Jammin’

According to the On This Day app on Facebook, Dave and I signed the lease for our house a year ago today. June 2015 has been much more calm and stress-free than June 2014, thank God.

Even though the house was ours as of July 1, we had so much still to do at the old house that we didn’t move until the last week of July. We drove here a few times during the month, though, bringing things with us each time (to lessen the possibility of not having enough room in the Relocubes for all our stuff). We had to come out to pick up the keys, get the gas turned on, get the cable set up – that kind of stuff. During one of the visits for setting up utilities, we wandered the yard and picked a bunch of berries, then brought them back and froze them.

At the time, I didn’t really pay attention to the difference between mulberries and raspberries; I just knew we had them both, and they were both a dark purple color. When we picked them, I just tossed all the berries in the same bucket. Now I can easily tell the difference – mulberries grow on trees, raspberries on bushes. Mulberries, to me, have kind of a flat, sweet flavor (and no seeds). Raspberries have an acidic, tart note to go along with their sweet berry flavor, and tons of seeds. Plus they look totally different, now that I know what I’m doing.

This year it was fun to walk around and keep tabs on the berries as they ripened. I watched the mulberries as they first formed, saw the raspberry brambles fill with life. The mulberries ripened first, and we entertained ideas of harvesting them (put a sheet under the tree, then shake the tree … which always makes me think of the song The Joker). Then we kind of wimped out and decided it wasn’t worth it – all those little stems, and the fruit is okay but (in my opinion) would need to be mixed with something else, like rhubarb, to brighten the taste.

Raspberries, though – I just love them. Dave isn’t crazy about the seeds, but he likes them too. I’ve been watching the berries turn red for the past week or two, and now the berries are turning purple hand over fist.

Ripening raspberries (not pictured: all the daddy long leg spiders that hang out in these bushes, ugh)

Ripening raspberries (not pictured: all the daddy long leg spiders that hang out in these bushes, ugh)

Before raspberries, though, strawberries came into season here. (They don’t call this area the Fruit Belt for nothing!) We picked up a couple pints from a local farm stand, then a quart from a farmer’s market, and then we went all in with a flat from Shelton’s Farm Market when they went on sale. We froze most of them, made strawberry shortcake, made strawberry rhubarb compote more than once, and then I decided I wanted to make strawberry jam.

Dave is the one that does the canning around here, although I’ve gotten more involved in recent years. This time, though, I wanted to try it myself. I didn’t want to actually can the jam in a water bath though; we should really use a canning element on the electric stove here, and we don’t have one. (If we do any heavy duty canning this year, it will probably be outside on a camp stove.) I found an all-purpose jam recipe that made a smaller quantity, and I figured I’d throw a half pint in the fridge, and put the rest in the freezer.

I cooked the heck out of the strawberry puree (the recipe didn’t use pectin) and even though I cooked it far longer than the recipe called for, it never really set up like jam. It was more like a compote or sauce; it was delicious, but it wasn’t jam. (It kicks ass on vanilla ice cream and vanilla yogurt, however.)

I did some searching on strawberry freezer jam, trying to find out what I did wrong. I figured that was what freezer jam was – you cooked it up, and then put it in the freezer instead of canning it. Instead I found an even easier method, better suited for hot summer days because you don’t cook it at all.

So that was experiment #2. I picked up some instant pectin at the store (I love how easy it is to find things like that at the stores around here; I even found rennet tablets the other day so now I can finally try making cheese other than ricotta) and gave it a shot. All you do is mash/puree the fruit, add some sugar (far less than you do if you’re cooking it) and the pectin, pour it into jars and you are DONE.

Can I say again how much I love the fact that I can make jam without heating the house up in the summer, when all the berries are in season? When you don’t have central air, you embrace all the non-hot cooking methods you can.

The flavor is all fruit – it stays bright and fresh-tasting because it isn’t cooked down. (Not that I mind the flavor of traditional jams, mind you!) I like that you can be flexible with flavor combinations; this afternoon I’m making a mixed berry jam using blueberries and raspberries. Cherries are in season next; last year we missed cherry season by about one week, which was heartbreaking.

We just bought a chest freezer and if I’m not careful, it’s going to be full of nothing but jam and frozen fruit. ;)

Words Are Very Unnecessary

On our way home from Dave’s one-month checkup with his hepatologist in Fort Wayne, we stopped at Subway for lunch. Although we like the food, Dave kind of hates going there because the ordering process confounds him. They ask a lot of questions, and for someone with hearing loss that’s a real drag.

I have an easier time with this kind of thing (as long as it’s in person) because I lipread, so I am usually the one to order. I just consult Dave first to make sure what he wants, or if he starts to order himself then I will relay the questions to him if he misses them.

Since it was just a light lunch, we did our usual and got the same sandwich in the foot-long size, and then split it. This location had a drive-through but we decided to go inside because I really struggle to understand anything through those speakers.

We were the only customers, and as we walked up to the counter the guy started talking. I wasn’t close enough to read his lips and had no clue what he said (he was talking really fast and also had a bit of a southern accent). I did my usual and just assumed what he probably said based on my past visits to Subway.

Well yes, I can relate to this.

Well yes, I can relate to this.

I told him the type of sandwich we wanted and the type of bread. He said something else that I missed, but I knew they usually asked about cheese and I thought I’d caught part of his question. “Did you say something about pepperjack cheese?” He nodded, and I confirmed that we wanted it. Then he asked if we wanted it toasted, which caught me off guard. I had to have him repeat the question a couple of times. After I answered him, I added, “I’m deaf and I’m reading your lips, so that’s why I sometimes miss what you say.”

Now, usually I add that I have cochlear implants and I hear with them; that way people know that I do hear sound but they also know that I’m reading their lips as well. But I figured eh, this is just a quick lunch order and why go into all that detail? Here’s what happened when I just let that statement hang in the air without further clarification:

The guy stopped talking.

