By Shell Lessen

Big Bear Lake, California obviously does not measure up in size to the monstrous metropolis of nearby Los Angeles. But it’s a giant of joy for many disabled people who find kindness, understanding and fun, while learning ways to cope with very serious physical problems.

Making this all happen since 1983 is the United States Adaptive Recreation Center at Big Bear.

For the fun of it

USARC provides outdoor recreation activities winter and summer. Each program is laid out and operated by trained full-time experts as well as highly skilled volunteers. They work with injured men, wounded warriors and women as well as children of all ages. The results are often remarkable.

For example, one volunteer ski instructor has taught USARC visitors in need for 21 years and has been a member of The Professional Ski Instructors of America just as long. His name is Ray LoCascio.

A dream come true

Among Ray’s many successes is the work he has done with a determined teenage girl fighting ambulatory disability while setting her hopes on earning a degree in child development. Not only did hope become reality along the way, she became a star pupil on the ski slopes of Bear Mountain Resort.

As Ray sees it, “this girl’s achievements are the result of training based on aid and instruction given individually to children and adults at USARC. Moreover, we urge them to practice their chosen activity with maximum strength.”

“When following these suggestions, chances are better in winter or summer that they will find themselves enjoying what they’re doing beyond expectations. With an attitude this positive, the skier or anyone else in training here often begins to feel that “if I can do this, I can do anything.”

Take your pick

“That word-‘anything’ at USARC also stands for the fact that a wide variety of health-promoting activities are available. They range from Bi-skiing for beginners, to out rigging, jet skiing, paddle boarding as well as warm-weather sailing, fishing, and kayaking.”

Among this past winter’s visitors Ray and fellow instructors welcomed a number of skiers who were faced with giving up the sport completely.

Vicious enemies

They suffer this sad situation because they have extremely serious disabilities in the class of Brain and Spinal cord injuries, Cerebral Palsy and Multiple Sclerosis.

Yet there is reason for hope. Good reason. To support the battle against these and other misfortunes this past winter, Ray volunteered to teach USARC trainers the in’s and outs of working with Sit Ski.

Why pay particular attention to Sit Ski equipment?

Why not?

Sit Ski includes a specially designed bucket seat that is suspended above either one or two skis. Due to this exceptional Sit Ski arrangement, most impaired skiers are able to make vital accurate turns using the upper body. This puts skiing in sight for many and gives satisfaction to Ray LoCascio.

Surprise Surprise

Ray is a man who in his own words grew up wanting to be of help regularly to people in need but lacking enough self-confidence to give it a try. “It wasn’t until I entered California State Fullerton University that I began to gain confidence,” he explained.

After graduation he took his first steps toward guiding others closer to better lives. He discovered Hypnosis.

Having chosen his ideal career, Ray went to work, determined to convert the dreams and words to action and satisfaction.

Today Ray LoCascio C.Ht. heads a thriving private practice of hypnotherapy.

Many ask what is Hypnosis?

According to Merriam-Webster Dictionary, hypnotherapy is “a trans-like state of altered consciousness that resembles sleep but is induced by a person whose suggestions are readily accepted by the subject or any conditions that resemble sleep.”

Problems range from fear of flying, sleeping problems and weight management… to lowering anesthesia and pain medication requirements… which can frequently shorten and reduce discomfort time and their need for drugs.

How does Ray fit in?

“I am here to help those who need to learn to relax, change unwanted habits, build self-esteem and achieve their goals, while enabling them to enjoy and experience life without unnecessary challenges.”

Missions accomplished!




By Shell Lessen

Kinesiology is the study of human movement. Emily Shigenaga is a study in compassion, dedication and enthusiasm. She also has a Bachelor’s Degree of Science in Kinesiology, Exercise Science.

It’s a mix that adds up to a marvelous mission, centered at California State University, Northridge.

As a CSUN undergraduate, Emily joined an organization named at that time 100 Citizens. This highly active campus organization is now known as “3 Wins Fitness”. It maintains the tradition of improving the health of its program participants living in under served Southern California areas.

