Sunday, September 14, 2014

Muddy in Budapest.

Here I am in one of the great European cities - Budapest - and I can't get past the packed camping ground and its environs. You can't help rain, of course, so it's no one's fault that we're parked under a tree in a mud pit. But it's a bit disconcerting when you can't flush your morning's evacuations. 'It kept bobbing back up and staring at me.' Al shook his head in horrid disbelief, as did I, having had the same deal in the women's.

The women's was like some crowded steamy eastern bloc sorority house with a couple of wide eyed children staring at sad elastic confined cellulite. I wasn't about to add mine to the swill so I opted for the facilities in the van instead.

We drove for five and a half hours on B roads from Vienna - glory! - to get here. As soon as we were over the border we were on a massive criss-crossing motorway in a megalopolis - Bratislava. The traffic moved faster, lane swapping was rife and speed limits were treated with disdain. 

We came on the B roads believing we'd see more. Lots of corn fields spread around us, similar to those in Austria. However, it seemed shabbier. (Hard act for any place to follow.) Not much of interest in  the many villages we drove through. I'm sure they're all living their rich lives but there was little evidence of it. Lots of locals out on bikes gathering nuts along the highway added a bit of zest.

The long drive is due to 50, 70 and 90k speed restrictions, to which we adhered. Well, someone had to.

Our camping ground is 2k from the centre. I'm hoping to eat some humble pie after we get on the bikes and explore later today, but yesterday's brief foray around the campsite didn't bode well: dingy, mouldering blocks of flats, weeds growing through cracks in kerbs and footpaths, broken glass, litter. The local shopping mall was a tad depressing. Lots of old store mannequins staring off in bad wigs.

Yes, I know. I'm a spoilt, smug, arrogant westerner. But I'm just saying.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Klosterneuburg in the rain.

We're on day twelve of a five week tour of Europe and it's raining, hence my feeling inclined to write something about our trip.

Al has been banging on about cycling the Danube since we came to Europe in 2010 and I've been successfully persuading him to go to France instead. This year, however, I conceded. And here we are in Klosterneuburg, about 14k by bike to Vienna, along the Danube. But tomorrow, if the rain keeps up as promised by the forecast, we'll take the train.

'The rain puts a dampener on everything,' said Al, helpfully. Dampener: to dull or deaden; to depress. Perhaps for Al. Me? I'm on holiday in Europe, with the love of my life studying the camping book at the other side of the table in our luxury motorhome, once again rented from McRent in Sulzemoos near Munich. (Seamless pick up of the van, BTW.) 

What's more, I've got 150ml of Italian 'chardonnay' in a plastic beaker. Would have bought a wine glass, cos they're not provided by McRent - don't understand why not, guys - but have missed out on those Disneyland-esque French supermarch├ęs given we're not in France, so I haven't bought one.

Seems to be a rule about what an Austrian 'supermarket' can sell. Strictly groceries, well, at Billa and Spar, the grocery stores we've found along the way. No kitchenware, even at Aldi, which seems to sell lots of other paraphernalia. If I wanted a hi-vis jacket I'm in. A wine glass or a mug, not so much.

Have also been drinking tea and coffee from the same plastic beaker, given one of the heavy ceramic mugs was cracked. Was quite relieved actually. Thought I'd been dribbling.

Had a walk into town in our wet weather gear earlier. Think dorks in plastic ponchos, especially Al, with his 'I'm an Autralian' wide brimmed hat on top of his yellow plastic hood.

We circumnavigated an enormous significant cathedral. Ventured inside as a tour guide opened a steel grill to admit his three tourists then clicked it shut on us. He even did a little sneer as he locked us kids out of the main show. Not very Christian of him. Must have been the ponchos. 

I saw enough. Have gawped my way around sufficient cathedrals for a life time.

Wasn't a wasted trip. Found a shop that sold cheap ceramic mugs. Hurrah.

Also spotted a Chinese restaurant that looks promising for dinner. Spare me another schnitzel.

