a hair. Either might have found its way to the spot in the brain that’s responsible for balance.

The physician’s immediate solution was that my girlfriend’s husband take the over-the-counter travel sickness pills, RUGBY, available in chewable form at Costco. As an alternative remedy, physical therapy was mentioned as well. It seems certain practitioners are equipped to treat vertigo.

Luckily for Jim, RUGBY did the trick. He regained his sense of balance yesterday, and continues to feel normal today. Vertigo may return, as in the case of my sister-in-law who experienced a terrible, debilitating bout a few years ago. I think it lingered for a while. Unfortunately, I recently heard that the ailment has imposed itself upon her once again, making her life miserable I’m sure.

So I pass this information along as a heads up for anyone who is a sufferer of vertigo, or knows someone who is. Quality of life depends upon good health. I know, having just gone nine rounds of a-knock-down, drag-out wrestling match with digestive and upper respiratory issues.

getting by with a little help from our friends…hugmamma.

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reality vs. freedom and hope, dr. william petit

How does one wrap one’s brain around the horrific murder of a mom and two, untainted, beautiful, young daughters, one 17 and the other 11? Where do you begin to unravel the tightly wound “spool” that commingled the thread of 6 lives? How did they become entwined? Was it perchance, or was it fate? Where was God when this crime against humanity, against Him, occurred?

Apart from hearing of the Petit murders sensationally broadcast all over TV when they happened in 2007, I didn’t care to delve deeper into the crimes. Certain acts, like these, register too close to home to want to acknowledge them head on. It’s easier to turn away, so that your brain doesn’t absorb all the evil details, so that your imagination doesn’t prohibit you from living without fear.

 The Petit family may have lived a privileged life by virtue of Bill’s being a physician. Maybe that sealed their fate that day. But when one of the co-conspirators, Joshua Komisarjevsky, randomly selected Jennifer Petit and her daughter Michaela in a local supermarket as possible victims, he didn’t know that they were of above average means. Not until he and his partner, Steven Hayes, were well on their way to committing the heinous crime, did they establish how much money, $15,000, they could abscond. So the Petits were stand-ins for any number of American families. The configuration of victims and dollar amount might have differed, but the crime would have played out somewhere, according to the whims of the 2 men who decided to play God.

Dr. William Petit spoke with Oprah, allowing us insight into a victim’s agonizing recovery. Looking at him, only a “shell” remained. He has reconciled himself to living, deciding that suicide would remove any possibility that he could rejoin his loved ones in the after-life. Slumped on the formal sofa, eyes squinting from behind eye glasses, Bill’s voice barely resonated. Oprah seemed to infuse life into him with her gentle probing. Perhaps the interview was cathartic to the doctor’s healing process. It’s obvious he’s in need of a spiritual transfusion.

Having lost his family and his home, which the criminals burned to destroy the evidence, Petit has lost the essence of his identity. He was Jennifer’s husband, and father to Hayley and Michaela. Without them, it’s difficult to heed well-meaning advice from those who tell him to “live in the moment.” His past gone, and his dreams of the future destroyed, he feels disconnected from the present. Upon leaving the cemetery with his sister one day, he asked her “Who am I? Whose clothes are these?” No longer the same person, Bill is unconvinced that he will find happiness, or love once again. Because he suffers post traumatic stress, he gave up his medical practice, something he says Jennifer would want him to resume. He claims to have “good” days, and “bad” days. His sister is saddened on the days when her brother is unable to get out of bed, or when he shuts himself in a room, away from life.

“What is it called when you lose a child?” Petit asks Oprah. He explains that when a husband loses his wife, he’s called a widower; when a wife loses her husband, she’s a widow. The talk show hostess suggests that it’s unnatural for a child to die before its parent, so there is no word to describe his position after the loss. Petit agrees. When asked if he can forgive those who took the lives of his loved ones, Bill first lists crimes which could be forgiven, a car accident, a theft, verbal diatribes. But, he says, “it’s inappropriate to forgive the essence of evil.”

