Sunday, August 23, 2020

The Walking Dog Is Slowing Down

(Revised October 14, 2020)

Tempus fugit. Time flies. The sweet dog we rescued as a senior is now advanced-senior. Ellie still pleads at some point every day for a walk, but then she hesitates at the door as though asking herself, "Do I really want to do this? Am I up for it?" She pants heavily before we take the first step. And if she takes care of her business within just a few blocks, she often turns us around and wants to head home instead of walking a few miles.

These days, Ellie also frequently passes on breakfast, which is something she never used to do. She is hungry by suppertime, though, so that's good. She can no longer jump on the bed, and she can get onto a sofa only with much difficulty and sometimes after failed leaps.

So a lot has changed. She's not just losing a step; she's losing three. I adopted her as a senior dawg so I knew this time was coming. Still, it's hard. The joy is still there when she manages to lie down on a corner of the sofa next to my recliner and snuggle with me and slumber while I gently pat her head. Ellie is another in a long line of dear sweet family dogs who have done so much to keep me active while boosting my morale. I hope that after this summer of miserable humidity we both can perk up and enjoy our walks once again.

Time does indeed fly, and sometimes it is hard to keep track of your faithful companion's age. When Ellie was up for adoption, the rescue people labeled her as 7 years old. I think they estimated on the low side in the interest of landing her a forever home. (Wouldn't blame them if they did.) Family and friends said her graying indicated she was closer to 8 or 9.  Doing the math, she could be close to 13 or 14 years old now, exceeding the average life expectancy of a retriever. The family lost dear Dasher, a yellow lab, earlier this year to cancer before he reached his 10th birthday.

On the positive side, Ellie still shows her zest for life -- her joie de vivre as the French would say. Even if she doesn't wind up walking very far, she still usually wants to go out the door and walk. She remains my faithful assistant in walking me through the ups and downs of seniorhood. In appreciation of that, I wrote an essay about our journeys for a contest sponsored by the Petco Foundation for the benefit of animal rescue organizations around the country. (All 4 Paws in Pawleys Island, S.C. is the wonderful organization that connected us to Ellie.) Winning essays snag much-needed money for their local rescues. Given that some 10,000 essays are usually entered, it is a long shot that mine (entitled "How My Rescue Dog Walked My Senior Sadness Away") will win. In any event, I would like to post my piece here by the turn of 2021. Petco announces the winners during blessed Christmastide.

                                   © Robert G. Holland  2020

Tuesday, July 21, 2020

Hurricanes on Top of Pandemic?

Given the spread of the coronavirus, some South Carolina folks have mused about posting "No Hurricanes Allowed!" signs along our coastlines for the rest of the year. Dealing with a pandemic and another hurricane like Florence in September 2018 or Matthew in October 2016 (or huge Hazel from back in '54) is painful to contemplate. Nevertheless, Mother Nature does her own thing. And I am fully anticipating at least one major 'cane in the August/September/October timeframe. (After all, could 2020 -- the freaky year of calamities, natural or manmade -- be complete without a few hurricanes?)

Heat fuels these monsters. It's not just that it's been unrelentingly blistering here on the coast and farther inland, with a long series of 100-plus "real-feel"readings and no end in sight. The big deal is that ocean temps in the storm-brewing cauldrons are frightfully high -- way up in the 80s! And the Sarahan sand clouds that have been suppressing tropical-storm development are now dissipating.

So the course I am beginning to stay now is hurricane prep. Having lived through dozens of these starting with Hazel, I am probably ahead of the game. Nevertheless, there are gaps and unknowns in my plan. Such as where would we go in the event we decided to evacuate. 

We've only done that once. It was when trackers detected a late wobble by Florence that seemed to put us directly in the crosshairs. (Turns out, it wobbled again after we left, so our home was intact, thank goodness, when we finally were able to return.) The state's official hurricane planner advises that you decide months ahead of time where you will stay when you evacuate. The big problem with that is that hurricanes often set out in directions not foreseen. We headed north to our long-time home city of Richmond, and damned if the remnants of Florence didn't follow us! The swirling winds spawned a record outbreak of tornadoes in and around Richmond -- nearly 20 in one day, and we barely dodged a couple of them. And then in trying to go home we found that Florence flooding had blocked off major southbound routes forcing us to do a long western end run in order to find an opening. So evacuation is no picnic.

We have sheltered in place without harm for several Category 1 hurricanes (74-95 mph). Matthew's back winds may have touched Cat 2 (96-110) and it was scary as hell but we survived. Cat 3-5 -- no thank you! Would need to skedaddle -- to wherever. South Dakota maybe.

Whether staying or going, it is important to have a disaster kit at the ready. We are doing well with stocking some things, such as a portable radio, extra batteries, all our meds and first-aid items, a NOAA weather radio, flashlights with extra batteries, and waterproof case for all important documents. We are storing bottled water. You should have drinking water stored in airtight containers amounting to one gallon per person per day. And at least a week's supply. In case you're sheltering in place, you also should have water stored in case waterwater disposal is disrupted. A family of four might need 25 gallons for sanitary purposes. We fill up old two-liter soda bottles and save them for that.

