Bright Lights, Big Cacti

Arizona through the Eyes of a Native

Category: Health

May Fallout

Some of you may know that my mom fell and broke her arm last month. No, not that arm — the other arm. That’s right…my mom has two broken arms right now. Guess what? When you have two broken arms, the hospital doesn’t send you home — they send you to rehab. So, in honor of Mom, here are the Top Ten Things to Know about Rehab.

10. Some guy will be pulling your pants down and back up every time you need to use the toilet. Rehabs are less gender-sensitive and more touchy-feely than the TSA.

9. Just in case you still have some modesty left after the toilet experience, the same guy will be undressing you for your shower and hanging out to make sure you’re able to scrub your body clean. If you aren’t, he’ll be helping you out.

8. Occupational therapy = housework or games. Don’t piss off the therapist or you’ll be washing dishes and folding clothes while everyone else is playing Yahtzee.

7. The next time someone accuses you of wasting time playing games, just tell them it’s your occupational therapy.

6. If you want to avoid having a roommate, set the air conditioning to seventy and watch TV at random times in the middle of the night. If you aren’t alone from the start, you soon will be!

5. The best place for your many flower arrangements is on the ledge of the air conditioner — another reason to keep the temperature down and the roommates out.

4. Diabetics: you know that blood-sugar thing you’ve been more or less ignoring? Yeah…they don’t ignore it in rehab. Be prepared to have the tips of your fingers converted to pincushions. On the plus side, the doctors may discover the proper combination of drugs to keep your sugars in check.

3. The food is surprisingly good, and your friends and family can eat with you on the cheap.

2. If the rehab staff is buzzing about the main item on the lunch menu, trust them: they have been in the facility longer than you have.

And the Number One lesson learned in rehab is:

If you want to feel better about your life, talk to other rehab patients. Chances are good that something worse happened to them.

Mom's floral collection.

Mom’s floral collection.



Angels Do Exist

The last week has been a hard one for our family, but hospice made it bearable. Few things are more heart wrenching than watching a loved one die, especially when he or she is unable to tell you if they are in pain. The nurses and doctors who come to a terminal patient’s bedside are angels of mercy to them and to their families.

When my paternal grandfather passed away a few years ago as a result of cancer, Hospice of the Valley took excellent care of him. The facility in which he spent his last few days was clean, and his room — all the rooms, in fact — more closely resembled a bedroom than a hospital room. When another member of our family approached the end of his life recently, the family opted to care for him at home for as long as possible. My husband chose to contact Hospice of the Valley again; they immediately sent out nurses to evaluate the patient’s condition and provide drugs to ease his pain.

My advice to anyone caring for a terminally ill loved one would be: don’t wait to call hospice. If you happen to be in Arizona, call Hospice of the Valley.

Against Medical Advice

I’m angry and sad today — and I’m trying not to show it.

Someone important to my husband’s family — a man I respect and love — is choosing to end his life by refusing medical treatment. I know this is his choice; it’s a choice I have seen others make before. Under other circumstances — if he had cancer, for instance — I would support his choice. But he doesn’t. He has pneumonia, which has led to sepsis and renal failure. He is probably going to die from something that is highly treatable in the 21st century.

I have said before that my goal is to reach the ripe age of 100. That wasn’t always true. When I was a teenager, I went through a bout of depression and found myself contemplating suicide. When I ultimately overcame those dark thoughts and emerged into a better, happier life, I decided that I would never let depression fool me into believing that life wasn’t worth living again. Even on my worst day, I know that I still have more good days ahead of me — and I want to see them.

But what if I didn’t see any better days coming? What if I spent every minute of every day living with pain, and the doctors told me there was no way to predict if that pain would ever disappear? How bad would that pain have to be before I decided that life wasn’t worth the trouble anymore? Before I chose to allow a curable illness to advance to where it could kill me?

I hope I never find out.

Healthy Impulses

This past weekend, Dan and I decided to go for a hike as a way to jump-start our new year’s exercise program. Looking online, I found a short 1.25-mile loop trail at ThunderbirdPark and we cheerfully drove out to 55th Avenue and PinnaclePeak, where the trailhead was. Upon arriving, we discovered that it was less of a hiking trail than a dirt path that circled near the foot of the mountain. Still, it was a nice morning and the walk was refreshing. At first, I feared we wouldn’t even lose sight of the parking lot, but toward the last quarter of the “hike” or so, we were actually far enough away that we couldn’t see our car. Of course, we could still see the road, but never mind.