Talk of his daughters momentarily lights up Bill Petit’s eyes which twinkle, a smile creeping across his face. He had a special relationship with the eldest, Hayley, whom he nicknamed “KK Rosebud.” Her favorite saying had been “Be the change you wish to see in the world.” Smart and athletic, Hayley was bound for Dartmouth where she would continue to participate in sports as she had in high school. Had she known first love? According to her father, Hayley was in love with someone a year younger in school, for whom she would interrupt her studies to shoot hoops. Petit wished his daughter had experienced true love, before her life was snuffed out.

Michaela, the youngest, liked gardening, but loved cooking more. She cooked the family’s last meal together. Petit remembered it as being a very good meal.

Jennifer, Petit’s wife and partner in managing their lives, was a nurse and surrogate mom to the students in the boarding school where she worked. Amazingly, she also suffered with multiple-sclerosis, though she never complained about it, according to those who knew Jennifer. Daughter Hayley had started a foundation to support MS research in the hopes of saving her mom from the disease. After their deaths, Precious Petits continued the cause. Bill Petit sees the foundation’s purpose as three-fold. First, to fund educational programs, such as those in the sciences, especially to benefit young women; second, to fund MS research; and third, to help victims of violent crime.

Helping others has eased Petit’s heartache, as has knowing that the world is filled with many good people, like those who have contributed to the foundation. He knows too that Hayley and Michaela would want him to be happy. God isn’t to blame, instead they’re at a standoff, says Bill, a Christian. “He has nothing to do with what happens on earth.” Petit’s probably right.

Seems to me we’ve been given all we need to live our lives, including making our own decisions, correctly or incorrectly. There are cultures which see God manipulating their lives; that’s not our culture. Americans believe in freedom, for everyone. We also believe in hope, that we will live our lives without violence. But we know that reality is ultimately, an uncertainty. We can’t control what lies beyond our reach. So we enjoy our freedom, and hope, in silence, that our lives will be harmonious. That was Bill Petit’s expectation of his family’s life in suburban Connecticut.

But what reality subtracts from our lives, hope and freedom restores. Life is change, in small ways, as well as sizeable ones. These “detours” are the sum total of who we are, at the end of our lives. Bill Petit has just taken a detour on his journey through life, and he’s decided to go the distance. Somehow we all dig deep for the courage to go forward. What’s the alternative? Quitting? I think we’re too curious a species, not to want to know what might be just around the corner, or behind door #2, or awaiting us with the dawn of a new day. Who knows? The grandest of all gifts might still be waiting on the horizon.

Reality is, what is. Freedom and hope are what can be.

for Bill Petit as he discovers “what can be,” huge hugs…hugmamma.

 

role models, aging gracefully

I’ve become acquainted with a 91-year-young woman through a very dear friend who’s in her mid-70’s. They belong to the same senior center’s group. I’ve only chatted with the elder woman 2 or 3 times, but I’m always amazed at her vitality. She still drives herself to their weekly gatherings where they do needlework, chat, and snack on goodies they, or others, bring to share. This acquaintance dresses stylishly, right down to matching earrings, handbag and shoes. I admire her youthful glow which obviously emanates from within. Her image is always in my mind’s eye when I think of someone aging gracefully.

My friend who’s 70ish is admirable not only because she’s such a fashion-plate, which she is, but also because she is laden with health issues that would bring a younger, stronger woman, like me, to my knees. I’m a wuss by comparison. Like an older sister, sometimes a mom, my girlfriend was a smoker for many years, but was finally able to kick the habit. Whether as a result of smoking or having had it beforehand, she continues to suffer with emphysema which is compounded by asthma. Weighing under 100 pounds she’s a lightweight, but she can be as “tough as nails” when debating her opinion. I’ve never tested her, and am not about to try. I’d rather have her in my corner. When a coughing fit overtakes her, she can easily bruise some ribs. As a last resort her doctor prescribes prednisone which eliminates the cough, but leaves my friend with side effects that linger. She has bouts of diverticulitis which has her curled up in great pain. Throughout our 13 years of friendship, she’s been poked, probed, xrayed, cat-scanned, MRI’d more than anyonelse I know. With the help of a physician who’s cared for her, REALLY CARED, my amazing friend always seems “as fit as a fiddle.” I forget her medical history until another episode occurs, and it always does.

