Thursday, September 29, 2011

Four Random Stories

#1 About a month ago I was at Roaring Springs with my friends the Gallagher family. While floating around the lazy river (Officially named the Endless River), I scraped my knee on the side. It was a small wound, but since I'm on blood thinners, it took a long time to heal. This week, it was finally looking mostly healed: nice pink skin, no scab left.

Getting out of the truck, I bumped my knee on something, breaking the skin. Guess where. Yes, in the exact same spot.

The last two days I've walked to the Rec Center for my morning workout. On the way back, both days, I was nearly close to almost maybe being run over by large trucks.

#2 Yesterday, as I reached the exit driveway of McDonalds, I noticed a truck getting ready to exit. So I stopped before walking in to the driveway. The driver of the truck looked left - in my direction - looked right, looked left again, then started to pull into traffic. Taking one last look to the left, he saw me, finally. He slammed on the brakes with a startled look on his face. I'm guessing he thought I appeared out of nowhere. He apologized, I let him go, then walked behind him.

#3 This morning, as I reached the exit driveway of McDonalds, there was another truck, but it was farther back. So I started walking across the driveway while keeping an eye on the truck. The driver, who was talking on his cell phone and digging into his breakfast, looked left - in my direction - looked right, looked left again, never slowing down. Keep in mind I was standing right in front of him. When he finally noticed me, the truck was about two feet from my leg. After stopping, he looked at me like I was in the wrong. How dare I walk on the sidewalk right in front of him! He didn't apologize. I guess his phone conversation was too important to interrupt for the sake of politeness.

#4 This evening as I was walking out of a sporting goods store, a young man (probably 13 or 14) was riding his brand new bike out of the store, with his mother following him. He was so excited and mom looked so proud. Twenty feet into the parking lot, I looked away, heading toward my truck. Hearing a crash-like sound, I turned around to see that junior had wrecked in the parking lot. The brand-newness of his bike lasted a whole 30 seconds! I have no idea how he did it, but it took all my willpower to not laugh out loud. Instead of testing my resolve further, I got into my truck and drove away. I didn't stick around to see the aftermath of bicycle-teenager-pavement interaction.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Health Update #47

(Yes, I realize the last update was #43, so I skipped 44, 45 and 46. I like prime numbers.)

The results of all the testing two weeks ago were back today, and Dr. Zuckerman delivered the news.

  • Bone Marrow Biopsy: Normal, even at the genetic level. Apparently there's a genetic marker for cancer, called the "FTP1L1/PDGFRa gene rearrangement." In my bone marrow there was no evidence of this, which is a good thing.
  • Echocardiogram: Normal
  • Pulmonary Function: This test showed the only abnormality. Apparently I've had asthma and never known it. When I was a teenager I had a couple of asthmatic episodes, but since then I've never been bothered. I know that if my heart rate gets above 155, I can't take a full breath. So I wear a heart rate monitor when I exercise and keep the rate below 150.
  • CT Scans: Normal. Actually, the test results show "Unremarkable" which might be a blow to my ego, but is good news health-wise. One of the test even reports that I'm "grossly normal." I don't know what that really means, but I'm going to take it as a compliment.
The eosinophylia (high count of a white blood cell subset) is apparently a result of the arthritis. Everything else has been ruled out. So now it's up to my rheumatologist to find something that will work.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Not a Couch Potato Anymore

Although I've been blaming it on the arthritis, I've been sedentary for 3 years by choice. It's really been laziness. Certainly there are days when exercising is not going to happen. There are days when it takes all I have to do everyday activities. But those days are few. There are many more days when I feel good enough to get something done, something productive and active.

Before the arthritis, I was training for a marathon. I would run 6 miles with my dogs before work, 5 days per week. On the weekends I'd run 9 miles. I wasn't fast, but it was pretty easy. However, every time I worked up to 15 miles (on weekends), I would hurt so bad that I couldn't run for a week or two. I had no idea it was the arthritis rearing it's ugly head.

So for 3 years I gave up.

August 1 I joined the Nampa Rec Center. If you've never been, it's a great facility. I've been going to Spinning class 3 days/week, lifting weights, and I've started swimming. The swimming came about because I'm training for a mini-triathlon, a beginner's event: 1/8 mile swim (in the pool), 4.5 mile bike ride (stationary bike), and 1.5 mile run (on the track, which I'll have to walk since running isn't an option anymore).

