Wellness Wednesday: How We Are Navigating Our Return to Normal

From March 2020 through Friday, my husband and I ate only what I prepared for us at home. I’m pleased to have managed our nutrition very well, and our recent bloodwork shows that we are holding our own against disease. I’ll write a post on nutrition another time to share some of the recipes and cooking tips I picked up along the way.

Today, however, I have to write that …. we broke out and ate at not just one but two restaurants this week. One was just okay, and the other was a homecoming.

Comfortably locked in for a year

The pandemic locked us in, and we got habituated to those limits. We found ourselves enjoying each other’s 24/7 company — not a surprise, but what a bonus after 40 years — and engaging outdoors at a distance with neighbors. I didn’t miss outside society very much at all. In fact, I’d decided that hermit living was just my style, or perhaps it was the idea of breaking out of our self-imposed limits that made me anxious.

Many of us have gotten very comfortable with the safety that our isolated environments have provided and taking these initial steps out of our safe, home-controlled environments can cause fear and anxiety.

Dr. Marni Chanoff, integrative psychiatrist at McLean Hospital and Harvard Medical School

Hard-wired for fear

Coming on the heels of a slow recovery from my near-death 2019 illness, the pandemic terrified both of us. The unseen enemy lurked everywhere. We adopted strict cleansing habits. Masks, gloves, and bottles of disinfectant popped up on counters and cabinets around the home and in the car. It was war.

Because our brains have evolved to encode fear so well, it’s hard to turn off.

Kirsten Koenen, professor of psychiatric epidemiology at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health

Taking baby steps toward old behavior

I walked into a grocery store for the first time in nearly a year when we got our first vaccine. The Publix pharmacy was near the bread aisle, and I will associate the sweet scent of dough with freedom for the rest of my life.

When we were fully vaccinated and outdoors, we began to relax around others. I went to Target, to Publix, to the post office. Not all at once, but here and there.

The way to work through anxiety is to take very small steps forward and expose yourself to manageable amounts of anxiety.

Marni Chanoff, integrative psychiatrist at McLean Hospital and Harvard Medical School

One giant step into a restaurant

Then came last week, when the CDC announced that vaccinated people could go maskless. Our daughter’s visit coincided with that announcement, and I made reservations — at an outdoor table — at our old favorite weekly dinner place.

It was the first time I’ve had mahi-mahi since the pandemic hit. And blue cheese dressing. And anything someone else cooked.

My family enjoyed an outdoor dinner at Bimini Twist in West Palm Beach

Choosing to keep new patterns

Still, that dinner did not feel like a homecoming. I hadn’t missed dining among strangers, and that included the wait staff, none of whom were our old regulars. Things change over 15 months. Including us.

A lot of people have found that this year has really allowed them to slowdown, to let go of things, to create new patterns and ways of being.

Marni Chanoff, integrative psychiatrist at McLean Hospital and Harvard Medical School

Two days later, we hit a homerun at our favorite breakfast place, where Latino sisters welcomed us back like family. Oh, how we’d worried about them. Other than being unemployed for three months, they and theirs are all well. Tucking in to a hearty Mediterranean omelet and homemade bread, I knew we were on our way to a new normal.

For a lot of people, it’s going to take some time to readjust to a new norm that isn’t quite pre-pandemic but getting closer.

Dr. John Whyte, chief medical director of WebMD.

How are you handling this phase of our unprecedented life?

Wellness Wednesday: Krispy Kreme, Sam Adams, and the Tooth Fairy

In his article for USA Today, Nathan Bomey writes that Krispy Kreme — click here for video — is offering a free doughnut every day day for the rest of 2021 to anyone who shows their vaccination card. That’s 260 original glazed doughnuts, or 54,600 calories, according to My Fitness Pal. That’s nearly a month’s worth of food value, all free! Please plan accordingly.

The marketing incentives promoting vaccinations can’t hold a candle to my mother’s subtle control strategies. Here’s a story about Krispy Kreme, Sam Adams, and the Tooth Fairy.

Free rides and beer

Bomey writes that Uber and Lyft are offering free rides to vaccination sites to some customers. Staples is offering to laminate vaccination cards for free. Samuel Adams offered free beer to a limited number of people who showproof on social media of their vaccination.

Maybe good health is good for business, but savvy marketing may not be good for our health.

