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A TGB READER'S STORY: The First of May

By Mary R. Wise who blogs at Red Nose

A "First of May" is circus lingo for a new performer. It comes from the tradition of circuses beginning their seasons on May 1, so if it's your first season on the show, you're a First of May.

My First-of-May day was April 1, 1976 - April Fools' Day!

I arrived in Parkersburg, West Virginia, on a very damp, overcast day with my slightly-better-than-cardboard footlocker, my brand new circus clogs and a bad case of nerves. I'd accepted the job as a circus clown with George Matthews Great London Circus on the strength of a brief letter from the owner's son.

Things got off to a bad start when I told the cab driver to drop me off at Scott Field and he replied with, "Huh?"

One way or another, we found the lot. The big top looked fabulous - a four-pole, three-ring, orange-and-white striped tent in the middle of a beautiful, green field. We found the ringmaster's trailer and I knocked on the door.

First surprise. No one told the ringmaster that a girl clown was going to be on the show. When I told him I was to be on the show, he said, "Oh, aerial ballet?"

And I said, "No, clown."

And he said, "Oh. Well, you'll have to stay in the band bus with the other clowns."

And I said, "Okay," not because I especially wanted to share living space with a bunch of clowns, but mostly because I didn't know what else to say.

Second surprise. I wasn't prepared to find that the "room" in "room and board" consisted of a plank bunk. Why was it called the "band bus"? It used to house the band.

At least the clown's quarters were walled off from the prop crew's quarters. Lucky for me the other clowns were nice enough guys. Pogo and Zippo were already there; Ralf arrived shortly after I did.

Third surprise. No donnikers. Sorry, I mean bathrooms. None. Not even Porta-Potties. Walk to the gas station or just dump where you could as long as it wasn't too close to the big top or cookhouse. And some guys did. Nice!

Fourth surprise. Clowns were expected to help with tear down, hauling the quarter poles to the pole wagon. Clowns were also expected to sell Hershey bars during intermission - we got a dime a bar.

My first night was one of the best and simultaneously the worst night of my entire circus career. The show was wonderful but the weather was ugly. Cold rain pelted down throughout the show, turning the back yard into a sea of mud.

Tear down was excruciating for everyone, especially for naive girls who had to help haul 60-foot steel quarter poles and then lift them up to the guys on the pole wagon.

The mud was so deep that all of the seat wagons got stuck, all of the tractors got stuck, even the performers' trailers got stuck. Not even the elephants could pull them out of the quagmire.

Of course, all the extra help blew the show. Because of that, all the performers had to help fold up the big top. Let me just say that clogs are not the right footwear for folding slippery wet canvas. Indeed, I fell hard during one pull and watched the canvas close over top of me. Great - killed on my first night on the circus by getting rolled up in the big top.

But I didn't die and I didn't quit. The sun came out the next day. I learned how to take a shower at the water wagon and I bought a foam pad for my bunk and work boots for my feet.

And I had the time of my life for the next three years.

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EDITORIAL NOTE: Reader's stories are welcome. If you have not published here or not recently, please read submission instructions. Only one story per email.



High Rates of Suicide Among Elders

In the past couple of months or so there has been an uptick in the number of media stories about old people taking their lives and, according to those articles, there is an alarming increase in the suicide rate among the U.S. older population.

”In a nation where suicide continues to climb, claiming more than 47,000 lives in 2017, such deaths among older adults...are often overlooked.”

A six-month investigation by Kaiser Health News and PBS NewsHour finds that older Americans are quietly killing themselves, frequently in nursing homes, assisted living centers and adult care homes.

”Poor documentation makes it difficult to tell exactly how often such deaths occur,” reports the KNH/PBS study. “But a KHN analysis of new data from the University of Michigan suggests that hundreds of suicides by older adults each year — nearly one per day — are related to long-term care.

“Thousands more people may be at risk in those settings, where up to a third of residents report suicidal thoughts, research shows.”

According to federal statistics, 16,500 suicides were reported among people 55 and older in 2017 – 364 of them among people living in or moving to long-term care settings – or among caregivers.

Dr. Yeates Conwell is director of the Office for Aging Research and Health Services at the University of Rochester. He says the main risk factors for senior suicide are what are called “the four D’s”: depression, debility, access to deadly means and disconnectedness.

“'Pretty much all of the factors that we associate with completed suicide risk are going to be concentrated in long-term care,'” said Conwell.

Veterans are among the highest risk for suicide in recent years:

”The VA National Suicide Data Report for 2005 to 2016, which came out in September 2018, highlights an alarming rise in suicides among veterans age 18 to 34 — 45 per 100,000 veterans.

“Younger veterans have the highest rate of suicide among veterans, but those 55 and older still represent the largest number of suicides.”

