Archive for the ‘Risk’ Category

A clautrophobic’s guide to surviving an MRI

If you’ve ever had an MRI, you know the ominous feeling you get as you stare down the narrow tube that looks like a coffin. If you have any degree of claustrophobia, it is positively terrifying. I forgot what it was like and chose an MRI over a CT scan as I didn’t want any more high radiation imaging, having had more of them than you can count. I actually wonder if I am radioactive by now. Also, a one time, a reaction to CT scan dye started a serious allergic reaction, so whenever I have a CT scan, I have to go through a 24-hour premedication protocol that messes with my head and body. So, I decided to get an MRI.

No sooner was I looking into that impossibly narrow tube, that I realized I had to do something. It was too late for an anti-anxiety medication. I was there, and had to decide to proceed or go home. Wanting to get to the source of the reason for needing the MRI, I decided I would proceed.

Here is how I survived nearly an hour in the “coffin.”

I shut my eyes and didn’t open them until it was over.

I invoked deep breathing and mindfulness. The cacophony of excruciatingly loud noises (a variety of different ones, different pitches, tempos, etc.) started up. I listened mindfully, making “music” of the beats. I noticed two different sounds, not beating in the same rhythm. I noticed the different pitches. I imagined what else they sonded like. (Admittedly, some were like nothing else in real life.)

I employed counting to pass the time when told how many minutes each blast would last. Counting slowly made the time seem shorter.

FINAL TIPS: Whatever you do, DO NOT WEAR hearing aids to this exam. If you have better ear protection than 30-decibel reduction they provide, bring them. Their measly earplugs do nothing!

I am rethinking the next time I need imagining. I might prefer the pre-medication and drinking icky stuff for a 10 minute CT scan to the energy drain it took to survive the hour-long MRI. But that’s me. If you don’t suffer from claustrophobia, you will probably be fine with an MRI and lessen your exposure to radiation.


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The following is from a letter I wrote to my sons five years ago. I never published it then as I was too raw and overwhelmed at the time. I came across the email today and decided I could share it, though God knows, the danger has not passed. If anything, there have been far too many more incidents of violence since. So many that we are becoming numb. This email reminded me to remain vigilant and hold onto my sons, no matter how old they get.

Dear J and D,
Ok, this is not meant to embarrass you but I wanted to share my feelings with you …
It’s been an emotional week. The bombing in Boston, just on the heels of the Newtown tragedy, has stirred my feelings of helplessness to protect my children in this crazy world.
No matter how old your children are, when a tragedy strikes – anywhere – a mother’s first instinct is to want to hug her children, as if doing so will assure me that you are ok and that I can protect you from harm. These events prove to me that we can’t always do that and it is painful to know that you must eventually protect yourself as I won’t be here forever. And even while I am here, I can’t control random crazy peoples’ deeds. So I tried to prepare you for the world as best I could. But when unexplainable things like this happen, I feel so powerless.
Yet, in spite of it, I know there is goodness – lots of it – shown through the many acts of heroism, bravery and kindness when terror struck. And that helps maintain my faith in humanity.
But no matter what, I needed to give you a hug the moment I saw you when I came home. At least I saw with my own eyes you were safe for the moment.
I am incredibly proud of the men you have become. Sensitive, with the belief you can and will make your marks somewhere on humanity. It doesn’t take a lot to change a life.
So, live your lives fully, in spite of the naysayers and the crazy, deranged people, without fear and with compassion. And remember I am by your side, whatever path(s) you choose, and throughout your lives, whether I am here on earth or in your memories.
Love you forever.



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I thought this saying up after the mini meltdown passed. Maybe no one recognized the meltdown, least of all, me. It came in the form of 6 awakenings each night, worrying about everything BUT the actual situation I am facing. Apparently this resonated with a lot of people when I posted it, even though the majority of them had no idea I was referring to a specific, new challenge.

No matter how many challenges life throws my way, I never think, “Why me?” for two reasons.
(1) If not me, it has to be someone else and I wouldn’t wish my challenges on another.
(2) It makes me a victim and takes away my power.