Their efforts focus on providing outdoor fitness programs that create healthier environments where needed. All facilities are community-based, replicable and open to the public at no charge.

Help for all who need it

3 Wins Fitness programs are operated by CSUN students working as either volunteers or interns. Interning not only presents an opportunity to help people in need, student interns are eligible to receive units awarded by the university as well.

“I’m proud to report that we have already improved the health of people at a number of locations. Unfortunately needy forgotten places are not only in Southern California. They are nationwide,” she added.

Emily also pointed to a statistic that sums up the seriousness of the situation. Studies show that physical inactivity is the 4th leading risk factor of premature death in the United States.

Regular exercise can go a long way toward reducing that number, the experts tell us. For example, it has been proved that well-planned outdoor workouts can prevent weight gain, provide an emotional lift, boost energy as well as promote better sleep. And the list goes on.

Benefits for all

As far as Emily is concerned, 3 Wins Fitness is a solution to improving public health. Its program is needed across the nation, she noted.

While praising what she calls “the powerful benefits from exercise,” Emily also listed some personal advantages that are enjoyed by the CSUN students working with 3 Wins Fitness.

For one thing, they rarely, if ever, get out of the classroom and into an on-the-spot experience within the program of their degree. Now they can study and SEE their goals at any of six parks and the Senior Exercise Group.

Extra good news

Moreover, CSUN students gain leadership skills as well as enriching personal growth, while people grieving in under-served communities receive vital service.

And Emily’s association with 3 Wins Fitness assured her of a platform from which she was able to express her desire to make certain changes in the development and delivery of additional public health programs.

She maintained her relationship with what was then called 100 Citizens for three of the five years in her undergraduate career. And having joined the organization in the middle of her career, she remained active beyond graduation from CSUN.

It seems like yesterday

Emily now leaves behind a series of well-planned programs in the hands of knowledgeable students who take the time to explain and demonstrate each exercise. Their primary goal is to make sure the proper form and techniques are used correctly.

Exercise programs are designed around a structured agenda created by the Program Director. At the beginning of the session instructors lead participants in a warm-up. And they demonstrate every exercise during the warm-up period.

Next comes instruction in specific exercises, after which the participants take over. While they huff and puff students walk among them to make sure all is well. A special cool-down session ends the show.

It’s actually a double feature with a workout script written particularly for older people, along with one for the younger generation.

Two for the money

Known as The Senior Exercise Group, it serves elders 65 years and up. “However, we frequently get adults younger than 65 interested in our program. They are attracted to all the fun our program participants have,” according to Emily.

And Emily should know. She was in charge of The Senior Exercise Group for well over a year.

This popular program is the only one of its kind among the six CSUN parks in Southern California. All six are designed to get  people actively associated in a social environment. “Needless to say this is a program close to my heart,” Emily said.

“My responsibilities include making sure the program runs safely, catering to the needs of our participants and insuring student growth and leadership,” Emily pointed out. “My main objective was to provide a learning environment for both student volunteers, interns and our participants.”

For the fun of it all, The Senior Exercise Group offers an extensive collection of fitness equipment including weights and handballs along with resistance bands, battle ropes and small beanbags.

Emily wrapped up her story on a happy and hopeful note declaring that “it has been a gratifying and humbling opportunity to watch grandmothers get on the floor to exercise for the first time in years. Or be told “My doctor took me off my medications because I exercise consistently.”

Mission accomplished!


At the ripe young age of nine, Zachary Pevnick could predict the future. His future.

He saw himself as a physical therapist trained to minimize patients’ pain, improve their mobility, and increase their strength and endurance—in the privacy of their own homes.

By the year 2010 Zach’s seeing became believing, and then some. He had earned his license and become a rather uniquely qualified physical therapist.

Honors Earned

Zach graduated from the University of Southern California with a Bachelor of Science degree, having majored in kinesiology (the study of human movement). He crowned a distinguished academic career at USC by earning a Doctor of Physical Therapy degree (DPT).