Probably should add that the 78k ride we did from Krems to Melk and back yesterday, in glorious weather on Al's 62nd birthday, is one of the best rides we've ever done. Blissful.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Didn't see that one coming: new BFFs

I'm a bit obsessive-compulsive, in case you didn't know. Last year, to lift my spirits and Get Out More, I decided I'd accept every invitation. 

So there we were, stepping out of my comfort zone on a Saturday arvo - I forced husband Al along for the ride - to attend the flat-warming party of one of the young teachers from my school. Think she invited everyone on staff. Probably didn't expect the oldies to attend. She wasn't to know about the little pact I'd made with myself.

Wasn't too bad. I ended up chatting to another English teacher; Al was apparently chatting amicably with her husband. We all seemed simpatico, being empty nesters and occasional travellers. Swapping emails - not keys - appeared to be a good idea at the time.

Didn't really expect any further contact but let's call her Mary emailed me a few days later. Would Al and I like to join Mary and let's call him Bernard for a movie and 'a bite to eat'?

We accepted, and a bit like kids going on a first date, we met Mary and Bernard at the cinema, watched a comedy then had a bowl of pasta and a bevy. Quite fun. Conversation seemed to flow although Al expressed some reservation. Wasn't his usual kind of beery gig with his besties. 

We met again a couple of months later for another film and 'bite to eat' date. This time we ate before the film. After the film I suggested a coffee. 'We can't drink coffee because then we won't sleep,' said Mary. Odd, I thought. 'Have tea? Chocolate?' Whatever. Thought it might be an age thing. In their mid-sixties, they're a bit older than us.

Our next date was just Mary and I. Lunch and a bike ride. Quite enjoyed the outing, finding lots of common conversational ground about our aged parents and our young adult kids.

Nearly went pear shaped at the next meal/movie. Al and I sat between Mary and Bernard through a turgid but beautifully drawn animated film. The dark cinema hours dragged. Didn't want to disturb our new friends by not paying close attention to the film they'd chosen. Couldn't leave, trapped as we were between them. Was so relieved when, at the end of the film, they both confessed to having slept through most of it. And there was me, being so good.

Mary had chosen that film based on film critics, 'Margaret and David's', four stars. When we parted ways, Bernard told us we had to choose the next film, ha ha, to avoid another disastrous choice by his wife. Kiss, kiss, off we went.

To be honest - and why would I lie? - it was all a bit forced. Al continued to go along for the ride, but with reservations. He was never entirely relaxed with Mary and Bernard, and neither was I but they were pleasant enough.

I almost let it go, but a few months later, out of guilt, thought I'd email Mary to see if they were up for another date, given that it was my turn to make contact. Instant affirmative reply, so off for another Saturday night film. 

Al was a bit white knuckled on the drive in. He'd prefer it was just the two of us going out, he said. Fair call, but we'd made a date; too late to back out.

Mary chose the film. I didn't mind. I was out on a Saturday arvo and I was taking an extortionately priced glass of chardy into the cinema with me, as was Al. Not Mary and Bernard though. Perhaps they didn't want to add an extra $20 to the $38 for the tickets.

The film was good and afterwards we headed for an Italian cafe for dinner. Was all going swimmingly, I thought, until i noticed Bernard seemed a bit distracted at the other side of the table. I'd ordered a second glass of wine after the meal, despite no one else joining me. Fuck it, I thought. It's eight o' clock on Saturday night and I'm having one.

'Bernard, if you want to go, go, don't mind us,' I said.

'Yes,' he said. 'we'll go.'

Seemed a bit blunt, but I didn't really care. Mary did though. 'It's not even 8.30,' she protested.

'Well, I'm bored,' he said. 'The conversation is boring and depressing.' I'd been talking. 'Tell me something interesting; something funny...'

Don't  remember the rest of the sentence, given my heart was breaking out of my chest and heat was threatening to explode my face. I was being boring, my biggest fear, and this guy was the first person who'd had the guts to call it? The fragility of my self-esteem alarms me.

'Okay, thank you.' Very polite; very calm despite the flight or fight heart beat. 'You'll be pleased to know you'll never have to put up with us again. How about you pay your half of the bill and I'll just sit here and finish my wine?'

