Category Archives: health

Everyone Deserves It

I wasted time at the train station after disembarking, slowly drinking coffee and eating a donut, while waiting for the demand for Ubers to subside.  When the price of the ride returned to the reasonable rate of a minute per mile, I got in one and let it take me to the hospital that once felt like it had a room with my name on it.  As a child, I had repeated bouts of severe bronchitis and thus spent a lot of time in a building now called the old wing.  But this 21st century plaza of glass and steel was not the healing place I remembered.  Very little in the town where I spent the first 14 years of my life looked familiar, for that matter.  That fact was a bittersweet distraction.

Once at the hospital, I still delayed.  Far too much time in the gift shop to come away with a mere card – and one that said something trite that felt insincere on my part: “May an angel always be beside you.”  Not a single bone in my body believed this man had lived his life in a way that should keep him in the company of angels – certainly not the part of it that pertained to me.  He’d inflicted physical and psychological abuse on my mother and me.  He told me numerous times that he hadn’t wanted to be a father and that my existence had made his more difficult.  My mother and I were made to pay.  And so I meandered around the spanking brand new wing of the hometown hospital, the one that used to have a room with my name on it, praying for the courage to face this man who forced me to play postman at his building just to get him to come into the lobby so I could see him.  Even then, I couldn’t get him to let his grandchildren in or to come out to the car to meet them.

“…Because everyone deserves it – no matter what,” I wrote inside the blank card with the trite spiritual wish on the outside.  That I believed.  Every child of God deserves the accompaniment of an angel, no matter how damaged or damaging he may be.  “I love you!”  I added.  Through every horrible memory, that too had always been true, sometimes in spite of myself.

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When I found the room with the beautiful view of Long Island Sound, the one with his name on it, he wasn’t in it.  He was back in the old wing of the hospital undergoing stress tests on his heart.  I would have missed him even if I’d gone straight to his room without buying the card, but not if I’d bypassed the coffee and donut.  It was now going to be at least two hours before I could see him, and I had only designated six for him.  The need to be the mother and the teacher that I love being called me harder than the obligation to be the daughter it hurt to be.  That, and the fact that my business as a baker still doesn’t run without me after two years, required I return home, as long as he was stable and could make his own medical decisions.

“What time did you leave?  I could hear you in my bedroom.  Did you kiss me goodbye?  What time are you coming home?”  Such were the text message questions from my teenaged daughter, who’s on the spectrum.  The last question was, in part, to know how long she’d have to play on the computer before I was home to turn her attentions back to Chemistry and Algebra II.  But I also know that my girl must feel the love from me each day for any day to be complete. She hated my business trips when I used to have them, which always made me hate them a bit, too.

God has an interesting sense of humor.  How else can one explain such an affinity for children in the child of a man who considers children a nuisance?

“Don’t cry when you say goodbye to him, Mom; it’ll probably freak him out,” my daughter said about a student whose family was moving to the other side of the country. She was right, I knew.  So I shed my tears at home, out of sight, before giving my parting blue sash a medallion I won years ago as a goodbye present.

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Somewhere in the haze of cold, selfish, liquor-wading isolationism, I know that my father feels a measure of fondness for me that’s at least commensurate with my affection for my students.  I’ve occasionally been able to hear it in his voice, after accomplishing something he could brag about to the neighbors he didn’t want to see or the golf buddies he’s now outlived.  But I’ve spent years wishing he’d feel a little more… and now, I’m told he does.  A stroke will do that.

“He gets emotional when I mention you,” his attending physician told me.  It’s guilt.  What else could it be?  I thought, as I slowly walked from his apartment to his bank, in no hurry to return to the man who had me out running errands without so much as a “good to see you” or “thanks for coming.”

“One of these days we’re going to have to have it out,” he’d said eons ago, back when his intentional verbal cruelty could still make me livid.  But I saw no need for that. It wouldn’t have taken the fear out of a childhood long gone or made him a man who wanted a family.  It would just have been more wasted time.

I thought again about the card from the gift shop as I climbed into the Uber back to the hospital.  “May an angel always be beside you.”  Indeed… for you never wanted anyone else to be.

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Knock on Wood!

“Welcome to the neighborhood!” That’s been the phrase of the week for customers who don’t know that I’ve lived in the neighborhood for almost seven years; it’s just the business that’s new. I’m writing my first post in more than a week (the longest silence of my blogging life) during the first lull in the first Sunday that my business has been open.

