Fragility

Pattern in sand left by thirty to forty mile per hour winds

 — Jeff, are you OK driving? Is the drop-off too steep?

— Dad, you’re really off balance, are you good?

— Jeff, did you eat enough for this hike?

— Dad, are you still feeling dizzy?

— Jeff, be careful, don’t touch that grass!

No, I’m not kidding. They watch out for me constantly. I don’t watch out for myself.

Some of this is new: the grass allergy, the dizziness, the balance. Some of it, the heights and the food, are lifelong deficiencies. As an outdoorsy hiker type, fear of heights and sudden calorie deficits constrain me. If I plan ahead (I rarely plan ahead), I pack enough snacks so I don’t bonk. When I bring those snacks, I typically wind-up overeating, but that beats running out of calories. This is what it happens when I bonk: I can’t make decisions, I need to sit down, sweat pours from my body. It scares me. It annoys everyone else. The heights? Not much I can do about them. I bite my tongue and pray to the universe.

My family is running around in southern Oregon this week. This vacation looks like most of our vacations: a rental house, home cooked meals to save money whenever we can manage, a heavy emphasis on outdoor activities. And lots of time in the car, driving through mountains, on the edge of cliffs.

This afternoon, we went tide-pooling. This involves poking through the puddles left by the receding tide in and amongst a scattering of rocks. In southern Oregon, the critters to see are hermit crabs, sea anemones, sea stars and sea urchins. For the purpose of this story, I’m focusing on the rocks. Suddenly, I have a hard time balancing on those rocks. I wrote about this a couple of months ago when Susan, Eli and I went rock-scrambling at Devils Den. At the time, I blamed my fitness, but after today, I don’t think it has anything to do with muscles. I simply couldn’t get my balance just walking across the rocks.

This fragility, causing my family to watch over me all the time, weighs on me. I used to think of myself as robust, a bad ass, even. For the past few years, I feel weak. Susan and my kids have grown accustomed to it. They expect me to need help. Last week, a blood test came back showing that my iron level has crashed again. It’s currently almost identical to where it was eighteen months ago when I was chronically dizzy. Trudging up sand dunes yesterday, my head spun, I couldn’t catch my breath. Is this normal? Because my iron measured low, am I looking for symptoms? Maybe everyone else feels dizzy walking up the dunes—it’s hard work, after all.

Tonight, watching the sunset on the beach, I froze. The temperature sat in the low sixties, I wore jeans and a sweatshirt. The rest of my family felt comfortable. but even with my hood up, I was chilled. This could be due to my low iron level; it might be psychosomatic. Whatever. Just one more opportunity for me to feel fragile.

Predictably, Susan worried about me. I wish I could help you warm up. We’ll need to buy you some silk long underwear.

I know many of these symptoms are consistent with aging: chilled to the bone, poor balance, nutrition and blood composition issues, but dammit, I’m not even sixty.

Fragility notwithstanding, this vacation rocks. A few highlight photos:

Water filled caldera known as Crater Lake
Stream seen on a hike through a redwood forest
Kim Jong-un finally sends a nuke our way
Sunset over the Pacific

38 thoughts on “Fragility

  1. I get really cold when I haven’t eaten enough (sometimes it also depends on what I’ve been eating)…

    Have you looked at various vitamin levels? I think one of the Bs is good for balance or anti-dizziness.. can’t remember exactly.. they’re all interlinked anyway, the vitamins and minerals – if one (here iron) is out of sync, the chances are high that some others are too..

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    • Nothing in my bloodwork ‘concerned’ my doctor other than the iron, but possibly it’s worth asking that question specifically. I have a habit of eating the same thing every day. While what I eat is generally healthy, I could see missing some key nutrients. Thanks, something to check.

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      • I have to fight/plead with my doctors to get them to even look at some bloodwork things.. and different doctors use different guideline numbers.. what looks good to one doesn’t look so great to the next. Also, potentially check gut bacteria.. (wonderful topic 🙈) that gets all out of kilter sometimes too. Alternative-friendly doctors can often recommend herbs and food combinations. There aren’t many vitamins you can overdose on, so I play with various combinations of tablets and foodstuffs.

        I don’t want to (/can’t) advise you anything really, except to do your own research and try non-risky things out 🤷‍♀️

        Hope you figure out what helps you soon; being dizzy and cold and losing your balance doesn’t sound fun at all 😔

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  2. Getting older does have its moments. 🤪 Did you get all your test results back or are you still waiting on some? Just wondering if there’s any news on why you had that….reaction? (Not sure what to call it so I went with “reaction”) Anyway Jeff I am keeping you in my prayers and hoping you get some answers soon.

