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Nancy Alvarez

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Remaining Vital

Posted: 06/06/2012 9:06 am

These past weeks I have been taking a friend into Seattle to have medical tests to try to figure out what has been causing her health problems, which have been many and serious. Often when we are anxious we don't hear everything we are being told. I sit in the meetings with the docs so that I can go over what has been said with her later in the day, or even over the next few weeks. This is something my friends and I willingly do for one another, even though it is stressful. We know we will be taking turns.

I am also finding that talking to someone else about his or her -- what can I call it? -- deterioration, ugly as that sounds, helps me accept my own. Compared to most of my close friends, I am a bastion of health. I swim 80 laps two times a week, and take an hour-long Nia class four times weekly. In-between I walk in the woods or on the beach down the street from my home.

But when I arise in the middle of the night for my bathroom call, I am stiff, a new issue these last couple of years. It is difficult for me to lie on my side with my arm beneath my shoulder, though that is the way I have slept my entire life. My shoulder begins to throb. My back hurts if I sit at the computer too long. Sometimes I shake my head when I type, which looks weird, or so my daughter tells me. My tissue is thinning, my skin getting splotches. I forget words, a wonderful trait for a writer. And most annoying for me, I don't have the energy I used to and tire easily. I hate all of it, but can't complain because several of my friends have illnesses that are actually life-threatening.

However, there is also good news. One of the docs I saw with my friend was a neurologist. Fortunately the friend had no problems in that area, but we both ended up talking to the doc about our memory loss and how distressing it is to us both. She said that when she went to med school she was taught that we all lose brain cells as we age, and there is nothing to be done about it. Now they know otherwise.

Both of us perked up. "What can we do?" we happily asked. "Quite a bit," was her reply. She suggested we do a half hour of aerobic exercise five times a week. My friend used to do this, but had stopped because of some of her symptoms. The doc told her to resume, building her tolerance slowly. I already exercise, but I still have memory loss. This I explained to the doc with some chagrin. She told me I could raise my intake of healthy fats, like nuts and coconut oil. She even suggested using the stuff in place of butter in some of my cooking and baking. Coconut flavored brownies sounded intriguing though I haven't yet figured out how to measure the stuff in ounces. Bed, Bath & Beyond should have a useful tool for that.

It should come as no surprise that I am swimming faster to make sure my workout is aerobic. Nia is not an issue; at the end of class I'm often out of breath, which I'll never grumble about again, even in my own head. I have bought a huge jar of nuts at Costco, and find I am enjoying them. They are more filling than chips, which I shouldn't have been eating anyway, and I don't have to eat many to feel full. I have stir-fried vegetables with coconut oil, and they taste great that way. Any bitterness in the kale disappears. So far I still forget words as I'm typing, but they come back to me faster, or maybe that's wishful thinking.

What's best about all this is to learn that I can be pro-active not only about my body's changes, but about those cell losses in my brain. I would never have thought of asking my own doctor about this issue, because I had assumed it was not only normal but irreversible. It is fortunate that my friends and I willingly help each other with our medical issues or I wouldn't have learned that is untrue. The only downside: if I keep up all this exercise I may not have time for my friends, my partner or my work, especially if the time I have to give to all of this increases with age! The doc did not tell us that, so probably it's a useless concern. For now I will carry on with it all, and with more good humor.

 

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