Tag Archives: Health

The Incredible Shrinking Attention Span

6 Nov

Image

Once your tooth enamel is gone, it’s gone, right? And, aloha, knee cartilage and last year’s tax return. Some days, when I am a particularly awful parent, I may or may not mention to my boys who have each other in headlocks, that I wish my bucket of patience was bottomless, but alas it is not, and they are down to the last precious drops. Only by the grace of God can I ever get more from that bucket, and I usually have to give myself a timeout in my quiet bedroom to find it.

There is something else I’ve been missing for a while: my attention span. I’m hoping to rebuild it and the upper arm strength I had for those few minutes when I was carrying around big giant boy babies and all their stuff.

Maybe I’ve romanticized it, but I’m absolutely positive I used to have a big hardy, healthy attention span that let me start and finish books, craft projects, emails and folding a load of dryer fresh laundry. When I was a kid, I could finish a Sweet Valley High book in one sitting, and I could play any imagination game for hours, stopping only to eat meals as mandated by law.  Sadly, today, I wasn’t able to write this paragraph without taking two snack breaks, loading the dishwasher, and watching three movie trailers, which are basically three tiny movies the exact right length for an equally tiny attention span.

I’ve deduced that my attention span, and maybe yours too, was offed Murder-on-the-Orient-Express style. (Spoiler alert) Demanding Parenthood, Grandpa Internet and spoiled-rotten grandchildren Pinterest and Facebook, co-dependent Smartphone, that skank MTV, sneaky Sleep Deprivation, jealous Work, slothy Sub-par Diet, and that reigning queen bee-word, Just Too Busy, worked together to murder my poor unsuspecting attention span, without even the perk of a cool train ride or a visit from Hercule Poirot.

Long ago, when I had the attention span to sit down and read books about life on the prairie, I learned that the to-do lists of old timey prairie folks put my lists to shame: milk cows; sweep dirt floors; pack lunch buckets; darn socks, bonnets and those long johns with the bottom flaps; churn butter; tend gardens; raise babies; stoke fires; ride two days to town in a wagon, and then when all of that is done, sit down at like, 6:00 pm to read books, tell stories, and thank God for the glory of another day on the prairie. I would close these books exhausted, and thank God for the blessing of another day not spent on the prairie.

Our generation didn’t invent laundry, kids, jobs, homemade meals, soccer or even pianos. As much as we forget, our parents had stuff to do, too. Once upon a time, we were the kids with homework, music lessons, and Girl Scouts.  My mom was known to careen around town in our huge Chrysler Cordoba, while wearing suntan nylons and heels, delivering forgotten lunches, shuttling me to birthday parties, chaperoning field trips, combing my hair to make sure my ears didn’t show, teaching Sunday School, and ironing every piece of material in the house, before racing back to her job. She didn’t even have anywhere to post her blog called “1980’s Problems, Am I Right?” She just got up and did it all again the next day. And today she graciously helps me, listens sympathetically when I am overwhelmed, and never once tells me to just get a grip already, though perhaps she should.

I’m afraid we’ve taken perfectly good things like sports, cooking, and volunteering, and in an effort to improve on them, somehow screwed them up, just a little. We have picked lots of very worthy things to do and worry about, and we’ve tried to be amazing at all of them. And if it turns out we were terrible, we have even found the need to make our terribleness amazing because that’s authentic, and vulnerable and a show of solidarity with all the other mothers who deprived their kids of a Pinterest-worthy 31-day Halloween experience.

We have spun ourselves to the edge and I have the attention span to prove it. I’d like to be amazing and fix it.

If you’re looking for tips on increasing your attention span, the last place you should go is the rabbit hole that is the Internet, which is exactly what I did. One second I’m reading on-topic tips, the next I’m reading about fall’s hot new nail colors, and recipes for cauliflower soup.

When I did get back to reading, I realized after many how-to articles, that the recipe for improving your attention span is the same as it is for improving your skin and overall health: plenty of sleep, a healthy diet rich in omega-3s, turn off the TV and computer (and phone!) way before bedtime, and limit caffeine. For your skin, drink more water and wear sunscreen. For your attention span, try setting an alarm, and don’t change tasks until the alarm sounds, giving yourself longer and longer goals, until you are so well trained, you will drop whatever you doing and change tasks at the sound of any bell.

I think I’ll start with crossing something off my list without actually having done it (It will feel so bad, but so good), putting away my phone, going to bed, and telling my mom how much I appreciate her. I’ll let you know how it goes.

It’s no secret that attention span problems plague our youth in very serious ways, with concerning consequences, and a bevy of controversial remedies.  I worry about my kids, and all the kids who at much younger ages are dealing with the same societal factors that have to be slowly but surely chipping away at the patience, attention spans, and sanity that are tucked away in our fully formed adult brains. We’re not equipped to help them cope, if we can’t cope either.

sunburnt: a summer (cautionary) tale

9 Jul

Image

There are a few minor adult ailments that might be described as humbling. The first of the non-graphic variety rhymes with… tangover.

