Tuesday, September 3, 2019


This morning when I was introducing my family to someone new (via photos) and telling her about the miracles in my family, I realized I was being reminded of additional possible miracles for myself, too.

When my brother, Jon, was born, doctors didn't expect him to live. And if he did live, they said he'd be a vegetable. Contrary to what they recommended (put him in an institution), my parents took him home after 30 days in the hospital. The large spinal fluid-filled sac at the base of his skull was removed along with part of his brain. He was supposedly a vegetable and blind. My mother figured out it was reflexes he lacked so he couldn't blink. She taught him how to blink. To make a really long story short, he lived to be 49 years old. He could laugh, play, and love even though there wasn't much he could do physically.

When I miraculously was able to walk again after five years of having two numb, heavy legs, I never imagined the possibility of becoming wheelchair dependent again. In efforts to support my weight with canes and a walker after jarring my lower spine which affected my legs, my arms (more so the right) from shoulder to fingertips became compromised. On top of all that, I developed difficulty swallowing... even water... and lost eight pounds in two months. As petite as I am, fortunately, I had excess belly fat to lose. Malnutrition weakened me further.

After many months of doing my best to maintain my independence, I decided it was time to reapply for CAS (Community Attendant Services) through Medicaid. It took a few months for all the paperwork to get processed. Relieved to finally have someone coming over every morning for companionship and to help me with laundry, cleaning, dishes, food prep, and run errands for me, I found myself telling her the miracle story about my brother.

After telling her that story (I am a self-declared storyteller), I began to tell another one. When my son was four, I went to a single parent event. The next person in line was another single mom with a precious four-year-old daughter with blond hair and huge blue eyes. While waiting in line, I learned the girl had a rare condition, and her mom was trying to get her on an organ transplant list, hoping for the transplant before the young girl died. I remember believing that Chantel would live despite what her doctors were predicting. Then I lost touch with them. I had moved out of the apartment complex about a year after meeting them. Matter of fact, I had moved quite a few times, including to Texas and back to California. But this story is about them, not me, so I will continue with the story.

Thirteen years went by. One day, I went to visit my older sister's house. There was something very familiar with the eighteen-year-old blond-haired blue-eyed girl who was hanging out with my nephew in her adorable pajamas, but I couldn’t place her. Then I heard her name.

“Chantel? Is your Mom Cheryl?” The answer was yes.

Chantel had indeed grown to be a very positive bubbly happy beautiful young woman!

About two years later, Chantel announced to my sister that she was pregnant. Then she held up a marriage certificate to prove that they had eloped two months before. They had gotten married in secret after my nephew turned 18. I don’t remember why they felt they had to elope.

Chantel’s team of doctors was not happy about Chantel being pregnant. Medically they didn’t even know how it was possible after all the surgeries she had endured over the years. They strongly prodded her to terminate the pregnancy – yes her doctors – as a pregnancy would most likely kill her. Chantel said no. I could see in her eyes that she believed everything would be OK, and she was willing to risk her life to try and have the baby.

Chantel carried her baby to term and gave birth to a beautiful healthy baby girl, without any of the predicted complications in December of 2004. Everyone celebrated the miracle. Two years later, Chantel became pregnant again. Her doctors, just like before, were apprehensive that the pregnancy could kill her. Chantel refused to terminate the pregnancy, took really good care of herself, and in September 2007, gave birth to another healthy baby girl. Chantel and her daughters are healthy and happy.

After I told both these stories... stating doctors are not God, I felt as if the words were meant to be spoken to myself. I felt inspired by telling my own inspirational story. Just like my brother could laugh, play, and love... despite his disabilities, I can, too. Maybe my condition will improve. Maybe it won't.

I now have two beautiful, amazing young attendants who love what they are doing... helping people... the aged and disabled... and caring for them. I'm glad they have a cheery person to take care of. No matter how much my body aches and how limited it is, I can still smile, laugh, love, listen... and tell stories.

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

New Release!!!

I am excited about my new book! The title is pretty much self-explanatory. Within a few days, the Look Inside feature will be activated on Amazon.

Book Description: Through many levels of spiritual and emotional growth, much time was spent in contemplation, reflection, observations, reflections, musings, and introspection of objects, wildlife, weather, pets, trees, flowers, clouds, and more. Words organized themselves into poetry and prose. Photography captured the moments.

