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Throughout my years of wandering the hospital as an unknown IT guy, elders would strike up conversations. In nearly identical ways, each lived with loss and disability, yet they remain undefined by them. Almost to a person, they awoke each morning, serenaded the day, ate breakfast, and set out to seize the day or ‘get in trouble’ as one nurse phrased it. Sure, their knees hurt, and some couldn’t perform exercises like they used to. But, old age did not hit them suddenly. Instead, they got used to it, one day at a time. 

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As new Parkinson’s symptoms peel back any notion that my body can live in some delicate truce, I continue to reassess what I can and cannot do. For example, an Arizona State University study of Muhammad Ali’s public speaking revealed Ali exhibited symptoms of slowed and slurred speech several years before diagnosis. Researchers determined that Ali’s syllables per second slowed by 26 percent over thirteen years. But slurred speech was never my symptom, at least at this moment.

This week, left-hand tremor has become more prominent with the hands at the sides. A ‘Keyesence Detection’ test revealed, “The person has characteristics in their typing similar to people with early to mild Parkinson’s Disease. Tremor and movement exceeded normal ranges. An asymmetrical tremor of 4-6 Hz suggests Parkinson’s Tremor.’ But I already knew this. A tremor while typing has been the bane of my existence for several years. Tremor with the hand at my side has not. That’s new. That means Parkinson’s has progressed, even if ever so slightly.

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So, you might ask, “What the hell happened to you?” It’s a fair question. Yes, I know. Disappearing for 28 days is not something friends do to friends. Not even a peep. Honestly, I could have said, “Damn those extra shifts at the office.” Or, “Hey, I tripped down a set of stairs and wrecked my knee while attempting to avoid the leopard sleeping on the first floor.” Great story. Not true. I could have stated that I volunteered in some exotic land, assisting clinicians battling COVID. Another great story. All fiction. Instead, my excuse comes down to something easily stated but damn hard to combat: Brain Fog.

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The first time ‘If you don’t complete this, there will be changes’ was spoken was last week. Then, seven days later, the exact phrase was uttered again. So, in essence, my new boss threatened me. And even though I excelled at every performance review since starting with the company, working onsite through COVID, through my father’s death, two days post-tumor surgery, through Parkinson’s, through significant arthritis pain, that God-forbid that this one project, should it not be performed to perfection could end it all. So I wouldn’t say I like theoretical, but that’s what I think about.

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Last Guy in the Room

It’s been 18 months since we last met, but Ms. J. (to whom I wrote many letters, search ‘Dear Ms. J.’ should you care to read) decided several weeks ago that we needed to ‘get together.’ Historically, she’s always set the date, then changes the date, followed by a final cancellation. Two weeks ago, we agreed to meet February 21. Claiming a client desperately needed her, Ms. J. canceled last Tuesday and rescheduled for February 23. And true to form last Thursday, claiming another business opportunity, she withdrew from the rescheduled February 23 dinner. “Can you find a time that’s convenient for us both?” she requested. I said I would, but never did, nor will. Yeah, I get it. I do. It’s not that she doesn’t want to spend time with me. Instead, when one is dying, even a prolonged death, the dying is the last person in the room you want to be with. And, suddenly, when something else arises in the ‘living’ (i.e., the ‘living world’), you no longer need to be with the last person in the room.

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So, I had my first cancer screen test. One was PSA, and the other was CEA. PSA (a Prostate-specific antigen) is made by the prostate and is usually found in semen, with a small amount also detected in the blood. CEA (carcinoembryonic antigen) is a protein usually found in high levels of colorectal cancer patients. Most men without prostate cancer have PSA levels under four ng/mL. CEA is generally one or lower.

My PSA was .65 (should be less than <4 ng/mL) and the CEA was 1.0 (should be less than <2.5 ng/mL) “We don’t believe the problem you are experiencing (the improper manufacturing of red blood cells) is likely to be either colorectal cancer or prostate cancer,” the doctor informed. “So, something else is causing your problem. That problem might be multiple myeloma, but we’ll need to perform some further testing.”

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Medical professionals have identified a relationship between hearing loss and dementia. Let’s review some basic facts first. The impact of audiology and memory care will exacerbate with an aging population. By 2050, the number of people older than 60 years will double, comprising 21 percent of the global population. As a result, those living with dementia will triple and cost nearly $2 trillion. 

Though the exact association between the two conditions has not been identified, recent studies have proposed several theories. First, there is a possibility that hearing loss and dementia share a common cause. Thus, hearing loss and cognitive decline occur in parallel. As the brain degrades, so does hearing. But statistically, that’s not proven true. A second theory proposes that hearing loss places an increased demand on cognitive resources. Thus, information degradation occurs as resources are removed from cognitive tasks to support hearing. In such a scenario, listening causes the brain to work harder, burning out. The last theory proposes that a person with hearing impairment withdraws from social engagement and, therefore, experiences less cognitive function to interact with their environment. 

The theory gaining the most traction is the second: that hearing loss places an increased demand on cognitive resources. Individuals who have untreated hearing loss (even mild untreated hearing loss) find social participation requires more brainpower, which drains mental effort. This process makes the brain more likely to develop dementia.

So, why am I posting this information on a blog? Well, I am one of those impacted by hearing loss. Additionally, I am 62 years old. Combining those two statistics with watching my father suffer from hearing loss made me want to get and use hearing aids. Yet, the years-long search for the perfect hearing aid was frustrating.

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Fun to Find Out

My mother said, “Skip visited last night. (Skip died on August 30th last year.) I had gotten into bed and was ready to fall asleep when I felt his familiar tug. I knew it was Skip. I was so happy he visited. Strange though, there was a couple with him. I asked the couple what they were doing with Skip (implying Skip is her pet). They replied, ‘Skip was available. So, we adopted him.'”

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A 38-year-old man who needs a kidney transplant to survive refuses the required COVID-19 vaccination. The man stated that he was ‘born free’ and would ‘die free.’ Likewise, a 31-year-old Boston father-of-two with a third on the way needs a new heart. He also refuses the vaccine, indicating that it’s his body and his choice. According to news reports, both men continue to receive medical care but are no longer eligible for transplant surgery. A Go Fund Me campaign was initiated for the first, promoting the decision as a fight against tyranny. As a person who is dying, I feel for both men. As a patient though, when it comes to ‘death,’ there is no ‘born-free,’ ‘die free’ mentality. There’s just death.

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Getting Through It

If one has cancer, anemia is a common side effect (or cancer treatment). As a result, your body’s level of red blood cells dips below average, you don’t have enough red blood cells, and your body cannot effectively circulate oxygen. After another $4,000 of blood tests, my body can’t either create enough red blood cells or destroys them.

Feeling like a fancy geologist, the ‘anemic period’ (i.e., my anemia) was first noticed after blood labs in October 2021. (Of course, no one called to discuss the results or recommend treatment. So, I was left being proactive.) After research, I immediately started taking iron tablets. In January (after informing the clinicians they missed the anemia), the second round of tests showed improvement (likely from the iron supplements). But again, no follow-through.

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