I’m in a rehab hospital where immigrant eldercare dominates.
The “rehab” part is code for “nursing home,” and since I just had my right ankle replaced with a shiny new one, I quality for short-term assistance.
From here in New York City to the small cities across America, immigrants increasingly watch over the oldest and most frail among us.
My patient-care assistant tonight is Comfort. She’s from Ghana.
My nurse is from Ukraine. “Well,” she said, “It’s called Ukraine now, but it’s been lots of things.”
The young Chinese-American doctor assigned to my floor said she chose to specialize in geriatrics. “I grew up in a multi-generational household and have known for a long time where I wanted to be.”
Yesterday’s physical therapist is from Argentina, and the other one I’ve seen swings back and forth between English and her native Spanish as she greets people on the rehab floor.
A smart OT I work with, has an almost undetectable accent, but one that reminds me that everyone I’m meeting has a story that includes why they uprooted and moved.
The care I’m receiving is good and feels genuinely easy for
these women to offer.
And that, alone, makes it easier to receive.
Immigrant eldercare rapidly increasing
A February 2018 New York Times article says that one in four nursing home workers is foreign born, and between 2005 and 2015, the number of immigrants who work for themselves in state-funded, elder home care programs doubled to more than a million.
York, California, New Jersey and Florida, more than 40% of direct-care workers
And who knows how many immigrants are hired privately to care for the elderly.
Her accent reminds me that everyone I’m meeting has a story that include why they uprooted and moved.
I feel safe
Earlier today my patient-care assistant, Wilma, entered the room smiling as she finished a conversation with a fellow worker.
When I asked about the language they were speaking she said, “We’re both from Haiti, and that was Creole.”
“Now,” she said, turning her attention fully to me, “Let’s
get you to the bathroom. You’re doing so well.”
And isn’t that encouragement the elixir everyone needs for
Right now I hear laughing in the halls – the life-is-good sort that sounds like a choice to look through the viewfinder of optimism.
Surrounded by immigrants I feel safe, comfortable, and a bother to no one.
Brain Chemistry Labs is breaking rules and shattering the mold of how medical research is done.
And they’re doing it solely with small grants and private donations.
What began as work focused on the motor neuron disease ALS (Lou Gehrig’s Disease) has been led by research to include Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.
“I think we can change the world,” said Sandra Banack, senior scientist and ethnobotanist.
“What we’re doing takes a fraction of the time and a fraction of the cost,” she said.
Their work examines what is happening to people and what can be done about it.
“We’re close to a prevention, and I think that’s better than a cure.” – Dr. Rachael Dunlop
Research shows that chronic exposure to the neurotoxin BMAA (β-Methylamino-L-alanine) found in cyanobacteria (also known as blue-green algae and most often pointed out by someone in my family as “that green stuff” on lakes and ponds) is a potential risk for neurodegenerative illnesses.
So they are testing and working with an amino acid called L-Serine that may counter BMAA and appears to be neuroprotective in its own right.
BMAA Surrounds Us
“We know that human health is related to environmental health,” Dr. Banack said.
People come into contact with BMAA through contaminated seafood and freshwater fish — possibly grains if they are watered by contaminated water.
And it can be in the air we breathe.
“Found in habitats ranging from the hot pools of Yellowstone to the deserts of the middle east to the middle of the oceans, cyanobacteria are nearly ubiquitous on the earth’s surface.” – Brain Chemistry Labs’ website
“This is like a slow toxin and a silent killer in a sense because we don’t know that it’s in the water that we’re drinking.
“We don’t know that it’s in the food that we’re eating.
“But we do know that it can cause neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s,” said senior research fellow, Rachael Dunlop, in the film Toxic Puzzle.
But hope is on the horizon.
“I think we can change the world,” – Dr. Banack
Can L-Serine Forestall Alzheimer’s?
What’s already been shown in Phase I clinical trials is that L-Serine is safe for ALS patients to take at doses as high as 30 grams per day.
The data suggest that L-Serine can slow down the progression of ALS by as much as 85%.
