Bellyaching & Whining While Crying in My Metamucil

by James Wallace Harris, 8/4/21

TRIGGER WARNING: Don’t read this if you’re under 65 or prone to depression. I don’t want anyone blowing their brains out because I’ve bummed them out.

This past year I’ve been sitting in countless waiting rooms with other sick souls waiting for the M.D. After our name is called, why do we say “Great” or “Fine” when the nurse asks us how we’re doing? Aren’t we all lying? Are we so overjoyed the waiting is over that we lie? How do we really feel? What if we actually told her.

The next time the nurse is in the doorway and yells “James Harris” and then asks me as I approach her, “How are you doing today?” I’ll give her this blog.

People ask me all the time about how I’m doing. I’m afraid to tell them. Oh, I make up funny anecdotes about the urologist, or laugh about my gallstones, but is it socially acceptable whine about how we really feel?

Lately, I’ve been asking myself, “How do I feel?” Mostly I’m stoic even to myself. I don’t want to admit that life is starting to suck. It’s not all bad, but so many of my organs are breaking down that I want to trade my body in for a 2022 model. I’m retired and have all my time free – which my young friends envy, and I’m not suffering like many folks on the nightly news every evening. But retiring and getting old is nothing like I imagined.

When I was young I thought turning old meant going bald and becoming wrinkled. I figured I could handle that. Then in my forties and fifties I started having various medical “issues.” However, doctors would fix me, and there would be long periods of feeling good. I realize now that getting old is when the periods of feeling good get shorter and shorter. I assume old old is when we give up hoping for symptom-free days.

I haven’t had a day where I felt normal, much less good, in so long I can’t remember. There’s always some body part yelling or kicking about something. Luckily, it’s been mostly little slaps to my innards, but they are starting to get a lot more forceful. I can’t imagine what daily life will be like in ten or twenty years.

And I have no reason to whine. I know people with all kinds of horrible cancers, chronic pains, conditions with scary names, failing body parts needing replacements, mental maladies, or worse. A quarter of the people born the year I was, 1951, are now dead. Of course, I know people my age, even ten and twenty years older, that are still healthy (if they aren’t lying). Aging begins in different decades for different people. And I keep hoping I can get my current broken parts repaired so I can feel normal again – for a while at least. I’d love a whole normal year, or even a couple months. Hell, right now, a week would be wonderful. I’m starting to worry that some of my ailments might be chronic. I’m like an antique car that runs but is always up on the rack.

Aging wisely I suppose, is learning to accept the increasing time required for parts maintenance. I sure it took Sisyphus time to adapt to his task too.

It used to be simple. The head aches, take an aspirin, it stops. My stomach complains, I change my diet, it shuts up. My heart has tachycardia episodes, I get a cardiologist to zap the right spot, it ticks like a clock. That’s what I thought would happen with my pee-pee-peeing problem. I’d see a urologist, have an operation, it would be fixed. That didn’t happen this time. I had an operation. It didn’t fix everything. My doctor is still trying, but things aren’t simple.

Right now my bladder is driving me nuts daily, every few months I have a gallbladder attack, and I’m getting rather gimpy because of my spinal stenosis. For years I’ve had stomach problems, but if I gave up certain foods my tummy would play nice, sometimes for months (until I started sneaking in junk food). I’ve now given up all the fun foods gurus told me were bad, and my stomach still bellyaches. I suppose it’s the gallbladder, but I don’t know. My doctor is wait-and-see watching me. It used to be docs would just rip out the gallbladder but they don’t seem to be so quick with the scalpel anymore. They’ve discovered there are long-term consequences to living without your GB. I’m trying to find if I can live with my gallbladder and stones or need to have that sucker laparoed out, but while I ponder I have indigestion, reflux, and sometimes painful attacks. It’s a quandary. It’s certainly taken the enjoyment out of mealtimes. I never know when I’ll eat a culinary grenade.

I’ve been taking a drug that helps me piss less, but it gives me dry mouth, and nasal congestion. If I stop taking the drug I pee over thirty times a day and have all kind of weird sensations in my bladder, prostate, and penis. Taking the drug quiets all that, but the trade-off is those head symptoms. Right now I’d rather feel bad above the neck than below the bellybutton.

