Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Walk and Wave - Spread Hope, Not Hate!

A few days a week, I walk a few miles.  I don't have a big choice of routes and over time, the walks seem a bit boring.  Even listening to music, time drags and I notice little aches and pains, but this morning was different.

As I started out, my mind was on all the hate rhetoric and posturing that is going on in the world. It seems that over the past few weeks, the spotlight has been on the dark side of humanity and the elements in our country that promote hate and intolerance.

I began wondering what I could do to help change things.  I've been blessed to be associated with educators who know that individuals can make a difference.  We teach our students to act locally and think globally. 

Many times, I've told the story of the little girl walking along the shoreline where thousands of starfish had been stranded.  As she walked she would bend down, pick one up and throw it back into the water.  A man watching nearby said to her, "Don't you realize that's not going to make much of a difference"

Picking up another starfish and throwing it in the water, the little girl replied, "It made a difference to that one."

Then it hit me! There IS something I could do.  As the next car approached, I put on a big smile and waved to the driver.  The driver waved back, and so it went.  After about a mile of walking and waving, I found that the vast majority of people waved back. Before I knew it's I was at my halfway point where I stopped for a cup of coffee.  I realized that time had flown by and perhaps I put a smile on the face of one or two drivers.

As I sipped, my mind went to thinking about the little girl, the starfish, and Arlo Guthrie and his thoughts on starting the “Alice's Restaurant Anti-Massacree Movement”.  It seems only logical that I could combine the two and start the Walk n’ Wave: Spread Love Not Hate Movement.

So friends, if you walk, jog, run, stroll or roll you too can be part of the movement. As you see a car approaching, give them plenty of time to react, put on your biggest, best smile, and wave.  They may wave back.  They may tell their friends about the crazy guy or gal they saw while driving.  If enough people do it, they might realize it is a movement, and if they read this blog or came across the Walk and Wave Facebook page, they will KNOW it is a movement and they might join!

So, if you are tired of all the hate and negativity in the world, why not do something about it. Walk and Wave! Spread Hope, Not Hate. Visit and share your story and spread the love!

Saturday, November 7, 2015

Drug Side Effects or Medical Conditions

DISCLAIMER:  What I am about to write is not an indictment of doctors or the medical profession.  It is a complicated issue to which I do not have an answer.  

Earlier today, I wrote a blog talking about my apnea, the sleeping pill I've been taking, and side effects it caused.  It was simple for me to determine it was the sleeping pill, because I only take one other medication and I've been taking it for close to 20 years with no side effects. It was a case where the healthcare system and the patient were able are work together to solve a problem. Unfortunately, it doesn't always work that way.  That seems to be the case with my wife's medical problems, which are more complicated than mine.

Earlier this year, she  passed out while shopping.  Thus begun a long and yet unfinished quest to determine the cause.  It has been a parade of specialists, EKGs, Ultrasounds, EEGs, stress tests, blood tests, and endless forms.  In each case she listed all her medications and all her symptoms.

She takes a total of seven prescription medications and two over the counter products.  These have been prescribed to her by a series of doctors over the years.  Because many of her symptoms have come on gradually they have been attributed to the gradual aging process. Right now, her major symptoms are headaches, dizziness, and constipation.  She also has joint pain and drowsiness, both of which I've noticed have increased in severity.

They haven't manifested themselves over night and are the kind of things that don't set off alarms.  The passing out was the alarm.  While her doctors are looking for a physical cause for her symptoms, my non-expert opinion is that they are the cumulative result of drug side effects and interactions.  While doctors may point to the fact that the list of side effects on drugs is long and people don't display the vast majority of those listed, I don't think nearly enough attention is given to these effects one the alarm has been sounded.

Consider these facts:

5 of her medications list headache as a side effect.  She says if she can go three days without a headache she considers it a good week.  Headaches were one of the symptoms of the sleeping pill I was taking.  Prior to taking it, I had a total of about three headaches in 20 years.

6 of her medications list constipation as a side effect.  She takes a laxative about once a week.  If I don't count the time I was cutting weight for wrestling in high school and college. If I averaged one laxative a year for the past 45 years, that is a lot.

