Category Archives: Life

Me 2.0!

8480264 - running girlPost DBS, my life has been revolutionized by a startling revelation: Traveling from Point A to Point B is as “effortless” as moving from one foot to the other! I exist in a surreality I never could have imagined. Who would have thought I’d ever be in a position to compare and contrast smooth and twisted gait! Conquering distance has become user-friendly. Has NYC shrunk? This on-the-go rookie well knows the act of walking straight is deceptively simple – even miraculous – and with profound effect. Now that all my ducks are lining up in a row, I attach new meaning to the words “independently mobile.”

I stand before you “Pam 2.0” – action-oriented, driven and efficient – roaring out of the gate to tackle my errands and responsibilities with the vigor of an NFL linebacker. I’d never grasped the smooth side of multi-tasking or the effervescence of living life on the run. Dystonia erected a prison of limitations constraining my every effort…in ways even I didn’t fully appreciate. Sojourns out of my neighborhood loomed daunting. Rain or inclement weather provided a convenient excuse to stay home. For many years, life passed before me in lackluster shades of grey. My involuntary movements and their psychological toll crowded out the innumerable possibilities that lie within arm’s reach when we’re not squandering energy struggling with basic bodily operations. Now I feel free as a bird spreading her wings for the first time.

They say life is about the little things. For me, life is about a wealth of glorious but supremely basic minutiae virtually invisible to most of us…empowering us to enjoy a magical day!

 

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I Will Survive!

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At first I was afraid
I was petrified
Kept thinking I could never live
Without you by my side
But then I spent so many nights
Thinking how you did me wrong
And I grew strong
And I learned how to get along…

After a tumultuous 40 year relationship – plaguing me with a myriad of annoyances – I’m finding it challenging to cut the cord with my anticholinergic, even now that my brain bionics are waiting in the wings. Flexing its muscles, my anticholinergic is determined to stick around for Act II. However, I’m equally determined to boot him off the show.

Hardly known for my patience, I’ve exhibited unprecedented forbearance in the painstakingly slow process of Walking The Plank, even, shockingly, proactively taking a detour from the weekly weaning schedule when my walking grew funky. It’s all a delicate balancing act of amping up the power to compensate for lost “juice.”

With grad school awaiting me in the fall, I’d love to restore my short-term memory and normalize my urination so I’m not constantly rushing out of class for an impromptu rendezvous with the ladies room. The dream of being pill free shines strong, fortifying me with resolve to go the distance, no matter how long it takes. So Mr. Anticholinergic, as Gloria Gaynor sang so well:

Go on now go, walk out the door
Just turn around now
‘Cause you’re not welcome anymore
Weren’t you the one who tried to break me with goodbye?
Did you think I’d crumble?
Did you think I’d lay down and die?
Oh no not I, I will survive…

May I Have A Glass of Water?…Revisited

dreamstime_xs_9470300 editedIn 2012, I shared my deepest, darkest phobias about my speech in a post titled “May I Have A Glass Of Water.” Notwithstanding 4+ years pounding out my anxieties on this site and finally conquering my self-consciousness over my gait – ironically at a time when my involuntary movements are fading away – I continue to entertain a disgruntling hyperawareness of every word I utter.

During conversation, I find myself a decidedly un-detached observer, appalled at the sounds that just emerged from my mouth despite my earnest efforts to enunciate. I’ll practice a word in isolation again and again only to mutilate it during conversational speech. Too many words continue to evade me and I’m starkly aware of the abundance of sounds I misform.

Since DBS, I’ve been operating on speed dial, sentences tumbling out faster than I can articulate them. In an effort to climb out of my ditch, I resort to conversational CPR, searching my inner thesaurus for synonyms to toss out to my confounded listener…or literally spelling out words l-e-t-t-e-r b-y l-e-t-t-e-r. Conversation presents a bout of oral gymnastics that leaves me exhausted.

Recently, I stood on line at Starbucks on a Saturday morning, all set to tackle a monumental challenge: ordering a Grande Decaf Soy Latte. The barista stared at me in confusion, then slipped a blank piece of paper and pen across the counter. Gulping down my pride, I dutifully wrote out an order I knew I’d never properly execute orally. Perhaps next time, I’ll opt for tea!

