Apr 212016

Aging brings expected and sudden losses. I think it’s in the contract, and we can’t do anything about it. From early on, we know none of us is getting out of here alive.  And the longer we survive, the more reminders we get of how precarious and fragile our earthly bonds are.

We lose dear ones,  family and friends, acquaintances and co-workers, and beloved pets. With each birthday, our list of those losses grows exponentially. My father, at eighty-five, spends much time at wakes, memorial services, and funerals. Often, on our daily phone conversations, he’ll tell me about someone who has passed.

The irony of life with much love is the continued burden of much loss.

Here’s the thing: loss is difficult to write or talk about. Nothing is more personal. How one person deals with a tragedy may be completely different for another person in that same circumstance. Or what one calls a tragedy, another may see it differently. Our job is not to judge, but to provide comfort.

When my maternal grandmother died, I was devastated. Now, I know I was fortunate to know three of my four grandparents until adulthood. My maternal grandmother, though ill with dementia, held my child when he was an infant. When my grandmother Enz died, I was 37. My husband was 25 when he lost his father. I feel guilty about grieving my second-generation loss, but I know that a loss is a loss.

When I was younger, and someone I cared for had a loss or was in trouble, my immediate reaction was to swoop in and try to solve the problem. I now call this “The Big Gesture.”  Now, I’m aware of how little I can do. I’ve climbed onto the moving sidewalk of people who bring food and keep my mouth shut.

What people want are your arms around their shoulders, your touch, your tears, and your open ears to hear them. And not much else. Most individuals who love you will tell you what they need. You must respect their wishes, and understand what they are saying, with words and without. And, a Dutch apple pie can’t hurt.

Our family lost a friend this week. It will happen again. I hear the voice of God calling my name loud and clear. She is saying, “Amy, focus on what is important. Time is short.”

Though I love the sound of my voice, I’m ending this piece with today’s Facebook post from my cousin Bob Montgomery.  He is a wise man. God bless you, Bob.

I learned to smell Lilacs. Seems funny that I would have to “learn” how to smell them, but that is the best way to describe it. On April 21, 2003 (13 years ago today) I had quadruple bypass open heart surgery. I spent the next 10 days in the hospital dealing with complications. On the day I came home I remember the sun was shining and when I got out of the car I smelled a sweet, citrusy, almost like heaven scent. When I asked what the smell was I learned it was from the lilac bush in my own yard. It had been there for years, but until that day in 2003 I had not smelled it. The scent from the lilacs were such a contrast to the hospital smells; those sanitary smells of death and despair that I experienced over the previous 10 days. Maybe I had just always been in such a hurry that I never noticed the smells from nature around me. Maybe a lot of us get caught up in day-to-day issues so that we don’t notice the smell of heaven around us. If that is the case, then today is a good day to slow down and enjoy the beauty and smells around us. I think I will grab a cup of coffee and sit on the patio to smell the virburnum and be thankful. — Bob Montgomery, Plainfield, Indiana, April 21, 2016

Apr 092016

catfoodThis is my life now.  Never mind I have a busy full-time job, an active secondary writing career, a human family, and a home. Never mind all that.

The complete and entire focus of every free waking minute is caring for and feeding an 18-year-old blind, demented, toothless, deaf, arthritic feline.

About three months ago,  Fala was diagnosed with pancreatitis. And the vet recommended a switch to wet food.  That was a difficult change for the Gray Prince, who loves his “crunchy fish”  as we deem his Acana Pacifica food. Despite having only two teeth, he manages to crunch it from his little red cartoon mousie-covered bowl.

Our kitty sitter, Nan, suggested the Pacifica after she learned we were feeding him bowls of Friskies Original Party Mix.  Offering this high fat snack is the equivalent of feeding your two-year-old child Cheetos for three meals a day.  Salt and fat are yummy.  Are they good for old kitties?  That’s a resounding no.

Since the vet changed Fala to wet food, we’ve been feeding him Lil’ Friskies chicken with gravy (he favors chicken. In younger years, he stealthfully stole the chicken from a plate). He’s been licking the sauce off and leaving the rest.  This behavior cannot continue, or he’ll die. Last night I went on a buying spree at our local pet food store.  The clerk told me they have food for senior cats, but none of them work for a toothless old Tom. She suggested I check out the gourmet food, as well as the kitten chow. The clerk also instructed me to look for cans with the labels, “pate”, and “minced” and “kitten”.   I bought fourteen cans  (mostly gourmet labels, so my total was about $341.)

Sure, he’s worth it.  There’s constant midnight cater walling, hairballs on a newly washed bedspread,  puking on my rug daily, and his timely and odiferous evening constitutional 10 feet from us during “Wheel of Fortune”.  Who wouldn’t want to care for a kitty like this one?