He had been keeping up a constant patter while we were there, which was making it hard for me to tell if he was asking a question, making a comment about our order, or even perhaps just talking to himself. My statement silenced him, and what a gift it was!

He quietly made the sandwich and just kind of looked up when he got to the veggies, waving his hand vaguely in the direction of the options available. I smiled and said we just wanted tomato, nothing else, and no sauce.

Obviously he thought I couldn’t hear anything and there was no point in really talking to me anymore, so he resorted to his version of sign language – and it was perfectly fine with me (even preferable, if I’m being honest). I thought it was kind of hilarious; it’s been a long time since I’ve had someone react that way when I say I’m deaf. Even before I got my CIs and I really couldn’t hear, when I told someone I was deaf and reading lips, they would still keep talking to me the same way they had been.

(Before I get to my next story, I have to interject and say that Dave had his viral load tested at this appointment, and we got the results yesterday. As of one month into his three month treatment with Harvoni and Ribavirin, he has cleared the Hepatitis C virus! He never cleared it in 2013; he went from over 4 million to 11,000 but that was as low as it went. This time he started at over 3 million and BOOM … now it’s undetected. ! ! ! !)

The other hearing loss-related thing that happened around here was during a power outage. The power really doesn’t go out very often here, and when it does they get it back on within a few hours (at the most). It seems to go out at weird times, though, not during storms. The last time was about a week ago, after we’d had some rain come through. During the storms all was well, but about 3:15 in the morning my eyes just kind of flew open. I could feel that something wasn’t right; I just didn’t know what it was. I realized Dave wasn’t in bed, and then I looked over at the clock and saw that it was off – we had a power outage.  (Dave had realized about five minutes before me and was getting candles.)

It wasn’t hot so we didn’t have fans on (or else the room suddenly getting hot would have woken me up). I realized that when I’m sleeping I’m more sensitive to light (and the lack of it) than I realized. I always assumed I wouldn’t wake up from a strobe light on a smoke detector, and that I’d need something that vibrated the bed to wake me up. (Those systems are, by the way, very expensive.) Now I’m kind of wondering if the strobe light would actually do the trick. I must be more sensitive to that kind of thing when I’m sleeping since I don’t have hearing to rely on. Very interesting!

 

Short People and 5Ks

I mentioned a while back that Dave and I signed up to walk our first 5K. It was this past Saturday, and I’m happy to report that we finished (and far from last place).

As I do with every first-time experience, I researched as much as I could ahead of time. Every time I mentioned what I thought I’d wear or eat that day, Dave would chuckle and say, “It’s just a 5K! It’s not that big a deal, relax.” He used to run 10Ks, even a half marathon, back in the day and had actually never done a shorter race like a 5K. Finally I had to explain to him that even though it doesn’t seem like much, 3.1 miles is a big deal to a non-athlete like me.

I worried quite a bit about the weather. I didn’t really care if it was going to be hot that day because we’d be walking at 8:30 am, but I really didn’t want to deal with rain. My cochlear implant processors can resist a light drizzle, but serious rain would not be cool. I probably would have taken a pass on doing the 5K if it was a downpour, because I’m not into trudging 3.1 miles totally deaf in wet clothes and wet shoes.

We went the afternoon before and picked up our race packet. I was expecting something like a big envelope with lots of documentation – I’m a weirdo that reads through ALL the printed material I receive, especially for something I’m clueless about. Instead, we checked a board (outside the hospice facility that was holding the race) for our race numbers, walked inside and gave our numbers to a lady who presented us with the … thing that has our race number on it, whatever it’s called (the thing you pin to your shirt). We grabbed some pins, moved further along and were handed our race shirts (really cute, blue tie-dye) and a little backpack thing. Then we headed back out to our car (after I asked someone where we should park the next morning).

I assumed the backpack had all the paperwork inside. We were about halfway home when I opened it up and found only a magnet for a local business, and a water bottle. I flipped the number thing over and saw a strip attached to it, so I assumed that was the timing chip. After I freaked out a little bit (poor Dave, dealing with my Virgo personality), I went back to the website when we got home and re-read all the information a bit obsessively until I was satisfied.

The next morning I had an English muffin with some apple butter (which turned out to be just the right amount of food) and we headed out at about 7 am. We got there about 40 minutes before the race started, so we walked around (there were LOTS of people milling around the parking lot), I used the porta-potty, we took pictures … and then it started raining so we went under the awning and prayed for the rain to stop.

It did, in plenty of time, and the walk itself was completely dry (if a bit humid and muggy). We walked into the street to line up at about 8:20. There were guys holding signs that said ‘Runners – 5 min mile’ (plus 8 min and 10 min, possibly other times too). We got pretty far back from the 10 minute mile sign, and eventually I looked around and saw a guy holding a sign that said ‘Walkers’ so we moved over behind him. (I just realized the Walking Dead reference there … hah.)

It was packed and a lot of the time I had to keep pace with the people in front of me. We walked for quite a while on uneven cobblestone streets, so I was spending a lot of time watching the ground in front of me to make sure I didn’t trip. Eventually I hopped up on the sidewalk and was able to go faster that way. But really, being short when you’re doing a race like this (running or walking) just sucks. (I’m barely 5’1”.) I had to take a good four steps for every one being taken by anybody 5’4” or taller. I was working my ASS off, walking so fast I couldn’t really hold a conversation, and up ahead of me would be taller people just casually strolling along, chatting with their companion like it was no big deal … and I couldn’t catch up to them. It was really maddening!

