Solo and Sick

Although normally a very healthy person suffering only from the usual age related infirmities (i.e. weakening eyes, forgetfulness, morning aches, weight gain, etc.) at the start of February I contracted some illness which apparently is burning through this region as well as many places in the lower 48.  It is rather unusual in that it begins with a sore throat, low grade fever, a sense of overall weakness/lack of energy and slowly mounting cough; by day two the cough is a deep, hacking repetitive monster settled well into one’s lungs.  By day four the fever and sore throat are gone but the cough remains in full force although one can begin to feel it lifting its locus from the lungs into the throat.  By day seven all symptoms are gone except for a general weakness and the cough.  I am now into day twelve of this illness and it continues to tease me with feelings it is disappearing followed by kicking my butt if I so much as try to start acting normally.  But across this entire situation I’ve experienced no congestion in either my lungs of my head, something that’s very surprising given the cough.  From what I’ve been told the cough requires around three weeks to completely disappear.  I was quite impressed with the fact this organism was capable of knocking me flat on my back for the first five days; all I did was sleep, drink gallons of water, sleep, try to hold down some soup and sleep.  In the first 96 hours of this battle I believe I sent 78 hours in bed.  As the fever and sore throat departed and the cough moved up into my throat my need for sleep has diminished although I’m still making sure I get at least ten hours a night.

All told this has been a most unpleasant time and it has caused me to reflect upon myself as a patient and my lifestyle as a single human being.  I’ve known since childhood I am a lousy patient and my demeanor is directly proportional to how bad I feel; in this case imagine an old grizzly bear awakened abruptly from hibernation only to find snow and cold outside his den suffering from severe hunger and possessing a fuse maybe a sixteenth of an inch in length.  I feel so bad for my dogs as although I honestly try they still get the brunt of my negativity and Heaven knows they do not deserve it!  In fact given my largely comatose condition across the first five days and their almost non-existent exercise they have behaved wonderfully.  Yes, I did get up to let them outside three times a day and made sure they had food and water but that was about as much as I could muster yet they responded by being perfect family members.  Really makes me proud of how I raised them but much more so proud of their intelligence, patience and loyalty.  It always put a smile on my face when I’d finally awaken in the morning and find Qanuk’s favorite tennis ball by my head; he ‘gave’ it to me just in case I might want to awaken and play a bit.  Anana is the classic Mal; endless patience broken only by random periods of her need to ‘talk’ up a storm.  I love the Mal vocabulary of howls, grunts, wheezes and similar and thus I’ve always encouraged her to be vocal.  As I’ve improved I’ve been able to get them outside; I’ll often load them in my Escape and drive around handling important chores.  Upon finishing I drop them on a back road a few miles from the house and allow them to chase me back home.  A real advantage to living rural is the complete lack of traffic on the back roads!

This is as ill as I’ve been in many decades and it really did cause me to reflect upon my choice to be living solo with just my dogs in a rural setting.  Because I am still relatively new to south central Alaska I have yet to build up a robust network although I must admit I was surprised and pleased by so many genuine offers to walk the dogs, make store runs and similar!  I knew Alaskans are known for being caring, sharing people but even so I did not expect this level of support.  Yet this remains quite different from what so many folks have in terms of support be it a significant other or close by family.  In working through my desire to relocate to this area I was painfully aware I would be putting thousands of miles between myself and my family and friends.  I was very concerned about this concept but saw no resolution if I went ahead and made the move.  To be honest once my folks passed my closest sibling was in Chicago (240 miles to the west) but he soon moved to Albuquerque (NM).  My sister has almost always lived in Colorado and hence she was well over a thousand miles to the west.  I have some loosely held connections with cousins and Aunts but they are mostly 500+ miles to the ESE.  So as far as family the move didn’t really involving making a separation but rather exacerbated that which already existed.  This was not the case with my network of friends in Michigan and this caused me the most angst in deciding whether to move so far afield.  In the end I was chasing a 16 year old dream and I couldn’t not say ‘Yes’ to the opportunity.  I sometimes have second thoughts but then it was a huge lifestyle shift and it only occurred 19 months back.

But this current bout with whatever illness I’m still locked in battle against did give me some long, sleepless periods during the coughing spells in which I could review my choice and my situation.  No surprise many of these times were rather negative as I struggled with trying to quell the cough and the up-welling of illness induced concerns about caring for myself as I age and illnesses become more impactful.  Sometimes it was downright desperate in nature although I also realized the sickness was skewing all my thought processes in such a negative direction.  I did realize it was much better for me to be alone with this illness given just how close to ‘Hell on Wheels’ I was in terms of my overall personality.  No one should have to be subjected to me when I felt that bad!  So this was a good thing.  In addition I was aware that despite how devastated I felt during those first four days I was also still capable of rational thought as I set it in my mind that if the cough remained in my lungs by Monday I was going to break down and visit the Sunshine Clinic just three miles from here.  In addition I had the phone numbers of two neighbors who would gladly have come by to check on the dogs and me.  So all in all I was ‘okay’ for the short term while I monitored my own progress and reacted accordingly.

