Archive for the ‘health issues’ Category


As we commemorate the 100th anniversary of the armistice ending World War I, I am reminded of a book of fiction I read over a year ago and wrote briefly about here.  “A Star for Mrs. Blake” by April Smith, is a fictional account of a real act of Congress in the aftermath of the Great War.

In 1929, the United States government passed legislation that paid for Gold Star Mothers to travel to France to visit the graves of their sons who were killed in battle in WWI and were buried there. More than 6,000 Gold Star Mothers made this journey over a  three year period following the enactment of this legislation. They traveled, at the expense of the United States government, from all over the country to New York. The women had some time to rest after their journeys, then boarded ships and made the long crossing to France where they again rested and explored Paris before they continued their pilgrimage to their sons’ graves at the Meuse-Argonne American Cemetery and Verdun.

In this fictional account, Cora Blake, the main character, travels with other mothers from all walks of life. Cora is from a small fishing village in Maine. Other mothers are from the midwest, the Pacific Coast, big cities and farms. They are rich, poor, of color, and immigrants who came to America only to lose sons who left to fight the war. As dissimilar as they are, they are all joined in their loss. The mothers are referred to as “pilgrims” journeying to see their loved ones’ graves. Secrets, prejudices, fear, intrigue, murder and deception are all part and parcel of the story, as well as understanding, closure and both the good and the not-so of the military.

In France, Mrs. Blake (Cora) befriends a disfigured American journalist, Griffin Reed. Griffin was wounded in the trenches. He has a “tin nose” and hides behind a metal mask. An expatriate, Griffin was exposed to gas attacks while covering the war. So many soldiers were wounded by these horrific attacks  during WWI.I found Griffin’s story hard to read as I learned more precisely of the aftereffects of gas attacks. He survived his injuries only to battle the demons of drug addiction for his pain, both physical and emotional, as he is slowly dies of lead poisoning contracted from the metal mask he wears to hide his facial deformities.

“A Star for Mrs. Blake” was, for the most part, an engaging read about an actual program instituted by Herbert Hoover following WWI as the Great Depression consumed the country. It deals with the tragedies of war, prejudices, injustices, death as well as illustrating historical events of the era, travel during the 30’s, social classes and so many other issues. Mostly, it deals with the loss of loved ones. The book had me heading to Google to read about this particular legislation, ocean journeys, gas poisoning, lead poisoning – and more. Have you read this or similar books?

In closing, as this posts on Veterans Day, thank you to all veterans who have served, who have given the greatest of sacrifices, who still do. My hope, especially today, is that we extend the best of medical care to our veterans; for their injuries that are visible and that we can see, and for injuries that we can’t. 

The book cover is from Amazon




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As the knob slowly turned, a voice called out “can you push the door open?“.  I could, I did and was promptly greeted by a stunning woman with a mission at the forefront of her mind.

Deirdre and I chatted at the entryway in that friendly manner of people who have not yet previously met face-to-face, but who know, perhaps, a bit about each other. She asked about my heritage, I about hers, discovering our similarities, our differences, the things people reveal about each other when first they meet. She told me about her name, Deirdre, a figure from Irish folklore, and I told her mine, Penelope, of Homeric legend.

Deirdre invited me further inside. I followed as she maneuvered her wheelchair, pushing buttons as she navigated into her kitchen. She brewed for me a cup of coffee, placed a sheet of cookies into the oven to bake, set the timer, let the dog in, found her tablet, and situated herself next to me at the countertop of the kitchen’s island, which is where we dove into the purpose of our meeting – Deirdre’s website.

Deirdre has Multiple Sclerosis (MS). Her life, and the lives of her family and friends, has been profoundly impacted by MS in ways many of us might imagine, and in so many other ways we likely have not. A woman of faith and compassion, Deirdre’s wit and wisdom, practicality and frustrations, insight and vision are all bundled up in her purposeful mission to invite conversation, comfort, compassion and community to all, but, particularly to those confined to a wheelchair – living one’s life on wheels.

Dear readers, I invite you to visit Deirdre’s website/blog, perhaps leave a comment or pass her link on to someone who is wheelchair confined or who lives with someone who is, knows someone or, of equal importance, to those engaging in this life-long process of extending compassion to others. We are all on this journey in life together and you, my friends, are the best of travelers and of encouraging others. In advance, I thank you.