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    • I have general allergy testing in a few weeks. It would be nice if that pointed to something definitive. Thanks for keeping me in your prayers. I’m sure there are many with far more serious ailments than me, but I appreciate any help I can get.

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      • I have a list of people I keep in my prayers, probably why my prayers take so long. 🤣🤣 I can only imagine how you and your family are feeling just by not having answers. Hopefully they narrow it down soon. Have a wonderful weekend Jeff. 😁

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  3. Sorry about the iron and fragility Jeff, but I am happy you’re seeing the PNW! I know those dunes and crater lake of course, good choice…laughed at the caption on the third photo too. Keep that sense of humor please! Be well and enjoy your time.

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    • Mostly, I just don’t like the idea of getting old and things falling apart. Not sure what I’d do in my father’s situation. He can barely walk because his knees are shot. It’s really pretty here, and so far, the weather has been perfect. A great experience so far.

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  4. Jeff – outdoorsy is awesome but maybe a little couch potato action would bulk you up and stabilize your fragility. I’ve mentioned my neurologically challenged daughter and once we got her weight above a certain threshold her iron and everything else improved. Wishing you a wonderful vacation and more lovely photos.

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    • Ah, don’t worry about me. I’m carrying plenty of weight. I was actually doing much better when I weighed fifteen pounds less. I think it’s time to deconstruct my diet and start from scratch.

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  5. Have you eaten enough red meat lately? Thought I remembered that being the cause before.

    Life is weird sometimes. My partner’s dad and stepdad both live on rum & coke, cigarettes, codeine and coke, if you know what I mean. They’ve both lived through heart attacks, multiple cancer instances, and one of them has briefly died twice in the hospital (heart stopped) yet they’re both still kicking. His mum on the other hand, took good care of herself and in the end it was she who fatally suffered. It seems like there isn’t a rhyme or reason or sense of fairness to health sometimes. (My partner also has another colonoscopy next month, so still looking for answers.) I hope you get some answers soon too.

    I guess this is all just to say it’s all the more reason to enjoy what we’ve got, so I’m glad you’re out there living it up on the west coast with your family. Thanks for sharing your photos, it looks like an amazing experience! What a beautiful part of the country.

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    • Well, in the two weeks heading into the blood test, I was off red meat because of the potential allergy. I’m trying to do better with that. At home, we really don’t eat much red meat, Susan and Sophie don’t like it. But last night we were having chicken tacos for dinner and Eli and I got a steak. I can do better. I agree, there seems to be no rhyme or reason to health. One of the coaches on my team, an absolute picture of health and only in his mid thirties, is really struggling with cancer. It just doesn’t seem fair. As for me, my self abusive period was long enough that part of me believes I deserve whatever I get.

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      • Maybe that could explain it then, just not enough iron in your diet? Have you been any better since then?

        I don’t feel “deserve” is part of it at all. We’ve all done stuff we regret, it was the best we could do with the knowledge we had at the time. Don’t be so hard on yourself xx

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  6. Great pictures! It looks like an amazing trip! That really stinks about your balance though. I remember telling one of Declan’s first OT’s that I was amazed at how Declan could roll around and that when I try to do anything like that, things I had no problem doing when I was a teenager even, I would get sick to my stomach. She told me that equilibrium changes as you age and that made complete sense for me to get sick. I wonder if you are experiencing a shift earlier because of your brain injury? You do have a lot of unanswered medical questions. Hopefully, someone will figure out the missing piece to your puzzle and make you whole again. In the meantime, have a great trip!

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    • My ‘middle ear’ has long been sensitive. Have you been to Dutch Wonderland? Those kiddie rides there leave me feeling sick. I guess I wouldn’t be surprised if balance issues were part of my brain injury. I lead the stretches for the MTB team. That quad stretch where you grab one leg behind you is comical. I can do it for about 3 seconds.

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  7. Dang Jeff, you and I seem to be going thru similar medical stuff. I’m with you on the breaking down body being extremely frustrating! My mind says I’m about 30, and even though I’m not *that* old at 54, I *am* 100% disabled and keep “forgetting” that little fact.

    I’ve got more blood tests on Monday or Tuesday… whenever I drag myself the 0.5 miles to the lab😂 Then the doctor will review the results with me on Friday. He was very confused about my hemoglobin drop. No one can figure it out🤷🏼‍♀️ He put me on B12 to go with the Folic Acid. Supplements are something worth asking your doctor about🤷🏼‍♀️

    I hate taking pills after years of oral pain meds, but I hated being in hospital more, so pills it is! I eat healthy too, but tend towards a rotation of 4 or 5 things. I’m just lazy! I’m not a big red meat eater either. I’m not much of a meat eater period, but I’m trying to eat more.

