Modern? I was born in 1942. But things have been going downhill for quite a while now. Let me tell you about it. Today, American men are sitting in the waiting room while the women give birth to a new nation. They have taken themselves out of the conversation. For me, the abandonment started with dancing. I was often given the choice of either dancing with a woman or not dancing at all. I hate dancing with women. My boobs are big and they keep bumping up against my partner’s boobs. It’s a free country. Men don’t have to dance. But even if it’s just out of compassion, they could reach out their hand and take a whirl every once in a while without making us feel like we were forcing them to do some kind of penance. We solved the dancing problem, turned into a joke by the women who keenly felt the absence of men, with standalone dancing. If you want to dance, you go out on the floor and strut your stuff. During social dancing, you have to enter into the rhythms and style of another person – a much more daunting interaction requiring training, humility, and forgiveness. And bringing a special kind of joy. I used to tell my son “If you want to meet girls, you should take ballet.” Hahahaha. Little boys in many countries take ballet, not here. I’d like to see a football player do what Mikhail Baryshnikov could do. I was raised to be someone’s wife, and had no objections to that. But the world changed, and I had to go to work. That meant working a full day, then coming home and doing all the housework, laundry, childcare, and cooking. “Who me?” men were saying. “I don’t know how to cook.” To which my friend Rita answers, “If you know how to read, you know how to cook.” They sabotaged chores, like putting the darks with the whites in the washing machine, ruining more than one white blouse, leaving the clothes to dry in the dryer, causing them to be hopelessly wrinkled, or burning a shirt with the iron. Talk to a woman my age. She’ll tell you all about it. We have solved the problem by having nobody cook. The restaurants and takeout joints are thriving, to hell with nutrition and togetherness, not to mention financial sanity. And we solved the cleaning thing by not cleaning at all. “Come in. It’s a mess,” is the new password. Our immune systems will probably benefit. When I started dating again after two divorces, I found there was no place to meet men. The women’s magazines earnestly urged women like to me to get out of the house. “Go to the adult school. Take a ceramics class. A dancing class. A class on welding.” Trouble was that in the ceramics, dancing, and even the welding class, almost all of the participants were women. For the past few years, I have given memoir workshops in libraries – almost all women. I have joined writing groups – all women. I was part of an all-woman choir, and my church choir has three-to-one women in it. I was a college professor for eight years, from 2007-2015, and over the years, the classes became more and more female. The freshman writing class was required, so everybody had to take it, yet there were more and more women as a percentage of each class. (One memorable class contained the entire men’s soccer team, but… well, we won’t get into that. Let’s just say that I discovered how to conduct a kinetic writing class.) Even when there were men in the class they would say such things as, “I’m afraid to say what I think because I don’t want the women jumping down my throat.” I’m organizing a carpool for the kickoff of the Poor People’s Campaign on Sunday. Eighteen women and three men, all three of whom are accompanying their wives. I have sought to explain men’s absence from public community life, and have come up with a couple of explanations which are entirely unscientific, but satisfactory to me. American men have a serious case of performance anxiety. For men my age, they had not only to perform in the bedroom, but they had to support their families. Braggadocio does not put food on the table. When social dancing, they were required to “lead” – failure was on them. I would put down the college freshman’s fear that women might “jump down his throat” to performance anxiety. A young man should be able to stand up for himself against even an onslaught of criticism, as Stephen Miller, Steve Bannon, and Donald Trump are showing us. You don’t have to be insulting to stand up for yourself. These young men were afraid. When I started dating again at sixty, I discovered two kinds of contemporary men; the ones who were still living in 1959 and the ones who, like all their women contemporaries, had been forced to change their expectations and behavior with the times. At one high school reunion, the [male] organizer in charge of music refused to play any music from Elvis Presley on. We were dancing to “Earth Angel” and Perry Como. Men of my generation were raised to be providers and community networkers – think golf club and Rotary Club. Over the years, their wives went out to work, but they chugged along as a family