Category - Daniel Regan

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Hip Hip Hooray
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What Is Your New Years Resolution?
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Learning Through Arthritis

Hip Hip Hooray

By: Dan Regan

The other day, Presidents’ Day to be precise, I had my hip replaced. Years of playing squash, a fast-moving and otherwise healthful racquet sport, had worn away the cartilage on one hip and had ground the joint down to nothing. The surgeon’s highly technical (sic.) diagnosis was that it was “beyond broken.”

Leading up to this common but still major surgery, I found myself with three overwhelming concerns: (1) my toenails; (2) a slight irritation at waist level, dry skin from Vermont’s cold winters exacerbated by a styrofoam flotation belt worn for exercise in a pool; and especially (3) whether home health, after the operation, would look askance at our small house, and at the clutter and occasional mess created by its three dogs and three cats. Anyone who has given birth may already be scoffing at these concerns. Whether they are merely peculiar, fairly usual, or an abject denial of what was to come, I am not sure.

importance of preventative care

I do know for sure that, soon to turn 73, I am extraordinarily fortunate. This was the first time I had ever been an in-patient at a hospital. By contrast, in a single year—2016 for instance—7% of the total US population experienced a hospital stay of at least one night duration. That’s over 35 million inpatient stays in one year.

These Americans—readers of this blog among them—are a hardy bunch. My hospital of choice (Copley) provided an exceptional quality of highly personalized care during my recent stay. The entire staff was just terrific.

Nevertheless, no matter how wonderful the ministrations of a healthcare team, a hospital is a humbling place. That’s because a hospital is an example of a « total institution »—that is, a place of work and residence where a large number of people are cut off from the wider community for a considerable time. Their new community has its own rhythm, rules, and procedures. For the healing and recovery process to play out properly, hospital patients must skillfully play their important roles; above all, they must make an effort to get better.

Of course, the promise of eventual recovery makes it all well worth it, but hospitalization is nevertheless far from easy: frequent patients have to be mighty tough. For one thing, a slight pall of anxiety overlays everything. Patient instructions, for instance, even for a planned-in-advance procedure such as mine, can end up seeming more complicated than assembling furniture from IKEA. Amidst the swirl of prescriptions, instructions, do’s and don’ts, it’s hard not to feel at least a little dense.

To be sure, lots of valuable lessons are learned in the process, including humility, gratitude and our common humanity. But they come at a price: a temporary loss of privacy, nakedness and exposure, the surgical assault upon one’s body, as well as a forced immersion into the private travails of strangers who are all too close.

No one looks forward to feeling these ways. Their antidote would seem to be minimizing hospitalizations. Accomplishing that will require, on the part of many of us, a greater focus on wellness. And even then, some hospital stays are the product of bad luck or non-preventable circumstances beyond our control. Certain microorganisms, genetic legacies, environmental factors or accidents can land us on our backs.

But there remain many hospital stays that result from individual lifestyle choices. My hope is that, to minimize the chances of being hospitalized, readers will take whatever steps they can toward their own wellness. Recent posts on this blog, for instance by Caleb Magoon and Michele Whitmore, provide some great and practical suggestions. Future posts will provide more, so stay tuned.  

In addition, wouldn’t it be great if insurance providers increased their support for wellness? In Germany, for instance, certain blood pressure readings would yield an Rx for hydrotherapy and spa treatments. Try charging your insurer for those! Nor is there generally insurer support for membership in a gym or fitness center, despite the consensus among healthcare providers that more exercise would be beneficial for most people. Acupuncture, in spite of its lineage that dates back thousands of years, is rarely supported. Even therapeutic massage, the benefits of which are widely recognized, is not generally covered.

A greater investment in preventive and wellness measures would save a great deal of money now expended on curative, after-the-fact treatments. So I urge readers to take whatever steps they can, hopefully with—but even without—the support of their insurers. The hospital, even a great one, should be a last resort.


Dan Regan, a sociologist, is the former dean of academic affairs at Johnson State College and continues to work part-time for Northern Vermont University. He writes for a variety of publications about whatever interests him, including—recently—climate change, living with arthritis, the NFL players’ protests, and higher education.

What Is Your New Years Resolution?

A new year has arrived, presenting the perfect opportunity to reflect on the past and reset. Even if you’re not in need of a completely fresh start, everyone can benefit from embracing a more positive frame of mind and a few new wellness goals.

We asked Live Well Lamoille bloggers to share the healthy habits they hope to embrace this year. Here is what they said:

Valerie Valcour, Vermont Department of Health: A renewed focus for me in 2019 is work-life balance. The first step will be to incorporate 10 minutes of meditation into each day. The best time will be the transition between work and home each afternoon and mornings on the weekend. A book with 52 meditative focus areas will be my weekly topic guide. I wish you all the best in accomplishing your goals for 2019.

Caleb Magoon, Power Play Sports: A couple of years ago, I was a bit down in the dumps following a very tough year. In an effort to focus on all the positive things I had going in life, I resolved at the New Year to write a bit about those positive aspects of my life. Rather than a traditional journal chronicling all life events, I decided instead to simply write about positive events, moments of beauty I saw daily, or uplifting interactions with people around me. My goal was to write nearly every day, which I did, albeit not for the whole year.

