Tag Archives: exercise

Working Overtime

I lay on the exam table ready for my gynecological exam.  The doctor stood next to me and began feeling around my throat. Wrong body part doctor, I thought.

“Did you know you have a lump here?” he asked, gently palpating the base of my throat.

“No,” I said.

“You need to have it checked out right away.”

“Well, I just started my summer term. Can it wait six weeks?”

“OK, six weeks and no longer.”

I breathed a sigh of relief. At 20 years old, I still hadn’t outgrown the invulnerable phase. By the time I dressed, I had already pushed it out of my mind. And then as I passed his open office door I heard him already on the phone discussing my case with the surgeon. Wow, I thought, he’s really worried.

I was admitted to the hospital on a Thursday afternoon, the day before the term ended. I had been allowed to do my open-book psychology final in the hospital. I sat cross-legged on the bed and did my test. My then husband would drop off the test in the morning after I was taken to surgery.

After the surgery, I came to and remember reaching out my hand for help. My husband was sitting there and spoke to me.

“It’s all over. You’re in your room now.”

I returned to oblivion.

I came to again, this time with nausea and the accompanying fear of choking to death as I was flat on my back and couldn’t move. I tried to speak and couldn’t. I reached out my hand again and there was no one there. I will never forget the terror I felt for those few seconds before the nurse appeared.

I went home Monday after the stitches were pulled. I never felt any pain. The diagnosis: Benign encapsulated thyroid tumor. Half my thyroid was left behind somewhere in that huge building called a hospital. I was lucky.

Fast forward a few years. I am now a nursing student and observing in OR. I get to see my surgeon in action. I am so excited. They set up a step stool for me; I stand 5’2” on a good day. Now I can see clearly.

I can see clearly how his hands are shaking and trembling all over the place. I focus on that and mentally wrap my hands around my throat in the universal sign of a choking victim.