One reason I don’t blog as much is I don’t feel like blogging. But today I’m making myself write because I’m starting to believe that another lesson to getting old is just pushing through, learning to ignore shit.

When I see sick young people, especially tragic ones that have to stay at places like Saint Jude Hospital, I feel how it’s unfair they didn’t get their decades of normal health. I wish I could tell the healthy under forty crowd not to waste or jeopardize their future vitality, because I certainly regret my six bags of M&Ms a day habit now (and all the other tons of junk food I massed consumed).

It’s weird, but I felt my best when I was eating all the things health nuts said things were bad for you, and now that I’m almost vegan, I feel bad all the time.

If you’re healthy, do everything you can to stay healthy. Don’t worry about getting old, worry about wear and tear on your body parts. If I had to spend one day a month when I was a teen feeling like I do now, I would have given up drugs and junk food, and joined a gym in 1964.

JWH

Why Am I Peeing 30 Times a Day and Other Mysteries of Getting Older?

by James Wallace Harris

I am being forced to become a detective, but the mystery I must solve is not one of who did it, but why is my body out to get me. Sometime in the future we will all die, but before we’re done in we’ll fear many possible assassins. For most of us, our murderer will be a natural cause, but which one? Our last years will be spent running away from various suspects, always looking for clues to who our real killer will be. But the older we get, the more suspects show up, complicating the mystery.

All my friends in my age group suffer from something, many have dodged several bullets, and a few haven’t. Like all the machines we’ve owned over our lifetime, our bodies will wear out, part by part, until they can’t be fixed anymore. Unfortunately, being a machine that’s breaking down is not a fun experience. Like an old car, we never know which part will need repairing next. And continuing this metaphor, most of us aren’t skilled repairmen. We can only guess about what’s causing our breakdowns, and even when we do hire an expert, we never know if we’re getting the right repairs.

I’m currently dealing with two medical mysteries. The primary one is why do I pee thirty times a day. I went to a urologist and had a Urolift assuming it was a common male problem of an enlarged prostate. Although the Urolift improved flow, the procedure failed to stop my excessive peeing. Evidently, I had two problems.

Before the Urolift I had hoped the procedure would fix me and I’d be back to normal. However, I’m learning in old age we seldom get back to what we once were. Atul Gawande analyzes that hope of returning to normal in his book Being Mortal. We all believe doctors can fix us, but that isn’t always true, especially the older we get. That’s when we try to fix ourselves with sleuthing our own medical mysteries.

I’ve been watching many videos on YouTube about the causes and cures of frequent urination. I feel myself grasping at straws hoping to find any help. For example, Dr. Oz recommends consuming ground flax seeds to calm an overactive bladder, and Dr. Berg recommends following a keto diet to reduce insulin resistance that can cause frequent urination. My own urologist has prescribed Myrbetriq to relax my bladder muscles but it made my prostate/bladder ache, and my urges to pee stronger and somewhat painful. Katy Butler warned in her book The Art of Dying Well against anticholinergics, the common medicine prescribed for overactive bladders, because of their dangerous side effects. My own internist is against them too. Evidently, a large number of older people have overactive bladders and we’re all looking to solve the mystery of why it’s happening to us and how to fix it.

I’ve taken a different approach. I had hoped the Urolift would have left me peeing like a teenager again, which the sale testimonials promise, but when I informed my urologist that magic hadn’t happened, he said it took months and years for my bladder to learn its current habits, so it might take just as long to break them. I went home feeling relieved with this bit of hope. In fact, for several days after that office visit I only peed 24 times a day. But then the frequency went back up.

I wondered if that was a clue. Could that sense of relief brought on by hope have relaxed my bladder, even just a bit? Could I consciously try relaxing my bladder through stress reduction or meditation? I bought a chem flask with a milliliter gauge and have started measuring my output, along with logging my frequency. A healthy person will pee 250-400 ml when they go and maybe up to 800 ml when they really hold it, but I only produce 50-70 ml during my frequent visits to the bathroom, and even less when my bladder is having fits.

From what I’ve learned people of all ages can have urine retention, but it’s more common in oldsters. I already know that several of my organs are wearing out, so why not the bladder? But if it’s a matter of muscles, either for contraction or relaxing, can I make changes with exercise, diet, or mind control?