provider, and nobody stopped them from going to the Rotary Club. These men jumped in front of me to open doors. I appreciate gallantry, but theirs was a gallantry that suggested that I couldn’t get through a door unless there was a man there to help me. It was a matter of attitude. I have no problem with someone calling me “honey” or “girl,” but sentences like, “She’s a nice gal,” sound archaic to me. I would have trouble sitting across the breakfast table with someone who uttered such sentences without realizing the baggage they carried. “I respect women” means a lot of different things to a lot of different people, and it took time to figure out what it meant to each man. My first husband did nothing around the house. I can’t tell you how thoroughly he did nothing. So before I married my second husband, a great respecter of women, I insisted on a solid agreement that would free me from some household duties – we were both working full-time, and it was only fair. We wrote down a series of household chores, divided them up, and signed the agreement. He was on board, “one hundred percent.” Then one day, after he had finished his three chores, he announced he was taking the kids to play baseball for a while. “But who’s going to sweep the porch? We need to clean out the refrigerator!” “I’ve done what I agreed to do,” he said and was out the door. It’s those dozen extra things that you can’t put on a list that keep you from having a fun game of baseball instead of sweeping the porch. He had not thought past that list. It’s a matter of attitude. So here we are today. Women are protesting, facing accusers in court, coming out publicly with their stories, complaining to their bosses though it might cost them their jobs, fielding painstaking parsing of what constitutes “harassment” – does it count if your boss just grabs your butt? while the men sit in their chairs and supervise. Sexual harassment and abuse is not a women’s problem. It is a men’s problem. There should be men’s marches, men’s unique hats, men’s tee shirts, and men’s testimony in court. We need a Truth and Reconciliation commission. My partner abandoned me when I was pregnant at 18 and the partners of numerous acquaintances who were in the same situation abandoned them, too. The men walked away. “That’s something for the girls to take care of.” And still, and still, and still, it is the women who are wearing their little pink hats, traveling to marches, testifying, railing, demanding respect and dignity. Where are the men? Are men taking on the job of escorting women to abortion clinics? They’re half the reason they’re there. Male doctors have not spoken up in their hospitals so that abortion can be moved to where it belongs, in hospitals. Leaving them in clinics makes the clinics and the workers in them vulnerable. If they were working in a hospital, there would be a measure of privacy and dignity. The doctors have allowed themselves to be intimidated by blowhards who don’t want the taint of abortion around them, though the one-third of American couples who have had abortions includes members of every demographic, including evangelical Christians and Catholics. In today's news, the female Olympic gymnasts are just halfway through the roster facing their abuser, Dr. Nassar in court. They are the public face of his abuse. Where are the men who were complicit, who covered up the girls’ stories, who promoted and voted for Nassar to join their boards of directors, who knew what was going on but did not send another woman into the examination room to protect the girls -- they were just girls, 12, 13, even younger? But to begin with, would some men please join our church choir?
Whenever you step onto the mat, you are a yogi. It simply means you are trying. There is no certificate or benediction – everyone from the least to the most, is a yogi. The most accomplished ones can control bodily functions, like a heartbeat or breath, but there are days when even the fanciest yogi cannot, and days when even you, a novice, can. Some days I can breathe out forever; others not. Doing regular yoga is a measure of your well-being. If today you cannot balance on one foot or get yourself up into the Wheel, there is something subpar about your body – you are overtired, or unwell, or depressed. On other days, you will trudge to yoga class and find that you can do everything that is asked of you and more – your body and your mind are in fine shape. The body is a giant signal of well-being, and doing yoga gives it a way to send that signal loud and clear. Research suggests that imagining little pac-men coursing through a cancerous body can affect the cancer. That sounds like magic or sleight-of-mind, but if you do yoga, you know that intense focus can affect bodily function. Focusing on a sore muscle, and there are numerous techniques for doing this, can soften it. If you are trying to get yourself up into a headstand and you are thinking about what you’re going to make for dinner, you might well not