The second – a summer staple, perhaps next to the tangover – is the sunburn.

Maybe you are of Irish descent, and you have freckles, and you spent 1970’s, 80’s and 90’s summers with ineffective and/or expired SPF 4 slathered on your parts, only to have the lotion rinse immediately off on the first pass through the sprinklers, or with the first toe dipped in the pool, or with the first sweat broken. Maybe you decided you were better off with an unflattering oversized t-shirt covering your bathing suit – a shirt that became a 40-lb anchor once you jumped in the pool.

Maybe you are an olive skinned beach beauty who’s only had to look with pity at one of us less fortunate folks, roaming the sweltering grounds of the state fair, pink and defeated.

As a grown-up, I listen to my doctors. I wear sunscreen on my face every day. I wear a hat. I sit in the shade. I even went so far as to move to the foggy part of a notoriously foggy city. This ain’t my first rodeo – I’ve been burnt before. (I have been to a rodeo, but it was at night, so I was not actually burnt at the rodeo.)

I was burnt in the usual locales – the pool, the park, the passenger seat of a car, the driver’s seat of a car, the back yard, the front yard, and while sitting on a bench/blanket/lawn eating a sandwich/popsicle/cheeseburger.

In college and during that sliver of time in which I wore a bikini, my then-boyfriend/ now-husband and I uncharacteristically spent the day jet skiing on Lake Tahoe. It turns out Lake Tahoe is closer to the sun than I am used to. The jet-skiing part exposed enough parts of me – top, bottom, front, and back – to make sleep impossible as there was not one way to avoid resting on a throbbing purple and blistered patch of skin. I was out of commission for two days, calling in sick to my barista job, and freaking my mom out with sunburn fueled hallucinations.

In high school, I went to the mid-day Oakland A’s baseball game with friends.  Our upper deck seats put me at roughly the same elevation as Lake Tahoe. As I rode back home, rolling around in the back of my friend’s grandma’s old van, I knew I was in for a world of hurt. I couldn’t bend my knobby violently violet knees and the blisters were already presenting themselves. It was days before I could ride my bike.

Over the next 20 years my baseball outings were relegated to night games, or day games at the San Francisco Giants’ ball park where one usually freezes one’s rear end off, regardless of what weather is happening immediately outside the gates. But July 4, 2013 – armed with a hat, two tubes of sunscreen, and an additional precautionary spray from my friend Megan’s sunscreen can- I re-entered Oakland Coliseum at mid-day, ready for my show-down with the sun.

Our kids had been lined up in the parking lot and sprayed down with an additional protective layer of cream over their little faces, necks, and the oft-forgotten tops of ears.

Somewhere in the 2nd inning, I took off the knee brace that protects my wonky joint but makes my leg fall asleep when I sit for very long. Maybe it was my hops-based beverage in a souvenir mug. Maybe it was the nostalgic and patriotic delight of being with friends at a baseball game on the 4th of July. Whatever it was, I missed sun-screening my darn knee. On that day, in the stadium cleverly designed to focus the sun’s powerful rays on whatever seat my pale limbs occupy, the sun won.

Our friends from New Mexico emerged from the game looking as if they had been kissed by the sun. (Fun “fact”: New Mexico’s climate was designed to resemble that of the Oakland Coliseum, so they had the advantage going in.)

My little family unit walked to the car with 7 pink knees, and one familiar-looking, raging violet knee.  I knew I what I was in for.

Beginning with the failed attempt at prevention, your general sunburn experience might look a little like this:

  • You feel false confidence that you’ve done enough to protect yourself
  • As the sun goes to work on you, you remain blissfully ignorant
  • You congratulate yourself for wearing shorts and a tank top because it’s so hot
  • Your friend slides her sunglasses down her nose, peers at your afflicted area, alerts you to your pinkness, and pokes it with her finger
  • You put on another layer of sunscreen or move to the shade, knowing it’s already too late
  • You realize it’s going to hurt
  • It hurts
  • You wonder if it should really be as purple as it is
  • It hurts more than it did before
  • You vow never to wear a tank top and shorts again, let alone go in the sun
  • You love aloe
  • You love aloe so much
  • You consider filling the tub with aloe and sitting in there for a while
  • Nobody is allowed to touch you
  • You do not sleep
  • You can’t stop talking about your sunburn, as much as you want to
  • Your mom tells you not to worry, it will fade into a tan
  • You assure her that it most certainly will not fade into a tan
  • She remembers that she and your brother are the only family members who enjoy the “fades into a tan” phenomenon
  • You realize the burn does not hurt as bad as it did yesterday
  • It’s itchy now, a sure sign it will peel soon
  • It peels
  • It’s peeling and you feel like a lizard, and you have finally found the one thing that grosses out your boys so it’s kind of funny

All the while, and just like with a tangover (I’m guessing) you waiver between feeling sorry for yourself, and feeling like an idiot.

