Tag: #blogging

What’s “normal” got to do with it?

750x450 brain

A hole in our heads?  Or our hearts?

Why they call it Normal Pressure Hydrocephalus entirely escapes me.  There’s nothing normal about it.  For obvious reasons, however, the condition’s name has been shortened to its initials: NPH.

The cause of the condition also escapes me.  But here I’m joined by the entire medical/scientific complex.  Absent some other trauma to the brain, it just seems “to happen” to a few old folks like me.

But what NPH does to those whom it afflicts is pretty well known: excess spinal fluid accumulates in your skull which then “squeezes” the brain.  The symptoms that often follow are also pretty well known: weird, wet and wobbly.  I’ve written about this dandy little condition before in April of 2017.  The condition is usually progressive.  So, what’s new with me over the last two and a half years?

Weird?

Weird?  Yes.  But far more than mere weirdness; that’s the largely self-inflicted malady of my youth and, these days, millennials.  With NPH, it’s one of the most feared diagnoses of the elderly (aside from the “elderly” itself): Dementia.  Forgetfulness.  Memory loss.  Trouble dealing with routine tasks.

What’s changed in my mental acuity during these years?  Hard to say for sure.  Is that a good sign, an indication that the changes, if any, are so subtle that I can’t even put a finger on them?  Or a bad sign, that my memory is failing about how I used to be?  I can’t really say for sure.

I do take some comfort, however, in this blog.  If nothing else, it’s a strenuous mental workout.  It forces me to stay informed and, I hope, to communicate clearly.  Now, if I can just get enough people to confirm that opinion by following this blog, I’ll be in like Flynn.  So, come on folks, get with it!  I need your help.

Wet?

Urinary incontinence.  Now, there’s a fun one.  And I could tell you stories about my days campaigning door to door, far from any public bathroom, that you probably don’t want to hear.  Or what it’s like to get home and do my best to change my clothes and take a shower before anyone sees me.  Or my pants.  But I’ll spare you those as well.  

But here I definitely have good news.  Several years ago, after I finally got an accurate diagnosis, they put another hole in my head, installed a brain shunt, and began draining excess fluid from my head to my abdominal cavity where my body cleanses it before returning it to my skull.  So, with the shunt at work, the progression of the “wet” third of the condition has slowed markedly-if not completely.  But not, as I hoped-and as sometimes happens- reversed.

Wobbly?

The third one?  The good news is that it isn’t embarrassing.  The bad news?  It’s scary too, but in a physical, rather than mental, sort of way.

In the literature it’s called “gait disturbances.” But I liken it to being on the deck of a ship in a storm.  I tell myself that most people probably don’t notice me wobbling down the sidewalk as if I’d have trouble passing a roadside sobriety test.  And no-one has ever said anything about it.  But nevertheless, the formerly simple act of stepping off the curb is an adventure. Moreover, if I can possibly avoid it, I never go down stairs without a firm grip on the handrail.

I do my best to stay active.  I almost invariably park my car at the far end of the parking lot and walk to the front door of the store.  Twice a week I work out with a trainer who focuses on agility and strength.  For an additional three to four more days a week I work out on an elliptical and lift weights.  So, for my age, I’m in pretty good shape.  But mind over matter isn’t a breeze when the mind that controls the matter refuses to fire on all cylinders.

This getting old stuff isn’t for sissies

When I was a kid, there was a song that made a brief appearance on the charts of Denver’s ultra-cool “top 40” AM radio station, KIMN.  It was “Those Were The Days.”  Not sure why what started life as a Lithuanian folk song reached the top of the charts for teenagers, but it made an impression on me.

And now, pushing 70, with my share of the medical slings and arrows that come with advanced age, it’s more than just a catchy lyric:

Those were the days my friend
We thought they’d never end
We’d sing and dance forever and a day
We’d live the life we choose
We’d fight and never lose

For we were young and sure to have our way.

There are probably about as many ways to interpret this tune as there are people who hear it.  But it reminds me, as Blaise Pascal, the 17th century French inventor, mathematician and theologian once wrote, that “there is a “God-shaped hole in the heart of each man that can only be satisfied by God, made known by Jesus Christ.”  

“Those Were The Days” and Pascal were talking about the same thing.  The nagging fear, even if we can often suppress it with mindless diversions, that this life won’t be all that we hoped for. That, in the end, we might not get our way.  And that, instead, the relentless march of time will.  Unless, that is, we can bring ourselves to allow The Great Physician to mend our broken hearts-and heads-as only he can.

 

 

 

 

 

Project Sanctuary Redux

Project Sanctuary Bus at Snow Mountain Ranch

What is impossible for man is possible for God

Well, here I am again.  At a Project Sanctuary retreat, the only organization designed to serve the entire military family, helping them reconnect after a member returns from one of our perpetual wars.  Except it’s winter this time and we’re at Snow Mountain Ranch, a YMCA camp just over the Continental Divide from Denver.