The next day, we decided to try something a bit more challenging. We drove to SouthMountain and picked up their trail map. Before long, we found the Pima Loop East, which was supposedly a mile-and-a-half long with an elevation change of 400 feet. That sounded reasonable. Dan mentioned that he hadn’t been to the top of the mountain in years; I had never been at all, owing to my occasionally overwhelming fear of heights. However, with Dan at the wheel, I was willing to ascend.

The road winds around, occasionally giving breathtaking views of the city and causing my heart to thud as I look down over frightening precipices. Along the way, we passed plenty of bicyclists, a few walkers, and at least one jogger on the road. We were also passed by two motorcyclists going way too fast for the hairpin turns without sufficient safety rails.

At the top, though, is one of the best views of the valley I’ve ever seen. Dan and I walked to the overview and took a few pictures, some of which came out beautifully. The others featured cameos of his thumb.

Afterward, I closed my eyes as Dan drove us back down the mountain, and then we drove out of the park and around to Baseline and 48th Avenue, where there was supposed to be a parking lot for the Pima trails. We were both looking forward to the hike; unfortunately, after three tries and numerous internet searches for the address listed on the website, we were forced to give up. If someone knows how to get to that parking lot, would they please leave a comment below?

So, instead of a healthy hike in the crisp morning air, Dan and I went to Garcia’s Las Avenidas and had lunch. Not exactly the same thing, huh? Oh, well…there’s always next weekend.

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My “Power Days”

For anyone who is curious about how my recent decision to lose weight and get healthy is going, I am proud to report that I am no longer “obese” according to the BMI calculator. No, now I am merely “overweight.” Yay, me! Additionally, I have worked out five times a week for more than a month now, which I believe is considered an amazing feat of endurance – at least in my world.

My birthday weekend was great. Since my mother-in-law and I share the same birthday, my brother- and sister-in-law served up a home-cooked meal of filet mignon and assorted sides on Saturday. The whole Bennett clan (at least the ones who live in Arizona) showed up to celebrate.

My husband and I also celebrated seven years of marriage Monday. This weekend, I discovered something that hadn’t occurred to me on any of my last six birthday/anniversary occasions: Dan cannot say no to me. He’s caught in a three-day perfect storm of celebration. When I asked him Saturday morning if he would take me to the zoo on Sunday, he didn’t hesitate to say yes, even though I know that he wanted to go to the zoo about as much as he would like a prostate exam. I must be careful with my new-found “power days” – I don’t want to use them for evil…only for good.

Even though Dan was suffering from a slight cold, we had a great time at the zoo. The animals weren’t all that cooperative, though. I was hoping to see the newborn giraffes, but alas, they were not out. Even the orangutans were inside – though at least I could see them through the windows. Apparently, they don’t like the chilly (around seventy degrees) weather. I did get a good picture of a squirrel monkey at least.

Sunday night, we had dinner at my parents’ home, where Mom prepared my requested birthday meal: chicken pot pie and rum cake. Dan and I picked Fuzzy up and one of Mom’s good friends also attended the dinner. Afterwards, we played a game of cards.

I’m thinking I’ll use next year’s three-day perfect storm to request a trip to Disneyland. Dan hates Disneyland a lot more than he hates the zoo…let’s see what these power days can really do!

A squirrel monkey at the Phoenix Zoo Monkey Village

41 Down, 59 to Go

I am 41 years old today, which means I’m one year closer to my ultimate goal of 100. I set this goal a long time ago, after thinking of all the changes Granddaddy had seen in his lifetime. During his span of years, our country went from primarily agrarian to dominantly industrial. He was alive when the Wright brothers made their first flight and when Neil Armstrong stepped onto the moon.

We haven’t made any giant leaps in my lifetime; instead, we have steadily grown into technology that would have made Granddaddy’s head spin – smart phones that are more capable than the room-filling computers of the Fifties and Sixties, for instance. I’m pretty sure I read once that cars would be driving themselves by now; I’m still waiting for that one. I hear it’s going to happen in twenty to thirty years.

