Archive for the ‘Health’ Category

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There’s a history of heart disease in my genes.  On my mother’s side specifically.  My mom was one of ten children in a lively, Brooklyn-based, Italian-American family.  The food was always delicious.  The conversations were always loud.  The gatherings were always special.  Mom lost her mother, a sister and a brother to heart attacks.  And she also lost a nephew the same way.  Joey.  He was way too young to suddenly drop dead on a trip with his parents to the town near Naples where our grandmother was born.  He could not wait to take them there.  As a travel agent he had taken many trips but his workaholic parents had never been much of anywhere, other than yearly Caribbean cruises on their favorite ship, the Oceanic.  How sad it was, almost 30 years ago, during their first and long-anticipated trip to Italy, to have lost their only child.  Joey was the oldest grandchild of the 20 my grandparents had.  He lived to be 41.

As the oldest cousin, he, I suppose, considered himself our ringleader, responsible for our safety and good times when we all got together for holiday meals.  My grandparent’s house was large and creaky, a 3-level, detached frame house on the corner of Ocean Parkway and Parkville Avenue.  728 Ocean Parkway, to be exact.  It was torn down years ago to make room for condos.  There were two kitchens; one in the finished basement and one on the main floor.  When the grown ups were in the basement, we’d go upstairs.  If they were gathered in the living room, we’d head to the basement.  The lower kitchen had a Formica and stainless table with a diner-like bench seat that went 3/4 of the way around.  We’d get in on one end and bounce on our butts all the way around to the other end, get up and out and slide back in to do it all over again.   When I walk into an Italian grocery that smells like that kitchen I want to buy everything in sight.

When we were upstairs, we played in the living room.  Joey had invented a club for us, cousins only, which he called the Bock-A-Boodle Club.  The only requirement, other than being an actual cousin, was to do whatever Joseph said to do.  When he said spin in a circle, we all tossed our heads back and spun in a circle, like tops on a rampage.  When he said to change direction, we all stopped and went the other way.  Finally, he would tell us to drop to the floor and the room would keep spinning around us.  It made us all giddy.  If any of us tried to do this today, it would make every single one of us sick.

Sometimes he would turn off all the lights and tell us scary stories.  The ones that got to us the most were about the fictional Mrs. Cummings.  She was old and her fingers were gnarled like the roots of ancient trees.  She wore all black and drove up to the houses of misbehaving children in a shiny black sedan.  Where she took bad kids we preferred not to be told.  All we younger cousins knew for sure was that if Joey uttered the much-feared line, “Mrs. Cummings is coming,” it was time to sit up straight, be silent and await further instructions.

Quite often, the further instructions would indicate that it was time for my favorite activity, a game I have long thought of in my mind as Piano Jumping.  My grandparents had a baby grand in their living room.  In front of it was the sleek, dark piano bench.  Next to it was the mushy old sofa.  The game was to hop up onto the bench, step from there onto the closed lid of the baby grand and from there jump recklessly down to the soft cushions of the very old couch.  Our actions, much like the seat-pouncing game we played at the downstairs kitchen table, took us all in giant letter “C” formations, from piano bench to piano to couch.  Over and over and over we did this, with Joseph at the open end of the “C” to help us down and back up as we circled.  We got away with this activity for only so long.  Eventually, the stomping we did down onto the floor would become too much for the adults in the basement and my grandmother would amble upstairs to yell at us in her Neapolitan dialect, her false teeth clattering in her mouth.  The ’58ers, my cousins Tom and Philip and I, would never get in trouble because we were all small enough to fit under an end table together and would hide as soon as we heard her on the stairs.  Hiding from her in this way and visiting her at her florist shop, creating the arrangements on a rough wooden table in the back room and then turning to stir soup or gravy at the stove she had at the store are the only memories I have of my amazing grandmother.

