March 31, 2016

Good Relationships Are Key to a Happy Life. Loneliness Kills.

A recent study asked millennials to identify their most important life goals. Over 80 percent wanted to get rich. About 50 percent of these young adults included "becoming famous" among their major goals.

Yet the Harvard Study of Adult Relationship, one of the longest and most complete studies of adult life ever conducted, found that good relationships, not wealth or fame, keep us happier and healthier.

The Report
The study followed two cohorts of white men for 75 years, starting in 1938:
  • 268 Harvard sophomores
  • 456 12-to-16-year-old boys who grew up in inner-city Boston.
Researchers surveyed the men about their lives (including the quality of their marriages, job satisfaction, and social activities) every two years. The study team also monitored their subjects' physical health (including blood and urine tests, chest X-rays, and echocardiograms) every five years.

The researchers came away with one key finding: Good relationships keep us happier and healthier. No surprise, people who said they were lonely reported feeling less happy, and exhibited poorer physical and mental health.

Three Key Findings

March 30, 2016

My March Madness Continues.. with a Case of Shingles.

What a lousy month.

On March 5, I called 911 and ended up in Sibley Hospital's emergency room at 3am. My leg muscles had turned to jelly, and I simply couldn't stand. After all sorts of tests, the medical team there found no cause for what had happened, and they sent me home.

I was pretty sure the problem resulted from my taking a new OTC sleeping pill that contained serotonin-boosting ingredients that -- when added to the serotonin-boosting 5-HTP I've taken for years -- had  me overdosing on the stuff.

I decided to stop taking my beloved 5-HTP. It wasn't easy, and I started experiencing withdrawal symptoms.

While all this was still going on, a rash appeared on my midriff. I was promptly diagnosed with shingles, even though I'd taken the shot for shingles a few years ago. I've since learned that many seniors who've gotten the vaccine still end of with the condition, though usually a milder version.

I vaguely remember having a case of shingles decades ago, but I don't recall the details. I know others who've had it more recently, and with the typical pain and itchiness. I've had little pain and no itchiness... just lots of fatigue.

Close Call on the Timing
I received the diagnosis at my doctor's office on Thursday afternoon, March 24. At virtually the same time, my housemates Nimesh and Bhawana were driving home from Sibley Hospital with their newborn daughter Nivah.

March 25, 2016

Nivah's Near-Perfect Birth Day Augurs Well for Her Future

Nivah, the daughter of my housemates Nimesh and Bhawana, was born on Tuesday, March 22. Bhawana had a remarkably easy pregnancy, attributable at least in part to her willingness to follow the advice and suggestions of her doctors.

She met with her obstetrician on Monday. Nivah's estimated delivery date  had been predicted for sometime this week but he didn't see any signs that this was imminent.. He suggested that Bhawana might want to try taking some walks since this might get things moving.

So Tuesday, Nimesh and Bhawana and her visiting parents headed down to Washington's Tidal Basin to check out the Cherry Blossom Festival and get in some walking. It was a gorgeous day -- sunny with above average temperatures. The cherry blossoms were almost at their peak. They spent a couple of hours there wandering around and taking photos

They got home mid-afternoon and a few hours later the contractions began and they headed for nearby Sibley Hospital. A little after 11pm, Nivah arrived.

Here's a photo journal of the day

The Cherry Blossom Festival Walk
Here is Bhawana with her parents . . ,

March 24, 2016

Vola Lawson's Movie Recommendations for Visitors and Immigrants to America

Whenever I try to clean out my files, I run into trouble. I keep finding interesting, forgotten items that always take me off in another direction.

It happened again when I recently discovered a list of our best classic movies prepared several years ago by my dear departed pal Vola Lawson. Memories of my friend came flooding back.

Vola and I met in 1956, when we had apartments in the same house in Georgetown. We became close friends then and kept in touch through our career and family years. A few times each year, we'd have lunch at Chez Andree, her favorite restaurant in Alexandria, Virginia. From 1985 to 2000, Vola was Alexandria's city manager.

In recent years, we saw each other much more frequently and rekindled the tight bond of friendship over the bridge table. She got to know Nimesh and Bhawana, the Nepali couple who live with me.

I told Vola I was thinking of having a regular movie night at home to introduce my housemates to the best American film classics. We thought those movies would provide useful introductions to American culture and history.

Vola loved movies, and went often with a good friend who shared her enthusiasm. The two of them co-authored a review of the years' best films for the Alexandria Gazette. 

March 23, 2016

Turns out Saying Goodbye to 5-HTP Isn't All That Easy

I was getting depressed and discouraged by how miserable I was feeling in the days following my decision to stop taking 5-HTP. It has only been a week since I made that decision, and -- I'll confess -- less than that since I took my last dose of 5-HTP. A few days ago the depression got so bad that I took one half of a 5-HTP pill.

This malaise is ill-timed. Bhawana is expecting to deliver any day now. Her mother and father are here. The house is filled with happy family members eagerly awaiting the arrival of Niva, Nimesh and Bhawana's firstborn.

