I’ve gone much deeper into photography today than I ever wanted to. Today, I swallowed a camera. No joke. I am undergoing what is known as “capsule endoscopy”; in other words, I ate the Pill Cam. The thing was flashing when I put it into my mouth. It’s about the size of the tip section on my little finger, beginning at the last knuckle. Bigger than any vitamin I’d ever seen, but not by too much. Presumably, it is flashing away as it winds its way down through my small intestines, recording images of a tunnel that wasn’t reachable using the upper GI scope or the colonoscopy that I had done in June. These images are being picked up by a bundle of wires strapped onto my navel and recorded in a little metal box that I’m wearing slung around my shoulder.
I suppose what I’m trying to achieve with this exercise is to find out more about my body. I am seeking understanding about systems that are intimately interconnected – my digestive system and my circulatory system – specifically, why a routine CBC indicated anemia while I have no symptoms. These connections also effect my sense of self and how I connect with the wider world in larger systems like health care and the environment.
I have to admit that I am not very comfortable with this technological connection. I much prefer something more organic.
My laptop perches on my warmly-wrapped lap. Sunshine covers the foot of the bed. Outside my window, sparrows twitter in the snow-dusted branches. Steve and I tap our separate keyboards, sending muffled punctuations from our two upstairs rooms into the tranquil space of our “treehouse” among the maples. It’s Monday morning, and we’re back at work, like so many others in this nation and unlike them at the same time.
Last night, in a nod toward the culture around us, we watched half of the Super Bowl – not on a TV because we don’t own one. Oddly enough, we were able to view it on this screen. It’s been a while since I looked through that window. I recognized a lot of faces from my past encounters with the media, decades aged. (Mary Lou Retton, is that you? Kevins – Bacon and Costner, still recognizable, but changed.) The atmosphere seemed a lot more frenetic, more violent, and more stressful.
Stress. It occurs quite naturally, of course, in physics, biology and chemistry as resistance and instability. Gravity and PMS are phenomena with which I’m quite familiar. They don’t surprise me much anymore, nor do my reactions to them. But stress occurs unnaturally in lifestyles as well, as Distress or Eustress. Philip Seymour Hoffman, found dead at 46 with a needle in his arm. Manufacturing stress, manufacturing responses – does this give us an edge? If we are “hardwired for struggle” (as Brene Brown says), can we maximize that adaptation and produce a super response? Will that response be healthy or unhealthy? Eustress, according to Wikipedia, “refers to a positive response one has to a stressor, which can depend on one’s current feelings of control, desirability, location, and timing of the stressor.” If it feels “good” to react with anger, aggression or violence to a stressor, is this healthy? If it feels “good” to respond to a stressor by self-medicating, numbing or repressing, is this healthy? If it feels “good” to elevate our molehills into mountains and complain about the weather, our weight and how busy we are, is this healthy? Are we doing ourselves a favor by pouring more stress into our system and developing collateral pathways that will make us more resilient? Or are we taxing our capacity to the point of rupture?
My husband died from coronary artery disease, brought on by undiagnosed diabetes. Stress did help him develop a collateral artery system in his heart that made it possible for him to survive a heart attack at age 31, but he only lived 16 more years. Beware, America. Look closely at your stress levels. Make your choices wisely.
That is all.
© 2014 essay by Priscilla Galasso, All rights reserved.
Reblogging my list of free gifts from the Universe:
To Sleep, Perchance To Dream
And if tonight my soul may find her peace
in sleep, and sink in good oblivion,
and in the morning wake like a new-opened flower
then I have been dipped again in God, and new-created.
Now, blessings light on him that first invented sleep! It covers a man all over, thoughts and all, like a cloak; it is meat for the hungry, drink for the thirsty, heat for the cold, and cold for the hot. It is the current coin that purchases all the pleasures of the world cheap, and the balance that sets the king and the shepherd, the fool and the wise man, even. ~Miguel de Cervantes, Don Quixote, 1605
All men whilst they are awake are in one common world: but each of them, when he is asleep, is in a world of his own. ~Plutarch
I imagine that sleep is a gift for all, but some may disagree. They might attribute sleep to the just, the innocent and the carefree and argue that it is refused to many who would try to attain it. I propose, then, that it is meant for all, for health, rest, and restoration. According to the National Sleep Foundation, “New evidence shows that sleep is essential to helping maintain mood, memory, and cognitive performance. It also plays a pivotal role in the normal function of the endocrine and immune systems. In fact, studies show a growing link between sleep duration and a variety of serious health problems, including obesity, diabetes, hypertension, and depression.” Two of my family members were diagnosed with sleep apnea, one with the addition of Periodic Limb Movement Disorder. For each of them, a CPAP machine was prescribed. That’s a Constant Positive Air Pressure mask which blows air into their nose and mouth all night long to keep their airways open. How anyone could sleep with that thing on is a mystery to me.