But what set him apart from all the other new PTs were the years that supplemented his formal education. Years of part-time administrative work under the loving guidance of Gary Pevnick, Doctor of Physical Therapy and Zach’s father.

“I worked with him from the 8th grade through college and occasionally helped out at his friends’ clinics too. I also was an aid to volunteers at the USC Faculty Clinic,” he recalled.

To-do list

Zach’s primary duties involved a considerable amount of paper work, which often meant typing his father’s notes covering each patient’s condition. In addition, he performed modalities in his father’s clinic, which included heat and ice packs, ultrasound, anodyne therapy, mechanical traction and electronic stimulation machines.

These assignments provided Zach with close up, real-life views of both the business and medical sides of the profession he admired so much. To him, “the experience had me living in a world of physical therapy, loving it and learning from it.”

The early years of practice brought him many patients who were financially supported by workers’ compensation and plagued by everything from impairments and disabilities to mobility and movement problems.

He soon added orthopedic patient sports medicine to a practice that took off quickly. Thanks to his very first patient launching that practice was never to be forgotten.

Surprise, surprise                         

As Zach remembers it, “the patient had just been released from the hospital. I expected to deal with weakness, but this was excessive weakness. He was lying in bed hardly able to move. When I removed his blanket I discovered why. One of his legs had been amputated.

“I knew which procedures a physical therapist could rely on to help him regain strength. The question bouncing around in my head and making my heart beat faster was: Can a rookie like me with no real experience, take on such a demanding challenge?” Blessed with an unshakable sense of purpose, this rookie decided he could handle the situation. The result reflected the right decision.

A happy ending

After three months of therapy, Zach’s first patient was walking on a prosthetic from the knee down.”

Less dramatic but quite important to Zach was his growing interest in establishing a home-health PT company, similar to his father’s service. When it fell, this apple hardly budged an inch from the tree.

Zach’s interest eventually turned into resolve, and three years after he treated his first patient he opened California Therapy Services, LLC., where he now serves as Chief Executive Officer. This Los Angeles-based company “contracts with major health organizations that recommend us to patients in need of physical or occupational therapy,” he explained.

Sweet success

And recommendations have increased steadily throughout Southern California. According to Zach, “the area-wide demand for at-home PT assistance has risen to the point where we are considering an expansion program that would include the San Fernando Valley, Pasadena, East Los Angeles and Antelope Valley.” In addition to PT, California Therapy offers occupational therapy services.

Another example of home-health’s widening acceptance—and Zach’s dedication to it—is Home Care Administrative Services, LLC.

Zach is Vice President of this organization that serves people with eye problems. Medicare coverage allows the optometrist to visit patients at their homes. The company’s vehicle carries all the equipment available in a doctor’s office. Moreover, Home Care representatives will obtain necessary lens and frames for patients, then turn them over to the patient’s regular optometrist for any required adjustments.

Service is available in Los Angeles and San Diego, as well as communities in Missouri and Illinois.

“Home Care Administrative was introduced in Los Angeles two years ago. Growth has been steady and strong since then,” said Zach, who is the firm’s vice president.

Senior Power

What or who is responsible for the home-health surge? Zach’s answer to that one is “senior citizens. Large numbers of ageing baby boomers now make up a vast market of those in need of the services we provide.

This ballooning market is also creating a great number of employment opportunities for therapists. Rural areas in particular are the sites of a great many open PT positions that tend to be quite lucrative,” he pointed out.

Physical therapy patients have reasons to cheer as well, thanks to stepped up research program. One outstanding example is the work of Christopher M. Powers, PT; PhD. Dr. Powers is an Associate Professor at USC’s Department of Bio Kinesiology and Physical Therapy.

Ace researcher

“He is recognized in the United States and abroad for his research into causes of lower extremity injuries,” Zach stated. Dr. Powers focuses on improving hip function and determining the influence of abnormal hip mechanics on knee injuries.