The Laws of Motion

Sir Isaac Newton, take note, my Dystonia has served as a vivid example of your 3rd Law of Motion gone haywire: For every [voluntary] action there’s an equal and opposite [involuntary] reaction.

Now that the involuntary kinetic forces generated by my voluntary movements have begun to magically disappear, walking is no longer a contact sport. I feel as if I’ve fallen down a wormhole and emerged into a parallel universe where Newtonian mechanics have drastically simplified. My alternate reality gives me pause as I adjust to my newfound freedom. Who knew walking is as easy as putting one foot in front of the other and telling your legs where to go? Destinations that formerly loomed as remote don’t seem quite so far away.

When I trudged around the city with my walker, I measured distance by the corresponding depletion in my energy and operated on a permanent power outage. Every ounce of my being directed an overwhelmingly focus to the technical details of getting from Point A to Point B…with little thought for my destination – and scant attention to the scenery along the way. Post DBS, my energy quotas have completely transformed. I make my way around my neighborhood with power to spare enjoying the local landscape. Think of me as a bee buzzing along on full throttle as I relish the “conserved” energy I previously expended on the mechanics of walking.

I’m not the only one benefitting from my newfound energy. My puppy is thrilled to have a new training partner. Now she’ll have to learn to keep up with me (lol)!

Solo Act

Having been a “solo act” for a little over a week, I’m ready to – knock on wood – announce my new status! The occasion of our break-up was simple: in a miraculous burst of post-DBS reality, I came to the realization that my shiny blue walker had outlived his usefulness. At its genesis, our relationship stood a marriage of convenience. My inner stubborn mule protested his attentions – until it became abundantly clear my new friend offered benefits! The rock by my side, he protected me from a precarious loss of balance, carried my packages…and my puppy, and offered a spare seat on a desolate stretch of street.

Now that I’ve left my walker by the wayside, I find myself in a strange new reality. At times, I reach for him as I leave my apartment. After all, over the course of 2+ years, his constant companionship became a force of habit and, I’ll admit, a bit of a safety blanket. Life without him may be strange but it’s neither cold nor empty. Not quite used to navigating the local terrain without my hot wheels, I instinctively head towards ramped walkways when stairs have pleasantly become an option. Mind you, my gait still has its quirks and I entertain an unfounded concern that the full force of my involuntary movements will return.

Now that I’ve gone solo, there’s no turning back. Indeed, in a bizarre psychological conspiracy perpetuated by my feet, my brain and my “ex,” a dalliance with my walker actually makes my Dystonia worse!

New York City Taxis: Where’s The Beef?

26323991 - taxi driver - road rageAs I made my way to my first DBS programming session during the chaos marking morning rush hour, I was abruptly reintroduced to the inhumanity inhabiting my fair city. Hardly the picture of health, I stood braced against my walker, a colorful flowered scarf sculpting my recently shaven head, watching taxi after off-duty taxi unceremoniously sail by me – patently ignoring my hand wildly flailing through the air in an act of deliberate motion having nothing to do with my Dystonia. I couldn’t help but surmise that cab drivers hold no interest in attending to my walker. Where was Sir Galahad, galloping up Third Avenue to rescue me on his black and white checkered horse majestically draped in yellow?

I concluded that I needed to park my walker at the curb behind me and hail a taxi as a solo act. Of course, as soon as I turned towards the sidewalk, my gallant appeared, sharply braking beside me. Putting his fellow cab drivers to shame, he whisked my walker into the trunk with aplomb, After all, it doesn’t take Mr. Universe to manipulate a few pounds of folded metal.

I hold abject disappointment in NYC’s private transportation corps, which, for a pretty penny, is my first line of defense against the perils I face using public transportation.

 

 

My Starring Role During Neurosurgery: The Woman In The Iron Mask!

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Hollywood’s leading ladies have nothing on me and my starring role in a “surgical trilogy” featuring a brilliant neurosurgeon, his drill, cutting-edge guidance technology, and two electrodes taking a slip into my brain for an ongoing adventure of electrical proportion. Best supporting actor goes to the strong-armed “villain” in this medi-drama, the metal vise that fiercely immobilized me every step of the way. The hero, my Mount Sinai neurosurgeon, cool as a cucumber, assumed command over his troops in the OR. His team took no prisoners, bolting me to the operating table to set the stage for the drilling…but with my neurosurgeon controlling the scene, this dystonia damsel was hardly “in distress!” As for the “awake” part, our tete a tete during surgery was largely surreal as my “leading man” filled my field of vision during our big dramatic moment and I lacked a bird’s-eye view of the surgical scene. I’ve absolutely no recollection of the drilling.