Monday, June 24, 2019

Making Friends With The Storm

Image from Shutterstock

9 a.m. Lightning lit up the sky like fireworks. Thunder grumbled softly under its breath, gradually increasing in volume, ultimately to crack wide open at the top of its lungs, shattering the sound waves with its volume.

I put my hands over my ears and attempted to calm my racing heart.

Rain came, bashfully tiptoeing between the silence, gradually gaining the confidence to rain harder until at last, celebrating with a torrential downpour.

But… but... I planned an outing for this morning… at 10:30 a.m.!

Understanding the storm was beyond my control, (it is what it is), I managed to shift my perspective to appreciation. Storm, thank you for watering the earth and providing entertainment as you show off your potential with mastery. I shall sit here to observe every detail and appreciate your awesome wonder.

Could you please move on before my ride comes to pick me up?

I returned my focus to watching the grand show of lightning, rain, and now the wind which decided to join in and blow the rain sideward... from inside the safety of my apartment. I was grateful that I felt safe.

10:10 a.m. I am spellbound in a state of awe…
The storm responded to my appreciation and request, moving on to its next destination. The sky cleared, the rain stopped, and I am very aware weather has done this for me many times in the past… pausing, so I could get to and from my destination without getting wet.

Contemplating my increase in faith when it comes to weather, I began to wonder about my faith in healing the afflictions that had been storming in my body. What am I missing?

Perhaps I need to practice the level of appreciation for the storms in my body and observe them, too, with awe. Yes, I have been appreciating all the parts that still function, but I had not thought about appreciating the 'storms' -- places that don't feel good -- as well.

Storm, I’ve learned many lessons from people, experiences, nature, trees, cats, and squirrels… am I to learn lessons from you, too?

I observed all aspects of you without judgment, yet I judge what feels good or bad about my thoughts, my body’s afflictions, my emotions, my feelings, and what I am able to do or not do. Can I learn to just observe it all without judgment... just like I observed your beautiful storm?

Can I learn to let pain and discomfort be storms... and absence of pain and discomfort be sunshine… without judgment… and allow both to exist harmoniously… just like nature and weather?

Sunday, June 16, 2019

Spider Web

Copyright © 2019 Renee Alter


Oh, what webs we weave.
This amazing spider’s web which I caught with my camera,
inspired a variety of thoughts and conclusions.

Even though its fine threads are white, 
the spider leaves space to 
allow both light and color to show through,
and if I try hard enough, I can find
some light and color in my circumstances.

Even though the threads look delicate,
the web is much stronger than it appears.
And even though it feels like 
pieces of my body are falling apart,
my body is much stronger than it feels.

Even though we may think 
each of us as a single thread,
we are all intricately connected 
by the physics of the Universe.
I used to think I was a single thread, 
but with effort and persistence,
I have been able to build a web of my own.

Even though the web appears 
to be woven unevenly,
much like my life, 
it is still a masterpiece of perfection.
I just have to accept all the fragments of nature
that also get caught in the web.

The uneven design of the web 
is mesmerizing,
much like the videos I’ve watched of the
neurological networks of our brain synapses
and the energetic pulses between our cells.
The web is not solid, and neither are we.

One negative thought can 
trigger another negative thought 
from my subconscious mind,
and like a spider’s web, 
is connected to many other 
similar thoughts which is
why I can feel so overwhelmed,
feeling like I have been 
caught in a spider’s web
about to be eaten alive by life.

Then again, the web can be 
seen as a safety net if I let go of 
all I am trying to grasp
and trust in the divine plan.

And maybe the purpose of a web 
is more than it appears.
Maybe the spider wanted 
to catch more than a meal
And built a web that would also catch
fragments of nature 
for the purpose of providing
beautiful decorations for its home.

Maybe spiders have personalities, too.

Copyright © 2019 Renee Alter

Note: a fellow Reiki practitioner I knew from the past read this and responded: Webs are also used for PROTECTION. Visualize it around you. In Huna, we symbolically use a web for same.

Sunday, June 9, 2019

Lessons from Occupational Therapy

To retrace my progress, with the new Medicare Advantage HMO plan I have, I learned I could get home health. REAL home health... which included physical and occupational therapy. GOOD QUALITY physical and occupational therapy.

