Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Undergoing that most dreaded of screening tests October 29, 2014

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Two of six photos of my colon given to me after the procedure.

Two of six photos of my colon given to me after the procedure.

SHE CALLED ME a Colon Virgin.

And, at eight years past fifty, I was and shouldn’t have been.

I had my first colonoscopy on Friday.

That title bestowed upon me by the nurse taking my health history prior to the colon cancer screening made me laugh. That was her intention along with praise for the young family doctor who made sure I didn’t leave the clinic after my annual physical in July without scheduling a colonoscopy. Smart doctor.

So there I was, 3 ½ months later, lying on my back in a hospital gown, thin sheet covering me, answering health questions and dreading the procedure that would begin within the hour.

I was assured that I would not be aware nor would I remember anything while under conscious sedation. I thought to myself, they don’t know me.

The two nurses continued prepping me– inserting an IV, wrapping a blood pressure cuff around my left arm, snapping a heart rate monitor on a right finger and then clipping tubes into my nose because “sometimes you forget to breathe.” Probably not the best thing to say to me.

I could feel my rapid heart rate, the tenseness that held my body. I didn’t want to be here. But, I reminded myself, I’d just endured a challenging cleansing process and I’d been through much worse than this medically. Why would I back out now?

So I tried to relax, told the two healthcare workers that I needed something to distract me. “That’s why we have music,” said the nurse with the sense of humor. For the first time, I heard the music as the two headed out the door to find the doctor.

I laid there for a really long time, or so it seemed, listening to the music, wishing it was the uplifting and prayerful Christian music I listen to daily on Twin Cities radio station KTIS. I willed my body and mind to relax and chuckled to myself when a singer crooned something about waking up when it’s done. Quite appropriate.

At the exact appointed time of 8:30, the surgeon entered the room. “I’m really cold,” I complained and was promptly layered in a heated blanket. Yes, I should have been more welcoming to this man who delivered my first daughter nearly 29 years ago by emergency Caesarean section. But at that moment on that morning, I was not particularly happy to see him again.

I told him I was nervous, made him promise that I wouldn’t remember anything. He reassured me. Last thing I remember was his request that I roll onto my left side and my wondering aloud where to comfortably place my blood pressure cuff wrapped left arm.

And that was it until I saw changing images of my colon on the computer screen.

Remember that part about not being aware or remembering? Despite my alertness, I was not anxious. The “happy juice” was still working its magic.

In the end, I made it through just fine. I survived the cleansing of my bowels, semi-fasting (liquid diet), lack of sleep and a resulting headache and lower back (kidney) pain and then the actual procedure.

The good doctor removed two non-cancerous polyps. And even though I remembered part of the colonoscopy, I wasn’t traumatized. In five years, I’ll be back because, you know, dealing with colon cancer would be a lot worse than having another colonoscopy.

#

COLONOSCOPIES HAVE BEEN IN THE NEWS this week as Cologuard, a new non-invasive procedure to screen for colon cancer, is now on the market. The screening involves submitting a stool sample, which is then analyzed using “advanced stool DNA technology to find DNA from abnormal cells and hemoglobin from red blood cells” according to information on the Cologuard website. The lining of the colon naturally sheds cells.

Early reviews on this screening method are mixed. That’s to be expected.

You can learn more about Cologuard by clicking here.

Whatever you decide, if you’re age 50 or older and/or have a family history of colon cancer, don’t just do nothing. Doing nothing could cost you your life. Take that from a former Colon Virgin.

Copyright 2014 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

 

 

 

 

Celebrating her granddaughter’s wedding September 8, 2014

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SHE WAS DETERMINED to attend her granddaughter’s wedding. And she did, one day shy of three weeks after suffering traumatic injuries in a fall.

Three of my mom's granddaughter's visit with her after the wedding.

Three of my mom’s granddaughter’s (including my daughter, middle) visit with her after the wedding.

She would be my 82-year-old mother.

About the only photo I managed during the ceremony, taken from my place in the pew.

About the only photo I managed during the ceremony, taken from my place in the pew.

Saturday afternoon Mom was among some 400 guests packing English Lutheran Church in Walnut Grove for the marriage of Carlyn and Jared.

