Goodbye 2021

It’s been an eventful year here in East Texas. I started the year with Covid vaccines, followed by a February snowstorm with bitter cold temps that saw much of the state lose power and/or water. I was lucky to have kept both, but it was a blast from my New England past. Covid, of course, was a factor in 2021 activities and events, and for the most part, I stayed inside with the cats even though I had my vaccines and wore masks. I continued working at the Emerald Bay Church, completing five years there in July.

But the second half of the year was crazy and everything went off the rails. I had cataract surgery on both eyes in June, letting me actually see without glasses for the first time since third grade. I also began to realize that I had major problems with my right foot because of severe spinal stenosis with surgery as the only solution. As I began using a cane and sometimes a walker to help me stay balanced and not fall again (I fell eight times, not that I counted), I realized that my beloved Emerald Bay home was not the best place for someone who needed that kind of help. The doorways weren’t up to ADA standards and the walkers didn’t fit through easily.

When I started to think about it, I also realized that, much as I loved the home that had been in the family since 1985, it wasn’t really the right place for me now. I found a wonderful 2 bedroom apartment at Meadow Lake, a senior living community in Tyler, complete with wide doorways, grab bars, med-alert system, and familiar living style. I put my house on the market and moved within 3 weeks of finding the apartment. Which was a really good thing, because four days later, I fell and went to the hospital, then two different rehab centers, and was away for 10 weeks before finally returning.

Life has dramatically changed. I came home in a wheelchair with a walker but am mostly in the chair for now until my legs are stronger and my foot brace works better. The doctor said that it could be 8-12 months from surgery to see the full results and how much functionality will come back; my physical therapist says it’s more like 12-18 months. In any case, it’s not overnight and there will be steps forward and backwards as I travel this path. I quit my church job while in the hospital, since I needed to focus on healing, and sold my car, too, since I can’t drive. When/if that changes, I want to be able to have a vehicle that’s the right height for me then. Meadow Lake offers a transport van to get me to doctor appointments, which is an enormous help.

I’m grateful to be able to live independently in a new home that accommodates my new limits, and I’m adjusting to a slower pace and much smaller world. I’m trying to just consider this a “time apart” where I don’t need to think or worry about things like getting to church, going out with friends, or traveling. It’s not forever, it’s just for now. In fact, to make it tidy, I’ll just count my Recovery “Year” from August 2021-December 2022.

Goals for my Recovery Year:

  • Walk with a rollator instead of using a wheelchair
  • Use the NuStep at least 30 minutes a day, 5 days a week
  • Be able to shower on my own
  • Be able to get in and out of a car
  • Lose 20 lbs

On the other hand, I had no idea that most of what actually happened in 2021 would happen, much less planned for it, so who knows how 2022 will turn out?

Image credit: Photo 203119854 © Esther19775 | Dreamstime.com

Easter Again but Different

Christ Church South, taken during Lent

Last year Easter came but church wasn’t possible; everyone was shut down in full Covid mode. There was no Palm Sunday procession, no Maundy Thursday or Good Friday services. No Great Vigil of Easter on Saturday night. No sunrise service or joyful celebration on Easter Sunday morning. It was just a day.

It was, of course, still Easter. God doesn’t need us to have the familiar structure, liturgy, calendar of our traditions for us to remember, which is what Easter is all about. Christ doesn’t die again every year on Good Friday, that happened once for all millennia ago. The resurrection doesn’t repeat every year; it happened once for all time. All we’re doing is pausing to remember, to honor, to pay attention. But we’re used to doing that within our churches – unless your focus is on the Easter bunny and chocolate eggs and jelly beans.

But today we were back doing the “normal” things with a freshness because, after a year without them, they felt new. I was in my new worship church for my first Easter with the familiar liturgy but contemporary music. There was a flowering of the cross, not a new tradition but not something I’ve ever seen or done. A wonderful sermon. Sunlight coming through the glass cross built into the wall. Celebrating with friends who came with me, and new friends in the new congregation. Wearing masks, all of us, and sitting distanced, but with full and happy hearts.

My soul feels settled. I was home.

To Mask or Not to Mask

Everyone is sick of wearing masks. Me, too. It’s become an extension of myself when I leave the safe cocoon of my home, my car, my office – though at work I wear my mask on a chain around my neck so I can pull it up fast if anyone comes in. When I’m out in public and see someone not wearing a mask or, heaven forbid wearing one on their chin, I find myself moving away and keeping extra distance.

Well, that got just got harder to do. As of today, thanks to our governor, Texas is wide open 100% – no limits on business capacity, and no mask mandates. Let’s open up restaurants, bars, businesses, arenas, stadiums, theaters, and pack ’em in, no masks required. Except … that’s not what the CDC says. So it leads us to a dilemma: to wear a mask as urged by the CDC, or don’t wear a mask and go back to business as usual pre-pandemic. There was a middle ground that the governor chose not to try: open up the businesses but still require masks, at least for another two months, so more people can be vaccinated. Many businesses ARE continuing to require masks but it’s unenforceable except for federal buildings, and it was very weird to be in a store with half of the people masked and the other half looking naked.

I’ve had both of my Moderna vaccine shots though I need another week before I’m considered fully covered. But with that vaccination, I know that I won’t die of Covid and probably wouldn’t be hospitalized if I catch it. I could still get sick and I could infect someone else – and that’s why I wear a mask. I do not want to risk infecting someone else, especially all those store clerks, wait staff, service workers, you know, the essential workers, who haven’t yet been able to get vaccinated.