I've been dealing with issues of pain in my right arm, wrist, and hand for over 30 years. With this last flareup of Spondylolisthesis, I aggravated it all by supporting my body weight on canes and my walker. After the fact, I found out it is not a good idea to use the canes at all or the walker as a wheelchair, but the damage was already done. I could no longer do even simple self-care tasks using my right hand/arm.

Occupational therapy would hopefully assist with troubleshooting movement challenges with my arm and teach me other living skills I needed to learn. I had four somewhat productive visits.

First, Brian informed me that my manual wheelchair could be lowered so my feet touch flat on the floor. All this time I've had it (got it from a donated equipment room at the local hospital), I had no idea. No wonder I didn't like it very much. Lowered, I can use my comfy seat cushion and backrest as well as pull myself along with my feet... and because the chair has brakes, it is less risky (less of a fall risk) to use the wheelchair at home vs. transferring on and off office chairs on wheels.

I told Brian where it hurts on my right shoulder when I lift my arm. He explained how the nerves connect, checked the alignment of my collar bone and other structure, and observed that my shoulder was out of alignment due to weak scapula muscles and possibly a rib dislocation. He gave me an exercise with a band for pulling back and strengthening these muscles.

On another visit, I told him when I raise my arms to reach for something, I get pain in my arm. He asked me to show him how I reach. I reach with my palms down. He told me to always reach up
higher than my elbows with my thumbs up. Palms down rotates the (right) shoulder in and pinches nerves. I don't know if my arm will get better, but at least I know how not to make it worse.

We also discussed during the four visits the many kitchen tasks I was having trouble doing and what adaptive equipment I could get to achieve these tasks. One major one is cutting things. Another was when my right arm hurts a lot, I needed to be able to do everything with one arm. Don't one-armed people have adaptive equipment they use?

I have ordered this cutting board because the posts will secure something round like a bowl for mixing, a jar for opening, or food to cut up, is off to the side, and the board also has (not shown in this image) spokes to put food on to hold it in place so you can cut it:


Out of the different types of knives available, I chose this one. I won't have to rotate my hand to grip it nor will I have to push down from above.


Note: Adaptive equipment is expensive because the manufacturers know people will pay more to have them. I balked at first, but then just ordered it all. I would really rather have someone who did all these tasks for me so I could save all my energy to do the exercises that will strengthen my body and do things I enjoy (like writing). Food prep, cooking, cleaning up after cooking, cleaning up the floor after cooking when I spill stuff, doing laundry, and cleaning, in general, have never been tasks I enjoy doing. Ask me to organize something, and I'll have some fun.

For more about how I adapted to trying to get the base on and off my Vitamix, go the previous blog post about Difficulty Swallowing.

An additional website Brian gave me (the one he looks for all his adaptive equipment on) is performancehealth.com.

And if I continue having trouble swallowing after 30 days on Proton Pump Inhibitors (PPIs), it may be a muscular issue. The GI doc had already told me this but couldn't tell me what to do about it. Brian told me speech therapists are trained to help with this. Thankfully, this same home health agency has speech therapists, too.

Postscript to the post Lessons from Physical Therapy: Tie a piece of stretch band to the outside of the door handle. Stretch band will not slip off like the last thing I tried. As I leave with the mobility scooter or wheelchair, pull the band over my shoulder which will close the door behind me.