The day marked a milestone for Mom, her first outing in three weeks except for the long ambulance ride from a southwestern Minnesota hospital to the trauma unit at North Memorial Medical Center in Robbinsdale and the car ride back to a nursing home five days later.

The reception was held at the community center in the bride and groom's hometown of Westbrook.

The reception was held at the community center in the bride and groom’s hometown of Westbrook.

Already while hospitalized, Mom set a goal to attend the wedding. Then she decided that she might like to go to the reception for awhile also. She accomplished both.

Guests shower Jared and Carlyn with birdseed as they leave the church.

Guests shower Jared and Carlyn with birdseed as they leave the church.

It is good to have goals when you are eighty-two, or any time really.

I laughed because my mom's nails were painted and I forgot to paint mine.

Nursing home staff painted Mom’s nails for the wedding.

I am thankful to the staff of Parkview Home in Belview for encouraging and working with my mom and even painting her nails for the wedding.

I am grateful, too, for a family that has been there for her every step of the way, encouraging, supporting, loving.

And for prayers. Yes, prayers.

Mom faces a long road toward full recovery. I understand that. But she has already come so far.

Yet, it is not easy to see the fading purple bruises, the oversized bump that still mars her forehead, the neck collar that locks her broken neck in place, her frailness…

There are times when sadness overwhelms me. But then I remind myself to be grateful. For every single day I have my mother.

© Copyright 2014 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

The challenges of aging & prayers answered August 22, 2014

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 11:38 AM
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Me with my mom in her Parkview Home room.

Me with my mom in late May.

AS THE DAUGHTER of an aging parent, it is the call you do not want to get—that your mother has fallen and is being transported 130 miles via ambulance to a metro area hospital.

That exact scenario played out earlier this week when my octogenarian mom fell in her assisted living room and suffered multiple severe injuries that landed her in a trauma unit.

It’s been a difficult week. Worrying. Waiting. More injuries added to the initial list. Questions. Tests. Rest, recovery, therapy.

So many emails, text messages and phone calls have been exchanged among siblings, other family members and friends that I’ve lost count. And prayers, lots of prayers, prayed this week.

In the end, Mom, who has faced many medical challenges throughout her years, rallied. Today she is back in the care facility where she moved earlier this spring. She is happy to be home. The staff in this rural small town facility welcomed her with open arms. I am grateful for their concern and care.

And I am thankful for answered prayers. I believe strongly in the power of prayer and the faithfulness of God. So many times this week, I found myself requesting prayers for my Mom and asking for God’s healing hand upon her. Those prayers continue now for her recovery.

I have not seen my mother; she did not want visitors. She realized her need to focus on rest and recovery. That was difficult, but for the best. However, I have seen photos of a woman who appears to have been on the losing end of a bar brawl. She claims to have been scrimmaging with the Minnesota Vikings. It’s good to laugh in the midst of challenges.

And my mom faces the challenges now of recovery, of ongoing physical therapy, of regaining her strength. Her goal is to attend her granddaughter’s wedding in a few weeks. I have no doubt she will achieve that goal. She is a strong woman.

FYI: The online news source, MinnPost, published an interesting story today in a late-in-life healthcare series. The piece focuses on options for those living in rural Minnesota. I’d suggest you read it by clicking here. With families today often living far apart, rural elderly face challenges unlike those of previous generations. I live about 125 miles from my mom.

© Copyright 2014 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Raising awareness of MS via snow art, plus an idea for Faribault March 11, 2014

IF KURT KLETT CAN CONVINCE city councilors, my community could host an annual snow carving competition in Central Park.

Faribault resident Kurt Klett and his latest snow sculpture, a leprechaun with a pot of gold.

Faribault resident Kurt Klett and his latest snow sculpture, a leprechaun with a pot of gold. Warm temps had partially melted the snow, fading the colors, when I photographed the art late Sunday morning.

That’s the plan, according to this 42-year-old Faribault resident who, for the past five winters, has created snow sculptures in his front yard and this year also entered the St. Paul Winter Carnival snow sculpting contest.

Photographed from Second Street.

Photographed from Second Street.

Given Klett’s enthusiasm and talent and the admiration of locals, his idea certainly could fly. I absolutely support his proposal as a way to bring visitors into Faribault, add a fun, diversionary aspect to an oftentimes long Minnesota winter and promote awareness of Multiple Sclerosis.