I did end up jogging in a couple places – once when we were going down a hill, and a couple times to get around people who were walking slower than I wanted to. Dave let me set the pace, and he said afterward that I surprised him with how fast I was walking. I felt kind of bad, like I was holding him back – I knew he’d never walked a race, only jogged, and I told him he could jog if he wanted to. He admitted that he would never jog a race again – he prefers to walk now. That made me feel a little better. ;)

For a while it felt like the race would never end; I was getting sweaty and tired and I kept up that fast, fast pace (for me, anyway) the whole time. Just when I was starting to despair, I saw the finish line come into view. We walked faster, then I looked back at Dave, nodded and started to jog. We jogged over the finish line and somehow he passed me, so he finished at 48:47 and I finished at 48:48, with an average pace of 15:43 per mile. Not bad for two old fogies! :)

Our first 5K together

Our first 5K together

I did notice that lots of people were mixing jogging and running; I have no idea how many were joggers that switched to walking, or walkers who threw in a jog here and there (like us). That was also something I agonized over – is it okay to jog a bit if you sign up to walk? Apparently it is.

We were tired but we felt great when we finished. They had all kinds of stuff set out to eat – donuts, bagels, pastries, bananas and orange quarters, plus bottled water. I grabbed a water, looked at the donuts and felt completely grossed out, and grabbed an orange quarter. It was like nectar, seriously. I told Dave, “If you’d told me beforehand that I would choose an orange quarter over a donut, I’d have said you were nuts.” I just couldn’t fathom really eating after all that exercise though.

We will definitely do more 5K races in the future, but Dave wants to wait until his Hep C treatment is complete (and I don’t blame him). I also really don’t want to do a race when it’s hot, so that’s even more reason to wait until Sept. to look for more races to enter.

Hopefully by then we’ll have a chance to get more walks in through the summer and the next one will be a little easier. It would help if I could grow five inches by then, but something tells me that’s not gonna happen.

Not Exactly the Mother’s Day Gift I Was Looking For

Sung to the tune of ‘Eleanor Rigby':

All the baby spiders
Where do they all come from?
All the baby spiders
Where do they all belong?

Auuughhhh, look at all the baby spiders …

I opened the bathroom cabinet the other night, grabbed my bottles of Clear Care and saline solution, and then noticed something hanging off the saline solution bottle.  Upon closer inspection, I realized it was a baby spider — black, no bigger than the head of a pin.  I killed it (I’m not afraid of the teeny tiny ones) and didn’t think much of it.  Then I went to put the bottle away.

AAAIIIIEEEEE

Heavens!

Next to where the bottle had been was a stack of Dixie cups.  I saw about six baby spiders making webs and hanging off the stack, so I grabbed it, rinsed off the cups (and the spiders) and gave an involuntary shudder.  Then I inspected the bathroom cabinet more carefully.  After picking up a few more things, I found and killed a couple more spiders.  Then I went to the bedroom, where Dave was reading, to have a gentle freak-out session.

He came and inspected the cabinet more thoroughly, pronounced it spider-free, and went back to bed.  Ever since, I open the cabinet a few times a day and peer around.  (All of my toiletries have been moved somewhere else for the time being.)

I’ve killed a couple here and there since then, but nothing like that first night.  STILL.  Spiders have hundreds of babies!  Where the hell are they?  (Do I want to know?)

And before you get your knickers in a knot, I am not about to let hundreds of baby spiders mature in my home.  Sorry — they get killed if I find them.  I hate spiders.  HATE them.  I know people are all, ‘Blah, blah, they kill flies!’ But you know what?  I’d rather have a fly in my house than a spider.

Trying to decide if perhaps it’s better to burn the bathroom down than to try to find the rest of them.  Happy Mother’s Day!

Hep C, Writing, Fitbit, House

“It says here that I should eat ice cream every day.” Dave looked up from his computer screen and smiled.

I have to give him points for trying – ice cream every day would take the sting out of going through treatment for Hepatitis C a second time.

His new treatment starts next week, and it goes for three months this time. He’ll be taking a new drug, Harvoni (I keep wanting to call it Havarti, like the cheese) along with his old friend Ribavirin. No interferon shots this time, thank God. We couldn’t remember if he had to take the drugs with a high-fat snack the way he did last time, so he was doing research to refresh his memory. (Turns out it was the boceprevir that required the high-fat snack, so no requisite Hershey bars or peanut butter this time around.)

This regimen should have way less side effects, although there will still be a few from the Ribavirin. (If he was treatment-naïve, he would just take the Harvoni which has very few side effects.) We’ll be making bi-weekly trips to Fort Wayne to pick up his medicine (he gets a two week supply each time) and have them check his labs.

I didn’t mean to let so much time go by without an update. I was taking an online class on how to make money from your writing, and it ended this month. By the end of the class I was feeling like I just wanted to write here and not try to actually make any money by writing – and then I stopped writing here, go figure. It was pretty eye-opening, though, and I’m glad I took the class. I had a lot of misconceived notions about writing for magazines, for instance. I didn’t realize that you don’t actually write a piece and submit it (unless it’s an essay, which I discovered is the type of writing I prefer). A magazine article is just an idea when you send a query to a magazine – ‘Hey, how about I write on this subject for you?’ – and then you wait to find out if anyone is interested. If they are, then you write the article.

And a book – well, my memoir has been stalled for months, so it’s not like I was on the verge of being done or anything, but I was still thinking of book publishing as ‘write a book, submit the manuscript and hope it gets accepted, if it does then the publisher promotes it and you hope people buy it.’ No sir. It’s more like, write a book and then try to convince a publisher to accept it by showing how popular you are and all the things YOU can do to promote it. I have NO desire to try to sell a book. I don’t want to have to give talks or readings, I don’t want to do interviews, I don’t want to spend my days begging my friends to buy my book. I just want to write, man. So I figured, screw it, I’m just going to satisfy my urge to write through my blog. And then, like I said, I stopped writing.

I was very caught up in the whole ‘I am not a writer if I don’t get paid for what I write’ thing and it was really messing with my head. So I backed off of everything for a while, I guess.

