Call Me Franz

 

(Kur Report – Part 10 + “The End”)

 

My third week at the health resort went by so fast that I couldn’t really keep up with these reports. I left yesterday with quite different feelings than after my first two weeks. But let’s start with what was similar.

In my free time, I repeated some of the activities from my earlier visit – except this time it was summer, so the views were quite altered. First, I walked along the river to the Soldiers’ Cemetery again. With the gravestones no longer nearly buried in snow, the feeling was less poignant. On the other hand, I was struck by the dates on so many of them which I could now read – April or May 1945 – in other words, the very bitter end of the war here in Austria. I might do some research on that mystery . . .

 

My second re-visit was to the waterfall that runs straight through the town, basically slicing it into two halves. This time there was a lot more of it. I also discovered a little secret door into the rockface next to the rushing water. Another mystery to solve:

My other re-visits were to the various therapy stations. I found myself back in the Radon bath rooms and the mud pack rooms, but, alas, there were no reunions with Ötzi, Spandex Butt, or Lederhosen Butt. There was one Goretex Upper Thigh, but that was about it. While revisiting the swimming pool, there were no meetings at all – I had the whole place to myself.

 

The biggest change came in the fitness center room. As I inserted my chip card into the first machine, I was surprised at the weight level it instructed me to set – it was about three stages higher than what I had been doing the first time around. I strained and huffed and puffed through the first few machines, not really considering that something might be off. The computer told me what to do and I just assumed it had its reasons. By Machine 6, I started to feel some guilt about being in such bad condition. At Machine 9, when I almost pulled my shoulder out of the socket (twice!), I finally realized something couldn’t be right. I called the trainer over and told her I thought the settings were all too high. She took my card and put it in the central computer. She then came back and asked if I might have switched with another patient, because this card was registered to Mr. Franz Habenmuskel (or something like that). Of course, by then it was too late to undo the damage.

On my second trip to fitness room, my card had stopped working all together and couldn’t be reprogrammed. So, I just did the machines on their default program – settings suitable for the average 30-year-old man. I cheated a lot when it came to setting the weights.

Of course, I paid for these mistakes in stiffness and aching muscles which are still around now two days after my departure. Last time I came home feeling stronger, pain-free, motivated and almost like a different person. That’s sort of true again, except for the “stronger, pain-free, and motivated” parts. This time, I came home feeling like Franz.

 

 

Mansplainers

(Kur Report – Part 9)

 

Except for sporadic traveling sisterhoods (i.e. small groups of housewives who use the health care system to arrange biannual free vacations together), we cure guests all come here alone. That means part of the experience includes finding new temporary friends. Last time I was lucky to meet a lovely woman to take walks with as well as the boisterous, multi-cultural, and interesting crowd who gathered in the smoking hut on the terrace. This time the pickings were slimmer and more homogeneous.

I remember learning in a high school Psychology class (at that time, to my amazement) that the number one determining factor in the formation of friendships is proximity. The girl who lives across the street or sits next to you in homeroom is more likely to become your friend than a less accessible girl who shares all your opinions and interests. It’s the same thing here.

On arrival, I gravitated toward the terrace and immediately met two perfectly pleasant Austrian women. The next few times I came they were in the company of three or four middle-aged+ men who all talked loudly, a mile a minute, and often at the same time. The few times the women said anything, the men took up the topic and shared their vast knowledge, often repeating what the woman had just said as if it were their own original idea. My visits to their table were mostly brief and taciturn.

Last night, I actually sat down and stayed for a while. For an hour I was instructed on a whole variety of subjects – from the secrets of growing balcony flowers to Austrian property rights, from corona virus to bartending, from various Austrian B-celebrities to the “refugee problem”, from the probable causes of to the cures for my bursitis attacks . . . With my irritation factor rising steadily, one of them began informing me about the best way to learn English. I briefly considered mentioning that he was now entering my area of expertise.

Clearly, however, my voice was too thin to be audible to them. I needed some assistance from a more powerful one.