Even without the Fitness Test I took this morning (results in a few paragraphs), I knew I was really out of shape. One way I could tell: comparing myself with other members. There's a tiny little lady who wears a shirt that says, "Filer Class of 1960." That would make her about 70. On several of the weight lifting exercises I do, she and I lift the same amount. I'm sure she hasn't noticed, but I have. It's embarrassing. I'm as strong as a 70 year old woman. yay ...

Three days per week I get up for the Spinning class that starts at 5 am. We spin for about 50 minutes. My goal for the time is aerobic exercise, trying to improve my cardio. I get my heart up to about 150 beats per minute, and keep it there the whole class. The last few classes I'm noticing that I'm having to work harder to get my heart rate up. That means I'm improving.

After Spinning, I lift weights for about 30 minutes. One of the Rec Center trainers, Joy, helped me develop a workout that fits with my physical limitations. She's knowledgeable about arthritis. In the short time I've been lifting, I've increased the weights. Today I added 3 lower body exercises that I'll do two days/week.

After the weights, I swim 1/4 mile. It takes a long time because I'm a really slow swimmer. I've also discovered something else: I'm not a good swimmer. When I was young, decades ago, I could swim underwater the length of a pool. I was good at holding my breath, and a pretty fast swimmer. Now, it freaks me out to put my face in the water. I feel like I'm not going to be able to breathe, even though my face is only 2 inches underwater and I can lift it up anytime. I'm working on it. In the meantime, I do my swim back stroke. It won't work if I ever do a triathlon in a lake, but as long as I'm swimming in a pool, I can stay straight.

Now for the Fit Test results (none of which are surprising): I'm obese, inflexible, and weak.

Oh well, I guess it's a starting point. In six months I'll be much healthier.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Health Update #43

(I don't know if this is really the 43rd update - I just like the number)

Four months ago I had some blood work that showed an elevated count of eosinophyls. Eosinophyls are a subset of white blood cells. An elevated rate can be a sign of:
1. Inflammation - which would make sense because of my rheumatoid arthritis
2. Infection - which might explain my seemingly constant sinus infection
3. Allergy - which I've always had, although historically, my allergies have always/only been in the spring
4. Blood Cancer, including leukemia

 Two months ago, the blood work showed the count had gone down. I met Dr. Zuckerman at Mountain States Tumor Institute (MSTI, pronounced misty for those who aren't familiar). He wasn't overly concerned at the time, since the eosinophyl rate had gone down and said we'd meet again to see if the rate went down even further.

 This morning I had the follow-up blood work. The count had gone back up from 17% to 32%. Incidentally, I don't know what the normal range is; I think both of those counts are elevated.

Because the count is so high, Dr. Z suggested we do a bone marrow biopsy, which we did this morning. I've been through some painful things in my life.
1. I live with RA
2. I've had 3 kidney stones
3. 2 shoulder surgeries
4. Surgery on my hand

 A bone marrow biopsy is painful. First, they numbed the skin, just a small poke with a needle, a short-lived burning sensation. Then, with another needle, they numbed under the skin and the bone. That burned a little too. Once everything was numb, Dr. Z started trying to push a needle through the bone, to get to the bone marrow. It wasn't painful, but I could feel the pressure and it felt like he was putting all his weight on it. He was really digging hard.

 Three years ago my rheumatologist in Twin Falls gave me a bone density test, which showed some bone loss. I've been on calcium since then. Apparently the calcium has worked. Dr. Z said, "You have the strongest bones of anyone I've ever done this procedure on." That's good as far as the bone loss, but when the doctor is trying to push a needle through the bone - not so much.

 Twice, once he was through the bone (I think), he did something that caused shooting pain. I'm not sure I've even felt anything like that. Luckily it only lasted a few seconds. I knew I was going to make it when Dr. Z said, "We're past the worst."

 Tomorrow morning I go in for some more tests. Fortunately all these tests will be non-invasive. I'll get CT scans of my chest, abdomen and pelvis, a pulmonary function test (to see how my lungs are working), and an echocardiogram to see how my heart is doing. There are some conditions, including some cancers, that can show up in my heart and lungs before I feel any symptoms. On a positive note, Dr. Z told me that people who have some of the blood cancers are usually more sick than I am. Overall, I'm a healthy person (of course that's relative).

 I'll get the results at the end of the month.