By the way, those are some of the many approaches we take when trying to solve our own medical mysteries. There’s several, often approached in this order:

  • Time will make it go away
  • Prayer will heal it
  • Diet will help it
  • Exercise will overcome it
  • Pills will cure it
  • Surgery can repair it
  • Meditation can relax it
  • Alternative medicine might fight it

When you have a medical mystery you keep trying to solve it like a complex Sudoku puzzle. We always want to believe we can fix something and return to normal, but part of aging is the realization that some things are out of our control.

But what’s particularly frustrating is assuming something can be fixed if only we can find the right evidence and clues. The trouble with medical problems is all the variables and interactions. It’s almost impossible to get a definitive answer.

While working on my pee problem my gallbladder said, “Hey, pay attention to me!” Turns out I have gallstones. I’ve had a couple minor gallbladder attacks, but since I’ve seen someone with a major attack I’m positive I don’t one the kind requiring an ambulance. At first, I thought, let the doctors rip out my gallbladder because I’ve known a number of people that’s had that procedure. Then I started learning about possible consequences of living without a gallbladder. After ultrasounds, bloodwork, and a CT scan, my doctor has recommended a wait and see attitude. While doing all that poking around though, they also found fatty deposits and a cyst on my liver. So I feel like a ticking time bomb. But these new issues only adds to the list of my failing parts and systems.

I don’t mean to sound like I’m boo-hooing in my blog. I’m just reporting on a mental process I find interesting about getting older. And like I said, I know so many people with all kinds of medical problems, nearly all of them worse than mine. In fact, I can’t think of anyone my age or older I’d trade bodies with.

I’ve just reached an age where stoicism is the only practical philosophy. I know one of my organs will fail, and murder me, but not which one. But does it matter? It will be out of my control. The frustrating thing is thinking we can control things, and we can to a very limited degree. But evidently, part of aging is learning when we can’t.

JWH

How to Flourish and Avoid Languishing in Retirement and Old Age?

by James Wallace Harris, 5/5/21

Languishing and flourishing are two words that have been banging around in my consciousness since reading two essays in The New York Times: “There’s a Name for the Blah You’re Feeling: It’s Called Languishing” and “The Other Side of Languishing Is Flourishing.”

The first article was geared to people suffering a sense of stagnation, emptiness, and muddling through caused by the pandemic. Adam Grant says languishing is the state of mental health between depression and flourishing and explores the emotion in detail, along with advice on how to beat languishing. The second article, by Dani Blum gives us seven ways to promote flourishing.

I immediately resonated with the word languishing, but not because of pandemic confinement. I realized languishing is a state I have fallen into because of retirement and aging. I am not depressed, but often I am not flourishing either.

What I realized was the confining lifestyle required to avoid Covid-19 was similar to the lifestyle of being retired. Both involve spending most of our time at home. Both involve seeing fewer people. Both involve limiting what we can choose to do. Sheltering at home from Covid-19 was no great effort for me because I was retired. I no longer needed to go to work or school, and my social life shrank drastically after I stopped working. I felt sorry for the millions that had to put their careers, businesses, and education on hold. But what I understood now, being retired had put my future on hold too. That’s where the sense of languishing grabs us.

On the front side of life, when we are young, the future is full possibilities. We flourish by chasing all our wants.

But on the back side of life, possibilities dwindle, and opportunities disappear. After retirement our wants become fewer. As our health fades away, so do the desires that drive us. We begin to languish.

I believe wanting people, places, possessions, and proficiencies make us flourish. But how do we thrive with vanishing vitality and dissipating desires?

I need to think about this. I do know when my health fails, I languish, and when my wellbeing returns, I start flourishing again. Unfortunately, the frequency of poor health episodes are increasing.

The answer to the title question needs two approaches. One for retirement, one for aging. Retirement gives us more time but less of other things. Aging is a diminishing of being, a natural state of not flourishing. Yet, I hope to find ways to flourish right up until I’m dying. Is that even realistic? Or some Pollyannaish belief?

I could speculate now and make this essay much longer, but I believe I need to contemplate the problem deeper before philosophizing further.