You should know better. You cooked your own goose. Or in this case, you cooked your own knees.

Image

* At the top is our actual sun prevention collection. It is strategically spaced through the house, so that by the time you reach the front door, you will have had three to four opportunities to remember it.

**This is me and my awesome friend Megan at that fateful game. I’m the one in the stripes. The one with the freckles. The one who’s legs are sizzling just out of frame.

DON’T GET BANGS and other things to know in case you get a brain virus

14 May

Image“Do you realize the person in this house with short-term memory problems is also the person who put away most of the stuff from our moving boxes, and now is the only one who knows where everything is?”

I would tell you how my darling husband John responded, if I could remember.

The last time I posted here, I was brimming with a hopeful excitement about a future where I could lounge on a then-unidentified couch in a similarly unidentified home in a new city. Now I lounge on a fully identified couch in our new condo while my cat sits in the window enjoying the fog obscured view of San Francisco.

As we anticipated, life is different – the schools, the parking, the restaurants. What I had not expected way back then, was that I would be different. The city didn’t do that though. My brain did.

While I am in the process of forgetting where I’ve put our belongings, I am also recovering from a bizarrely inconvenient, temporarily debilitating virus that came out of nowhere and attacked the very brain I had become so attached to. Sure my brain was not much help in high school Algebra, but it’s gotten me out of some sticky situations, and I had woefully under-appreciated how, for 38 years, my brain helped me walk, and talk, and touch my nose, and remember what movie that guy in that one commercial was in, and also do basic addition and subtraction if the moment absolutely, positively necessitated it, and nobody else was there to handle it.

It was Valentine’s weekend. John and I had packed up our offices, and said “see you later!” to our friends. We’d found a new place to live, and were readying our family for the move. We even tried to go away for a romantic wine country getaway that was cut ridiculously short by what I thought was a run-of-the-mill cold turned piercing ear infection. I was dizzy and nauseous and subsequently and sadly not at all interested in wine or romance.

Things get fuzzy for me at about this point in the timeline. Somewhere between, “Oh, I think I’m coming down with a cold,” and “garble garble non-sensical slurry garble,” John took me to the hospital where I was admitted, and soon sent to the stroke unit. My brain became the focus of a team of neurologists and infectious disease specialists. I couldn’t walk or eat, and I was slurring terribly. My dexterity was shot; I couldn’t touch my nose, use my fingers, or pass the same impairment tests used at field sobriety checkpoints. My cognitive functioning was on the fritz and I was showing signs of memory loss. The orthopedist made an appearance too, but he wasn’t as interested in my brain as he was my knee that had been dislocated in the ER during a lumbar puncture.

A cadre of tests eliminated stroke, brain tumors, ALS, MS, Lyme Disease, and Gullain-Barre syndrome, among other things.

I vaguely remember a young woman fastening electrodes to my head for the EEG and the loud whirs of the MRI tube. My brain was swollen, and not in the fun cartoony way that should have actually made me smarter.

John slept on a cot at my bedside each night, and I spent a few days with a pair of his (clean) running pants wrapped around my eyes to block any and all offending light whether it was from a crack in the blinds, or the glaring rays of fluorescence sneaking in under my hospital room door.

John also spent the first few days of my hospitalization sitting with the news that I might not make it through this illness- a fact I was not aware of until I was home from the hospital two weeks later, eating a Jell-O cup in bed. I had a virus, and it was either going to get better, or it was going to get worse.

I’ve lost huge chunks of memory from the first five or so days in the hospital, with only hazy recollections of voices, and faces, and discomfort, and apologizing to the nursing staff for the unpleasant things they had to do to keep me from getting bed sores. If I was going anywhere, the lift team was involved. The lift team is made up young, strong guys who are there to lift you if you can’t do it yourself. I apologized to them too.

Finally, I started to get better, which is better than getting worse.

The one good thing about your brain causing the hitch in your giddy-up, is that the very fact it’s malfunctioning, keeps you from truly realizing what a pickle you are in.

I may not have fully realized the badness of my situation, but I could still kinda think, and started to hope that I would emerge on the other side of this thing with at least something to show for it.

“Perhaps, there is a lesson in this,” I thought as I lay there immobile, “What is it?  Be nicer? Don’t stress about dumb stuff? The wine country is dangerous? What is it?”

