The Unexpected Present

Vulnerability and Resilience Du Jour

Green leafy trees

Still here at the Starbucks in Morristown Medical Center on a summer afternoon. We thought last week would be Yuri’s last treatment but his nephrologist (who is the best) cajoled us and Yuri agreed to two more spa treatments for his singular vital organ that had been seriously injured from the recent Wegner’s flareup. Fortunately, he’s on the right track to recovery. I’d like to keep it that way. Yet sometimes it’s hard to tell if the lingering effects of the illness that caught us off-guard are being tamed into submission. Inadvertently, I found research on stress and what makes older people vulnerable to illness.


Psychoneuroimmunology scientists study the effects of the mind and brain on health and the immune system. A person’s vulnerability and resilience – in the context of the disease.
That may explain Yuri’s ability to extricate himself from the clutches of the Monster, a second time. Truly a remarkable feat for Captain Fantastic. I kept telling Doctors his Brain is Chairman of the Board and his Mind is a brilliant complex analog system. Studies show there’s communication between the immune system, the brain, and the central nervous system. However, his bane (often imagined as volumes of self-torture) is anxiety and stress very much part of daily life in the world.

When you experience stress, several things happen that impact the cardiovascular, muscular, and nervous systems: The brain releases a hormone that triggers the fight-or-flight response, adrenaline and cortisol. Cortisol is a steroid. It can weaken the immune system and wound-healing process. Adrenaline increases your heart rate, breathing, and blood pressure. Fat tissue breaks down increasing lactic acid in muscles. With stimulation, the liver releases sugar into the bloodstream for energy. The sympathetic nervous system causes salt retention, and sugar elevation in the bloodstream, increasing the risk of blood clots, sometimes it leads to heart and kidney disease.

When the heart has to work a lot harder, it becomes less effective and efficient. That means less blood travels to vital organs. Prolonged stress can increase the risk of disease as we can attest to living “Five Years In a Bunker” through the 2020 election as well as Covid19 experiences of lockdown, lifestyle upheavals, and Yuri’s severe adverse effect from the mRNA vaccine technology. The second time is just as hard. At times more difficult that has him questioning, “Why me?” In Victor Franco’s book, In Man’s Search for Meaning, “to live is to suffer, to survive is to find meaning in suffering.” I’m trying to find meaning. I’m feeling it, too.

Stress can make it difficult to focus, and cause short-term memory loss because it impacts several parts of the brain associated with memory. How many times do I go up and down the stairs forgetting why I was there. Sometimes have trouble remembering what I was doing just a few moments ago. Digestive issues come and go and I always have organic apple cider from “the Mother” on the car trips to and from. Sleep patterns are getting better and there’s less difficulty falling asleep. I still feel fatigued. Last summer I slept through the entire month of August.

Yuri was especially anxious about his voice since the most recent intubation. We went to see Dr. Woo on Central Park West driving through the mountain range and taking the Palisade Parkway into Harriman State Park. The deep and rich greens make the trees on either side so full, their branches reaching out to touch the other forming a Tunnel of Leaves. It makes me sigh with relief on the mission of getting into and out of New York City without feeling anxious and overwhelmed by the crazy speed racer stress.

I read an article on how anxiety can impact the body and mind sometimes causing vision to narrow when the brain senses danger. Trying to find an escape route, the central vision engages the peripheral view, then a signal is sent to the brain letting it know that there is no actual danger present and it’s okay to regulate itself again. Practicing awareness of what causes the anxiety or stressors is the key, then we can interject coping strategies, whether it’s breathing exercises or safe-havens. I work at this now.

Relief comes from Dr. Woo telling Yuri his vocal cords are not damaged and still are in the healing process. We celebrated with a sashimi lunch in Westwood and a visit to one of our healing places, Raj’s Convenience Store. Another very special place is Total Image where Darla gave me a super haircut. Her excitement in creating an image makeover for me had clients in the small yet buzzing hair salon compliment the cut’s simplicity and style. Love it for summer.

We’re learning how to reframe our focus to activate the decision-making part of our brain so it can return to its normal state. I’m making sure that we are eating healthy, getting enough sleep, and exercising to have a positive impact on our stress levels. Deep breathing, meditation, mindfulness, exercise, and venting during our wine time help reduce the negative impacts stress can have on the body. We have outlets to manage triggers. Suggestions to consider making potential lifestyle changes. Indeed we are, and it’s in the works.

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