The Bottom Line

                     The Bottom Line

Very few positive thoughts come to mind as we consider the many aging issues that we face as we grow older.  Middle age is when we begin to realize that everything we’ve ever heard about physical health is true:  “It all heads south,”  and “Be ready to start falling apart; if it isn’t one thing, it’s another.”  For three years now, a week hasn’t passed that I haven’t given some dreaded thought to the looming colonoscopy that takes place at 50.  I deliberately timed my regular checkup at the end of year 49 so that I could buy myself an extra year before my general doctor made the official referral to the gastroenterologist.  And I knew it was coming.  “Most men and women should start having a Hemoccult test after age forty to screen for hidden blood in the stool.  After fifty, you should have a colonoscopy every three to five years to rule out colon cancer and to detect polyps that could potentially turn into colon cancer.  We know it’s an invasive process – but newer virtual colonoscopies are improving dramatically – and if Katie Couric can do it in front of a national audience, you can do it on your own” (Roizen & Oz 340).  I remember the day Katie Couric, wide awake, had a colonoscopy on live television as part of the Today show.  I remember the doctor saying, “And there’s your pretty little colon.”  That’s exciting for a pretty little Katie Couric, but not as well for the rest of us. 

I knew when I took my husband for his first colonoscopy several years ago that it would take a great deal of mental preparation for me to willingly schedule a procedure that would allow anyone to go deep sea diving and cave exploring in my rear end and then beach me on a public shore where I would be expected to expel the air tank used on the mission – within earshot and possibly eyesight of a room full of others doing the very same thing, separated only by a thin fabric curtain.  I considered how I might cheat a little bit to trick the nurses into letting me go home early. I pictured myself sitting behind my curtain, inflating and then holding taut the opening of a large punch balloon and letting it rip, loud and long, and sighing deeply before sheepishly asking, “There. Can I go home now?”

Any female who has ever 1) had a clownish dad or an obnoxious brother, 2) been married and/or 3) raised a son should be immune to the embarrassment of bathroom humor.  It happens.  Not only does it happen, but often the men in our lives are overtly proud of their accomplishments. They brag about them.  They will summon us from the far end of the house or the yard just to see or hear things that they believe should earn them a title in the Guinness Book of World Records.  Then they laugh and smile with pride, expecting us to do the same.  These are the  very same men who wonder why cats bring dead birds and mice and deposit them on the welcome mat. 

That’s probably the reason that I have two toilet rooms in the master bathroom that I share with my husband.  We share a common shower, but we have separate sinks and toilets; and those toilets each have a room with a locking door.  What happens in these rooms stays in these rooms.  No questions asked, no trophies earned. 

When the directive was given by my doctor to schedule a colonoscopy, I reluctantly followed her order.  I scheduled the procedure and ordered the prep, which consisted of 5 laxative tablets, a bottle of EZ-2-Go, lemon flavored gelatin mix, 3 packets of chicken broth powder, an assortment of individually packaged wet wipes, and 2 packets of Gatorade. I completed all the medical history paperwork dating back 51 years and attached my insurance card.  Then I began to worry and bite my nails as I counted down the days. 

I also began reading, because it’s like one of those ladder fire escapes that you see outside big city apartments for when the building is on fire and you’ve got to get out FAST.  When I read, I find that one minute I can be a breath away from a panic attack, and the next I find myself transported to a place of great peace.  A simple book became the best mental medicine for me.  Dr. Patricia Raymond, a gastroenterologist who is the founder of Rx For Sanity (RxForSanity.com) and author of Colonoscopy: It’ll Crack You Up!  became a hand-holding friend of mine as I read her chapter of Fifty Things to Do When You Turn Fifty (Sellers 135).  She assured me, “Okay, it’s nasty.  But all you need to get through this life-saving rite of passage is a sense of humor.”  I wondered about how to achieve that, and I read further.  She became a close, comforting friend who was visiting me in my living room to convince me that I was taking myself far too seriously and to reassure me that I was going to be fine.  Her puns were on point.  Maybe she was right.  Perhaps all I needed was a sense of humor.  Here’s the part that explained how to have a sense of humor about a colonoscopy: “The key is having fun while you’re doing it.  For instance, I encourage my patients to decorate their bottoms to celebrate various holidays that fall on or near their scheduled colonoscopy.  Over the years, I’ve been greeted with hearts, pumpkins and black cats, even an American Flag or two.”  Instantly, I knew that my colonoscopy could in fact be fun.  I took snapshots of the pages of her chapter and excitedly sent them to my brother, Ken, who knew how badly I was struggling with anxiety over the whole thing.  I sent the pages along with a text that said, “That’s it!  I’m decorating my ass for my procedure! Read this article.”  I couldn’t wait to share the idea with my husband, and was on my way to show him what I had found when I received a text back:  “This may be the best text I have ever received.  Ever.”  Only it wasn’t from Ken.  I had sent a group text by mistake.  Technology mishaps – yet another pitfall of middle age. 