Entry fees for the proposed snow sculpting contest would go toward MS, says Klett, diagnosed with the disease of the central nervous system in 1999. The single father of three, ages 6 – 13, suffers from vision and other issues and is currently on disability. He once worked in construction and sales and now works at the Shattuck-St. Mary’s School hockey arena.

His body embraces cold temperatures, Klett says, so he needs to take care not to become overheated while sculpting.

Multiple rubber duckies not sit atop the giant duck graced with a heart and a colored bill.

Klett’s first sculpture of this winter, photographed in late February.

This winter he’s already crafted two snow sculptures in Faribault. The first, a duck, stood completed until two days of 40-degree temps caused the beak to partially fall off.

Klett showed me these photos he took of the two sculptures showing the especially vibrant colors before temps warmed.

Klett showed me these photos he took of the two sculptures with especially vibrant colors before temps warmed.

Undaunted, Klett and a neighbor then “sawed” the remainder of the beak off with a 10-foot chain so he could reshape the duck into a leprechaun holding a pot of gold.

As I’ve observed and as Klett notes, his sculptures are constantly changing, just like the effects of MS. His art, he says, is an ode to MS, a way to raise awareness of the disease.

FIGHT MS is barely visible now on the pot of gold after warm temps began melting the sculpture.

FIGHT MS is barely visible now on the pot of gold after warm temps began melting the sculpture.

FIGHT MS marks the front of the leprechaun’s pot of gold. Klett carved a bull for the St. Paul Winter Carnival snow sculpting contest, dubbing the bull as “Bully the MS Goalie.” Last year he created a stop sign with hockey sticks in his yard, honoring Minnesota Wild goalie Josh Harding who also has MS.

The leprechaun's pipe is crafted from a crowbar and a raisin container wrapped in hockey tape.

The leprechaun’s pipe is crafted from a crowbar and a raisin container wrapped in hockey tape. This sculpture reaches 12 feet to the top of the hat.

What he crafts from the snow gathered into a huge mound from his and sometimes a neighbor’s yards and even from the roof of his house at 417 Second St. N.W. “depends on what the pile looks like,” this sculptor says.

He’s previously also created a leprechaun on a shamrock, a komodo dragon surrounded by a skyscraper with two hearts, and a T-Rex. Sometimes his kids help choose the art.

This photo montage by Klett shows the process of creating the duck sculpture.

A photo montage by Klett of his 10-foot high duck sculpture.

The process of sculpting this year’s duck and leprechaun took him 14-16 hours each. Depending on the weather, the leprechaun may eventually evolve into a third sculpture. Already warm temps are eroding his leprechaun, fading the colors.

The artist shines a spotlight on his sculptures.

The artist shines a spotlight,left, on his sculptures.

His art draws admiring fans, so much that Klett shines a spotlight on his sculpture at night. As I photographed his leprechaun and chatted with the artist Sunday morning, an older couple stopped. The driver rolled down his car window. “That’s remarkable,” enthused the man. “It’s beautiful.”

I agree. Now imagine Central Park in Faribault graced next winter with such remarkable and beautiful snow art.

FYI: Kurt Klett has not yet approached the Faribault City Council with his request for a snow sculpture contest in Central Park. He is currently raising awareness and gathering support for this project.

© Copyright 2014 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Why I chose the open market over MNSure January 2, 2014

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 6:00 AM
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ONE OF MY GREATEST STRESSORS in 2013 involved health insurance. After hours of research, many phone calls, an in-person meeting with MNSure assisters, ongoing issues with the state’s health insurance exchange website, many attempts to complete an application, and some muttered choice words, tears and extreme frustration, I finally have a new insurance plan with a lower deductible, better benefits and a lower premium than my old plan.

MNSure website edited screen shot

An edited screen shot of the mnsure.org home page.

But it’s through the open market, not Minnesota’s online health insurance exchange.

That’s despite qualifying for $18 in monthly assistance, or so I’ve been notified online and in a letter I received on December 31, 2013, from MNSure.

No, thank you. I do not want the $216 annual subsidy to help pay my health insurance premium. It is not worth the uncertainty and stress and dealing with a government program. If the assistance was higher, I likely would accept the monies. But then again, maybe not.

