A VISIT TO THE EYE DOCTOR

A couple of years ago I was diagnosed with Dry Eye Syndrome. I am one of thirty percent of adult Americans who suffer from some degree of dry eye. Maybe you’re one of them.

The first indication that something might be amiss was that my eyes would burn when we were watching television in the evening. When I described this symptom to the doctor he told me that I have Dry Eye Syndrome. I hadn’t known that dry eye is an actual condition brought about when the eyes are not producing enough tears. There are glands in the eyelids that if not working properly prevent the tear-making process from working as it should.

The first thing the doctor did was to put punctal plugs into the corner ducts of my eyes so that what tears were produced wouldn’t drain out as quickly. That might sound like an excruciating procedure, but I guarantee you, I felt next to nothing. Unfortunately, those little suckers didn’t stay in my eyes for long. Not sure if it was because of something I did, such as rubbing my eyes, or if it’s a predictable occurrence.

I was then sent home to begin a long and tortuous – not torturous – regimen that included lots of eye drops, six to eight glasses of water a day, four fish oil capsules, hot compresses, and the use of Restasis twice a day.

Restasis is an extremely expensive medication in part because the manufacturer, Allergan, has to ante up buckets of money for those TV commercials, the one featuring a female doctor with stunningly blue eyes, and also because Restasis is the only medication of its kind. Without insurance my prescription would cost over a thousand dollars. Even with help from my trusty insurance company I pay a scary $126.

The first time I tried Restasis it didn’t seem to be doing anything. So I didn’t refill the prescription. The doctor mentioned it again, telling me that it takes “a while” to work. So I agreed to try it again.

But the next visit to the doctor didn’t show much improvement. Was it because I was pursuing the regimen half-heartedly? Perhaps so and I resolved to follow it to the letter, except for the eight glasses of water a day, which you and I both know is not easy  to do, especially if you’re planning to leave the house.

I reported to the doctor that the microwavable eye pads weren’t staying hot the desired fifteen minutes, so he suggested I use a sock filled with rice. What a novel idea. It works although I’ve probably overheated my eyeballs on occasion.

The reason I’m telling you all of this is because, in the face of such a rigorous course of treatment I felt that I still didn’t really understand why I was doing all these things. So I downloaded one of many available books, Dry Eye Remedy, by Robert Latkany, which explains in detail what dry eye is and what the treatments accomplish. I learned what causes dry eye, what type of person is most susceptible, and perhaps most enlightening, what Restasis is supposed to do and why it’s so bloody expensive.

When I went back to the doctor I wanted him to know that I had a better understanding of why I have to drink the water, take the fish oil, use the hot compresses and use the Restasis.

When I told him I had read a book about dry eye, he asked, incredulously, “There’s a book about dry eye? Who would read a book about dry eye?”

“I would.”

 “It couldn’t be a best seller.”

 “Maybe not, but there are at least four books about dry eye, so there must be quite a few people interested in learning more about it.”

 “Maybe I should write one,” which I interpreted as meaning that anything he might write on the topic would be superior. Maybe so. 

Is it strange for me to read a book about dry eye? I don’t think so, but the doctor found it highly amusing. I suggested that he could entertain his wife at the dinner table by telling her about this eccentric patient who read a book about dry eye. 

Maybe I’m naïve, but it seems to me that a doctor would appreciate a patient trying to learn more about his or her condition. But mine must have felt that my reading suggested that I could learn more about dry eye than I did from him. That’s true. I did. For one thing, his revolving door practice is so busy that he doesn’t have half an hour to explain the intricacies of their condition to each patient.

I’m convinced that dry eye is caused by factors that are difficult to eliminate from one’s life including antihistamines, which include not only allergy and cold medications but also heartburn medications such as Zantac and Tagamet, alcoholic beverages, especially wine, and dry air. I’m usually an optimist but I sense that to some degree of dry eye will be with me forever. But as long as I can see, if a little dryness is the worst I have to put up with, I’ll consider myself lucky.

Posted on Monday, January 19, 2015 at 7:40AM by Registered CommenterPatricia P. Jennings | Comments2 Comments

HOW DO I LOOK?

Awful. At least that’s how I felt about a photo of myself published in a local newsletter a while back. Upon expressing dismay to the lady who selected the photo, which she took with her cell phone, she said, “I think you look beautiful.” In retrospect, what could I have expected from a cell phone? 

It’s obvious that she and I were seeing the picture with different eyes, which is a stark reminder that we cannot see ourselves as others see us.

How often are you pleased with a photo of yourself? Probably not very often. That snapshot taken in a nanosecond, in mid-sentence, mid-frown, or mid-guffaw can ruin your day.