Last Sunday was the final day of the second session of my kung fu class, and I just couldn’t manage to pull off working in both the gym and the store when all of my familial employees were off working a day job or visiting their father. But I couldn’t help but notice as I walked home from the gym that there was a lot more hustle and bustle on the street than I’d anticipated, especially since it was the middle of the football game in a town that loves its Ravens. I was compelled – largely by the need for sales that every new business has – to see if the same would hold true a week later. It most certainly has!

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Sunday is apparently the day that everyone wants to ignore the diet and indulge in butter and sugar. I’m more than happy to oblige! Following a large, rush order for vegan cupcakes yesterday and a growing group of neighborhood residents becoming regulars, Stupid Delicious!, www.stupiddelicious.com for you Baltimore residents, is off to a solid pre-advertising start. (Quick – somebody knock on wood!) But to make this double-duty thing work on Sundays going forward, I’m going to need a paid employee a lot sooner than I’d anticipated. That’s a very nice problem to have!

On the kung fu front, the newest revelation about my deteriorating body is that I have a small tear in my rotator cuff. That explains the extreme pain and difficulty sleeping that plagues me off and on – now exacerbated by whipping up various batters and frostings. This could get very interesting right as my stellar corporate insurance goes bye-bye.

The challenges never stop, for sure, but that’s what keeps me on my toes. Right now, just for today, I’m having too much fun and feeling too much gratitude to complain. 🙂


“If You’re Not Injured…”

This time tomorrow I will have completed the paperwork and drug screening for the gym.  I should know by the end of the weekend if my future supervisor’s first choice for class days will in fact be the schedule.  It will depend on when there’s class space in the gym.

This time tomorrow I will also either be nursing my wounds from my return to Friday night class or feeling anxious and guilty for not having gone.  The jury’s still out on which it’ll be, but I’m reluctantly leaning toward the former.

Sanshou on Monday took a toll on me that’s lasted all week.  I may actually have strained my right hamstring in Saturday’s class, but the discomfort from that is nothing compared to the abuse to which I subjected my remaining left knee components two days later while crawling around on the guan floor like an alligator.  The drill was meant to work all the thigh muscles, but doing it properly required sideways protrusion of the knees in a wholly-unnatural, horizontally-bowlegged position.  Long story short:  I could hear something in my left knee pop out of place.  I’ve been trying to realign it ever since.  So it should be a no-brainer that I stay home tomorrow night.

The problem is I continued to self-train all week, and Sifu saw that.  I’m fairly certain he’ll think I’m not injured enough to stay out of Friday class, when I don’t have travel as a reason to miss it.  The man’s motto is “push yourself.”  He’s also fond of saying, “If you’re not injured, you’re not doing it right.”  We who are invited to Friday class are expected to attend – especially at the conclusion of banishment.

But I have a class to teach perhaps as soon as Wednesday.  I simply can’t be too battered to demonstrate a snap kick!  So that’s that.  Right?  Right?….


Drugstore in the Desk Drawer

I rarely get to bed before 1 a.m., and I’m rarely able to sleep past 6:45.  I’d be in a hospital bed or mental ward were it not for the drugstore in my office drawer. Vitamin C, B12 and D3 do wonders for keeping a sleep-deprived, aging martial artist chugging along – that and a boatload of morning caffeine.

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As I groggily stumbled from bedroom to bathroom and back this morning, I ran a quick analysis of time management the previous evening.  After pick-up from the commuter train and a congratulatory chat with my daughter for her most successful academic year yet, we got home to my son and a school friend leaving the house.  I spent a few minutes talking with them before grabbing a yogurt and heading upstairs to change into kung fu clothes. Once fed and changed, I grabbed kung fu stuff and hit the car with Merle and Aaron.

We took Sanshou class, got notes from Siheng Mark afterwards on what we did right and wrong, and stretched out our tight muscles for a while.  I practiced picking up the pace on The Walk from White Eyebrow before finally heading out the door for the ride home.  After a stop for gas, I got home around 9:15.

I took a medium-length shower, tended to my knees with creams and ice, made and ate some food, then made and ate some more.  The clock read 10:45.  I checked baseball scores, emails and blogs while watching a cooking show, and then discussed the monthly calendar with Merle and what we were doing with the kids to celebrate their great school year before Aaron leaves for a month-long summer program.  Somewhere in there, I also balanced the checkbook.  At that point, the big hand was almost on the twelve.