“Our research also suggests that L-Serine may be able to push off the onset of Alzheimer’s, but there are still many experiments to do,” Dr. Banack said.
Currently L-Serine is accessible as an inexpensive and safe supplement.
“Mapping amyotrophic lateral sclerosis lake risk factors across northern New England,” Nathan Torbick et al, International Journal of Health Geographics, 2014; 13: 1, (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3922844/?report=classic#).
“Phase I clinical trial of safety of L-serine for ALS patients,” T.D. Levine, et al., Feb 18, 2017, (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27589995#).
“Traditional Food Items in Ogimi, Okinawa: l-Serine Content and the Potential for Neuroprotection,” Paul Cox and James Metcalf, Current Nutrition Reports, 2017; 6(1): 24–31, (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5343079/).
Ellen Synakowski (she/her/hers) lives in Laramie, Wyoming. She is a HeartMath Certified Trainer and Coach, and certified through HeartMath to administer the Stress and Well-being Assessment tool; A Connection Practice Trainer, a Trainer’s Trainer, and Coach; and a Registered Biodynamic Craniosacral Therapist (RCST®). Her website is EllenSynakowski.com.
“Never forget that justice is what love looks like in public.” — C. West
I’m pretty sure the central-Maine town I grew up in was modestly hospitable to lesbians and other women who didn’t fit neatly into a heterosexual mold.
There were the two close friends who worked in Newberry’s.
The egg lady who made deliveries smoking a pipe.
And the Page sisters in Burlingon I visited with my grandfather.
In hindsight it didn’t seem to matter if these and so many other women I knew were lesbians or fell somewhere else on the LBGTQIA+ spectrum.
Rugged Little Town
Lincoln is carved from a forest of white pines and birches.
Many of the 13, grey-blue lakes that dot the landscape are framed in pink quartz and granite.
It’s much closer to Canada than any major American city.
And it is still the place my heart calls home.
It’s a rugged little town whose sole industry, making paper, closed down as reading became digitized and competitors in China and Finland prevailed.
Overt femininity peaked for many of us in the experimental years of high school.
Perhaps it tapered as the practicalities of living in a remote part of the state took over.
Where snow gets deep and stays.
And summers are breathtaking but require a certain no-nonsense approach to black flies and mosquitoes.
Yet it seemed as long as you were white, Christian (though not necessarily practicing), Republican (as evidenced by not declaring to be a Democrat), a hunter or recipient of the hunt (as my mother was with the necks of deer for mincemeat canning), you were accepted.
My decade of influence was the 1960s.
Lesbianism and other lifestyles weren’t talked about, but in hindsight they sure seemed to be accepted.
Especially if you were a lone woman or part of a quiet, female couple.
Anti-discrimination in Wyoming and Maine
The second-ever Pride Week just ended in Laramie, Wyoming, the town my husband and I have lived in for the past 11 months.
It’s where Matthew Shepard attended college and was brutally murdered 20 years ago by being beat up, tied up, and left for dead at the base of a fence.
Laramie now has a city ordinance – the only such one in the state – that prohibits “discrimination of any person based upon his or her actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity in employment, housing and public accommodations.”
Unlike Maine, Wyoming doesn’t yet have state-wide protection laws.
Women’s Alternative Lifestyles in Lincoln
I have to wonder how the women who chose alternative-lifestyles managed in Lincoln back then.
How did they deal with inheritances, hospital visits, and the whole next-of-kin thing?
And more generally, how much of who they were did they have to keep secret?
Still, I don’t recall — even once — anyone making a face or a fuss over how someone else chose to live.
And this was a time before precedence, formal laws, ordinances or activists for equal rights having much of a voice.
It may simply have been a case of getting along with one another.
Through my eyes it was a matriarchal community, starting with my grandmother, then my mother and her strong, funny friends.
And might that be part of the answer?
When not goaded to separation by hateful media and cruel religious takes on right and wrong, could it be that people naturally accept one another?
Even act kindly?
Maybe as time has passed and Maine continues to elect centrist, independently-minded, female leaders, Lincoln’s ease with people just as they are continues to grow.