Every shade of red later, after the initial embarrassment of the text wore off, I began designing my graphic surprise.  I decided to use a running theme (which, I realized later, was even more appropriate than I had imagined).  I thought of the oval car stickers with the mileage numbers for 5Ks, 10Ks, half marathons, and marathons.  A 6.2 sticker was designed for my right rear-view mirror, and a 3.1 sticker for my left.  Spanning both sides, to indicate the start and finish line of the “race,” I designed a banner that said, “May the winds be gentle, the course free of obstacles, and the finish fast. Ready, Set, Go!”  The planning of the design took my stress away and allowed me to focus on the creativity of adding an element of surprise for the medical team performing my colonoscopy. 

As I had hoped, the doctor was shaking his finger at me and grinning as he approached me to deliver my report when it was all finished:  a healthy colon, and a healthy sense of humor.  I hadn’t predicted his retaliatory prankish nature, though.  With a straight face, he said, “We’re in the process of updating our Facebook page.  You won’t mind if we use your photo of your design, in place, on our page….(and then his devilish smile appeared) will you?”  On the afternoon of my recovery phase, I’m already planning my next colonoscopy bottom design.  Ten years is far too long to have to wait for the next screening!

                                                                      Works Cited

Rozien, M. and Oz, M. (2005). You – The Owner’s Manual: An Insider’s Guide to the Body that Will Make You Healthier and Younger.  New York: HarperCollins. 

Sellers, R. (2005).  Fifty Things to Do When You Turn Fifty.  Portland:  Sellers Publishing.

                                  Prayer for a Miracle

 
 
One of my favorite pastimes as a grandmother of three beautiful children is reading books to them.  The stories teach us important life lessons through the characters, and the time we spend hugging and laughing is comforting.  Books are a sure way to get an always-on-the-move child to sit still for a minute and let a love-hungry Nana get some sugar.  Reading also bridges the gap for grandparents as we think of the stories our own parents read to us, along with the stories we have lived and the memories we have made.  We develop a firm appreciation for the importance of all stories, but particularly our own stories, and we realize the tremendous responsibility we have in sharing these stories – not only with our grandchildren, but with all who will listen.  There are messages to be heard, and blessings to be realized. 

 

Some of my favorite words are those of Dr. Seuss, from The Lorax: “It all started way back…..such a long, long time back….”(Seuss np).  And this is how I begin my story for all who will listen. 

It all started way back…..such a long, long time back.  The year was somewhere between 1974 and 1976, which put me between 8 and 10 years old.  I lived with my parents and younger brother on St. Simons Island, Georgia.  My parents were avid runners.  Dad had run track at Ware County High School in Waycross, and Mom was a natural runner, too.  They ran road races, and we ran together as a family activity many days.  My first road race was the Super Dolphin fun mile, where I won my age group.  I vividly recall my mother saying, “I couldn’t believe it.  I heard clapping, and I looked up to see who was coming around the corner, and it was you.”  Funny how the impact of words can seem so insignificant at the time, but years later they resonate in ways that are most unexpected.

Fast forward and pause here and there throughout life and visit points of rich history that running has played in my life.  I ran in elementary, middle and high school for periods of time.  My first husband began running and often placed in his age group in his heyday.  I continued running intermittently as our children were growing up, but I left the organized running events to others while our children were very young. In fact, my parents and my ex-husband often ran races together.  One of my favorite photographs is of my mother accepting an age division award and everyone thinking that the baby was hers.  She needed the t-shirt that said, “Assuming I was a normal grandmother was your first mistake.”  My mother was young and more fit than I was at that time in my life!  Two of our three children ran high school cross country and track, and our son excelled in the sport so much that he went on to run for the University of South Carolina.  He fell in love with a member of the team, and they married.  At a recent alumni race for all the members of this team, their two year old son was positioned with some of their friends at the finish line to run across with his parents – my son and his very pregnant wife (which means that technically, my granddaughter finished her first 5K before she was born)! 