According to the CDC, I know that I will soon be able to get together in small groups with other fully vaccinated people or with those not vaccinated but at low risks. But I’m not ready to rip off the mask and go to a party at the club, or to a crowded restaurant, or to see a movie. I feel naked when I don’t have it on and don’t know how to feel safe again without it. That’s going to be a harder adjustment than putting them on in the first place.

I’m not going to the mask burning party at the club, though. I still need it.

Post-vaccination thoughts

Arm With Bandaid After Vaccination

It has been a crazy, stressed, isolated, angry, and terrifying year; Covid19 changed everything for all of us, though not in the same ways. Last year at this time we were about to be completely shut down, with those who could beginning to work from home. Schools closed and families scrambled to homeschool AND work from home without preparation or equipment. Zoom became a verb as we taught classes, held meetings, went to church, celebrated birthdays and holidays. We lived in pods and wore masks to protect ourselves and others when we went into the few places that were open or gathered in socially distant groups for wary, careful visits. Those of us living alone were the most isolated, and all of us are sick of living limited, restricted lives. Unfathomable numbers of people died of Covid or Covid-related illnesses. Everyone I know knows of at least one person who died and many who were seriously ill, some living with long-term complications.

The promise of a vaccine was tied to our ability to return to some semblance of normal. A vaccine doesn’t erradicate a disease but it does protect the vaccinated so they get a more mild case of whatever the disease is. Two, then three Covid vaccines emerged from testing to provide protection but the distribution process was a dismal failure of confusion and delay. No one knew how to get a vaccine, who would provide it, when it would come, or how to know where you fell on a waiting list. Things worked differently in different states, different counties, different cities. And those without computers and cell phones found themselves at a great disadvantage in getting any information at all. Massive winter storms disrupted transportation lines even more.

I am one of the lucky ones who got Moderna vaccine shots. I am over 65 and am morbidly obese, which is one of the co-morbidities that could make me seriously ill if I got Covid, and I was alert and persistent in getting on waiting lists and following up on possibilities, so I qualified for the first round here in Texas. It required two shots one month apart, and I have to wait two weeks for all the antibodies to kick in, but what I’m feeling is …relief. I am so, so lucky, so grateful that this was possible – that the vaccines were developed so quickly, that I was able to get one, that I can start to think about traveling or simply going out with also-vaccinated friends. That I can get a hug. That I don’t have to be so alone.

But it’s not over yet. Covid isn’t gone and there are more variants popping up that may be immune to the vaccines. Not enough people have had a chance to get vaccinated, and those who have could still get sick and give it to someone else. States, including mine, are starting to open up and remove mask mandates and limits on business capacity. While we’re still be urged to use “personal responsibility” and mask up, I’m not expecting to see much of it in my part of Texas. I’m expecting to be ridiculed when I’m out in a mask, and have already decided to stick closer to home even while others are jubilantly filling restaurants, stadiums, and stores. I just don’t feel that safe. It’s still a confusing time.

It’s not over yet.

In today’s medical fun and games

I went to the doctor today about intermittent waves of weakness and pain in the upper right arm between shoulder and elbow but also up the neck into the scalp. No loss of motion or function, just sensation and pain. But not all the time. This started not long after my recent fall on the concrete floor of the garage. Hmmm, cause and effect? We think so.

With my comprehensive medical degree from WebMD, I had concluded it was a pinched nerve. The fact that I have pinched nerves in other places helped me reach this diagnosis. The doctor thought adding in a spinal x-ray might be helpful.

As you can maybe see in the grainy copy of a copy, my spine has lots of knobby little bone spurs and loss of cushioning between the vertebrae. This is not new and it looks like the rest of my spine, which explains the nerve burns for the lumbar area. And there are some black blobs, too.

The vertict is that the hard crash to the concrete floor jolted the spine and pinched a nerve. Yayy me for a good guess. There may also be a partial tear of the right bicept, but there’s not much we can do about that so we’re not going to test for it. If the weakness and pain continue or get worse, we’ll go for an MRI. But for now we’re just sticking with muscle relaxants, heat or ice, stretching, and massage.

In another medical update, I got my first Moderna Covid vaccine shot last Friday from NetHealth at Harvey Hall in Tyler. It was a very well oiled drive through process with many volunteers and great directions. I was very tired on Saturday and a little on Sunday but otherwise felt fine, and am to go back on February 26 for my second shot at a time TBD as we get closer. I would have taken either vaccine but really wanted Moderna because it was developed at Vanderbilt, my alma mater, with partial funding from Dolly Parton, who donated $1 million to help develop a vaccine. I love Dolly.

Last night I created a chart of 10 years worth of weight, BMI, and blood pressure rates. I went back to my Yale Patient Portal and dug through medical records to get some of that, adding more from the UT Health records here, plus my Noom info. Oh, it’s not weekly by any means. But as I get smaller, I find myself wondering when I was this size last and what I looked like then. When I see pictures of myself, I have zero idea since I mostly just see fat. There are a few that I think look really bony and skinny and I don’t like how I look there.

I’ve been going to physical therapy for my knee which is actually helping other body parts as well because, well, they’re all connected. I feel safe at the gym and go in the afternoons when it’s not at all crowded. And I just bought a new pair of New Balance shoes which should arrive today. I’m pretty sure the ones I’m wearing are too long for me so keep your fingers crossed that these new ones will work. If not, Zappos does a great job with returns. But I’d rather have the shoes when I hit the gym today.