Al said nothing. Why have a dog and bark yourself?

Bernard and Al got up to pay the bill and left me with an apologetic, heart-sloughed Mary, who blamed her husband's rude behaviour on the television on the cafe wall. 

'You'll have to forgive Bernard,' she said. 'He gets tired and I don't think having a TV on the wall helps.'

So much for accepting every invitation. Better off at home with a cheap chardy and a box-set.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Dexcom CGM and I.

Just 'secured' my Dexcom continuous glucose monitoring sensor in place with Bear Brand masking tape. My set's positioned, this time, on my left upper abdomen. I alternate between left and right. My aim to to get 14 days' use from one 'sensor set'. I've been CGM-ing now for nearly a year. (Just in case you didn't know, sensors read interstitial blood glucose and they're injected just under the skin.)

Ideally I'd change sets when a session expires at 7 days cos the sticking tape starts to lift. However, these mothers cost $80 AUD each, non-refundable on NDSS - National Diabetes Supply Scheme - or medical insurance. (Given how indispensable these sets are, that's a pisser.)

I've been securing my sets with expensive Tegaderm skin preparation 'ovals', cutting two of these these into halves to secure the edges of the lifting tape which is supposed to hold the set in place. (This is difficult to describe, btw, given it's a 'specialist' topic.) But while Tegaderm sticks valiantly to skin it doesn't get much of a grip on the tape. Consequently the tape pops out from under the Tegaderm while I'm showering meaning I need a new set. I've been managing about ten days per set using Tegaderm to secure sets, fewer if I go swimming, which I rarely do.

Now I'm giving the cheaper masking tape a go. I've had a trial piece stuck on my sensitive inner forearm for the past 24 hours to see how it stood up to the rigours of domestic life and whether it caused skin irritation. Passed both tests. Had to give it quite a rip to remove it too. That bodes well.

Continuous glucose monitoring is expensive. However, I budget for it because, for me, it's brilliant. It has greatly reduced my hypo anxiety. Prior to CGM I would do finger prick blood glucose checks about ten times a day, including during the night. Couldn't even consider sleep unless my BG was above 6mmol. (When I was on injections, prior to insulin pumping, I couldn't settle if my BG was under 8mmol, and even then I'd wake every hour to check. That was bad.)

The CGM alarms if my BG drops below 5mmol. This wakes me given I'm a light sleeper, probably due to 33 years of living the diabetic dream.

Hypo anxiety has also disappeared from my teaching life. I'm now totally focused on what I'm supposed to be doing in class, rather than teaching in a state of subliminal panic, which tended to raise my BG but didn't stop me second-guessing whether or not I was hypo.

The knowledge that the CGM will alarm if my BG drops below 5mmol, or if it's dropping too quickly or if it's too high, has allowed me to live more normally, albeit with two different sets injected and plastered on my belly. Not a good look but at my age in my circumstances I'm past caring.

Meanwhile I hope that with Bear Brand masking tape in place I can get another seven days out of this sensor.

I wrote the above post pre-shower. The Bear Brand masking tape came off in the first wash. Ha ha.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Rebuking the hoarder.

Watched a cleansing documentary the other day: The Hoarder Next Door. It's about two people, Roddy and Sarah, whose lives have become unmanageable due to their obsessive hoarding. Their homes were like tip sites, although perhaps not quite as well organised, if our local tip is anything to go by.

Their stories were interesting and disturbing and hit a bit of a spot with me. I'm nowhere near living in a tip, especially since my kids have moved out, but I'm possibly on the obsessive hoarder spectrum. This has been heightened to me lately by the experience of clearing out my mum's house prior to sale. Letting that house go was right up on top of the list of difficult things I've done in my life. Oh, the pain.

Another thing high up on that list was emigrating to Australia in 1964, before I was even old enough - just turned eight - to really understand the loss we were incurring. But, sensitive little creature that I was, I knew that something disturbing was happening. No more Carfield County School in Sheffield, no more familiarity, no more having the same accent as everyone else and understanding the idiosyncrasies of the idiom, and no more grandparents, cousins, aunts and uncles.