JWH

Lightning Killed More Than My Hardware

by James Wallace Harris, 4/17/21

Lightning zapped my Sony TV, NUC computer, Yamaha music streamer, and AT&T internet box. It was six days before we were back on the internet, but I still haven’t replaced the other equipment. I’ve been thinking about what I had and what I want.

The lightning strike has indirectly killed my interest in Linux. I’ve been playing with Linux ever since the early 1990s when I downloaded floppy disc images off Usenet. Each time I installed it I realized I couldn’t use it for my daily computing, but over the years Linux got better and better. I thought Linux terribly neat and always wondered if there would come a day I could use it for my regular computing tasks. When lightning struck I switched to using my Linux machine. I found programs to do nearly everything I did under Windows and figured that day had finally come. Then I needed to print. HP even offers support for different Linux distributions, but the HP software I downloaded wouldn’t install. It almost did, but it was missing a handful of dependencies, just some Python files, and I just didn’t want to go looking for them. So I finally gave up on Linux. I needed to print a letter to my doctor and couldn’t. I realized that if I made a big effort I could. I might even get my flatbed scanner to work too, but it would take a lot of fiddling, and I realized I’ve just gotten too old for fiddling with computers that don’t work.

I got out my copy of Windows 10. It installed within minutes. It automatically recognized the HP printer and downloaded the drivers. My letter printed. I’ve decided my backup computer will be a Windows machine from now on too. I’m just getting too old to keep up with two operating systems. And I was thinking about getting a Mac Mini too, one of the new M1 machines. I’ve dreamed of owning a Mac for decades. Well, lightning has killed that desire too. The side effect of losing my Windows machine has made me realize I want to simplify my computer usage, and Windows only is the way to go.

I haven’t replace my TV yet because I wasn’t sure what kind of TV I wanted next. I spent years selecting the Sony. I had known I wanted a 65″ TV, but there was so many other technical considerations. Since my TV died I’ve been watching my wife’s 55″ TCL Series 5 TV and realized it’s almost as good for 1/3 to 1/4th the price. I just didn’t miss all those superior technical features Rtings.com claimed the Sony had, and the simplicity of the TCL’s built in Roku interface turns out to be the real deciding factor. I still want a 65″ TV, but I’m going to buy a 55″. The larger TV weighs more than I can handle. Over the past few years I’ve been learning that weight matters too in factoring in convenience.

Evidently, lightning also killed my desire for high tech toys. When I replace my computer, I’m going to get an Intel i5 chip instead of the i7 that got zapped. Using my old machine with an i5 has shown me it’s fast enough. Even before the crash I was thinking about a new computer. I was hankering for a tower unit with a fast graphic card. But after the lightning strike I’ve decided to stay with the small NUC form factor.

I haven’t decided what to do about my Yamaha music streamer. The lightning killed the ethernet and wireless circuits, so I can’t stream music, but the amp still works, so I can play CDs and LPs. Maybe that’s good enough. However, in my evolution towards a simplified lifestyle I’ve been considering giving up CDs and LPs. Maybe I can find a small streamer to play through the amp. All it needs is Spotify connect. I bet an Echo Dot would do. I’ve already given up on streaming high definition music. It was just too much trouble for something I wasn’t sure I could hear.

It’s odd to think about how a lightning killed my desire for newer technology, but it has. I was already downsizing because of aging, so I no longer believed bigger was better, but I still had faith that the latest technology was better, and now I don’t. A burst of lightning has shown me that I reached good enough tech years ago. I don’t need cutting edge computing equipment, or audiophile stereo equipment, or even a television that Rtings.com rates the best.

When lightning killed my toys I was annoyed, but only mildly so because of the inconvenience. It was just after several towns in Alabama were hit by tornadoes and many people lost their entire homes. I considered myself lucky to lose so little. But in a way, I was doubly lucky because what I lost has taught me what I don’t need, and that will save me a lot of time and money in the future.

JWH

The Mystery of the Aching Leg

by James Wallace Harris, Monday, 1/11/21

After years of controlling pains in my back and leg with exercise and diet I’ve had a relapse. What have I done wrong? It took me years of learning about many good and bad habits to get that pain under control. What have I done to screw things up? It’s a mystery that I’m trying to solve but complicated by the many different factors involved.