And here I am, moping around the house, lethargic and unhappy. I've been particularly unhappy since I was uncertain about what was going on and how long the unpleasantness would last.

Then a few hours ago, I got an email from my daughter summarizing what she had found in researching "antidepressant withdrawal syndrome." Reading the description of the syndrome's symptoms was like looking in a mirror. And I was delighted to read that patients going through the antidepressant withdrawal syndrome need to be reassured that "the condition is reversible, is not serious or life threatening, and will run its course within one to two weeks."

It's amazing how much better I feel now that I know what's going on and know that is not going to continue forever.

Here is Ann's email:

March 22, 2016

5-HTP: So Long, It's Been Good to Know You.

On Thursday and Friday, March 3 and 4, I had a couple of strange, worrisome experiences. When trying to get up from sitting in my reading chair or lying down on the couch, my legs felt like rubber and seemed unable to support me. On each occasion, I rested on the floor for 5 to 10 minutes. After that, I was able to get up.

Then, early Saturday morning, March 5, I was unable to get up off the floor after resting there. I crawled over to the phone, called 911, and ended up in Sibley Hospital's emergency room.

I was released later that day, but was still unable to move my feet. I'd been given a lot of tests that failed to show a problem, In deciding to send me home even though I couldn't walk, the ER doctor expressed concern that I could pick up an infection if he admitted me to the hospital.

On Sunday, I could move my feet but couldn't really put much weight on them. On Monday, I was able to walk around the house, using my new wheelchair as a walker. Since then, I've been feeling better and stronger, one day at a time. 

I'm increasingly convinced this incident resulted from my recently adding the serotonin-boosting supplements in Trader Joe's sleeping pills to the 5-HTP serotonin-booster I've been taking since 2010.

Years ago, I occasionally used 5-HTP to combat jet-lag insomnia. After I was diagnosed with Parkinson's disease (PD), I found the supplement also helped deal with constipation and depression. Since insomnia, depression, and constipation are the three major non-motor symptoms of Parkinson's, I started taking 5-HTP every day.

The supplement's major side effect for me was increased blood pressure (BP), an effect that exacerbated the BP spikes I was already experiencing during the "off" periods of Sinemet, my PD med.

To make matters worse, the carbidopa in Sinemet (used to boost the effectiveness of levodopa in restoring dopamine levels in the brain) was having the same "booster effect" on my serotonin from the 5-HTP. My serotonin level -- and blood pressure -- were going off the charts.

March 3, 2016

Watching a New York City Ballet Rehearsal at the Kennedy Center

Peter Martins -- now NYCB's Ballet Master in Chief -- taking 
direction from the great George Balanchine many decades ago.  

On Tuesday, I got to see the New York City Ballet – one of the world’s great troupes – in rehearsal. It was a first for me; usually, as part of my regular Kennedy Center ballet subscription, I sit up in the first balcony to watch the polished, finished product.

This time – my first wheelchair experience at the Kennedy Center -- the usher showed me to row HH, at the very back of the orchestra section, and into a plush, comfortable, movable seat with lots of leg room. He then stowed my wheelchair in a convenient spot close by. 

I much prefer the excellent vantage point from my regular seat in the first balcony, where you can better appreciate the formations – the geometry – when lots of dancers are on the stage together. But I liked the big cushioned seat and extra space in wheelchair-accessible row HH.

When the opera house doors opened to admit us, the orchestra was rehearsing – something else you don’t get to observe at regular performances. Soon, a few dancers came out on the stage to stretch or to practice a particular moves, either alone or with a partner. Most were in their regular rehearsal clothing -- another new element – not in their fancy costumes. No tutus at this rehearsal.

Soon, the legendary Peter Martins, for many years the NYCB’s “Ballet Master in Chief” walked out onto the stage with one of his assistants. As the dancers began to perform particular scenes with orchestral accompaniment, Martins and his assistant stood motionless at either side of the stage, carefully observing. From time to time, they’d stop the action to review a move or a position with a dancer. 

Several times, they stopped the music to consult with the orchestra conductor about the pace or volume of a musical segment. From our seats in the back of the hall, we could make out the occasional suggestion.

March 2, 2016

My New Wheelchair/Walker and My New Approach to Blogging

I recently acquired a wheelchair and used it for the first time on Tuesday. 

Subscribers to the Kennedy Center's ballet series, of which I'm one, were given an opportunity to sit in on a rehearsal Tuesday afternoon by the New York City Ballet before the opening performance that night in its annual visit to the Kennedy Center.

Here I am in my new vehicle:

But I plan to use the wheelchair more often as a walker:

Two years ago, with my son and his lady friend, I went on a Norwegian cruise that started and ended in Copenhagen. This photo was taken in Copenhagen's famed Tivoli Gardens:

I’m in the wheelchair only because I decided it would be quicker for us to tour Tivoli Gardens. If I'd hobbled around with my cane, we wouldn’t have gotten very far. I found out that the park rented wheelchairs, and I brought my friends Terry and Prav over from London to push me around.