I returned eyes to the television while blow drying hair I’d kept wrapped up since the shower and waited for the laundry to come out the dryer, so I could pack my kung fu clothes in my work bag for today.  Tuesdays and Thursdays we have to go straight from commuter train to guan for the early class; so the clothes must come with me to work.  (I guess I could have just worn the back-up high water pants and the shirt with the hole in the armpit, but not if I can help it.)

I went down to the kitchen for something, wound up in the downstairs bathroom (which is largely the one Aaron and I use most) and was painfully aware that my absence the previous week was particularly obvious in that room.  So I cleaned tub and sink, brushed my teeth and went upstairs to bed.  Merle was still up sorting clothes, and I was just floating into pre-consciousness when she turned out the last light.  It was 1:05.

I could probably shorten the time between meal and bed, regardless of whatever else I have to do, if I didn’t turn on the television.  But a good game or a good laugh goes a long way in a day that could otherwise be a grind… or in the case of Sanshou night, a beat down.

So what’s a woman to do?  I guess just keep popping the B12 and vitamin C until the next non-working Sunday morning sleep-in.  Things could certainly be worse.  Life could actually be boring.


Rescue & Reunion

I’m uncomfortable asking people if I can take a picture of them for my blog.  This is why I usually just take candid shots of folks in action. Most at the guan are accustomed to having their pictures plastered across the web, either on the school’s website or on its Facebook page.  So they simply raise an eyebrow at me and go about their business.  That’s how I got this one of “Pooh”…

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…and this one of Siheng Steve.

 

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But what to do about the ones who deserve to be commemorated that I would have to ask?

“Larry!” I said Thursday morning, mustering the right balance between middle-aged composure and the teenaged enthusiasm I felt.  He raised his hand high in the air and swooped it down to dramatically grab mine and shake it.  “Congratulations on baby number three,” I added.  “How old now?”

He answered eight months, confirming that it had been more than a year since I’d last seen him.  The shots I was given over the winter for my lower back problems eliminated any need to see my orthopedist and the physician assistant of hers who practically took my hand off saying hello.  So Larry and I had a lot to of catching up to do.

As he checked out the shoulder pain from my staff practice that’s impeding my sleep, we chatted about his kids, my new kung fu forms, his new house, my old job, the abandonment of his training as a runner, where I am in my kung fu teaching life, and so on.  By the time my x-rays returned to tell us that nothing’s broken or floating around in my socket, I felt like I’d been out to lunch with a college roommate instead of freezing my buns off in a doctor’s office.

I had once been near tears in his examination room, less than a month after my fifth knee scope, listening to him tell me that his boss, my surgeon, was not likely to authorize any additional cortisone shots to the knee (I’d already had my two for the year).  I knew that I probably couldn’t tough it through the end of black sash testing without mitigating the pain for my battered, arthritic, reconstructed joints. He knew it, too.  And he rescued me.

He chose the replacement synthetic cartilage shot that would get me to and through the final test, when the regular one suddenly stopped working.   To complete test number three with a little less angst and a little more skill, he squeezed me into his schedule on a day that the waiting room was overrun and extracted excess fluid from a swollen knee that was almost incapacitating.  Each of the three times I saw him from the last surgery to the award of my sash, he asked for the date of my final black sash test.  And after doing the math for the countdown, he told himself aloud how many more weeks he needed to keep my legs working, then reaffirmed to me that he’d do his best to get me to the finish line.

I love Larry.  I couldn’t thank him fast enough after it was all over.  One of these days, I’m going to have to get a picture of him.


Injury, Irony, Profanity & More

I hate being injured in Saturday class – absolutely hate it!  It’s not the pain of the injury that bothers me; it’s looking like a mediocre, mid-level martial artist in front of fellow upper sashes and, worst of all, in front of Sifu.

After pushing out twenty-five tornado kicks in a drill that almost made me homicidal, I let out a few profanities during Lian Huan Tui and made no apologies for it.  Sifu was on the other side of the room at the time; so I allowed myself the lapse in decorum.  I recovered an appropriate demeanor and more effective use of my knees after taking a long enough break during beginner weapons class to bury my knee in topical cream and an ice wrap.

Irony being what it is, my kung fu day ended with Sifu teaching me not one but five moves subsequent to the very spin section of White Eyebrow that turned my knee inside out.  Near as I could tell, that was my reward for having practiced the spins enough this week to execute them better than he probably expected in such a short time.