Those hands, those hands were in my throat! It’s a wonder I didn’t cave and fall face forward into the patient’s open abdomen.

~~~

I share this (abridged) story from my work in progress about my nursing life only because my thyroid has taken center stage again. What’s left of it is apparently working overtime. I feel a little cheated because if my metabolism is revved up, as my labs reflect, I shouldn’t have any extra pounds to work off.

1050UBs LifeCore Fitness

1050UBs
LifeCore Fitness

But, alas, I do, and I have a new BFF to help me with that.

Yesterday, I had about a gallon of blood removed. At least it felt that way. The phlebotomist even asked if I was OK before the penultimate tube was filled. I was.

My PCP had wanted labs. I said let’s check my thyroid, but did he include a full profile? No. So I had to go back and it coincided with the regular labs for my rheumy.

In the past, I’ve been treated for hypo and hyperthyroidism, but for decades my labs have been normal. I’ve been scanned within an inch of my life, literally. That’s how close that behemoth of a machine feels next to my throat.

I’m sure that will come next, but for now I will concentrate on the Dick Dale concert we will attend tonight. We’re spending the night in Fort Lauderdale and throwing caution to the winds.

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Is Age Just a Number?

I came across this tidbit about aging in my reading travels:

Alice Roosevelt Longworth, for example, the only daughter of President Teddy Roosevelt, summed it up this way: “First you’re young. Then you’re middle aged. Then you’re wonderful.”

After doing a little research as to what actually constitutes middle age, it appears I am approaching that kind of “wonderful.”

But how can that be when I feel pretty wonderful already?

Reading this month’s Arthritis Today magazine, I am reminded that there are those who suffer so much more with RA than I’ve had to. Even at my worst, I wasn’t as bad as some. I feel for those who have had to deal with joint replacement(s) because of this scourge of a disease.

For one thing, all that it involves, the medical intrusions and interventions. Though I spent the better part of my life in Nursing, I’m still a weenie when it comes to needles, and I’m even more of a coward when it comes to scalpels. I cannot for the life of me understand how all these movie star people submit themselves to voluntary reconstruction, sometimes for the worst.

There’s pain, people!

I guess I don’t have that vanity gene in sufficient abundance. I prefer to age naturally, staying as far away from sharp, pointy objects as possible. At my last rheumy visit I had to have a talk with the insurance person. They were charging me incredible co-pays with my new insurance. “We have to submit the largest fee to the insurance,” she said. “In case the doctor has to do certain procedures.”

I wanted to say, “But all we do is talk, and then we fiddle with my meds. There’s no needles!” But I didn’t because I’m a little superstitious. I left it there. And wouldn’t you know it, a few weeks later I received a refund check.

But anyhow, just because I want to age gracefully doesn’t mean I want to look gracefully old. I still want to look good. And more importantly, I want to feel good.

The way I feel now, physically and mentally, does not jibe with my chronological age. I regressed some time ago. I woke up and said, hey, I’ve missed too many years spending time with my uninvited, unwanted, unbidden companion (RA). I decided I wanted those years back and I went after them with a vengeance.

I guess you could say I was Alice’s kind of “wonderful” ten years ago. Was, past tense.

In writing, the use of “was” is considered passive voice, which is sluggish and uses too many words. Make your writing crisp and tight, they say, write in active voice. I say: Better yet, live in active voice.

 

Sigh-

-atica.

The beast has been tamed. Though not altogether vanquished, its growls have been reduced to whimpers.

I had a total of four physical therapy sessions that boiled downed to learning some exercises to strengthen the muscles of my legs and limit pressure on the sciatic nerve itself. They all happened before I flew to Los Angeles exactly three weeks ago, a five-hour plane ride that I was dreading, and which dread spurred me to hurry up and do something!

The flights were not fun, there and back, but were thankfully direct so were over and done with as quickly as humanly possible. Aisle seats helped a lot as I didn’t have to maneuver that tiny space between seat rows.

Sitting hurt, but standing up hurt worse. At least, for that first step or two. I managed to get through the four days we were there fairly well. The ache a dull roar down my leg. But I’m very glad we went because we got to see my father-in-law in good spirits, and albeit with a cane, walking better than I was.