So now, I concentrate on number 2.

I am not a victim! Well, actually, that’s not entirely true. We all are victims of uncontrollable events in our lives to some degree, but how we deal with them mitigates them. So I call upon my superpower, victim- fighting arsenal called family and friends, as well as my foundation of having survived 20-ish surgeries, two near-death experiences, one divorce, one spousal death, 11 moves, countless jobs, 6-7 careers and laying beside a live cheetah. Whew!

I have the BRCA1 gene. It means either lying in wait for the likely possibility of getting ovarian (40%) and/or breast cancer (85%), or I can have prophylactic surgery to remove these body parts. I’m not a patient waiter and I like taking the better odds. I can get through another few surgeries.

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Every so often I am reminded that people go through life carrying burdens of one sort or another. When the pain they cause is written on their faces, it may be obvious, and we can respond. But so often these burdens are kept private due to shame, denial or wish not to burden others with their troubles. And sometimes, those they need support from are just incapable for one reason or another, of helping, so they keep them to themselves.

Today, someone shared some burdens she is carrying. Suddenly a lot of things made sense. What I may have mistaken for aloofness, disorganization, or lack of attention to the details of the job are now easily explained by what she is going through. My frustration melted away in the face of this information, and was replaced by compassion. I thanked her for sharing her burdens with me and told her how helpful it is to let people know how fragile life is for her right now. I told her people often want to help and can only do that when they know what is needed.

So I am working on being able to take my own advice!. I have too often been hurt by exposing my vulnerability and not receiving support – or worse, being rejected or ridiculed. So, asking is very, very difficult for me. In spite of knowing who I can turn to and trust, I sometimes just wish those who care will know and offer a shoulder.

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Sometimes we are blessed with relatives we would choose as friends. All too often however, we are instead, “stuck” with those whom we wish we could disassociate.

As a second generation immigrant, my father grew up in close proximity to family; cousins, 2nd cousins, etc. As they moved away, staying in touch meant traveling pre-interstate highways, to (then) rural Connecticut, from New York City. I remember these trips to the farm; the friendly relatives, the chickens and bringing home freshly laid eggs. It was a treat to be in the fresh air and countryside. Ever an observer of nature and people, I took in the “different” sights, sounds and odors of the experience.

Because of the relationships fostered then, we continue in this generation, to stay in touch with some of our distant relatives. Of course, technology makes it even easier now. We share a common “memory,” which keeps us connected. Even though many years may pass between seeing each other, that common bond makes it easy to pick up where we left off.

I remain in touch with most of my first cousins, with various levels of contact, save for two of them, who have remained elusive. Despite a warm relationship with this aunt, uncle and cousins when we were kids, we became estranged at some point in adulthood. Our invitations to joyous family events were ignored, so we took the hint and just stopped reaching out. One of the two cousins stayed in touch for awhile, but only because her abusive lifestyle required money and housing. Eventually, she wore out her welcome.

My father and all his brothers are gone now. Recently, one of the estranged cousins passed away at age 53. Not shocking considering his family legacy of heart disease and a father and uncles who had early heart attacks. But sad just the same. He was the first of our generation and a wakeup call to us all.

They lived far away and only one of the cousins attended the funeral. some of us discussed it. We all felt no connection. There was no relationship, in spite of the blood that bound us. I vacillated between the “should” and “why?” question. The “should” because he was family; the “why?” because he didn’t include us as such in his life.

The “why?” won out and I have made my peace. I left a comment on the online memory book. I will reach out to his wife to express my sympathy. And that will be appropriate for this relationship.

As to his sister, I planned to do much the same, in spite of her past behavior. After all, she is the last in her family to survive. I understand she would feel alone in a way that most people her age would not. But I struggle to be benevolent with someone who has hurt and  cheated so many people and dramatized life’s events as all hers, without regard to how anyone else is affected. I resent her rambling public FB post insulting our family for not supporting her, as if she had a right to it. To those who know nothing of her past behavior and disrespect of her family, she looks like the victim.

