Tag Archives: aging

Back At His Computer

We got home yesterday. How are we doing? We have additional bars and supports in the bathroom as per the instruction of the occupational therapist. He has a seat to sit on while he showers that works well. The bed is in a new spot to better accommodate his walker. Each day he gets more function back.

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Our years of living in a travel trailer are certainly coming in handy in a strange way. Every time you move your trailer to a new location you have to rearrange stuff and adjust and adapt. You have to deal with small problems like the hose doesn’t reach the faucet or the electric hook up is opposite what you need. All those lessons in adaptation are perfect now as we adapt our home to this new reality. Aging is about adaptive living.

He has a pleasant, easy going, and patient personality. He says please and thank you all the time. He gives soft voiced gentle instructions. If I can’t do it right now, he is content to wait until I can. He gives reminders and suggestions in positive constructive ways. That makes this so much easier.

And his spirits are high. He wrote a paper in his head while lying there and now he’s getting his thoughts on paper, virtual paper that is. I suspect he might only get an hour or so before he fades and needs to have a nap but getting that hour of work in is more important than all the admonishes and advice of anyone else.

Right now my most annoying issue is that he always handled the laundry. Since the washer and dryer are in the basement, I have to take over that job, at least for now. I never used the new washer. It was a royal pain to figure it out and patience is not one of my virtues.

He actually lasted only 30 minutes at his computer and he’s having a nap now. I am going to go shower while he does. After that, I will start the next load of laundry and try to figure out how that the dryer works.

Health News Setback

It’s kind of hard to write this but in the wee hours of the morning Tuesday my husband had a stroke. This one is worse than the event he had last June. After the ambulance rolled him into the hospital and the whole stroke protocol kicked in, it was clear this one was a bad one. My husband couldn’t move himself from one side of the bed to the other. His cognitive functions were perfectly fine but his body wouldn’t move. His one eye had taken on a life of its own. It was rolling and his face was hanging on one side. I had a very hard time understanding what he was saying.  The doctors did their thing, MRI, CT, blood thinners, the works.

By the next morning, my husband was much better. He could roll himself over. He had substantial weakness in his left hand, just as it had been previously affected only worse. His left leg was weak too. His eye was still rolling around like Alister Mad Eye Moody for those of you into Harry Potter. It was making him see double and he kept making me want to laugh because it looked so funny. Miraculously, his face was no longer drooping and he could speak understandably.

The specialists were called in. The entire sequence of the six CTs and the two MRIs were compared and the whole history reviewed. The conclusion was last June he had a small stroke in his pons region and that was independent of the carotid artery dissection. That stroke in the pons region was minor and he healed up very well. This second stroke again has nothing to do with the healed carotid artery dissection. There is something going on in his pons region. It is likely some kind of genetic issue with his blood vessels, a weakness that caused both the dissection and the first small stroke and the one he just had. As to what it is, we don’t know and we probably never will. Most likely it’s a stroke that is going to kill him one day, maybe soon, maybe not.

By 48 hours after the stroke my husband had again improved markedly. He could now sit up in bed unassisted. His eye was now mostly back where it should be though he was still seeing double. If he concentrated on it, he could force both eyes to focus. The staff of OT and physio were all talking about an extended stay in rehab after weeks in hospital but he fooled them. He improved so markedly that by afternoon he was able to use a walker to get to the toilet and use it and get back to bed without any more assistance other than them hovering over him fretting anxiously about him falling. I had told him he couldn’t come home unless he could get to the bathroom and use it by himself, get up the stairs and get in and out of the truck. Now the most important one was done.

This morning he was once again markedly improved. Today we went to the shower and he bathed with only minimal assistance while sitting down. I did his back and feet. He did all the rest. The whole bed to stand to walker/transfer to the wheelchair thing was easy for him as his balance is rapidly coming back. The Mad Eye Moody look was mostly gone. The OT and Physio people were just shaking their heads over him because he kept saying he was going home Friday. He insisted he would show them he was ready to go up and down stairs and they finally reluctantly agreed to let him try and he did it. Then he did it again three more times just to show them. Second goal met. He is doing so well the doctors decided he should go home. This is turning out to be less of a full on major stroke and more of minor stroke to a transient ischemic episode in terms of outcome at this point. The doctors know our home is already pretty much set up for dealing with walkers and such from last June’s event. They also know I have a lot of supports. Finally, because with COVID19 thing is about to break in our area, the more people out of the hospital the better.

Today I went shopping and bought special bathroom support assists like a sit down thing for the shower. We already had safety bars and such. I bought a bolt on toilet support. I bought him a walker. I rented a wheelchair. If he keeps improving like he is doing he won’t need them in a few weeks. We’ll see how it goes. I am hoping we can give them to someone less fortunate in a few months. On the other hand I might keep them, just in case.