The CPAP seems like a very scientific approach to something that may be more of a spiritual process. Sleep, relaxation, the natural cycle of repair and regeneration can be picked apart and studied, but will chasing it down and corralling its components help us to enter into its presence? If we approach it calmly and reverently, will we be more likely to be invited into its sanctuary? It seems like such a gentle grace, a benevolent angel of mercy. I’d be afraid to scare it off.
Many people contend with sleep. I do a bit. I gave up my super-comfy, air-controlled, king-sized bed to my daughter, and now I sleep on a futon mattress with a sleeping bag and a suede comforter tucked under the sheet to make it a bit more yielding. It’s not really the same, but I could do worse. I’ve always been a light sleeper, a result of having 4 children, but I’ve always gone to bed pretty early. I’m not good at sleeping late, and I do enjoy napping. Sleep is not elusive for me, simply delicious. And I dream.
I was thinking this morning that I live in two alternate universes, something like Plutarch mentions in the quote above. In the world of my sleeping dreams, my dead husband keeps popping up. He very calmly occupies a place beside me, and eventually in the course of the dream, I will mention that he’s supposed to be dead. Last night, he was driving when I mentioned it, and then suggested that I take the wheel. I have the feeling that he’s supposed to vanish when I say that word, but he didn’t. He just slid into the passenger side and kept talking. This is my brain working on “what’s right” and “what’s real” about death. I still don’t have it figured out. I have a lot of anxiety dreams that also have to do with this preoccupation of mine about “doing things right”. Performance anxiety is a big theme. I’m often onstage, backstage, in front of a classroom, or trying to get to a class. When I was married to Jim, the worst nightmares I had were about the two of us being angry or false with each other. I feared anything that would threaten our togetherness, and it was manifested in some social context. I never had a big monster carrying me off or something adventurous like that. I suppose you could call that a “girlie” nightmare. My son has huge, plot-driven adventures in his dreams. He’s got to fight, to battle and overcome in his dreams. I just get upset and wake up.
I did have a nightmare two nights ago. I had indigestion when I went to sleep, and I dreamed a horrible dream that ended in watching someone eat their own limbs. “Someone” in that weird way where you are everyone in your dream. So I was eating myself. It was unsettling for my brain. My stomach was already unsettled. Peculiar how the sleeping mind works. I do have a favorite phrase to throw in when someone is describing a dream. The disjointed narrative goes on and on, and then I interject, “Oh, I know that dream! Yeah, that all happens, and the next thing you know, the pope comes in with a tray of enchiladas and…” Yup. Absurdity. It’s pretty entertaining, really, this alternate universe.
I feel lucky to be able to sleep when I am tired, to dream when I am perplexed, to regenerate every night and wake to a new day each morning. Wagner describes it musically when Brunhilde wakes to Siegfried’s kiss. Listening to it is like going through the resurrection, weeping tears of joy and wonder. Once again, music gives voice to life’s mysteries.
Well, the sun is shining through the west window making puddles of warmth on my bed. Think I’ll take a catnap.
Kind of an over-the-top battle cry, but that’s the level of absurdity to which you sometimes have to rise when taking on an epic task. Yes, Team Galasso stepped out to Stop Diabetes on Sunday…perhaps we should simply have made it a swim-a-thon. So much moisture in the air! Thank you to all of our sponsors and supporters! We had a pre-walk huddle to remember Jim and other friends and family who have experienced the disease first-hand and dedicated our efforts to them. Here are some photos:
Have a great week, folks! Don’t be afraid to tackle something big; just be sure to come up with a matching pep slogan!
Team Galasso will be stepping out at a walkathon on Sunday to raise money for the American Diabetes Association, funding programs and research aimed at relieving the suffering of 26 million Americans with the disease. This is the fourth year that we have done this as a family, and this year, the event falls on the birthday of my husband, Jim, who died of diabetes-related coronary artery disease in 2008. This event gives us an opportunity to do something positive in the search for a cure as well as the occasion to gather as family and celebrate Jim’s birthday (and mine, last Tuesday!) and his life. I will be heading out to Madison after work tomorrow, bustle dress in the back seat, eager to meet up with the rest of the Midwest Galasso Women. My son, unfortunately, won’t be able to make it. If you would like to support us in this effort, please click here to make a donation.
Here are some photos of last year’s walk:
We’re heading out to a full-on Italian lunch after the walk. Happy Birthday to Jim!
