Mural: Living with science

As I mentioned a few weeks ago, I collected photos of murals as I prayer walked Mytown this spring.

Some of the murals were funny. Some were really odd. But then there were those that made me stop and wonder: What was the artist trying to say?

Over the next couple of months, I’ll share some of the murals with you. You can wonder with me or leave an interpretation in the comments below.

Aging alone

Back when I was teaching, we took a field trip to The Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago. There were these cool machines with cameras that would age a photo depending on life choices. Are you a smoker? Do you spend a lot of time in the sun? And so on went the questions.

One of my junior highers got me to pose for the camera. My mistake was not taking over the controls afterwards. Having already gone through the process once, he knew all of the answers to age my photo as much as possible. He ignored my protests as the screen spun out an image of a worn out old lady who eerily resembled me.

Thanks, kid.

I remember that photo sometimes when I find a new gray hair or a neck wrinkle or an age spot I never noticed before. The realization that one is aging is hard for many people; however, as a single, I wonder if aging alone is different. Not harder, but different.

As a single, there is no togetherness in disintegration. It’s just a party of one who watches the body in the mirror stoop and droop a little more each year. A party of one who gets pitied as she grays because there go her chances to snag a husband and, if she doesn’t have children, she can’t even attribute the grays to the honorable occupation of child-rearing.

His eyelids sag and he gets an extra roll of fat at his waistline.

There is no together giggling at age creeping over two bodies become one. It is just her facing irreversible doom as she watches those creeping spider veins.

There is no one to notice that mole on his back slowly changing colors. No one to miss that tooth except him.

Those freckles that once were becoming are overcome by age spots and they’ve scattered farther than she ever imagined. Her body is no longer what it used to be. And sometimes she’s glad she doesn’t have to share it.

I read through 1 Peter recently, about beauty being internal rather than external. Because remember, these bodies were not made to last forever. Whether one is aging together or aging alone, that truth is comforting.

Now it’s your turn. I’d love to hear other perspectives. What has it been like for you to age alone, man or woman, single or widowed? Or what has it been like for you to age beside someone else? Maybe you’ve had both experiences. What are some things you’ve learned over the years?

Trying dieting

I’ve never been the person watching what she ate, until I came to Spain. Then it was simple: overdose on protein and stay away from sugar and caffeine. Until I got back from the States this fall and my blood test revealed shocking cholesterol numbers. 

Genetics? Yes. Well, partly. Also, my love affair with cheese. After visiting France a couple of years ago, I thought it would be nice for God to call me to a country where one can eat a different kind of cheese every day of the year. Now I’m thankful I’m in Spain, where cheeses are outstanding, but numbered. 

The doctor gave me a “to eat and not to eat” list. I did my own research, plugged a basic menu into a nutrition calculator and stuck to it for the most part. I’ve been eating well, make no mistake, but food prep takes longer than it used to. Plus, I spent a couple of months enduring my roommates snickers when I weighed almost everything I ate. I also had to endure my sister’s judgment when I feasted on a rosy salmon fillet, roasted brussel sprouts, rye crackers with homemade hummus, with a mango and 85% chocolate for dessert. 

I love baking. I would probably bake every day if it weren’t for the piles of dishes. Or the piles of sweets. When I had a roommate, it was easier to dispose of my leftover baked goods. Granted, she was not always pleased to see another plateful of a sugary something with an attached note: “EAT!” 

Honestly, I am a healthy eater by discipline, not naturally. If you’re going to trip me up, set out a cracker variety and a luscious cheeseball, chips and salsa, or just mounds of greasy potato chips. I don’t even like bread, but once and a while, I pig out on bread, especially if it’s loaded with heart-stopping slabs of cold butter.  It hasn’t been all that long ago since I ate an entire bag of chips in one day. Or one day, I was walking down the street and smelled hot dogs. Hot dogs! And I could taste them, roasted over a fire, overloaded with tangy mustard and a heap of shredded cheddar. I admitted this craving to my roommate who, after watching me carefully blend kale smoothies, was amused. Rightfully so. 

For us first-worlders, food, like so many other things in life, is a choice. What we choose today may affect our tomorrow. 

Do you have a food plan? What do you do? Do you make allowances or take days off? Wedge in a bit of space for that mousse au chocolat? Speaking of which…

Photo by Cody Pulliam on Unsplash

Spanish healthcare chronicles: the doctor

Well, I finally did it. When I had some pretty serious heart palpitations, I got more serious about getting my fatigue checked out. In fact, I basically promised my nurse friends I would. That was during lockdown. So I waited. But then it occurred to me that if it was anything complicated, I wanted it sorted out before returning to the States for the summer. So I finally scheduled a video appointment. 

I had jotted down notes in Spanish, but I was still nervous. The doctor appeared, a doting grandfather, who was a wee bit patronizing as if his days were filled with patients who had thought of nothing but their health problems during lockdown.