Thursday, June 6, 2019

Difficulty Swallowing

For the last several months, I've been dealing with difficulty swallowing:
  • both liquids and solid food. (I lost about 8 lbs but most of it was belly fat I am happy doing without anyway.)
  • the additional work and energy required to liquefy and combine foods to get enough nutrition in me... and all the work and energy required to clean up after I make a mess.
  • the frustration I feel when I spill stuff on my counters, floors, and clothes.
  • the discouragement I feel because, despite everything I've learned, I am still sick, in pain, and dealing with bouts of fatigue.
  • having the knowledge that (trauma recovery) therapies exist which could help me feel better but I don't have access to (at least yet).
  • the increase of throbbing neuralgia pain on the top my right foot toward the toes from spinal nerve compression. (It feels like I dropped something heavy on it in addition to the cramping.)
  • that the only way I can get pain relief right now is to sleep, listen to guided meditations, and be distracted by having meaningful conversations with people. (I suppose I could feel grateful this pain distracts me from discomfort in the rest of my body.)
  • that PCPs (managers of your healthcare) are limited in what they can do, therefore, they can only, hopefully, determine what you need and refer you out to specialists... who order procedures... as they don't have the means to see inside your body without them... and the procedures, like the EGD (Esophagogastroduodenoscopy) I just had felt more like torture. (They put the needle into my very sensitive hand. Then the anesthesiologist said when they turned on the anesthesia, I'd feel a little sting. It felt like they smacked my whole hand with a sledgehammer. I groaned in pain until it took effect, and I was out. And my throat was sore before the scopy but after was about five times sorer.)
  • the circumstantial changes such as meeting new doctors, specialists, and their staff, and repeating my symptoms (stories) over and over when all I want to do is focus on more positive thoughts.
  • aggravation when I see clerical errors in my medical records. (The first one, was when dysphasia--difficulty speaking--was written instead of dysphagia--difficulty swallowing. The 2nd one was the letter I received denying more than four P.T.  visits which had the diagnosis of multiple sclerosis on it instead of spondylolisthesis. After several phone calls, I found out it was a clerical error by the insurance company employee who typed up the letter. Once this was corrected, I was approved for the additional P.T.)
  • all the wasted time and energy waiting--for the referred specialists to call me, being on hold when I call to talk to insurance or doctor's office, appointments, in waiting rooms, in exam rooms, for transportation. (Yes, I avoided going to doctors as long as I could. I suppose I must be grateful that my health challenges are not nearly as severe as some of the other people I know... some of who do not have insurance... or their insurance was canceled due to clerical errors.)
  • the additional expenses of co-pays such as $250 to have an EGD in addition to $35 each time I see a specialist. (I do realize this is not much compared to what others will owe because they don't have satisfactory insurance. And I did manage to adopt the attitude that these are only numbers... and in my philanthropist spirit, willingly donate to their organizations.) 
  • that I must take a break from more enjoyable activities I had been previously participating in. (I suppose I could be grateful for additional experiences, even unwanted ones, and all the people I meet along the way. I do take advantage of learning as much as I can from new people I meet and enjoy offering them information they can use, too.)
(Note: I got the new Medicare Advantage Plan effective March 1, didn't receive my ID card until the end of March, couldn't get an appointment with the new PCP at the new clinic until April 23. The referral process took forever. On May 28, I met my new Gastroenterologist. And yesterday, I had an EGD.)

Out of the above list, I will elaborate on the progression of getting enough nutrition. At first, I was eating a little of this and a little of that often throughout the day... like 1/2 sweet potato warm with coconut oil or cold, some steamed veggies with butter, 1/2 - a whole hard-boiled egg, a small piece of salmon cooked in water with added dehydrated veggies and some butter, some mushrooms with Basil Pesto, 1/2 apple and a small piece of cheese, etc. The food went down way too slow, and I felt full before I could get much down. 

I had also been swallowing a variety of nutritional supplements recommended by the ACN/HHP I'd been going to (Bri) but finally gave up on this and told her I had to have more nutrition in something that could be liquified. 

On May 9, I purchased Chiropractor's Blend PH50-GF Protein Greens--Gluten and Dairy Free. The instructions are to use a whole (tiny) scoop. I could open up the two supplements which came in capsules to add to this (l-Lysine and Cal-Mag-D). At first, I tried a variety of ways to blend this powder: it worked OK in applesauce, not so OK with plain water, and the Hamilton Beach little blender wouldn't process additional foods I wanted to add. I also experienced some stomach and intentional cramps... and wondered if there was something in it I had a sensitivity to just like other powders I had tried in the past.

On May 16, I was blessed with an advance barter of a Vitamix Space Saver unit. You put a washer on the base and screw the bowl on. Before realizing my error, I put all kinds of ingredients into the bowl (some pistachio nuts, a Wholly Avocado packet, an entire apple)... and watched it leak out the bottom. I panicked and made a bigger mess as I tried to rescue the precious content. In trying to turn the base tighter with my right hand, spasms shot up my arm. Even using a rubber gripper didn't help. And you can't just wash the thing out... you have to remove the base. (BTW, the instructions tell you NOT to make it too tight as it will leak.) 

