St Croix River Road Ramblings

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Saturday, February 23, 2013

Anhedonia and Euphoria -- a Phantasmagoria

Spock of Star Trek
Did he suffer from
My neighbor just down the hill says he will tap his maple trees today!   I stopped to visit as we came back from Margo's daily trip to Mayo and caught him with the blower clearing the 6 inches of  fresh snow at the end of his driveway.

"Last year I tapped February 1st through March 1st, a whole month earlier than normal for me," he   told us.  "Got about half of my normal yield."   He is a physical therapist and his wife a school teacher.  They have a 10 acre woods around their house, full of large sugar maples--quite rare in our mostly prairie area of SE Minnesota.
My neighbor's father, Dr. Walters, a physician who had an old style family practice in Wanamingo, had the 10 acres and a small A-frame cabin on it for 40 years and every spring took some time from his medical practice to put out 50 pails and cooked some syrup.  When he passed away 15 years ago or so, his son and wife built a new house there and have continued the annual syruping--making 10-20 gallons of syrup each spring.  They are the only folks around this neighborhood who make syrup as far as I have seen from driving through the area.

Our home is between two branches of the Zumbro river that meander in from the west, cutting deep broad valleys in the prairie lands meeting in Pine Island.  The two valleys make a wedge of land that is about 1 mile wide and 6 miles long, an area that escaped the prairie fires, heavily wooded when the settlers came in 1850s.  Where the rivers joined was the island of Pine.  Where we live, on a high hill midway between the two valleys was an island of hardwoods; maples, basswood, elm, oak, butternut, ash and cherry trees.  The 10 square miles of forest in the midst of a thousands of acres of treeless prairie was (and is) an oasis for wildlife and forest products. Although much of it has been converted to farmland, the steeper valley sides, and as in the case of my neighbor and my forests, pieces of land never fully cleared.     My piece has not one mature maple on it--just a few young ones too small for tapping. We own a 5 acre woodlot strip -- 1/4 mile long and 166 feet wide, sold to a prairie farmer in 1900 for his wood supply.

Maple syrup season appears to be out for us this season.  Margo has cancer surgery March 11th followed by daily radiation April and May.   Mid March to mid April is the maple syrup season most years at Cushing, where our 60 acres of maple woods and lake cottage are usually open for business on March 1st.   I have almost no motivation to tap the maples this season, so I am not too bothered about skipping it this time around.

Which brings me to a health update.  Margo is gradually regaining strength lost from chemotherapy that completed January 14th. Since then she has had daily treatments for lymphodema (swelling) of the left arm and hand.  That means a 50 mile roundtrip to Rochester Mayo five days a week for light, massage and compression treatment. It is helping, but we can't help but wonder what will happen when she has the lymph nodes removed on that side.  Just have to wait and see.

Margo has a dozen tomato seedlings ready to transplant into their own containers this weekend as well as 30 geranium seedlings--all under lights in the basement.  She was so tired and sick from chemo, that December and January were months where just eating, sleeping and getting to medical treatments were as much as she wanted to do.  Now, life is becoming interesting again.  We are told that the left breast mastectomy and lymph node removal surgery and the following radiation is much less of a problem than chemo, so that sounds good.

My own condition is pretty fair physically and rather strange mentally.   I take large daily doses of prednisone to keep my immune system from producing antibodies that attack my nerve-muscle connection and make me weak. It works pretty good and I am mostly functional physically.  However, my mind has gone wonky.  I have developed anhedonia (this is a self-diagnosis at the moment--have to try it on my doctor next week).

For those of you for whom anhedonia doesn't ring a bell, -- hedon is a root word from the Greek meaning pleasure.   Anhedonia means "without pleasure."   Prednisone has this side effect in some small number of addicts-- it takes away the feelings of pleasure that are part of a normal life.

The technical explanation:  when we anticipate doing something we like. when we do something we like, and when we complete doing something we like to do, we get a feeling of pleasure.  This actually comes from our brain releasing dopamine into itself.   When something stops this, we lose our enjoyment in doing things--just a bucketload of chemicals being dumped underlying it all.  This includes not only our hobbies, our jobs, but eating, sex, exercise or whatever gave us pleasure turns into just a flat non-emotional, non-enjoyable dullness.

 Anhedonia is found as a side effect of some medications, is present in some folks with depression and some folks with schizophrenia, and can be found in former drug addicts.  Many abused drugs give their high by bathing the brain in dopamine (i.e. oxycodone/oxycontin pain killers gave me euphoria when I took them after knee surgery) turning on the pleasure response artificially.    However, too much of that can burn out the pleasure areas that dump the dopamine.   Prednisone, in some folks, seems to limit the amount of dopamine produced in the pleasure part of the brain--leading to lack of motivation and enjoyment until you quit taking it   Prednisone can cause other mental problems including confusion, irritation, mood swings, and so on, so folks taking prednisone may think they have strange mental conditions that are really just part of a mental confusion produced.  