For years I wouldn’t smile for a photo and didn’t realize why until a new dentist asked me if I’d be interested in having two little gaps in my teeth filled in. I was interested, had the procedure done, and when I saw a photograph with my “new” teeth it dawned on me why I had been reluctant to smile for so long.

We all think we know what we look like, and our brains have a magical way of convincing us that we look good. So a photo can be a shock when we behold our crepey necks, our double chins, laugh lines and wrinkles, and wonder, “Oh dear. Who is that person?” because when we look in a mirror we see what we want to see, not what’s really there. I don’t examine my neck when I’m applying makeup and mascara.

In the middle of a photo session a couple of decades ago I ran for the Scotch Tape and tried to pull the sides of my face back to smooth out my laugh lines. Thinking back, it was a sweetly desperate thing to do and I’d be overjoyed if I looked now the way I looked that day.

Since then I willingly confess that I’ve had a couple of needles filled with chemicals injected into my face to modify a few creases and folds and I’ll tell you the needles aren’t nearly as painful as the bill. Peeling off a few years ain’t cheap.

As for makeup, isn’t it amazing what it can do when applied by a professional? We all love Oprah but can agree that Oprah, in her natural state, is no beauty. But by the time the makeup artists and hair stylists have worked their wizardry on her, she’s downright gorgeous. Think of all those covers of “O” magazine.

When it comes to enhancement, women have it all over men. Male performers can get away with wearing a layer of makeup and hair pieces, but if the man who lives next door showed up at your house wearing blush, mascara, and a toupee, you might back away, and then maybe run away. Men are perfectly free to avail themselves of Botox and other cosmetic procedures just as women are, but it’s my impression that most men think they look great just the way they are. That’s pretty obvious at Weight Watchers meetings where men are in short supply.

Much of our displeasure with the way we look in photos is simply because they remind us that we’re aging. I forget that I look kind of “up there” until I’m running my daily errands and am treated with unexpected solicitude because, although I feel perfectly capable, to others I must appear slightly diminished in mind and body.

In Samuel Barber’s opera Vanessa, the heroine covers all of the mirrors in her house so that she will not have to watch herself aging as she awaits the return of her former lover. But you won’t find any covered mirrors in my house. After all, when I look in the mirror I see a thirty year old.

There was a recent article in the morning paper by a woman who wrote that after she turned sixty she stopped worrying about her attire because beyond a certain age a woman becomes invisible. I couldn’t disagree more.

I might be invisible to certain males of the species to whom I’d just as soon not be visible, but I doubt if I’m invisible to the people who really count – other women. Around them I want to look good. And I dread the day when I no longer care about what I wore to my last meeting or luncheon for fear of being seen in the same outfit. Even though my husband says, “Who in the world would remember what you wore the last time?” I figure some might, and I’m not ready to take the risk.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to Chico’s.

Posted on Wednesday, January 7, 2015 at 9:11AM by Registered CommenterPatricia P. Jennings | Comments3 Comments

A WINTER REPRIEVE

This piece is narrow in scope. But wherever you live you've no doubt had to endure similar annoyances.

During the past few months, despite being spared the paralyzing snow and ice storms experienced in other parts of the country, Pittsburgh area motorists, because of road construction, have been presented with more than the usual number of challenges when it comes to driving from Point A to Point B.

Even though these disruptions are frustrating, we have to put up with them and have faith that the use of our tax dollars will have outcomes that make our suffering worthwhile. 

We all remember the tangle that was the Liberty Tunnel-Route 51 intersection. You had the feeling you could complete a novel before the light turned green releasing you from the buildup of noxious fumes. That nightmare is long past and the resulting reconfiguration is an engineering marvel.

We thought it would never happen, but on November 17th, after six years of major disruptions, the reconstruction of Route 28, from North Side to Millvale, finally came to an end. It was such an occasion for rejoicing that the governor came for the ribbon cutting.

On any given day, when we least expect it, up pop signs that read “WORK ZONE," “ROAD CLOSED,” “STOP” or “SLOW,” making us late for work, school, doctors’ appointments, and Bingo.

It’s a good idea to have the phone number of every destination one plans to visit if punctuality is a factor. I keep snacks in my car and don’t ingest much liquid before I leave home. A teller at the Citizens Bank in Settler’s Ridge told me she had spent two hours the previous night waiting for a tie-up on the inbound Parkway West to dissolve.

And speaking of the Parkway West, the “WORK ZONE” delays are minor annoyances compared with what I call the Big Headache, better known as the “I 376 Parkway West Improvement Project,” the “you have to see it to believe it” construction that began this past summer and, except for a winter hiatus, will make our lives miserable until the summer of 2016.