As suggested by Bri's receptionist, I tried wrapping it in a towel and putting it between my knees so I could use both hands to turn it. Successful but often left contents on my pants anyway even though I had a towel on it... which I then had to wash out immediately. After a few days of struggling with it, I eventually figured out how to get it tight enough so it wouldn't leak... but couldn't get the base back off. I realized I could take it down to the office and ask someone to unscrew the base for me. I also got smarter and checked for leaking with just water before adding the rest of the ingredients.

Within a few more days, when I placed the unit with the base still on into the sink, I watched as it slipped into the drain hole... almost the exact same size... and wondered if I put a piece of green scrubby into the drain hole if the base would stay put. It did!!! I could now successfully tighten it and remove it. After I poked a finger with the tip of the blade the first try of removing the base out of the drain, I got smart enough to only unscrew it enough to get unstuck and lift the entire unit out to do the rest.

I thought maybe the issue was defective washers, contacted the company, and they shipped out newly improved ones. Same result. I continue to use the drain hole in the sink and green scrubby for assistance.

On May 21, at my next visit, I told Bri my concern about the cramping. She determined an entire scoop at once was too much for me and an entire apple was overkill on top of the ingredients in the powder. (I'm such a lightweight!) My new instructions were to only take 1/2 scoop at a time... up to four times a day... and only add 1/4 of an apple if I use apple. In the meantime, I was thinking $45.90 a canister, 30 scoops per canister, maybe I can get by with only 1/2 to 1 scoop a day. It was so much work to make a smoothie and clean up after it, I only wanted to deal with it once in a day.

Then came yesterday when I had a conversation with my sister who lives out in California. She lovingly reprimanded me for further limiting the amount of nutrition I was giving my body... recommending 3-4 smoothies a day... adding foods like sweet potato vs. eating just a little on its own... making each smoothie a complete meal to include protein and healthy fats... healthy fats in addition to the fats in the avocado and nuts. Only 6 packets of avocado come in a packet and I fussed about it being $5 a box. 


So far, I've only come up with two recipes for smoothies I like which I am listing in order of how you add them to the container. I am in the process of figuring out what other variations I can try.

1) Cold water, 1/4 cup raw pistachios, 1/2 scoop powder, contents of capsules, 1 avocado packet, a small amount of frozen fruit (peaches or melon), a teaspoon of coconut oil.

2) Cold water, 1/4 cup almonds (when I don't have almond butter), 1/2 scoop powder, contents of capsule if I hadn't already done this earlier in the day, 1/2 a cooked sweet potato, a small amount of frozen fruit.

If you're interested in seeing the ingredients of this powder, go to: 

If you're interested in getting your own Vitamix Space Saver S30, Amazon has a good price:


And if you have other suggestions for smoothies you have tried (gluten, grain, and dairy-free), please let me know! I steer away from most fresh produce as I can't eat enough of it before it goes bad. 

Monday, May 27, 2019

Lessons from Physical Therapy

Amerigroup expanded into Lampasas County where I live, providing me with a Medicare Advantage plan which included many of the services I have been needing for little or no co-pays: Physical Therapy (Home), Occupational Therapy (Home), Home Nurse Visits, and online Psychological Counseling. In this post, I will focus on what I've been taught by physical therapists... which includes fall prevention... as another fall could jar L5-S1, causing additional damage. I've already slipped a little further from Grade 2 to Grade 2-3, just over 50 percent.


With unstable spondylolisthesis, rocking the pelvis forward and back or twisting is a no-no. I knew I had been doing some exercises that were aggravating the condition, but didn't realize just how many.

Pelvic tilts? No! Instead, pull my belly button to my spine for 5 seconds (abdominal bracing) x 10 or more times. In addition to doing these multiple times a day, whenever I do anything like standing up, transferring in and out of the wheelchair, on and off the toilet, do ab bracing! Squeeze buttocks (bottom squeezes) for 5 seconds x 20 three-four times per day.

Therapy Ball? No! The therapy ball, because it is a ball, is too dangerous. I must not do anything that can 'rock the boat' of spondy which can happen each time I lose my balance even a tiny bit.

Kicking legs back? No. In other words, no leg extensions.

Spinal stretch twist? No. Not when lying down or sitting in a chair or reaching over to the left or the right.