Having considered – and rejected – DBS oh so long ago, I needed a pinch to jolt me into reality as we traipsed about the hospital – vise securely in place – on our way to a pre-op CT-scan. You’ll find my verdict – since overturned – on this site in the article “Promises, Promises.”

With DBS, the waiting is the hard part. Until that all-important first procedure set a bar on my expectations, my overactive imagination embarked on a joy ride over the prospect of two “awake” brain surgeries in the span of one month. For those Dystonia warriors considering DBS, rest assured that the “idea” of these procedures is far more daunting than their reality – especially that fearsome metal vise. After the numbing injections, it’s smooth sailing ahead. If you can handle life with dystonia, you’ve got DBS!

Once the surgeries are completed, this surgical thriller morphs into a tale of suspense. Stay tuned for my BIG MOVIE ENDING, dramatically revealed in 3 to 6 months…

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My amazing Mount Sinai neurosurgeon is second to none!

 

Making Lemons Into Lemonade!

I’ve been a blond, brunette and redhead. Now I sport a skinhead. At the altar of DBS, the sacrificial lamb is my hair. So how to make the best of my untenable situation when there’s no use crying over spilled milk? My go-to guy is my “secret weapon:” the handy PhD Dystonia forced me to earn in “Making Lemons Into Lemonade!”

Turning Lemons Into Lemonade never disappoints. I laud the virtues to be found in identifying positive outcomes for our negative situations without unduly minimizing our struggles. My friends may reassure me that it’s ONLY my hair – which will certainly grow back – but my solace hardly lies in downplaying the significance of our locks. After all, I’m a female with a telling history of life-defining dos. Rather, I find my comfort recognizing the importance of our hair by making a donation. With a few trips to Google, I’d surveyed the landscape and located a nonprofit, Children With Hair Loss, more than happy to claim my mane, chemical highlights and all.

For those about to part with their hair or seeking to lighten their load, check out the following organizations spreading sunshine with their good works:

Children With Hair Loss
Locks of Love
Pantene Beautiful Lengths

Summer Sentenced Me To Hard Labor!

For those wondering how the prospect of two “awake” brain surgeries becomes palatable, let’s consider my relentless left foot, which seizes every small step as an opportunity to insist on an arduous detour. Walking takes on a whole new “twist” when the ever-present intervening destination is your next forward-intending movement. Even the shortest sojourn with my puppy becomes a true labor of love.

The upper echelons of the thermostat – even relatively moderate temperatures – stand amongst my triggers. At the onset of spring, exhaustion settles in for a multi-season stay, sentencing me to a summer of heavy breathing punctuated with plentiful naps. Ambulating ceases to be a means to an end and becomes an all-consuming focus, draining every ounce of my energy at the speed of light. As an added bonus, my tortured summer strolls invite back pain to settle in for an extended stay.

Surgeries anyone? Sign me up!

Surgeries Anyone?

Here’s an attractive offer:  Let’s shave off your hair, immobilize your head in a vise, drill a hole in your skull, insert an electrode into the right side of your brain, and wake you up for some fun in the sun before closing that hole. Then, invite you back to do it all again, left side this time – before implanting two battery-powered neurostimulators into your chest and snaking wires under your skin that enable us to activate those electrodes with electrical currents.

No, it’s not some twisted version of electric shock therapy but Deep Brain Stimulation (DBS) – perhaps not shocking your socks off but, hopefully, improving your neurological movement disorder, which is why you place that bet. Why not embark on a wild ride to slay the never-ending, hair-raising roller coaster commandeering life with dystonia?

Of course, your vanity interjects itself. After all, they’re shaving your head twice, replacing your lush – or not so lush – locks with a barren plain. As for the “awake” part, fancy chatting with your surgeon while he’s navigating an intruder into your brain. Then again, you find yourself trudging your way through your 30th college reunion, holding on to your walker for dear life as a once-familiar campus morphs into a forbidding obstacle course. Watch the impossible become plausible when mastering each step presents a triumph of will. Those looming procedures take on a whole new light, vanity and apprehension fading into luxuries you can ill afford.

