Why do I expect bad news from medical tests?

Something has to be wrong; I Googled my weird symptoms.

Photo by National Cancer Institute on Unsplash

Two or three of us have cups of barium contrast liquid which we must drink over the next hour. (It tastes as bad as it sounds)

The imaging waiting area of my hospital is half full. Most of us don’t look sick, but why would we be here if not? (This was a week or so pre-coronavirus cautions)

Why did I think this was a good idea? Shaun, The Good Doctor, saw a hospital housekeeping man burping several times and said he probably had pancreatic cancer. Sometimes I do that. So, I have cancer.

Ok, I hear you being skeptical of my self-diagnosis but, after all, Shaun Murphy, a young autistic savant surgical resident in a California hospital, was so perfect on his various insights that I couldn’t resist.

Fortunately, you can’t just walk in and order your own CT scan, so I had to go to a real doctor. I like her; she takes me seriously. (I didn’t mention the TV doctor — I still had some dignity)

She set me up for imaging of my abdomen, adding that pancreatic cancer never has symptoms until it is far advanced. Good grief, now I am worried.

The scan itself is not a big deal. It’s nowhere near as claustrophobic as an MRI and only takes less than 15 or 20 minutes.

It is necessary sometimes to have a needle inserted in a vein for more contrast liquid to be injected. The technician, kindly, explained the warm flush that would occur briefly.

A little voice says, “Take a deep breath and hold it.” Then in a few seconds, “Breathe.” After three or four of these quick images, I am all done.

Now comes the waiting. My father used to say, “Good things come to those who wait.” What the hell did he know? These results could be terrible.

I now start a routine of checking my online health account every half-hour to see if the results are available. After a day or two, I move into “no news is good news” mode and only look at it every few hours.

Finally, I just give up. That is progress and, like the watched pot, the results come through.

Some of the medical jargon was a bit worrisome but as my wise spouse pointed out, nothing you wouldn’t expect in an eighty-year-old man.

The final line, designed, I am sure, to highlight my silliness about results, was the best of all:

IMPRESSION: No acute inflammatory process in the abdomen or pelvis.

Of course, future tests and procedures are still going to worry me. I know that, right? Maybe I ought to consider letting such unnecessary anxiety go. What do you think?

begin here

a different order of time

“I had learned so much, I just had to think about it all for a while.”
Lynda Blackmon Lowery

It began three years ago, when the women’s ensemble I had sung with for almost 20 years took itself apart.  After the Women’s March on Washington in 2017, we had stumbled into some difficult conversations about race.  Powerful words, not carefully chosen, resulted in painful injury and broken relationships.  Two members of the group left.  Six remained.  In the months that followed, it was unclear whether we would be able to learn from our mistakes, find our way through the mess, grow in intellectual and emotional honesty and repair the damage.

For me, one of the consequences of this experience was the clear awareness that, as a white woman, I needed to learn more.

Waking Up White

A starting place was Debbie Irving’s book, Waking Up White, and Finding Myself in the Story of…

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No Playlists for the 80-year-old Man

Songwriters know what resonates with their listeners who are mostly young.

In my mornings, I get up around 7 AM and see if I can stand without falling. If so, I head to the bathroom to pee and get a swig of Listerine.

Then, it’s over to the scale to either perk me up or remind me today is the day to go easy on the chocolate milkshakes.

Back to my side of the bed, I dress in morning gear: pajama-type pants, a top in a complimentary color, and socks to wear with slip-on loafers.

I grab my Apple watch from its charger and put my iPhone in my pocket.

Next is the daily medication sorting. Ziploc snack bag for those I will take around noon and just pick up three or four to take in the bathroom.

There, I spit out the Listerine, which has lost its sting anyhow, and brush my teeth. (You don’t know how much I look forward to the hygienist complementing my oral care)

Now it is time to get into writing action, so I head over to my computer desk to turn on the lamp and my iMac.

While it boots up, I put some bird seed in the window feeder and pour a mug of coffee. (Since my spouse has set up the coffee maker the night before, and because I just want to be nice; I take a mug to her in the bedroom)

Back at the computer, I sort the various auto-logon windows, put on my wireless headset, and open Apple Music.

Now, what do I listen to? I enjoy female jazz artists the best but their lyrics? Not so much. New love, lost love, seeking love, remembering love, never finding love.