Of course as one really ages – such as crossing the 60 year old mark – I believe it becomes paramount to begin to recognize one’s infirmities and to plan ‘round them such that one’s abilities are not too diminished while living safer.  My stairwell is narrow and steep in this place; from the time I moved in I started training Qanuk to never, ever be on the stairs with me.  He is far too excitable and energetic; I could easily see him knocking me down by accident and me ending up at the base of the stairs with a broken ankle or leg…or worse.  If there’s outside work that requires getting up to the second floor or higher I’m paying to have it done; I’ve recognized my balance isn’t as good as it used to be!  There are a plethora of other ‘concessions’ I’ve made with plans on how to minimize their impact on my lifestyle.  I do not want to ‘wall myself in’ with so many restrictions I cannot enjoy life; this would be a travesty.  But I do want to live a little smarter and safer; in pursuing this goal I recognize I should shy away from things I may have done without a second thought at age 50.  Part of my leanings in this direction stem from watching my folks refuse to accept age related infirmities and pay for their denials.  Seeing Dad on a ladder at his place cleaning out the second floor gutters when he was 90 years of age scared the daylights out of me.  And I saw the results of Mom climbing up a short ladder to fill a bird feeder and losing her balance.  These were extremely healthy octogenarians plus yet the infirmities of age negatively affected their abilities.  I am in nowhere near as good shape as them but I do recognize that I just cannot do some of the things I did when I was 45 years of age nor should I try.  That’s life…

Learning to accept that age often means a lessening of one’s abilities particularly in the extremes is a part of aging and something I feel is necessary.  In one sense I suppose one could make a case for me holding myself back based on these beliefs.  But in another I accept the fact that I can ill afford a major injury like a broken leg when living my lifestyle.  Because of this I’ve adopted a simple approach which has served me to this point:  I accept I do have some age related infirmities which will restrict some areas of my life but I do not dwell upon them or bemoan them; they simply are a part of my aging process!

Aluminum Foil and Break Up

Although it’s a good three weeks earlier than normal even the naysayers in the Talkeetna area have conceded that our ‘winter that wasn’t’ is now history and break up has taken hold.  We’ve seen afternoon temps above freezing for the past 17 days – I’ve included today but given its already 31.7 F and sunny at 11:46 AKDT I’m confident we’ll break 32 F – and even the hard packed ice of the gravel side roads is beginning to yield to the solar blitz leaving patches of brown earth not seen since last November 9th.  We are approaching fourteen hours of daylight and it is indeed very noticeable; as I returned from doing my Monday evening music show on KTNA I drove home in twilight at 21:10 with the western sky still ablaze from the sun which officially set at 20:34 that evening.  There remained even a dim glow on the western horizon a bit past 22:00.  This morning I noticed a faint glow on the eastern horizon around 06:30 and it was light enough to read outdoors by a bit after 07:00.  We are really seeing the flip side of the darkness that pervades winter in the higher latitudes!

As the light becomes more and more persistent I find myself having more difficulties falling asleep even when I’m tired.  For some reason my body seems to resist sleeping when its light outside; this could well explain why I’ve never been a successful napper.  While my retirement makes my sleeping schedule less of an issue I do have some routines such as my weekly trip to a Palmer warehouse to load up donated food stuffs for ‘the Pantry’ (technically the ‘Upper Susitna Valley Food Bank’…see why we just use ‘the Pantry’?) which requires I depart here by 07:15 so I can guarantee an arrival by 08:50.  Since I enjoy a quiet cup of coffee before I head south I find myself needing to be up and about by 06:00 on Thursdays.  Once a month I make a similar trip to Anchorage and I have to be on the road by 06:30 on that Thursday morning so I can make the warehouse in the Muldoon area by 09:00.  Since retiring I found my sleep has moved from barely 6.5 hours to something approaching 9 hours a night; I also noticed I feel so much better with more sleep.  As the season progresses it will be blazing sunshine even at 22:00 and that’s the time I need to be falling asleep.  I’d read a while back that folks in the higher latitudes often use aluminum foil to cover south and west-facing windows in their bedrooms to promote sleeping in the late spring through early fall time period.  Yesterday I did cover my one south-facing window in the master bedroom with a layer of aluminum foil and it made a wonderful difference.  Yes, I do have light blocking drapes on all my bedroom windows but far too much light leaks around the four edges to make them really effective at blocking sunlight.  My aluminum foil cover guarantees no sunlight leaks through and is easily held in place by duct tape.

This is working so well I plan to cut up some paperboard boxes awaiting the burn barrel and fabricate large panels which can be pressed into the window recesses and fit via friction.  I will cover one side with the aluminum foil and thus I can use them season after season; this saves on aluminum foil usage.  While I suspect this will not look particularly ‘stylish’ from the outside I’ve learned that living in Alaska is much more about functionality as versed with style.  If the solution to an issue works well Alaskans embrace it and move on with life; after all, up here there is just so much life to experience..!!