I waited for an opening. It came along fairly quickly when someone mentioned music. They were trying to remember the name of the man who sang “What a Wonderful World” and I just happened to a have a video of my daughter singing that very song on my cell phone. I pushed “Play” and handed the cell to one of them saying “That’s my daughter.” They slowly passed it around.

The mansplaining ended abruptly. For the next half hour, we talked about music and international adoption and racism. They looked me in the eyes and asked me a  lot of questions. They listened to the answers. Two of them shared stories about non-white members of their own extended families.  They became people and the conversation became a nice one.

Thanks, Mitzi.

The Masque of the Orange Death

(Kur Report – Part 8)

 

My brother’s nickname for Austria is “Clean World”. It’s his way of contrasting what he hears from me about the Covid and political situations here to what he is experiencing in the States. Well, if my home is in Clean World, where I am right now is . . . I don’t know . . . Prospero’s Castle?

As announced in my last posts, I left for my third cure week at the health resort on Wednesday at the crack of dawn. After about 4 hours of travel, I arrived, got my room key and was instructed to isolate there. Twenty minutes later, someone from the Red Cross came to my room and stuck a Q-Tip up my nose. An hour after that, someone bought me a plate of food. Five hours after that, my phone rang. My test was negative. I could leave my room. My cure week had begun.

This place is almost hermetically sealed. Everyone here has been tested, some of them more than once (if they are employees or patients who come from hotspot areas). No one else is allowed in and we have strict rules to follow if we go out. We get our temperatures checked daily before lunch. We have to wear masks outside of our rooms and sanitize our hands when entering and leaving any of the seven therapy areas. Everything imaginable is being done to keep the plague out of this place.

So, I guess it is no wonder that Edgar Allen Poe and his “Masque of the Red Death” keeps infiltrating my thoughts. What are we, if not a bunch of oblivious and merry guests concentrating only on having a pleasant time while a sickness rages outside our doors? Like the rest of the guests here, I considered tuning out the world for a week. But, unfortunately, the CNN breaking news on my TV and my list of political podcasts keep me informed about events outside, and I can’t seem to let them go. Twump’s clearly deteriorating mental state and increasingly demented actions have enabled him to sneak into this Castle of Clean World like an uninvited guest to wreak the same mental havoc here. But, of course, only for me. The rest of the people around me seem to be quite happy and fully enjoying the temporary good life.

I had free time yesterday and spent it in my room watching part of John Lewis’s funeral, including Obama’s powerful eulogy which really moved me. Afterwards, on the way down to the café terrace, I was deeply into thoughts about all the things he had said. Slowly, they got drowned out by the conversation of a group at a nearby table. It was the shallow talk of virtual strangers socializing out of necessity – complaints about the Covid restrictions and tips on how to get around them, a lengthy discussion about whether or not Hansi Hinterseer (an Austrian skier-turned-B-Grade-folk-singer) was gay, a mock feud between an Upper and a Lower Austrian, a debate about which receptionist is the rudest . . . It all struck me as so banal and meaningless. John Lewis is dead! Americans are dying and our democracy is on life support!! The “leader” is insane!

Which brings me back to Poe and another one of his stories. I remember some college professor telling us how Sigmund Freud was a Poe fan and that especially “The Fall of the House of Usher” was inspirational to him. It helped him to develop the theory of the subconscious. The upper floors house conscious, rational minds dealing – however feebly – with the world as it is. The crazy is buried in the basement – a place full of fear, obsession, and the irrationality of animalistic drives. Depending on how you see it, the protagonist either descends into madness or the crazy he tries to keep down resurfaces to destroy him. The whole house collapses in on itself.

Twump dwells in the basement of his mind. Years ago, I decided that he wakes up each morning with one thought in his head: “What dickish thing can I do today?” That has remained true up to and including today. It will be true tomorrow. It will be true on November 4th and on January 20th.