According to the psychotherapist who was helping Roddy and Sarah to overcome their hoarding, people who hoard have often suffered loss. One of Sarah's newborn twins had died soon after birth. Roddy's brother had died when Roddy was 22. Horrendous loss. Fortunately, I've been spared anything so awful.

However, I do struggle to let things go. Not everything, just some stuff. I put it down to that move in 1964. Have been giving myself a good self-talking to lately. Watching that ep on hoarding was part of my therapy - clever how I can rationalise spending hours 'catching up on iview' - watching programs I've missed on our national broadcaster, isn't it?

Even though my household furniture is mismatched, I never upgrade it because everything tells a story - which really slows me down when I occasionally clean. Wish all the crappy old furniture would stop telling me its repetitive tales.

So recently I've been marching around my house, eyeing things off, filling boxes with junk - how did I end up with a CD of Enya?? - and taking them to the local Savers - the charity shop that supports Diabetes Australia. Think I've donated enough stuff to fund a cure lately. This weekend, items that have defeated me have had the old heave-ho. Goodbye, stupid spinning wheel given to me when I was 19; goodbye toy pram bought for my daughter when she was about three. Bad luck, imaginary grandchildren, cos it's gone, as has the Barbie campervan and shop.

There's more. Even now I can see a black overnight bag peeping out from behind the couch, mocking me. It's been in that corner for over a year. It's full of Christmas decorations. It would be the easiest thing in the world to put the laptop on the table, pick up the bag and put it in the boot of my car for another trip to Savers tomorrow. Nah. It's okay where it is. Who knows? I might even do Christmas next year.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Self help.

I've been reading an inspirational self-help book called Choose Yourself, by James Altucher. I happened upon his blog via a Twitter site I follow called Positively Positive. It linked to a post by Altucher. The post spoke to me. I was in a particularly dark mood.

 I read a couple more posts, following the links on the side bar and felt like someone who understood me was actually talking to me. Given the number of comments on each post, heaps of people feel the same way. That’s good to know; the power of the internet to connect.

So why was I in a dark mood? At the risk of conjuring up the mood again, I’ll go there; summarise.

Last year was a trial. In April, after it became clear that mum wasn't coping with living alone, I/we began to come to terms with my mother’s memory loss; her dementia. (Talk about words with negative connotations!) Much of the year was about finding a place for mum to live where she could potentially be happy. We tried having her live between my sister and I, but that was awful for everyone.

After the requisite assessments for mum, I started looking for an Aged Care Facility offering low level care with potential for mum to move to high care as and when she needed it. This is a really depressing task. Actually, that’s an understatement. It’s a nightmare which begins with glossy brochures from the Aged Care Assessment service and lots of internet searches. I actually only visited three hostels before I found a place for mum. Suppose that’s lucky. The first three places left me sobbing in the car afterwards. After the fourth place, I didn't cry. Felt bleak, of course, but thought, as I looked over at the fountains in Queen’s Park across the road, that mum might be okay in that place. They had a vacancy and in August, mum moved in. (Reading that back, I make it sound so easy. It wasn't.)

Heaps of people have been through this process. It truly sucks, despite what the glossy brochures tell you about Aged Care Facilities. Where mum is they display big colour photos of the residents having a wonderful time, apparently. My mum has starred in a couple. In one I saw the other day she is the archetypal daft looking old person – won’t say woman because gender doesn't seem to be a factor in these shots. She’s holding the ‘stalk’ of some sort of big helium filled balloon flower arrangement and wearing a silver ‘tiara’ that says 'Happy New Year!' She’s smiling off into the middle distance. I hate seeing my mum like this. It's something she would have scorned in her former life.

I pointed her out to herself - never miss an opportunity! - when we were walking along the corridor the other day. She peered. ‘That’s never me,’ she protested. So what? She seemed to be having a better new year celebration than I was at my place, pissed off at all the fireworks making my insomnia even worse.