You can find Deirdre’s posts at https://www.livinglifeonwheels.com/blog/






Image of Deirdre from Wikipedia  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Deirdre

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Shaming and CJ

Words matter.



They shape who we are, what we become, and they stay with us, hovering like nasty gnats, circling around our minds and our souls, like one of those cartoon air clouds. We can stick a pin in it and watch it burst like a balloon. We can put the words behind us, but, they can still linger, dormant. Out of nowhere, they can erupt in the pit of our stomachs, in a corner of our minds, in how we feel about ourselves, and in how we feel about others.

We all make mistakes, saying things we regret; sometimes as soon as the words escape our lips. We are humans, and humans err, especially the human writing these words on this cold, white page, but, we hope that we don’t make the same error again (and again, and again).

As the old adage goes, leopards don’t change their spots.

Either do serial shamers.

As a child, I was body shamed, every six months, by someone whose very oath of his profession, “do no harm”, should have halted his words. He was my pediatrician and his words have had a lasting effect on me. I will call him Dr. CJ. I have been thinking of him a great deal lately, through a campaign season that has been rocky, to say the least; one in which “body shaming” keeps showing its ugly head.

From my infancy until my medical check-up for college, Dr. C.J. was the physician who took care of me. He got me through measles and chicken pox, strep throat and polio vaccines. He made house calls and he referred me to specialists when the need arose.

He also humiliated me, every six months!

My earliest memories (and I remember well) go to back to the age of just shy of six years old and the memory doesn’t change for the next twelve years. EVERY office visit, I would be measured and weighed, then I would hide my tears, for I knew what was coming. C.J. would enter the examining room, sit down, and proceed to comment on my weight. His litany would include tirades to the tune of  “five pounds in six months, ten pounds at the end of the year, twenty pounds next year. He would then proceed to write a list of all the things I should not eat. I remember the P’s, probably because I am Penny. “No pasta, peanuts, pretzels, popcorn . . . ” .

His lists were alphabetical. I still have one, in his own handwriting, on a half sheet of paper. His rambling tone was accusatory and it was belittling. He would go on to say other things, such as

and none of the small powdery cookies your Greek grandmother makes“.

Interesting enough, my Yia Yia would send a tin of them to him every Christmas.

When my sister and I had our tonsils taken out one cold and blustery winter, a “two for one” sale if ever there was one, we were sitting with Ma in the formidable waiting area of what was then the Presbyterian Hospital. We were bundled up in coats and boots and scarfs. My throat was sore, I was drowsy, and we were waiting for my father to bring the car up to the door. Suddenly, there was C.J., looming over me, saying in what was, to me, a very loud voice,

” don’t think this means you can have all the ice cream you want!”. 

As I readied myself for college, I needed a physical. I just wanted to get it over with, then go shopping for some new clothes for college. I was feeling good about myself, having been accepted at several universities, chosen the best one for me, and having slimmed down, grown long hair, and looking toward my future. Just this one appointment to keep.

“So, you’ve lost some weight, Penny. Well, don’t think that will get you boyfriends. You need to lose more.”

My life has been good, dear reader. It is as filled with wonder and joy as it is filled with requisite pain and loss that we all experience, but, these words,  they have stayed with me, no matter how hard I shove them away, especially in this ugly season where shaming seems to be the norm.

Even now, I fret and get a knot in my stomach when a doctor’s appointment looms. It is sad and wrong and not at all adult, but, truth-be-told, what I fret about is what will the scale say about me, and I morph, if only for a few moments, into that belittled young girl.

I have had, by all accounts, led a good life with loving and decent family, friends, teachers, and doctors. I do not want you to feel sorry for me. What I do want is for all of us to be cognizant of words and their power, and how, the adults in the room – whether it be an office, a stage, a computer, a viewing screen – are mindful of how powerful and significant words can be, especially when those words are repeated, over and over and over again.

We do need to care about and monitor what our children eat – and what we eat as well – but we need to remember that words count as much, if not more, than calories, and we need to honor and respect each other, just the way we are.