In other exciting news, sort of related to writing, I got a Fitbit last week. Influenster offered me the eBay Guide badge, where you earn a $25 eBay gift card by writing two eBay guides. It took forever and a day to have both of the guides accepted (they read them and approve them one at a time) and then to actually get the gift card, which was sent in the mail. While I was trying to figure out what to spend it on, they offered me an eBay Guide VIP badge for another $25 gift card. I decided to do two more guides, and held onto the first gift card so I could combine them. The second gift card came via email and voila, I had $50 to spend on eBay.

I had done some research on the Fitbit, and decided on either the Flex or the Charge. I don’t use it for phone stuff so the only thing the Charge really offered that the Flex didn’t have was an on-screen display. I did some pricing and realized I could get the Flex for very little of my own money, so that sealed my decision. I finally snagged a slate blue Fitbit Flex for $60 with free shipping, used my $50 in gift cards and got myself a Fitbit for the low, low out-of-my-pocket price of $10.

I am properly obsessed right now, and I do find myself extending my workouts to get in at least 10,000 steps a day if I can. I don’t really bother with the calorie portion of the app because I use the Livestrong MyPlate website to track my calories, but I do take note of the calories I supposedly burned (according to Fitbit) versus the calories I consumed (according to MyPlate).

I am holding steady with my weight, and I just have seven measly pounds to get to my ultimate, in-my-dreams goal. However, I’ve been within 4 to 7 pounds of that goal for nearly a year now. Maybe the Fitbit will take me over the top. If nothing else, I’ll be more active. Win, win!

Now I’ve gotten a third eBay Guide badge, the VIP Plus, for another $25 gift card. I completed those guides and they were accepted right away, so I’m waiting for the gift card (it usually takes a few weeks). Let me just say, finding topics that I could write on was really hard. You have to use the Influenster topic suggestion tool and use something from there. You click on this ‘inspire me’ button and it spins around and throws out a topic. Most of them were for things I’d never even heard of, or had no idea what to write about (how to replace a manual transmission; pricing Pokemon cards; birds of Asia). I lucked out with a couple of candle topics, one on canning, DIY hair stuff, things like that. It took a lot of clicking to get there, though.

I think we are finally ready to give the garden a go. Dave is out burning the brush pile right now; it has to go because it’s currently in the area we plan to till. Well, I think we may have someone come in and do the tilling for us. We’ve figured the cost of renting a tiller AND a truck (because we can’t fit the tiller in our Hyundai Sonata), and it may be cheaper just to pay someone to come do it for us with their own equipment. One way or another, though, the garden area should be prepared in the next couple of weeks and we can finally begin planting. One more thing – we finally started a compost pile. I’ve never had one, so I keep having to dig through the trash to pull out vegetable peelings, egg shells and the like.

We will miss this little house when we move on, but it won’t be until 2016 at the earliest. Last year was so full of trauma and upheaval, and we are looking forward to just staying put for this year. It is so nice to wake up every day feeling relaxed, wondering where the day will take us. Every day we find new flowers coming up, new buds on the trees. I’m already looking forward to mulberries and raspberries.

Raspberries from our yard last year

Raspberries from our yard last year

It Only Took 32 Years

… for me to change my attitude on exercise.

When I was in high school, we were required to take gym class. Except for the times we were doing special units (my favorites were roller skating and gymnastics), we had to run a mile every week. We’d get out on the track and, in my case, huff and puff until the punishment was done. I hated doing the mile. Hated it.

It didn’t matter that I was really skinny in high school; I was not physically fit at all. In the beginning, I’d kind of jog along with everybody until I got too tired, and then I’d walk. As the months went by I just said ‘screw this’ and walked right from the start. I was usually last to finish, and I didn’t care.

I often wonder if we’d ever been taught how to work up to running – you know, a Couch to 5K kind of thing – then maybe I wouldn’t have hated it so much. I just could not jog for that long without physical pain. It taught me to hate jogging with a passion.

When I saw my doctor last month for my new patient physical, she asked if I exercised and I told her that I jogged on a mini trampoline daily. “I’m trying to transition to jogging outside,” I added, “but it’s so hard.” “Oh, walking is better for you,” she replied. “There’s less chance for injury.”

When my physical was over, I had a blood test. I was curious to see how my cholesterol levels responded to the daily exercise and 35 pound weight loss. My blood pressure was already showing positive changes; even though I was nervous as hell at my doctor appointment, my blood pressure was 112/70. (I take medication for it.) I see the doctor again in September and there’s even a chance she might take me off the blood pressure medication, which I’ve been on since 1994.

High cholesterol runs in my family, and although it responds a bit if I lose weight, I usually still have high cholesterol if I don’t take medication for it. I have never exercised regularly though; this is the first time in all of my 50 years that I’ve exercised on a regular basis for more than a couple of weeks. (It’s been about a year and a half for me now.) I think the biggest change was my HDL cholesterol, which went from 45 to 64 – the highest it’s ever been.

My overall cholesterol went down just 4 points, but I’m taking a fibrate instead of a statin so that doesn’t surprise me. (My last doctor was trying to get my triglycerides down, so she switched me from the statin.) The fibrate medication does bring my triglycerides down more but it doesn’t really touch my LDL or overall cholesterol much. I was happy that my overall cholesterol was still under 200, even on the fibrate. My LDL went down 14 points, but it’s still a shade over 100 (which is the ‘optimal’ range).

My triglycerides though – holy crap. They are 71, which is so much lower than I’ve ever been. My highest was 237; that was when I was taking prescription fish oil (Lovaza) and ugh, that stuff was horrible. So I really think the exercise is helping my overall health more than I realized, possibly even more than losing weight.

While I was still riding the high of my much-improved results, I happened to see a small notice in our town paper about a 5K to support a local grief support and hospice program, Lory’s Place. I’d just finished reading Being Mortal and really liked what the author had to say about hospice in general, so I was all for doing something to support them. I talked to Dave and he agreed. So I signed us both up to walk our first 5K on May 16.