Another significant development is the recently introduced TRX strap. This new whole-body device assures the physical therapy patient added freedom of movement.

New, innovative equipment and support from ongoing research programs obviously promise an attractive working environment for job-seeking physical therapy graduates. Current PT students have much to look forward to as well.

Important Issues

Zach, now a 29-year-old “veteran,” offers some valuable advice to those students keeping an eye on their future.

“While in school, volunteer to work in the area that interests you most. It will broaden your knowledge and deepen your understanding of your chosen profession.

“Select kinesiology as your major. It’s a great way to familiarize yourself with the basics of PT.

“I’m convinced that students who follow these two steps will be better prepared for what lies ahead. I did, and things worked out that way for me.”

Good advice from a young man who is quite adept at dealing with the future.


NEW HEART, FULL LIFE by Shell Lessen

Mason Sommers’ heart called a brief time-out when he was 16 years old. But he kept on truckin’ through that episode and other heart problems in the years to come.

Luck played a part in Mason’s recovery that day. So did his remarkably positive, unselfish outlook on life, which has served him well ever since.

He was stricken while jogging at Beverly Hills High School. The team’s track coach, who was nearby, rushed to the scene and administered Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation (CPR). His quick action led to a recovery—of sorts.

Dancing with a star

The second episode struck at age 20. It occurred when Mason’s enlarged heart and a contracted muscle rebelled against his fearless “Don’t-worry-I-can-handle-it” lifestyle.  This time he collapsed while dancing with his sister at home in Beverly Hills. It was her turn to provide CPR. And, once again, his turn to provide optimism.

“I never think of myself as a victim. Like everyone else, I sometimes have lousy luck. However, I know that’s bound to change and that I have it in me to calmly ride out the psychological storm. I make sure the people around me know it as well.”

The next 30 years proved the point. During this period Mason’s irrepressible lust for life led him to attend the University of California at Irvine for two years as a pre-med student. Here, he realized that medicine was not for him. He took an occupation preference test, and psychology won hands down.

Finding himself

He then switched to UCLA where he earned a Bachelor degree as a psychology major.  A Master’s degree and Doctorate followed at the California School of Professional Psychology.

Doctor Mason Sommers was licensed in 1985. Since then he has been a practicing psychologist specializing in couples therapy, depression, trauma and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

At age 37 he became a father. Newborn Ben was presented to him by his lesbian “mommy.” Mason, who is gay, had always wanted to be a parent and, as he put it, “Ben brought a world of joy into my life by simply showing up.”

More joy in spite of it all

Big game-changers were to follow three years later when Mason met Rami Aizic, a fellow psychologist who was also gay and shared Mason’s feelings regarding parenthood.

Their friendship ripened into a loving relationship. They’ve lived together ever since, and thanks to in vitro fertilization, a baby girl named Bailey granted Rami’s wish.

On the dimmer side, chances of successfully treating Mason’s heart condition were becoming problematical.  The medicines he tried proved ineffective. “So did a new advanced-design defibrillator,” he recalled. “And my breathing was so difficult I had to sleep sitting up. By 2008 we started talking heart transplant.”  Episode three made it the main topic of conversation.

Anything for a friend

E-3 struck on the day Mason, despite feeling exceptionally weak, insisted on attending the unveiling of the resting places of a friend’s parents. Both died in the same year. Mason, a learned Jew, promised his Jewish friend that he would recite the special prayer that marked these sad occasions. Rami, also Jewish, agreed to conduct the service.

The doctors had a more secular idea. They wanted to put Mason in the hospital, but he wouldn’t hear of it. “I could not let those people down,” he explained. He had his way.

In the Jewish tradition, following the funeral those in attendance were to meet at the home of Mason’s friend for food and solace. Mason never made it. While exiting the car to enter the house, he lost consciousness.

Upping the ante

He was finally revived and ate some food “which made me feel even worse. I then realized the best place for me was the hospital,” he said. How right he was. A multiple organ shutdown had begun.