 

When Mom was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease, the doctors told her to continue an active exercise regimen to improve her memory and her health as the disease progressed.  Though she wasn’t able to run much longer, she walked to a quick finish in the Sunshine Festival 5K on St. Simons year after year, and on the last year she finished it, Dad looked at me and said, “I’d hate to walk against her.”  Her steadfast commitment to health and to remaining active throughout her life inspired me.  Then I saw a friend from Pike County cross the finish line, too.  Right then, I made the Sunshine Festival 5K a goal.  Surprisingly enough, I told myself that I would run it, and I didn’t know where that promise came from or if I could even keep it.  What kind of trouble had I promised myself?  At that time, I was finishing a doctoral degree with zero time for exercise or anything else except a dissertation, and was significantly overweight.  Generally, mothers try to lose baby weight between births of children, and while I had managed to do that over two decades ago, what I hadn’t lost was weight gained between a Specialist’s degree and a Doctoral degree – and I didn’t have an active bone left anywhere in my body. 

 

When Mom died in December 2015, I was heartbroken that she hadn’t lived to see me finish my degree.  Education had always been of utmost importance to both of my parents, and while we joke about its incredible importance today, it became a conditional factor of marriage approval between my second husband and my dad before we married in 2008.  “Please encourage her to finish her education,” Dad requested.  He did.  And I did.  But the desire to walk at graduation simply faded when I considered that Mom would not be there to see it all happen.  And I was 70 pounds overweight at the age of 50 when I became Dr. Kim Haynes Johnson. 

What took place after the degree was completed was a change in my eating and exercise habits.  My brother and I got Fitbits and began a (sort of friendly) sibling competition to see which of us could meet a daily goal and get the most steps.  Soon thereafter, we walked and finished our first 5K course together as adults – the Ugly Sweater Run in Atlanta, Georgia.  Not long after that, we challenged each other to run/walk and then progressed to fully running the organized running events we entered.  We set goals, and we achieved them.  Over the course of a year and a half, I lost those thunderous 75 pounds and began to look a little bit more like my wedding picture again, and I broke 30 minutes on a 5K course. 

In between the time that we registered for the Sunshine Festival race and the time that we would run it, Ken and I came up with an idea to start running longer distances and train for a half marathon.  We hadn’t picked one out, but we were sure that we would run one soon and started increasing our distances in preparation.  I’m pretty sure that’s when my injury occurred.  On a long run day, I thought it would be a good sign to run a quarter marathon and be halfway there.  It backfired.  At first, I thought it was a strained muscle, but the more I tried to run and couldn’t, I became convinced it was Sciatica.  Days away from the Sunshine Festival, I began to feel more and more heartbreak each day as I realized that I may not be able to run the one race that set it all in motion.  The one race that my mother had loyally finished right up until she could no longer run or walk.  The one race that I wanted to run 4 days before turning 51.  The one race that I wanted to feel my mother running alongside me, cheering me on, telling me she was so proud of me. 

Five days before the race was when I first discovered the injury.  Anyone driving past would have sworn that if I hadn’t been human, I’d have been a limping dog with a raw gunshot wound to the left buttock.  I denied it, but the pain won at 1/3 of a mile, and I was in tears.  With four days to go, the pain tears became tears of anger as I made it ¼ of a mile and succumbed.  Three days prior to race day, and Sunday at that, I sat in church with my eyes brimming with tears.  I couldn’t talk to anyone.  I couldn’t fix the problem.  I couldn’t face not running, because it meant so much to me to run this particular race.  I considered a chiropractor, but I prayed instead.  “Lord,” I said, “I can’t fix this, but you can.  This race is important to me.  I feel close to my mother there, and I wanted to feel like she was running right there with me.  The heartbreak that you know I feel in not being able to run is worse than the physical pain.  Please, Lord, you alone can work a miracle, and I need one if I am going to be able to run this race.  It means so much to me. Please heal me, and allow me to run the race on Tuesday.” 