This year, after sitting in my office writing for the last three years – essentially hermetically sealing myself inside – I made the decision to venture out into the world. This change was not something I approached randomly – I had been thinking about my isolation for some time. My natural inclination was to stay where I was, since I am a loner by nature. However, I feared that one day my niece or nephew would find my hundred-year-old corpse mummified within my little house. (I can even imagine the interview Jan would give to the newspaper: “Aunt Susan was strange. We only heard from her around the holidays – when she didn’t show up for Thanksgiving, we figured something might be wrong.”)

So, taking the lead from Grandma Millie, I joined Beta Sigma Phi this fall. So far, it has been a great experience. It turns out that I might not be as socially awkward as I assume myself to be, though I wouldn’t go so far as to agree with Dan’s assessment that “everybody loves the Susie.” I am not, in fact, all that loveable. I’m opinionated, occasionally bossy, and frequently annoyed by the bad grammar of others. In fact, I have a pesky urge to whisper corrections when people misuse language in my presence. Nearly nine years with Dan have made me more aware – and, therefore, more in control – of that particular tic.

I have also, in recent months, taken a more active interest in my health. I have been working out regularly since October and I am starting to feel, if not see, the benefits of that activity.

All in all, I would have to say that my 40th year was a good one. No one close to me died (though a couple of my friends tried to off themselves by participating in obstacle-course races designed for people half their ages), Inknbeans Press published two more of my novels, and my husband still thinks I’m universally beloved (boy, have I got him snowed).

I can’t wait to see what happens next.

Me, back when I really was universally adorable.

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No More Snooze Button

As a rule, I sleep soundly. I’m the sort of person who can – and does – fall asleep within two or three minutes of my head hitting the pillow. And nothing wakes me up until I’m ready to be awake. In college, I had an alarm clock that made a noise so ungodly that no one on the floor could sleep through it – except, of course, me. As a matter of fact, I had to relocate it within my room regularly in order to keep myself from turning it off in my sleep. One morning, I was late to a final exam and rushed out of my dorm room before I had a chance to realize that I had only hit the snooze button and not the off switch. I came back from my test to find that my room had been broken into…so that my suitemates could turn the darned thing off.

This morning, however, I found myself wide awake at three-thirty in the morning. The noise that awoke me? My husband’s snoring. Don’t get me wrong – I’m not criticizing. I’m sure if anyone else were in the house, he or she would think that Dan and I are competitive snorers, training for the day when Snoring finally becomes an Olympic sport.

No, it wasn’t the decibel level that disturbed me – it was the tiny whine that was accompanying his exhales. I thought it was the puppy, who sleeps next to our bed. I thought maybe he needed to go out. So I laid there, waiting for the squeaky wheel, so to speak, to get some of Dan’s grease. (I know, I know…a good wife would never pretend to be asleep in hopes that her husband would take care of a whining child. But it’s starting to get cold outside.) After a few minutes, though, I realized the whine was actually coming from him. Realizing he would not be waking up, I reached under my pillow and retrieved my phone, hoping the a few minutes of checking my emails and flipping through new/recycled Facebook entries would lull me back to sleep.

No such luck. After a good half an hour, I finally gave up and quietly left the bedroom. Forty-five minutes later, Dan woke up and let Truman out of his cage. He immediately ran for the office, sliding under the gate we have there (supposedly to keep the dogs in or out of the office) and jumping excitedly against my leg. Dan, bleary-eyed, appeared a few moments later. “What are you doing up?” he asked. You would think he would have noticed the complete lack of noise coming from my side of the bed, but he tells me that sometimes I’m so quiet he has to touch me to make sure I’m still alive.

“Couldn’t sleep.”

Anytime he catches me playing video games when he thinks I should be doing something else, he gives me a look that suggests I am very bad. “Really?”

“Yes, really.”

Once we had established that I didn’t get up early simply to feed my computer addiction, he went about his morning routine. I, on the other hand, decided that I might as well head to the gym.