I think I dress rather smartly, but when I’m out with my friend and her husband I know she’s outdone me. Not that I mind, for I am simply in awe of  her sense of style, wearing skirts and dresses that I never would, simply because they wouldn’t look as well on me. They’re not my “cup of tea,” but they suit my girlfriend to a tee. And the jewelry, she can wear several gold bangles, rings on several fingers, including on her toes, and of course, earrings. Stunning is the only word to describe her. Whether she’s lounging at home or stepping out, in my estimation, she’s always “dressed to the nines.”

Her hobby, more like a full-time job, keeps my girlfriend in constant stitches. (Pun intended.)  She is never without a knitting project spread out across her lap, fingers and needles furiously working “knits” and “purls.” Her handiwork is so exquisite that I’ve often said she would make good money selling her sweaters, vests, shawls, afghans, and baby things. But she takes such care that she prefers to give them as gifts, rather than sell them. A few Christmases ago, my husband and I received a deep, red afghan pieced together with several large, knitted squares in different designs. Needless to say, it’s rarely used as a coverlet. The afghan lays decoratively across the back of an oversized, upholstered chair. 

With little success I’ve tried to knit, my friend sitting patiently at my side, encouraging. But when I’m alone I’m in a quandry as to how to correct a mistake, so I undo everything and start anew. Exhausted and frustrated after several hours of undoing my knitting and redoing it, I put my yarns and needles aside. They still sit in a Nordstrom shopping bag against the far back wall of my closet. Now that I’m blogging, who knows when my attempt at knitting will resurface. I wouldn’t place any bets.

My girlfriend is one of the most charitable persons I know. In spite of the toll it might take upon her health, she is committed to helping family and friends in need. Regardless of her step-mother-in-law’s incessant complaining, my friend and her husband regularly visited the aging woman who lived a few hours away. While there they would help however they could. Until she died they spent Thanksgiving with her, foregoing a gayer holiday with their own children and grandchildren. Before putting her into an assisted-living facility, my girlfriend and her husband helped clean out decades of clutter from her mother-in-law’s home. While she lived, there was no indication of her appreciation for her daughter-in-law’s constant concern and care. But after passing away, my friend was bequeathed the old woman’s engagement ring. A just reward for a just person.

As I write this, my girlfriend is hosting friends who are visiting from out-of-state for a month. It may become an annual occurrence, for they welcomed their friends last year at this time. When other friends who live in the same retirement community vacationed at their condo in California earlier this year, my girlfriend took care of their sick dachshund. She went to live at the dog’s home so that it would feel comfortable in its own surroundings. Her husband visited, and she would return home to prepare and have dinner. When we planned our trip to Venice, my friend offered to care for our dog, even contemplating moving into our home so she could also care for our cats. It was a generous gesture, but her husband convinced her that it would be physically challenging for her to walk our dog up our steep driveway without his help, and he was not planning to live here with her. He had their home and dog to care for. We happily agreed to send our dog to their home, and have someonelse care for our cats.

Our family is grateful for the years we’ve known my girlfriend and her husband. I’ve especially cherished her as a role model for living robustly, despite personal hindrances. I hope I have her strong constitution, generosity toward others, and energetic vivacity as I live out the remaining years of my life. With my friend leading the way for a long time to come, I know I’m in good hands.

hugs for role models…hugmamma.

crestor, beware…

For some time now, statins have been touted as an “elixir” for lowering cholesterol. Since February the FDA has also approved their use in helping to “prevent heart disease and stroke in people with normal cholesterol levels.” In a recent AARP article, Dr. Mehmet Oz explains that the decision was a result of a 5-year study of men 50 years and older, and women 60 and older, whose cholesterol was normal but who suffered high levels of C-reactive protein (CRP). “People with high levels of CRP have a greater risk of heart attacks, strokes, autoimmune disorders, and other maladies.” In the study, those taking the statin Crestor for approximately 2 years were 44% less likely to have heart attacks or strokes, than those who didn’t. Based on this finding, the research ended, and the statin was offered to the remainder of eligible adults.