We’ve been walking outside every day that it isn’t raining. I was pretty sure we could finish a 5K in an hour; I mean a 20 minute mile sounds so leisurely, you know? But we got out and walked around the backyard one day and I was positively gasping, my heart pounding, my thighs screaming … and it took over 22 minutes to walk one mile.

“I’m going to be last!” I despaired. I’d made the mistake of looking at the past race results and noticed that the slowest walking time was about 1:17. I could see myself slowing down after the first mile and doing my subsequent miles in 25 or more minutes each. I actually made Dave promise that if we were last, he would slow down so I could cross the finish line before him and be second to last. (My husband is such a good guy!)

Of course, jogging is out of the realm of possibility here; I can’t even walk that fast, much less jog. But we made it out to an actual paved trail yesterday and did our mile in exactly 17 minutes, so that gives me hope. I was still panting and gasping at the end, but it’s definitely easier to walk on a paved surface versus our soft, lumpy, molehill-ridden backyard.

I’ve decided to just dial back my competitive nature and do this 5K for the fun experience I hope it will be. Maybe with time and practice, it will get easier. Maybe we’ll even sign up for another one in the future.

If you would have told me back in high school that I’d voluntarily walk 3.1 miles, I would’ve thought you were crazy. At least I don’t have to do it wearing a gym suit. ::shudder::

Feeling Fragile

A couple days ago, we were eating dinner – sweet peppers, kale, ricotta and pasta. The pasta was farfalle (or bow-tie) and I was doing my goofy eating thing where I cut them in half first, separating the two sides with a swift press of my fork or, as the case may be, bite of my teeth.

Normally I use my fork, but this night I was being lazy and just biting them in half. I bit down forcefully and the next thing I know, I was jumping up and yelling, “I think I just cracked my tooth in half!”

When I bit down, I bit down HARD on my fork. I’m surprised I didn’t bite the fork in half along with the pasta.

I ran into the bathroom, expecting to see a jagged remnant of my top front tooth. I bared my teeth, stared – nothing. But I could feel grittiness, the sensation that something was stuck between my top two front teeth; even my bottom front teeth felt gritty and just wrong. Nothing was obviously broken though, so I sat back down. I showed Dave my teeth. He shrugged; he couldn’t see a problem.

I kept eating, kept running my tongue over my teeth. The front of my top front right tooth felt rough and strange. I figured maybe I scraped the enamel with my fork. My bottom teeth didn’t feel as weird but something felt different there too. I got back up to check my teeth in the bathroom mirror.

I stared, really stared, and then I could see it – just a miniscule, teeny tiny chip off the edge of my front teeth, top and bottom. You wouldn’t know they were chipped just by looking. There was no sharp edge. When I went back to show Dave, it took him a long time to even see what I was pointing at. But it was there.

It didn’t hurt, and my teeth weren’t sensitive. Just a stupid mistake on my part but still, it freaked me out.

When I woke up the next day, the first thing I thought of was that I’d chipped my teeth. When it happened the night before, I mainly just felt relief that it was barely anything and not, like, half of each tooth broken off. But the next day, I felt terrible knowing that I’d done such a stupid thing to my teeth, my nearly-perfect teeth that have never given me trouble. I was afraid to bite into anything for fear of my teeth shattering. Suddenly I felt like they were fragile.

Later that day I said to Dave, “I know this is ridiculous, but this tooth stuff is really bothering me. I can’t believe I did that. My teeth were so pretty!” Dave, who has endured years of teeth issues, couldn’t resist chuckling. “I’m afraid to eat corn on the cob!” I pouted. Then he talked me off the mental ledge, reminding me that it wasn’t like I bit into a marshmallow, and that my teeth are fine.

It’s a couple days later now and I’ve calmed down. I still check each morning to make sure my teeth haven’t crumbled in the night, but I’m no longer afraid to eat. (I do eat more delicately.) And it’s a good thing that we already have upcoming dental appointments planned. I don’t expect it to be an issue, but I’ll feel better having a dentist look at them just to be safe.

Yesterday I asked Dave to eat the other half of the banana I was slicing up for my cereal. “You should eat the whole thing!” he protested. “You know, bananas make your teeth grow.”

Smart ass. ;)

Overly Optimistic

When I look out the window, I can still see snow … but most of it is melted. The big piles next to the driveway and car shelter are hanging in there, but for the most part it is a vast swath of brown as far as the eye can see. Mud season!

I think I’ve mentioned before that there’s a surprising number of dirt roads around here. We spent a lot of time last summer and fall driving around the area just to get acquainted with things; we’d be motoring along in a fairly established area and then WHOMP … dirt road. One of the houses Dave was interested in turned out to be on one. He tried to talk me into it (he really liked the house) but I was firm in my refusal to live on a dirt road. This season right here is one of the main reasons.

So anyway, the weather’s been fantastic. It kind of went from a high of 20 degrees to a high of 50 overnight, and we’ve had about a week of weather in the high 40s and 50s. We even have mid-60s predicted for this Monday. At first we went a little crazy, going out in light hoodies (me) or no jacket at all (Dave), but that wore off pretty quickly. Yes, 40 feels like a heat wave compared to 20, but once you get used to it (and the wind kicks in) it can still feel pretty damn chilly.

C'mon sunshine -- we're ready for spring!

C’mon sunshine — we’re ready for spring!

On the first warm day, we drove over to the riverwalk downtown. This is really the only place we know of around here (besides the sidewalks in town) to go for a walk and rest assured you won’t be hit by a car. We are outside of city limits so there’s no sidewalks on our street, and Dave basically refuses to walk on the side of the road. The last time I talked him into taking a walk, we set out facing traffic, with the added precaution of stepping off the road into the grass when a car approached. Our street isn’t that busy, so I really wasn’t worried. After we got about a half mile down the road, though, Dave turned toward me and dourly said, “You know, this is how Stephen King got hit by a truck.” I gave in and we turned back towards home. Our next walk was down by the river, safely ensconced on the sidewalk.