We all knew Joey was gay.  Still, he remained in the closet his entire life.  As we got older he would tell us about girls he was “dating.”  He would show up at graduation parties with his boyfriend Al in tow and introduce him as a friend.  I guess, as maturing members of the Bock-A-Boodle Club we still felt a loyalty to our leader and never outed him or told him to just come out already because it would be fine with us.  A bunch of us were gay, too.  And we were a close family.  He may have encountered disdain or disapproval from a few at first but ultimately, no one in the family would have stopped loving him.  When Al died, also of a massive heart attack at the age of 41, I called Joey to tell him how sorry I was and how much I knew Al meant to him.  It was code, still, for “I’m so sorry your lover is gone.  I’m here if you need me.”  Joseph started to cry on the other end of the line.  He thanked me profusely and kept telling me how much it meant to him that I understood.  I was a baby dyke at the time, deep in my own depths of denial, but what I knew for sure about Joey, Joey probably also knew about me.  I officially came out to my family a year after Joey was gone.  I wish I had had the courage and strength to do it while he was still alive.  We could have been gay together!  And I think that would have made him more comfortable with himself.  My theory is that the stress of being in the closet for so long, feeling the responsibility as the oldest cousin to be what his parents and aunts and uncles and cousins would consider a perfect example of Italian-American masculinity and his constant need to make up stories about himself all contributed to his early demise.  I have been “out” for 30 years and I can’t even imagine how difficult it must be to try to live a closeted life.  I miss my cousin Joey so much.  He’d be in his early 70s now.  He’d still live in Brooklyn.  He’d be out.  He’d love my girls to the moon and back and maybe he’d even admit them as members of the Bock-A-Boodle Club.

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OCd

Posted: October 13, 2013 in Health
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I’m pretty sure I have some form of OCD.  I’ve never been officially diagnosed (can you be officially diagnosed?) but I’m pretty sure I have it.  I don’t wash my hands a hundred times a day or constantly check that the burners on the stove are all turned off, but I do need to turn the radio off in the car before I cut the ignition, I do prefer to wait until the end of a song before I turn off my iPod (which means the new technology that excludes an on/off switch makes me insane) and I do like for all the utensils in the drawer to face the same way. 

I need for towels on racks to hang straight down, not crookedly; I like my jeans folded in a certain way and will re-fold them repeatedly until I get them just right and I bite at unruly cuticles because I can’t stand it when rough pieces of skin on my fingers get caught on anything.  I pick at scabs, need all the books in a pile to face the same direction and can’t put a bill back in my wallet until all the folded corners are opened and pressed flat.  Not pressed with an iron, just pressed open with my hand.  Wow, pressed with an iron….  That would really be scary.  But it would not surprise me to learn that there actually are people who iron their paper money.

I’m not that far gone.  But some days I feel pretty close.  What causes OCD anyway?  Is it a chemical imbalance?  Is it a neurological disorder?  Is it just a weird need to control every little thing?  I don’t even know.  I’m pretty sure I have a mild form of it but I’ve never been interested in finding out for sure.  Because, who cares?  The crazy little things I do don’t hurt anyone.  When I count in my head how many steps there are in Penn Station from the main waiting room to the track level where the trains are, no one hears me.  When I wait one minute to get out of bed because the clock says 5:56 and I dislike the number 6 but I love the number 7, no one notices.  And if there were medicine to cure me of all these little quirks, would I consider taking it?  Hell, no!  Have you seen some of the drug commercials on TV lately?  Yes, this will help with your depression but it may cause insomnia, night sweats, diarrhea, lightheadedness, dizziness, cramps, headaches, dry throat or suicidal thoughts.  Are you kidding me?  I’ll stick with the depression, thank you very much.  Or I’ll just deal with my OCD.  Tomorrow.  If the sun is out.  At 5:57.

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Stress

Posted: September 26, 2013 in Health
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     Image     How do I even write about stress without giving myself a heart attack?  Well, I’ll give it a shot, but if this post never gets published, it’s because I’m recovering in the hospital and don’t have access to the internet.  Or I’m dead.

My wonderful coaching group leader asked the members to focus on stress this week.  How does it affect you, what does it look like?  The first thing that popped into my head was a tightly-wound ball of string, about 15 feet high.  I don’t know if I can adequately describe how it is affecting me because it is just so huge.  And dense.  And heavy.  I know enough to realize that my problems are small compared to those of a lot of other people.  I don’t think I am terminally ill with cancer or ALS.  I have a roof over my head and even though I sleep on a couch in a friend’s house and my twins share a room with their 6th-grade friend upstairs, I’m warm and dry and relatively comfortable.  For the generosity of my friends I am full to the rafters with a most profound sense of gratitude.  I sold my house almost 4 months ago to avoid foreclosure, but I am not precisely homeless.  It just feels as if I am sometimes.  Homeless with twin 10 year old girls.  Way to go, Kim.

Which leads me to another source of my stress:  My 14-year-old.  She’s going to be a huge success any day now.  She’s incredibly smart and beautiful and talented and amazing.  And I haven’t seen her in almost two months.  The category of broken heart this causes me to feel is brand new in my life.  The pain is like nothing I have ever experienced and so I don’t know what to do with it, where to put it.  I come across photos of her as a toddler sometimes, or as a preschooler, and I just want to lie down and die because I can’t give her a hug.  Because I haven’t given her a hug since August 10th.  At approximately 6pm.  It was a warm and beautiful and sunny day until the moment that I had to let her go and drive away.  She’s with her other mom in LA chasing her dream and recording an album.  She’ll be wildly famous someday.  Probably wealthy.  I don’t want a cent of her hard-earned money.