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. . .  and I am, truly, starting to move along!


I have graduated to a walking boot, which allows me to move about without the walker or crutches and can be removed for showering.

We should take joy in the small things, and this is most certainly one of them.

The orthopedic specialist confirmed the fracture on Friday. A well-defined plan of action has been established. It has me staying off the injured foot as much as possible for the next several weeks, then gradually using my foot a bit more, followed by physical therapy; all of which will take me right up to Christmas.

 A very good goal post, indeed.

I have been able to master the five steps which lead up and down to our family room and entryway. The boot allows me to slowly roam the main level of our home. I am able to be self-sufficient while the Antler Man is Up North; a commitment made long before my fall and one that I am thankful he was able to keep. The refrigerator and pantry are well-stocked and our dear, dear Jennifer has been checking in on me. The neighbors are “on call” in case of emergency. Encouragement, offers of help and support from friends will carry me through.

My friend, Donna, shared medical equipment, a shower stool being the most appreciated one. If you have ever been injured or had surgery, you know the pure joy of taking your first shower and the ability to take regular ones.

Thank you for all your kinds words, comments, emails, thoughts and prayers. They carry me through.

I am looking forward to the Durells on Masterpiece on Sunday night, and enjoying  my books group’s selection, “The Shoemaker’s Wife” by Adriana Trigiani. I was able to see the first three episodes of a new television series, This is Us, and have been inspired by more cooking shows, and recipes, than I can name.

What have you been reading, watching, making, baking, cooking, doing?

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It is, after all, Fall!

The brilliant display of October’s leafy madness has begun with the vibrant yellows and reds and browns taking center stage in what I sometimes refer to as the long goodbye. While I am not about to say a long goodbye, I am going to tell you a news breaking story; perhaps one that will take your mind, for a few moments, off of all the noise of breaking political news.

Those yellows and reds and browns are starting to fall in earnest. From the eyebrow window in our bedroom, where I am currently at rest, I can see the enormous leaves of the sycamore tree floating down. Sometimes, they startle me, resembling brown birds so close to the window. Actually, the don’t get all that close, which is best. A very large spider’s web hangs in a perfectly knit vintage pattern just underneath the brow of the window.

All I can do now is watch the leaves fall, so, I might as well watch them perched on high, for I will not be shuffling through leaves this year.

I have gotten ahead of myself, so, please let me begin again, which takes me to late this past Monday afternoon; a perfect time just between dusk and dinner for clearing away the mass of sycamore leaves that have been carpeting the deck.

With rake in hand and a feel-good mood at being outdoors and accomplishing a much-needed task, I raked away leaves, many of which are as large as a grown man’s hand. I moved still blooming pots around, gathering leaves that had settled in corners and nooks. Really, our deck in Autumn is like an English muffin with more nooks and crannies than one can imagine.

The leaves formed their own pile on top of the deck as I hauled a bushel basket full of plant matter to the compost pile, along with kitchen scraps and all things organic. The pile of leaves would be shoveled down the deck stairs and onto a tarp, then hauled back to top off the compost.

On my final ascent up the small flight of stairs, I slipped. It happened so quickly and without preamble that I stumbled backward . I knew, as soon as I hit the ground, just two steps below, that this was not going to end well. I let out an involuntary primal scream as I came down hard. My head hit the ground, but, I fortunately – very fortunately – landed on a pillow of leaves. Those leaves saved me from a head injury.

I felt for my phone to call Tom for help, instinctively knowing that my left foot was twisted and I would need help getting up. Tom, however, heard my scream from up in his office in the barn. Before I could tell Siri to call Tom, he was rushing toward me. He gentled me into a sitting position on the erstwhile steps and we attempted to take measure of the damage, pulling a sycamore leaf out of my hair!

I was shaking like a leaf!

Aside from a bruised elbow, all moving parts were flexible, but, my left ankle was already swelling and hurt like the Dickens. We iced it and nursed it through the night, then decided it would be wise to go to the Emergency Room in the morning.