…you’ve got to recognize that giving people a doughnut a day might not be consistent with the message about caring about health.

Peter Jaworski, Georgetown University, quoted by Bomey USA Today

It would be weird if Krispy Kreme was offering a kale smoothie.

Theresa McEndree, Blackhawk Network, quoted by Bomey USA Today

Because I drove so far for the doughnut, I did end up getting six, so I think it was a good business practice.

Valerie Bennett, Roanoke college student, quoted by Bomey USA Today

Selling the baby blanket

My mother was a master at spotting opportunities for incentivizing her kids’ behavior while making us think it was all our idea. Here’s how my sister came to finally releasing her ragged security blanket.

The year was 1960. We were settling into Dad’s Foreign Service assignment in Milan when I lost my first tooth one evening as my little sister and I were going to bed. After she finished dressing to attend the evening’s performance at La Scala, my mother put my tooth in a little box and tucked it under my pillow for the Tooth Fairy.

However, I really did not want some strange lady poking around while I was asleep. My mother thought fast. “How about Dad and I take your tooth to the office on our way to the opera for the Tooth Fairy to find there?” And sure enough, I had money in my hand in the morning.

My savvy sister saw a business opportunity. “I want to sell my nighnee to the Tooth Fairy babies,” she announced over breakfast Susie had clung to that raggedy baby blanket for two years, from Caracas, to Minnesota, to Milan. Mom quickly found a box, Susie packed it up, and Dad took it to the office.

By gum, the fairy bought it and Susie was thrilled to be paid. Lucky fairy babies.

Nancy Amerson, letter to her parents

It’s about providing an additional extrinsic motivator.

Theresa McEndree, Blackhawk Network, quoted by Bomey USA Today
Illustration, USA Today Network; photos, Amy Huschka, Detroit Free Press; Diedre Laird, Charlotte Observer

Wellness Wednesday: Feel the Liberation of Getting the Vaccine

Not only was there no longer like a light at the end of the tunnel, there was no longer any tunnel.

Kristen Whitson, 38, Oregon, Wisconsin, in Jordan Mendoza’s USA Today article.

We were in the dark

Yes, we were all in that dark nowhere for months, feeling terrified and lost and hopeless and unseeing.

I thought I’d never get sprung.

My friend Deb

The vaccine lights the way

And, then, the unimaginable happened. A light beamed from not too far away, revealing a short tunnel through which we only had to step to be delivered from the Coronavirus killing machine. Yes, it seemed like an eternal wait, complicated by lottery scrambling for access, but then I entered a grocery store for the first time in eleven months. Inhaling the heady scent of fresh bread, I got a needle in my arm and the world changed.

Gratitude washes over us

United States is the first country to administer 150 million COVID-19 vaccine doses, on track to meet the president’s goal of administering 200 million shots in his first 100 days in office. USA Today reporter Jordan Mendoza writes about Americans getting emotional when being vaccinated.

As soon as I got into the line, I saw an elderly person in a wheelchair getting their vaccine, and I think it was just like a really full-circle moment for me.

Michael Limus, 29, Sacramento, California

The magnitude of the moment just kept washing over me.

Kristen Whitson, 38, Oregon, Wisconsin

I had tears in my eyes, literally. But I also had just a tremendous amount of gratitude and hope in my heart that better days were ahead for all of us.

Tom Miner, 25, Charlotte, North Carolina 

I feel like it’s one step closer to a little bit more normalcy for my family.

Travel blogger Hather Montgome

It’s still miraculous that we’ve been able to come so far.

Mike DiBenedetto, 46, Phoenix

Zimbabwean-American Dr. Tererai Trent and her husband, Mark Trent, celebrated being vaccinated in the best possible way.

Compassion carries us forward

Everyone benefits if you’re a little bit more compassionate and open to being more flexible and more understanding of different challenges and needs. The pandemic is not the only time we should be thinking about these things.

Travis Chi Wing Lau, Assistant Professor, Kenyon College, Columbus, Ohio

Wellness Wednesday: How I Became Newly Grateful for Being Healthy

It’s been quite the two years. In 2019, I survived a ruptured aneurysm. As I completed my recovery in early 2020, the world went into pandemic lockdown, and both my husband and I — both high risk — have lived apart from much of the world for nearly a year.