But! she says, with a budding, ever-so-slight sense of hope and change, Americans do seem to be waking up. Where locked doors fail to keep the orange menace from crashing the party and bringing the house down, the locked hands of various resisters just might: young BLM protesters shielded by a wall of moms, protected by leaf-blower dads, guarded by vets. Backing them up are the whistle-blowers, the Bulwark and Lincoln Project, the Squad, the leakers, the media monitors, the experts, the front-line doctors and nurses, the podcasters, the artists, the postal workers, the vote protectors, the voters . . .

Together they may finally pull off the orange one’s masque, revealing for once and for all that underneath, there is absolutely nothing.

 

Things Change

 

There have been some developments in the things I related in previous posts, so I want to update them in a somewhat rambling and random way, starting with:

Remasking

After a lot of speculation and delays, the government here has gone ahead and reinstated the national mask wearing order for stores, banks and post offices. Despite the starting date being set for today (Friday), many people began earlier – as in right away after the announcement, including us. Two days ago, we spent almost 3 hours in IKEA getting our daughters furnishings for their apartment. It was the longest time I have ever spent in a mask. I found it surprisingly suffocating. Then it occurred to me that long before Covid, just being in an IKEA with its massive crowds always made me feel that way, mask or no mask. Anyway, we don’t know the true reason behind or the end date of the current policy, but the general opinion among friends is that the government decided it was necessary to remind the population about how we should be behaving. With things opening up, we had gotten too relaxed about social distancing, etc.

 

Cure Continuation – With Conditions!

Speaking of opening up, the health center I went to for my cure can now start taking patients again. I just got the dates for my third cure week which was cancelled during the lockdown – it begins next Wednesday already. When the confirmation came, there were three extra forms attached about all the Covid restrictions and regulations. I had to sign them (i.e. basically swear to follow the rules) and send them back. I have to arrive there by 10:00 am on the first day in a mask, get a Covid test, and then self-isolate in my room for the rest of the day till the results come in (usually early evening the same day, they say). Masks are to be worn indoors at all times. I am not allowed to go to any other restaurants or cafes in the town. I can’t socialize with anyone who does not live in my household – so that means everyone – and I can’t have visitors. The list of rules goes on and on . . .

It is hard to imagine that this week will be as therapeutic as the first two were. On the other hand, I have been saying that I don’t know a single person who has been tested and now, in just five more days, I will know one person. (I hope they aren’t still sticking swabs way up noses.) I imagine y’all will be hearing my thoughts as I sit in my room alone waiting for the results. It’s a good thing, too, that this will not be the only travels of the summer.

 

Staycation

The onset of summer vacation was delayed this year as the first week included three somewhat obligatory social gatherings with my coworkers during which all the tensions and melodrama and plot twists of the school year were rehashed ad nauseum. So, instead of the usual end-of-the-year, 1-day system crash (traditionally spent on the couch in the company of a box of aspirin, a pukey bowl and the remote control), I went through a prolonged sort of joyless malaise with no travel plans and no energy to come up with ideas about how to fill the seven weeks stretching out ahead of me. I finally booted myself out of it a few days ago, starting with a call to the health center to schedule my cure week. That quickly led to plans to follow it with a visit to my aunt and uncle in Tyrol. After that, there will only be a week at home before taking off for our annual hiking trip in Carinthia. Then there will be just one more week at home before . . . no . . . it can’t be . . . don’t want to even think about it . . . Something seems wrong about the math here. Within a day, the summer went from being a long empty expanse to being all filled up with plans. I’m confused.

 

Clutter Box

I guess it is a good thing I didn’t plan any major projects for the summer. Instead, I dove into one of those little things that has been on the back of my mind for months. Everywhere you look in my house – on every shelf or piece of furniture or windowsill or counter space – there is . . . stuff. A small proportion of the . . . stuff . . . is actually put there for decoration. The vast majority, however, is supposed to be somewhere else, but just got left there by someone in this household. Every so often, I go on a decluttering rampage and begin sweeping all these surfaces clean, sorting all the stuff, returning some of it to where it belongs, throwing some of it away and finding new places to store the rest.