3 of her medications list insomnia as side effect, yet she is taking a sleeping pill for insomnia and of course that pills lists dizziness and drowsiness as possible side effects.

She also has other symptoms whose side effects are listed for 2-3 other of the medications.

She is being treated for high blood pressure, high cholesterol, osteoporosis, hypothyroidism, insomnia, and an irregular heartbeat, all of which are serious conditions in the long or short term.  They are certainly of more concern than any of the individual side effects.  However, if the cumulative side effect over time result in fainting and falls, the results can be very serious.

In my mind her symptoms are a result of one or more of these medications. That most obvious conclusion which is not being addressed.  It is much more expedient, profitable, and safe to look for a physical cause through a long and expensive series of tests and specialists.

As a scientist, I know the most likely hypothesis is the side effects of the drugs, but the only way to determine that is to devise a series of controlled withdrawals and to observe the results. Through no fault of the doctors, that option is actually the least feasible. In today's litigious society dominated by for profit drug and medical companies that course of action doesn't add to the bottom line and could result in law suits.

With one visit per year to your primary care provider, there is no way they can devote the time and resources necessary to run the controlled study necessary to eliminate the side effects ANY treat the more serious issues for which medications are prescribed.  I understand that.

I know if they were to take the systematic approach to determining if side effects were responsible for her fainting and she were to die of a brain tumor or heart attack, one very well might expect a law suit.  So what is the solution?

It certainly isn't simple, but in this case I think one more specialist will eliminate all of the obvious reasons for her fainting. Assuming Gregory House is not going to be on the case,  I will be bringing what I have written to the attention of her primary care physician this week, in the hopes that we can develop a plan to determine if side effects are responsible for her most serious symptoms of fainting and sudden dizziness.  If we can do that, we can begin going after the headaches next.  

Apnea, Symptoms, Drug Side Effects, and Quality of Life

This may be a bit too long for the average reader, but if you have or think you have sleep apnea, it may be worth the effort.

About three years ago, I underwent a sleep study to determine if I had apnea.  I posted a video and a blog entry about getting wired-up for the night, and said I would follow up in about a week.  As a charter member of the Procrastinators Club, I'm just now getting around to that update. Actually, I have written about it on Facebook, but not here.

I was diagnosed with mild apnea and active legs.  I thought I woke up about three times during the night, but the electrodes indicated that it was MUCH more than that and my legs were so active I think I ran a marathon.

The Dr. prescribed a CPAP machine (continuous positive airway pressure). It's basically the same kind of device I used during the study, minus all the wires and additional probes. I knew that I would not like it.  Who would? Wearing a mask over your nose and mouth, and  being harnessed to a machine constantly pumping air in your face is not exactly my idea of a fun night, but I decided to give it a try.

I joined a sleep apnea online forum and learned a  great deal about the condition and the machine. Being a geek, I also downloaded the software that allowed be do examine the DETAILED data recorded on the SD card in the machine.  As a result, I realized that while the Dr. knew much more about apnea, I knew more about the machine.  It's important to note that this was a conclusion arrived at mutually over the coming year. 

The initial settings used on the machine are a "guesstimate" based upon the test results and the common practice of erring on the safe side, a sad side effect of our litigious society.  The Dr. started with a pressure setting of 11.   

The machine records all the activity it can without additional probes used during the study.  One of the important measures is the AHI index, a tracking of breathing "events".  Anything under 10 is acceptable, but they like it to be 5 or less.  I was averaging about 8, but I was having difficulty getting to sleep and had to take a sleeping pill each night. 

The readings were ok with the Dr., but I knew this would not be a long term solution for me.  I wasn't happy with how it was effecting my sleep and began experimenting with the pressure settings on the CPAP machine. Over the next few weeks, I gradually lowered the pressure settings from 11 to 9.  I was happy to see that my AHI gradually dropped to about 5.

At the next visit, I discussed what I had done with the Dr.  It was then I found out that I knew much more about the workings of the machine than she did.  Because only the sleep technician normally makes changes to the machine, it would have taken multiple additional visits to do what I had done.  