My regular doctor, when I complained that I didn't have any motivation nor enjoyment to do anything, said I was surely depressed and stressed, with Margo and me both haviing health problems, and I needed to go on depression meds or seek counseling.  As I am not in the least bit sad, or down, just unbelievably lethargic, I disagreed and went to Dr. Google.  Depression without sadness search led me to pages describing anhedonia--which, I thought, pretty much fit my condition, and gave me an explanation that prednisone probably was the culprit.  

There are alternatives to prednisone for keeping the immune system running on low. So my next step is to switch to one of those as a trial--none work for everyone and some have even harsher side effects.  The process of getting unhooked from prednisone is several months -- it shuts down the adrenal glands and you have to gradually bring them back to life--and the alternative medicines take 3-6 months to take effect.   So, somewhere in March I will being trying to switch over with the goal autumn to be addicted to something else and have the thrill and agony of discovering a whole new set of side effects.    

In the meantime, if I seem to be quite lazy and accomplish little, I would hope you blame the prednisone rather than me.    Although I can force myself to do something because it is my duty, it is surely not as motivating as enjoying it.  That is why I haven't been writing much for the past few months and in fact barely doing anything other than what I must do.  

 To give you an idea of what this is like,  think of what it would be like if sex was always just a duty like shoveling the sidewalk.  I suppose I could be a good Catholic anyway!

  I call my condition "Spockification."   I have the cold, logical, unemotional, unjoyful pure rationalism of Mr. Spock from the Star Trek series.  I am in the tapering down process with prednisone, and I noticed I got irritated with a dodging and weaving driver yesterday while driving through the snowstorm to Margo's appointment--a good sign that some emotion is stirring again.  Now if ice cream started giving me pleasure again....

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

 River Road Rambler Biography--from the NW Regional Writer's latest book.

 Russ who retired in 2005 after a career as a teacher and then as a scientific computer programmer, began writing for his own pleasure, soon making it a hobby, then adding a weekly newspaper column, followed by a blog, Facebooking, thus turning the hobby into an obsession.  He has it under control with regular attendance at a writer’s group where each member begins by saying “My name is Russ.  I am a writer.  I have been writing daily for 792 days now….”
Russ has self-published a seemingly endless series of local history and local nostalgia books, some which have sold as many as 300 copies. You can find his writing and photos at where nearly 25 folks read every word of his blog.

The River Road Rambler
He is the treasurer of the Northwest Regional Writers club and never fails to have the bank balance up-to-date. 

 He will tell you that he is one of the most modest, humble and unassuming people in all of the Midwest, and possibly North America.  His photo here was a self-portrait taken live into a mirror.  The fuzzy focus captures his essence.  


Monday, February 18, 2013

Maple Syrup Season begins in 1 month

Our Beebe ancestors making maple syrup--not how much the man behind the kettle looks like Russ!

Dad collecting sap on the north 60 on Wolf Creek

The Rambler 10 years ago at Orr Lake

Dad and Brother Byron cooking sap at home 1950s

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Making Maple Syrup


by James A Ross  100 years ago -- Canada  Ross' book of rural poetry link
Brother Byron making syrup in the 1950s on the Hanson Farm

Makin' maple sugar! Oh, say, it gives me joy, 
To think of makin' sugar when I was but a boy: 

The crow is cawin' loud again, the sun is gettin' hot, 
Now git the fire a-roarin' beneath the old iron pot, 

The sap'll be a-runnin' from the tree like all git out, 
So git a hustle on you and mind what you're about. 

Makin' maple sugar! but ain't it fun, you know, 
To git old Buck and Bright a'wadin' through the snow, 

From tree to tree a-wallerin' to gather up the sap, 
To pour in that big bucket so queerly made by pap, 

That seems to sit there on the sleigh, a-waitin' for the sweet— 
Now git around there lively, John, Henry and Pete.

Makin' maple sugar! away back in the wood, 
To think of it to-day, my boys, it does my old heart good;

How we'd git the sap a-simmerin' and bilin' o'er the heat,
And when 'twas bilin' over we'd apply a little meat, 

Fat and greasy don't you know, to make 'er go just right,
For we meant to have it sugar afore the fall of night. 

Makin' maple sugar! of all the lastin' joys, 
A-sugarin' off was jist the one that always caught the boys;

Sometimes we'd hook a little in an old tin cup we had— 
We were great for havin' fun you know, but yet we weren't bad— 

Then with a little paddle, we'd whittled with our knife, 
We'd stir it till 'twas sugar, now you can bet your life.

Makin' maple sugar! 'twas always fun for me— 
A-sailing down life's river, I always want to be 

As lively and good-natured, and not a whit less good 
Than when makin' maple sugar away back in the wood— 

And as long as I'm a-livin' may I ever life enjoy,
As when makin' maple sugar when I was but a boy.

Friday, February 8, 2013

Washington's Birthday Remembered

     For the Northwest Regional Writers assignment:  "How did I find ____?"   I chose to write how my family came to find Wisconsin as a home.   The meeting is Friday, Feb 8th 1 pm, Frederic at the Sunrise apartments (open to the public).  As President's day is nigh, I humbly submit my own personal direct connection to George Washington for your perusal.   We have no documentary proof of the following, however this story has been passed from father/mother to son/daughter for 250 years with nary a change in detail.    
George Washington cuts the cherry tree and is forced, by his genetic flaw--complete and total honesty-- to tell his Dad he did it. This egregiousness fault has passed down through all of his descendants.   