Right after the stroke, once I could leave the ER and go home, I drove trying to resist the urge to just keep driving forever. I thought how I couldn’t do this. I am not up to being caregiver again just after having him back as he was before. Visions of nursing homes and drooling and adult diapers made me want to weep. After a good nights sleep I was ready to go back. His remarkable improvement made me feel a lot better. He said he wanted to die when he couldn’t even roll over. So he knew what I was going through only for him it was even worse because it was his body. Fortunately, it turns out we’re not there just yet.

So what does the future hold? We don’t know. All I do know is the man I love is still there. His body is getting a bit battered but he’s still there. That’s the only thing that matters. I don’t know how much time he has left with me. None of us know. His mother had multiple small strokes, made near miraculous recoveries after each one and lived to age 97. Maybe he’s following her example and that’s what we are in for. Time will tell. For today he’s not dead yet. I’m taking him home tomorrow.

 

On contentment.

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It’s May and that means my birthday is coming up. Mother’s Day is nearby. Hubby Dearest and I are coming up on a biggie, 25 years of legal marriage. All of these dates (except possibly my birthday) are artificial constructs that have little to do with my personal reality. Still, every May I can’t help but reflect on where I am, where I am going, and where I hope to be. This May has been a rather strange one because I feel happy where I am, I feel like I do not need to go anywhere. I have no greater aspirations than to finish the renovations on my little house. I am content. It is a very strange place for me to be in.

My childhood is not something I recall with joy. Mostly it was very difficult and I was “the shit faced brat”. (That is what make Mother’s Day so difficult for me that I won’t let my children celebrate it. We celebrate my birthday instead.) I mostly got picked on and mostly tried to just vanish and avoid being noticed as a child. My twenties were a period of my greatest joy because my babies came. As I loved them and raised them I also poured love on myself and nurtured the child within me by doing so. I also finally gave up on trying to hide who and what my brain was and I started back to school to get prepped for entering university. Finally, I closed off my twenties by leaving the husband who was not right, spent some time in a shelter for battered women, and then restarted my life with a new partner who was right for me. The twenties were a period of intense personal growth and greatest pain and disillusionment with what society had told me I ought to be, as well as being the time of my greatest joy.

My thirties were pretty good. I gave up trying to conform to outside ideas about who I should be. I started university. Growing up I recall my mother saying “You have to learn to hide those brains of yours. Men don’t like women who are too smart.” The only meaning and purpose to life for a girl was catching a man and then spend the rest of her tending to him and his children. I stopped listening to her and I stopped doing that. No more having the feet knocked out from under me every time I tried to stand up. I recently bought and I am now watching the entire collection of “The Waltons” TV series. As a teenager I loved that show. My aspiration was to be an Olivia Walton and marry a John Walton. I wanted to love and be loved and have a home. In my thirties I finally stopped lying to myself and instead I was busy cramming my brain full of stuff like biochemistry of nucleic acids and statistical analysis of genetic variants. Honestly, that was far better suited for my brain than the life of an Olivia Walton. I still occasionally wished I could have been an Olivia Walton. It certainly would have been easier and if I had married a John Walton I might still be in that place. But in my thirties I gave up on trying to be what I am not.

My forties were a time of change and growth. I completed my PhD. I am very proud of that document and yet it is a source of pain to me. On the one hand it is quite an accomplishment. On the other, the realities of academia came up and smacked me in the face. While you are a student there is always room for you, mainly because as a student you are expected to put in very long hours for very low pay. Plus you have a lot of latitude to make stupid mistakes and I did make a few. One you have that PhD though everything changes. The next step is a postdoc and I did a three year one on a full scholarship. The problem is postdocs live in a nether world. They are not students, they are not staff. They have no rights. I was told if I was not in before my supervisor every day, and if I was not staying past midnight at least twice a week I was “not hungry enough”. In academia only 0.02% of new PhDs get the magic “assistant professorship” that is the key step to success in the tenure track. Because the competition is so tight, and because the entire system runs on who you know, and where you fit in, not what you are, it’s very easy to get end up in 99.8% who get shoved off the ladder. When you are in it, you never think it might happen to you. And so you have three choices when reality hits, admit the whole PhD thing is a dead end and give up the dream, live forever as a postdoc, or become a “research assistant” whose entire existence is going from grant to grant of your supervisor, often working as hard as your supervisor, and getting little credit or recognition, facing being discarded the first time the grant committee changes and decides you are expendable, all for less pay than the lab janitor. Still I had awards, I had publications and I felt I was hot and ready to make it.

Reality bites and the simple fact of the matter is that in my fifties I decided to give up. I still had teenagers at home who needed a mother, a husband who loved me as much as John loved Olivia. If I stay after midnight instead of taking a break in lab work to go home and eat and sleep, I end up making stupid errors because I am tired. I end up having to throw out reagents worth more in a single experiment than I was earning in a month. Post doc’ing was not for me. I am not hungry enough to put with that kind of abuse.