All roads lead to Rome. Chin up, three surgeries, here I come!

 

Fiddling

13185761_sIn the movement disorder world, “fiddling” has nothing to do with a musical instrument. Like the baby bear sampling bowls of porridge, I’m forever fine-tuning my meds in an overarching effort to get things “just right.” My “fiddling” is motivated by a precarious balancing act featuring a myriad of distasteful side effects encroaching upon my quality of life.

Patients be warned: “fiddling” is for the bold and the brave, every adjustment laden with a risk-bearing proposition. In my present alternative reality, I’m battling the lingering damage inflicted by a downswing in my main med even though I’ve climbed my way back to my prior dose. Voila, the sole result presented by my most recent game of risk is the companionship of my walker. Apparently, elimination of my parade of side effects requires elimination of my anticholinergic, a venture to the Deep South I’ve yet to undertake.

But there’s a moral to this story as I seek to live life without regrets, well understanding that our meaning decisions unavoidably lack the luxury of hindsight.

“Perks”

45057482_sWith my walking in a state of disarray, I’m on the prowl for creative ways to count my blessings. My challenge is rather monumental. “Seek and you shall find” takes on a whole new meaning when it comes to discerning the silver lining in Dystonia.

I’ve discovered one “perk” traipsing the city streets with my puppy. Courtesy of the deterioration in my gait, our daily walks stand as true workouts, enabling me to indulge my sweet tooth without penalty. The collective force of my involuntary movements simulates a walk in a wind tunnel, leaving me breathless in the span of a few short blocks for a potent bout of cardio.

Convinced I’m burning calories with every laborious step, I entertain bizarre satisfaction struggling against my unruly muscles. In a nod to my inner obsessive-compulsive, I’m forever recalculating the territory I cover as I push forward to go the distance, awash in determination to ace at least one super-sized “power walk” each day. Another “perk” worthy of mention: nailing a generous swath of city blocks ensures I’ll be sleeping soundly that night.

I may count my victories in the slow lane but this sure beats counting calories!

My Pokey Little Puppy!

13898682_sIn the company of my pokey little puppy, I’m sure you can guess who’s been stealing the show! I’ve happily abdicated top billing to 12 pounds of furry delight while my metal co-star finds herself demoted to disgruntled supporting actress.

As life hairpins a 180-degree curve, I’ve discovered that those who notice my traveling crew assume my walker – purple and hot pink Sherpa ensconced snugly on the seat – serves at my puppy’s pleasure. Ironically, after a lifetime battling self-consciousness, I’m proactively advertising my need for a walking aid without a care.

Meanwhile, my Dystonia has taken a back seat to little Ellie as I traverse the miracles – and responsibilities – of motherhood. Housetraining poses a particular challenge when our summer strolls evoke the last leg of a marathon. As the thermostat ramps up, so goes my Dystonia. I trudge along the city’s streets drawing on every ounce of energy I can muster, braving sweltering weather I formerly shunned. When there’s no juice left, my walking devolves into a game of shuffleboard played out in a cloudy haze. Anything for my puppy, who stands infinitely more important than the “inconveniences” wrought by Dystonia.

The moral of my story: The very best pick-me-up is to step outside ourselves and divert our attention to the world unfolding around us, rising to the occasions life presents.

The Medical Sideshow

42734194_sAll too often, there’s a sideshow to chronic illness: our treatment regimen! Let’s take my pills. They’re small, white (or yellow) and round. They “control” (I didn’t say “cure”) my Dystonia but wreck havoc with my body. My meds require me to walk a medical tightrope juggling multiple balls in the air, engaging in a precarious – but common – balancing act.

My neurologist and I make all sorts of adjustments. We go down on one culprit with particularly distasteful repercussions until my walking worsens. Then it’s time to regroup. We add meds to address side effects, which in turn make their own statements. Understand, I’m an impatient person who rarely acts incrementally. I embrace BIG CHANGE. Not with my pills. The process of going up and down, not to mention trying new meds, is E-X-C-R-U-C-I-A-T-I-N-G-L-Y  S-L-O-W. But I appreciate the need to drive with caution and intermittently engage the brake.