What I want is a job.  Unemployment is my biggest source of stress.  I spent almost 30 years as a fairly successful worker in my field until the well suddenly ran dry.  It was a great run.  I traveled to amazing places and met incredible people.  Then it ended.  That was three years ago.  I have spent hours and hours and hours looking for a new job, both within my field and without.  No one wants or needs me, it seems, for anything.  Next week I will mark my 55th birthday.  Who gets hired for a great job at that age?  Almost nobody.  I am doing all I can to keep a positive attitude, but the statistics are against me.

Last Sunday I went to church.  I had let some friends know that I was searching for a new and meaningful experience at a different kind of house of worship than I remembered from my childhood, a place more open-minded and welcoming than the scary church I had attended years ago.  It was a lovely service and I did feel embraced.  It was great to be visiting a community of people who I felt had no interest in judging me.  I felt grateful that a friend had thought to invite me.  After the service there was a free blood pressure screening in one of the rooms off the main sanctuary.  I figured, might as well get checked, since I am already on a low dose of HBP medication, hypertension runs in my family and, because I haven’t had health insurance I haven’t been back to the doctor in a while to see if the little pill is still doing its job.  It isn’t.  The volunteer took my pressure twice and while it got a little better the second time, it clearly was not where it needed to be.  So, yet another source of stress.  A viscous circle of a source of stress.  A snake eating its tail.  I have high blood pressure but no health insurance and the old pills aren’t working and that stresses me out and I so have high blood pressure.  I have looked up natural remedies and I’m willing to try some.  And the volunteer at the nice church told me about a clinic at a nearby hospital.  Okay, I will check it out.  I sure do miss the days, though, when I could just make an appointment with my terrific doctor.

There are other things that are stressing me.  Like hot flashes, suddenly.  Small ones, not the sheet-drenching sweat parties I’ve heard about from a few of my friends.  But annoying enough.  And present enough to remind me that I’m no spring chicken anymore.  And arthritis pains.  Another viscous circle.  My joints hurt a lot when I try to go for fast and stress-reducing power walks.  I started to work out again, lightly, but stopped when I saw my new blood pressure numbers.  Can you just imagine how horrifying it would be for my twins to come downstairs one morning to find me stone cold with 8-pound weights still clutched in my stiff, pale fists?  No, clinic first.  Then curls and crunches.  Once I have the BP properly under control, the exercise will help keep it there.

Goodbye, Phil Hughes.  You won a grand total of 4 games with the Yankees this season and you stunk up the field worse than even Ed Whitson and Kenny Rogers did in the 80s.  You were another source, small of course, of stress for me this spring and summer and now they will take away your pinstripes and never give them back to you.  Yes, I even get stressed out about sports.  But then I remember how many times all my favorite teams have won their respective championships and I smile.  A little.  If the New York Giants don’t win a game soon, somebody better get Eli Manning to come to my funeral service to apologize.

And fleas.  My dog has had fleas on and off all summer long.  It’s driving me crazy.  I have tried everything.  We even got an exterminator to come in and spray.  I can’t stand having to put those chemicals between her shoulder blades every month!  It feels like I’m signing a pact with the devil.  He’ll keep the fleas away for a while.  And then he’ll send some horrible form of cancer to first lighten my wallet considerably and then take her away from me forever.  It’ll take a few years, of course.  Just long enough for me to stress about the choice I have made for her.  But when she glues herself to my side every night to fall asleep, I imagine her fleas popping off her skin, directly to mine, which keeps me awake and so I say pass those chemicals this way.  Still, they don’t always work.  And that stresses me out.

It’s the little things.  And the very big things.  The headlines these days.  The video games and the smart phones and the way we are headed to a world of total disconnect, where no one talks in person anymore.  The gadgets which force their way into our lives, only to become obsolete.   Texting instead of discussing in the flesh.  Emails at work instead of meeting at the water cooler.  LOL instead of a gut-wrenching guffaw.  Websites instead of magazines and newspapers.  (((HUGS))) instead of hugs.  Blogs instead of books.  I could go on and on.

Well, I didn’t die writing this.  I guess that’s a good sign.  New blood pressure medication, a job, a home, some power walks, a hug, or 500, from my pop star kid and a win by my favorite football team….  Not too much to ask for, right?  I wonder.

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