I didn’t give up all at once. I am stubborn. I needed to smash my head a few times on that glass ceiling. I would submit my CV for a job, get the telephone call, get the interview. They loved my skill set, they couldn’t wait to meet me, they talked about all kinds of things like my potential for start up grants, and it was going to be great! They were so looking forward to having me on the team. Then when I walked into the room, faces would fall. They would squirm in their seat, act all polite and uncomfortable and I would never hear from them again. You aren’t supposed to discriminate against people based on age but it happens all the time. The kindest thing anyone ever did for me in academia was when a successful professor I admired listened to me complain about the peculiarity of being so positively received right up until the interview. Even the expensive power suit I bought didn’t help. I just didn’t get it.

“No one is going to hire a 47 year old who just got her PhD into a tenure track position,” he so very bluntly said. “They will have all kinds of politically acceptable excuses for discriminating against you. They will blame the grant agencies, they will blame the system, they will quote the studies that show people are most productive in their life when they have that PhD by age 26. They will rationalize away their bigotry. I have sat in on many hiring committees. The fact is no one is ever going to hire you because you are both female and too old.” The fact that potential jobs always started out very encouraging, and then their faces would crumble just looking at me for the first time, told me my honest friend was right. (Note to aspiring women scientists: Forget the PhD unless you can finish it before you turn 26 and go get a professional degree like engineering, nursing, medicine instead and then go into research. You’ll always have protection of your profession and a fall back to lean on between grants.)

Just as I was facing this, my husband hit another academic wall, the “You are too old and it’s time to retire” one. I knew I would never make it in and he was forced out. So I decided I would retire with him. He’s 16 years older than me and it seemed far more important to be with him during his retirement while he was still young enough to enjoy it rather than take more dead end post docs where I got paid less than the woman sweeping the lab floor. And so my fifties found me “retired” without a pension or pay, dependant on my husband’s income to live. Dependant on a man was a place I never thought I allow myself to be in again but here I am. Since then I have taken a few short term jobs but only ones I was interested in and that I wanted to do. And they all paid much better than a postdoc.

The teenagers grew up and didn’t need us so much. I have been blessed with a good life, mostly good enough health, three wonderful children and a wonderful step son. I have three lovely daughters-in-law who treat me very nicely and respectfully. The kids all turned out very well. All of them tax payers, self supporting, not one in prison, and all doing well at what they are doing. We had freedom and so we decided to “follow the dream”. We spent five wonderful years living full time in our travel trailer. It has been great! We got to every state in the lower 48 and we have been blessed to see and do things most people never get to do. I wouldn’t give that up for a second. Still, after five years of arriving in winter and leaving in winter in a poorly insulated travel trailer, the rambling life got wearing and we needed a home base. So when the chance came up to purchase a little house with a big driveway for the trailer in lovely little town we jumped at it. So now we are part time full timers and part time stick house people.

The little house was well built and solid as they come and I love it. It had nothing wrong with it except for cosmetic things. And if I ever say that again I hope someone kicks me hard. However as I close in on 58 we have almost finished all that cosmetic work. The place has new windows, fresh paint, new flooring and it feels very much like our home. One room to go for the paint and two rooms for the flooring. One very nice thing that happened was hubby dearest and I wrote the book about our mutual research. We figured out differentiation and we’re right and we’re proud of it and it’s all in that book. Plus the royalties thus far paid for the new flooring in our little house.

Watching The Waltons I find myself reflecting on my life and how much it is like Olivia Walton’s now. I bake. I garden. I cook. I fix up my little house. Small town life is as slow and easy as Walton’s Mountain except that I look at Riding Mountain. Unlike Olivia Walton, I have Google Scholar and Facebook and Pubmed meaning the world is as close as my computer. I indulge my mind a few times a day. My husband spends his days deeply immersed in astrobiology. As a young man he had to choose biology or astronomy and he pursued biology because that interested him more. These days, astrobiology couldn’t be more perfect for a theoretical biologist with no lab. Our house is filled with the sounds of NASA on line conferences instead of depression era radio shows. We are both free of grant deadlines, university politics, and hiring committee meetings.

Yesterday I spent my day repotting seedling tomatoes, planning the menu for our Silver Anniversary, cutting new trim to fit over the new flooring, chatting with a neighbour, watching flocks of juncos and pine siskin feast at my bird feeders, doing a literature review on tick bourn diseases, chatting with a young woman on line about her pregnancy (which is going just fine) and debating the relative merits of pipelines versus tanker transport of crude oil. The strangest thing of all for me as I contemplate my birthday is this wonderful slow growing sensation of contentment. Back in the days, I used to watch one soap opera daily so I would have something to chat about at the Tuesday morning bible study for young mothers. (I could never discuss the stuff from the nonfiction section of the public library that I was secretly devouring hence the one soap a day.) When characters said they were happy, they were no longer interesting and they either vanished or were due for a cancer diagnosis or a terrible car crash, a kidnapping or a bad case of amnesia. But life isn’t a soap opera and so I will say it. I am content. I am happy. I have never been in this place before and I am enjoying it.

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