All of those things are true. But also:

  • Our time here is short and there’s a lot to do, which is frustrating when you really can’t do a lot as fast as you would like. Do what you can.
  •  But you can’t do it all. Choose wisely.
  •  Don’t ever get bangs. On the off chance you are growing out those bangs at the exact moment you end up in the hospital with limited use of your limbs and zero dexterity, your inability to keep the bangs out of your face will consume you. Your world will have shrunk to the exact size of your hospital bed, and there will be some moments where it feels as if it’s actually shrunk to the size of your wayward bangs. You will tell everybody who happens into your tiny world, that even though you have a mystery virus, and you’re hooked up to machines and tubes, your top complaint of the day is your unwieldy hair. The occupational therapist who successfully harnessed my gnarly mane, bangs and all, into a lovely braid, is to me, one of Earth’s top people.
  • Never keep underwear at home in your dresser drawer that you wouldn’t want someone to bring you in the hospital, because that is the exact underwear that will be delivered to you.
  •  Nobody goes into the healthcare field for the glamour of it. Because, unless they are going to the black-tie Healthcare Workers Gala in a hotel ballroom on a balmy May evening, there is just no glamour. None. Not any.These healthcare types are with us in the trenches during some of our darkest and ugliest moments. My pastor husband and I often discuss what it means to have a sense of call, which is what finally made him take the turn from a business guy in a suit, to a reverend guy in a suit. Callings aren’t just for pastors though – people are called to all kinds of professions that defy logic, like teaching, and law enforcement, and whatever job it is that puts a person at the other end of a hospital room call button at 3:30 am.
  • Gratitude is hard (especially with hair in your face) but it’s good for you. I’m not just thankful for being on the intermittently bumpy road to recovery, which I am, but I’m forever thankful to God for my amazing husband, kids, parents, family and friends and the hundreds of people who reached out, prayed, made a meal, sent flowers, took care of the boys, sat at my bedside patiently listening as I slurred and repeated myself, or helped us out once I finally came home and clumsily climbed into my own bed. The more gratitude I can find in a day, the better I feel.
  • Save yourself the brain virus, and *skip the wine country. You can drink wine anywhere.

*I fully acknowledge the Wine Country, and the fine people of Sonoma County California did not give me my brain virus.

Today, I’m two months out of the hospital and off the walker, one month past my last bout of vertigo, about 20 hours since my last headache, and hopefully moments away from totally re-gaining the rest of my short-term memory and ridding myself of the overwhelmingly pinchy feeling that comes when there’s too much input into my poor addled brain. I did not emerge with any cool superpowers, as my wonderful, sweet, caring boys had hoped. I did get that squeezy brain up there from one of the nurses on the stroke unit, and that was cool.

This is me in my pants hat – perhaps the greatest medical invention of February 2013.hospital

interlude

8 Jun

Between lying in the Disneyworld sun (it’s like they have their own sun!), and lying in bed melodramatically clutching Kleenex in each hand, and lying on the couch surrounded by work notebooks and papers and sticky notes with cryptic half-words scrawled on them, I’ve been occupied. Indisposed? (Either way sounds bathroom related. Everything sounds bathroom related when you’re surrounded by boys all the time.)

I of course would be completely honored and totally surprised if anybody noticed it had been a while since I posted anything. But I noticed, because small funny illustrative moments kept happening, and I couldn’t take advantage of them like I had grown blissfully accustomed to. And I didn’t take notes like I promised myself I would. I’ve walked by my laptop, and run a finger along the top, wistfully recalling how once upon a time I could sit over there *points* typity type type typing the night away while uncharacteristically letting shows stack up in my DVR. (I would very much like to tell you, and in short order, about my waterpark temper tantrum, the bodyguard in the Gucci sunglasses with the book of Sudoku puzzles, Ponce de Leon, the art of confiscation and a less than magical turn on the Magical Express.)

It’s been a whirlwind of activity and emotion that have included a blinding flurry of work and work functions as well as the sun soaked giddiness of a much appreciated vacation and getting to see old friends…all accompanied by the intense desperation for a nap, a mug of tea and a decongestant.

I had a feeling it was bad when three people walked past my office door in a day, gave me a cursory glance and wave, then doubled back to ask if I was ok. I caught a glimpse of my reflection. Wild haired and tired eyed and sorely in need of lipstick.

We’re all victims/offenders of busy (depends on how you look at it), but what’s so acutely new to me this time are the byproducts of being a kid of aging parents and a parent of aging kids. Every conversation in our house is anchored by preschool and or 5th grade “graduation” and what’s next for the boys; what’s next at work; or what’s next as we navigate the unfun health stuff of one of our parents toward what we expect to be a positive, and frankly, more fun outcome.  And then there’s the part where we remind ourselves that it could be a lot worse, and it’s actually the perfect time to count our blessings, and then I feel junky for feeling sorry for myself in the first place. (I just cannot be the only person who does that.)

As I sit in the middle of happy and hard things last week, this week and next, I’m hopeful for the return of the sun, and maybe some sense of normal. I’ve asked for prayers without hesitation, and bent many an ear, and look forward to returning the favor.