When Mason arrived at the hospital, he was not responding and was immediately put on automatic external compression pumps to get blood flowing. A dialysis machine was pressed into action too. Gradually, over a four-month period, one by one, the organs regained function.

Mason did all he could to keep his promise that day. And he risked his life to do it. This earned him plenty of points for courage and determination. And plenty of other reasons for concern.

Cooling it

In the face of it all, Mason declared “panic is out of the question” one day when he was reminded that a heart transplant was only in the talking stage; he wasn’t even on the list for a transplant; and the doctors were not sure he would survive the surgery.

Times like these toughened Mason, who would not and could not settle for less than a transplant. He summed up the situation in typical style by instructing one of the surgeons to “just wake me up. I’ll do the rest.”

After close examination and much discussion, the doctors agreed to give Mason the green light to join the list of eligible heart transplant patients.

“Then came six weeks in the cardiothoracic intensive care unit before being listed. This increased time spent in the unit to four months plus a week on the open floor, along with two months at home waiting for the right heart to be found. All this time I was kept alive by mechanical support,” Mason pointed out.

The best news possible

The clouds lifted when the Sommers-Aizic phone rang at bedtime on April 8, 2010.  You guessed it. The call was for Mason, who was asleep. Rami answered; woke him up; and quickly handed him the phone. Sleep was forgotten when Mason heard that a heart had been found matching his blood type, heart size, antibodies and all the rest. They were at the hospital within an hour.

Surgery, originally scheduled for 7:30 that morning, began in the afternoon of the 9th and ended the following day that Mason dubbed “my transplant date.” For others, it was the last day of party time.

Word of Mason’s impending transplant had spread throughout the hospital the night the heart was located and into the next day. Due to his visits and outgoing personality, many people on the staff knew and admired him. Result: tears of joy, prayers of thanks, cheering and spontaneous celebrations. Plus countless offers of post-surgery help, whether Mason needed it when he was in or out of the hospital.

Another burst of happiness lit up the place when it was learned that the surgery was successful.

Strong family ties

All this attention made Mason “feel like I am part of a very big, very loving family. It was one of the few genuinely bright spots in that period of my life. Rami, of course, was the brightest. He helped me endure this ordeal so many times in so many ways, from preparing strength-building meals and cleaning daily the various machines attached to me—to just being Rami.”

Following the transplant Mason backed up words of gratitude with action that included “giving back” and renewing his practice of lending a helping hand to other less fortunate people. For example:

Today this active, involved 57-year old teaches a course in The Doctoring Program at UCLA. Designed for first, second and third year undergraduate medical students, the program facilitates discussion groups that cover pertinent non-medical topics applicable to the field. Among these are professional ethics, conflicts of interest and confidentiality.

A couple of givers

Moreover, he and Rami have agreed to be interviewed for their story of Mason’s ordeal. It will be presented to second year medical Students to familiarize them with a view of transplant from the perspectives of the patient and caregiver.

“That’s our way of saying thanks to the medical profession,” Mason noted.

His interest in public health issues extends to The Maple Counseling Center. TMCC is one of the few Southern California organizations providing comprehensive mental health services to a diverse, multi-cultural clientele regardless of ability to pay. Mason has served TMCC as Board President since 2010.

Straight from the heart

Among other humanitarian thank-you gifts—one particularly (and literally) close to Mason’s heart— is his association with Donate Life/ One Legacy, the world’s largest organ and tissue recovery organization.

Two years after life-saving surgery he earned this organization’s “Ambassador to Media” award. It was given in recognition of his successful effort to obtain the assistance of radio and print media in promoting the need for organ and tissue donations.

Unknown givers of life

“My association with Donate Life is the result of an attempt to meet the family of the man whose heart now beats in my body. I wanted to express my profound gratitude and assure them that if ever they are in need I will be ready and willing to help.

“The family, however, wishes to remain anonymous, and no help is needed. So I did what I think was the next best thing. In honor of my unknown donor, I support an organization dedicated to acquiring and distributing organs and tissue.”