When I am done, there is always about a handful of undefinable things left over. I can’t throw them away. They look like they could be part of something, but who knows what? I imagine some future time when the husband asks me “Have you seen the gizmo for my gadget? It’s a small curvy piece of black plastic with some holes in it and a doohickey on it?” And I, having tossed it out, would have to avoid eye contact while saying, “I have no idea whatsoever what you are talking about! Never in my life have a seen anything remotely like what you are describing!”

So, instead, I throw these thingamajigs in the “Clutter Box”, just in case. I tell myself that one day I will make a piece of modern sculpture out of it all. I will title the finished product “Bob” (and then keep it in a plastic box in the basement storage room).

 

While doing the above, I also managed to somehow declutter my mind. I got rid of or stored away all the little pieces left there by other people during this crazy year. I cleared a path out of malaise and into the enjoyment of summer.

 

Hope for the Future

Not only is the future looking brighter now, it is looking brighter orange! On a whim, I checked my junk food website and was delighted to see my favorite thing in the world is back in stock and ready to be delivered. I pounced. With any luck, they will arrive before I leave for my cure. In the case that all the Covid regulations ruin the week, it would be nice to have a back-up therapy at hand.

 

 

Aaaahh, Silence. (Sigh.)

 

Saturday was the first day of Easter vacation, and the school having been closed for three weeks already, I wasn’t expecting it to feel any different. But then something miraculous happened. My cell phone went quiet. Instead of the now usual 150 emails/text messages/calls per day, there were only 2 or 3 of each. By mid-morning I was inspecting my cell to make sure it was still working. Soon thereafter, I realized that this was the way things would normally be during a vacation. The silence became energizing. It occurred to me I could finally get started on one of my Corona Break projects and I went right out and picked the biggest one.

I’d been wanting to deep clean and reorganize the kitchen for months. With so much time on my hands, I could set about it in a slow, methodical and scientific way. I would start by making a survey of the contents of all the cabinets and rank them according to the frequency with which I used them. I would then score the various cabinets based on certain criteria (visibility of contents, easily reached, requires bending over or crouching, requires stretching or standing on a chair). I would then use these results to re-allocate the contents to the most appropriate and efficient storage space.

Of course, certain contents barely register on the frequency of use scale, and these would be moved out of the kitchen entirely to one of three alternate storage sites – in order of their distance from the kitchen (from closest to farthest) these were: the hall cabinet, the basement storeroom, or the garbage cans. I would use mathematical calculations and expiration dates to determine which alternate location was best suited for each item, with the kitchen-to-storage-space distance standing in inverse proportion to its chances of being needed.

The one hitch to this plan was the state of the basement storeroom which could only be described as a disaster zone. It would have to be ordered and cleaned first. And to make room for more kitchen stuff, some of its contents would have to be moved to the shelves in the even filthier heating oil tank room. To make these decisions I would have to consider such factors as material, sensitivity to humidity and frigid temperatures, flammability, and value. (That last one was added because this room represents the easiest way to break into our locked house. We haven’t done anything about it because my husband forgets his keys a lot.) While deciding, I would also have to take into consideration all the crap that we had “temporarily” stowed in the wine cellar and the basement hallway nine months ago . . .

So, this was going to be a huge project. I figured it would take me about a week to accomplish.

Here was the state of things by the end of Day One:

 

 

Loose Ends

(Kur Report – Part Seven)

 

One of my goals in these cure reports is to give especially my American friends and readers a sense of what Austria’s health care system offers to it citizens. I have found discussions about health care (and the horrors of socialized medicine) in the States mind-boggling. I can’t help feeling that if Americans knew better, they would demand better. Much better.

So, in that spirit, I want to give a full picture of what these two weeks included. (Keep in mind, that there will be one more week in April. I am only at the 2/3rds mark.) I left off at the end of Week One. Here is Week Two.

 

Day 8 (Monday): This was an easy day with only three sessions. After another round of individual physical therapy, I found myself back in the mud pack station. Luckily, I was in a different compartment and didn’t have to stare at Lederhosen and Spandex Butts. This time it was Ski Pants Knees and Climber Calves, (both with just the tiniest bit of butt).