Much is the same.  Lots of hyperactive kids who, before the week is out, have made some new buddies.  Plenty of opportunities to unwind:  ice fishing on Grand Lake, snowmobiling on the Continental Divide, a trip to the Fraser Rec center for the water slides or flips off the tramp into the foam pit.  Like last time, I’m sous chef for Tom who, despite laboring under the handicap of institutional raw materials, manages to whip up pretty tasty meals that satisfy the whetted appetites of everyone from kids in high chairs to their parents.

And, again, more of the darker aspects of a Project Sanctuary retreat.  The Post Traumatic Stress workshops.  The “Reconnection With Your Family” sessions.  The presentation from the Cohen Veterans Network on how to access mental health care for service members when, as is too often the case, the VA system falls short.

A Well Oiled Machine

Since I was there a couple of days longer this time, I had the opportunity to get to know a few of the families better than last time.

One of those was the Johnson family.  The husband, Jeremiah, is a military nurse.   His wife is Felicia.  They live near San Antonio, Texas.

My acquaintance with the Johnsons began when I sat on a bench next to an older daughter, Toby, looking across Grand Lake where one of the P.S. kids squealed with delight as he pulled a trout through a hole in the ice.

“So,” I asked, “what grade are you in?”

“Well,” she replied, “I’m in about 11th grade.  But my mom home schools us.”

“That’s nice; home schooled kids usually do very well.  How many brothers and sisters do you have.”

“There’s 8 of us, the youngest is 1, the oldest 20.”

“You’re kidding,” I said, looking over at her dark eyes under the Prince Valiant haircut.  “And you guys all drove up here?”

“Yep,” she said, “all except my oldest sister. She lives in Colorado Springs.”

“Amazing.  And what do you think you want to do when you’re done with school?”

“I want to be a farrier.  We have a horse and I like to work with them.

“Not easy work,” I said.  “Is that why you have that splint on your wrist?”

“No,” she replied, “I’m accident prone.  I cut myself.”

But wait.  There’s more.

That evening I got the chance to speak briefly with Toby’s mom as we stood in line for supper.  

“Toby,” I began, “tells me that you guys have eight kids.  And that you have a blog.  How in the world do you do it all?”  

Without skipping a beat, and holding the one year old on her hip, she pointed upward and said “We get some help from up there.”

“I have a blog also,” I said.  “What do you write about? And how often do you post?”

“It’s about Christian homeschooling.  And I post once a week.  Here’s my card.”

“The ‘Zoo I Call Home,'” I read.  “That’s a good one.  I’ll definitely take a look.  Here’s the card for my blog.  With all your spare time,” I concluded, as a little boy in boots that looked like they’d been through several kids before him began tugging at her, “maybe you can take a peek at mine sometime.”

Life with an open hand

In the “liberated” ’70’s, when I was a new believer and a student at C.U. Boulder, I knew a guy named Mike McElroy.  He ran the Christian bookstore on The Hill.  Mike was a brilliant, thoughtful guy who had a way of forthrightly challenging my comfortable assumptions.  I’m sorry I’ve lost touch with him.

Mike and I both attended the Hillside Church of the Savior, a Protestant church that met in the home of Gene Thomas and had a vibrant outreach to college kids.  

Once, for reasons that I’ve entirely forgotten, we got into a discussion about sex, contraception, and children.  Mike’s opinion was that the Catholics had it right.  And Protestants had it wrong.  “Catholic doctrine forbids the use of contraception.  And it’s not because the Pope wants us to procreate like rabbits.  It’s because sex without contraception is to be open to how God may want to intervene in our lives.  Contraception is our way of saying “No” to that intervention.”

Mike’s argument impressed me.  But it wasn’t something we adopted for our marriage; I had my tubes tied after our third child.  The prospect of the financial burden of having more kids frightened me.  And a good case, of course, can be made that fear is the opposite of faith.

I didn’t ask, but given that they live smack dab on the buckle of the Bible belt, I’d be stunned if the Johnsons are Catholics.  But regardless of their denomination, the Johnson’s, with their 8 kids, took a different path than ours.   One that, at least from the perspective of an outsider, is driven by faith.  One that’s radically open to how the Lord might choose to disrupt their lives with little ones.  A life that puts up with cars that have 350,000 miles on them.  A life that grins and shrugs when a hand me down boot has a hole worn through the top.  But one that that allows the Johnson’s to know, first hand, the promise and, no doubt, the challenges of Psalm 127:3:

“Children are a heritage from the Lord, offspring a reward from him.”