So to my cousin’s immediate family: wife, children and grandchildren, who will truly miss someone they held dear, I will send my love. I will need some time to figure out an appropriate way to reach out to the self-centered sister whose only reaction at her brother’s loss is to try and make her the center of attention once again.

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No, I am not referring to Joan Didion’s book. I’m referring to the average person, who endeavors to start with a clean slate at the beginning of each new year. They wipe away the failings and frustrations of the past year, promising themselves they will do better.

These folks are well intentioned, but often not successful because they think magic will make these things come to be. Well, I hate to break it to you, but nothing will change if you keep doing the same thing. I can guarantee it. I have seen this phenomenon and it really puzzles me. People may REALLY want to lose weight, eat more healthfully, stop smoking, etc. but they are not willing to do what is necessary to make it happen, because basically, we hate change!

So how can we overcome the resistance to change? By making small movements toward a goal. Taking baby steps. Want to lose weight? Give up the 3:00 candy bar. That’s all; just the candy bar. Maybe even replace it with some fruit so you aren’t totally deprived. When you are comfortable and it is a new habit, change another small thing. By then, you will have seen weight coming off from the first change. The results provide encouragement to keep moving in the right direction.

Sleep a problem? Many of us are in a certain routine before bedtime. Maybe it prevents us from falling asleep; maybe it keeps us up, or wakes us in the middle of the night. Review your “sleep hygiene” and change something in the routine.

I can belabor the many things we strive to change, but the point I want to make is that in order to change something we are not happy about, we must give up magical thinking and begin to act. Slowly, gently, change your behavior and you will get different results.

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I deliberately used a question mark in the title of this post because that has been the reaction I got when I told people I was going to Pittsburgh. They would ask why and I said it was because I wanted to see It. They didn’t believe me. Except for one friend, who said she wanted to come too.

It all began many years ago, when reading an article in (I think) Business Week or some similar publication. It hailed Pittsburgh as one of the most livable cities. It defined livability as a place that offered cultural, educational and outdoor opportunities, with good housing prices and safety. Recently cited by the AARP, of which I am a card carrying member, as one of the best places to retire, I got even more curious. So one night, over dinner with my friend and our husbands, the subject came up. Before you knew it, we decided to go, abetted by our husbands.

We enlisted a realtor and told her we were on the first stop of a several year tour of potential retirement places. We wanted to see the housing stock and the city. We spent nearly two full days looking at homes and neighborhoods and one day exploring what Pittsburgh has to offer.

We were smitten! I saw many homes that I liked, and one I loved – mostly because of the kitchen. My friend, who is not afraid of taking calculated risks, said, “Why don’t you buy it?” I got excited. It felt right. There were several “signs” that I should do it, not to mention the mortgage interest rates being at their lowest ever.

I got on board immediately. There was only one hitch. My husband. Typically ultra conservative about any risk, as am I, I could not imagine him considering it. I would be able to do it without him, but I would face a penalty on early withdrawal of my retirement funds. It would be better to tap his, since he is old enough to withdraw funds without penalty.

All the way home from the airport, my friend and I sang the praises of Pittsburgh. My husband laughed in a way one does when not taking chatter seriously. When we got home, I told him I had something serious to talk with him about. I reiterated how much I loved the city. It had all the important elements I was looking for in a location: affordability, diversity, access to education and excellent healthcare, culture, good restaurants, an art scene, nearby airport and the ability to live in a suburban setting that is only 10 minutes from downtown. As a bonus, it was beautiful. Hills, parks, rivers, hiking and bike trails.

Then he said, “If you think you can buy this house for the price we can pay, do it!” Sixteen words that changed our lives! Not only did it determine where we would go next, it was the first time we took a risk – together. It is a calculated and safe risk – I did the math, interest rates are at an all time low, and the investment will hold its value. Further, time goes so fast and this next stage of our lives is only a few years away.

Well, the house negotiations did not work out, but I am returning to Pittsburgh to find another. Our paths have been forged and I am excited about it. Who knew, several weeks ago, that I would be retiring to Pittsburgh?

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