In the afternoon there was more spinal gymnastics and I was done for the day by 2:00 pm. In the evening I signed up for an extra yoga class – which was a great workout – very little lying around, breathing and listening to the choir of gurgling stomachs while trying desperately to relax.

 

Day 9: The morning included more electro-therapy on my shoulders, a Radon bath and then a talk on mental health which dealt mostly with stress. The last one was slightly irritating because the loudest and most confidant participants kept trying to shift the conversation toward whatever their own particular problems were. I spent most of the time wondering if there were really such a thing as “positive stress”.

After lunch and another session of endurance training, I took another walk to Böckstein with a friend and this time we went to the soldier’s cemetery there. For such a small place, there were so many gravestones of young men, all dying around 1943 or 1944, i.e. at the very end of that senseless war. Cemeteries can be very poignant places.

 

Day 10 included endurance training, an ultrasound treatment, and spinal gymnastics, to which I added an evening course in Feldenkrais. This was the first day I felt tired – sort of a low point. In the evening I shared a glass of wine with my walking friend, who left the following day.

 

Day 11: My schedule was filled from 8:00 am to 16:30 pm to make up for all the free time I had had on previous days. I had my second doctor’s check-up, grew another 0.3 cm, did underwater gymnastics, and partook in some excruciating relaxation therapy (“Close your eyes. Feel your left big toe  . . . . . . . now move to your second toe . . . . . . .” It took us a half hour to think through only the left leg. Longest hour of my life.) After that was an Exercise Motivation lecture followed by an hour of Nordic Walking. I went into that last one with a prejudiced mind but ended up having fun. In the evening, I finally finished my “Kur Report – Part Six” which was three days in the making.

 

Day 12 started somewhat brutally with weight training and endurance training all before 9:00 am. Then came a quick Radon bath and I was done before noon. Good thing, too, because I then hopped on a train to Bischofshofen to meet my bff, Ly. We mostly walked around for three hours and ended up seeing ALL the sights that town has to offer.

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And that brings me to today. Day 13. An hour of weight and endurance training in the morning and a quick electro-therapy . . . and . . . that was it!

Soon I will be packing and checking out. Returning cards and keys and towels, etc. Maybe a last walk through the village. A selfie with my table-mates. I can’t leave until tomorrow for technical, insurance-related reasons – I am officially on sick leave and legally required to stay here till I’m not.

So, I’m done. For now, anyway. As an extra souvenir (along with my little pink pig), I bought a badge for my hiking stick. Normally you have to climb up mountainsides and reach lodges to earn them, but there are exceptions – like the Vienna badge my sister-in-law bought me after I rode the Riesenrad (giant ferris wheel) in a state of terror. That was a sort of big deal for me. I may not have vanquished a mountain while I was here, but I do feel a sense of achievement. In terms of my state of health, these two weeks have been an upward climb to a nicer place with a better view.

 

 

Cure Cliques

(Kur Report – Part Six)

 

Before submitting my application for this cure, my general practitioner asked me if I minded traveling alone. That was the hardest part for her patients, she told me. I assured her that in my case, it would be no problem whatsoever. Other friends have warned me that a third of the people who do cures are really not interested in improving their health. They want the time off of work and the . . . the . . . (how do I say this?) . . . the partying with benefits. My husband made jokes about Kurschatten (literally “cure shadow”) which my online dictionary delicately defines as “a person at a health spa with whom one develops a relationship”. The upshot of all this is that I came here already wary of the people I would be meeting.

It’s Day 10 and so far, I have managed to small talk with half the people here but also to keep pretty much to myself. (Two nice women I go walking with in my free time are the exception.) These Kur Reports have mostly dealt with my personal experience, focussing on health and health care. But as I said at the start, this place is also a paradise for people watchers. My fellow curees come from all walks of life, covering all educational levels and all the regional dialects Austria has to offer. I’ve watched them meet and greet and slowly coalesce into groupings resembling somewhat geriatric versions of high school cliques.

