A Birthday, And A New Beginning

On March 20, 1930, Agnes Catherine Neal, the matriarch of our Columbus Webner clan, made her squalling debut into the world in Akron, Ohio.  Today, she celebrates her 83rd birthday — and also a new chapter in a long life well lived.

00020413The last year has not been easy for her.  Several months ago, Mom had a severe stroke.  Fortunately, my sister was present when it happened, recognized that a stroke was occurring, and got Mom to the hospital for immediate care and treatment.  Still, the stroke had devastating consequences, leaving Mom’s left side weak and non-responsive.

Since she left the hospital, Mom has been in a rehabilitation facility, following that winding road to recovery that is different for every person who must follow it.  She has worked to reacquire the trunk, leg, and arm strength to sit upright, pivot, put her feet on the floor, and get out of bed, to use a walker, and to do what most of us do without a second thought.  She has made real and encouraging progress, and we will keep following that winding road to see where it leads us.

Earlier this week, Mom moved into a new place where she can live more independently but with plenty of people nearby to help her when she needs it.  It’s a snug little spot that fits her well.  She’s back in her favorite chair, surrounded by her furniture, her family photographs, and other comforts of home.  This afternoon we all will gather there, to sing Happy Birthday and eat some pizza and cake and mark the occasion.

Happy birthday, Mom!  We love you, and we’re proud of you!

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The Miracle Of Modern Medical Technology

Yesterday our family had urgent need of our American medical system . . . and boy, did it ever deliver!

In our case, the medical problem was a blockage caused by a large blood clot in the brain.  A skilled surgeon was able to use a new, less invasive procedure — one that has been in use at the hospital for only about six months — to follow the blood vessel up into the brain and use suction to dislodge and then safely remove the clot.  The entire procedure took less than an hour and left the blood vessel and brain tissue undisturbed.

Americans often complain about the cost of our health care system, but we also should boast, even more frequently, about the amazing quality of the care it provides.  In our case, the very recent technological advances permitted a result that is nothing short of miraculous — and it was a result that wasn’t reserved for royalty or the super-rich, but instead was available to a worried family that brought a loved one to a neighborhood hospital in Columbus, Ohio.  Where would we be if our hospitals were not striving to provide the best care imaginable?

Without lapsing into the political realm, I think it’s fair to say that our experience is one of the reasons why the Affordable Care Act is of concern to so many people.  Yesterday, when time was of the essence, we received the care we needed immediately, without having to cut through red tape or waiting to receive bureaucratic approvals.  I’d hate to think that things might change that would change that result — or, in some way, remove the incentives that our hospitals have to purchase and use the space-age technology that consistently delivers the modern medical miracles to which we’ve become so accustomed — and for which we are so grateful.

Chocolate Therapy

Usually when a doctor starts talking about “healthy eating,” you groan inwardly and steel yourself to hearing about leafy green vegetables or other slimy, bitter, or tasteless items.  Now, there’s hope that “healthy eating” won’t limit us to awful foodstuffs that must be choked down over the gag reflex.

A recent study, of more than 37,000 Swedes, indicates that eating chocolate may protect the brain from stroke. Study participants who ate the most chocolate were 17 percent less likely to have a stroke.

That study follows on other research that indicates that consuming chocolate may improve the health of your heart, that chocolate has antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and anti-clotting effects, and that chocolate may reduce concentrations of “bad cholesterol” and lower blood pressure.  And — as any true chocoholic knows — munching on some of that dark, sweet goodness is going to improve your mood, too.  It’s a wonder drug!

Of course, researchers warn that you shouldn’t react to the study results by going on a four-Snickers-a-day diet; moderation remains important.  Still, it’s nice to know that when Mother Nature decided on foods that would promote good health, she decided to give us a break now and then.

Food Fight

Okay people, does it surprise any one that portly Rush Limbaugh took a cheap shot at Michelle Obama last week after she ate ribs at a restaurant during her skiing vacation. Rush commented that while the first lady advocates healthy eating, she doesn’t look like she follows her own dietary advice and would never be put on the cover of a Sports Illustrated’s swimsuit issue.

According to the owner of the restaurant the five ounce braised short ribs Michele ate were only 600 calories, not 1,500 as Rush pointed out, besides everyone knows that when your on vacation it’s a time to enjoy oneself and splurge a little.

A word of advice Rush, childhood obesity is a big problem. I just read an article last week that the sharpest increase in strokes was among men age fifteen to thirty four and there have been numerous articles recently pointing to a significant increase in type two diabetes (formerly adult onset) in children. Not to mention the fact that 75% of military aged youth do not qualify for service because they are over weight.

Of course Sarah Palin and Michele Bachman have weighed (no pun intended) in saying that the “Let’s Move” program is big government overreach. Thank goodness two of the more reasonable voices in the Republican party, Chris Christie and Mike Huckabee both said that childhood obesity is a concern and they think it’s a good goal to try to positively encourage kids to eat better.

It’s just my humble opinion, but it seems as though the government just can’t win, if they do nothing and it becomes a really big problem then it’s their fault cause they didn’t do anything, but if they see a developing problem and try to be proactive and address the problem people say they are overstepping their bounds.

So good job Michele Obama, keep on doing what you are doing, I am 100% behind you and your program “Let’s Move” because we all know that what’s now a health issue may soon become an economic issue.

Our Fascinating, Flexible Brain

The BBC today has an interesting story on experiments concerning the operation of the brain.  The experiments tracked signals between different parts of the brains of rats.  They showed that different parts of the brain were unexpectedly communicating with each other and that information looped back rather than proceeding in rigid lines of communication. The BBC story notes that the study and the apparently interconnected nature of the brain “could prove to be a powerful tool in analysing how the brain processes information.”

I wonder, however, whether the study has significantly broader implications.  Recently I read a fascinating book called The Brain That Changes Itself by Dr. Norman Doidge.  The basic concept underlying that book is called neuroplasticity, and it posits that the brain is not “hard-wired” like the motherboard of a computer, but rather is a flexible collection of cells that can serve different functions.  The encouraging message of neuroplasticity is that people who suffer brain dysfunction due to strokes, blunt trauma, or other forms of injury are not inevitably doomed to live the rest of their lives unable to walk or talk.  Instead, the book reports on instances where, through carefully planned tasks, repetitive actions, and determination, people have been able to reroute their brain functions through healthy cells and regain their lost powers of speech and movement.  The study that is the subject of the BBC reports, by demonstrating that the brain does not function in a rigid “top-down” fashion, seems to further confirm the accuracy of the concept of neuroplasticity.

What does it mean for those of us who haven’t suffered brain dysfunction?  The lesson is that you can work to enhance mental acuity and balance as you age by taking steps to make sure that the brain and nerve connections stay sharp.  Do a crossword puzzle or a math problem.  Try to learn a new foreign language.  Walk barefoot around your yard and neighborhood.  And if you feel yourself slipping, don’t accept it with a sigh of resignation.  Instead, view it is a challenge to be overcome — because that is exactly what it is.