    I am genetically unable to tell a lie.  I attribute this failing to my 5th great grandmother Ingrid Hansdottir.  At sixteen Ingrid was sold into servitudeness by her father, Ole Ingridsfader Hansson during the great Rutabaga Famine of 1767 in Sweden.  She was transported in the hold of a whaling ship to the New Sweden colony in America where she was bought by the Washington family who loved her oily complexion.  

Young George's esteem for her arose every time he saw her and soon several children followed them around. She died young when a cherry tree fell on her.  The children were adopted by her brother, Hans Ingridsbroder Hansson, who moved to Wisconsin where the family has lived since.  

    It was said about George Washington, that he could not tell a lie.  This trait has been passed down these many generations, so I too am condemned to speak and write only the absolute truth.  It is a hardship that I have labored mightily to overcome--with very little success.  

   Mark Twain:
"I am different from Washington; I have a higher, grander standard of principle. Washington could not lie. I can lie, but I won't." 

Edgar Wilson Nye (19th century writer and humorist Bill Nye --of River Falls heritage)  
   "A malicious lie is injurious personally. A business lie is a falsehood for revenue only. But the yarns that are spun around camp-fires, in mining and logging camps, to while away a dull evening, are not within the jurisdiction of the criminal code or the home missionary."

Margo feeling better

Margo undergoes home surgery

After 16 chemotherapy sessions, Margo has until March 11th to recover before surgery.  Her hair is showing signs of growing back--bristles like a two day beard.   Biggest problem now is a swollen left arm and hand that needs wrapping, massage and light therapy--daily trips to Mayo for a few weeks.  That is her maple sap pail carrying arm--so have to get it in shape!   I do the wrappings--and studied up on Egyptian Mummy wrapping techniques to get good at it.

Finally got the test results back from Margo's arm that is swollen. High level of gadolinium is present. That means when they injected the MRI contrast fluid and missed the vein 6 months ago, it caused her arm to swell and that is still a problem. 1 of 500 MRI contrast injections have "extravasation" -- meaning the injected fluid goes into the tissue instead of the vein. The gadolinium seems to stay there causing problems. Next week we hope to find out what can be done--if anything. With surgery coming in 4 weeks, that will take lymph nodes away, the swelling is likely to get worse. She has had it wrapped continuously for the past 6 months -- so it is more than a nuisance.

Monday, February 4, 2013

Margo's Cancer gone?

Margo is recovering from chemo! Three weeks after the last chemo, her mouth sores are mostly gone, her appetite is back, and she is starting to feel like doing something other than sleeping!    She can walk around some, but gets tired quickly, so we are gradually increasing the walking at Mayo and shopping.   Her immune system has bounced back and is producing all the right stuff to keep her healthy.

Her ultrasound and MRI scan results are in and everything has "resolved." That means, that there are no lymph node nor breast cancer signs seen in the images at all! From many small and one large tumor, they have disappeared from imaging! Quite wonderful.

However, that does not mean treatment stops.  Surgery is March 11th and is for removal of the left breast and some nearby lymphnodes and then radiation for 36 days in April and May.  The surgery and radiation are to make absolutely sure that the cancer areas and cells are completely gone.  

For two weeks or so, Margo is having daily left arm/hand treatments for swelling of not quite determined yet cause.  This includes wrappings and bandages to try to squish the extra fluid out through the lymph system.   I redo two wrappings per day.   I think I am pretty good at it--probably would qualify to work in an Egyptian mummy factory.  

The doctor gave me a do-it-yourself stitch removal kit--a sealed package of scissors, tweezers and band aides so that next week, 10 days after Margo's tissue biopsies (one on each arm to see if MRI fluid chemicals were present) I can remove her stitches here at home.   I plan to film the process and post it here.  Quite wonderful how more things can be done at home.  I figure if this goes OK, I might take on doing it for the neighbors too.  She only has 3 stitches, two on the left and on on the right where a biopsy punch was used to pull out a chunk of skin and tissue.  Haven't gotten the results back yet.  

With surgery on March 11, looks like we will not be able to tap the maples in WI this year.  Last year my new knee got put in on March 12th and we skipped what turned to be a very poor season.  Nephew Bryce tapped our trees and used our equipment but instead of getting an expected 50 gallons of syrup with 200 buckets, got only 8 gallons.  Maybe he will try it again this year.   

Planted 6 pots of refrigerator forced tulip, hyacinth and daffodil bulbs this weekend.  Bought them cheap at Menard's beginning of Nov, ran them through 12 weeks of cool cycle and they should be up and bloom in a month or so. Fun way to have some spring color.  Another 36 bulbs to plant in a few weeks.  

 Didn't get up to Cushing today for Ed Wilson's funeral.  Scott is down with a cold or maybe the flu, so couldn't get him to substitute to drive Margo in to Mayo for the daily arm squeeze. Ed won't mind, but I did want to visit with my Cushing friends