I held off taking Prednisone during the trip, but after flying back on a redeye, and with the three-hour time difference, the jet lag threatened to bury me. So I caved and did a six-day hit (20, 20, 10, 10, 5, 5 mg). That did the trick and also soothed away the egregious pain, for the most part.

I remain quite conscious of that leg, or that nerve, I should say. I turn over in bed with great caution. The wrong move sent an electrifying jolt down my leg and left a painful residue behind. For hours and sometimes for the whole rest of the day or night.

I’m careful not to sit too long either, which kind of puts a kink in the works since I work sitting down. I keep hearing my PCP’s admonition as he scribbled away on his Rx pad, “Don’t sit!”

This has also put my home downsizing project on hold. No more climbing the stepladder, no more lifting heavy books, no more pushing furniture around. Now I look at our record collection longingly. Yes, vinyl records, about 200 or more taking up space. They need to go into another room where I can’t see them anymore, as I’m not allowed to get rid of them. I guess I could carry them there one by one. Two by two.

Since I couldn’t sit and I couldn’t lift, I turned to culling my photo collection, and framing some of my more treasured moments. This fun trip down my personal memory lane was facilitated by using my cutting table as a work area. It’s high enough that I can stand and cut out countless quilt pieces without incurring miserable lower back pain.

I have not returned to PT, though they’ve been calling me. I don’t see the need. I should probably tell them that. I think I derived enough from those sessions to basically practice prophylaxis and prevent another attack of sciatica in future.

Still, I thought more info wouldn’t hurt so I bought a book last night. It’s written by a sciatica sufferer and at a whopping $4.99 for an eBook, I expected a lot more than I got. True, clinically, I realized I would know quite a bit, but at the very least I expected something that couldn’t be read in one sitting. What was even more disappointing is that it could have used some editing and a whole lot of proofreading. It feels like I threw my money away, but I guess, caveat emptor.

Though my screaming leg has shushed, I remain vigilant. And for now on standby, with a bag mentally packed. We have received word that my father-in-law is failing. He has battled multiple myeloma for several years and it appears his time is near.

graduation

Big Al with us at my husband’s graduation from Texas A&M Maritime Academy. A long, long time ago. 

“What’s Your Donkey?”

A few months ago, I attended a business conference and one of the presenters, a videographer, told a story about filming in a small village whose name I can’t pronounce nor remember. She asked the women what would make life easier for them in that remote village and they said, “A donkey.”

At first she was surprised at such a simple request, but they explained how a donkey would help them till the soil and then carry their produce to market. There were other reasons as to why a donkey would make such a difference in their day-to-day existence so they organized a means to get the village women their donkey.

That talk, in reference to setting up a business and figuring out our needs, made quite an impression on me and it got me to thinking. What’s my donkey?

In my stand-off with RA, there are several inflammation markers I keep track of. As far as I remember, my sed rate has been normal or close to normal. (I am now the proud owner of my medical history for the last nine years. I asked and I received a CD of my chart. I will peruse later.)

The other marker, the one that more closely reflects how I feel physically, is my CRP. That has spiked more often than not over the years. Last fall I was feeling a little crappy and sure enough my CRP was 16. At last month’s visit it was nine. When it’s close to normal (4.9 or less) I feel terrific. Nine is good, awful good.

When my CRP is normal or near normal, I feel 20 years younger and just as spry. A while back we had to replace the water filter on our fridge and without even thinking, I went into a full squat, my tush almost raking the floor by my feet. My husband stood by my side, confident that I could not dislodge the filter from the bottom of the fridge without his muscles.

This is a man who road and mountain bikes, surfs (when there’s a swell, he once got kicked out of a surf spot because he was catching all the good waves. He’s used to Pacific Ocean swells; the Atlantic doesn’t quite cut it) and is younger than me. Since he was annoying me, I ignored him until he cried out, “I can’t do that! Squat like you’re doing now.”

I pressed on the end of the filter and it popped into my hand. I stood up, coolly handed it to him, then left him there, transfixed, with his mouth hanging open. This is also a man who had seen me at my worst, when I thought the fight with RA was lost or would be.

