Tom Thumb (Aging Sucks)

I was minding my own business on a glorified version of a stationery bike at the YMCA while I played Words With Friends on my iPhone. Suddenly, a very old man approached me and in a raspy voice said, “I’d like to introduce myself! I’m Tom Thumb.” That’s weird, I thought, we have a grocery store chain here in Texas called Tom Thumb and isn’t that also a character in some kind of fable or fairytale?

eduardo-teixeira-coelho-tom-thumb-upside-down-1957_i-G-53-5397-AMOJG00Z                       IMG_1191

“I’m Andrea Thompson.” I said, and put out my hand.

“You’re always in black!” he growled.

“No, that’s not accurate,” I replied, “I’m often in black but I also wear my very bright tennis tops.”

“Once!” he almost shouted, “I’ve only seen you in blinding neon pink once!” Now, I knew something peculiar was going on and while I have my allotment of fears, people don’t scare me and I try to roll with them so I just hung in there.

“Wow, sounds like you’ve been keeping a pretty close eye on me, Tom Thumb.” I said.

“Well, you’re an attractive gal; are you married?” Yeah, he is 30 some odd years older than my 56 years so to his aging eyes I probably looked ravishing even though I was wearing black.

“That’s a very nice thing to say, Tom, and yes, I am very married.” I said. He suddenly looked distant, muttered something I didn’t hear and wandered away. I went back to my Words With Friends.

A couple weeks later I was working out with my trainer Karen and Tom Thumb walked by and blurted something incoherent to her.

“That’s Tom,” she said, “he had a stroke and he doesn’t have boundaries.”

“Yeah, I noticed that,” I said quietly. I felt sad for Tom Thumb.


Rockin’ and Rollin’ in Texas

My dogs suddenly looked disturbed as I sat at my desk writing. I looked up and wondered if they had to go pee. I just took them out an hour ago, I thought. Then, I heard a familiar jingling sound. I don’t know how else to describe it. I knew what was next; I was born and raised in California.

Earthquake, I said to myself. The house began to moan and then it started to slightly shake. Then there were two jolts among the shakes. The dogs started barking and looked alarmed. I have been trained from a young age to get under a door jam during an earthquake. I’ve never quite bought that because if the house falls down will the door jam really save you? And, when the dogs are totally freaked out how in heck do I get a 100 pound boy and 65 pound girl to stay under a door jam with me??

I’m the Accidental Texan, really I am, and I knew there would be lots of new things when I moved here. Many Texans told me about Tornedos, but no one mentioned earthquakes and I just assumed we didn’t have them here.

On jolt number one it occurred to me that this could be like something I’ve experienced in my past so I jumped from my office chair to an earthquake ready position. Unless you are from earthquake country, you probably have no idea what that is. That position is something like a quarterback ready to receive a hike. (You know, “HIKE, HIKE, GO!” and that one guy throws the football under his butt to the waaaay toooo cute quarterback who is married to a waaaaay toooo gorgeous skinny model.)

In an earthquake, just like with a quarterback who catches the ball in a hike, the next question that pops in your mind is what the hell do I do now?!? So, as I stood in earthquake ready position I asked myself that question. I have a “safe room” in a closet under the stairwell for tornedoes so that’s where I decided to go. The dogs love it in there because I have trained them that it’s a fun place and there are treats! The earthquake never took on California proportions and was over quickly. It took the dogs a while to settle down and I finally continued to write.

Over the next couple days, what utterly amazed me was what a big deal Texas made over an earthquake that measured 3.5 on the Richter Scale! It was on the front page of the newspaper, on the morning shows, on talk shows and Texans talked about it at the grocery store. They talked about the emotional devastation, the fear and the beloved trinkets lost to the natural disaster. In California, this wouldn’t have made the last page of personal ads. (Do personal ads still exist? Am I dating myself on my on blog? One of the reasons I’m blogging is to stay current, sniff. Is it all now?? I was married long before electronic dating started!)

I’ve been in 4 major earthquakes in my life. The first one was in 1971 and I was 12 years old. My whole family was sleeping at 6:01 am. First the jingling and then suddenly utter chaos as the force built.  In these huge earthquakes, everything shakes so dramatically you think the planet is being thrown off its axis. The end of the world occurs to you. It’s all you can do to crawl to a door jam hoping you don’t get hit from the things flying across the room as you hear dishes and glasses crashing to the floor from the cupboards in the kitchen. You find yourself screaming for your loved ones in other parts of the house. It is utterly terrifying. The 1971 earthquake measured 6.7 on the Richter Scale. Here are a few photos of the devastation.