Don’t get me wrong, I am all for love in whatever form but there are no love songs that celebrate what a couple has after forty years of marriage. (Except perhaps Leonard Cohen’s “If I Didn’t Have Your Love.” Look up the lyrics.)

When one of us dies, the other may find new love but nothing like what we have. Nor will Apple Music have any lyrics to apply to that relationship.

Meanwhile, maybe there still can be a playlist for the 80-year-old man, not just the young love stuff. Classic rock, for example, with its anti-establishment rhetoric and all the freedom songs which are still very much needed today.

Of course, we could stick to instrumental music. Huh.

No More Skipping Downstairs

Photo by Pau Casals on Unsplash

When even walking is a challenge, chasing suspects through ancient cities, up and down ladders, and across rooftops is, well…, impossible

I  love to watch detective and spy thrillers. Perhaps it is a subconscious desire to be one of those martial arts experts who can run at top speed, up and down stairways, jumping across alleys to the next rooftop.

I did run 12 marathons in my 40s but nowhere at a maximum sprint. Plus, at my height and weight, I would have to have some superpower to compete.

To be completely honest, at my age, any stairway is now a big challenge for me.

About a year ago, mindlessly coming up from the basement to the outside patio, I tripped on the top step and tore my right quadriceps tendon. I am not going to describe the pain right now but suffice it to say, it was significant.

A week later, a skilled surgeon laced it back to my kneecap, put me in a leg immobilizer, and sent me to the physical therapist. For weeks, I was not allowed to bend my leg more than thirty degrees.

For some years now, I have been aware of tripping and falling but who takes that seriously until something like this happens?

It wasn’t enough to wake me up when I walked out of a convenience store and missed a little step and fell down to the parking lot. Nor did I get the message the time I stopped the rental bicycle at the curb and fell right over on the sidewalk.

Arriving at a stairway these days, I stop and carefully decide what to do. Number one consideration: railings. If there are none, I might have to find another way to go.

Secondly, I force myself to slow down. Zipping up and down without thinking was my downfall. (Pun intended)

Then, focus. I try not to think of anything else until I get to bottom and then only when I make sure I have gotten all the way down.

I know I speak for a lot of us at these later years of life. As much as we might love to do so, there will be no skipping down the stairs or jogging up two steps at a time.

But, so what? If we can still get up and down without the use of an elevator, I think we have it made. Agreed

Think I missed my 70s

Can ten years pass that quickly? Maybe I need to wake up.

When I turned seventy, Obama had just become the President of the United States. I was about to launch my ‘career’ as a school bus driver in our college town transporting nice kids to good schools.

When our family wanted big box stores or a multiplex theater, the city was only about 10 miles away. The airport could be reached in less than an hour.

The Connecticut River was a part of the incredible beauty of our place. Various critters visited our deck to eat birdseed and giant white pines surrounded us.

I am proud to say that exercise and diet helped me stay active. Great medical facilities offered solutions to many of my health problems and allowed me to avoid some of the natural aging issues. I didn’t consider myself ‘old’ at all.

In short, I had it made, right? Of course not; it doesn’t work that way. My seventies had their own pitfalls, roadblocks, and detours.

My school bus was exponentially longer than our Ford Focus and I backed into objects more than once. A hibernating problem from my clergy days raised its ugly headed and did not get resolved.

We tearfully dropped off our oldest child at college, a thousand miles away. My spouse began law school while maintaining her job as the pastor of a big church.

We moved from New England to the Midwest and after three not-so-happy years, moved back.

Whew, the years zipped by. I wish I had been more aware of some of the events in my life. On the other hand, as I reconsider them, I wasn’t completely oblivious. In a longer memoir, I could explain just how rich my seventies turned out. I didn’t miss too much.

So, this is obviously not how I envision my seventies. Instead, more a retrospective, one which reminds me that it was ‘life as usual’. What’s wrong with that? Consider, as they used to say, the alternative.

Maybe next time, I might write about how I envision my eighties. I hope they are not always as challenging as my seventies but I would welcome all the positive experiences.

It won’t happen that way but so what? As I get closer to sunset, I try to live one day at a time. Every little bit is rich experience. It is life.

I have lived 80 years but have I learned anything?

