Author Archives: Barbara Younger

About Barbara Younger

Check out my blog about menopause and all things related to women and life: Friend for the Ride: Encouraging Words for the Menopause and Midlife Roller Coaster

Snowed Under with Shingles

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Judith in Snow

A post by my friend Judith Gray:

Midway through the Boston snowmageddon, I decided to shovel the family room roof before the predicted eighteen inches fell on the three feet already there.

The next day I woke up with wrenching pain in my lower back. I read up on all the cures for a strained back – anti-inflammatories, ice then heat, stretching exercises, rest – and tried them all. Even with the maximum doses of ibuprophen I couldn’t sleep, but lots of folks at work were complaining and carrying around little bottles of pills so I figured this was just something to be borne.

Then I noticed a rash on my stomach…a dreaded allergic reaction to ibuprophen, I thought. So I switched to naproxen and acetaminophen. The pain was unrelenting and I was exhausted, so I finally called my health clinic and insisted I needed stronger pain meds. They made me come in.

The doctor took one look and said, “It’s shingles.” The rash had spread around my back in a broken line of red bumps. Shingles has nothing to do with roofing materials – it comes from a the French and Latin for belt and girdle, and typically makes a half-circle around the trunk (never crossing the mid-line), though it can occur elsewhere.

Rash Front

Rash on Back

But wait…I had the shingles vaccine when I turned 60. “Good, that should keep you from getting postherpetic neuralgia (pain that can last for years), “ the doctor reassured me. “It’s probably too late for an anti-viral to work (72 hours from first sign of the rash is the effective zone) but if you’re desperate and want to try anything, I can prescribe it.”

Yes, give me all the meds I can get! She prescribed the anti-viral valtrex, and percocet for the pain, and told me I must quarantine myself until 24 hours after the rash stopped spreading. “ You can’t go to work. Your husband will need to keep an eye on your back to let you know when the spots stop spreading. He’ll also have to take the written prescription to the pharmacy and do the grocery shopping.” Having a retired husband home 24/7 wasn’t looking so bad.

While shingles is not contagious, I could infect someone with chicken pox, particularly dangerous for the elderly and pregnant women. Both diseases are the varicella-zoster virus; if you’ve had chicken pox, the virus is lying dormant in your nervous system, waiting to travel along neural pathways to your skin. Stress, trauma, and a weakened immune system can trigger it. Maybe the trauma to my back from the snow shoveling was the cause, though the doctor was skeptical.

Shingles last 2 to 4 weeks, and I’m at the end of week 3. All the stories you’ve heard about the excruciating pain of shingles are true. Some of my friends have seen a Terry Bradshaw clip where he compares the pain to the worse NFL linebacker hits he took – that has bought me a lot of sympathy. It’s an ad for the shingles vaccine, which though not totally effective at prevention, does offer some protection. According to the ad and other reports I have read, one out of three people get shingles. Not sure how accurate that is, but the disease is very common and risk increases dramatically with age as our immune systems weaken. Take a look at the National Institute of Health and the Mayo Clinic for more information.

If you think you might have shingles, get checked out right away to get the anti-viral medicine within the 72 hours window. If you have a bumpy rash (like poison ivy) and/or severe pain, get it checked out; these symptoms can occur in any order. I had the pain for at least three days before the rash appeared. Don’t get sidetracked by a stubborn self-diagnosis or misguided confidence to power through pain.

I’m stilled snowed under (100 plus inches), but I’ve yielded control of the shovel and given in to the need for powerful pain killers. I spend hours under an afghan reading books I’ve been trying to get to for years and look forward to the brighter days of spring.

Judith Gray has worked as a librarian in public and university libraries for 35 years, most recently as Head of Reference at the Concord (Massachusetts) Public Library. She retired from full-time work three year ago, easing the transition by working part-time, while she reinvented her life.  She lives in Bedford, Mass. with her husband of 35 years, and shares a beloved lake cottage with her brother and sister.  She enjoys cooking, reading, traveling, all forms of exercise, and visiting her children in Connecticut and New York.

Check out Judith’s Friend for the Ride post on Lydia Pinkham, who created an early cure for women’s complaints!

lydia-pinkham-portrait

Downsizing: Take a Photo?

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Duke Mug

When it comes to giving away an object with sentimental value, I’ve heard many times, “Take a photo.”

That made zero sense to me. If you’re traumatized about giving an object away, won’t the photo break your heart every time you look at it?

I found my freshman mug from Duke in a box in the attic and snapped a photo for Facebook. Then I got brave and gave the mug away. I’ve got a lot of mugs, and this one, with my name and graduation year painted on, can’t go in the dishwasher.

Weeks later, I scrolled past the photo on my phone. And guess what? Those who push the take-a-photo method are right.

I look at the picture and remember how Freshmen Week went. How the whole year went. I should have studied harder, but oh, did I have the time of my life.