 

One lady I talked to briefly while waiting for a therapy told me about all her extra activities using the pronoun “we”. I asked her about that, and she said she came here with a group of girlfriends. They had originally all met years back during a cure, had hit it off, and then arranged to meet up every year or so at a different resort. (I blurted out that I hadn’t realized this was possible. In my case, the timing and location were determined by someone else and I had little say about it. She waved her hand at me and said “Yeah, yeah”.) This particular group are quite exclusive and not particularly welcome to newcomers. They are the equivalent of that cool group of girls in Junior High who all came from the same grade school and were not interested in expanding their social circle.

Another time – out in the smokers’ hut – I realized that all the people there were not born in Austria. There were Bosnians, Albanians, Kosovars, East Germans, Italians, Czechs, Georgians, and an Egyptian. All of them had been living (and working) in Austria for anywhere between 20 and 40 years. Most of them had become citizens. As the week progressed, I watched them gravitating toward their own kind – as all people do – eventually loosely becoming a (non-exclusive) group. In High School terms, they are the Outsiders.

Then there are the barfly partiers. They trudge through the daily therapy plans, take a lot of naps in between, and then come alive at 5:00 pm when the alcohol ban is lifted. I don’t see a lot of their shenanigans because I usually retire to my room soon after dinner. But I hear stories. And when I do catch parts of their conversations, it is usually about their earlier exploits in previous cures, i.e. their glory days. They remind me of the high school Jocks, still hanging around in the hometown bar 15 years after graduation.

 

There is a special term in Austria for people who are (perceived as) parasites of the social welfare system: Sozialschmarotzer (“social freeloaders”). They supposedly take advantage of the generous system, living a life of ease at the expense of the hardworking. Cure patients in general are often suspected of belonging to this amorphous group. And among cure patients, suspicions between cliques abound.

“They’re just wives taking vacations from their husbands.”

“Those foreigners only came here to exploit the social welfare system.”

“The Party Boys are only here for another notch in their cure-shadow stick.”

There may be some truth in all of these statements. But I can tell you another fact. As far as I can tell, ALL of these people are employed. They have all paid into the system for decades. And all of these people are likely to remain employed and to continue to pay into the system, thanks to the chance of a therapeutic time out. Thanks to treatment for and prevention of work-related repetitive stress injuries. The National Health system has certainly done the studies and crunched the numbers showing that this cure offering comes at a lower price than permanently subsidizing those who have worked themselves into the ground – the damaged, the debilitated, the disabled, the unemployable.

Personally, I don’t think any of the above cliques are schmarotzing, but there is one more group that does raise my suspicions. Like any high school or institution, this place has an alumni honor wall: pictures of patients getting recognized for completing their 5th or 10th or 15th . . . cure.

   

The little lady in the white dress was not the winner with her 30 cures, though. In another room (that I couldn’t get into to take the photograph) there is a woman who has been here 40 times.  In my little high school analogy, I guess she would be the Principal’s wife.

 

 

Weekend!

(Kur Report – Part Five)

 

Before I left to come here, everyone wished me a nice vacation. They were only half kidding. And they were also half right. I really didn’t expect to have as much free time as I have, but on the other hand, by the end of each day I am really exhausted. Three days of therapy have gone by since my last post, finishing off the first of two weeks. Once I handed in my completed plan this morning, it finally dawned on me that it was the weekend and I was completely free till Monday morning. Time to catch you all up on the activities – rapid fire style.

Day 4: Underwater gymnastics in the morning was nice. In the afternoon I had to attend an exercise motivation lecture. Halfway through I realized it was the geriatric version of this speech full of tips for how to manage stairs or to get out of bed in the morning. “I’m way too young for this!” I thought. In the evening I voluntarily went to another lecture on the history of this village. At least 100 names were dropped of famous people who like(d) to come here starting from Empress Sissi and ending with Hugh Grant. The speaker was a nice and very knowledgeable local lady who walked in, started talking at a rapid pace, moved from story to story without even taking a breath in between, never paused or slowed down for even a second until the final “Thank you for coming”.  I left thinking that I had just experienced this village’s second waterfall.