So for now I’ve opted to purchase health insurance off the exchange for $441/month.

I’ve experienced too much uncertainty and confusion through the entire MNSure process from unclear application questions to frustrated assisters to a MNSure rep who phoned to tell me I had to resubmit my app because, “due to technical errors, calculations were incorrect.” Initially I was told I didn’t qualify for any government aid.

How could I believe anything I was told or read or mailed? My trust and confidence in the process have been nearly non-existent.

Sunday morning, after church, my husband and I sat down at the dining room table and examined off-exchange policies from two companies. I needed to choose a new plan because I could no longer afford my grandfathered-in $3,000 deductible individual policy. The premium on that plan increased $108, to $562/month, on January 1, 2014, with no change in benefits, including no free preventative care.

To be honest, my insurer ticked me off with the $108/month premium increase, sending me a bill for $1,627 (which I paid) and then billing me for an additional $300 shortly thereafter to continue my coverage until April 1. I won’t get into details, but suffice to say I was not happy. The additional $300 payment issue was finally resolved to my satisfaction, but still left me angry that I even had to deal with this situation in the first place.

I am now with a new company, and therein lies the single most positive change for me through the Affordable Care Act. Prior to this, due to a pre-existing condition, I was stuck with my existing health plan. Now I cannot be denied coverage because of that existing health issue and I have “free” preventative care.

If only health insurance premiums would decrease, I’d be even more pleased. My family forks out $926/month for health insurance premiums for three of us. And, in my opinion, that isn’t exactly affordable.

© Copyright 2014 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Beyond frustrated with MNSure December 19, 2013

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 6:00 AM
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I REALLY DIDN’T THINK I would be personally impacted by all of the problems plaguing MNSure, Minnesota’s online health insurance exchange. But, oh, how wrong I was about that.

First, a little background: Since completing a MNSure application on November 25, I’ve been waiting to see if I qualify for a subsidy. I got a response in 2 ½ weeks, which is a positive. I expected the process would take longer. I’d delayed applying in hopes that the bugs would be worked out of the system.

Friday I learned that I don’t qualify for assistance, although trained assisters guiding me through the application process said I should qualify based on income guidelines.

The MNSure mailing stated that I would receive a second mailing explaining why I do not qualify. That’s efficiency.

Then, on Monday, a MNSure rep called. Due to “technical errors, calculations were incorrect” and I may, indeed, qualify for assistance or a credit, she said. Good news for me, I thought.

But then she dropped the bombshell: I would need to resubmit my application.

Are you kidding? According to one news report, I am among about 1,000 Minnesotans who will need to resubmit.

She assured me, “It’s not your fault.” The rep sounded sincerely apologetic, extremely stressed and deeply frustrated.

A screen shot of the MNsure website.

A screen shot of the MNsure website.

Her frustration did not match mine when I later went onto the MNSure website to once again begin the long, tedious process of completing my application. The first time I worked with a trained assister for 1 1/2 hours to complete the app.

Not to my great surprise, I got this message: “the mnsure system experienced an unexpected exception and cannot fulfill your request (500 http error).”

OK, then. This is the same message I’d gotten many times previously while on the website. And, yes, I am using one of the recommended browsers.

I tried again later and was able to begin working on my application. As I plowed through the questions, unsure how to respond to some (because even the MNSure rep was wishy washy when I asked for clarification), I reached a point where I needed info from my husband’s employer. So I decided to save my app and resume work the next day. Major mistake. The information I’d worked an hour to input, and then saved, simply vanished. Yup. Not there.

I phoned the MNSure rep who’d called me earlier and this time I told her I was p__d. It is not a word I use often.

Her frustration nearly matched mine.  “I don’t know how people have stuck with it this long,” she said, along with a few other things I won’t share.

Well, for now, I’m not sticking with it. I’ve already invested hours and hours of my time working on the app and gathering and reading info on the health insurance options available to me. I have no clue what to do. I’m stressed to the max by this process and do not want to think about it anymore until after Christmas.

So I’ve paid my $1,627 premium for 2 1/2 months of coverage under my existing grandfathered-in $3,000 deductible individual health insurance plan until I figure out this mess.

My premium increased $108 from $454/month to $562/month with no change in benefits, including no free preventative coverage.