Many years ago, I was diagnosed with spinal stenosis. I had gone to orthopedic doctors because I thought my hip was going out, but the pain went all the way down to my foot. After an MRI the showed my hip was okay, but I likely had stenosis I was sent to a pain management doctor. He told me to avoid surgery unless things got unbearable, set me up with a physical therapist, and prescribed anti-inflammatory drugs.

I quickly learned that sleeping flat on a bed aggravated my condition and switched to sleeping in a recliner. That dramatically reduced my pain. I also learned my 3 mile a day walks were annoying the hell out of my leg, so I stopped walking as much. That reduced the pain, numbness, aching, tingling, etc. a good deal more.

Also, during the time period, I had to have a stent put in my heart and I lost about thirty pounds trying to help that problem. I assume losing that weight might have helped my leg, but both my regular doctor and back doctor were doubtful.

Concurrent with those lessons I also learned my stomach couldn’t handle NSAIDS anti-inflammation drugs, but the physical therapy exercises paid off big time. Before I gave up on the drugs, I became aware of what it felt like to have lower inflammation. Because of that I became aware of which foods set off inflammation – mostly fun foods. So, I began avoiding them. That helped too.

Eventually I supplemented the PT exercises with exercises by Miranda Esmonde-White that I discovered on PBS TV. They helped a lot! Even better than the PT exercises.

Over the past couple of years, I’ve been doing intermittent fasting, and that seems to have helped with inflammation, but I’m not sure.

All these efforts got things mostly under control, and the pain and numbness almost went away. It became low level enough to ignore, and I was good for a few years.

However, things have gotten bad again. Not as bad as when I first started going to the back doctor, but it’s heading that way. Over the years I’ve had flareups and could fix them by being more diligent about my exercise and diet, but these quick tweaks aren’t working.

I assume my present flareup is because I’ve gotten lax about my exercising and intermittent fasting. Over the holidays I’ve indulged in some fun foods and gained five pounds and might have increased inflammation. But there’s one new factor that’s bothering me. At my annual checkup in November my doctor told me I my legs showed signs of poor circulation, and some of my aching legs symptoms could be that. She wants me to have tests done but not until after I get the Covid-19 vaccine. A stent in my leg might fix things, but I won’t know for a while.

Because my doctor scared me about the poor circulation in my legs I went back to walking regularly. I tried walking 1 mile twice a day. At first that seemed to help, but then my leg got bad again. I had been walking 1 mile several times a week. It makes my back and leg hurt for an hour or two, but that kind of exercise helps my heart, so I figured the short-term pain was worth it. But that extra walking is another clue to the leg flare up.

I also remembered that statins caused my legs to ache. Over the last twenty years my doctor has been having me take different statins and dosages trying to find the right combination that don’t produce side effects, which were pains in the legs. I was on 5mg every other day, but in November she had me go to every day, and even wanted to bump up the dosage to 10mg. So that might be another factor.

Now I have the mystery of the aching leg and wondering what’s causing it. My doctors have always told me things could get worse, but I’ve had so much success controlling pain with lifestyle changes that I don’t want to believe they’ve stopped working now.

I wish we had a little computer to plug into my brain and read body health like those car code readers decipher automobile problems. It sure would simplify things.

Did that extra walking caused this flare up? The gaining of weight? Enjoying a bit of cheese danish every day? Too many meals with cheese? Switching to statins daily? Skipping my exercises too often? Or is it hardening of the arteries in my legs? Do I need to go back to my 16:8 intermittent fasting? I just remembered I had to give up my protein drinks because they were driving my bladder crazy. That’s 30mg less of protein. I switched to eggs and yogurt, which may or may not affect my clogged arteries.

I know two types of people. Those that eat anything they want and don’t exercise and seem to do fine, and those with growing ailments that are constantly trying to find solutions that involve just the right combination exercise and diet.

Unfortunately, I’m in the group that always has a health mystery to solve. Sorry to bore you by complaining about my ailments, but writing these blogs are my way of thinking things through. This essay has helped me, but not to come up with a specific answer. I’m going to eat better, do more good exercising, walk less, take less statins, watch my posture, and try to lose weight. I hope that helps, but it won’t solve the mystery of what actually caused my leg to get worse.

JWH