Day 5 had me up and doing weight training at 7:00 in the morning. Ouch. Luckily it was followed by another Radon bath, but this time I had the foresight to bring my cell phone along. I listened to Rachel Maddow who really does relax me somehow. After lunch there was yet another lecture about cures and their purpose, after which I came down with a serious case of cabin fever. Having met a nice lady in a similar condition, we arranged to take a long walk together. Here are some impressions of a place called “Böckstein”:

 

Day 6 (today) included another short ultrasound treatment and then something called “General Exercise Therapy”. That turned out to be a group walk with a bunch of extra movements added in (walking sideways, arm movements, skipping, etc.). And then I was officially done. I filled the afternoon with another walk and some swimming.

 

The three major events of the last few days can be expressed in numbers: 779, 369, and 167½.

      • 779 is the number of my room which I originally had a lot of trouble finding. That was because it is tucked away in a little space next to the stairwell and it is the only guest room on this floor. I’ve come to love this quirky little place because it is the quietest room in the entire hotel.

      • 369, I was told, is the number of muscles we used on our exercise walk today.

      • And, finally, I stepped on the scale in the medical center out of curiosity. I joked in an earlier post about wanting to get at least one of my two lost centimeters back, but I didn’t. I got one and a half of them back!

 

 

Shock Therapy

(Kur Report – Part Four)

 

The first thing I had to do in my original medical check-up was to step on a state-of-the-art machine that measured my weight and height. It spit out the results on a little piece of paper which gave me my first shock. Not the kilos, but the centimeters: 166. “I’m shrinking!!” I thought. “I have lost two whole centimeters!” I wanted them back. I suddenly had a deep yearning to stretch, but my therapy plan had other ideas. On Days One and Two, I had to build up muscles on machines, improve my endurance on bikes, and pretend to relax in a bathtub. On Day Three, the therapy consisted of a blitzkrieg style assault on my shoulders.

First came physical therapy, which was actually fantastic. The very competent woman moved, tested and massaged all of the muscles around my neck, shoulders and upper arms, giving me almost a crash course in all the stuff that is inside that section of me and which ones needed some adjusting. She told me what to look out for and showed me a couple of short exercises to do several times a day. That was followed by electro-therapy where my shoulders were zapped for 10 minutes. It felt like ants were crawling around in there. Then came ultrasound, where a little suction cup was attached to my right shoulder and then . . . I’m not exactly sure what. Finally came the warm mud packs, which everyone told me were so wonderfully relaxing. Uh oh.

I entered the little curtained room with a stretcher bed all prepared, I was grumpily instructed to lie down, positioning my shoulders onto the warm brown packs by the pillow. The therapist then squished the packs into position and then tucked the sheets hanging down to the left and right tightly around me. He said “15 minutes” and took off, closing the curtain behind him.

I lay there like a mummy with my arms pinned to my chest, staring at the ceiling and, of course my nose started to itch. I needed a distraction. I scanned the room. On the wall to the left was this huge poster:

The fact that the biker was cut off at the waist along with the perspective were somehow discomforting. I tried to imagine myself lying on a bike path high up in the mountains with this guy whizzing past me . . . but then why would my neck and shoulders be feeling so warm?

I then looked over at the right-hand wall and noticed the second poster.

The runner was also disturbingly truncated. And how was it that he was running uphill when I am already at the top? It didn’t feel right either.

I went back to looking at the ceiling and tried to find a repeating pattern in the large and small dots up there. That made me dizzy. It seemed I had no other option than to alternate between Lederhosen Butt and Spandex Butt till the curtain was finally ripped open again. It didn’t’ occur to me that I could just close my eyes.

Relaxing is just not my thing.

 

The final therapy of the day brought it to a happy end. It was spinal aerobics and I FINALLY got to stretch. I bent over and not only touched the floor, but also strained to get my entire palms to lie flat on it. I raised my arms and extended them as high as they could possibly go, reaching for the ceiling. It felt fabulous. And I think I got at least one of my two lost centimeters back.