The FDA’s decision isn’t without controversy. While statins can lower the level of LDL, bad cholesterol, they do little to raise the level of HDL, good cholesterol. Meanwhile they could cause “severe muscle pain and a 9 percent increase in the risk of type 2 diabetes.”

About 10 years ago I was put on the statin Lipitor to lower my cholesterol which stood at 195. Moving to another state 4 years later, I saw another doctor who took me off that statin because my liver enzyme count was slightly elevated. He put me on Crestor instead. Subsequently, I began experiencing an increase in muscle pain. I’m unsure when, but after that I heard on the local news that Asian women were at increased risk of severe muscle inflammation when using Crestor. I mentioned this to my doctor who had no measurable reaction, so I didn’t pursue the matter. As the pain became chronic, my doctor prescribed muscle relaxants which I took periodically. Their only benefit for me was that I got a good night’s sleep, but  awoke in the morning to the same pain.

When I moved back to my permanent home state, I started seeing a female, Asian internist. She too kept me on Crestor, despite my information of its debilitating effects on women of our ethnicity. After a couple of years, I switched to a doctor with whom I could communicate more effectively. 

I found such a physician in General Practitioner Dr. Kinnish, and I’m very fortunate to be under his current care. When I expressed concern that Crestor might be to blame for my ongoing muscle pain, he immediately ordered blood work and insisted I stop taking the statin. Surprised, I didn’t realize muscle pain could be analyzed by drawing a blood sample. When the results came back, Dr. Kinnish was astounded. The normal range for the CK, Serum test is 24-173, mine measured 1228!!! Needless to say, he kept me off Crestor and began re-checking my numbers regularly thereafter. In the ensuing months my levels dropped to 497, rose to 738, dropped to 419 then to 330 and finally to 223. I was headed in the right direction, so the doctor recommended I continue my regimen of healthy eating, exercising, and visiting the chiropractor and massage therapist as needed. I’m due for a follow-up next week, and am keeping my fingers crossed for a good report. (xxxxxxxxxxxxx)

Without the help of drugs, I’m working at reducing my cholesterol the old-fashioned way. Like Kinnish, “my other” doctor, Oz, recommends going back to basics. “Many of my patients have reduced their cholesterol levels (and blood-sugar levels) without the use of drugs by adhering to a diet low in saturated fat and by exercising regularly. …Statins remain a good option for people who, despite a sensible diet and ample exercise, can’t lower their LDL. But statins or no, a healthy lifestyle is the best way to fortify your heart.”

can’t go wrong with 2 great doctors…hugmamma.

surrogate fathers

Reflecting back to my fatherless childhood, I was one when my father died, I probably pined for a male figure to parent me alongside my mom. But I don’t remember obsessing about it, although there were times when certain individuals were present in my life who I wished were my father.

My earliest recognition of just such a man was Uncle Lot. I adored him even though he was not really an uncle; “calabash” relatives were commonplace in extended Hawaiian families. Bronzed by the sun, silver white hair framing a handsome face, I imagined he loved me like a precious daughter. He and our Aunt Miriam, spinster brother and sister,  lived next door to the first home I ever knew, conveniently located across the road from the beach. When not frolicking on the sand or swimming in the warm waters, we’d be playing with Melabee, a German Shepherd belonging to auntie and uncle. We were always invited into their antique-filled home where we snacked on little sandwiches or small, scrumptious desserts. I always loved curling up in Uncle Lot’s lap, burrowing my sleepy head into his chest heavily scented with cologne. I’d rest there while he, auntie and my mom chatted amiably among themselves. I never wanted to leave when it was time to return to our house.  Their home was so much grander, filled with beautiful things, and food more delicious than was our usual fare. As a child I never understood aunty and uncle’s relationship. They were related, but they seemed so comfortable in each other’s shadow, like husband and wife. But they weren’t married, so I wanted Uncle Lot to marry my mom. Of course it was a child’s fantasy, and there it remained.