That’s right, you read that correctly: I went and worked out. That makes eight visits to the gym in the last eleven days. However, now that I’ve written this, I’m wondering: is my apparent lack of need for extra sleep related to my newfound devotion to exercise? If so, is that supposed to be a good thing? Will I never hit a snooze button again?

alarm clock, bought from IKEA

alarm clock, bought from IKEA (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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I Didn’t Die Today

I only weigh twenty pounds more than I did when I started college, which would sound like bragging if I hadn’t already been overweight at the time. In a lot of ways, I’m very lucky – at 6’0” tall, I can carry a lot more weight before I start to look really fat. But the BMI charts don’t lie: I’m obese. In fact, I’m forty pounds over the maximum suggested weight for someone of my height. Now, the last time I saw 184 pounds, I was a teenager. I’m not opposed to seeing it again – I’m just not sure how to get there.

This week, I finally followed through on my plan to join a gym. This is the third time I’ve taken this step in the last twenty years, so I’m trying to keep my expectations reasonable. Despite the encouragement of the very nice woman selling me the membership, I stuck to my guns and only paid for one month; anything more seems like tempting fate. In the past, I’ve fallen for the year-long-contract sales pitch – the one where they tell you how much better the rate is if you commit. When it comes to fitness, I guess you could call me a commitmentphobe. The fact that I’m joining a gym when I have a perfectly serviceable treadmill at home proves I’m a cheater. So, this time, I’m going with the one-month-at-a-time approach.

The gym I joined has an indoor-walking track that circles over the basketball courts. Fifteen turns around equals a mile. Yesterday, I resolved to walk at least a mile – two, if I were up to it. The joy of speeding along the track, lapping senior citizens like some kind of athlete, was pretty sweet. I made two miles, plus a victory lap or two. Cue the Rocky music.

Coming off that triumph, I resolved to go to a class today: the 9:30 Strength 101 class, to be exact. “101” means basic, right? I set my alarm an hour earlier and ran through my morning routines. At a little before nine, I hopped in my car and sped down to the gym. I was a few minutes early, so I sat and watched the Silver Sneakers class – the class for senior citizens – as they finished their routines. I confided in a friendly woman that this was to be my first class and she swore that I could do it. The classes are geared toward people who are less than perfect specimens. Encouraged, I followed her into the room when the seniors had filed out. The instructor, an enthusiastic young woman who reminded me of Sandra Oh, told us what equipment we would need. The friendly woman helped me gather those items, and I set up right behind her.

Sandra Oh at a Writer's Guild of America protest

Seriously. Just like Sandra Oh. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The first twenty minutes or so went fine. As it turns out, I can grapevine with the best of them. I marched wide, lunged, and stretched, all in shoes that are better for walking than aerobics. Things didn’t start to fall apart until we picked up the rubber tubes to start the arm exercises.

Just to be clear, I ate breakfast. I drank a lot of water before I went to the gym. When the thirst kicked in during the workout, I drank some more. The dizziness and the sick stomach were unexpected. I waited a few minutes to see if it would pass, then got back up and tried to join in again. It turns out I may have overestimated my physical ability. My blood sugar crashed through the floor as the class reached the halfway point. Okay…so not what I thought would happen.

I did the fat girl walk of shame, putting all my equipment up before I left the room as the rest of the exercisers – including more than a few who looked to be a lot more than forty pounds overweight – continued to exercise.

Down in the locker room, I managed to open my combination lock and find a bag of peanuts in my purse from that trip to Arkansas a few months back. As I chewed a few of them, I texted Dan to tell him I’d nearly killed myself in a class. At first, he thought I was talking about muscle pain and made a joke. When he realized I’d had a sugar crash, he got worried about me. After a few minutes of sitting quietly and allowing the peanuts to do their work, I grabbed my purse and drove home, where I proceeded to drink orange juice and sulk over my failure.

Then it hit me: I didn’t die today, as one of my favorite bloggers is fond of saying. I didn’t fail. I did half of a workout, which is more than I did last week. Okay, so I didn’t plan well. Next time, I will wear different shoes and carry my purse with me into the workout room, so that I have something with me to prevent a sugar crash from getting away from me. Next time, maybe I’ll make it through three-quarters of the workout before my body gives out.

And I won’t break up with the gym just yet. Though I might go back to speeding past the over-eighty crowd on the track for a while…you know, just to build my confidence.

A public demonstration of aerobic exercises

No one was actually dressed like any of these people, thank goodness. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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