    Getting older sucks!! 😭

    That part of the country is gorgeous!! Your pictures are beautiful, bringing back memories…

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  8. Aww, Jeff. That’s not so good. This is just what you don’t need, especially on holiday. I’m sorry you have to deal with all this. Balance is a tricky thing. Having a loss of this, whatever its cause, isn’t very convenient given your lifestyle. It must be a real pain. Low iron levels can definitely affect balance as well as cause extreme exhaustion. Can you take iron tablets? If the situation is dire, an iron transfusion would also help. Perhaps, you could talk to your doctor about these possibilities as he’s the one with the medical knowledge and where you need to get advice. Did you know that broccoli and dried apricots contain a fair bit of iron (amongst many other more obvious foods such as red meat)? Spinach is just a trick! It does have iron (remember Popeye??), but it’s not the type of iron that the human body can absorb. I do hope you can enjoy the rest of your holiday. The photos are great. Oh, yes, you mentioned tide-pooling. We used to do that as kids only we called it crabbing! I loved it. I wish you well, Jeff. Ellie 🌞

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  9. Looks like a beautiful trip so far (which, being from the west coast, I knew it would be), but sorry to read about your balance and other health issues. Keep pushing your doc, then see another, and another; they all “see” different things from the same list of symptoms, and have differing approaches. While all the nutritional advice you’ve gotten so far is great and worth exploring (I recently added B-12 and magnesium supplements to address muscle aches & twitching at night; seems to have worked), I urge you to focus on hydration/electrolytes as well. Me and dizziness are intimate friends, both from athletics and now my CSF leak. Increasing fluids throughout the day, not just when thirsty, always helps significantly. Of course, that means you have to visit the loo more often, but hey, there’s always a trade-off and dizziness sucks (and can be dangerous, leading to falls/injury).

    Enjoy the rest of your trip, even if you have to accept a little help now and then. You have a wonderfully supportive family.

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    • The hydration angle is pretty interesting. I’m obviously dehydrated over the past two days and the dizziness has been increasing. I’ll work to get rehydrated tonight and then keep it that way. Does it rain in Oregon? I’m not sure we’ve seen a single cloud since we’ve been here. It’s absolutely gorgeous. Everyone is driving around doing their #vanlife thing. Pretty jealous. I could take some time off and do that right now.

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  10. No solutions or even suggestions from Downunder, Jeff. Just the observation that much of what you write about here is sadly familiar. I had an iron infusion at the beginning of the year… but I think it has worn off. Sigh.

    On a lighter note, I think that ‘bonk’ has a different meaning in Australian vernacular. I’ll let you look it up.

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    • I recall a Lucy Lawless interview where she pointed out the difference between her experience and a director’s when she was told to bonk (hit) a foe. Bonk (run out of calories) is a fairly common usage in the sporty crowd in the states and is used by my family daily. It probably makes reading the story a bit surreal. Iron infusions seem fairly common in other countries. I’ll ask about it if my level doesn’t rebound with a steady diet of burgers.

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  11. I’m sorry to read you’re not feeling so well Jeff, but glad you’re still enjoying the holiday. 🙂 Could you have hypermobility? I mention it because it can sometimes affect balance and it is more common in the neurodivergent population. Might be worth checking out!

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    • Probably not hypermobility. This is a relatively new development. I used to be quite confident climbing rocks. We just returned from an early morning tide-pooling session. (Wow, we saw lots of cool critters), and I gave up trying to walk on the rocks. I just started walking on the sandy beach below four inches of water despite the cold temperatures. Southern Oregon coast is a truly interesting place if you like geology and biology.

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  12. Sorry to hear about your balance issues, Jeff. I’ve had balance issues for years. There are various things that can cause that for me. Recently, I have been dealing with vertigo, which I can tell comes from my head/ears. In the past, my body just suddenly veered in unexpected directions. That was definitely not from my ears. I could tell the difference. Some of mine is postural, partly because of scoliosis and partly because of cell phone neck(eye roll here). I* have found physical therapy helpful without the worries of substances being introduced to my body. Good luck.

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    • Thanks Debbie. I have lots of balls in the air health-wise right now. When I return home from vacation I’m hoping to add some structure to the many issues I’m dealing with.

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