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I hope to God no one was in that Chevrolet.  Obviously with earthquakes of that magnitude, electricity goes out, entire towns and cities are shut down for days or weeks and it takes a tremendous toll on emotions, costs and industry.

I hope I’m not messing with Texas, but these Texan 3.5’s are calves while California 6.7’s are Longhorns.

A Physical Exception

“Well, clearly you didn’t move to Texas for the weather. So, why did you move here?” the person would ask.

“My husband’s company offered him a promotion which we turned down because it required a move here. Then they sweetened the deal so tremendously that we would have been financial fools not to take it, so here we are,” I would answer.

“So, how do you like it?” the person would ask.

“I don’t. There is no nature and nothing here is pretty. I think people build these gargantuan houses to try to make something look pretty, but most of them aren’t pretty. I feel like a stranger in a strange land and I’m utterly homesick.”

I can’t tell you how many times I had that conversation after we landed here on September 11, 2013. (That was surely an omen!)

Right now Texas is dark, damp and very, very cold. This time last year, I didn’t have a life in Dallas short of surviving my first ever ice storm and learning new vocabulary terms like ice storm, inclement weather, tornedo watch, tornedo warning and wind chill factor.

This winter, what little life I was able to generate over the last year came to a screeching halt because of weather. Gorillas can’t be outdoors when it’s 30 degrees so my volunteer speaking job at the zoo is on hold. And, who plays tennis when it’s this cold? You may have noticed that tennis requires movement and you can’t move in the quantity of clothes you have to wear to be out there. This freezing gloominess makes it hard for me to keep my spirits up and I’ve never experienced myself as a person whose moods are affected by weather. Then again, I’ve never lived in Texas.


The other thing that happens in this weather is that my aches and pains flare up. Not all my ailments are affected by the cold, but they all seem intensified when it’s dark and icy out. I’m in my mid fifties and I think everyone older than 45 or 50 have their share of body parts that hurt some of the time or a lot of the time, unless of course, you are my friend Chai-Fu.

Here’s my list starting at my head and working down to my feet:

–Dry eye, which doesn’t hurt but is annoying as hell. It started when I moved to Texas.

–Severe allergies, which last all year long; very unpleasant and annoying. Texas to blame.

–Achy chest from open-heart surgery in my 30’s for a congenital atrial septal defect repair

–Aches from extensive surgery on my right hip stemming from congenital abnormalities on my femur

–Occasional achy issues with my left hip from compensating for my right hip

–Low back pain from being the victim of living between the faulty hips

–I don’t know where from head to feet menopause goes, because it’s everywhere but this seems like as good a place as any.

–Ten days ago I had surgery to repair an umbilical hernia so I don’t know if that will cause aches and pains or not.

–Plantars Fasciitis in my feet, which will hurt for a year and not again for several years, which is weird

My arms and legs are fine!!

Now, I know what you are thinking, TMI! But I actually left a couple things off this list to keep it appropriate! I am not telling you this stuff to make you feel sorry for me. I literally count my blessings every day of my abundant life for what I do have like my beautiful husband and sleeping soundly through the night for 9 hours most nights.  I am telling you this so that you don’t feel sorry for yourself thinking you are the only person with aches and pains.

There is only one person I know roughly my age who has no aches and pains and that’s Chai-Fu. Chai-Fu and my husband Steve met on the tennis court years ago and since then he and his husband David have become very close friends of ours. Chai-Fu is 53 and he has the body of a 25-year-old competitive swimmer. He is 5’ 9”, lean and incredibly fit. I call him a physical exception. Chai-Fu was born with no physical abnormalities or imperfections and has worked hard all his life to build on that fortune.

I work around my ailments and manage to get plenty of exercise in spite of them. I am not an extreme exerciser but every day I either power walk, play tennis, ride my cruiser bike, do yoga, do the elliptical trainer, do light weights and I always stretch. Doing the right kind of exercise makes my aches and pains way better, not worse.

After coming from Taiwan and realizing he was too short to compete in the U.S. in his beloved basketball, Chai-Fu took up tennis and has become a formidable 4.5 to 5.0 player. He plays intense tennis 15 hours a week, hoola hoops for one hour a day (yes, I said hoola hoops) does 75 each of push ups, pulls ups, squats and lunges daily, power walks with his dogs daily, and does yard work several times a week. He said he’d like to put on a little weight but can’t seem to. Uh, yeah.

There are two things I envy about my dear friend Chai-Fu. One, he is a physical exception and two; he lives in Scottsdale, Arizona and not Dallas, Texas.