I miss being young, some. I miss those days at Duke, still. But I don’t miss my mug.

So I’m a convert, at least for something as simple as a mug.

Any naysayers to the take-a-photo method out there? Anyone swear by this technique?

kilgoquad

My freshmen dorm on Kilgo Quad at Duke University. The mug’s first home!

My Theater Debut: The Show Went On!

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Surprise!

The show went on for four performances, and I loved every minute.

The Dixie Swim Club is the story of five friends from a college swim team who spend a weekend each August on the Outer Banks of North Carolina. I played the part of Jeri Neal McFeeley, described in the script book as “a ditzy ray of sunshine.”

In the photo above, I arrive at the beach house eight months pregnant. This shocks my buddies because the last time they saw me, I was a nun.

I really shake up the weekend by going into labor. Sheree, our team captain in the striped shirt, takes control of the situation.

In Labor

Scene Two opens five years later. The lawyer, our friend Dinah, is coaching me for job interviews, without much luck.

Bathrobe

A few minutes later, I model the interview dress Mama made for me. It gets a fast thumbs down from the other girls. Dinah says I look like “an upholstered footstool.”

Frumpy Dress

Then I try on a dress that Lexie, the sexpot in the show, thinks might work for my interviews. Vernadette (wearing a clown suit and also the show’s real director, Lisa Woodward) announces I look like a “hooker with a stolen handbag.”

Pink Dress

In Scene One of Act Two, I’m newly married to a younger man. I have to fuss at Brice because he wants to talk sexy on the phone. I’m worried one of the girls might hear (and one does, much to my embarrassment). Here I am below, later in the scene, pondering the hurricane that is quickly brewing off the Outer Banks.

Contemplating the Hurricane

In the last scene, with one of our five beloved friends now dead, we gaze at the ocean from the cottage window. We’re 77! Lexie, never one to give into aging, dons a blonde wig.

I messed up some lines, but not too many, and I did not trip, faint, or spill the martini glass of milk Sheree hands me after I arrive pregnant. I’m not headed to Broadway, but I received lots of compliments. Thanks, everybody!

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And thanks to all of your for your enthusiasm, to Cliff and my friend Bernie for their encouragement, to my friends who came to the show, and to the cast and crew of The Dixie Swim Club. Hats off to Lisa, our director;  Debbie, our stage and sound manager (below); and Bob, our producer.

Debbie

I’m going to miss Jeri Neal and the other colorful characters. I’ve saved the sticker from my dressing room chair, the pink bathrobe and the frog slippers, and an ocean full of happy memories.

Jeri Neal Sticker

The Ghosts of Empty Nest

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Will and Anna

A post from Beth Lyon-Suhring:

It’s not the empty nest that’s the problem in this phase of my life.  I’m pretty happy to be able to spread my junk into bedrooms formerly occupied by my offspring.  I revel in a supper of the split pea soup that neither of them liked.  I rejoice daily that I never have to spend another afternoon on the soccer field that consumed years of our lives, and I don’t miss science fair projects even a little.

No, it’s not the empty nest that’s the problem; it’s the nest repopulated with the ghosts of Christmases, Valentines Days, and Summer Afternoons Past that is the problem.  My last flesh and blood child left for college over four years ago, so we should be rattling around in a house that’s far too big for our needs.  Instead, everywhere we turn, there are wraiths to trip over.

In the rocking chair upstairs there’s a shadowy young mother nursing her infant for what must surely be the twenty-seventh time since midnight.  The mom is obviously exhausted, but she’s so madly in love with the small creature in her arms, I can’t seem to work up the nerve to ask her to leave.

Rocking Chair

There in the living room are two pajama-clad apparitions, just out of their bath, wrestling on the couch as they await the next chapter of Charlotte’s Web, or Swallows and Amazons, or The Long Winter.

Out of the corner of my eye, I see a couple of shadows in the kitchen as my husband prepares dinner.  One is carefully chopping apples beside him, while the other one, standing on a kitchen chair pushed up to the counter, is stirring something vigorously in a big bowl.  Can’t they see that our kitchen is small enough as it is, without more arms and elbows in the way?

Will

There are small ghosts hanging over the banister, letting GI Joes and Barbies tied to strings rappel down the side of the staircase.  Childish voices at the dining room table leave little room for mature conversation.

These specters are in and out of our house all the time these days, and they always seem to be bringing more with them.  Sometimes I just stand and watch them, struck dumb by their unspeakable sweetness.  At other times, I pull myself together and get on with business.  If I ever manage to banish them all, I’ll let you know how the real empty nest works out.

Beth

Beth Lyon-Suhring lives in an old farmhouse with her husband and dozens of spectral children in Suffolk, Virginia.  She has two grown children, whom she misses just a little, and is a church educator.