I’d like to say that being given so much more of the form to practice made the injury and morning frustration all better, but it didn’t.  I’m still pulling out all the stops, more than ten hours later, to make my left leg do all that it’s supposed to do – starting with supporting my weight as I walk.

The new moves were, however, worth the pain of the price of admission today.  They made me glad I didn’t bow out when I was busy swearing.  They made me feel like practicing as hard as I did this week was a smart thing to do.


Twisting & Turning

Out on Mother’s Day in heels over two inches….

Consciously walking properly (moving foot from heel to toe) for perhaps the first time since knee surgery two years ago….

Doing rows of footwork practice as part of warm-up before training….

Twisting the balls and heels of my feet repeatedly – a few hundred times this week – while doing the double spin section of White Eyebrow….

Whatever the cause, it feels like there’s something horribly wrong in the muscles, tendons and/or ligaments in and around my left knee joint.  So much so I’m not sure if I should attend any of the advanced kung fu classes that are a staple of my Saturdays.  That’s saying something.

I’ve been trying everything since the end of a surprisingly productive practice Friday night to relieve the edema and increase the range of motion in my left leg.  Not asking for a miracle, just a return to normalcy.

I certainly hope that’s not asking for too much.

 


War With Ourselves

I got my body mass index measured at the gym on Monday, which I’d never done before.  It came in at a more than respectable rate for an overactive, middle-aged, female martial artist.  Unfortunately, the BMI was displayed on a print out full of additional information about my body, and one line of that little piece of paper keeps coming back to me in flashes – the line telling me my weight.

I’m disappointed in myself that though martial arts has returned me to wearing the same size I wore when I graduated high school, I still care about what the damned number on the scale says.  Never mind that the number reflects muscle mass more than anything else!

The brainwashing of American women has been thorough.  These Barbie Doll, size zero images that have ruled since the days of Twiggy in the late 1960s, have been ingrained as the body image to shoot for.  Weighing more than a buck and a quarter is incompatible with acquiring the ideal – even when the body looks great.   It’s ridiculous, but for so many women like me, it’s true – women who’ve been overweight and have gone to war with ourselves to keep from becoming so again.

I’m very happy to have dropped almost thirty pounds from the days of my depressive overeating after my mother’s death through the beginning of black sash testing.  I’ve only regained five pounds or so in the fifteen months since testing ended, and I appeared to have dropped them again while training for tournaments.  But I will never forget feeling too tall and too fat from about five-years-old until thirteen.  And after shedding the pounds and the laughter of schoolmates and family members alike, I spent the latter part of the teen years as a bulimic, fearful of ever going back.  It isn’t just societal ideals that warp the mind; one’s own experiences can do further damage.

It’s up to me to remember that those days are over.  I will never be shamed again for my weight.  Even if another life tragedy produces a depression that’s soothed with food, I’m capable of returning to a body that makes me happy.  I’ve proven that more than once.

The scale is irrelevant.  It’s up to me to remember that.


On the Way Out

I hope today is the last day that I will see this place and sit in this room!  It will at least be the last time this year.

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This morning I received the third of three shots into my back, intended to eliminate my need for sciatica medication and maybe even reduce the need for arthritis meds as well.  I’ve taken half the doses of the former that I probably would have taken before seeing the back specialist three months ago.  So there’s good reason to be hopeful.

The prescription for sciatica is a muscle relaxant, which, let’s face it, doesn’t go well with high-impact martial arts training, to say nothing of consciousness (I’m a lightweight these days; I can get sleepy off an Aleve!)  So, I’ve spent years putting up with the sciatica and treating it rarely.  The back pain has to interfere with walking, as the knee pain does, before I bother with the muscle relaxant.  But if the last six weeks are any indication, the old way of caring for my body is already on the way out – replaced not just by the shots regimen, but by more ice, greater use of the muscle roller and, of course, more mindfulness.

Pain reduction can be as simple as ending the day’s training when the body begins to whine, instead of at the end of a scream.


Low Space, No Time

Genuine practice of my long staff form has effectively been eliminated, and I’m having trouble taking that in stride.  Since being prohibited from self-training on open floor space during classes that I’m not attending, I’ve had just two choices: self-train in the basement or take weekday upper sash classes and practice staff during the form rotation.

The problem with basement practice (aside from the additional stress on the joints from pounding against a concrete floor) is that every other move of the long staff form is to vertically spin a stick that’s taller than I am.  Literally half the form can’t be executed at all downstairs, because the ceilings are too low!

