How old is old?

After my 79th birthday last May I started to think about becoming 80 and what it might mean. First, let me say I know a number of people in their 80’s, and older, who are doing just fine. But, in the past, I knew many who weren’t fine, or were already dead, and the prevailing stereotype is 80 is old old. Should I stop traveling? Should I stop driving? What does it mean to be 80?
Added to that my knees have been bothering me for months and the pain makes me feel very old. I had cortisone shots in July that helped enormously–no pain for months. But while I was walking around in the bitter cold in New York City something happened to my right knee and I’m suffering again. I have been going for physical therapy and doing exercises religiously. I joined Weight Watchers just before Christmas and lost 11 pounds, so far. Still suffering. Finally I decided that 80 was just the day after 79 and my real problem was the terrible cold weather and snow and ice in Pittsburgh.
I am writing this from Israel where it is warm and sunny and I’m feeling better–not great, but better. And my friends, Yona and Arik, are treating me like a queen, so this my not count as traveling alone.
I’ve been to Israel many times in the distant past, but this is the first time in, probably 30 years. I am amazed at how the country has grown and changed. The roads and highways are wonderful and there are cities replacing the sand, shrubs and a few shanties from before.
Yona picked me up at the airport on Monday and I saw only the view from the road, but that was amazing enough. I postponed my collapse from jet lag long enough to play with Yona’s three grandchildren. The youngest seemed to be fascinated with me until I told her, in Hebrew, that I spoke only English. That was the end of our relationship. Actually, I am amazed at how much of my very scant Hebrew has come back to me.
Today we went to Ceaserea where there has been extensive excavation of the port city built by Herod during Roman times and a large, newly constructed, modern city.
From there, we went to Atlit to see the prison camp built by the British to incarcerate the Jewish refugees who had survived the Holocaust and were trying to enter what was then Palestine. These people, who had no place to go and were welcomed nowhere, went from Nazi concentration camps to remarkably similar British concentration camps. Imagine the terror. Once the state of Israel was proclaimed by the UN, all of the Jewish refugees from Europe were welcomed along with a huge number of Jews from Arab countries who were forced to leave their homes.
We had a late, excellent lunch in a restaurant in the Arab village of Ein Hud and that was the end of my day. Wiped out and jetlagged.
I am taking pictures but I don’t think I will be able to post them until I get home. I replaced the cursed Asus with an iPad mini and I haven’t figured out how to get the photos onto the mini. Nothing like new technology.

No communication

View of Chicago River from my hotel room

View of Chicago River from my hotel room

It has been a busy month; I just haven’t felt like writing. I’m waiting for that connection between my brain and the computer that Eli says will come, so my hands won’t be involved and the transfer will be instantaneous. Raja and daughters, on their way east to visit battlefields, stopped here last week; probably the best days all month. Two excellent Osher classes occupied my Wednesdays: “Memoir writing,” which I will probably never do but gave a lot of thought, and “The Written Word: The Vanishing Journalist” a kind of oral memoir of a retired journalist. Also took a movement class, Dalcroze Eurhythmics, four sessions at CMU. I can’t explain it, but it was fun.

My sister-in-law died of lung cancer. She looked awful when I saw her last month in Chicago, so I wasn’t surprised. Worse, has been watching my friend of some 50 years. who fell and is having a difficult recovery. Talking to her long distance is more troubling than visiting her. I will see her again in September when I return on my way to Door County.

I finally went to the doctor about my arthritic knees. They took x-rays then gave me a cortisone shot in each knee. I am happy to report I am now walking without pain and have started exercising again. That’s great. I am going to New York early next month and it would have been terrible if I couldn’t walk there.

Funny thing about blog writing. I really sat down to write about books and almost forgot after turning out the previous paragraphs. I’ve read several books this month, some I wanted to read, another forced on me from my funky book club. The best was The Garden of Evening Mists by Tan Twan Eng, about the only survivor of a Japanese work camp in Malaysia who feels compelled to make a Japanese garden in memory of her sister. Along with the great story and great characters are wonderfully clear and erudite explanations about Japanese gardens and a clear exposition of both the good and the terrifying in the Japanese character. Having fallen in love with some aspects of Japanese culture I often have trouble looking at their extremes of cruelty, xenophobia and kitsch. I have to keep remembering most of us are guilty of the terrible stuff, but few of us achieve the sublime.


Sometimes delusions are so comforting we cling to them even though we know better. So this delusion was that I could get glasses and stop wearing contact lenses. My misshapen corneas are smoothed out by hard contact lenses and my vision can be corrected to 20/25. For years I’ve been told I can’t get glasses, or rather, my nose wasn’t large enough to carry the thickness of the lenses I would need. Two years ago my contact lens provider was able to give me a prescription for glasses, but the refraction was done immediately after I removed the lenses. My corneas were still reshaped by the contacts. After a day or two the glasses didn’t work. So I’ve gone without the lenses for the last week. I can see fairly well in bright sunshine so I’ve been able to walk around easily most days. (Pittsburgh has been unusually sunny this winter.)  Today I happily walked into Squirrel Hill for an appointment with another optometrist, thinking I would order glasses and wear the contacts only occasionally.

The poor optometrist. I probably ruined his day. He gave me a referral to someone else and now I have to decide if I’m willing to go through it all again.

This is not about Andy Rooney

but his death has raised a lot of questions for me. The obituaries say simply "serious complications after minor surgery." One story said his family requested privacy. I can understand, but this is something we should all be concerned with.

How many of us private citizens suffer from or die from serious complications after minor surgery? Hospitals don't want us to think about it.

Why is a man of 92 having minor surgery? Did he really need it if it was really minor? Did anyone stop to think about how much of his life he would lose to recovery?

This certainly touches on our healthcare systems and our attitudes toward life and death. Too bad he's not around to tell us what he thinks about it.