Though my effort was short-lived, it was not without a positive effect. I found that by focusing on the positive rather than complaining about the many negative things (because that is just too easy), had a profound effect on my outlook.

This year, I plan to do something similar. I have some new and slightly more realistic expectations. I’m quite certain that by taking just a few minutes each week to celebrate the positive things in my life, I will see an improved outlook. Deep in the Vermont winter, many of us struggle to keep a positive attitude. Small exercises like this that take little time can do big things for your mental health.

Dan Regan, Northern Vermont University-Johnson: In 2019 I resolve to continue two strategies, which I’ve begun. The first is: Allot extra time for all tasks and commitments. My mom gave me this advice, and she lived past 95. It means leaving early to pick someone up, arriving beforehand for an appointment or meeting, planning on extra time to cook dinner, complete a report, etc. I’m someone who acutely feels the pressure of an upcoming commitment. For me, and maybe others among you, a more unhurried approach reduces stress, helps control blood pressure and contributes to overall health.

In my seventies, time is obviously precious; but I can’t honestly claim that each second is equally indispensable. So I don’t begrudge waiting and “wasting” some of those seconds. Paradoxically, the willingness to waste some time unapologetically has made my “productive” moments feel—well—more productive and meaningful.

The second resolution is: Minimize multitasking. That means, for starters, no peering at screens while I’m exercising or checking phones when I’m actually watching something. I find the more I commit to uni-tasking, the more I get done. I’m better able to focus on the task at hand. And an unforeseen benefit is that, without distraction, my mind is free to move in unexpected and sometimes productive directions. For instance, I “wrote” this short piece in my head while running in a pool.

I hope I can make good on these two, simple commitments and I wish everyone a good (better) and healthy 2019!

What are your health and wellness resolutions? Maybe you’d like to start meal planning, start walking for 20 minutes per day, or just want to stop overscheduling your calendar to cut down on stress. How do you plan to stick to them? Let us know in the comments section below.

Learning Through Arthritis

By: Daniel Regan

arthritis_tips_Live Well Lamoille

At 72 most of my squash-playing days are behind me. Although I took up the game, a fast-moving racquet sport, too late in life, there was plenty of time, apparently, to pound on my joints. Soccer, before squash, had taken its toll too. Arthritic changes started showing up at least ten years ago on my ankle. In 2016, osteoarthritis of my left hip was bad enough for me to walk away from a consultation carrying a binder entitled “Preparing for Your Hip Replacement.”

I returned it to the clinic two months later. In the meantime, I had decided to try physical therapy combined with modest amounts of over-the-counter medication. Today, more than two years later, I have “graduated” to a prescription medication, but continue to work out one to two hours almost daily. Luckily, my current schedule allows that. I check in with a superb PT, who is an acute observer and listener, every three or four months for a “tune up.” Although others will choose differently, my road to an eventual joint replacement will be as gradual as she–and I–can make it.

No one chooses arthritis, although worse afflictions can be imagined. More than 54 million Americans, plenty of whom live in Vermont, live with doctor-diagnosed arthritis. Of those, more than 30 million have osteoarthritis, the most common form of disability in adults. If arthritis sufferers conveyed what they’ve learned from their experiences, the pooled knowledge would constitute a valuable life studies curriculum.

Here are some of the life lessons I think I’ve learned from living with arthritis:

  1. Revel in a good day, do what you can to endure a worse one; but try not to read too much into either. Unless one is extraordinarily lucky, or unlucky, the day-by-day trajectory is neither clearly up nor down. I don’t need a weather app, for instance, to provide painful confirmation that the barometric pressure is falling; but tomorrow the skies may clear. An overall trajectory may well exist, but each particular day need not reflect it.
  1. Appreciate the small pleasures of life. I take real pleasure in walking even short distances with something like the stride I remember. There are analogues in every sphere of life.
  1. Learn to accept assistance, but try to gauge what you really need. I use a sock aid, but only for the foot I struggle to reach, and am considering using a single hiking pole for longer walks. For life in general as for arthritis, it’s important to accept necessary assistance; but it’s also worth remembering that the Beatles sang about “a LITTLE help from my friends.” It’s a good idea, to the extent possible, to push yourself.
  1. Move! When life is less than stellar, passivity and inaction are apt to take over. Long-term, this is exactly the wrong response to life as to arthritis. On the other hand, although I try to move through the initial pain in anticipation of relief, if it’s too much and I need an easier day, I take it—without second guessing myself.
  1. Relax. Time is especially precious, compared to when I was 20; but no particular moment is indispensable, really. In particular, not every second must be used productively. Waste some time, shamelessly, allot extra time for tasks; and minimize multitasking, unless you really, really like having the news on all the time. Arthritis and life require a dual sense of time–as both precious and dispensable–and the ability to move back and forth between them.
  1. Seize any opportunity to examine what is at the core of your identity. I had to ask—am still asking—myself to what extent my sense of self is wrapped up in moving as I had before. More generally, what makes you you? And without a particular attribute or capacity, how could you reinvent yourself? That act of remaking oneself is also an exercise in humility.

It is also an exercise in empathy. Overall, living with arthritis has heightened my empathy for those—the many people–who move as gracefully as they can through life with pain either external or internal.