In case you’ve been away for the last few months and aren’t aware of what’s going on, the PennDot web site explains: “The $3.72 million project includes milling and resurfacing I-376 between I-79 and the Fort Pitt Tunnel, bridge preservation and rehabilitation work, drainage improvements, guiderail upgrades, signing and pavement marking, concrete median barrier replacement and sign structure rehabilitation.” What it didn’t mention is the construction of high sound barriers in Greentree and Rosslyn Farms – which required the removal of hundreds of trees – to lessen the din of 24/7 traffic so that nearby residents might be able to open a window once in a while or take a nap.

The project is being staged just off the Rosslyn Farms exit. Until recently, we Rosslyn Farmers entered our peaceful community by driving past a green meadow that extended a quarter mile until the first house came into view. But now, instead of a lovely meadow, we get to drive past a squadron of earth movers, steam shovels, bulldozers, dump trucks, generators, construction trailers, and fuel tankers.

A particularly vexing feature of the project was the narrowing of a mile of lanes near Carnegie in which only the drivers of Mini Coopers or Smart Cars could feel confident. This lane-shrinkage brought with it the expected number of accidents when drivers became unhinged and decided to take a chunk out of a concrete barrier – or another vehicle.

All of the ramps into and out of the city of Carnegie were closed for several months, which had me wondering: Considering the abundance of publicity Carnegie has been getting lately because of the opening of new restaurants and a wealth of shows and activities at the Carnegie Carnegie (Library and Music Hall), what the good people of Carnegie were thinking about all of this. Nothing good, I can assure you.

But yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus, and he brought us an early Christmas treat. Beginning November 24th all of the ramps were opened and the lanes returned to their normal width. The work was suspended until next March. Hallelujah!

Just when we thought all was lost, that we were condemned to an eternity of inconvenience and hazards, all has been returned, like magic, to normal except for the unsightly assemblage of heavy equipment that will hibernate for the winter in Rosslyn Farms.

Winter doesn’t bring much to enjoy unless you love to ski or are one of those slightly off kilter people who just love cold weather and snow. But this year, with a jolly “Ho, ho, ho,” the man in the red suit has given us a reprieve, restored our roads, and if we happen to be going to Carnegie, we can say “Whee!” as we take the ramps off and onto the Parkway West.

Happy Holidays! 

Posted on Tuesday, November 18, 2014 at 12:57PM by Registered CommenterPatricia P. Jennings | Comments1 Comment | References42 References

PUMPKIN

When the hardy mums show up in late August, my heart sinks. For one thing, they strike me as a desperate attempt to distract us from the inevitability of what's headed our way. Little pots of those dense, not-very-pretty flowers are strategically placed here and there to help us forget the lovely posies of spring and summer, the leaves of which have turned to yellow husks disguised under heaps of falling leaves.

And I also know that when the hardy mum season arrives, it won’t be long before we are drowning in a sea of orange as we are bombarded with all things pumpkin.

Is it my imagination, or has there been a huge uptick in the ferocity with which we are being exhorted to buy pumpkin in every possible permutation, and that if we don’t we’re being churlish and uncooperative?

I envision the great minds at Pumpkin Central pulling all-nighters, starting in May or June, as they think up new ways to inveigle us into purchasing pumpkin-flavored foods.

A lot of us grew up with pumpkin pie, which in those days was about all we ever ate that contained pumpkin. But these days everything is Pumpkin Spice-flavored. The pumpkin is an utterly tasteless vegetable unless it is adulterated with practically every spice known to man. I bet if someone placed a cube of pumpkin in your mouth while you were blindfolded, you wouldn’t know what it was.

And if you examine the ingredient list of some of your recent pumpkin-floavored purchases, you'll find that they contain no pumpkin. Check out  Pepperidge Farms Pumpkin Milano cookies.

Several decades ago I won a "Susan Bakes and Cooks" award* for a pumpkin cheesecake that I developed. I was one of the first people around who used nuts in my crust, back in the 80s, before putting nuts in crust had occurred to the new age chefs.

I made a lot of those cheesecakes, which were enjoyed by many, but I make few these days because, when pumpkin season rolls around, there's too darned much competition.

A lady on a recent Jimmy Kimmel show has developed a pumpkin cappuccino using her Keurig coffee maker. She loves this stuff so much that she had displayed before her fifty-two boxes of pumpkin spice-flavored coffee so that she won’t run out before next year’s pumpkin season. She readily acknowledged that people think she’s off her rocker, and I don't disagree. I’m just wondering what will happen to the remaining boxes when, in the middle of July, the idea of pumpkin cappuccino is a complete turnoff, like a Christmas movie in February.

Some of the new pumpkin-based foods sound bearable if not enticing. For the bacon-besotted I suppose a case could be made for Pumpkin, Sage, Chestnut, and Bacon Risotto, or Bacon Pumpkin Bars with Maple Cheese Frosting. But I don’t think I’d be interested in trying any Pumpkin Lasagna or pumpkin-flavored fettucini. What sort of sauce would that call for?