There is this one tiny payoff. His Majesty cuddles  up between us each weeknight as we watch “Perry Mason.” And he purrs and acts as he likes us. A lot.

This morning the Potentate of Pussycats limped to the kitchen for breakfast, “Super Premium Fussy Cat Grain Free Chicken with Egg Formula in Gravy.”  Herman put out the food and immediately the Czar of Catdom started eating. We decided to leave him alone for the first course.  He acts an adolescent; any encouragement means he’ll eschew instead of chew.

His walk is so distinctive and lumbering that I heard him return to the kitchen thirty minutes later. And then a third trip. I grabbed my camera. He heard me.  I think he likes the new food, but God forbid his handlers observe him enjoying himself.   He turned his back on me and walked away. We might be on to something.  So what if it is the most expensive cat food in the world?  Why else do I work?  I mean, seriously?  Taxes, bills, the occasional vacation?  None of that is as important as catering to the whim of a cat, who in human years, is 89 years old.

And the damn bowl still isn’t empty.

© Amy McVay Abbott, The Raven Lunatic, April 9, 2016

If you are interested in reading more about Fala Jo, buy his book.  You didn’t realize he was a famous feline, did you?  The Many Moods of Fala Jo by Herman and Bernadine Spitzsnogel

Apr 072016

HEALTH April 2016 Senior Wire News Service

A Healthy Age

By Amy Abbott

If you are on the golf course for the first time in three months and it’s a warm 88 degrees in the shade, be careful! Keep water or a sports drink at hand. Overheating can lead to a multitude of health problems. Stay hydrated and in the shade when it is hot.
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Whether you will soon celebrate spring break – or whenever you visit – with grandchildren from southern California to the Atlantic, here are some tips to stay healthy.

  1. Take comfortable shoes. Walking on a rocky beach or hiking in a wooded state park, you’ll need decent shoes with support. No more “grandma” shoes – thankfully, there are multiple colorful and standard options for walking, running, hiking, or any activity you choose. Experts tell us to break in our shoes; going on that three-mile walk with shoes right out of the box isn’t a good idea for foot or shoe.
  2. Put your feet up when you can. This helps blood circulate. If your feet bother you after a long day of chasing the grands at a theme park, try a nice warm foot bath.
  3. Wear sunglasses. Especially if you are used to the north’s diffuse winter sun, your eyes are unaccustomed to being closer to the equator. Take sunglasses, particularly if you wear prescription lenses.Prescription sunglasses are worth the extra money, I believe. Sun exposure to your eyes can heighten the risk of certain cancers, reports the Skin Cancer Foundation. Eyelid tumors on the lower lid account for five to 10 percent of all skin cancers.Ten percent of cataract cases come directly from UV exposure. The SCF also highlights macular degeneration: “Macular degeneration is one of the leading causes of vision loss in the U.S. for people over age 60. While further research is required, some studies point to UVA and HEV light as potential causes of macular degeneration.”
  4. Stay hydrated. Grandpa getting overheated takes the joy out of parasailing. There’s such a simple solution, most of the time. Drink. Thy. Water. Nutritional Review studied the impact of hydration on our bodies. Water is necessary for cellular homeostasis and life. Homeostasis is a ten-dollar word we learned in freshman biology that describes the self-regulating process to keep body systems stable.If you are on the golf course for the first time in three months and it’s a warm 88 degrees in the shade, be careful! Keep water or a sports drink at hand. Overheating can lead to a multitude of health problems. Stay hydrated and in the shade when it is hot. Dress in layers so you can remove pieces of clothing as the weather warms, and of course, stay hydrated with drinks that don’t deplete fluids like alcohol or caffeine drinks.
  5. Use sunscreen. This is a no-brainer. The American Academy of Dermatology recommends using a broad-spectrum agent SPF 30 or higher that protects against UVA and UVB rays. Use enough sunscreen to fill a shot glass each time and recoat every two hours. And don’t forget the back of your neck. Just because you can’t reach it, doesn’t mean the sun can’t burn you there. Wear a hat – you’ve earned the right to be goofy in front of your grandchildren. Travel sites sell wonderful, packable hats that offer UV protection.
  6. Avoid fatigue by planning ahead. You may be more tired than usual after a day kayaking with the grands. Plan your big days with lots of activity in the a.m., and a break for lunch. Return to the activity in late afternoon. As a former Florida resident, I know the best time to hit the theme parks and other attractions is when all the people with day-passes are leaving. You’ll get a great parking spot while waving the tourists good-bye!
  7. Be mindful of the critters and other wild things. When you are out of your element, be mindful there may be critters out there. Also, be wary of red tide if you’re at a beach. Red tide gets a lot of press from Florida, but it blooms all over the world. Red tide is really algae and can bring harm to some types of fish as well as turn the water a reddish-brown. The Manatee (Florida) County government website notes that people who choose to swim in red tide or breathe in its gasses may experience eye, nose, and throat irritation as well as coughing, wheezing, and shortness of breath. Take my advice. Stay in your beach chair and away from the algae blooms.
  8. Have a first-aid bag. Take a few simple items, including antibiotic cream, band-aids, aspirin (or an acceptable pain reliever), your own meds (in their bottles in case you have to get emergency care), and your physician’s phone number. Having worked in hospitals in Florida, there’s nothing worse than the Snowbird who comes into the emergency room with no contact numbers and no family around.

