Sunday, July 15, 2012

Don't Give Up

This past week I saw a tv show on the National Geographic channel. A guy videotaped himself walking alone across Antarctica to the South Pole - he wanted to break the record for this achievement. Did he beat the clock? Did he even make it all the way? Did he even survive? You'll have to see the show (or Google "Todd Carmichael"). But at one point he explains to us - i.e. the camera - why he's so determined not to give up. It seems his dad gave up on him twice - once, before he was born, when the dad walked out on the mother, because he couldn't deal with her pregnancy. And then, later, in some connection with our hero's actions that wasn't made entirely clear, the father committed suicide. With a gun. Heavy.

Another quest motivated by parental abandonment is that of the medical librarian and blogger Devera Kastner, "Healthy Librarian". The slides from a presentation she gave at the Centennial Conference of the Utah Library Association are available at

In the handout she reveals that her own quest was motivated by her parents' experiences in later life. As she describes it on her blog:

My dad survived a massive stroke at age 69, just as life was starting to get nice-and-easy for him. Both daughters were married, he could work less, and his first grandson (my now 30 year old son) was just 9 months old. Time for the travel my parents had always put off.

He lived on for 16 years after that initial stroke, until age 85, without being able to speak, read, or understand language--and reading was his joy--especially the New York Times. He lost mobility, and everything else that makes life worth living. My dad was kept alive by powerful anti-seizure medicines that prevented the severe seizures that were caused by the strokes' damage to his brain. Later, he was kept alive with the help of a feeding tube.

My mom lovingly and without a single complaint took care of my dad at home for over 10 years, seeing her own health decline, and her world close in. Care-giving stress brought her weight loss, friend-loss, and unknown to her at the time, she was having her own silent imperceptible micro-strokes, as well as angina, osteoporosis and high blood pressure. A year after my dad passed away those tiny strokes had started to take their toll on both her physical balance & memory. After a number of falls, bone fractures, and full-blown strokes she spent her last year in that wheelchair.

Ms. Kastner then paraphrases something Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn said to her:

"When people tell me my diet's extreme, or too strict, I ask them, 'How would you like to spend your last years in a nursing home, sitting in a wheelchair, incontinent, immobile, unaware, with saliva dribbling out of the side of your mouth?'"

Long before she met Esselstyn, she saw that happen. As she drily puts it on her presentation slide, "Not the retirement they expected."


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