Of course, we would never forget our beloved dog. So extra food for her, leash, carrier, vaccination records. And I guess you really do need to research in advance the location of pet-friendly motels within your zone of possible evacuation. Wouldn't want to be flitting between motels trying to find one at a time of emergency.

Something I need to find is a reliable mobile device charger in the event power goes off at home or if you are at a remote location. Not even sure how those work or where you find them. Maybe someone can educate me. Got to stay connected.

One item on the disaster kit list is hand sanitizer. Thanks to the pandemic, we have tons of that now, though it was hard to find for a while.

My family kids me about being such a disaster-planning nut. Maybe someday they will thank me.

© Robert Gray Holland  2020

Tuesday, July 7, 2020

Pedaling Through a Pandemic

It is hard to stay a course with great cheer during this Year of the Pandemic that is trying on so many fronts. On top of that, as I write this, we are socked in with what is shaping up to a week's worth of off-and-on tropical downpours. Nevertheless, let us power on and think good thoughts.

I am deriving some joy from a new fitness gadget I found on the Internet: a "Magnetic Under Desk Elliptical." Caught my attention with the declaration that it came "fully assembled," a plus for a Dad who spent many a Christmas Eve struggling to help Santa put toys together. And indeed it did come completely assembled, and tightly packed so as to keep all parts intact:  Pedal-ready right out of the box. As the name suggests, you can place it under your desk and get in a little pedaling exercise while you do things like update your social media. However, even more ideal, I find, is syncing with a lift recliner like the one I purchased for recovery after my open-heart surgery last September.

The lift will take you up high so you can stand up without having to put any strain on your arms. I found the upright position the perfect angle for pedaling the portable (25-pound) elliptical. For a little upper-body work at the same time I use some stretch bands that physical therapists have gifted me over the years. 

Obviously this is far from a complete fitness program; however, it is a nice supplement to my daily dogwalking, and something that can be done at home when Covid-19 still makes visits to gyms problematic. I might get a recumbent exercise bike, too, but this mini-elliptical doesn't hog space like an x-bike does. You can find this gadget and others like it on Amazon, if you're interested. The company is Sunny Health and Fitness.

Below is a selfie of my grizzled legs grinding away on the elliptical, from an upright position in the lift recliner.

This little gizmo also has an exercise computer that gives you: speed, time, distance, and calories. And there is easy-to-use knob to adjust tension.

During stay-at-home recommendations (or orders), I see many adults, even of my advanced age, out pedaling bicycles on the neighborhood streets. Good for them! However, my own preference for outdoor exercise is walking. I can enjoy the sights and sounds more that way than if having to worry about being blindsided by a kid riding a motor scooter recklessly or an inattentive motorist failing to give space to pedalers. And my senior dog likes me to walk her.

May you find your own rays of sunshine in these rather gloomy times. And stay safe.

© Robert Gray Holland  2020

Saturday, April 18, 2020

In the Basket of Vulnerability

Fellow vulnerables, rise up! You have nothing to lose except your sheltered status. 

Okay, if "deplorables" can achieve noun status (thank you, Hillary Clinton), so too can "vulnerables," meaning those souls currently packed into a basket of vulnerability for the duration of the coronavirus crisis.

On the bright side, fellow vulnerables, our country may have reached at least a tentative consensus that our lives still have some worth. (At times, that hasn't seemed to be a given.) We are atop the CDC's list of vulnerable people who need extra  protection from the severe illness that COVID-19 can inflict. 

People 65 and over, all of them; that's us. Vulnerables all. You could own a health-food store and run ultra-marathons. No matter. You are a vulnerable. Lockdown for you.

True, there are other people of varying ages who have medical conditions making them high-risk also. Those immunocompromised, or having chronic lung disease, serious heart conditions, diabetes, or kidney or liver disease. "Serious" obesity (defined as a body mass index 40 or higher) also makes you a vulnerable.

In these trying times, is it good to be a vulnerable? Well, yes and no. It is nice to be deemed worthy of protection, I suppose. Indeed, the plan to beat back the pandemic logically could have centered aggressively on the over-65 population given that as economist David Stockman deduced from NewYork data, three-fourths of pandemic victims are Medicare beneficiaries. 

Nevertheless, if that means being confined inside four walls week after week with little opportunity for fresh air, sunshine, exercise, and social interaction, I'm going to venture that that kind of existence is not necessarily healthy for vulnerables or anyone else.

Consider the Trump-plus-Governors plan for gradual recovery from the economic crash caused by the pandemic freak-out and shutdown.

In Phase One, people can start going back to work, and to restaurants and gyms when precautions like "social distancing" are practiced. However, "all vulnerable individuals should continue to shelter in place." Not only that but when workers come home, the government says they should "isolate from vulnerable residents." 

What a happy life, huh, fellow vulnerables? Go to your room and take your evening pills. Watch the Andy Griffin Show or I Love Lucy. Go to bed early and we'll see you at breakfast. Oh wait, we'll leave your breakfast at your bedroom door before we leave for work. What about a vulnerable who has gotten in decent shape by working out at the gym regularly? Can't go there, even if keeping a distance from others? Guess not. 