Regardless, he jotted down a request for an EKG and a prescription for something I couldn’t read to research. When I took it to the pharmacist, she calmly informed me that it was a relaxant to soothe anxiety. I smiled, said, “No thank you,” and continued on my way.

I have no idea how health systems work either in the States or in Spain. I’ve only been to the doctor once in my adult life and that was only to get a paper verifying I was free from specific diseases in order to obtain my Spanish visa. (Unless I count the time my parents hauled me into prompt care after 2 months of my wheezing and slouching around the house.)

Anyway, I braved the clinic in the neighboring town for my EKG. That’s when I found out that the doctor’s illegible scrawls had also requested another analysis and thus, another appointment was set up for the next morning. The next morning, COVID schedule buses insoportable, I walked to my appointment.

The nurses take for granted that everyone understands the healthcare system. It’s unfathomable not to go regularly to the doctor. I asked about my EKG and the blood analysis and what was I supposed to with the results? 

“When you get the results, give them to your doctor.’

Ah! There’s the rub! I let that settle as she stuck my vein and scarlet flowed into the little vials. (It was painless. I drank almost a gallon of water before my 9 a.m. appointment. It worked.)

“I had a video consultant,” I finally ventured. “I don’t have a doctor.”

The nurse’s busy hands stilled as my words sunk in. “Don’t have a doctor?! What? Are you crazy?!” Well actually, she said quite calmly, but with a level of understanding that almost earned her a hug: “Then when you get the results, set up an appointment. We have a doctor here at the clinic every day.”

Since then, I’ve made several returns to the doctor to check on an ineffective vitamin D3 prescription and blush over my cholesterol numbers (due to a volatile marriage of genetics and cheese). A waste of time? Maybe, but it feels more like a journey to grow confidence in the Spanish healthcare system and to eradicate hypochondria.

But my stomach seems a little distended of late. Is it Christmas leftovers… or a tumor?

Photo by National Cancer Institute on Unsplash

Spanish healthcare chronicles: the optometrist

Now that you know I have bad teeth and a bad back, you might as well know that I have bad eyes too. That’s why I waited until very recently to update my contacts and glasses. I was panicky and Spanishless when I entered the office down the street just to make the appointment. I forced myself to ask a few logical questions and then raced home to dread the day of my appointment. 

Well, the optometrist had accidentally put me down on a holiday. I dutifully wore my outdated and headache-inducing glasses for a full 24 hours before traipsing to the appointment where I fully expected to be told I was careening toward unpreventable blindness. Instead, the office was closed. I called the number on the sign. Oops, he had indeed scheduled me on a day they were closed. Could I come on Monday instead?

Grumpy, I went home and put in my contacts. At least the news of my impending blindness would wait for one more weekend. 

On Monday, he didn’t even gasp at my prescription, but gave the standard line that I could see well for how bad my eyes are. No blurriness. No floaters. Etc. Maybe that line isn’t so standard, but it has been in my experience. 

After the first few letters of the chart, he noted that my hesitancy was not due to my inability to see but my inability to rattle off Spanish letter names. “Just say them in English,” he suggested. “I’m learning English.”

We talked about glasses and contacts and I realized that, for the first time in my eye doctor history, I wasn’t ashamed of my poor eyesight. Was it due to my book worminess? The failure to catch astigmatism early enough when I was a kid? A stray gene from a nearly-blind ancestor? Whatever the case, that’s the way it was. Feeling unashamed helped me gather my wits and ask the questions that mattered to me. He was patient. Spaniards aren’t so concerned with calling people an anomaly. They’re pretty good at accepting the “weird” as normal. 

When I got home, something broke inside of me. Something so deep that I’m not sure yet what it was. But my tears were tears of gratefulness for the gift of sight that I still have. 

A week later, I had my sample contacts. I went in the next day to get them tested. Apparently, this verification is standard procedure here, and quite thorough. My one eye wasn’t focusing as well as it should have been. After verifying the prescription was correct, he squirted a yellow dye into my eye, made me flutter my eyelashes, and kept saying, “Good. Good.” while he shone a light in.  I went home and blew neon yellow snot out of my nose. 

A couple of days later, I was back. I ordered contacts and glasses in one shot. Less than a week later, they were ready. I tried them on and they told me to come back in a day or so to have them adjusted. So, the next day I trotted back down the street for yet another appointment. 

The glasses I chose had bright pink sides. Note: “had.” It’s amazing what a bit of nail polish can do!

Photo by Wesley Tingey on Unsplash

Spanish healthcare chronicles: the chiropractor

The chiropractor was next. I never would have looked for one if I hadn’t had a shooting pain in my hip with every step I took. I tried an exercise ball and alignment exercises before I decided that maybe I should get it checked out. 

I found their office on google. The place had good reviews and seemed down to earth (more about adjustments and money than strange Eastern cures). 

The first phone call was rough. Since I was expecting a package in the mail and when my phone rang, I assumed it was the delivery man, not the chiropractor owner responding to my request for information. There were several unforgettable moments of confusion before he suggested we speak in English. 