How appropriate and characteristic of the inimitable—and inspirational—Doctor Mason Sommers.


Some people believe in setting goals and keeping their eyes on the prize until they get where they want to be. Others are easily discouraged or simply lose interest and drop out along the way.

Elenda Flores is a believer.

This dynamic 18-year-old girl with an ambulatory disability is working toward a degree in Child Development at Santa Monica College. She is also a star pupil on the ski slopes of Southern California’s Bear Mountain Resort in Big Bear—and getting better all the time.

Teacher knows best

That’s the word from Ray LoCascio, a volunteer at Bear Mountain’s United States Adaptive Recreation Center. He should know. Now in his 16th year as a skiing teacher at the center, he started working with Elenda soon after she signed up for lessons.

Elenda discovered USARC at the age of 12, while on a winter visit with a group from Orthopedic Hospital of Los Angeles. It was love at first sight.

As Elenda remembers it, “I was with a pretty big group, and all of them had been here before, so they knew what to expect. I was a little nervous, but when we arrived, everyone was so nice that they put me at ease right away even though this was my first time away from Los Angeles.”

 Down memory lane

Ray LoCascio remembers the early days, too. “When we first met I was very impressed by Elenda’s enthusiastic response to the idea of learning to ski. She saw this as a chance to experience something totally new and different. Elenda is an adventurous lady.”

One of her latest adventures is a change from a  “biski” sit ski with two skis attached to the seat of a single-ski “mono-ski” of the same basic design. “The mono gives me more freedom to explore the mountain. That feeling of freedom is why I enjoy skiing so much and why I come back to this place every winter,” she explained. Plenty of others also return annually for snowboarding as well as skiing.

Elenda is a summer time regular as well. That’s when the focus is on Big Bear Lake “and I get to explore almost the whole lake,” she stated. She covers the lake via jet and wild water skis. The rest of the summer offerings are kayaking, sailing, fishing and camping.

A popular haven

 Elenda’s passionately positive outlook and love of the outdoors reflects the general attitude among the hundreds of disabled children and adults who flock to these seasonal fun spots annually.

Countless groups of excited kids and adults stream in from Southern California’s schools, hospitals, rehabilitation centers and parks. Specialized healthcare facilities and service organizations are also well represented.

This very small sampling of past visiting groups illustrates the widespread appeal of these programs: Orthopedic Hospital of Los Angeles, Redlands Unified School District, Braille Institute of Anaheim, Orange County Special Olympics, San Diego Veterans Administration Hospital and Poway USD Visually Impaired Program.

Growing up

USARC has grown steadily since its founding in 1983. In those days it provided disabled skiers access to the sport. Nothing more. By 1989 it had become Southern California’s first full time on-site adaptive ski school, operating from January 10 to March 18. The July-August summer program was introduced four years later.

Today this Big Bear facility is recognized nationally and internationally as a model for adaptive outdoor recreation. As a result, its personnel have been welcome additions to training programs throughout the U.S. and the world.

The accolades are well deserved thanks in large part to a corps of expert, experienced volunteer instructors. To maintain their high performance standards, they attend training clinics conducted by USARC’s staff members and other specialists. The clinics are held prior to the start of the summer and winter seasons and designed to sharpen instructors’ skills and familiarize them with any innovations that might maximize their effectiveness.

Sweet success

According to the organization’s statement of principle, the success at Big Bear stems from USARC’s conviction that “people are empowered when they undertake and succeed at challenging outdoor recreation.” In addition, “after learning new skills and redefining their abilities, participants are able to feel the freedom of recreating with their families and friends. These experiences often result in increased self-confidence and greater success when facing academic, professional and personal life challenges.”

For Elenda Flores, that statement is a road map to the future. A future that includes plans to earn a degree in art, complementing her degree in Child Development. “My ultimate goal is to open an art studio for children. I like to use clay in my art. I’m into claymation right now,” she added. (Claymation involves the creation of clay figures that tell a story through animation.)