Most seniors who choose to end their lives don’t talk about it in advance, and they often die on the first attempt, he said.

(The suicides referred to in the KHN/PBS article - and others I consulted - are not about people like me who have chosen, when the time comes, medically-assisted suicide. That's a different kind of end-of-life choice with different issues.)

The KNH/PBS research relates the story of Paul Andrews whose father died by his own hand. Andrews says he was “shocked, devastated and even angry about his dad’s death. Now, he just misses him.”

”'I always feel like he was gone too soon, even though I don’t think he felt like that at all,' he said.

“Andrews has come to believe that elderly people should be able to decide when they’re ready to die.

“'I think it’s a human right,' he said. 'If you go out when you’re still functioning and still have the ability to choose, that may be the best way to do it and not leave it to other people to decide.'”

Conwell see it differently. He finds the idea of

”...rational suicide by older Americans 'really troublesome.' 'We have this ageist society, and it’s awfully easy to hand over the message that they’re all doing us a favor,' he said.”

Here is a 10-minute video of this research from PBS NewsHour including some additional information.



ELDER MUSIC: Turn Your Radio On

Tibbles1SM100x130This Sunday Elder Music column was launched in December of 2008. By May of the following year, one commenter, Peter Tibbles, had added so much knowledge and value to my poor attempts at musical presentations that I asked him to take over the column. He's been here each week ever since delighting us with his astonishing grasp of just about everything musical, his humor and sense of fun. You can read Peter's bio here and find links to all his columns here.

* * *

I imagine that just about everyone reading this gained their initial musical knowledge mainly from the radio. That is certainly so for me as, when I was growing up, I lived in a small country town 400 kilometres from the big smoke (actually, in those days, it was 250 miles from the big smoke), so it was from the radio that music emerged and found a safe harbor in my ears.

When we came to the big smoke (Melbourne) I found that radio station 3KZ had probably the best DJ in the world - Stan Rofe. Stan always played the authentic versions of songs; he eschewed the bland cover versions that pretty much everyone else played back then. He was also a great champion of Australian music. Thus I learned from the best. Here are songs about the radio.

For those who remember President Ike, which is probably everyone reading this, here is MARK DINNING.

Mark Dinning

Not just Ike, but all the references mentioned would be enough for those with a certain type of memory to be able to date the song pretty precisely. It’s the way radio was back then, consisting of Top 40, News, Weather and Sport.

♫ Mark Dinning - Top 40 News Weather And Sport


WARREN ZEVON gives us a bit darker view of things, but then that’s generally what he did.

Warren Zevon

I imagine that Warren’s song wouldn’t get any airplay these days on certain stations, particularly those that are associated with Fox, only because of its title. His subversive song is called Mohammed's Radio.

♫ Warren Zevon - Mohammed's Radio


JOHN HARTFORD gets uncharacteristically gospelly with his contribution.

John Hartford

He suggests that you Turn Your Radio On. That’s a good idea if you want to listen to it, although these days it might not be such a good idea. Not like in our day. Oh dear, I’m turning into a grumpy old man.

♫ John Hartford - Turn Your Radio On


There’s another way to be turned on as JONI MITCHELL will explain.

Joni Mitchell

I wouldn’t dare suggest that illegal substances were involved in You Turn Me On I'm a Radio. I’ll let you make up your own mind.

♫ Joni Mitchell - You Turn Me On I'm a Radio


Back in 1994 DAVE ALVIN recorded an acoustic album called “King of California”.

Dave Alvin

This was the first of several albums of his that really demonstrated his songwriting, singing and musical abilities. This one and the several that followed are all worth a listen. Besides, he has one of the finest voices in the alt-country genre.

From the aforementioned album, Dave performs Border Radio.

♫ Dave Alvin - Border Radio


Getting back to when radio was king we find FREDDY CANNON.

Freddy Cannon

Back then, a lot of the time we listened to the radio on transistor radios. Freddy did the same apparently, or at least his sister did as he will recount on Transistor Sister.

♫ Freddy Cannon - Transistor Sister


It seems that JOHN DENVER was the same as most of us in one respect.

John Denver

That is, he knew the songs but many of the words were a mystery to him. I think that this is pretty universal. He tells us all about it in Late Nite Radio.

♫ John Denver - Late Nite Radio


From the eighties, a decade from which I include very few songs in my columns, we have QUEEN.

Queen

They were one of the few bright musical spots from around that time, however, even this song sounds very much of its time – drum machines, synthesizers and so on. I don’t know why they did that as they were all fine musicians. Anyway, this is Radio Ga Ga.

♫ Queen - Radio Ga Ga


DAVID ALLAN COE really knows how to take revenge on the gal what dun ‘im wrong.