But February delivered three pieces of good news that will carry us forward into whatever 2021 has in store.

  1. My doctor pronounced me in excellent shape.
  2. My husband and I are fully vaccinated.
  3. I don’t have breast cancer.

Let me say a few words about that final item, and the doctors that carried me there.

The Gynecologist

Like most of us, I delayed many medical appointments last year. When I did get in to see my gynecologist in early January, she identified a small mass in one of my breasts. I have “dense breasts,” which is to say that it’s never easy to figure out which lump is normal and which might mean trouble According to the CDC, about half of all women age 40 and above are in this category. Dr. K gave me orders for a mammogram and an ultrasound, and an appointment with a “breast doctor” to review the radiology report. I realized this meant a breast cancer doctor.

I wasn’t that worried, but I was pissed off. Adding yet another medical situation to these challenging two years was too much. I didn’t want another doctor in my e-Rolodex, thank you very much. Unfair. Boo-hoo. Etcetera.

I allowed myself to pout for a couple of days, listened to wise people who reminded me that life doesn’t work that way, and made my appointments.

The Radiologist

The imaging center radiologist looked at the images as the technician put me through my paces. She was reassuring: the tissue looked no different from other fatty breast tissue. Several days later, I received the written report. In black and white, it said “Not cancer.” Good news. If I hadn’t already scheduled an appointment with the breast surgeon, that would have been that.

However, as I discovered during my long hospital stay in Amsterdam, I am a super-compliant patient, and so I gathered my records and prepared for a brief conversation with the next doctor along the lines of “Sorry to waste your time, never mind.”

The Breast Surgeon

But that’s not the conversation we had.

About 16 percent of breast cancers do not show up on a mammogram or ultrasound. If you were sure the lump wasn’t new, we’d let this go for six months. But, you are not sure, and I don’t want to be wrong. A biopsy will tell me for sure what we’re dealing with. It’s your choice.

Dr. M

I realized that I hadn’t survived, recovered, and thrived in these past two years just to hope for the best. I scheduled the surgery.

The Primary Care Doctor

It’s called a lumpectomy when the tumor is cancer, but an excisional breast biopsy when the substance removed is unknown. Either way, it’s surgery, and I had to be deemed healthy enough to withstand the process.

The hours that I spent getting evaluated — in-person instead of on the telephone for the first time since March — were the most lively, interactive, and positive of the past year. Every interaction affirmed my progress in recovery. Big item in the silver lining category.

The Breast Surgeon

At 7:45 AM the Monday following Valentine’s Day, Dr. M. marked up my breast. “Nice timing for Valentine’s Day,” I said. “Yeah, just felt you up,” she quipped back. I laughed as I was wheeled into the operating room in the outpatient facility, and then it was over. Dr. M called my husband to say that it looked like plain old fatty tissue. We were home by 10.

I spent that day and the next icing, resting, and binging on Netflix. I had no pain, no swelling, because the cut was tiny and I’d also followed the guidelines to get a super-supportive sports bra. The Syrokan runs a little small but lives up to the hype. When I showed my husband the incision, I realized we were commemorating Mardi Gras with the New Orleans tradition of “flashing,” sans beads. Eventually, I turned off Netflix and got back to walking: a mile, two, four.

One week later, Dr. M showed me the pathology report: Benign, it said. Benign fibrofatty mammary parenchyma, a lipoma, a benign fat tumor. Same material as the rest of the breast, just encased in material that makes it feel more dense, like chicken fat in a baggie. In six months, I’ll do another mammogram for a new baseline. That’s it.

Tears came to my eyes. They still do as I realize, once again, how grateful I am to be well, once again.

Lessons Learned

Be better about documenting what’s going on in my body. Don’t put off medical appointments — my husband and I will be back in doctors’ offices in mid-March. Do what they tell you to do. And keep going, every day, with something that will make you stronger: walk, do yoga, do the polka, lift weights. It really doesn’t matter what, just keep moving. It helps if it’s kinda fun.

And this from USA Today’s Adrianna Rodriguez: Doctors recommend patients schedule their mammogram before receiving a COVID-19 vaccine, or space out the two appointments, after some women have been mistaking swollen lymph nodes, a side effect of the COVID-19 vaccine, for breast lumps.

Here’s to our health, dear readers! Enjoy the sights and sounds of early morning in our backyard.