I attribute the major increase in my health insurance premium to the Affordable Care Act. Yet, I was one of the lucky ones. My plan wasn’t dropped like that of others with individual policies. But I am being forced out of my policy because I can no longer afford the premium.

Despite all of this, the Affordable Care Act brings one positive for me personally. Up until now, because of a pre-existing condition, I was stuck with my existing health insurance plan. Now I can shop. But I don’t like shopping, especially for insurance.

© Copyright 2013 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Giving bikes to kids November 13, 2013

Me, riding Sky Blue at age 10 on the farm where I grew up in southwestern Minnesota.

Me, riding Sky Blue at age 10 on the Redwood County farm where I grew up in southwestern Minnesota. Photo taken in 1966.

LOOKING BACK ON MY CHILDHOOD, I cannot imagine life without a bicycle. My bike was my imaginary horse, my daredevil stunt car launched off makeshift ramps, my mode of transportation down county and township roads.

If not for my maternal grandfather, though, I never would have owned a bike. My parents could not afford bikes for their kids. So Grandpa would scavenge the local dump for bikes he could repair, repaint and deliver to me and my five siblings.

It mattered not that my bike, which I named Sky Blue, wasn’t new. I owned a bike. I was a happy kid.

That childhood memory bubbled to the surface Monday morning when Dee Bjork at The Crafty Maven in downtown Faribault handed me a flier about the Free Bikes 4 Kidz program. I wanted, no, needed, to learn more about this partnered local give-away by So How Are the Children and Allina Health (presenting sponsor for the non-profit Free Bikes 4 Kidz). So I phoned SHAC Director Carolyn Treadway.

The give-away “targets kids whose families couldn’t otherwise afford bikes,” says Treadway. Kids just like me and my siblings decades ago.

As Treadway and I concur, a child’s desire to own a bike is universal, transcending time.

On December 7, Treadway expects SHAC and Allina to give away 65 – 75 bikes to pre-registered Faribault youth. She’s actively searched for kids—handing out fliers to teachers, drawing on her connections through SHAC and dropping in at places like St. Vincent de Paul, a childcare center and a laundromat to find families needing bikes. She’s currently placing names on a waiting list.

Kids from Northfield and Steele County will also get new or gently-used and refurbished bikes at the Faribault Middle School pick-up site. All told, Treadway anticipates 150-175 bicycles to be distributed along with new bike helmets, compliments of Allina Health.

Among those expected to show up are an east-side Faribault woman who will claim seven bikes, Treadway says. The bicycles are for her neighbor children whose father, in a state of inebriation, destroyed their bikes. The woman will store the bikes in her garage until spring.

Treadway enthuses about such a neighborly caring spirit and about the volunteers who repair the used bikes and assist with the give-away. She’s also grateful for those who donate bikes, some of which were collected at the Faribault Bike Rodeo in October. Allina Health coordinates numerous collections of bikes to be distributed in Minnesota and western Wisconsin.

Another local recipient is a Faribault father who signed his 12-year-old and 14-year-old up for Free Bikes 4 Kidz. When the dad asked if he could also get a bike for his 18-year-old, Treadway assured him he could. The older teen attends the Faribault Area Learning Center and a bike will enable him to stay in school because he will now have a way to get there.

Stories like that truly show the humanity of this program aimed at getting bikes to kids so they will have, as Treadway says, “access to safe and healthy physical activity.” Or, in the case of the 18-year-old, access to education.

The program also builds connections and a sense of community care.

Yet, the bare bones basics benefit of Free Bikes 4 Kidz is to get bikes into the hands of children who otherwise would not have a bike of their own. The program has grown significantly in Faribault, where only a dozen free bikes were distributed two years ago.

“Owning a bike,” Treadway says, “is very near and dear to a child’s heart.”

It is the universal childhood desire which transcends time. Just ask me. I’ve never forgotten Sky Blue or the grandpa who scavenged the dump so I could have a bike.

 A bike pulled from my garage.

A bike pulled from my garage and photographed. I then edited the image to illustrate this story.

FYI: To learn more about the non-profit Free Bikes for Kidz, click here.

For more information on Allina Health’s partnership in the program, click here.

To learn more about So How Are the Children, click here.

© Copyright 2013 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

 
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