David Allan Coe

Not just that but he will make some money out of the deal as well. I guess if you’re going to break up with someone, earning a bit of loose scratch from the exercise seems like a good thing. Okay, perhaps not. Anyway, David sings I'm Gonna Hurt Her on the Radio.

♫ David Allan Coe - I'm Gonna Hurt Her On The Radio


Turn up your radio, sings VAN MORRISON. Of course, you should have done that by now.

Van Morrison

From his superb album “Moondance”, one of the finest ever recorded, we have Caravan. Nothing else needs to be said.

♫ Van Morrison - Caravan



INTERESTING STUFF – 3 MAY 2019

Almost all are animals today. Come on now, who can resist? But first, two other items.

SOUTH KOREAN GRANDMOTHERS LEARNING TO READ

”Illiterate all her life, [Ms. Hwang, who is 70 years old] remembers hiding behind a tree and weeping as she saw her friends trot off to school six decades ago.

“While other village children learned to read and write, she stayed home, tending pigs, collecting firewood and looking after younger siblings. She later raised six children of her own, sending all of them to high school or college.

Ms. Hwang is part of a South Korean experiment to fill empty classrooms by holding classes for illiterate adults.

"...local residents, desperate to save the 96-year-old school, came up with an idea: How about enrolling older villagers who wanted to learn to read and write?

"Ms. Hwang and seven other women, aged 56 to 80, stepped forward, with at least four others asking to be enrolled next year.Now they travel to and from school in a regular ol' yellow school bus".
“'They are eager to learn,' said Ms. Jo, the teacher, about her first-grade students. 'They are probably the only students here asking for more homework.'”

“Unlike other classrooms, the first graders’ classroom has a sofa and a heated mattress. During breaks, the older women sat on the warm mattress and buried their feet under blankets. They also kept a basket of candies for the second graders next door who occasionally came to visit.”

With growing confidence, due to the new skills they are gaining, one of the older students is thinking of running for president of the village women's society.

Photographs and more information at The New York Times.

THE NEW OLD PEOPLE ARE GOING TO SUCK

Lachlan Patterson is a Canadian-bred comedian, writer and actor. In this clip from his standup act, he tells us what future old people mid-40s generation - will be like.

CATS WON'T ALLOW THE DOG IN THE GARDEN

As the YouTube page says:

”Our fearless outdoor cats never let the neighbor's cute little dog enter our garden. Whenever the dog tries to sneak in, she gets chased out of the garden by our brave & awesome cats.”

EDITORIAL NOTE: From this point forward all the text in this post is bolded. It's not supposed to be. I just spent four hours trying to fix it (I'm usually good at this kind of stuff) and failed. AFTER FOUR HOURS WORKING ON IT. On the day after chemo when neither brain nor fingers are working well. Phooey. I'm done so you'll have to live with it. Sorry.

Meercat's First Birthday

Not much happens but it's all cute.

BABY POLAR SURPRISES A SEAL

Or maybe it's the other way around.

BABY BROWN BEAR FINALLY MAKES IT TO THE TOP

This is one determined baby. It's easy to feel his frustration – I run into several similar problems in other contexts every day.

A BACKYARD FULL OF 200 SHEEP

I laugh every time I watch this and I'm pretty sure you will too.

* * *

Interesting Stuff is a weekly listing of short takes and links to web items that have caught my attention; some related to aging and some not, some useful and others just for fun.

You are all encouraged to submit items for inclusion. Just click “Contact” at the top of any Time Goes By page to send them. I'm sorry that I won't have time to acknowledge receipt and there is no guarantee of publication. But when I do include them, you will be credited and I will link to your blog.



Getting Doctors to Listen

Reader comments on Wednesday's blog post, Cancer, Chemo or Old Age?, turned it into a much more important story that it could otherwise be. There are at least half a dozen topics those comment suggest but let's go with ageism in healthcare today.

Ageism among health care providers is a well-known phenomenon. As reported at the website of the American Society of Aging,

”The geriatrician and writer Dr. Louise Aronson (2015) describes a disturbing example of explicit ageism in which a surgeon asks the medical student observing his case what specialty she is thinking of pursuing.

“When she answers, 'Geriatrics,' the surgeon immediately begins mimicking an older adult complaining about constipation in a high-pitched whine.”

You know, if you do things like that often enough, they become commonplace and people soon believe them. But of the many ways some physicians and other healthcare workers can and do demean elders, ignoring them is near the top.

Another Dee had this to say on Wednesday's post:

”I may not be correct, and I don't think I am paranoid, but I really think that they see my age on the chart, the white hair on my head, and not the human being seated in front of them.”

She's not wrong. I know. I've been there.

Six months or so before my pancreatic cancer diagnosis, I went to my then primary care physician about a bunch of seemingly unrelated symptoms including neon-orange urine. It practically glowed in the dark, so you'd think that alone would alert a doctor.