The “games” never end. I had to discontinue a long-standing drug that caused my blood count to plummet dangerously. Another regular exerts undue influence on my blood labs, rendering them confounding to everyone except my neuro. Then there’s the trial and error of “new” treatments. During a clinical study, I became convinced a med was making my Dystonia worse and hightailed my way off that highway. I speak from experience when I say serious drugs merit serious vigilance.

I reap the benefits of a highly knowledgeable and careful neurologist. However, responsible health care doesn’t end with a trustworthy physician. As patients, we’re the ultimate arbiters of the substances we ingest and interjecting a healthy dose of caution is prudent. Do the research, investigate your options, read the fine print, ask probing questions, and trust your instincts when it comes to side effects – after all, you know your body best.

With World Health celebrated throughout spring and summer, the American Recall Center has embarked on a campaign to promote medication safety (check out their tips below). The American Recall Center website is an invaluable resource for prescription drug and medical device recall information and other healthcare topics advancing informed medical decisions.

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Speech Therapy: When Practice Doesn’t Make Perfect

26820862_s editedA dashing speech therapist broke my heart. No, it wasn’t a torrid romance ending in tragedy but his sage words of advice: conversational speech is the last dam to break. Worse still, the coveted prize we were chasing was “communication” not “perfection.”

I’m a self-admitted practicing perfectionist. “Good enough” is never good enough when my life’s work is a perpetual pursuit of Eden. I aim to scale mountains and then chastise myself for the slightest blunder. So, surprise, surprise, I embarked on speech therapy with abundant determination to nail that bull’s-eye. In my estimation, I’d practice, practice, practice until my speech issued perfect, perfect perfect. While I might not scale tall buildings in a single bound, I’d surely conquer them with a rigorous daily regimen. Then reality hit. Those darn “Ks” and “Gs” continued to pose a battle, median “Ds” and “Ts” relentlessly evaded me…and shall we discuss my lip sounds? Further, if I reduced my life to working on my speech when would I actually use it? I needed to modify the recipe.

Most people coast through sentences blissfully unaware of the verbal gymnastics they perform with every word. The tongue effortlessly careens from venue to venue in fluid motion while the lips execute deceptively simple maneuvers. The veritable clockwork programmed by our brains and slickly engineered by our orofacial muscles enables us to focus on the dynamics of conversation rather than the specifics of location. As if on autopilot, we register our speed, then sit back and relax as the flight conveniently navigates itself.

Until I began speech therapy, I pounded out my speech in appalled ignorance of the mechanisms of my physiological inefficiencies. I’d no idea of the muscular precision required to orchestrate individual sounds and master conversational flow. Further, little did I know co-articulation demands we pronounce our sounds in units – in other words, our forward-thinking brains work a step ahead of us – granting undue influence to the banes of my existence. Certain sounds manageable in isolation “malform” when coupled with anticipated sounds looming in my future.

Focusing on my wealth of articulatory challenges simultaneously – a feat of multi-tasking – poses overwhelming, particularly if I seek to partake in productive listening. Adjusting my lofty aspirations, I slow the party down and divert due attention to the dynamics of the discussion. After all, the turtle bested the hare with a slow and steady pace.

Multi-Tasking

17693121_sNow this is an interesting exercise. Why don’t you give it a shot? Here’s the beginning of my list of challenging “multi-tasks:”

  1. Walking and talking on the phone.
  2. Maintaining my balance going down steps.
  3. Playing Twister. Won’t happen again…last game I tore my meniscus!
  4. Laying inside an MRI machine and holding still.
  5. Articulating individual words while speaking in sentences.
  6. Any exercise that involves my legs and another body part.

What are your fiercest multi-tasks?

Independently Mobile?

26025652_s editedWithin my neighborhood, I rule the sidewalks in the company of my slick, 4-wheeled sidekick. Venturing onto public transportation pitches me into the world of “handicap accessible.” To my utter dismay, the 86th Street subway, a hub of activity and my home base, fails to accommodate. The “convenience” of the express train perpetually looms a foreboding 3 flights of stairs away.