When we pulled in to park by the river on this fine spring-like day, we saw that there were still big mounds of snow across the sidewalk. Nevertheless we walked, dodging snow and huge puddles of water. After a while, Dave nodded at me. “Go ahead. Give it a shot.” I knew he was talking about jogging. I had been itching to get outside and jog for real, after a winter of jogging inside on my trampoline. I was so proud of myself; I had finished the Couch to 5K program and had gotten to a point where I didn’t feel like my lungs were about to burst out of my chest after 40 minutes of jogging. I was ready to sign up to run a 5K. Let me at it, man – I want to run free like a gazelle, under the sunny skies!

I could see that the sidewalk ahead was clear of obstacles, so I set out at a comfortable jog. We won’t call it running – I do more of what Dave calls the Airborne Shuffle. I made it, oh, I don’t know … maybe 20 yards, and then I stopped and looked back at Dave. “This is hard!” I whined.

I was so disappointed. It felt absolutely nothing like jogging on my mini trampoline. Every time my feet hit the pavement, I felt the shockwave through my body. My upper thighs were screaming and my heart was pounding.

I seriously thought I was just going to float down that sidewalk like the runners I see around town, moving effortlessly, their ponytails swinging to and fro. The transition to outside running was a complete shock to me as I lumbered along.

“Am I doing it wrong? Is there something wrong with my form?” I thought maybe if I changed some small thing, it would feel better. “No, you’re fine,” Dave reassured me. “It’s just a different muscle motion when you run outside. You’ll get used to it.”

So, damn. Guess I gotta start back at square one. If we sign up for a 5K any time soon, it will be to walk the course and not run.

Better than sitting on my butt though, right?

Re-post: Being Bionic

It’s been about two years since I first posted this, and I thought I’d re-post for those who haven’t seen it before:

I realized the other day that there’s a lot of things about having cochlear implants that I assume everyone just knows. When I first started this blog, I think my main ‘audience’ was other people with cochlear implants or who were considering one. As the years go by that’s no longer the case, and there are certain questions that I frequently get asked, so I figured I’d write a little bit about being bionic.

Just as a quick refresher, for anyone who doesn’t already know, I am profoundly deaf. I lost my hearing three separate times during my life, for reasons nobody has ever been able to figure out. So I didn’t grow up deaf (I wore hearing aids). When I lost my hearing the third time, in April 2008, it left me with no usable hearing – I don’t respond to anything on hearing tests, and there is nothing that I hear, even with hearing aids.

I received a cochlear implant in each ear in July 2008. Instead of thousands of little hairs in my cochlea waving around and helping me to hear, I now have a teeny strip of 16 electrodes that do the job. The sound is interpreted by my brain after it’s routed through an internal micro-computer to the electrodes. The signal is transmitted via the headpiece/antenna connected to a processor (also containing a micro-computer) that I wear on my ear; it looks like a big hearing aid. There’s a magnet inside my head, and there’s one in the headpiece that is attached to my CI processor via a wire. The magnets are of opposite polarity. I put the magnet headpiece up to my head, feel around until I can feel the magnet pull, and let go. It clings to my head via the magnet in my skull. Here’s a couple pictures:

My Left Side CI (purple metallic color) My Left Side CI (purple metallic color) A better view of the processor on the ear. A better view of the processor on the ear.

So that’s what I mean when I talk about “having CIs.”

I didn’t have brain surgery. I won’t get graphic (because I don’t know enough to!) but basically they make an incision behind your ear, along the curve, and then (for me, anyway) up and back a bit. They thread the electrodes into the cochlea and they shave/drill some of the skull to fit the magnet/radio antenna component, which is a couple of inches up and back from the ear. (I think this is slightly different for everyone, based on skull thickness.)

When I attach the magnet, it doesn’t hurt; I don’t feel anything at all. Once it connects, there’s a pause and then a woosh of sound as I begin to hear. (If the magnet is not attached, I don’t hear at all.) Now that I have a program called ClearVoice on my CIs, there’s another change as any loud, steady background noise (fans, etc.) gets suppressed.

If I run my fingers over my scalp, I can feel bumps – very, very slight on the right side and very, very noticeable on the left side. They did shave a bit of hair for the surgery, right behind my ear. Since my hair is long, it covered the shaved areas pretty well. For about 6 months after my surgery, I had my mom (a hair stylist) and my husband use clippers and keep the hair trimmed where the magnet connects. Your head stays swollen for quite a while and the less hair in that area, the better the magnet can connect.

I don’t wear my CIs in the shower and I don’t wear them to bed. I usually take them off if I’m going to nap, because the magnets get knocked off anyway when I lie back. I can get my CIs slightly damp (I don’t freak out too badly in the rain) but they aren’t waterproof like a newer offering from Advanced Bionics, the Neptune.

I find it really difficult to do anything that requires lying back if I have my CIs on. The weight of the processor pulls it off my ear and if the magnets bump into anything, they slide off. This makes going to the doctor and the dentist a bit of a challenge (especially the dentist), and makes things like yoga and sit ups fairly tricky unless I take my CIs off. I have a contraption that helps keep the processor on my ear so I can use that, but after a while it makes my ear ache…plus it’s really hard to put on!

Because I don’t sleep with my CIs on, it’s a catch-22. It’s very easy to sleep because I hear nothing at all, hence nothing wakes me up … but it’s hard to wake up if I have to be up at a certain time. I use an alarm clock that can do a few things: it can connect to a light and flash it to wake me up (this would never, ever wake me up), it has a very loud alarm that can be made higher- or lower-pitched (this would never, ever wake me up), and it connects to a little disc that you can slip under your mattress or pillow, which vibrates/shakes the bed when the alarm goes off. THIS wakes me up. Boy, does it wake me up!!