The world is gearing up for another Olympic Games. National pride, sportsmanship, individual performance, athleticism, courage, and victory will be concepts that will get much press in the near future, I suspect. I like to push out the boundaries of concepts and see how they all interconnect and create a bigger picture. In this arena, I’m going to put all of those issues under one large banner: humanity. The Olympics give us an opportunity to look at humanity, albeit through a particular lens, and witness ourselves. What do we have in common? What are the responses available to us in certain circumstances? How do role models give us a glimpse into the possibilities we carry in ourselves? When I was growing up in the 70s, I would glue myself to the TV and soak in all those “up close and personal” stories. I found them fascinating and inspiring. Now that I have lived to be (almost) 50, I have lived some stories of my own that have taught me about being human. One of those is the story of watching my husband die of diabetes.
Human beings experience suffering; that’s one thing we all have in common. We can learn information and we can gain understanding and compassion by looking into that suffering and asking questions. What is causing this suffering? How does it feel? How can I help? The Galasso family looked into diabetes for the first time in 1991, when Jim was diagnosed. After he died in 2008, my oldest, Susan, came up with a way that we could help those who suffer from it. She organized the first Team Galasso and walked with 2 of her siblings in a fund-raiser event in Urbana, IL sponsored by the American Diabetes Association. The next year, she moved to Madison and Steve and I walked with her. Last year, the entire family gathered in Madison (including Susan’s fiance, Andy) to continue the effort. This year, the walk is being held on Jim’s birthday, August 26. How fitting is that?!
I invite you all to participate in this Team effort by making a donation to the ADA via my sponsor page here. I also invite you to spend some time considering your part in Team Humanity, asking your own questions about being human, about suffering, about living in a body. Who do you want to be? How do you want to live? What will your life model and inspire? My youngest daughter got her first tattoo a few months ago. She chose a typewriter font over her left shoulder, above her heart, to illustrate one of her dad’s most memorable maxims: “Pain is inevitable; misery is optional.” I am honored to be part of this team, this family of humanity. I want to acknowledge and include every member and recognize that each one is trying to work out the answers to those questions, even though there are destructive results in the process. I’ve had mine, you’ve had yours. We can learn and do better. I believe that. Thank you for your participation!
I fell asleep next to the open window, listening to the deep, distant rumble of thunder. The sky flashed like paparazzi bulbs in the south. Finally, finally, after 4 weeks of drought, the rain came all the way down to earth. In the morning, it hung in the air like a smothering wet blanket. I dreamed that I was sitting in the bottom of a sleeping bag, zippering the top over my head. My sinuses were heavy, and I couldn’t open my eyes. My body felt a sea change that I had anticipated since yesterday when my temper flared unexpectedly at a chaperone scolding a young child. Tension gave way; I sank to the bottom. I could feel Steve beside me like the earth feels the sky when it finally comes down in a shower of healing touch.
In 33 more days, I will turn 50 years old. I feel more connected to nature than I ever have. I am more aware of my nature, physically, mentally, and spiritually, and more aware of the Universe around me. I am more aware of my partner and my children. I feel peaceful and mature, young and ancient at the same time. I feel good. Really good. I am in love with my life…at last.
Steve’s mom had knee replacement surgery yesterday. He called his sister after work to see how the procedure went (all well), and then asked, “So, did you get the old knee?” She laughed, of course, but I was thinking it would be a great addition to our museum cupboard in the dining room. Then Steve asked if it was legal to keep human bones. Huh? Hmmm. I’ve discovered that there are no federal laws prohibiting the ownership or sale of human bones. Prior to 1987, most bones were imported from India, and until 2008, China also exported human bones. No more. There are some state laws restricting the import and export of human remains across state lines, and Native American material is very much protected under the Graves Protection and Repatriation Act. So we have a right to bear arms and bare bones.
She had her hip replaced a few years ago. I wonder what they did with that?
We haven’t had rain in a few weeks, and things at Old World Wisconsin (the outdoor living history museum where I work) are very hot and dry. We closed down to a skeleton crew on Thursday because the heat index was over 100 degrees. Only 25 visitors came the entire day. I worked both yesterday and today, and now I have my swollen ankles propped up on the couch. I don’t have air conditioning at home, either, but I do have a ceiling fan and a strategic plan to keep the house cool. That plan involves making it as dark and cave-like as possible. Here are some other tips for surviving the heat:
cheat on the number of petticoats you wear (I went down to only one, but I don’t think anyone knew).
hide a wet dishcloth under your skirts or drape one around your neck.
plunge your hands and wrists into cold water from the pump.
skip the corset, if you dare (I haven’t tried this yet).
move as little as possible. This means I opt for sewing over playing the pump organ.
drink lots of water and stay in the shade (well, that’s obvious).
take a cue from the oxen, Ted & Bear, and get a friend to lick your ears. Strategic evaporation, you know.