A recent issue of The Spirit, USARC’s newsletter, carries an interview that describes her as “a die-hard for the experiences offered by USARC, and she comes back year after year and just keeps getting better and better.

She is an ideal representation of the transformative programs at USARC.” And, we might add, an ideal example of someone headed straight for success.

There are plenty of success stories at this much-admired outdoor recreation center. And you can be part of it all. For details visit usarc.org.


NOTE: Permission to write and post this blog was granted on the condition that the married couple depicted remains anonymous.

HE dozes on the couch in front of the television, wakes up intermittently, stares at a clock for a few minutes, and then dozes off. It’s his way of making time go faster, so that an upcoming televised basketball game will start sooner.

SHE cheerfully awaits the start of the game with him. In truth, watching televised sports is as appealing to her as walking barefoot on hot coals.

“If you feel this way, why do it?,” I asked.  The short answer was “Alzheimer’s disease.” The long one was as selfless as they come. “Sports events are among the very few things that hold his interest for any length of time, and he wants me near him constantly.” Put it all together, and you get a loving wife who handles the role of sports fan like a pro.

A love affair built to last

Having spent many hours visiting with the two of them and privately interviewing her, I’m convinced that she will do anything to protect the sweet, seamless continuity of that love—whatever mood she’s in, no matter how tired she is, or how unknowingly thoughtless he may be. And she tells her story in complete honesty, which means she doesn’t sugarcoat the toll it takes on her.

A few unwritten rules govern this love affair—rules that, for some wives, amount to a prison sentence. “Rule number one is never leave him alone,” she explained. “Imagine the trouble a toddler could get into, if allowed to roam around the house without guidance. Then you’ll understand how important this rule is—and how restrictive it can be for me.  Because of it, my days are completely driven by his needs, even during the few hours each week we’re apart.”

When they’re together, rule number two kicks in: Keep him calm and don’t insult or upset him no matter how problematical things get. “To abide by this rule, I have to be very careful about what I say and how I say it. In other words, there are many times when I can’t really be me,” she pointed out.

Surprise!  Surprise!

None of this is easy, but all of it is necessary, including what is arguably the most difficult rule to live by—Expect the unexpected.

This incident gave new meaning to the word “unexpected:” Most of us have experienced the shock of receiving a sleep-ending, late night phone call. When it happened to her recently, the shock went a step further toward pure panic. She made the gut-wrenching discovery that her Alzheimer’s-stricken husband, whom she thought was sleeping beside her, wasn’t there. The mystery—but not the fearful concern for her husband—was quickly cleared up by the caller, who lives a few blocks away. He and his wife were returning home when they saw her husband lying face down in the street. Apparently he had tripped on the curb. He carried no identification, but gave the caller his telephone number; 911 was notified, and the caller told her which hospital was treating her husband.  He was kept there overnight and received five facial stitches. There were no serious injuries. End of scary story.

What got him out of bed and on the street is another scary story. As he told it, he thought (or dreamed) he was invited to a neighborhood swimming pool party. So at approximately 11:30 p.m., he left the house fully dressed and started walking in hopes of finding the pool and joining in the fun.

The next day special locks and an exit alarm system were installed on every door in their home.

A difference of opinion

Two days after he went wandering she faced another unwanted wake-up call. The culprit this time was an alarm clock that went off with a vengeance at 5:30 a.m.

He was ready to meet and greet the day, able to doze whenever, wherever he felt tired. She was hoping against hope that he would be tired enough to go back to sleep so she could do the same thing. For her, daytime naps are once-in-a-while events to be cherished. Dozing is out of the question. Incidentally, this battle of wills goes on every morning, with predictable results.

So there he was, sitting up in bed impatiently urging this thoroughly fatigued woman to rise and shine. After a few mild protests, she managed to rise. But 5:30 is definitely not her shining hour. Half asleep, she made breakfast and tried to focus on the day ahead.

At this point, a brief overview of the week’s activities is in order.