But noooo. He kept typing at his computer as I answered his questions and after seven minutes of this, he got up to leave saying something close to, “I'm sure it's a simple virus. You'll be fine soon.” And he left the room.

Huh? I fired him that day and began my search for a more attentive doctor.

Several TGB readers didn't use the word “ageism” in their comments but it is certainly what they are talking about. Seventy-two-year-old Judith Darin, an RN who has worked as a hospice nurse and now works at a skilled nursing facility that is, she says, the best place of its kind she has seen.

”What Dee describes about her treatment,” continues Judith, “and how medical people view her, is a reality. And I have been guilty of thinking about patients (and elderly folks in general) in the way that Dee describes.

“But that has changed. As I get to know each of my patients as individuals, and consider all they have been through, and learn to LISTEN, my perceptions have changed.

“When I am in my own doctor's office, if I don't feel like I am being heard and respected, I ask the staff to stop what they are doing, and to listen to me. I am an RN and try to care for my patients in a holistic way, but now I am also a woman in my 70s with white hair.”

Nancy Hutto left this story:

”My sister, who is 84, recently went to the emergency room with heartburn and back and chest pain, after I made the call to 911. The excellent doctors there found an artery 95 percent blocked and inserted a stent.

“This was after a visit 2 weeks earlier to her cardiologist and several months of increasingly debilitating loss of energy, shortness of breath, and risk factors such as diabetes and an autoimmune disease requiring daily prednisone.

“We have excellent health care in the Seattle area but we still need to be squeaky wheels in advocating for ourselves. It is also helpful to have an advocate who will listen and make the decision that an emergency is in progress, even at the risk of a false alarm.”

I'm not up these days for starting a medical ageism protest organization but we can stand up for ourselves. I deliberately decided to do that two years ago when I found my new doctor(s) at Oregon Health & Science University (OHSU).

Since then, I've made it a point to find out about the doctors, nurses, medical assistants, schedulers, etc. who are part of my treatment team. We exchange some personal information – whether we have kids, where we live, what we like to do when we're not working and more.

Maybe in the beginning it was a tactic to be sure I get the care I need and am not overlooked. But now it's real. We've become a certain kind of friend to one another.

We joke around and we talk about serious health issues too. Occasionally, even politics.

Some of them read TimeGoesBy so that comes up now and then. They talk about how they deal with the inevitable outcome of treating mostly old people who have a deadly disease. Without ever being sappy, they are all remarkably cheerful and likable people.

What has happened over two years is that we have come to dwell together in that middle ground between service people and friends. They have expertise I don't have – I need them for their professional skills – and I also need their kindness and understanding.

Maybe they need that too and we're both gaining from what I see now as our heartfelt attention to one another.

God knows I could be wrong but I believe that taking the time to get to know these terrific, accomplished people more personally, allows them to see me, the person, and not just my bald head.



Cancer, Chemo or Old Age?

That's the question I spend some of my time trying to figure out. A new pain in my elbow. Nausea if I eat one more bite. A nose so runny I use up one-and-a-half boxes of Kleenex in a day.

I'll go with old age as the cause of a pain in an elbow. Nausea is probably from the chemo. And who knows (nose?) what's causing my constantly running nose.

I suppose it doesn't matter. Cancer, chemo or old age doesn't change the fact of whatever is bothering me. But it might be helpful to know which does what so that perhaps a medication can be adjusted - although I'm not pretending that symptoms at this simplistic level can in any way be compared to pancreatic cancer.

When I was first diagnosed two years ago, my idea was to follow the instructions of my various physicians and nurses while making preparations for my death. The statistics tell the irrefutable story: fewer than 10 percent of pancreatic cancer patients live beyond one year after diagnosis so I've already won this lottery.

Time went by. It took nearly a year to entirely recover from the 12-hour Whipple surgery. The pain I experienced then was anything but a mystery: 22 surgical staples along with the removal and/or rearrangement of several organs.

Some chemo followed but was stopped when it was deemed ineffective. Eventually, my current chemo regimen began and so far, as I have reported here, it is working well and – amazing – with each treatment the side effects have lightened or disappeared.

Just like not knowing what is responsible for my improved chemo side effects, I have no idea how long this situation of such a good response to the chemo will last. It will end at some point; I just don't know when.

The only thing I think I know about living a reasonably untroubled daily life with such a noose hanging over me is that I must find a way to make peace with it. Which is pretty much the same thing as making peace with dying.

The psilocybin session I underwent in December, the benefits of which so far are holding strong, get me partway there. The rest is one of the passages people in my predicament have to deal with several times.

It's doubtful that any of this is unique to me. I'm just surprised that no one I can find talks about it. Does anyone reading this know what I am not too clearly trying to say?