Never! Just like chiropractic on this part of the spine when you have unstable spondy, traction on an already unstable area is a no-no. I just sold my inversion device.


All this time I've been using a manual wheelchair in my apartment (and to local medical appointments if I was going to a small building), I didn't know it could be lowered. I just knew it was too high. Now that it is lowered, I can sit on my favorite seat cushion and can get around easier with my feet which can now sit flat on the floor... and my arms get a rest from trying to turn the wheels. With C5-C6 radiculitis going down both arms plus carpal tunnel pain, this was a challenge.


I thought I had a great idea about using stools with wheels to get around on... and on and off of. However, just like the office chair that rolled to the left when I sat back down on it in February 2018, resulting in my slamming on my right hip as I hit the floor (and jarring my spine), transferring on and off other things with wheels is risky, too. I am safer using the wheelchair which has brakes and applying these brakes whenever I am transferring to something else or standing to reach for something.


I had been using my walker for transportation as much as possible... while sitting on the seat. I was warned they weren't designed for this, and two different therapists told me they have witnessed the frame breaking while a patient was doing this... even someone as small and as lightweight as I am. Of course, this meant I could no longer go to some of the places I had been going to... like Toastmasters meetings... which are held in the back room of a large restaurant. The person who was giving me rides can't accommodate my wheelchair.


I asked the therapist to help me with the logistics of getting to and from my car with either canes or my walker... and how my hatchback door was heavy. As for the canes, it is too dangerous as I can still lose my balance and fall. Even though it only weighs 11 pounds (I used to have one that weighed 22 pounds), I was told to never lift it. My back is too unstable.


I must learn to be my own girdle and back brace. The therapist must have told me to do this about 50 times during my last visit as I kept forgetting to.


This exercise was given to me, but the therapist can't climb inside my body to understand what happens everywhere when I stand up. I modified this one by marching in my chair.


I have a ceiling fan/light combo in each of my main rooms. When it is warm, I like having the ceiling fans on 24 hours a day. The wall switch turns them on and off along with the lights, so when I want to turn lights off, I had to stand to reach for the light chain. Fall risk. The simple solution (why didn't I think of this?) was to buy chain extenders. I even got fancy and found some with a one-inch crystal.

While I have mostly ceiling lights on wall switches, I still needed two standing lamps for additional lighting. With the one by my work station, I had to stand up to reach up and over to the switch. Fall risk. For the bedroom, the lamp was clear back by the head of my bed, the main light was with the fan which went on and off with the light switch... and the pull chain for the light was over the bed. Fall risk and frustration with getting around in the dark. The simple solution (why didn't I think of this?) was to buy a set of outlets you plug the lamps into which plug into the wall outlets which operate from a remote control device. Now, from the doorway of my bedroom, I can turn on the lamp by the bed and turn the lamp by my work station off.


...with a Shepherd's hook!! I did buy one, but I had an...


I realized I could take most of my clothes off the hangers, fold them, and move them to the cabinet with doors I have in the bathroom... where another stool lives... and brighter lights are. Of course, in order to do this, I spent hours trying to find new locations for what was in the cabinet.

But what to do with my blouses? Ahhh... I saw that if I removed the lower shelf in the built-in cabinet by the sink and put up a tension rod, I could hang my blouses! Of course, in order to do this, I spent hours trying to find new locations for what was in the cabinet.

Now, I can dress and undress in comfort without dealing with hangers and a closet. The closet can get used for STORAGE.


With chronic fatigue syndrome and fibromyalgia on top of spondy, I have yet to learn how to properly pace myself. All that work taking down clothes, taking them off hangers, folding them, and placing them into the bathroom cabinets wore me out. On top of that, the therapist had recommended I do the exercises every day--even twice a day--unless I have a fibro flare. Gung ho with now knowing the proper way to move, after being dormant for over a month, I did too much all at once. I climbed back on the recumbent stationary bike (which, by the way, I had moved from where it was because it was a fall risk to climb back into it) for about 15 minutes (with rest stops in between) and did a series of band exercises for my arms and legs. I also washed 2 shirts and 2 pair of capris in my mini Wonder Wash, prepared some food in addition to using the Vitamix which required it all get cleaned up, and did additional exercise picking up everything off the floor I had dropped. The following day, my body was screaming with major fatigue for dessert... and I found myself in the midst of a major fibro flare.