Category Archives: Being grateful

Millions of heartbeats per year

Put your hand over your heart.

Each beat that you feel requires tissue-paper-thin membranes to open and close. The heart valves regulate the flow of blood, millions of times per year. The movement of the valves creates the sound of the heartbeat.

But when a medical professional with a stethoscope to your chest hears an extra sound – a lingering noise like the sound of scraping your fingernails along a tablecloth, rather than the distinct lub-dub sound – you have a heart murmur.

My mom’s murmur was caused by a leaky mitral valve, which separates the upper and lower left chambers of the heart. This inflow valve has two flaps that open to let blood flow into the heart’s main pumping chamber, the left ventricle. Then the valve is supposed to close to keep blood from leaking backward when that lower ventricle squeezes the oxygenated blood out to the whole body.

(You can hear the sound of so-called Acute Mitral Regurgitation here, courtesy of the University of Michigan Medical School. Listen to the fourth one on the page: http://www.med.umich.edu/lrc/psb/heartsounds/index.htm)

Some people with a defective valve feel fatigue, exhaustion, lightheadedness, heart palpitations, shortness of breath or have a cough (especially when lying  down). My mom didn’t have any clear symptoms. But leaky mitral valves tend to get worse. Over time, echocardiograms showed that her leak had become significant. Untreated, the valve problem could cause heart failure or serious heart rhythm problems.

It’s scary to face open-heart surgery, to know you’ll be put to sleep, your chest sliced open, your ribs broken, your heart intentionally stopped and sliced into. It’s hard to believe that a heart-lung machine can keep your blood flowing while the surgeon and team do exacting work with Gore-Tex suture – the same kind of material as in specialized outdoor clothing. This form of “expanded” Teflon has tiny pores that allow human tissue to grow into it without forming scar tissue.

People asked who was doing my mom’s surgery. “Oh, he’s good,” they said. One physician from a different specialty at the same hospital added, “They’re all good. They’re like God on earth.”

I’ve interviewed surgeons and other medical professionals over years of writing about health as a journalist. This week I’m newly appreciative of their skill and care.

I’m grateful for successful surgery yesterday and good hospital care. I was so glad to be able to see my Mom walk a lap – slowly, gripping a walker — around the nurses’ station today.

I’m grateful for her much better chance at many more healthy years.

I hope you’re sleeping well tonight, Mom.

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An elderly woman’s last taxi ride

Life is a series of small moments. Don’t miss them in a rush to focus on the Next Big Thing you think you have to do. (I’m as guilty as anyone. My “to do” list is way too long.)

I’m so glad that a friend shared on Facebook this sweet and sad essay about an elderly woman’s last taxi ride:

http://www.brooklynyid.com/2009/12/31/the-taxi-ride/

I like its lesson:

We’re conditioned to think that our lives revolve around great moments.
But great moments often catch us unaware — beautifully wrapped in what others may consider a small one.

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The idea that happiness comes from success is backward

I wasn’t in the best mood today. But I just received a wonderful gift: a link posted by friend Sara M. to this great (and funny!) TED talk on happiness by Shawn Achor, a psychologist whose younger sister is a unicorn.

(You have to watch the video to understand.)

His message:

“[It’s] the lens through which your brain views the world that shapes your reality. And if we can change the lens, not only can we change your happiness, we can change every single educational and business outcome at the same time.”

We hear that we should work hard to be successful, which will make us happy.

But Shawn Achor, CEO of Good Think Inc., points out that if you succeed at something, then the expectations get set higher. Happiness remains on the far side of the ever-rising bar.

Reverse it, he suggests. Change your outlook and become happy now — and you’ll work and learn better and faster.

He outlines the ways research has proven that people can train their brain to become more positive:

1. Each day for three weeks, write down three new things you’re grateful for. This retrains your brain to scan for positive things instead of negative things.