Actually, I have found no sane way to avoid aging, so I am going to refine my eldership before I run completely out of time

Photo by Aron Visuals on Unsplash

Once during a Q & A session at a political forum, a woman prefaced her question by saying “Astonishingly, I turned 80 last week.” I now know exactly what she meant because I just did, too.It is a cliché that we feel one age in our mind, but we are chronologically another. Or as the legendary pitcher, Satchel Paige, famously said, “How old would you be if you didn’t know how old you were?”

Meanwhile there are mirrors, group photos, upgraded pains, and the nice, but sometimes a bit tongue-in-cheek, compliments: “You can’t be 80! I would have never guessed that.”

So, what now? I will call myself an ‘elder’. I don’t really seem to have much wisdom. I do have some, even though much of it seems to have come lately. Maybe one has to trade off: One gem for each new ache.

So, here are a few I have accumulated.

Screw guilt

*Have you murdered someone? No? Then forget all that junk from your past.

In 12 Step programs, essential work is to “take a personal inventory” and then to let it go and move on. Not possible, you say? Then try to change the past. Talk about impossible.

Shame is in the eye of the experiencer

Sometimes it is natural to feel ashamed, but ask yourself, why?

Let’s say, no one knows or ever will know that about which you are ashamed. So, try this: Stand in front of a mirror and repeat after me, Shame begone!

Ok is just OK

A relentless TV commercial makes fun of people who are not perfect. “Just OK is not OK, but is that true?

While there are some things that have to be almost exactly right but for most of what we do or are, OK is definitely enough.

Being in control is a hopeless quest

If you have ever been called a “control freak”, sit down and ponder that accusation.

This wisdom came from my daughter. I was once half worrying and half grieving over someone’s situation. When I told her how I was feeling, she simply said, “You can’t control anything in life.” A radical statement but simply true.

That’s it for now but after writing this, I remember that “I know a lot of things because I have seen a lot of things.” That phrase may be the best definition of elderhood. If you are anything like me, I bet you have much wisdom, too

(*If you have actually murdered someone, “that is above my paygrade.” Sorry)

Grieving for ourselves

Photo by Danielle MacInnes on Unsplash

The first time I had general anesthesia for surgery, I was sure I was going to die. I looked for my life insurance information, began to compose in my head final letters to my family, dug around in my clutter to discard embarrassing items(!), and gave last cuddles to our cats.

OK, so I didn’t die, then. I am now eighty years old and have elected to have another serious surgery. An excellent doctor assures me that it will seriously improve my quality of life. So in my quest to live until my spouse’s student loans are paid off (That long? Why yes), I am going to put my life into the hands of another anesthesiologist.

I have no desire, right now, to go through all that end-of-life rigmarole that I did the first time. It does, however, cause me to ponder how many of us face the ultimate event.

Jeopardy host, Alex Trebek, is dealing with pancreatic cancer. In a personal comment recently, he talked about it in this way:

Hey guys. I’m 79-years-old. I’ve had one hell of a good life. And I’ve enjoyed it … the thought of passing on doesn’t frighten me, it doesn’t. Other things do, the affect it will have on my loved ones … it makes me sad. But the thought of myself moving on, hey folks, it comes with the territory.”

Trebek expresses the same sentiment that my father did decades ago and an approach that resonates with my experience as well. Dying itself, unimaginable, at any rate, isn’t nearly as concerning as how my death will affect my loved ones.

Ira Byock, M.D., in his book, The Four Things That Matter Most, gives us some simple, but profound suggestions about how to prepare. Be ready to talk with those closest to you, whether expressing or listening, and use these four basic statements to shape the conversation:

“Please forgive me,” “I forgive you,” “Thank you,” and “I love you.”

I call this “grieving for ourselves.” I don’t know if that is how you perceive it but, for me, it makes all this less frightening. It also helps me with my determination to let anxiety go, at every step of the way.

Am I having a heart attack?

Sometimes overwhelming anxiety can almost disable one. Called “Panic attacks” they are no laughing matter

I was going into a Target store near our home in Minnesota when I suddenly began to be short of breath and dizzy. My hearing and vision seemed to narrow down. I felt trapped; I couldn’t think what to do.

After what seemed like an hour but was only about five minutes, things began to slow down. I still was fearful but was able to walk back to my car where I slowly recovered.

The classic panic attack was the culprit. It causes one to kick into fight or flight mode and it puts us into a state of derealization or disassociation from the external reality.  And, cruelly, giving no warning, a panic attack can happen anytime or any place.