But, I said no, not yet.

And so, that is my RA donkey: a low, or normal, CRP.

And the continued flexibility to do full squats whenever I darn well feel like it.

 

 

Ride

What does it mean when I don’t even feel hot until the 28th minute of my 30-minute workout?

Does it mean I should pedal faster, or pedal longer to get the cardio I need, and to lose the dreaded extra pounds? My short-lived goal of ten miles in 30 minutes has been, oh, so met.

I had decided that for the sake of consistency, I would limit the time on my stationary bike to 30 minutes and do it at least three days a week. Once I’m on the bike I revel in it, but it’s the getting on it that sometimes gets lost in the course of the day. There are so many other things to do! So I told myself: It’s only 30 minutes!

But the deal was that I couldn’t just meander through my bike ride enjoying the blue skies and puffy white clouds seen through my patio’s screen enclosure. I had to make it count. I had to make it comparable to my Tai Chi exercise, if not in length, then in sweat equity.

Tai Chi class is an hour and a half long; granted we do break for tea and cookies, and live chatting. And we spend almost half of the rest of the time watching the instructor go through the moves, which we then try to copy. She is poetry in motion; we are discordant verses.

Tai Chi is a real workout even though it’s slo-mo martial arts. By the end of class I’m usually sweating and my legs are crying out for a chair. Any chair. I used to get the same workout reward from my bike. The endorphins would fly as the sweat would pour. It was awesome.

But apparently, the three-minute mile is not good enough to even get a bead unless I do a whole lot more of them. Lately, I’d been having fun just increasing my speed, beating my personal best, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23 miles per hour. Whooeee! That was fun; now it’s time to get to work.

I’m feeling good and as usually happens, when I feel good I tend to work out more, or should I say, harder. Which then makes me feel even better, a win/win. For I see exercise as money in the bank. If I put in a little bit each day, or almost every day, I will accumulate a mighty reservoir of health to dip into now and then as I ride this roller coaster called RA.

In So Many Ways

I’ve settled into a Tuesday and Friday Tai Chi class routine. Granted it’s only been one week. But it feels good. I’m renewing friendships and meeting new people. I met the lady who won my Native American Culture themed quilt at the raffle. (See my post, Done!) She was ecstatic and stopped the class to verify I was the quilter. “I love it!” she said. Talk about a shot in the arm, gave me renewed vigor to finish the class.

I’d wondered if my legs would hold up. It’s all a matter of shifting your weight from one leg to the other as you dance your way through the 108 moves. All this weight-bearing helps build bone, something mighty useful to me now. But I needn’t have worried, my legs remembered. They held up admirably, while the rest of me had a harder time remembering some of the hand moves.

Though they started the same week, these classes are independent of each other. That means that on Friday I get to repeat what I learned on Tuesday. This works well as I am a perpetual beginner, having yet to complete all 108 moves. Monday and Wednesday classes start in two weeks and I plan to take those too.  There’s nothing like reinforcement. And camaraderie.

And I have another reason for taking all these 10:00 AM classes. They will help me to structure my day so I can fit the most into it. Freelance editing is occupying more and more of my time, and that’s a good thing. But working from home, I’ve let myself maintain a non-schedule schedule, working all hours of the day or night. There’s been no clock to punch, and no boss but my lenient self. As long as the deadline is met, your client doesn’t care when you work.

But now, I need to adopt a daily discipline so that I can accomplish all I want to do. Such as my own writing (my WIPs won’t write themselves, sigh), and then there’s my quilting. I do want to keep up with it, and I plan to make a bunch of children’s quilts for the homeless shelter our Tai Chi Branch supports. For Christmas.

So you see, Tai Chi to the rescue. In so many ways.

Fluid

It’s been kind of a bad year, health-wise, but life goes on and tomorrow I go back to Tai Chi class.

I didn’t realize how much I’d missed that social interaction until I saw the familiar friendly faces when I stopped at the Center to drop off the quilt I’d made. And how much my body missed the physical poetry that is Tai Chi.

Below is my blog post from August, 2011, called In The Zone.
My goal is to recapture the fluidity I had then.