Must all be pushed into victimhood even if many still have plenty of vim and vigor?

Even in Phase Two, when the pace of life greatly accelerates, the government asserts that "all vulnerable individuals should continue to shelter in place," and when others come home they should "isolate from vulnerable residents." All means all. That's the way government rolls. One size fits all.

 Finally in Phase Three (however far down the road that may be), vulnerables can resume some "public interaction" but must minimize "exposure to social settings where distancing may not be practiced...." So a hug would be out of the question. Maybe earn you a fine or solitary confinement.

This supposed vulnerable has stayed home a lot and ordered groceries online for the first time ever. However, I do escape into the great outdoors every day, in the company of my trusty walkin' dog Ellie. 

Today, I even shook a hand (a distancing no-no) as a friendly guy jumped out of his pickup truck to congratulate me on a defense of senior exercise I wrote for a community online forum. In that piece, I took offense at an anonymous letter shoved into my mailbox that mocked me for walking my dog "with great difficulty" and not cleaning up after her. The truth is I always scoop the poop and deposit it in a dog-waste station our HOA provides. But what really irked me was this guy (or gal) belittling how I walk -- with a walking stick and a back brace for a little extra support. 

My takeaway from the unsigned letter was expression of an attitude of contempt for elderly people. I'd be glad to compare vitals (bp, cholesterol, etc) any time this person might want to emerge from behind the cloak of anonymity and have a neighborly conversation. After two open-heart surgeries, a total knee replacement, and a continuing battle with spinal stenosis, I think I am walking pretty damn well. And I am not as vulnerable as some might assume.

                       © Robert Gray Holland 2020

Wednesday, April 15, 2020

Cardinal Principle: Life Goes On

In the early morning hours of Easter Monday, a powerful springtime storm inflicted a lot of pain on South Carolinians. Communities from the Blue Ridge foothills to the Atlantic coast took hits from several major tornadoes. One of them struck about 30 miles north of Charleston, then headed up the coast, up our way. Fortunately, it veered slightly east when it reached our county, heading out into the ocean, and missing us by maybe 5 miles. These twisters killed at least nine people, and caused massive property damage, but we were spared. The weather radio crackled warnings for hours in the predawn darkness. I am saddened for the horrific losses so many suffered but grateful we were so fortunate this time.

We did receive wind gusts approaching tropical storm speed. So checking the backyard later in the day, I was amazed to find the nest I had been watching a female cardinal build twig by twig for a week had survived intact. It is wedged into a fork in one of our fig trees, and is so large you'd think this mama-to-be fancied a two-story house. When time comes, she will incubate her eggs for 11 to 14 days while the papa cardinal does some work finally by feeding her. When the chicks arrive, ma and pa cardinals will share the feeding duties. About 10 days after hatching, the redbird chicks start getting flying lessons. 

It has been a joy to watch this renewal of life unfold. The nest is only maybe 5 feet from my bedroom window, and it is adjacent to the backyard patio, so I can see a good bit of what's happening without being an intrusive human.

What a blessing it has been to follow this saga. For a while I forget about the virus and threats to public health and economic well-being. Here, in my now-peaceful backyard is reassurance that life goes on.

Thursday, February 20, 2020

Breaking Out of February Doldrums

It is 02/20/2020. Let's be happy, shall we?

I know this February is a bit of a downer.

There is politics. Less said, the better. At least on this politics-free blog.

There is rain. And rain. And rain. And flooding, such as the major inundation in Jackson, Mississippi.

And snow -- in the Carolinas tonight! A local TV reporter spoke of a bad 4-letter word, meaning snow. No. The bad one is 3-letter: Ice. That's the one that causes falls and crackups. Be careful!

For my part, this February brings a nice transition -- from the conclusion of 36 sessions of cardiac rehabilitation to the return to senior fitness class at our local core fitness club.

I was a regular in Sarah Parker's class for close to three years until last spring when medical imaging showed that I had a dangerously large aortic aneurysm, a prime candidate for rupturing. So I had to suspend class in order to prepare for surgery and have the surgery at UNC/Chapel Hill and recover and rehab from it -- all of which separated me from the best fitness class I have ever had. For close to 10 months I was a no-show - and, boy, did I miss this class!

So yesterday, 02/19, I returned -- and what a welcome I received! -- from our teacher and from the guys and gals in the class. Many of them have had their own major health challenges: open-heart surgeries, hip/shoulder/knee replacements, and other medical adventures that come along during our life journeys. But on this day, they made me feel special. How fulfilling it is when you find out you were missed and you are welcomed back with open arms.

Sarah, who has had extensive training in senior fitness, guides us through 50 minutes of exercises geared to improving strength, flexibility, and balance. We laugh a good bit, too, while modifying exercises to our own capabilities at any particular time. And laughter is maybe the best medicine of all.

So for me this February is about a joyful comeback. Exercise makes me happy. I wish happiness for all this February even when days are gloomy.

© Robert Gray Holland  2020

The Walking Dog Is Slowing Down

(Revised October 14, 2020) Tempus fugit . Time flies. The sweet dog we rescued as a senior is now advanced-senior. Ellie still pleads at som...