I realized there were serious flaws in the medical system.  The Dr. was happy with the average AHI of 5, but I was not.  I was still having trouble getting to sleep and still taking pills.  I continued to experiment and eventually worked my way down to a pressure setting of 4, which is the lowest setting the machine would accept.  Considering my visits started about 3 months apart and are now down to once a year, what I did myself in a few weeks would probably still be an ongoing process.  

The good news is that since I started, I heard there are machines that are Internet ready, can monitor and report back to the Dr., and they can make adjustments accordingly.  However, it's not the typical situation.

My AHI had also dropped to an average of about 2 and I went off the sleeping pills, additional good news for me. The bad news is that I would always wake up about 3-4 hours later.  However, that was normal.  Even before the CPAP, I would wake up at least once a night to urinate, which was what was happening now.  The problem is, I could not get back to sleep after that unless I discarded the CPAP, which I got into the habit of doing. I was only getting about 4 hours of CPAP sleep a night, which is the minimum they want to see. 

During this time, I had also changed my diet and began going to the gym regularly.  I lost about 15 pounds and was in good shape.  When we would go on trips, I would not take the CPAP and my wife noticed that I was no longer snoring.  Prior to that she suffered from my snorts and I suffered from her elbows and pillow blows. This led me to wonder if my mild apnea had improved to the point where I might not need the CPAP. 

I emailed the Dr. with my questions. About 6 months ago she set up home study which involves wearing a monitor which straps to your chest and a finger probe to measure breathing events the CPAP does not, along with oxygen levels.  

The results indicated a significant improvement, but I was still having periods where I stopped breathing.  She recommended I continue using the CPAP.  I've been following her advice, but have been unhappy with wearing it and went back on the sleeping pills, which brings me to the side effects and quality of life part of this blog.

I'm 71 years old and aside from the sleeping pill, the only medication I take is for my thyroid.  I have the normal aches and pains one would expect as one gets up in years.  Considering my wresting career in high school, college, and coaching with it's numerous associated injuries, I felt I was doing pretty well, until this week.

I've never been one to pay much attention to the side effects of medications, but recently I began researching the various sleep meds I've taken over the two years. (We've tried 3 different meds.) I noticed that they all had some side effects in common. I've also come to the conclusion that MANY people have side effects without realizing it.  That was certainly the case with me.

I searched my memory and did some experimentation and observation of my body both off and on the pill and realized that while mild, I was experiencing at least three side effects, namely drowsiness, headache, and constipation.  I fully expected the drowsiness, but never really noticed the other two, because neither was serious.

The headaches didn't even require aspirin and the constipation didn't require laxatives, but for me both were significant.  Prior to taking the sleeping pills, you could count on one hand the number of headaches I've had in the last twenty year and except for when I was cutting weight for wrestling, I never had a constipation problem.

This is leading me to re-evaluate you use of the CPAP.  I've always said I want to live to be at least 100.  Do I want to spend the next 30 years strapped to a machine or suffering side effects.  That negatively effects my quality of life.  If don't deal with my mild apnea, it could shorten my life a few years. So what should I do?  

I've come to the decision to go off the CPAP, but I'm not ready to give up those few years, because I do have two other options, only one of which I feel is acceptable.  There is a dental appliance that the Dr. will gladly prescribe as an alternative.  It would be a custom fitted mouthpiece that is designed to hold the lower jaw forward as I sleep, thus opening the airway and minimizing breathing problems caused by relaxed muscles.  The other is surgery, which I haven't even discussed with her and I don't think I would want to under go.

I'm going to give the Dr. a call to set up and appointment with a dentist who specializes in making the mouthpieces and give that a try.  I'll report back here on the results.  Hopefully, it won't be two years from now.  

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Henry Ford's Impact on the Squirrel Gene Pool

More than 60 years of driving back country roads has led me to the conclusion that Henry Ford has had a significant impact on the squirrel gene pool.  I came to this conclusion about a year or two ago and have been casually making observations to confirm my suspicions.

While my study has been anything but scientific, I feel confident enough to voice it now, in the hope that others may chime in and either confirm or refute my conclusions.  My line of thinking goes something like this.

Henry Ford’s Model T and more specifically, the development the assembly line for automobiles, made cars available to the masses.  This led to a chain reaction of events including an explosion in the number of cars on the road, improvement of roads and highways, increases in speed and horsepower, and an undeclared and somewhat unnoticed war on squirrels and other critters, including the chicken crossing the road.