be successful at the headstand. We only use a small portion of our brain’s potential power, and yoga unleashes just a bit more of that power than we ordinarily harness. “Be here now,” says yoga. “Pay attention.” I was raised a Christian Scientist, where mind over matter is all the healing there is (more complicated than that, but that’s a subject for another time). In Christian Science, one tries to elevate oneself above the body, to concentrate on the Divine. In yoga one dives deeply into the body, focusing on the parts and functions that are needed in the moment. For me, the latter is more successful, and anybody can do it, no study needed. When twisting deeply, the yoga teacher may remind you that this helps digestion. When the head is below the heart, blood flow to the brain is increased. When the legs are above the body, lymph flow is reversed and refreshed – lymph does not have a pump like the heart to propel it. Your teacher may remind you of the 26 bones, 33 joints, 107 ligaments, 19 muscles and tendons in the foot. The 52 bones in your feet make up about 25 percent of all the bones in your body. Can you lift each toe individually? In the beginning, I could not, but now I can rely on that pinky toe, and have made progress which each of the others. The affects posture, movement, and balance. Knowledge of the body, and a hint of control over it, rests in the subconscious as you walk, eat, and live your life. Feldenkrais practitioners call their classes “lessons” because the knowledge you gain changes the way you move and live, even if you are not actively aware of it. Yoga does, too. A good yoga teacher will provide infinite versions of the same pose because the secret to avoiding injury is not to push yourself past your ability. It is NOT a competition. A few days ago I was affected by heavy humidity and did not have much energy or enthusiasm. I did the most basic forms of several postures which felt out of my reach that day. When I was recovering from a torn rotator cuff, I avoided Downward Facing Dog and any other shoulder-intensive poses for months. Tailoring each pose to your ability each day is essential. You gradually learn to recognize the difference between challenge and pain. Folded into a position which asks the body to do things not done in daily life, you may feel claustrophobic, or the discomfort of an extension or stretch may begin to panic you, but gradually you learn to distinguish between discomfort and pain. You can sit in a twist forever and it will never hurt you, though sometimes your brain insists that you untwist yourself. You should be moving! You can’t control your environment while sitting in this twist! Resisting this insistence becomes easier and easier on the mat and in daily life. Some call it discipline. It takes a while to accept that you have nothing to prove, especially nothing to prove to someone else, and that is a valuable lesson throughout life. No matter what you are doing, whether on the mat or elsewhere, you can never do more than you are capable of – some people will never be able to touch their toes, but they might have the strength of a lion. Yoga is a lesson in humility, and also a lesson in strength. Every time I hit the mat, I do something new, because every day my body and mind are different; my left side is different from my right, my mind is bold or timid, tired or fresh. Every time I take a yoga class, I am invited to push myself past my habits, past my endurance. And that in itself is an excellent habit. In the small accomplishments of your daily life, it becomes easier to do things right. It becomes easier and easier to turn the ordinary, the customary, the easy into an accomplishment. By training and challenging your body, which is very healthy on the purely physical plane, you are also training and challenging your brain, and changing your relationship with everything and everyone around you, always for the better. Embracing the further challenge of stillness and acceptance through meditation is a next step, capable of affecting deep transformation. One step at a time.
A while ago I wrote a blog post entitled "After 60, nothing is free." Your kids don't have to come see you any more, and your body will become unfriendly unless you take care of it. After 70, the stakes go up a notch. In the absence of a disease process, you have to do what athletes do and warm up every day, exercise enough to stay strong, and be proactive in maintaining equilibrium and proprioception (the sense of yourself in space). The greatest enemies are chronic pain from arthritis (or something else), loss of balance, and muscle weakness. A sports doctor I visited for a shoulder problem said, "The question is not 'Do I have arthritis," because everybody has arthritis. The question is 'Does your arthritis hurt?'" Getting circulation into the affected parts of your body, and strengthening and relaxing the supporting muscles can greatly reduce arthritis pain. Tai chi, dancing, and standing yoga balances