I was only about forty-five at the time and had never experienced a panic attack before. Probably like it would be with most of you who haven’t had the “fun” of one, when it happened, I sincerely thought I was dying. I was sure it was a heart attack.

The next time it happened, I was just as anxious but then they kept going away. At some point I decided to ask my doctor what was going on and what could I do about it. As usual, and remember this, when I finally asked for help, I was able to do something about panic attacks.

When I started working with a cognitive behavioral therapist, two things made the most difference. The first was so simple in retrospect. When anxiety starts up, use my brain to say something like, “Hello, old friend.” Panic attacks fall into the ubiquitous ”What doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger” category and as such can be minimized by committing oneself to just go through them.

The other big thing was the referral to do a series of biofeedback sessions. Good old WebMD explains it this way:

Biofeedback is a mind-body technique that involves using visual or auditory feedback to gain control over involuntary bodily functions. This may include gaining voluntary control over such things as heart rate, muscle tension, blood flow, pain perception and blood pressure.

I went into a soundproof room, sat in nice office chair and they had me put on comfortable headphones. Electronic leads were put on my forehead, the tips of a couple fingers and the readouts were explained to me.

The idea was that, as I listened to a meditation with calming music, I wanted to see my heart rate go down, tension in my face go away, and my fingertips warm up due to more blood circulation there. Of course, results were saved to be compared to my subsequent sessions.

The first couple of times, as was to be expected, I worked hard to control everything. That didn’t work. It wasn’t until I realized it was simply letting go that would allow things to turn positive.

We often hear the term “control freak” and chuckle but, as an oldie radio program character used to say, “It ain’t funny, McGee.”  Some of us suffer from trying to keep all our ducks in a row when, in fact, it can’t be done. At least for us. As counterintuitive as it is, giving up is only way to settle down.

Apparently, anxiety runs in my family. Why, I don’t know, but it is somewhat comforting to know that.

My mother was the ultimate, “everything has a place and there is a place for everything.” type person. And in her last few years, in her 90s, she seemed panicky most of the time. There wasn’t much to do except be with her. I might not have even realized what she was feeling if I hadn’t experienced the same things.

Then, my sister recently dealt with disabling anxiety for a period after a serious surgery. We live a thousand miles apart so all we could do was text and speak on the phone, but I tried to share my anxiety experiences. She was able to come to some of the same conclusions as I, and after a couple of months was, I started to say “more in control” but no, found she was able to let go and calm down.

So, if you experience some of these feelings and fear they will never go away, ask for help. Meanwhile, take deep breathes and know they are only temporary.

Then, maybe do what seems funny on TV, get a little paper bag, breathe into it, which helps reduce the hyperventilation.  It can’t hurt.

Sexuality wisdom

“Eventually we realize our Middle School Sex Ed Teacher was a lying son of a gun, and sex isn’t bad and scary but fun and pleasurable.”

I subscribe to a blog post service call Medium  which has many categories giving me access to a wide variety of writers. The one I read today discussed women and porn.

Turns out, however, there was a broader subject: the shame, created by parents and teachers, of sexual activity.  The writer suggests that if you actually watch porn

“…you’ll have to face the consequences of your sins — right along with a heaping serving of sexual shame — heavy enough to topple your paper plate at the next congregation pot luck.

I suggest you follow the link above and read the article but here is what I think is crux:


“A message to other women who watch porn.

I see you and I’m sorry.

I’m sorry the world has told you that your sexual desires are dirty.

I’m sorry we have been conditioned to believe that we should either repress our sexual desires into oblivion or hide them away from the world.

I’m sorry that men have been allowed to biologically explain away their brutish sexual appetites, yet us women are forced to play the role of a pristine virgin to avoid becoming a social outcast.

Most of all, I’m sorry that you’ve been silenced and I want you to know there are plenty of other women just like you and me.”


I think that does it for me. First of all, I am male and, as such, there is a limit to how much I can contribute about a female’s experience. Secondly, and most importantly, she has expressed what I would have if I could. Please read the whole blog. I think it is some “sexual wisdom” we all need to understand.


The meaning of cunt, the most offensive curse word in English, is actually based in female sexual empowerment — Quartz

Certain curse words get undeserved bad reputations. Here’s one you may want to integrate into your vocabulary, despite how uncomfortable it may make you feel.
— Read on qz.com/1045607/the-most-offensive-curse-word-in-english-has-powerful-feminist-origins/amp/

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