The term road kill entered our vocabulary, as did the term, nutty as a squirrel.  It seems obvious that term came into being because of their love for acorns and the way they behaved while trying to get across the road and avoid the on-coming traffic.  Their indecisive back and forth method of getting to the other side became the butt of many a joke. If squirrels had a lobby, they would probably be seeking a more politically correct term.

Think about it for a minute and pay close attention the next time you see one on the side of the road.  I’ve noticed that a good number of squirrels making it across the road without the expected back and forth, back and forth, back and forth.  In fact, a significant number of them make it in a single dash.

 Once upon a time the squirrel population was dominated by squirrels that had a gene that caused indecisive road crossing.  However, a small number of squirrels lacked this gene and when crossing the road, they did it in a decisive manner.  As indecisive squirrels became road kill, the decisive squirrel population grew.  Today, there are enough decisive squirrels in the population for us to take notice. It’s a case of survival of the fittest and natural selection, though automobile is hardly a force of nature.  It's actually more akin to the evolution of the peppered moth.

Now before you start ridiculing my theory, I know that this is a gross over simplification of natural selection, and much of this is written with my tongue firmly planted in my cheek.  However, I ask you think about this the next time you see a squirrel trying to cross the road. Is my observation about their behavior accurate, or am I as nutty as our furry friends?

On second thought, just answer the former question.  If you know me, you already know the answer to the latter.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

I Heard it Thought the Grapwevinwe

Every condo association has a grapevine.
I offer this video with no further comment.

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Condominium Musings - Different Perspectives

Those of you who are following this blog, but are not my friend or neighbor may not know I am the president of our condo association.  I've not included much of that part of my life in this blog, but that is about to end.

This week I told the board that when my term expires in October, I will not be running again. With the terms of three members ending, it is impossible to predict that makeup of the board for 2015-2016.  We spoke about what I can do to make the transition as smooth as possible and the need to recruit good candidates, as well as the systems we've already put in place to make things easier for future boards.

Though I am not going to be on the board, I fully intend to remain active as a resident and member of the building and grounds, and conservation committees, as well as the Sherwood Samaritans.  I will also be more active in terms of communicating with residents on this blog, the Sherwood Beavers blog, and the website, something I have been unable to do as a board member, because time did not allow it, but more importantly I found there were things that I wanted to say as a resident, that I couldn't say as a board member. That ends today.

First a little background for folks who are relatively new to Sherwood Glen or don't know me.  In 2009, my wife and I moved to be near my grandson.  Shortly thereafter, I was asked to fill the term of the Board Secretary who was resigning.  While I didn't really want to do it, I've always had a problem saying no to anyone who asks for my help, and I felt that it was a good way to immerse myself in my new community.  So began my 6 year stint as a board member.

Then in October of 2013, the then president resigned.  I became president, not because I wanted the job, but I was the one best prepared to take over.  (If I had a nickle for every time I told Jill Coppi I would never want her job, I would be retired on an island somewhere.)  For me. accepting the role of president was the beginning of the end.  This was a job I knew I did not want as far back as 1970, and if you had asked me then if I would want to be the president of a condo association, I would have said NO in a heartbeat.  Nothing has changed since then and nothing will change in the future.

Flashback to 1970...  My 40 year teaching career was anything but typical.  During my first three years, I worked closely with administration and saw more aspects of the school culture than most classroom teachers experience in a lifetime. 

For three days a week during my senior year in college (I only had classes two days a week), I was a substitute teacher in Philadelphia.  After graduation, my first teaching job was as a permanent sub in a new junior high of 1700 students.  In my second year, they offered me a special class they were establishing. I would have a self-contained classroom of the 13 worst discipline problems in the 9th grade.  They gave me carte blanche to run the class as I saw fit, and told me that I would handle grades, all subject, parents, and anything else that came along.  They didn't want to be involved unless it was a police matter. 

For that year, I ran my own mini-school within a school, and experienced the full spectrum of the school culture.  I was principal, guidance councilor, mentor, and teacher.  It was the toughest year and most rewarding year of my life. If my writing skills were up to par then, or my memory up to par now, I would have a best selling book. On the other hand, if I did today some of what I did in 1970, you wouldn't be reading my book, you would be seeing me on news at 11:00.