can help maintain equilibrium, and prolonged activity, like a long walk, strengthens stamina. Exercise: I play tennis when I am at Sea Ranch with its plentiful tennis courts and constant good weather, but am not always at Sea Ranch. I sprained my ankle and couldn't walk, tore a rotator cuff muscle in my shoulder and couldn't swim, and have needed to recuperate after an operation and didn't exercise for four months. So many people call it quits when a daunting obstacle appears, saying old age has got them now. Don't buy into that. Purchase of a fitness gauge such as Withings watch or a Fitbit provides discipline: I set 8,000 steps a day as my goal and can no longer fool myself that I am "walking a lot" when I am not because the truth lies right there on my wrist. (My Withings watch does not record any activity when I am stationery, such as doing yoga, tai chi, or even aerobics which don't require much movement other than, say, side to side steps). Articles recommend 10,000 steps a day, but that takes well over an hour and puts demands on your body that your body may not be ready for. Whatever can be accomplished every day (more or less) is what is right for you. Establish one or two areas of expertise: It you are like me, pumping away in a gym on an exercise bike or a stepmaster is boring as hell. I can't keep it up. If you take yoga classes, or follow the subscription service yogaglo.com online, you will find yourself constantly improving, which keeps it interesting. Being in live classes is even better because you develop a camaraderie with fellow practitioners, and you have a teacher with whom you can discuss problems. You can become an accomplished yogi at any level. Pay attention to what any decent instructor will tell you -- practice within your own limits, keeping your judgments on the low side until you know what your body can do. Tai chi is a set of flow, graceful movements done standing up. It is what people do in Chinese parks. If you have seen videos you will know that even very old people can do it. An everyday practice will warm up the body and provide balance exercise without making unduly harsh demands on the body. It can be taken to a very challenging level, but you can do all that is necessary without pushing yourself that far. If my neck, shoulder, hip, or back hurt me there's nothing better to relax the muscles and promote good alignment than a Feldenkrais class. Live classes and practitioners can be found through a Google search, and there are also online resources. I have purchased a dozen mp3s, focusing on different activities or parts of the body through feldenkraisresources.com, clicking on the "shop online" link at the bottom of the page. I'm impressed how much doing the Feldenkrais classes is helping my tennis game. Feldenkrais aims to retrain the body, replacing bad patterns with good until they become second nature. I have learned that movement is spread throughout the body. I am not hitting the tennis ball with my arm (which could injure my shoulder), but with my legs, shoulders, head, and torso as well. Take the time to find recreational resources accessible to you. The local YMCA may have volleyball nights, or other activities which will be fun and challenging. Badminton is one of my favorites, though it is out of vogue these days and I haven't found a place where I can play it. Nature walks or a hiking club might be offered near you. In Hoboken, there are kayaking and canoeing activities, and rowing and sailing clubs too. Adding a social dimension to whatever activity you choose will make it easier to sustain. Find help: When my neck goes nuts, I have a great chiropractor. Leaving a neck out of whack will only make things worse. I have a great physical therapist for when something gets injured (I haven't been for years, but I know he's there). My alternative doctor has an alternative assessment of good health. It is worthwhile investigating some of the alternative practitioners near you, especially if regular allopathic medicine has not been able to help you. I follow the instructions of both kinds of doctor, and they do not conflict, though I must admit that more and more of my day is spent following instructions than before. That is inevitable if I want to stay well and fit. Walt Clyde Frasier, the famed basketball player, said that when he was playing ball he was constantly getting injured, until he started doing yoga. After that he was never injured again. Refining the practice of yoga, tai chi, the Alexander Technique, or any other discipline that keeps you well aligned, well balanced and well oxygenated can be the difference between being 75 and looking 75, and the difference between being 75 and feeling 75. After 70, it's no longer a choice.Warm up every day by stretching, bearing weight, and breathing deeply, following whatever method appeals to you. We'll all become feeble and weak at some point, but you have a say in when that happens, and how comfortably you pass your days before that point.