~~~

Standing tall, I take a deep breath as I raise my arms straight out to shoulder height. My open fingers mimicking a falling rain, I lower my hands to waist level. They float toward each other, palms down. My right hand then slices the air like the flat of a blade leading me to pivot on my right heel in that direction. The left foot adjusts its angle and I “drop” into position, bending at the hip and flexing my right knee.

Poised in a protective stance, I sense strong energy pushing back on my extended right hand, pressing against my outward facing palm.  I am holding it back away from me, keeping it at bay. My left hand, palm down, hangs low in front of me, guarding my center, shielding my core. I hold this position for a moment, letting the opposing force know I am ready and prepared for it. I am invulnerable.

Standing tall again, my right arm gravitates down while my left arm rises towards it; they cross at the forearm, as though suspending something in front of me, something round. I visualize a delicate sphere, it is my world; I am hugging my world. I am the unbroken shell surrounding it. No harm will come to it as long as I cradle it, making it invincible.

My weight resting on my right leg, I lift the left foot and step out on the diagonal, advancing against the unseen force. The motion is fluid, my left hand leads; my body follows, turning to confront that which comes at me from yet another direction. I allow my body to flow with the motion. I concentrate and think of nothing but continuing with the synchronized moves. I am part of a formation, a phalanx, performing a silent ballet. I am in the zone, the Tai Chi zone.