 

A feeling of peace prevailed, and I made it through lunch with no tears.  I thumbed through Billy Graham’s Angels: God’s Secret Agents and prayed that I would be able to run and that my mother would be right there beside me the whole way – and that I would somehow be assured of her presence.  “Our certainty that angels right now witness how we are walking through life should mightily influence the decisions we make.  God is watching, and His angels are interested spectators too.  The Amplified Bible expresses 1 Corinthians 4:9 this way:  ‘God has made an exhibit of us….a show in the world’s amphitheater – with both men and angels (as spectators).’ We know they are watching, but in the heat of the battle, I have thought how wonderful it would be if we could hear them cheering.” (Graham, 164).  I continued praying, begging God to take my pain away so that I would be able to run the race.  I desperately want this experience of feeling close to my mother. 

I asked several key running friends to pray, too, and my pastor.  Throughout Sunday, I toyed with the idea of seeking a chiropractor on Monday morning, but decided that sheer faith in prayer was what I really needed.  I texted my brother to tell him how disappointed I was at the prospect of not being able to run.  He texted back to say that he sure hoped I saw the irony of this pain in my butt, and to remind me that “Mom’s goal was never an outstanding performance – for her, it was always about finishing the race.”  As the day ended, I kept praying. 

This morning, one day prior to race day, I knew that a lengthy run would be a bad idea, even in the absence of pain.  Despite the weekly mileage that I needed in preparation for the race, the rest before the race day is also an important component for any chance of a successful run tomorrow.  I had to know, though.  I had to know if the pain was still a threat to my race event or whether the Lord had heard the prayers and taken my pain.  I set my mileage tracker and stretched.  I picked some music and adjusted my earbuds.  It was time to find out, and I would know immediately.  I looked down the street to the west, took a deep breath, and started a slow jog and then increased to a medium pace.  I continued increasing my pace and realized that the miracle for which I had prayed had been granted, and I burst into tears of joy and thankfulness as I ran one mile, then stopped, confident that tomorrow will bring more of God’s good grace – and my mother’s presence by my side as I run.   Tomorrow, I will be fulfilling a promise that I made to myself a few years ago to commit myself to a healthier lifestyle and run the race that my mother loved running.  Tomorrow, I hope to know for sure not only that my mother is watching over me, but that she is also cheering.

An Update with Results:

I stepped to the start line with a feeling of certainty that Mom was beside us in spirit.  As the gun went off and we started the race, I felt no pain whatsoever.  Each half mile was filled with memories of those places:  running past where Mom used to watch me play softball in Mallery Park, running where we rode bikes down the streets of our old neighborhood, passing the home where we lived on Martin Street, running past the house where I fell off the roof and broke my arm, running the street I walked each morning and afternoon to and from the school bus, and running past the Dairy Queen (which used to be the Tastee Freeze) where we ate more than our fair share of ice cream.  I heard Mom’s voice in my head, encouraging me the entire way.  She was saying all the things I imagined that she would say – “Come on, Kimmie.  You can do it.”  “Keep the pace.  Don’t give too much too soon.”  “Great Job – you’re almost there.”  At mile 3, my brother passed me, and I had nothing left to give to try to stay with him the final tenth of a mile (or beat him, which I would have preferred to do).  He broke 28 minutes.  I finished just over the 28 minute mark – which meant that in my older running phase of life, this was a PR for the middle age years for both of us.  There were blessings for both Ken and me in this race.  


The one thing I hadn’t received yet was any communication from Mom that was unexpected or distinctly prophetic. Then, it came in a most unexpected way.  When Ken took his dog, Feivel, for a walk, Mom’s dog didn’t like being left out.  I couldn’t find a leash anywhere, so I got one of Dad’s neckties, and off Mullie and I went, ambling slowly over to the ball park.  One of the current pastimes in many cities across the nation is hiding painted rocks with messages for people to find.  As we approached a large oak tree, I caught a glimpse of a bright blue color peeking out of a crevice in the bottom.  When I retrieved the rock, I knew it was a message from her.  An anchor.  One symbol with a myriad of messages for me that can be applied in almost all areas of my life.  My prayers were answered on July 4th in the form of miracles.  They do still happen!