The “Guess Who” game

Label every Monday “adventure day.” That’s when the day care lady takes over from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. But who will she be? For one reason or another, a different Certified Nursing Assistant is sent almost every week. All sorts of reasons are given to explain why “our scheduled caregiver is unable to assist you.” This confuses and, worse still, irritates the man of the house. Understandably, it frustrates his wife beyond belief.

She must familiarize newcomers with the house and show them where certain things are kept. She also briefs them on exactly what their duties are. Of course everything focuses on him. Having to repeat this on-the-job orientation so often rips her shopping and errand plans to shreds.

However, things get better as the week progresses and her husband’s social agenda unfolds. On his schedule are a couple of hours of not-too-strenuous tennis devised by a group of old and understanding friends, light workouts at a nearby gym, and a more sedate weekly stopover at a senior citizens day care center (he’s 78).

Little time, lots to do

This leaves room on her schedule for grocery shopping, the cleaner’s, the bank, doctor’s appointments for her own medical problems and usually a list of last minute to-dos. “It’s sometimes a tight squeeze, but I manage to get everything done and pick him up on time wherever he is,” she said.

Added highlights include an occasional movie and dinner with friends at his favorite restaurant.

In between these activities, he has the couch to doze on, the television (and clock) to look at, and the company of a woman who proves that the worst of times can bring out the best in people who care enough.


Here’s the latest in a series of health tips that are less than earth-shaking but good to know. Thanks for dropping by.

Let’s kick off with heel pain.

Plantar fasciitis is the most common heel ailment. And if you have it, you damn well know it. The pain can be excruciating. Fortunately, PF responds to exercise and physical therapy. In reporting on various therapies used, The Johns Hopkins Medical Letter (Oct. 2010) noted one exceptionally effective exercise. It’s described below, but don’t try it without an OK from your doctor.

Sit in a chair and cross your legs so the affected foot rests on the opposite knee. Then grab the base of your toes and pull toward the shin, so you feel the stretch across the sole; hold for 10 seconds. According to Johns Hopkins, researchers found that “people who repeated this exercise 10 times, three times a day for eight weeks experienced a significant improvement in pain compared with people who simply stretched their calf muscles.”

The bad news about grapefruit.

For this warning, we thank the good folks at Housecall, the Mayo Clinic’s weekly newsletter:

Grapefruit is incompatible with a wide variety of prescription medications. And Katherine Zeratsky, a licensed, registered dietician writing in Housecall, warns against taking these interactions lightly, “as some can cause potentially dangerous health problems.” Definitely consult your doctor on this one.

Chicken soup is another story.

Matzo balls or no matzo balls, this stuff really helps relieve cold and flue symptoms. It acts as an anti-inflamatory, helping to break up congestion and limiting the time viruses are in contact with the nose. Thanks again Mayo Clinic.

More from Mayo…

Beef buffs beware:

The word “prime” is not shorthand for quality kings of the meat counter. Beef packages wearing that label usually have more fat than cuts identified as “choice” or “select.”

Cold facts about leftovers:

Keep them refrigerated three or four days—no more—or there’s a good chance they’ll turn on you.  If you want them around longer, freeze them fast. Perishables like meat, fish and eggs should be in the refrigerator within an hour after cooking. And remember to reheat thoroughly.

Coffee anyone?

Why not? According to last October’s Nutrition Action Health Letter, scientists tracking more than 89,000 women for 26 years found that the risk of gout was 22 percent lower for coffee drinkers in the crowd than non-drinkers. An earlier study of men yielded similar results. And all it took to improve their odds against this painful joint disease was one to three cups a day—decaf or regular.

A Couple of Quickies.

Get rid of visceral belly fat. You’ll run less risk of heart disease and look better in a T-shirt. Here’s how: Keep whole grain bread, oatmeal (my all-time favorite), and brown rice on your menu. There are many other fat fighters. Check them out. (From Nutrition Action Health Letter)

Are you a snorer? Losing some weight might shut you up. So can sleeping on your side. No booze near bedtime can quiet a noisy nose, too. (From talking to some smart people)