The dance progresses; the right hand moves up by the left shoulder and forms a fist. The left hand retracts against the body gathering energy then pushes back as the fist lashes out. The fist continues its momentum coming to rest by the right hip; the body follows its arc, swinging to the right, back foot pivoting on the toe. I am now crouched and ready to strike. I push that invisible force back once more and step forward with purpose, delivering my right-handed thrust.

I do not fight any one person in these pseudo matches, though I do face an enemy. Locked in a pitched battle against my personified disease, I withstand and do not cower. It is a contest I engage in daily, this struggle to gain and maintain my equilibrium, to meet the challenge of life’s burdens and its inequities.

When I practice Tai Chi, I achieve a level of serenity and all around peace no other form of exercise can give me. My worries succumb; my stressors evaporate. The poetry of the motion is beautiful and graceful, the camaraderie of performing it with others comforting and soothing. Performing it in solitude becomes meditation in motion. I withdraw to my innermost self and find medicine for my soul.

~~~

tai chi

In case anyone wants to join us!

tai chi

We are the largest Branch in the country and the most diverse. For our 20th anniversary, I printed out flags for all the different countries represented in our Chapter. I then had to figure out how to place them on the cake. The answer came to me at the party store. Swizzle sticks!

Shoes, etc.

I did ten miles on my stationary bike today. I decided, while I was pedaling, that I would keep track of mileage as well as time. That way I could take an imaginary trip around the world while I engage in this endeavor. Though I do hope I don’t have to go all the way around the world to lose the extra pounds I have on board.

To document my origination point, I weighed myself this morning. It kind of hurt, but I’m a big girl (!) I can take it. Once the numbers stopped fluctuating on the scale readout, it settled at 149. According to my BMI, I should weigh no more than 136 for my height of 5’ 2”. But, I felt fine and looked fine, so I was told, when I was at 138. So that is where I’m headed.

And since ten miles is the distance I used to travel taking my youngest to school and that was south of me, I guess my “circumnavigation” will commence in that direction. Hopefully, I’ll hit my target weight before I “reach” the South Pole.

If I were truly headed down there, my gear would be a top concern. But since I will only be biking and walking in South Florida weather, I don’t need a parka, et al, just good shoes. After spending almost 30 years on my feet during my nursing career, I am especially conscious of good, supportive footwear.

SAS were my shoes of choice; they cushioned my feet and were worth every penny. I had my last pair for over five years, but then I began working out in earnest and wore them out within eighteen months. I meant to replace them, but then I found these.

Bought them at Macy's. They are Clarks shoes.

Bought them at Macy’s. They are Clarks shoes.

Love these shoes! They feel like I'm walking on air. Hope they hold up to the workouts I'll be putting them through. Hope I hold up!

Love these shoes! They feel like I’m walking on air. Hope they hold up to the workouts I’ll be putting them through. Hope I hold up!

And of course, my vehicle. It's a little dusty and rusty. Just like me.

And of course, my vehicle. It’s a little dusty and rusty. But then, so am I.

Up With This I Will Not Put

There can be no more visceral saying to depict resilience, audacity, resoluteness, than this very graphic statement.

This quote has been much attributed to Winston Churchill. Apparently, some ne’er-do-well editor rearranged one of his sentences so it would not end in a preposition. Word has it that Churchill wrote a note in the margin, “This is the sort of bloody nonsense up with which I will not put.”

I first heard it said in the movie, She-Devil. Meryl Streep’s maid gets fed up cleaning not only after her, but after her lover, her lover’s kids and her lover’s dog, who went potty on the floor. Those are her final words as she stomps away, head held high, suitcase in hand, quitting her post, while Meryl pleads for her to come back.

I love the sound of that saying. I adopt it as my life motto now. I will embroider it on pillows. I will cross-stitch it and frame it. Up with this I will not put!

There are many things I can relate this quote to in my personal life. One, of course, is my illness. It is a chronic condition, but not one that has to rule my life. It did for a while, but I think it was because I let life best me for a time. But then, I got tired of coming in second. I made a move toward the inside, overtook it and passed it by. Running for my life, I snapped the ribbon and left it behind, in the dust.

Running. I could barely walk for fifteen minutes without pain. Walking the mall with my little girl was something to dread. Pure agony, torture. Well, up with that I did not put. I began to exercise, routinely. I began a love affair with my stationary bike. We would meet almost every evening; I would look forward to dusk. It was waiting for me in our private place, my patio. I would mount it and caress the handle bars; they reached out for me.

I’d slip my sneakered feet into the pedals; the pedal straps embraced them. My seat met its seat, for part of the time. I would get so revved up, I would pedal standing up. It was exhilarating. The bike would respond to me, telling me the number of laps I’d pedaled, my speed, how many miles I’d covered, how many calories I was using up. It communicated more with me than anyone else I lived with.

And as with any tryst, I would dress accordingly. I’d pull on exercise bottoms that fit like a second skin down the sleekness of my leg, providing me with muscular support. Always black. Some with a bolt of color flashing like a streak of lightning. Another boasted silver reflective strips curving round the knee of my revolutionary leg. I would slither into my tank top with built in support, black, of course. At those moments, I wished I had less to support. But, my bike didn’t care about my top, just my top form.

I would start my revolutions slow, pacing myself, loving the feel of the motion. My heart would start beating faster, my breathing accelerating with the ever increasing circular motions of my feet. The beading would commence, on my forehead, my arms. I would look forward to it as a sign, a sign that I was fleeing that which afflicted me. My own momentum would carry me away, away from all that dragged me down.

I would do bursts of quick speed, going over 20 miles an hour, faster, faster. My hair would fly in all directions as my body swung to and fro. I would hold that speed as long as I could and then collapse in euphoria against the front panel. I would cry out, the endorphin release so intense, I could not hold it in, the sweat blinding me, stinging my eyes.

And in between, I would pedal steadfastly, gazing up at the shape-shifting clouds as they passed slowly by. Their form changing in seconds as they, too, traveled in place. I marveled at how the veiled moonlight cast shadows, turning well-known trees into unrecognizable silhouettes. I preferred to keep the patio dark. Darkness interrupted only by the gentle flickering of two candles and the soft blue pinpoint of light coming from my wireless speaker. For my bike and I had to have our mood music while we communed.

When I was done, I would dismount on legs that felt like jelly. For one hour, I had had my way with it and it had had its way with me. We met like this for well over a year and in the end, I broke its heart; we hardly meet anymore. I’m seeking a replacement. I wore it out. It now creaks and groans, but I don’t. It’s shaky and unbalanced, but I’m not. It sits forlorn and alone, but I won’t. Because up with that I will not put!

Green Bananas

Why is there a picture of bananas on a blog about Rheumatoid Arthritis? Maybe because I am bananas to think anyone will read it.

Maybe it’s because nutrition is so very important in the management of any disease process. And it is of prime importance in the maintenance of a healthy body. Our bodies are made to run like well-oiled machines, but sometimes that oil pan springs a leak.

Maybe because to me, yellow is the color of hope. And the color of sunshine. The sunshine that brings welcome warmth to our aching joints and lights up our day, bringing us out of the darkness whose name is pain.

Yellow is also the color for caution. As we move from stoplight to stoplight in our lives we must proceed with caution. It is what rules the life of someone with RA. We must take care not to overdo, for that invites the pain.

We must also take care to DO. Exercise and motion keeps those joints fluid. True for any body, more so to a body with RA. Use it or lose it could not be more applicable.

As I use this forum to share, connect and inform about my disease, I look for the color green. For green means go. I want to go. Go on with my life, go on with my future, the best way I know how, for me and for those whom I love and love me.

And no, no green bananas for me.