As a kindergartener I remember we were in a different home, one that I would live in until I moved away to college. Our Chinese landlord lived next door. At first it was “Popo” (grandmother) to whom we paid rent, but upon her death, her son Ah Sing assumed the responsibility. I became long-lasting, best friends with his daughter, an only child for many years. A brother was born into the family when my friend was in high school.

Ah Sing took pity upon my situation, a fatherless child with a mother struggling to support her young family. He would include me on outings with his daughter. One vivid memory is of a visit onboard a navy submarine docked  in the harbor. I still have a small, black and white photograph somewhere, of me perched on a metal seat on an outer deck, long, black hair caught up in the breeze, a furtive smile on my lips, a shy glance directed at the camera. My girlfriend’s mom was not as receptive toward me however, perhaps because I wasn’t a fit companion, being poor. No matter, I became a fixture at their home because I was like a sibling my friend wanted, and another daughter Ah Sing cherished.

The only physician I recall visiting as a child was Dr. James Fleming. His shoulders seemed broad, as though he could carry the weight of the world on them, well… at least that of the sick who visited his office. His hair was a sandy blonde, he wore spectacles and he always had a smile on his face. His bedside manner was comforting, especially to a child who rarely saw a doctor because it was an expense my mom couldn’t regularly afford. But like other generous people in our lives, Dr. Fleming discounted  our fees and never pressured my mom for payment. Receiving a lollipop or large, orange gumdrop was one reason I behaved during an appointment, but more importantly, Dr. Fleming felt like a father if only for the time I spent with him. When I was much older, my mom told me that he had offered to adopt me since he had no daughters, only 3 sons. You can imagine how elated I felt, and disappointed, that I never got to live the fairy-tale life of the Lahaina Flemings. But more than anything, I would have liked to have felt the love of a father like Dr. Fleming wash over me.

My father-in-law, now deceased some 20 years or so, treated me like a daughter. When I first spent time with my husband’s family, I thought my father-in-law didn’t like me. I always seemed the butt of his ribbing. Teasing was something I grew up with as the youngest, and I wasn’t particularly fond of it. I never had the wherewithal to fight back, and felt I must not be loved, or liked. Increasingly, as I was around him more, it became obvious that I was a favorite of my father-in-law’s. I guess I was a combination, pretty Hawaiian girl like his wife, Catholic raised and educated, attending college, with lofty ambitions that might rub off on his eldest son. But best of all I could out-talk the “Portugees,” as he would love to tell me, himself being Portuguese. We could banter back and forth endlessly. My father-in-law, looking much like and behaving very much like my husband, was the closest I ever came to having a father. So it saddened me to see his body, and spirit, deteriorate through the 8 years he survived after a massive heart attack which destroyed 50% of his heart.

And then there’s my husband. A Catholic seminarian a week prior to our first meeting, he had changed his mind about being called to the priesthood. Having left home after completion of 8th grade, he had spent the next 4 1/2 years studying theology. I’ve often joked that God was preparing him for an even greater task than leading the faithful, and that was keeping me on the “straight and narrow,” which he has successfully done for 40 years.

Because I was fatherless as a child, it was imminent that my daughter bond with her dad immediately. So I didn’t look to either my mom or mother-in-law for help when our baby was born. I wanted my husband, myself and our daughter to forge a strong and loving union which would survive the ups and downs of whatever lay ahead. And to this day, our strength as a family continues to thrive upon the foundation upon which it was built. We enable one another to follow our passions, knowing that our love and support is always available 24/7.

So while I may not have had a father of my own to nurture and guide me, there were those to whom I could look for the wonderful qualities that I would one day find in a husband. So I thank my “fathers”, of whom only Ah Sing survives, on my lovely, island, childhood home of Maui.

 very fortunate to have had surrogate fathers, love me…hugmamma.