Friday, November 18, 2016

Do Not Let Despair Dampen Your Spirit

There were a number of Christmas songs I especially liked as a boy, and as a man. One of these was “I Heard the Bels on Christmas Day”. It was heard a lot when I was a youth, but doesn’t seem as popular today, although it is as prevalent to our times as it was to the times when it was written.

I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day
Their old familiar carols play,
And wild and sweet the words repeat
Of peace on earth, good will to men.

The music, at least the most used version, was composed by John Baptiste Calken, an English organist. The lyrics were taken from a poem by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow ( a distant cousin of mine).

It seems a strange Christmas song, the music somewhat somber and the opening verses not promising much hope and joy.

I thought how, as the day had come,
The belfries of all Christendom
Had rolled along the unbroken song
Of peace on earth, good will to men.

This is understandable when you realize the Longfellow’s situation when he penned the words it on Christmas Day, 1863. Longfellow had received a grim telegraph at the beginning of the month concerning his eldest son, Charles Appleton Longfellow. 

Charley had defied his father’s wishes and joined the Army fighting the Civil War. He had rose to Second Lieutenant in the Massachusetts 1st Cavalry. That December telegram told Longfellow his son had been gravely wounded at the Battle of Mine Run near Chancellorsville, Virginia. It was not promising. He had been hit in the left shoulder and the bullet had traveled through his back, nicked his spine and exited under his right shoulder.  He just missed being paralyzed and his life was touch and go for a while, but he survived.

And in despair I bowed my head:
"There is no peace on earth," I said,
"For hate is strong and mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good will to men."

For Henry Longfellow this was despair upon despair. Only a year and a half earlier, Longfellow had lost his wife. Her dress caught fire, either from coming to close to the hearth or by a dropped candle. Longfellow was napping, but immediately awoke 
and tried at first to smother the flames with a rug, and when that didn’t work he threw his own body upon her. She died from her sever injuries the next morning and Longfellow himself suffered a bad burning, bad enough he couldn’t even come to his wife’s funeral. His face was scarred and so he grew the beard we usually associate with his likeness.

So if anyone should succumb to despair on Christmas Day, when we generally are festive and hopeful, it was Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.

But he didn’t. He listened to the ringing church bells and he penned the final verse.

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
"God is not dead, nor doth he sleep;
The wrong shall fail, the right prevail,
With peace on earth, good will to men."

Till, ringing singing, on its way,
The world revolved from night to day,
A voice, a chime, a chant sublime,
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

We live in a world full of woe and trouble and we constantly face many difficulties and tragedies, but we must remember that God has us in his hand and not let the sufferings of our life dampen our spirit.

This version below might moisten your eyes

Monday, November 14, 2016

Maybe Mother Was Right or Maybe I Was

I began reading well before I began Kindergarten, and I started Kindergarten a few months after turning 4 years old. I read a lot all through my school years, and then for the rest of my life. It bothered my family that I was such a voracious reader and when I was a teenager, my mother said I read too much.

"It is going to wear out your brain," she warned on more than one occasion.

But I didn't listen to my mom and kept on devouring books. I usually had four or five books going during any given week and when no books were handy, I read what was. At breakfast I would read everything on the cereal box.

As I aged I was relatively healthy. The older I got I seemed to have even less problems with such nuisances as colds or the flu. I racked up perfect attendance awards at work regularly. People would ask how I stayed so well I answered:

"The secret to good health is to stay away from doctors."

If I hadn't heeded my mothers advice, I did honor my own and I only went to a doctor if I felt like I was hanging on Death's door. At age 74 I was walking 5 miles or more each morning, rain or snow, in season and out. I exercised at the gym 3 times a week and many evenings found me working out on a rowing machine at home. I had gotten my weight down through this and diet, where I avoid much sugar and ate a lot of fresh fruit. My Physical exams at the doctor were usually very good.

Ah, but there is the rub, "At the doctor".

I had kept doctor visits to a bare minimum most my life, but when I got into my sixties, and especially on Medicare, it seemed I was required to take a yearly physical. I had to check in order to have my blood pressure and my thyroid medication renewed or adjusted. Then a few years ago it  it became a bi-annual exam.  I asked my doctor about this one time and she said it was due to regulations put in by President Obama.  Hmmm, okay, but now it seems I have been scheduled in every 4 months.

And the more exams presumptively to keep me healthy, the more prickly my health has become. My doctor prescribed an antibiotic for some sniffles and it gave me Clostridium difficile or C. Diff, a particularly nasty disease. But I have written several posts about my struggles with this. The main problem is what happened in late May on one of my walks. Suddenly, my legs felt odd, kind of weak, and I had difficulty continuing.

This drove me to the doctors voluntarily and led to several months

now of various specialists and many tests, blood tests, cat scans, ultrasounds, MRIs and most recently, an EMG or electromyogram, which included a series of electrical shocks to my arm and leg, followed by a number of needles being inserted in the same arm and leg. Such fun times!

However, to date, no one has figured out what it is I have and I am supposed to see a sub-specialist because the EMG shows something not quite right with my nerves.

In the Neurologist's waiting room was a magazine with an article on the importance of self-diagnosis with mystery diseases. I am now wondering if I have stumbled on what I have and this brings me back to my mother's warning.

Here are my symptoms: An odd-gait, weakness in my arms and legs, unsteady balance, fatigue, problems making decisions, becoming disorganized (organization being one of my past strongpoints) and lapses in memory (memory also being a former strongpoint). These all fit the symptom of Leukoaraiosis or Small Vessel Disease.

What is this exactly? Well, until very recently no one realized such a thing existed. It wasn't until the prevalent use of imaging technology, the Cat Scans and MRIs, that it was discovered and now some believe upward of 60% of older people might be affected. It showed up in these scans as little pinpricks of white scattered about the cerebellum. It was finally determined this was what is called small vessel disease. 

It is basically a lack of oxygen getting into some of the small vessels that run throughout the brain. No one really knows the cause yet. There is some correlation to high blood pressure and diabetes. I don't have diabetes, but I've had high blood pressure most my life and have taken controlling medication for it. My blood pressure readings are very good.

Obviously, the motor skills can be interfered with, thus ataxic gait. I have been having problems with focus and definitely a growing number of memory lapses. (I really need to speed up writing my memoirs before I forget everything. The scary part of this is it can progress to vascular dementia.

What leads me to think this may be my problem? It was because I remembered the term small vessel disease from somewhere in all my medical adventures, and sure enough, there it was in the report by my Neurosurgeon.

"MRI of the brain performed 7/7/2016 demonstrates periventricular white matter disease consistent with small vessel ischemic disease as well as some diffuse atrophy of the brain."

This can be treated with the possibility of complete reversal, but first somebody other than myself needs come up with the diagnosis. You know what is always said, the faster you identify the problem the better the odds of cure. However, my cast of doctors are really dragging their feet. I was told that sub-specialist would call either last Wednesday or Thursday to set an appointment. No call came. I called the Neurologist office inquiring this morning, but as of two o'clock no one has returned my call. 

Or perhaps my mother was right all those years ago and my excessive reading simply wore out my brain.