Whether your vacation with grandkids is a weekend or a week, you want to make precious memories with them, not of emergency room visits.

8 Common Sense Suggestions on Enjoying Spring with the Grands

Apr 072016

HEALTH April 2016 Senior Wire News Service

A Healthy Age

By Amy Abbott

 What are some of the ways the healthcare system is addressing these shortages and how can you get the care you need? It’s a mishmash, but here are four approaches: telemedicine, retail clinics and urgent care centers, mid-level providers, and delayed retirement.

Whether your aching knee needs an orthopod or your grim outlook needs a psychiatrist, we seniors are finding it nearly impossible to see specialists on a timely basis. And since we’re one of the biggest users of health care, it’s a problem.

A major study released by the Association of American Medical Colleges examined the physician shortage and projected how it will evolve through 2025.

  • Physician supply will increase, but demand will outpace supply.
  • The Affordable Care Act will add up to 2 percent demand.
  • In 2025, the demand for physicians will outpace supply by a range of 46,000 to 90,000.
  • The shortages will, however, vary by specialty. For example, there may be a shortage of between 12,500 and 31,000 primary care physicians. Specialists are worse. The shortfall may be between 28, 200 and 63,700 non-primary care physicians.

The study noted that because physician training can take up to a decade, a shortage in 2025 needs to be addressed now.

What are some of the ways the healthcare system is addressing these shortages and how can you get the care you need? It’s a mishmash, but here are four approaches: telemedicine, retail clinics and urgent care centers, mid-level providers, and delayed retirement.

  • Telemedicine. Telemedicine may be the new buzzword in health care. Originally started in rural areas, the Chicago Tribune reported in February 2016 about 800,000 remote visits happened in urban areas this year. Patients like the idea of not traveling to another city for care; physicians like the idea of a reduced overhead and more time with patients.Some physicians add telemedicine to their practice while others solely practice telemedicine. If you are still employed you may have access to a medical professional for low-level problems via a telephone system as part of your employer-provided health insurance program. The Tribune also noted that state parity laws require coverage for telemedicine via private insurers that are comparable to office visits. The number of states with parity laws has tripled recently.
  • Retail Clinics and Urgent Care Centers. You can’t throw a rock without hitting one of the new retail clinics. They are popping up in every corner drug store and Big Box retailer. Urgent care clinics have been part of the landscape for some time now. Seniors who don’t like waiting in an office may enjoy the convenience of getting a flu shot before buying the weekly groceries.The Convenient Care Association reported more than 20 million patients were served by retail clinics. The Chicago Tribune noted 1,800 retail clinics in 40 states and the District of Columbia – and the numbers keep growing. Retail clinics offer basic care, from flu shots to urinary tract infections and bronchitis. Retail clinics are not for serious health conditions.Nearly 10,000 urgent care centers are available throughout the states. These centers initially opened to offset the crowding and wait times of emergency rooms. You will generally find a physician on staff at each center, unlike the retail clinics which may use mid-level providers.
  • Mid-level providers. You’ll find mid-level providers at nearly every level of care.
    Advanced nurse practitioners have a degree beyond the registered nurse, and physicians assistants have 26 months of medical training, and 2,000 hours of supervised clinical practice.Nurse practitioners can operate an independent practice while physicians assistants must do so under the supervision of a doctor. Nurse practitioners have been around for half a century, but today take on a greater role in providing care. They can practice independently in 19 states and the District of Columbia.
  • Delayed retirement. While some articles suggest that physicians are delaying retirement due to the doctor shortage, I could find no significant evidence of this. In the last five or six years, many physicians delayed retirement due to the recession but didn’t claim it as related to any shortage.What I did find documented is that baby boomers want to work longer, and medical organizations are accommodating them in new ways which is having the same effect on delaying retirement. However, providers are moving to part-time or flex-time positions, many are taking on telemedicine responsibilities, or doing “shift” work in an emergency room or as a locum tenens. Roughly translated from the Latin, locum tenens means “to hold a place” and describes a type of physician who works on a temporary basis in a hospital, practice, or clinic.

The bottom line: The patchwork quilt of our healthcare system is a work in progress.  We have to control those health conditions we can control. The best use of the system is staying healthy and out of the system.

Where Have All the Doctors Gone?