I ‘get mum out’ of the facility a couple of times a week. When I arrive she’s always surprised and delighted to see me. Why wouldn't she be? She has few visitors and I never tell her when I’m going to drop in. She forgets anyway. 

I’m scared writing this because I’m perhaps fueling the stereotype of the elderly person with dementia. There is a stereotype. Whenever I talk about mum everyone makes it quite clear that their own aged person is/was ‘sharp as a tack/sharp until the end’. Seems it’s better to need assistance getting dressed or getting around. Clearly you’re lower down the scale if you need a bit of reorientation in the morning; a reminder what day it is – and really, who cares what freaking day it is? Or what year? But yes, everyone wants to make it quite clear that their aged parent has/had no cognitive impairment. 

Don’t think mum is suffering. She misses my dad but she’s not wracked with grief now, nearly two years after he died. She’s truly living in the minute. She has few worldly possessions apart from a few framed photos and paintings on her walls, her comfy recliner chair and her old Queen Anne chest of drawers. Her bed is a single hospital Occupational Health and Safety approved job. All her goods and chattels have been dispersed among the family, op shops and eBay. She quite likes that I've got her sixties teak dining table and chairs in my kitchen now. But she’s not bothered about all that ‘stuff’ that she’d acquired during her adult life. Furthermore, she sleeps for twelve hours a night. I wish.

As I've written before, you wouldn't necessarily know my mum has dementia unless you spend lots of time with her. She's still canny.

The other day I took her to the podiatrist. It's a short walk from my house, down to the corner and across the road. Mum was a tad disorientated, unsure which way to turn at each intersection. I got a bit frustrated as mum dithered about which way to turn because I forgot- sheesh! - that mum's brain wasn't sparking as it used to. I made her link arms with me and this solved the problem. (This sounds minor but it's not. It's a constant reminder that even though mum is physically the same, mentally she's not the person that she was.)

I accompanied mum into the podiatrist's office. In what I assume was a normal voice, he asked me questions about mum's feet. 'Why don't you ask mum?' I said. 

Holding mum's hammer toed left foot in his hands, he beamed up at her - she was in the high chair, of course - and started talking to her like she was a two year old.

Farque alors. I didn't want to queer our pitch by telling him to talk in a normal voice.

And then his phone rang. "Sorry, I have to take this,' he said. He held onto mum's foot with one hand and answered his phone with the other. 

He then regaled the person on the other end with the story of some prospective employee, who he named, having reneged on a job he was due to start the next day. We listened in to the conversation. After he hung up he filled us in on the details of this guy who'd been 'so unprofessional', giving so little notice that he's taken up another job offer; leaving this practice in the lurch.

He finished mum's feet and then we left.

As we were walking home she said "I actually thought he was being unprofessional giving us all that information. Didn't you?' And that's the thing. Just when I think mum's lost it she chimes in with something so apt.

This post doesn't tell the half of why all this has led me to a dark place. It's possibly my particular sensibilities. I over-empathise; can't go through all this without seeing myself in twenty years and then thinking why not quit now, while I'm ahead?

The James Altucher blog and book helped. I carried out one of his Daily Practice suggestions the other day. One thing he suggests is to forgive someone. You don't have to tell them - I'm paraphrasing Altucher - just write it down on a piece of paper and burn the paper. "It turns out this has the same effect in terms of releasing oxytocin in the brain as actually forgiving them." That's from his book, Choose Yourself. $1.86 Australian on Amazon Kindle.

Well, assuming that my brain needed oxytocin - whatever that is - I wrote my little note on a piece of paper, all the time feeling ridiculous. Then I thought about burning it. Now I live in Melbourne, and it's stinking hot and it was a Total Fire Ban day. Looked over at the kitchen sink and the lighter. Uh-uh, I thought. I'll probably set fire to the curtains and then burn the whole freaking house down. So I folded the paper a couple of times then ripped it into tiny pieces which I fluttered into the recycling bin. By the time I'd finished I was bubbling with laughter. Was that oxytocin or am I an 'oxy-moron'? It certainly lifted my mood.

There's some good advice in Altucher's book, and if you have the wherewithall, you could make zillions of bucks.