Labs, Cheetahs and Zoo Safety

Cheetahs can be skittish. Labrador Retrievers are not. Dallas is not the only zoo that has raised them together from kittenhood and puppyhood. The Cheetahs who are raised with dogs are used for educational purposes; going to schools and events to educate people about their plight and what they can do to help in the conservation effort of this gorgeous, endangered animal. An event of this kind might be held at a venue where the Cheetah and dog need to go up a flight of stairs or enter an elevator, for example. Either of those would freak the Cheetah out, but when he sees his dog brother happily comply, he gains the confidence to do it, too.

Windspear and Amani as babies.

Amani and Windspear as babies.

“Cheetahs are shy, so the dog instills confidence in him whenever they go to new places,” zoo official Sean Greene said. “Also, the dog has an outgoing personality and while the cheetah is reserved she likes that attention, so their relationship is very natural.”

Cheetahs can go from zero to 70 miles per hour in 3 seconds. They are the fastest of the land animals. I know that but I’m wondering why they say, “land animals.” Is there a sea creature that goes faster than that? I need to google that. The only thing Cheetahs eat is meat and when they make a kill they eat almost as fast as they run because inevitably a larger cat will smell the kill, run the Cheetah off and finish the meal. So, Cheetahs have to eat as much as they possibly can as quickly as they possibly can.

I’ve noticed that when Windspear and Amani play chase, Amani is by far the fastest dog I’ve ever seen in my life. Being raised with Windspear must have busted through his genetic inclinations and inborn perceived limitations about how fast a Labrador Retriever can run.

        Playing together

Playing together

At 2:30 four days a week, the zoo does a show called “Cheetah Encounter.” It is an opportunity for zoo guests to see how fast Windspear can run and also to see him playing with Amani and interacting with his keepers. I go often to see it. One day I saw a guy wearing a zoo employee uniform, which is only slightly different than the volunteer uniform I wear. Like me, he also wears a nametag, which I didn’t bother to look at because I couldn’t care less who’s who at the zoo. I walked over and introduced myself, he said his name was Kevin and we got talking; or should I say I got talking.

   Lovin' on each other

Lovin’ on each other

“I was surprised when I saw the keepers in with the Cheetah,” I said.

Kevin didn’t say anything.

“I spoke to one keeper and asked her if she felt safe.” I said. “She said she felt completely safe because they’ve raised the Cheetah since it was a tiny kitten. She also said that Cheetah’s do not consider humans prey.”

Kevin was quiet.

“I am not an expert on these things and I’m sure the keeper is and I know this is an accredited zoo and if this were a dangerous situation the Association of Zoos and Aquariums wouldn’t allow it but I don’t think I’d personally feel completely safe. I always think of Siegfried and Roy and that Tiger.”

While I was beginning to suspect Kevin was the strong, silent type, he saw me glance at his nametag. It said. Kevin Thomas, Director of Zoo Safety. We locked eyes and both burst out laughing.

New Years Eve Surgery in Texas

Dallas, like Scottsdale, has a very competitive healthcare industry. I’m not sure if it’s because there are a lot of sick people, a lot of old people, or a lot of people who are hypochondriacs. The industrial landscape is peppered with numerous hospitals, free-standing emergency rooms, urgent care facilities and wellness centers. Advertisements grace the expressway billboards promising everything from new eyesight, 100 pound weight loss, digestive relief after all these years, recovery from breast cancer, a new you by taking testosterone, and more. They kind-a downplay the Ebola thing around here. Word on the street is they didn’t handle it all that well but finally figured it out when it was too late. I think there should be billboards that say Wait!! Sorry about that last thing! We get it now! Give Dallas another chance! Bring your Ebola to us!!”

In the days leading up to surgery, everything in my mind was categorized as before surgery and after surgery. Like a flight across the ocean, I’m never convinced there really will be an after an oceanic flight. But, each day I would find myself surrendering a little more to that mini break from life and complete loss of control, which is general anesthesia.

On the morning of my surgery I felt resigned and task oriented. I also felt hydrated because I drank almost 90 ounces of water the day before so I would not have the dreadfulness of being thirsty on a morning I could drink nothing. I put on full make-up and fixed my hair. Some sense of control I suppose. As we entered the hospital at 8:00 am on New Year’s Eve, it was very quiet. Four “concierges” with little to do huddled around an entry desk chatting. They looked at my husband and me and one lovely woman said, “Good morning! How can we help you?”

“My name is Andrea Thompson and I’m here to celebrate the New Year by having umbilical hernia surgery!” I exclaimed.

They all burst into laughter and one adorable man high fived me. I loved seeing his black hand meet my white one. “That’s the best thing I’ve ever heard at this desk!” His eyes twinkled.

I quickly found out I was the one and only person having surgery at the hospital that day so the ratio of service providers to patient was about 15 to 1. The first was a very young woman with jet black hair underneath, magenta hair on top. It’s hard for me to imagine why anyone thinks that’s attractive. She told me she was going to take my vitals.