Works Cited

Graham, B. (1975). Angels: God’s Secret Agents.  Dallas:  Word Publishing.

Seuss, T. (1971). The Lorax.  New York: Random House.
 

 
 
 

                  Honoring a Hero of the Greatest Generation

 
Yesterday, the rural Georgia city of Concord buried its last remaining soldier missing in action from World War 2.  First Lieutenant Robert Eugene Oxford died on January 25, 1944 at the age of 24 when his plane crashed in the Himalayan Mountains while he and a crew of seven other men were on a cargo flight carrying medical supplies to China.  A recovery team identified his remains in 2016.  After more than 73 years, Lt. Oxford has finally been laid to rest near those who loved him best but who died never knowing what had happened to him. 

Memories of his life were shared by distant family members and friends who had kept his letters and stories alive throughout the years.  When he went off to war, he left a fiancée, Susan Brown, whose best friend stood beside the road waving a flag as his remains were brought from the Atlanta Airport to the funeral home.  Though Susan married later in life, she had always said that when he came home, she’d be there to welcome him back; but a year ago, she joined him in Heaven and finally knew what her best friend, standing by the road in her absence, and the rest of us would not know for a few more months. 

 
Ceremonies honoring Lt. Oxford were impressive beyond those of a proper returning hero’s welcome.  A commercialairline honored Lt. Oxford in a military ceremony as passengers debarked the plane on which his remains had been flown home.  People tied yellow ribbons and waved flags as they lined the streets from the Atlanta Airport to the funeral home in Zebulon.  The funeral ceremony was held in the school auditorium because of the need for plenty of seats, and the procession from the funeral home to the cemetery spanned 8 miles and increased in the number of citizens with yellow ribbons, flags, and Welcome Home signs as Lt. Oxford got closer to Concord.  The cemetery service featured full military honors, with a 21-gun salute, a flyover with the missing man formation, and Taps.  Something else that was impressive about these services is that the Chinese population in attendance equally matched that of the Americans in attendance.  Because Lt. Oxford had been on several missions that delivered supplies to the Chinese, he became a hero in their country as well as ours, and the Chinese delegates sent gifts to the family to express their appreciation for his service. 

At the funeral, Reverend Jeff Overton referenced Tom Brokaw’s Greatest Generation, in which Brokaw tells stories that prove that Oxford’s was a generation who understood what it meant to serve.  As I thumbed through the pages of the book when I returned home, I found an interesting observation that Brokaw made as he and his wife Meredith traveled together talking to veterans.  He told her, “The men tell the stories best themselves….Whenever one of these guys comes over to say hello, just ask, ‘Where were you that day?’ You’ll hear some unbelievable stories.”  This reminded me of the importance of stories in Tim O’Brien’s The Things They Carried.  O’Brien, throughout his book, sketches an overarching theme of the significance of stories not only in the healing process, but also in survival itself.  He says of war stories that “’In any war story, but especially a true one, it’s difficult to separate what happened from what seemed to happen……In many cases, a true war story cannot be believed.  If you believe it, be skeptical.  It’s a question of credibility.  Often the crazy stuff is true and the normal stuff isn’t, because the normal stuff is necessary to make you believe the truly incredible craziness.  In other cases, you can’t even tell a true war story.  Sometimes it’s just beyond telling.”  Lieutenant Oxford, I am certain, had many of those types of stories – and it saddens me that he never had the opportunity to tell them to a wife, his children, or his grandchildren.  He sacrificed his own opportunities so that others could have the freedoms we enjoy today. 

O’ Brien also says that a true war story is never about the war, but instead is about sunlight and the special way that “dawn spreads out on a river when you know you must cross the river and march into the mountains and do things you are afraid to do.  It’s about love and memory.  It’s about sorrow.  It’s about sisters who never write back and people who never listen.”  Lieutenant Oxford lost his life on a mountain serving others.  He made the ultimate sacrifice. 