I haven’t seen one yet but I’m expecting a recipe for Pumpkin Spiced Meatloaf to come around the corner any minute. And it will taste great washed down with Rogue Farms Pumpkin Patch Ale, “like pumpkin pie in a bottle.” Mmmm, good. 

*Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 1991

Recipe available upon request: scherzo9@comcast.net

Posted on Friday, October 24, 2014 at 7:08AM by Registered CommenterPatricia P. Jennings | Comments1 Comment | References149 References

WE’VE COME A LONG WAY

Franklin D. Roosevelt died at the age of sixty-three of a condition that would probably not have taken him today, at least not at such a young age.

After many evenings curled up with our DVR we completed watching the fascinating seven-part, fourteen-hour series, “The Roosevelts: An Intimate History” by Ken Burns, who has done more than any other contemporary filmmaker to bring alive our nation’s history for viewers like me whose knowledge or memory of that history is on the sketchy side.

We learned much about Teddy, Franklin and Eleanor, their complicated family and their complicated lives. The trait the three of them shared more than any other was their determination to triumph in the face of daunting adversity. Among other trials, Teddy lost his wife and mother on the same day. Franklin was struck down by polio in 1921, at the age of thirty-nine. Until then he had been a robust sportsman and bon vivant. I did not remember that he was stricken by polio eleven years before he was first elected president. So well were his infirmities disguised that the public had scant knowledge of the degree of his paralysis. Can you imagine a paralyzed person being elected president today?

Polio has been all but eliminated from our life. But many of us remember the terror of polio in the mid-twentieth century, before the Salk and Sabin vaccines were developed. Our parents struggled to keep us out of harm’s way, especially during the summer months. A cousin, two years older than I, died of the highly contagious disease at the age of sixteen in California. Her aunt, also stricken, did not die but spent her entire adult life in a wheel chair.

The head writer of the Burns series, award-winning historian Geoffrey C. Ward, suffered from polio as a child and still wears braces, which has given him a special empathy with the president. There were times in his narrative segments when his eyes welled up with tears.

Roosevelt did not die of polio, although I had always assumed his death was from complications of nearly a quarter-century struggle with the disease. But that was not the case. He died of a massive cerebral hemorrhage brought on by extremely high blood pressure.

We don’t often think about how recently cures for some of the most deadly conditions affecting humans were developed. Roosevelt’s blood pressure was a respectable 128/82 in 1930 but shot up as high as 230/126 in 1944. A reading, taken moments before he died, was 300/190. And it was interesting to note that in nearly every frame of the documentary, even after his diagnosis, Roosevelt was seen lighting and smoking cigarettes.

Before drugs were developed for hypertension the meager efforts of treatment included strict sodium restriction such as the rice diet; sympathectomy (surgical ablation of parts of the sympathetic nervous system); and pyrogen therapy (injection of substances that caused a fever, indirectly reducing blood pressure).

Not until the 1950s were antihypertensive drugs – the diuretic chlorothiazides, the beta blockers,  calcium channel blockers, and ACE inhibitors, any one of which might be in the medicine cabinet of many who are reading this – developed.

We have progressed so far in eliminating diseases that used to be incurable that we’ve forgotten how dangerous and pervasive they were. When I was a child diseases that many living now have never heard of, among them scarlet fever, rheumatic fever, and diphtheria, were prevalent and terrifying. Smallpox is but a distant memory, and heaven forbid leprosy whose victims were shunned and placed into separate colonies so ghastly was their condition.

All of these diseases were conquered or greatly reduced, during or after World War II, with the development of vaccines and antibiotics – sulfa drugs, penicillin, and a variety of broad spectrum antibiotics such as Tetracycline and Cipro, and the macrolides Erythromycin, Azithromycin, and Streptomycin, the first cure for tuberculosis. Because of those developments these conditions have become practically non-existent except in certain Third World Countries.

I remember obediently standing in line at Lemington School with my jittery schoolmates waiting to get poked with the needle for my Smallpox vaccination, remnants of which still bear witness on my upper left arm. That was before a militant group of anti-inoculation parents decided that vaccines cause autism and that government bodies shouldn’t force them to have their children vaccinated for anything.

There will be other diseases, yet unheard of, to conquer. At the moment Ebola has us in a state of high anxiety. But it’s only a matter of time before an Ebola vaccine is developed. And what do you want to bet that the same group of anti-vaccination parents will be knocking people down, left and right, to get their children and themselves protected.

We have far to go as new diseases come crashing into our environment, but we have come a mighty long way. 

Posted on Tuesday, October 21, 2014 at 8:46AM by Registered CommenterPatricia P. Jennings | Comments1 Comment | References35 References
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