On Friday, April 3rd, I had surgery to correct a prolapse of the bladder and rectum, a hysterectomy, and various other repairs in the area. In Part One of this blog post, I related the lamentable experience in Mt. Sinai Hospital right after the surgery. This is part two -- a snapshot of the aftercare and recovery, and some advice and suggestions for others undergoing similar surgery. Saturday was as bedeviled as the day of the surgery, beginning with an aide who gave me a toothbrush loaded with toothpaste, and then a washcloth loaded with soap, without any means of rinsing afterwards. I couldn’t stand, so leaned on the sink with one hand and cupped water to my mouth and face with the other. The aide watched me, apparently confused. Morphine had finally tamed the intractable pain and I had a calm night. I was expected to go home on Saturday, so all IVs, including hydration and morphine, were dismantled. The nurse explained that we had to be sure we had a regimen of oral medications that would work back home, since you can't take morphine with you. The oral meds did not work, and a miscommunication between the covering doctor and my nurse resulted in another contentious delay in getting me reasonably comfortable. It wasn’t until the late afternoon, when Dr. K (the surgeon) granted me an extra day in the hospital and thus another night with morphine, that the pain was controlled again. The main project for the day was to see if I could void the bladder. Dr. K had said 85% of women can, so I wasn’t too worried. I was in robust good health, had been doing yoga every morning for many years, and would fit nicely within the eighty-five percent. For this test the bladder is filled through the Foley catheter with 500 millileters of sterile solution. Then the patient sits for 15 minutes over a plastic “hat” (in the shape of an inverted hat) which is placed under the toilet seat so as to measure how much is voided. With a full bladder pressing on the sutured surgical area, the process was painful. The nurse did not come back after 15 minutes and I was getting dizzy from the pain, so I waited a little longer and then pulled the emergency cord next to the toilet. I thought this would be considered urgent – I might have fallen, hemorrhaged, or passed out -- but it was another ten minutes before she arrived. When I complained about the slow response she snapped, “I was with another patient.” I had thought the cord alerted a central area where more than one person would be available for emergencies. I couldn’t void a drop, and asked first the covering doctor, then the surgeon, why. The first said, “You have a lazy bladder,” and the second, “You have to relax. Female urination can’t happen when you’re tight.” This failure was apparently my fault. After she walked me back to my bed, the nurse inserted a new Foley catheter – twice. The first was defective, the second was too small in diameter. (This was, after all, the Orthopedic ward not the Gynecology ward.) The covering doctor inserted a third catheter. With the pain under control and a catheter in place, I slept and healed, and by the time the morphine was removed the next morning, my pain was only a 6 or so, rising only when I moved. Sunday began with a visit from the covering doctor. I wasn’t happy about going home with a catheter attached to my thigh, so asked if we could try the void test again. She looked annoyed. “Oh no!! You only get one chance in the hospital. If you can’t do it then, you have to wait for your next doctor’s visit.” The surgeon countermanded the covering doctor and I was given the test again, and failed. I wondered what percentage of patients failed the void test twice. I was worried that something had gone wrong, but Dr. K reassured me, “You can never tell. Some women are stitched up and down and pee like a racehorse the next day, and some don’t. Don’t worry about it.” By the time I left the hospital late Sunday afternoon I had eaten a couple of spoonfuls of mashed potatoes, a tablespoon of potato soup, and a few bites of toast since the Thursday night before the surgery. I couldn’t reach the water on the bedside table and when someone passed me the cup I had to drink sideways, spilling water on the sheet and floor. I was unable to reach the food trays because I could not sit up. The constant hassles and persistent pain, the worry about the stress being put on my husband, and the concern that something had gone wrong in the surgery diverted my attention from a subject I have studied for 40 years – nutrition. This fasting and dehydration weakened me and affected the serious struggles I would have with constipation after I got home. I arrived in our 18th floor Hoboken apartment late Sunday afternoon with mixed feelings. I was no longer at the mercy of overstressed, disorganized, sometimes nasty, and often incompetent hospital staff…on the other hand, I was on my own. Thank goodness I had a loving and patient husband to take care of me. Dr. K, had office hours on Wednesday, three days after I went home. On the first Wednesday, I again failed the void test. On the second Wednesday, I partially voided, so Dr. K suggested disconnecting the catheter. He gave my husband a few minutes of training so he could insert a manual catheter and drain the bladder manually if I couldn't void. (I wonder how many husbands would undertake to do this.) Back home, I could not void, and we could not thread the manual catheter, so we rushed to the emergency room at Palisades Hospital, where they installed a Foley catheter. They were efficient, pleasant, and