 

A Very Nice Nicotine Nazi

(Kur Report – Part Three)

 

In an uncharacteristically confessional way, this post will deal with my lifelong battle with nicotine.

This, of course, is prompted by my mandatory attendance at a smokers’ counseling session yesterday evening – which was, I admit, exceptionally well done. But let’s backtrack a little to the beginnings . . .

I’m 18 years old and it is Thanksgiving. I’m sitting at a nearly deserted table, staring at a lot of empty chairs, crumpled napkins and the carcass of a recently devoured turkey. It’s just me, my grandparents and maybe an old aunt. All the fun people have taken off to the basement where smoking is allowed. I can hear the vibrant conversation and laughter coming from down there. I get up from my seat and meander toward those sounds . . .

That is as close as I can come to an answer when asked what got me started. It is not a perfect explanation or an attempt to attribute blame to anyone else.

For the past ten years I have been an off-again on-again smoker. I quit dozens of times for periods ranging from 18 months to 18 days to 18 minutes. Three years ago, I quit for what started seeming like forever. I got to the point where I never thought about smoking. My reflection in the mirror told me I looked the same as ever even as I kept buying larger-sized clothes. Then one day I stepped on a scale for the first time in years and was confronted with a number 35 pounds higher than I had always been. Soon thereafter, I went on the Moron’s Diet. “When those 35 pounds are gone, I will quit again,” I told myself. The moment of reaching this target weight arrived about three days before I left for this cure.

I’m a creature of habit. Some of them are good, of course. But it is the bad ones that landed me here. Not getting enough exercise. Sitting for hours and hours in rigid or crooked or poorly postured positions while writing, translating, preparing teaching materials, working on projects like slideshows and photobooks (or playing Snood while listening to podcasts). I came here fully intending to break out of these habits, the nicotine one included. I even assumed smoking would be forbidden here.

I was wrong about that.

The Hut

One of the first things I discovered here was the nicest outdoor smoking area I have ever seen. It is protected from the weather yet still airy, heated, and decorated with warm seating and blankets. It looks out over a stunning view of the mountains and town (somewhat blurred in today’s snowstorm). It also seems to attract amusing people. Whereas the other conversations I had – at my restaurant table, in various fitness rooms or waiting areas – were haltingly earnest and dealt mostly with health-related subjects, the conversations in the smoking hut were open, variable, multicultural, sometimes raucous and always amusing. Once again, I found myself meandering toward the fun crowd.

Then came last night’s lecture to which all the smoking patients were invited. From my few visits to the hut, I figured there would be about 15 people there. (Some of the smokers had already heard the talk last week.) So, I was taken completely by surprise when the room started to fill up. There must have been 50 people there. It seemed like half of the patients in the entire center were in attendance.

I had mentioned this smokers’ counseling session in my last post, prompting one commentator to rail on the “Tobacco Nazis”. I borrowed his term, edited slightly, and used it for my title.  But that is not really a fair or accurate description of the doctor who gave the talk. For instance, he began by talking about all the positive benefits of nicotine (and there are some.) Next, he explained the physiological way it works on the brain which produced some “Aha!” moments. Then he started in on the statistics. I was surprised at how little information many of the listeners had. When he asked us to guess the average age Austrian kids first try smoking, most guesses were 15 or 16. I said 13. The correct answer was 12. Most people guessed that about 30% of Austrians smoke. I said 10%. The correct answer was 25%. When he asked us how many chemicals there are in a cigarette, people mostly guessed in the hundreds. I said 3000. The correct answer was 4600. It went on in this slyly effective way for a while. The most important thing, though, was the timing of how quickly the body begins to mend once you quit. Some positive things start happening after only hours or days. The final message was that 10 to 15 years of not smoking puts one’s risk of getting certain diseases equal to a person who has never smoked. He finished off by asking us to consider using our time in the cure to slowly reduce. Maybe even down to zero before we leave. It is the optimal time and place to do so. I had to agree.

So that became my plan. If today is anything to go by, it is already working.