Next: New York

Didn't do much on Sunday when we got here, but making up for it since. First stop yesterday: an art supply store. I'm looking for a card stock, slightly heavier than the one I've been using but still light enough to go through the printer. Two of my scenes for the tunnel book have unsightly curves in them. I'm hoping a slightly heavier stock will fix it. Probably be better without so much humidity in the air, also. It was terrible the day I glued those together. So, still looking.

After the paper search I went over to the Rubin Museum. This is one of my favorite places, even though I resent that it was founded on profits from the healthcare biz. I looked at a nice exhibit about pilgrimages: Christian, Muslim and Buddhist; had lunch in the cafe, a grilled cheese and tomato sandwich on naan, really good; then went downstairs to see a film about Indian painting in the Ajunta caves. I seated myself and got comfortable and suddenly felt someone's hands on my shoulders. Looking up, I found my friend, Sybille–a lovely surprise.

I had not expected to come to NY until tomorrow and had told friends I wouldn't be here until the weekend. So we were both surprised. After the film we walked around looking at some of the other exhibits. Lovely day.

Today I decided to go to the Alexander McQueen exhibit at the Met. I got there at 9:30 as I thought that was when they opened. There were lines outside the museum stretching for blocks in two directions. It seems that members could have entered at 8:30, so I was an hour late, not that I wanted to get there at 8:30. Supposedly, members didn't have to stand in line. Ha! I was in line for almost about twenty minutes, finally entering the enormously crowded exhibit space. I looked at much of the show, but the truth is I'm not terribly interested in fashion and it was just too crowded. 

I walked out and into the Lila Acheson Wallace wing (she's my guardian angel), and sat in the peace and quiet of those awful, all red pictures by I forgot whom. Except for lines of people snaked around the museum waiting to get to McQueen, the other galleries were mostly empty. Went up on the roof and enjoyed the view, then toured the Japan galleries, also peaceful and quiet. The McQueen exhibit leaves on Sunday so maybe I'll go back again next week.

Women’s Health and the Environment

Pittsburgh is fortunate to have retained the presence of many of the movers and shakers who, a century ago, made the city one of the wealthiest in the country. One of the most interesting, and influential, is Teresa Heinz (Kerry) who brought us the Women's Health and the Environment conference I was privileged to attend. Reports on National Public Radio talked about the presence of Lisa Jackson, Administrator of the EPA, Regina Benjamin, the U. S. Surgeon General and, of course, Teresa Heinz's talk about her personal battle with breast cancer. All of the them were interesting: Jackson, because it is the first time I have heard anyone from the EPA sound like they wanted to protect us or the environment; Heinz and Benjamin because both spoke very personally about their own experiences. The website promises to show videos of the presentations; I hope they will include all of Teresa Heinz's talk.

But the conference was much more than these three women. We spent the day at the convention center. While I have trouble sitting for long stretches, I found all of the presentations touched me, personally. I had no wish to leave. I wish you could have been with me; I think  this was a very important event. When we arrived at the convention center, instead of the usual shopping bag and tables of literature, we were given flash drives filled with pdfs, to take home with us: information about the presenting organizations and speakers.

The focus of the conference was the number of manmade, probably toxic, chemicals we now have in our bodies. Even newborns have been found with 200 plus chemicals passed from the mother through the placenta. We don't know the effect of these chemicals but strongly suspect they are the cause of many cancers, asthma, autism, ADHD/ADD, obesity, diabetes, on and on. Many of the worst of these chemicals are found in the air and in ordinary things we have in our homes: children's toys like rubber ducks, canned food, packaged food, toothpaste, deodorants, receipts (those things you get when you use your charge card; chemicals enter the body through the skin), meat, chicken, cosmetics, personal care products like shampoo and body wash; the list goes on and on. Start here for more info; I'll put up a page of resources and links very soon.

Flying, or not, and listening

I have a $250 certificate from United Airlines that will expire next month. This was my booby prize for that terrible trip home from Japan last year. I hate to let it fade away, so I've been trying to figure out some way to use it. Truth is I haven't wanted to get back on a plane. Our recent flight to Chicago was OK, but I think this was unusual luck. I have to complete the round trip before December 19. I'm still thinking about it, but the only way I can use the certificate from Pittsburgh is to make at least one plane change before I get to my destination. They won't let me use it on any non-stop flight. I can go to New York, making a stop in Chicago, or Atlanta. I just can't see doing that in December. It would probably be easier to drive. I'd like to go to New York before Christmas; I'll probably take the train. With any luck I'll never fly United again.

I often listen to podcasts of the Brian Lehrer show from WNYC in New York. Here he is interviewing Bernie Sanders, an Independent Senator from Vermont, who has sponsored a bill to deal with those "too big to fail" financial institutions, and also talks about our healthcare mess, including a unique take on the death panels. He's probably the most rational senator I've ever heard. Too bad there aren't more like him.

Medicare advantage

TV just broadcast a commercial about Medicare Advantage, which reminded me that is what I originally wanted to post about. I have a Medicare Advantage policy. If I keep it next year, I will be paying double what it cost when I first bought it 3 years ago. This, by the way, is with a government subsidy. The commercial wants me to tell my Congressman not to cut the subsidy. It seems to me they have already raised the rates in anticipation of a government cut. It was a nice deal, but I'm not going to pay them and I don't want the government to pay them for me. There are other policies out there.

Healthcare video

This one is wonderful. It deals with my favorite aspect of healthcare.

Thanks to Evy Mayer.

As they tell you about healthcare execs remember that the head of one of the largest healthcare companies created the Rubin Museum in New York City. It's a great place. He must have had a wonderful time collecting all those objects. I wish I could have done it. And think of the tax break he gets for giving us the museum.