So what’s the problem? Isn’t this where the dashing knight in shining armor comes galloping onto the scene to rescue the damsel in distress struggling with a precarious descent while juggling 5+ pounds of folded metal? Plenty of burly armed men bustle past me…not to mention a choice selection of NYC yuppies. Adamant about requesting assistance, I’ll patiently await my gallant to little avail. Seems this dystonia damsel requires a megaphone to motivate an endless supply of walking testosterone pursuing their destinations with single-minded focus.

Life is a trade-off and my solo adventures arrive bundled with a steep price. I find myself recalibrating my notion of “independently mobile” to accommodate the human and technological assistance I’m helpless to escape.

My Answering Machine Message

14922714_sI can’t think of a more distasteful task than listening to my answering machine message. There’s the shock of an alien voice even I strain to understand, followed by the dawning realization this is how I sound to friend and foe. Thankfully, this chore is only required when I tape a new message or forget my phone number and conduct reconnaissance in the form of a confirmatory call.

Recording my message is a disheartening comedy of errors. Accessing my inner thesaurus, I play out a maddening search for “perfect” words that don’t exist in a limited field of vocalization, discarding phrases faster that you can enunciate Jiminy Cricket…all the while stubbing my finger on the re-record button as I keep giving it “one more try.” By the time my word elimination game concludes, my message is reduced to the barest of bones and I can only hope callers will exercise their logical reasoning.

However, I staunchly refrain from resorting to a pre-recording, refusing to tender my surrender to the “luxury” of digitized speech!

Rolling Along Canada’s Old Towns

Edited 27690625_sIn 2013, I took a summer “vacation” from Dystonia! This year, I packed my Dystonia – along with my cane and walker – to head to destinations north of the U.S. border.  In case you’re wondering, I left my ego and my pride safely tucked away in my apartment. This was my first travel adventure with walker in tow and I was determined to serve patriotically as the penultimate trooper. Certainly, I’d no intention of defining this sojourn by my special needs.

The advance forecast was smooth sailing, my only trepidation the scents that threatened to assail me. Little did I expect a daily roller coaster ride rife with spine-tingling bumps and spur-of-the-moment curves.

Old Montreal offered a charming tangle of narrow cobblestone streets and squares lined with bistros and shops inhabiting the shadows of a modern city. Calling the terrain challenging is an understatement when my walker bounced over every square inch of cobbled friction. Swallowing my fatigue, I plodded along at my own measured pace, feeling a bit like Moses parting a sea of pedestrian traffic.

Unbeknownst to me, Montreal was merely my “practice run.” Our next destination, Old Quebec City, presented a veritable bobsled track snaking along the bank of the St. Lawrence. I found myself chasing my walker down descending routes, then huffing and puffing the upswings. Rain showers forced me to navigate single-handedly, a swift kick to my stability. I wasn’t the only one aching: my poor walker survived worse for the wear, even requiring an impromptu French Canadian repair!

A series of small victories over an endless obstacle course taught me an important lesson about weathering life’s bumps and bruises. While my sojourn was physically daunting, I brokered a treaty with my limitations and adjusted my future travel expectations.

Me and My Shadow

18983305_sThe latest experimentation with my meds sent my walking into a funk, leading me to a newfound appreciation of why I tolerate their medical mischief. It also rendered me significantly less independently mobile – in need of what I shall call a “new friend” – landing me smack in the middle of a vigorous debate between my good sense and inner stubborn mule. Seems my resistance to special assistance is alive and kicking. Notwithstanding 40+ years living with Dystonia, I cling to a foolish insistence I’m no different from everyone else.

As a cantankerous attitude sought to assert itself, complications immediately ensued when I discovered the surprising rewards of life with a walker. Let’s start with my ability to perch comfortably at random street corners – not a bench in sight – for a much-welcomed respite. It dawned on me, not only needn’t I fear wiping out from an unruly twist of foot…or exhaustion…but I now enjoy a custom seat at any outdoor venue. Further, thanks to my visible aid, New Yorkers have become more generous with their assistance.

Where I expected shock from friends, I encountered awe over the creature comforts at my fingertips. Indeed, they quickly jumped on the bandwagon, appropriating space for handbags and parcels – triggering an onslaught of speculation about the moneymaking potential of my new adventure. Inject a flash of ingenuity and my walker may very well present a portable gold mine.

As for me, I often mistake myself for a mother out for a spin with stroller in tow…only this femme is walking herself!