During the year, the principal and assistant superintendent kept encouraging me to go back to school for my administrative certificate, but having had a taste of administration, I knew it was not for me. I can remember what I said to Jim Moran when he suggested it.  "No way, Jim.  I would never be able to hold a job.  I've seen the way you have to bite your tongue at board meetings.  I would never be able to do that."

I proved that point later in the year, by being one of the team leaders in one of the second teachers' strikes in NJ. I did it with the knowledge that I would be "fighting city hall", and would not have a job the following year. Boards tend to frown on non-tenured teachers being strike leaders.  I did it because I had the tools to do it and it was the right thing to do.  

As my teaching career progressed I added to my skill set and became an association vice president, member of the negotiating team, and member of the grievance team.  As time progressed, I honed my skills at being able to see conflicts from the perspective of both parties.  It served me in my job and it was a skill I stressed in my teaching.

None-the-less, there were two other times during my teaching career where I was forced into leadership roles when my heart and soul said, "Don't do it. It's a job you hate," but my brain said, "You have the tools and skills to help those around you and if you don't do it, it will bad for your heart and soul." 

That's the position I found myself in when I accepted the role of condo association president. Probably, the main difference between now and 1970 is that I've mellowed, can bite my tongue, and have been able to view things from the perspective of all parties involved.

I could go on for pages about, but I won't right now.  I will do that in future posts.  For now, I'll try to provide some insight into why I'm not going to continue on the board.  

One reason is that as president, I have to do things considerably different than I would be doing as an individual resident.  For example, I sometimes get complaints about things that are clearly home owner responsibilities.  A case in point would be the clearing of snow around cars parked in the driveway.   Depending on the circumstances, as president, I have to explain (sometimes in vain) that it is not an association issue.  Seldom does it leave me (or the other person) feeling good.  On the other hand, if that same person had come to me as a neighbor and said, "Art, can you help me clear my driveway?"  I would be out there in a heart beat and we would both feel better about the situation.  In my capacity as neighbor AND a past president, I could even help them see why it isn't an association issue. The net results is that we will probably both walk away happier from a conversation with Art the neighbor, than Art, the president. This is taking a toll on my spirit.

Another thing that is contrary to my nature, is the way people view imperfections.  When some of us look in a mirror, we are not happy with what we see.  We see the pimple in the middle of our forehead and allow it to dominate our self perspective.  We might think, that everyone who sees us will zoom in on that imperfection and judge us for it.   Others see the pimple, deal with it, forget it, and let it clear up and heal as it always does.

Yesterday, we had mulch spreading and landscape work.  Those who focus on the imperfections will who look out to their yard and  see only the dead shrub that was reported last week.  They lose sight of the fact that this is just one of 1400+ shrubs in the development.  No one is judging them for let the small blemish dominate their perspective. It's just the way some people are wired, but while focused on the blemish, they ignore the immense beauty around.

Before you go trying to figure out, whose plant this is, it is not a plant from Sherwood Glen and I'm not referring to any one plant or any one incident.  As always, some complaints are legitimate and others are not.

The reason this kind of incident bothers me is because if this plant was in front of my house, here is how I would handle it.  I know that each year, the board walks the property with Outdoor Pride to see what needs to be done during spring clean up and planting.  I would take a picture of the plant, send it to Great North and ask them to check it out.  That would be the end of it.  If it got replaced, great.  If it did not, it's not a big deal unless this kind of thing was also happening all around the development. I know that people visiting Sherwood Glen will not judge me or our development based on the dead plant.  They will judge us by what they see as they drive through our property.

Is your glass half empty or half full?  Mine is half full and even at that level, there is more water in it than I need.  I don't fault those who see the glass as half empty, because their perspective is different that mine. I consider myself lucky that I'm happy with what I have.  When I look at what I have, my feelings are tempered by a constant view of those who have less, rather than a view of my neighbors or those who have far more than I.

So there you have my first Condominium  Musing.  Feel free to leave your comments and perspectives and I hope you'll continue following my ramblings.