As I sat on the gurney in the ER, ex-rays completed, waiting for Tom to return to my side and for a doctor to see me, I thought I might as well check my cell phone for messages. Good thing I did, for there was one that had me laughing out loud. There, on my little smart screen, was a message. This message in my inbox was from the very same hospital I was being treated at. It was an invitation – for me – encouraging me to participate in an upcoming marathon run!

A nurse, walking by, looked in. I guess my laugh was way-out loud and not common, of course, in the ER. Those of you who know me know I would be the last person running a marathon, and the humor of the message’s timing was . . . well, let’s just leave it right here.

I have a small break in my foot. I am in cast and using a walker. I am, gratefully, not in pain. Well, at least not in foot pain. My legs, my arms, my neck, my hands are holding me up in ways foreign to me and using a walker is a bit of challenge. I am hopeful for a walking cast soon and so very thankful that this is my only injury. I will be fine and I hope you are all well and active and enjoying the emergence of fall or spring, depending on where you live.

So, dear reader, this is the legend of my Autumn fall.



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IMG_8198I cherish the slow, silent, early morning moments when the sun slips through the borders of landscape and caresses the awakening garden. I anticipate those heavenly moments when angel rays reach out and press the promise of a newborn day.

We recently moved an old wicker rocker, a keepsake from the old Ohio homestead, to the front porch. It shows its age, but, then, so do I, which is quite fine. We immediately bonded, as eldersIMG_8350 often do, rocking back and forth in an early morning ritual of a cuppa tea at daylight and birdsong.

I have been a wee bit busy lately, writing and editing about the glorious gardens on this year’s Elmhurst Garden Walk and Faire. In between tip-tapping away on the laptop, I’ve been tending the gardens as best I can and roaming the preserves and pathways around us. I’ve also been nursing a back injury; a bother to say the least, and a real pain in my back to say the worst. I’m on the mend, but, lost quite a few days in the fog of meds, a trip to the ER, and what must have looked like giant trying to put Jack back in the Box as Tom IMG_7688made valiant attempts at inserting me into the car – with a patch on his eye! Good thing angels were watching over us.

This isn’t about our troubles, however, but, to explain my absence, yet again, from these Cutoff pages, and to get on with the business of showing you that in spite of personal worries we all have, and in the shadow of all of the troubles and turmoil on this fragile planet, we can endeavor to reach for those angel rays, no matter how fleeting they are.




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It sounds like a brand of toilet paper – or maybe an additive to motor oil?

TTP isn’t toilet paper, nor is it an additive.  It is rare, complicated and life threatening blood disease.  Thrombotic Thrombocytopenic Purpura.

Below is the amazing machine that helped saved my sister’s life when she was diagnosed with TTP. I christened it Tula 2. It seemed fitting to name the machine; a lighter note in a heavy song. Tula is a nickname. My grandmother often called Dottie Tula when we were very young.

Tula 2 was wheeled into Dottie’s hospital room  – every day for seven days. A nurse, trained in the intricacies of plasma and platelets and plasmapheresis, accompanied Tula 2. 11 bags, approximately one liter each, arrived shortly after;  frozen, matching Dottie’s blood type.

Nurses verified information to insure that Tula 2’s plasma and Dottie’s matched. The specialty nurse checked and double-checked and hooked up the bags of plasma, the warming cylinder, the tubes and leads and ports of entry and other life-renewing details that escaped my small sphere of knowledge.

Other nurses rotated in and out to check Dottie’s IV; full of saline and antibiotics and steroids and other things they attended to.

Tula 2 is a finely tuned machine, as are all of us. Dottie’s fine tuning suddenly and painfully went awry. Her blood platelets dropped dangerously low. Even before a definitive diagnosis, Tula 2 was called upon to exchange Dottie’s plasma and give her blood platelets a chance to multiply and thrive – and they have. There was no choice in this treatment. No chance to think it over, get a second or third opinion, weigh treatment choices. While not quite “out of the woods”, my sister can now see the forest through the trees. Brighter days have dawned. She is at home after a very long hospital stay, slowly regaining her strength.

I am so very grateful for EMT’s and emergency room doctors and nurses who detected a blood issue and called in a phenomenal team of doctors, nurses, and technicians. I am equally grateful for plasma donors; nameless and faceless heroes who give life to so many – and I am grateful to the Lord for bringing my sister back.





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