timely enough. Two Fridays after the first surgery, we trekked back to Mt. Sinai for a second surgery. This time, things went smoothly, and I was home that night with no complaints. My failure to void had not been the result of a “lazy bladder” or my inability to relax – there was a large blood clot restricting urine flow, and the sling holding my bladder in place needed to be loosened. Once these obstructions were removed, I passed the void test, and the healing phase began. ---------------------- The pelvis is a 24/7 factory which cannot be stilled. In yoga, it is the First Chakra, the grounding chakra which connects us to the basic facts of life – sex and reproduction, elimination of wastes, and turning and walking. In such an active environment, stitches and incisions are constantly disturbed, causing pain until the healing is well advanced. Of course, it depends on the kind of surgery -- the anterior wall of the vagina has little sensation, but posterior recovery is slower and more painful. The healing process can take weeks or months, and happens in stages. As I write this, I am five weeks into recovery and still find it difficult to sit or walk for long and the pelvic functions don’t yet work comfortably, but in a week or two I’m expecting to be back to my normal schedule and habits. Friends have told me that they still felt small tweaks of pain or discomfort six months later, but these did not impede their activities. I’ve gathered some information and advice that I wish I had known before I had this operation. My own anxiety and pain would have been reduced, and it would also have been easier on my husband, who has been patient, innovative, and as helpful a caretaker as I could have hoped for. PATIENT CHECKLIST: A few days before your operation, your brain begins to prepare for the upcoming trauma. The intake nurse told me that people become forgetful and unreliable. That was true for me. (I even forgot my health care proxy! I had trouble tying the knot of the hospital gown.). It is best to gather your things ahead of time. Some of the items you should remember are:
- An index card listing your medications and dosages, existing conditions and previous operations, allergies, and other pertinent information. Though you fill out similar forms several times before entering the hospital, they’ll keep asking you the same questions again and again.
- Your Health Proxy form.
- Your cell phone AND the charging cord. Be sure your doctor’s direct phone is installed in your Contacts list and that all other relevant phone numbers are at hand.
- Copies of your pre-op tests and the permission letter from your primary care physician. (They can get lost – the hospital did not have my EKG and had to take another one.)
- Discuss the pain management protocols before you become helpless. If I understand Mt. Sinai’s written report correctly, they started me on Percocet; when that didn’t work, they doubled the Percocet. When that didn’t lower the pain level, they tried an anti-cramping medicine; after that, there were no further instructions. Waiting for the doctor to get out of the Operating Room and approve morphine took over an hour, and it took still another hour for the pharmacy to fulfill the order. Given the sophisticated pain management methods in place today, there is no excuse for leaving a patient in level 10 pain for 3-4 hours, but once you are at the mercy of the system, there is nothing you can do about it. Clarify the post-op pain regimen BEFOREHAND.
- Check your upcoming schedule. Recovery times vary, and if you can, you should not plan any professional appearances or other demanding activities for six weeks. If you recover more quickly, you can reinvigorate your schedule; that is preferable to canceling scheduled meetings or appearances, as I had to do.
- Scout out a wheelchair, or rent one. The hospital delivers you to your car in a wheelchair, but you will have to get from the car into your house or apartment, and for the next couple of weeks you might need it to go to doctors’ appointments, or, in my case, the Emergency Room. (We were fortunate. There was an abandoned wheelchair in the storage room of our apartment building.)
- Have some supplies ready for when you get home. These might include sanitary pads (bleeding lasts about two weeks), a bolster for the bed (you can’t raise and lower your bed at home), analgesic wipes (Tucks, Preparation H female wipes), enema supplies and/or laxatives (you won’t know beforehand which will work best), a water bottle that a supine patient can easily drink out of, and stock of soups or light foods. Have recommended pain relievers (in my case, Motrin) on hand.
- Consult your resources outside the allopathic medical community, as they may help you recover more quickly. Dr. K was readily available by phone, but his answer to all problems was yet another medicine. A holistic doctor, nutritionist, acupuncturist, homeopathic doctor, or naturopath may have suggestions and treatments that don’t have side effects, as medicines do, or the risk of unfavorable interactions, increased constipation, or allergies. Acupuncture, homeopathic formulations, and laser treatments speeded my healing.
- Dr. K repeatedly advised frequent soaks in a mineral bath. He said Epsom salts (magnesium sulfate), but my holistic doctor recommended magnesium chloride (I order it online), which was more effective for me. Dr. K said to take three baths a day in the beginning. I still take one such bath a day. It helps calm inflammation, swelling, and pain, and relaxes the whole body.