The cochlear implants didn’t cure my deafness; I will always be deaf. Thanks to my CIs, I have a foot in the hearing world and a foot in the deaf world, which is pretty cool.

My CIs use rechargeable batteries. (This is different by brand – I use Advanced Bionics CIs.) There are two sizes – a smaller SlimCel and the larger Plus, which lasts longer. I started out with the Slims because the Plus size was too heavy for my ear, especially while I was healing. After a while, my left ear was able to handle the Plus size but up until about a month ago, I wore mainly Slims on my right ear. Now I just use a Plus on each ear, and the batteries usually last me the entire day. If I’m staying up really late, I might need to switch them out. With the Slimcel, it was getting to where I had to change batteries at least once, sometimes twice. (I need to get new batteries, since these are now four years old!) I keep two backup batteries in my purse, and I have four on my charging station that are always ready to go.

When my batteries die, there is no warning. With hearing aids, I could usually tell when the battery was about to go…my hearing would get slightly worse. Now, you could take the CI off, slip the battery off and then back on, and see how many lights flash on the processor. (Four lights means it’s fully charged; one means it’s almost depleted.) But as far as just wearing it and having the battery die, it just goes. I mean, one second you hear and the next you don’t. It’s a little weird, but I’m used to it now.

The CIs have enabled me to hear things I didn’t hear with my hearing aids. Before I lost all my hearing, I wore bi-CROS hearing aids because my right ear was completely deaf. So I wore a ‘transmitter’ on that ear, which looked like a regular hearing aid, and it wirelessly transmitted the sound coming in on that side over to the hearing aid I wore on my left ear. Now I actually hear things in each ear, which took some getting used to. I always used to position people on my hearing side, the left. It took a long time to stop placing myself in position to hear (sitting or walking with people to my left, that is). I never used to be able to tell what direction sound was coming from. It took about two years to start to really be able to do this with my cochlear implants, but now I can often discern which ear “heard” the sound. It is very, very cool!! I also hear more high-pitched sounds, things I never knew even made noise…like bubbles popping, for instance. I have still never heard a mosquito or fly buzz. I suspect my hearing loss is such that I just will never hear that.

I do have some electrodes in the higher pitches completely turned off (two or perhaps three). This is different with everybody – we all have different reasons for our hearing loss. When I hear the higher tones, it makes me very, very dizzy. I can’t tolerate it at all. I think this is probably why I have trouble on the phone. Many people with CIs use the phone, but for me it is very difficult. I can understand computer voices (the voicemail menu, for instance) but when a real voice kicks in, I often struggle to comprehend what I’m hearing. I have a phone that captions the conversation on a screen for me. There’s a bit of a delay, and many times the words are captioned incorrectly, but it’s definitely better than nothing! I can handle a very short conversation but I no longer use the phone about 95% of the time. I stick to texting and email. I think missing those higher pitches makes it harder for me in that situation, since that’s what helps us understand voices.

Same with the TV – I do still need captions when I watch TV or movies. It’s hard to explain, but unless I can see a face and read lips, it just sounds like…sound. If it’s very quiet, the person is not speaking quickly and their voice is very clear, I can sometimes follow along. But there’s almost always some kind of other background noise – music, laughter, gunshots, what have you — that get in the way of understanding what I’m hearing.

I’m not disappointed by this, or apologizing for it. I mean, my gosh—I’m deaf, hearing via a little computer I wear on my ear, and I can talk a bit on the phone and hear music, television and movies. So I still need some help with captions – so what? I was going to be happy even if all I heard was environmental sounds…anything other than 24/7 tinnitus and no real sound other than the crazy noises in my head. So I’m extremely pleased, thrilled even, to be watching TV with captions and cautiously, sparingly, using the telephone.

After I had the surgery, I could not hear. I had to wait a month before I wore the external parts (the processor and magnet headpiece) and got them ‘activated’ so I could hear. This is different with every CI clinic; some places do activations a week after surgery, some wait longer than a month. I was glad to wait a month because my ears were definitely too sore to wear the processors before that. I really did need that time to heal. My skull was still swollen even a month later and I had to use really strong magnets to keep the headpieces in place (I’ve since switched out to lighter magnets).

To activate the CIs, the audiologist will hook you up via a cable to his/her computer. (They take the battery off the CI and replace it with the cable.) You listen to beeps and tones and tell them what sounds most comfortable. At first it all sounds weird and robotic; some people just hear beeps instead of actual sound. As days go by, your brain adapts and you begin to hear things in a more normal way. Voices sound strange, like Darth Vader or the chipmunks.

I go back periodically for “mappings,” where I get connected to the computer and the audiologist adjusts the volume and fine-tunes electrode-related things. In the beginning I went every week, then every month, every 6 months, every year…now I just go when I feel I need an adjustment because my hearing seems off. I can get future improvements via the computer programs they put on my processor, without having my internal component replaced.

The surgery usually makes you lose whatever residual hearing you had. This was not an issue for me – I had no hearing to lose – so being deaf during recovery was just more of the same. But you don’t have to be completely deaf to get a CI – you just have to score low enough, wearing a hearing aid, on the hearing test. (How low your score needs to be depends on insurance and/or the clinic.) It used to be that you had to be pretty much deaf to get one, but over the years that threshold has changed and now there are many people who still have hearing and get a CI in order to improve upon that hearing and be able to hear voices again. There are many people who have a CI in one ear and wear a hearing aid in the other. Incidentally, Dave has looked into getting a CI because he is completely deaf in his left ear and wears a hearing aid in the right. He gets his medical coverage through the VA, and right now he tests too well with his hearing aid on to qualify for a CI for his left ear.

Styling my hair can be a little bit of a pain – I have this cord running from my ear back a couple inches on my head to the magnet. I can’t run my fingers through my hair to fluff it up or smooth it out without catching on the wire. I take my CIs off to style my hair, and I have to be careful when I put them on to keep the wire from flattening a big section of hair. (This is a girly thing…I’m sure guys don’t have this problem!)