2. Journaling (writing) about something positive you’ve experienced in the past 24 hours allows your brain to relive it.

3. Exercising teaches your brain that behavior matters.

4. Meditating helps counter our attention deficit hyperactivity culture.

5. Doing acts of kindness, such as sending one e-mail a day thanking someone, builds positive feelings.

A big thank you to Sara M. for helping me refocus! Here’s the link:

http://www.ted.com/talks/shawn_achor_the_happy_secret_to_better_work.html

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After the second cancer diagnosis, something wonderful

When Clay Felker — founding editor of New York magazine, who also had stints at Esquire and The Village Voice — was diagnosed with his second cancer, doctors said there wasn’t any treatment that would extend his life.

So they suggested that Felker and wife Gail Sheehy seize life: Do something wonderful that you wouldn’t have dared do before.

Now that’s a charge worth pursuing.

Sheehy told me it took them about a year to figure out what to do. They enjoyed a great trip to France — even though he was on a feeding tube. And they found a way for Felker to pursue his passion of developing young talent in magazines, which meant moving from Manhattan to California to work at Berkeley. With lymphoma. (That’s a cancer that  begins in immune system cells called lymphocytes.)

“He actually developed a great deal of courage,” Sheehy said.

She traveled back and forth between her job in Manhattan and their new home. The couple experienced a new time of feeling young and in love all over again. And Felker’s lymphoma went away.

“That’s the kind of miracle of it,” said Sheehy.

Felker was able to work for 10 more years.

If you give someone the chance to feel alive and able to do things, they just may be able to do them.

I’m grateful that can happen.

Felker photo: USA Today. Sheehy photo: LA Times

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Stan the toothpick man

If you won the lottery, how would you spend your time?

Driving to work over my years as a daily newspaper journalist, I passed a lottery billboard offering the possibility of millions. Periodically — even though I don’t buy lottery tickets — I pondered this question of what I would do differently if paychecks didn’t matter.

The answer can be revealing. Perhaps it can help you not end up late in life with regrets.

My answer: If money suddenly didn’t matter, I would love to have the luxury to pick and choose the stories I want to write. Interesting people. Important issues. Articles that teach and help people. And stories that are just plain fun to write and to read.

No, I haven’t won the jackpot. But since launching my freelance writing business, I get a lot more control over what I write about.

I’ve been working on several interesting stories this week, including this one on Stan Munro. The former zany early-morning Rochester TV features reporter is now crafting a career from his hobby creating buildings to scale from toothpicks and glue. Click on the link to see photos, read my story in the Democrat and Chronicle and see the details about his free exhibit in Irondequoit.

I’m grateful to be working on creating my dream job now, even without millions in the bank.

http://www.democratandchronicle.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=2012302170011

If you like that, check out this video of a creative use of toothpicks in California, http://blogs.exploratorium.edu/tinkering/2011/04/25/some-thoughts-on-working-with-toothpicks/

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Gifts in the snow

My driveway tends to be a popular place for cars that need to turn around. It’s two lanes wide and located near the beginning of the street.

Tire tracks left in my driveway.

I’ve heard other people complain about having strangers pull into their driveway to turn around. Something about the extra traffic wearing out the asphalt faster or feeling like your personal space is being intruded upon.

But I say bring it on.

In the snow, strangers sometimes unintentionally leave delightful tire tracks behind. One recent morning I woke up to this view.

Consider it an early Happy Valentine’s Day gift — and a reminder to look closely at what’s around you.

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A joy and a sorrow

The wind is growling past my house, swirling the  snow sideways. The thermometer reads in the 20s.

(That’s the view out my upstairs window just now. Rochester D&C photographers have a gallery of weather photos at http://www.democratandchronicle.com/apps/pbcs.dll/gallery?Site=A2&Date=20120113&Category=MULTIMEDIA03&ArtNo=201130802&Ref=PH)

I am grateful to be able to work from home today, safe from the slippery roads and inevitable car accidents. How lucky I am to be sipping a cup of chrysanthemum-silver needle white tea, a hand-blended Christmas gift from a niece and nephew, while working on a project for a freelance writing client.

My gratitude for safety and warmth is mixed with sadness at the loss of a friend. Stuart died last night, in hospice care, after ending treatment for cancer. Many people have sent their love to Stuart and Jan in recent days. I hope that the warmth of community and the happy memories of his hearty singing voice, his love of the arts, his enthusiasm for helping city students learn and his grace during illness may lift all those who knew Stuart.

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