Now, this was a problem because I have White Coat Syndrome. It’s not because I’m scared of doctors, it’s because I’m scared of what they might tell me about my health. However, it’s now evolved to I’m scared someone is going to say I’m going to take your blood pressure. My blood pressure elevates because I’m scared my blood pressure is going to elevate. When I go see Dr. Christy, I take my own blood pressure at home for 5 days in a row and document it for her and it’s always fine.

“Yes, it’s elevated,” the gal deadpanned and didn’t even blink, “177/98.”

“WHAT?” I nearly shrieked, “It’s never been that high even in the presence of the whitest of coats!! Will I be having a stroke here soon?”

“Let’s try the other arm,” she said casually as I was sweating over the fact that I knew no surgeon would proceed with a procedure with blood pressure that high. “126/81,” she said under her breath, “we’re good.”

“What?” I said, “how did it plummet in 10 seconds?!”

“You probably relaxed,” she said as she put the BP equipment away.

“Relaxed?” I exclaimed, “after being told my blood pressure was 177/98?”

She had no idea what to say to me so she motioned me to get on the scale. God, I thought, with the way things are going here I’ll probably weigh 260 pounds! No wonder I have a hernia! I did not weigh 260, I weighed my normal, acceptable, BMI happy weight of (X + 10). The 10 is my opinion no matter what BMI says.

Next, a clumsy woman attempted several times without success to insert my IV. Suffice it to say it took several stabs in several parts of my arm and hand to finally get it right and I have the bruises to prove it.

After several gadgets, devices, liquids and soft goods were adhered to, hung on or injected into my body by several of these 15 people, I met my surgery nurse. Augustine was tall and buff with a curly head of black hair and had a little trouble with eye contact. Based on his slight accent I guessed he was Jamaican. His demeanor was staid and serious and he did not smile once as he explained my procedure and answered my questions. He was clearly thorough, knowledgeable and competent and I had complete confidence in him. I asked him to keep and eye on the flow to my IV and explained the trouble the gal had getting it in. He promised he would.

I rested a minute and in lumbered my anesthesiologist. I can’t remember her name but she was plump, earthy and clearly marched to the beat of her very own drummer. She had a bohemian looking scarf on that covered her entire head and hair; and she had hair so it wasn’t a chemo deal. Maybe she chose this over a hair net in surgery? Her dangling earrings sparkled in the bright lights. She was a talker and was telling me things about anesthesiology I really didn’t need to know. It reminded me of when a refrigerator repair man comes and wants to teach me how a refrigerator works. I don’t care! Just fix the damn thing, man, and move on. Anyway, her comments were dry and unedited and I like that kind of person as long as there is no anger or hostility behind it and with her there wasn’t.

“No lifting, pushing or pulling for two weeks after surgery,” she said, “so that means Steve will be doing the vacuuming, mopping and laundry.” She got his attention and he looked up from his device and we all laughed.

Suddenly the energetic, confident and ready to roll Dr. Komen bounded in the room. “Ready for your surgery?” she asked excitedly.

“Yes, I am.” I said. “And, it’s good to see you, Dr. Komen.” I’d only met her a week before and I love when surgeons are so cheerful and positive. That attitude might affect outcomes.

“Dr. Komen,” I whispered so just she and Steve could hear, “I’m loving this! Both doctors are women and the nurse is a man!”

“Yes,” she said smiling, “It’s fun….there IS still a stigma about that, isn’t there?”

She talked about what was going to happen during surgery, after surgery and during recovery. She gave me some verbal instructions about what to do and not do when I got home. Steve was listening.

“It’s a good idea to get up and walk around the first couple days after surgery,” she said. “Wear some Shapewear or Spanx for the first week or so when you are up and about.”

“Do you have any of that stuff?” Steve blurted out. He’s a quiet guy and that was the first time I heard him talk in an hour.

“Are you kidding me?” I asked astonished as I turned my head and looked at Steve, “I probably have 10 pairs of Spanx!”

At that, the staid and serious Augustine slumped over, dropped his head and laughed hysterically. Steve looked sheepish. Dr. Komen didn’t even break a grin, she just kinda stared at me; surely she owns 10 pairs of Spanx, too and didn’t understand what the hoopla was about. Augustine was still laughing.

A sedative was dripping into my IV and I was becoming very relaxed. Steve kissed me hard. The bed started to roll with Augustine, still smiling, in the lead. Someone was steering from behind but I didn’t know who and it didn’t matter. I was in good hands. We entered the bright, white operating room and the people there greeted me quietly. I smiled at them through bleary eyes. Then the mask came over my nose and mouth.