View from back, wearing both CI's View from back, wearing both CI’s

I don’t try to hide my CIs. I think they’re really amazing and I like to show them off. I very rarely get asked about them. I never notice people looking at them although Dave has said he’s seen people behind me looking at my head (I have colorful covers on the magnets). Only once have I had someone ask me about them; it was in Target, and a lady walked past me and then doubled back. She asked if I had cochlear implants and we began talking; it turned out that her daughter had a CI as well. I also saw one guy with a CI at my daughter’s school her senior year. (She won an award and they had a breakfast for the kids and their families.) Afterward, when people were mingling, I saw him talking to somebody and it was very easy to see his CI. When there was a lull in the conversation, I went over to him and we talked a bit about our CIs. I never did this with people who had hearing aids! :)

I just realized how absurdly long this is, so I’ll wrap it up. I know I didn’t cover everything, so if anyone is reading and has a question about what it’s like to have CIs, I’d be happy to answer (if I can…I’m not really up on the technical aspects of things, for instance).

Stuck Out

Last week Dave noticed something weird happening with his eyes. He said he saw flashes of light in his periphery, and then a bunch of floaters. Both of us see floaters on occasion, and we know it’s one of the many joys of getting older, but this was above and beyond what he considered normal. It just took a quick Google search to find out that one of the causes could be a detached retina, or a tear. He decided to call the VA hospital and talk to someone there.

He was scheduled for a liver ultrasound on March 9th, so when the VA nurse said he should be seen by a doctor, he asked if it could be scheduled for the same day. The hospital is in Fort Wayne, Indiana which is more than two hours south (by car) from us, so it’s a fairly big deal to make a trip there. They had to talk to the doctor first; when they called back, they said the doctor wanted Dave to come in the next day. Okay, so this was urgent.

After he hung up, I suggested he call the liver clinic and see if they could reschedule the ultrasound for the next day as well. He really seemed skeptical; the VA we went to in Chicago (Hines) was really not flexible as far as changing appointments and getting you in quickly, so he expected the same thing for Fort Wayne. But he called – all they could do was say no, right?

Well, they said it was no problem and scheduled him for an 11 am ultrasound. We were both kind of flabbergasted that it was so easy. The eye clinic visit was not for any specific time; they knew we were coming from far away and told him to just get there as early as he could and they’d get him in.

We left a little after 8 am the next morning, and figured he would do the ultrasound first and then we’d pop over to the eye clinic. As we were driving, I read over the appointment card they’d mailed for his original ultrasound date.

“Hey hon? Um … did you know this card says your ultrasound is being done at the Marion facility? It’s not in Fort Wayne.”

Dave pulled over and looked at the card. “Do you want to call and make sure this is being done in Fort Wayne?” I asked. We weren’t far from home; we could drive back and call with the captioned phone, or he could take a chance with the cell phone and call right from the car.

“What? This is crazy. The appointment says Fort Wayne online!” he protested. He was sure it was just a glitch and they’d used the wrong facility information. We talked some more and decided that if nothing else, the eye appointment was more important, and he knew for sure that was in Fort Wayne.

We got to Fort Wayne around 10:45 am and went to check in. Sure enough, the ultrasound was scheduled for that day in Marion, Indiana … an hour away from Fort Wayne.

In the end, he had the x-ray department cancel the Marion appointment and he just went to the eye clinic. They said everything looked fine and it was just one of those things that happen when you get older. He’s still got to go back later this month for a check to make sure nothing bad has developed in that time frame.

When we got home, he discovered that not only was the ultrasound canceled, but also the video conference appointment with the liver doctor that was being done in South Bend. (This is all part of getting him started on the new Hepatitis C drug either this or next month.) As of right now, he has the video conference rescheduled for a week from today, but they still haven’t called to say whether he has to have the ultrasound done first. We were under the impression the doctor needed the ultrasound results before we had the video conference. (The doctor is in Fort Wayne, but South Bend is only 30 minutes from us so we have video conferences from there whenever possible.)

We had no idea there was even a hospital in Marion; I guess it’s a good thing we found out the way we did and Dave still needed to be in Fort Wayne anyway for the eye appointment. If we’d driven there solely for the ultrasound and then found out we were in the wrong place, after four hours round-trip of driving, we would have been rather irked to say the least.

All of this craziness has gotten us thinking about possibly moving closer to Ann Arbor, which is where the best VA hospital in this area is located – as well as a great place for getting my CIs mapped. (Right now I would have to drive back to Illinois because there is no place around here that does mappings; my old clinic in Illinois is closer than anything in Indiana or Michigan.)

We do love this area, and when we drive to Illinois it’s just a straightforward two hour drive. It’s also super, super affordable (the main reason we chose this part of Michigan). On the other hand, sometimes it doesn’t even feel like we live in Michigan. We can be in Indiana within 20 minutes of driving in the right direction; all the television stations are out of South Bend, and even our weather forecast area is Northern Indiana (they throw far southwest Michigan in there as an afterthought). We want to live in Michigan, though, not Indiana.

So I think we’re going to make a weekend trip to the Ann Arbor area this spring, just to check it out. We don’t think we can really afford to live there (not in Ann Arbor proper for sure, but maybe in a smaller town that’s 30 to 45 minutes away). It will still be fun to see, though.

In the meantime, they’re supposed to be building a VA hospital in South Bend to service all the people like us who are completely stuck out – we have to drive two hours either to Michigan (Battle Creek) or Indiana (Fort Wayne) or Illinois (Hines) to get care for Dave at a proper VA hospital. He does go to a clinic in South Bend for minor things, but anything major (including his Hep C treatment) has to be done at a hospital. The South Bend hospital was originally supposed to be done this year but I believe they still have not even chosen a site for it yet, so we aren’t holding our breath.

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