“Stories can save us,” O’Brien concludes.  “In a story, which is a kind of dreaming, the dead sometimes smile and sit up and return to the world.”  That’s exactly what happened in Pike County yesterday.  Through the stories shared about Lieutenant Oxford, passed down from generation to generation, he smiled, sat up, and returned to the world to be honored the way he deserved.  Reverend Overton said it best:  “His life of service continues today, in the form of inspiration to serve to make this a better place.” Though the timing of his return may seem unfortunate and long overdue for his family, the timing of Lieutenant Oxford’s return was perfect for such a time as ours – when we all need a powerful reminder of what it means to truly serve and sacrifice the way that the heroes of the greatest generation did! 

References

Brokaw, T. (1998). The Greatest Generation.  New York: Random House.

O’Brien, T. (1990). The Things They Carried. New York:  Penguin Books.

The Dawn of a New and Glorious Day

Photo credit:  “New Horizons” by Dr. Wilson Felix Haynes, Jr.
 
 

                                                  The Dawn of a New and Glorious Day

A little over a year ago, in the aftermath of my mother’s death, my dad channeled his grief into photographic creativity by taking early morning walks on the beaches of St. Simons Island, Georgia.  During these walks, he captured glorious sunrises and often challenged my brother and me to caption them.  The images always arrived between 7:30 and 8:00 a.m., just as our high school students were arriving in our classes.  We’d eagerly text back hurried first-impression expressions such as, “New Horizons,” “Ominous Threat,” or “Meandering Waterways,” as each picture suggested.  As the school year wore on and Dad’s grieving entered new stages, the photos became less frequent, but certainly no less impressive.  His days started with an eye seeking beauty in a dark place of his life, preserving and sharing the images, and ours began with powerful reminders of our roots on the Georgia coast – even as both my brother and I were living in central Georgia. 

I fell in love with A Sand County Almanac by Aldo Leopold in 2008 when I attended a teacher workshop that was held at the Jones Ecological Center in south Georgia.  Nightly reading assignments were anything but dreaded; in fact, they became the highlight of my day as I pored over the magnificent analogies and imagery that Leopold described.  Here was an author who could take complex concepts and simplify them so that even the most novice naturalist could grasp a solid understanding of his ideas.  His observations about nature and his warnings reminded me of Chief Seattle’s message to future generations about the importance of nature conservation and the priority it deserves.  Not surprisingly, Dad’s morning pictures often inspired me to return to the wisdom-rich text for insights and caption-worthy phrases.  Caption searches led to re-readings of the dog-eared text, and two excerpts stood out as I reflected upon several weeks’ worth of photos: 

“Ability to see the cultural value of wilderness boils down, in the last analysis, to a question of intellectual humility.  The shallow-minded modern who has lost his rootage in the land assumes that he has already discovered what is important; it is such who prate of empires, political or economic, that will last a thousand years.  It is only the scholar who appreciates that all history consists of successive excursions from a single starting-point, to which man returns again and again to organize yet another search for a durable scale of values.  It is only the scholar who understands why the raw wilderness gives definition and meaning to the human enterprise” (Leopold, 279).

“To build a road is so much simpler than to think of what the country really needs…..but all conservation of wilderness is self-defeating, for to cherish we must see and fondle, and when enough have seen and fondled, there is no wilderness left to cherish” (Leopold, 107-8).

I’ve heard it said that grief begins before a loss.  My brother and I lost our mother, and Dad lost his wife long before she drew her last breath.  Parkinson’s Disease battled her spirit and won the long-fought war of Mom’s earthly life.  Her death, our grief, was unavoidable.  Not all loss and grief is inevitable, though.  My hope is that the raw wilderness that Leopold describes will not be lost or grieved in my lifetime – or in that of my grandchildren’s, and that we seek and seize opportunities to cure the diseases of political and economic empires that threaten to diminish the rich meaning of the human enterprise.  The captioned “Ominous Threat” we sense can still become a “Heeded Warning,” a “Miraculous Hope,” and the “Dawn of a New and Glorious Day.” 

References

Leopold, A. (1966). A Sand County Almanac. New York:  Random House. 

Oh, the Joy!

My greatest joys of the holidays were my children’s love of the arts. Here, Aidan is loving his new finger puppets! Another highlight was following my daughter’s blog through Germany as the Young Harris College Chamber Choir performed in Munich, Germany and hearing her sing O Holy Night at the St. Simons Island First Baptist Church on Christmas Eve. image