Monday, January 30, 2017

Off to Budapest and Prague

Tomorrow we are off to Europe.  We'll be in Budapest the month of February and Prague the first week of March.  We are looking forward to this for so many reasons: personal (we love to travel), physical (hamstring healthy) and political (at least to escape the constant sound of MSNBC for a bit).

The blog should return in a few days with more interesting topics than have been the focus of the last few months.

The picture above is porcelain copy of a house in Old Town Square in Prague, which we bought in 2002, the last time we visited the city.  The beautiful flowers were a bon voyage gift from our dear, dear friend Maureen McGowan.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Hamstring Update. (Mainly for friends who have followed my hamstring odyssey).

Image result for hamstring

This post is mainly for those friends who have followed my hamstring odyssey; others, particularly those who don't like medical minutiae, may wish to turn away.  Probably TMI.

Background Precis:  Last April while moving into our new condo, I felt something pull in the back of my leg.  I kind of put it out of my mind because I figured it would go away.  Several weeks later, we drove 900 miles to Michigan and by the third day sitting was extremely uncomfortable.  I waited a couple of week and it didn't get better, so I saw a physician in Houghton.  At this point, the worst pain was while sitting, and the doctor I saw thought I had piriformis syndrome (inflamation of a small muscle deep in the buttock).  He sent me to a physical therapist who gave me exercises to stretch primarily the piriformis and also the hamstring.  Eventually, she said that what she could offer me wasn't working, and I needed to try something else, like consult an orthopedist.  I figured since I was going to be back in Louisville soon, I'd wait til then.

Later in Louisville.  Once I got home, I saw my wonderful doctor in Louisville who immediately ordered an MRI of my hip and upper leg and referred me to an orthopedist.  Voila.  It wasn't my piriformis.  I had a tear in the common tendon that connects two of the hamstring muscles to the bone, and I was referred to [hysical therapy,

Currently, I have been going to PT three times a week for about six weeks.  I have 4 sessions left before I leave for Budapest and Prague.  I am doing a lot better, though not completely cured.  However I feel confident about travelling in Europe.

My six weeks in theraphy here were eye-opening.  I  had no idea how many forms of treatment there are for muscle injuries.  Along with stretches, I have had dry needling (kind of like acupuncture, but aimed directly at the pain spot), exercises where I literally pull a person walking behind me or balance on one leg on a small trampoline while trying to do things with my other leg. But the breakthrough came when I started something called blood flow restriction (BFR) a week or so ago. 

BRF was developed for wounded soldiers who couldn't put a lot of pressure on their limbs but who needed to strengthen the muscles.  The idea is that the therapist cuts off the blood flow to the wounded spot (kind of like a tight blood pressure cuff except around my upper thigh), then you do what would other wise be pretty light exercises but  which are hell with the cuff.  When the cuff is loosened and the blood flows back, the brain senses the injury and sends growth hormones.  It is really, really hard, but when it's over there's no pain at all.  (The pain does sometimes return the next day but not nearly as intense.)

So the miracles of modern medicine.  My big take-away from this is that if it doesn't get appreciably better over a reasonable amount of time, go somewhere else.  Of course this is more difficult in a small town, but nevertheless. . . .

Thanks so much to all of you who have expressed concern about how I am doing.  At the advice of my wonderful physical therapist, I am going off for five weeks and try to just not think about it.  He reminded me that peaks and valleys were normal and constant monitoring might not be the best strategy.  So here goes.  


Monday, January 9, 2017

Best Books of 2016

In the order I read them.

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Agota Kristof.  The Notebook.  The Proof.  The Third Lie.
Written in French by a Hungarian writer who fled to Switzerland in 1956, this trilogy takes place in a unnamed country in Eastern Europe (that feels very like Hungary) and is set before, during, and after the fall of Communism.  A stark parable, reminiscent of Kafka, it tells the enigmatic story of twin brothers who live on the border--geographical and psychological between--between truth and lies, proof and negation.  Haunting and evocative; a really best book.

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Alaine Polcz.  One Woman in the War.
This memoir, by a psychologist whose post-war work dealt with ill and dying children, tells the story of a young woman of  Transylvania and her first (devastatingly bad) marriage during World War II.  Writing of her life between 1944 and 1945, Polcz describes how she was forced to leave her home in Kolsovar (now Cluj Romania) when Transylvania was given back to the Romanians, became a refugee in Hungary, and lived through the brutal Soviet invasion in Budapest.  This is an unexpected, illuminating, but extremely passionate survival story about story of World War II.  (

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Edna O'Brien.  The Little Red Chairs.
A haunting novel that begins in Ireland and then moves The Hague.  The story of an Irish woman who unwittingly falls in love with a war crimminal and mass murderer, it deals with communal and personal guilt.  Based on Radovan Karadizic, the Butcher of Bosnia, the title alludes to the 20th anniversary memorial to the Siege of Sarajevo:  11,541 empty red chairs which commemorate the lives of the victims.  More than 600 of the chairs are little, for the children who were killed.. 

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Elena Ferrante.  My Brilliant Friend.  Plus The Story of a New Name.  Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay, The Lost Child.  Also by Elena Ferrante.  These four books, sometimes called the Neopolitan Books, narrate the story of two friends from a lower-class neighborhood in Naples between the 1950s and the present.  The nature of the friendship is a complex combination of rivalry, distrust, love, and dependence. Meeting in the elementary school, the girls paths divide when one, the narrator also named Elena, goes to high school and eventually to university, while the other named Leni, stays in the neighborhood which she spends her life fighting.  They were  published a couple of years apart, one to the other.  I read them all in a row (trying to catch up with my book group who had progressed to the fourth).  Reading them straight like that might not have been the best strategy, because they are very intimate and very intense.  They are very highly regarded and, even though I occasionally got tired of Elena's voice or of the high intensity of the women's relationshhip, I recommend them as an innovative and deeply felt story about women's lives.

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Julian Barnes.  The Noise of Time.  I wrote about this book here.  A collection of three moments in the life of the Russian composer Dimitri Shostakovich.   Not a biography but a fictional reflection on the relation of music and history.

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Svetlana Alexievich.  Secondhand Time.
Comprised of interviews with ordinary Russians between 1991 and 2012, this extraordinary books narrates Russia after Communism.  The stories are strange, unexpected, tragic, and compelling,  Oral history as great Russian literature.

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Magda Szabo  Iza's Ballad.  Another book by the great Hungarian author who also wrote The Door.  About a mother whose life is defined by her family and her village, and a daughter who has become a physician and moved to Budapest.  Iza brings her mother to the city in order to save her after the father and husband dies, but their deep misunderstanding of the other's nature makes the move a disaster.  A deeply felt and beautifully written novel about understanding and the inability to love.


Monday, January 2, 2017