The problem with limiting staff practice to the form rotation of upper sash class is insufficient time.  Of the four weekday classes, two are dedicated to sparring.  There’s no form rotation in them.  In the remaining two, twenty-five minutes are allocated for forms.  Even with only one other person in the rotation, I wouldn’t get more than a whopping twelve minutes per class for long staff.  Less than half an hour per week!

I have, therefore, opted for self-training in the basement, during which I skip some vertical staff spins and execute others by dropping both my body and my arms down, to avoid smacking pipes and breaking light bulbs.  The result is that in nine days of this new reality, the timing of steps to spins is off.  It’s not by much, but it doesn’t have to be.

Precision is crucial in this art of ours.  It’s the difference between correct or not.  That’s why I’m having trouble taking this all in stride.  It’s also why the search for my own affordable space continues in earnest.


Friday’s Resolve

Fridays have been my own for almost two months now.  I decided around mid-December that I was no longer going to subject my body to the often brutal regimen of the two-hour Friday night class.  Life being what it is, Sifu decided about a week after my decision that rehearsals for the Chinese New Year demonstration would take place of Friday night, in place of class.  So my resolve has yet to be tested.  But it hit me like a ton of bricks tonight that with the Chinese New Year performance occurring this weekend, that’s all about to change.

I’ve been all kinds of happy with my kung fu life since the holiday break and for very good reasons.  I’ve worked my long staff form into highly-respectable shape, enjoyed teaching a growing group of enthusiastic students, started learning forms that are outside of our curriculum; and improved the range and pain tolerance of my knees and back.  I want to maintain this level of happy for as long as possible.

So, I hereby publicly declare that I will not be guilted into returning to something that often hurts me to an intolerable degree.  I have a couple of weeks to work with, but I’m fortifying my mind early.  My physical ability to continue doing this thing I love for as long as I want may depend on it.


The Pain of Cessation

Addiction is in the news and so very much on my mind in both a past and present sense.  As a young child, I watched my mother and grandmother fall apart at the news that my uncle was dead.  Near as I could understand from what I overheard, he was attacked when drunk and didn’t survive the altercation.

Fifteen years later, right after undergrad, I slung drinks at a bar by night to supplement the day job.  A co-worker from that job drank himself to death in a hotel room after his partner of twenty years left him.

But the addiction-related death that cut the deepest was that of a former boss, a recovering-addict, white-collar entrepreneur who apparently hopped off the wagon undetected by the dozen or so people he employed. He was a vivacious, warm, kind and abundantly generous person.  He hired me three different times: during my years as a freelance journalist; after being laid off by a network in a buyout restructuring; and as a divorced, single mother of a kindergartener and a newborn. The third time, he couldn’t really afford to hire me back in the post-9/11 recession, but he did anyway.

We got word in the office that his robbed body had been found in a hotel, with bottles and baggies decorating the room, just days after learning from his new, pregnant wife that he hadn’t been sober for months. He tossed a decade of drug-free years out the window, and within months of picking up where he left off, he left us all.

I could go on about others.  People I worked and played with in the bar world during my college years and shortly thereafter.  I know more than I need to about addiction, including that even ones that don’t take your life are no joke.

Addiction, by definition, is a negative thing.  Wikipedia defines it as “the continued repetition of a behavior despite adverse consequences;” Webster’s dictionary says it’s “the state of being enslaved to a habit or practice…to such an extent that its cessation causes severe trauma.”  Neither of these sound like a state anyone should want to be in over anything.  And yet I am currently, unapologetically.

Kung fu is a behavior I continue despite adverse physical consequences, about which even entertaining its cessation causes me mental trauma. It’s not going to kill me, of course, but I acknowledge in the tag line of my blog that it can cripple me.  I’ve lost track of the number of times I’ve been told I should quit before I end up with limbs not working.  Each time I hear these concerns and warnings, I respond with what I know sounds to some like I’m wading blind in a pool of denial.  I’ve heard drug addicts sound the same way.  At least exercise addictions aren’t known to rob one of the mental faculties needed not to escalate the behavior in the middle of negative consequences.  Drug addicts just keep taking more.

At the end of the day, continuing in my addiction is as simple as knowing that the pain of activity isn’t yet greater than the pain of loss that stopping would bring.  That’s simply how fulfilled it makes me, for lack of a less dramatic word at this late hour, any and every time a training night goes well – hurt knees, hurt back, hurt arm and all.

If only all addicts of all kinds could clearly weigh the pain of continuation against the pain of cessation.  If only they lived long enough to get the chance.