Soon, I was on my way. Fearful. Imagining that my scoliosis had gone beyond repair and my spine would have to be fused. 

I had to hunt down an x-ray clinic in the bowels of Almeria before the chiropractor was willing to touch my spine.  I, of course, had a lot of problems, including a twisted pelvis. No wonder walking hurt. It was reversible, for the price of my firstborn. Since I didn’t have a firstborn they would accept a debit from my account. (I’m kidding about the firstborn.)

I came home, stressing over the diagnosis and trying to decide whether or not I should go ahead with the treatment plan. In the end, it occurred to me that my legs are my vehicle and vehicle upkeep is often more than what they were charging me. And besides that, I only have one back and it’s pretty irreplaceable. And besides that, my dad scared me with horror stories of how he waited too long and no longer has feeling in a few of his toes. 

I used my Christmas money. (“All I want for Christmas is a brand new back!”) But within a week, I felt much better, even if my wallet didn’t. And you know what? When I go to the chiropractor for those occasional maintenance checkups, I’m not scared anymore.

Photo by CHUTTERSNAP on Unsplash

Of masks

Stuffed in our masks, we boarded the bus one by one.

Some bus drivers only wear masks because they have to. You can tell by the way they wear them… and let their passengers wear them.

I’m the passenger who covers her nose to board, but pulls her mask down enough to breath during the ride. I figure that if they ask me to cover my nose, I’m obligated. But if I have it covered when I board, they won’t ask me and I won’t feel obligated.

And anyway, this bus driver was the type you didn’t approach with a half-hearted, nose-sticking-out mask job. He asked the lady in front of me to tighten the metal part across her nose.

Masks are odd. We get used to smelling our own breath and inhaling our own carbon dioxide. We see masks looped on forearms, hanging from one ear, or even hanging from rear view mirrors like pairs of fuzzy dice. Where they aren’t required,  we pull them down into beards where they gather the sweat that rolls down our faces under the Spanish sun.

Some masks make me smile behind my own mask, especially the masks that stick out like long beaks. And I want to laugh when I see the occasional gruff man wearing a flowered fabric mask. Some women use their hijabs as masks. And the elderly men lined up on park benches, masks slightly askew, always make me want to snap a picture (and I never do).

Mask-wearing in Spain is still mandatory in public, indoor settings or in crowds of people, such as at the market. Regardless, I am one who forgets on occasion and walks into a store maskless. The last time I did,  neither the other customers nor the clerk were wearing masks. 

When I asked why, the clerk shrugged and said, “It’s hot.”

I wasn’t going to argue with that. It’s one thing for me to wear a mask popping in and out of stores; it’s entirely different to wear a mask day in and day out in a tiny, stuffy grocery store. 

Today on the bus, the driver wasn’t the only one intent on upholding the mask law. 

“Put your mask on well,” an interfering Spaniard barked across the aisle at a North African. 

The conversation took two seconds to escalate. Neither side gave in. Other passengers  whipped their heads around. The bus driver slowed. 

“Wearing this makes me want to vomit! Do you want me to vomit?!”

“You were told to wear your mask when you got on board, you have to wear it well. It’s obligatory.”

I tried to tune out the voices until, “YOU’RE A RACIST!” 

How did a health issue suddenly turn political? I guess the U.S. isn’t the only country with resentment and conspiracy theories simmering under every surface, frustrated behind every mandatory mask. 

As for me, I didn’t dare tug my mask below my nose on this ride. Maybe that’s why I got so sleepy and almost missed my stop!

Spanish healthcare chronicles: the dentist

Some people love visiting their healthcare providers. They set up appointments at every chance, willing their hypochondria to be confirmed… if not here, then there. 

I’m a hypochondriac too. If I get some belly flab, I write it up to a tumor. A sensitive tooth– an impending root canal. But my branch of hypochondria avoids doctors at all costs.

One of my nurse friends (yes, I have several, which is unfortunate for them when I seek advice for random ailments) laughs at me because I always preface an advice request with, “Don’t tell me to go to the doctor.”

In healthcare, the firsts are the scariest because I know the invasive scrutiny of my various and sundry body parts will only confirm my worst fears.

My first dentist experience was terrifying. My teeth are bad and I was already imagining myself in dentures.

“I don’t want any major work that isn’t necessary,” I squeaked as they herded me into the panoramic x-ray room. I tried to explain the history of my teeth as the dentist spun her little mirror around in my mouth. Then, the hygienist cleaned my teeth while I cringed and balked and kept imagining dentures.

“See you in a year!” 

What? Dentists never said that.

I have a hunch that in Spain they aren’t as picky about perfect smiles as they are in America. (I was the one who suggested I get a check-up and cleaning every six months instead of the recommended year.)

So that first is done. Two years later, I love my dentist and even though I discovered they don’t accept my new insurance, no way am I changing dentists. No way. Huh-uh. At least not until I get a little braver.

Photo by Jon Tyson on Unsplash