Sunday, August 26, 2012

A New Kind of Pain

I've been in denial.  So what else is new?

For the past couple of months I've had a new pain in my feet.  I'm used to getting toe cramps and cramps in the arch of my foot.  I like to think of these as good pain, as in "No pain, no gain."  I'm giving my feet a workout every day, so of course the muscles are going to be cramped and sore sometimes.  Massage and ice usually take care of these.

But this new pain has worried me.  It's a sharper pain, and it's in the top of the foot.  Initially just in the right foot, but now in both.  I thought it might be from overworking my feet, because I wore my minimal shoes all summer, and walked so much on vacation.  I iced my foot a few times, and wore regular shoes(my old Clarks) for a few days.  It seemed to help.

When the pain returned, I became more concerned.  What if I'm doing some permanent harm to my feet?  What if all this barefoot walking stuff is baloney?

I considered going to the doctor.  I should go to the doctor for a pain I'm worried about, right?  But the podiatrist is the one who told me my feet were hopeless, that I was fated to suffer debilitating hammertoes which would someday require surgery.  She's the one who told me there was nothing I could do to stop it.  So what's she going to tell me?  I can just hear it, "Those silly five finger shoes are not supportive enough.  You need to wear custom orthotic inserts.  And get ready for surgery."  Of course, this is just what I imagine, but really, she doesn't know much about barefoot walking.

Susan, you've gone rogue, remember?  You are NOT willing to give up on these feet.  You're on your own.

So I started paying attention to this pain.  I treated it just like my chronic mid-back pain, and my occasional shoulder pain.  To my morning ritual of yoga stretches and leg exercises, I added icing the top of my foot.  I iced it before bed.  And I took 600 mg of ibuprofen 3 times a day to reduce swelling.  I even added a gentle stretch: while standing, I curl the toes of one foot under and hold it for a count of 30.  And guess what?  The pain is greatly diminished.  Not gone, mind you, but manageable.  And at age 50, that's the best I can hope for, right?

Reminds me of a Louis CK shtick about his ankle when he turned 40. 
Louis CK

I'm going to go ice my foot now.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

"Ha, Ha! You're 50, Silly Woman!"

Aah, summer!  To me, it means fun outdoor exercise, travel, family, and plenty of sleep.  This summer was a family discovery time for me.  It also meant ups and downs with health issues.  Good feet, not-so-good knees.

Sweden's Southernmost Point
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Inspired by my sister's idea two years ago, my husband, son and I traveled to Denmark and Sweden to meet my cousins.  It was the trip of a lifetime!  My grandmother came over from Sweden when she was 16 years old, and she and my mom visited Sweden in 1959.  One of my sisters lived in Denmark as an exchange student in the 80's, and met some of the cousins.  A few of them have visited us here in the U.S.  But it was high time I got over there to visit them myself!

We received the most wonderful greeting from all the Danes and Swedes.  They hosted us in their homes, drove us all over to see the sites, served tasty and interesting Scandinavian meals, and even had a family reunion!  Young and old, all 45 of us enjoyed sharing stories, hugs, and good food and drink in Trelleborg, Sweden.  The experience gave me such a sense of the history of my grandmother's family, as well as a sense of belonging with a group of loving, generous, and fun people.  I look forward to maintaining these connections, and receiving them in our home some time soon.

The good news on my feet: I've worn my veebs, sandals, and gone barefoot all summer, and my feet feel almost perfectly fine.  We walked a ton, especially in Copenhagen, and my feet did not complain.  My knees were a different story.

To prepare for the trip, I did lots of leg exercises, hikes and swims.  I was hoping to get my patella calmed down (or lined up) enough to bicycle in Copenhagen, the bicycle capital of the world.  Two days before our flight to Denmark, I was doing some gentle squats.  Feeling strong, I tried doing them one leg at a time.  Pop!  Pop!  I knew something was wrong, so I iced them right away.  After a half hour, I went for a walk, and they felt fine.  But 3 hours later when I went to the grocery store, there was a stiffness.  They just felt wrong.  Then the pain started.  "Ha, ha," said my knees, "You think you're so tough?  You're 50, silly woman!"

All I can say about our flight two days later is, Lufthansa and Frankfurt airport are super.  When I asked for seats with extra leg room, the stewardess gave us bulkhead seats.  She must have seen my knee braces and cane.  Ibuprofen and ice were key.  I brought ziploc bags and asked for ice on the plane.  For our connecting flight out on the tarmac, they ordered me a special shuttle, and an elevator truck that lifted us up to the airplane door!  What service!

Passing on the Swedish Family History in Skåne

With cousins in Lund, Sweden

Hiking in Stenshuvud Park, Skåne, Sweden

Walking in the Gardens

A Copenhagen Plaza
Walking Over Canals

Taking the Train

Watching the Changing of the Guard

Taking a Rest

The Ubiquitous Copenhagen Bikes

A Tivoli Ride
I took it easy the next week or so, but had no problem driving, and was ok walking a bit.  The main activity was sitting and talking, eating and drinking with family.  That was a pleasure!   For the last part of our two-week trip, we went to Copenhagen on our own.  Every day we walked all over the place, sometimes taking the train downtown closer to the museums and palaces.  Walking down three flights from the apartment was the only big challenge.  The extensive walking actually seemed to help my knees.  Besides, we were having so much fun.  Palaces, gardens, museums, cafes, cobblestone streets, even a Tivoli ride.  I skipped climbing up the towers, but was content taking photos and hitting coffeehouses down below. 

Danish Design Museum

As my summer vacation draws to a close, I am not without pain.  The knees don't feel better, but nor do they feel any worse.  And I'm still able to walk, swim, and climb stairs.  My feet are still happy, too.  I have a stronger connection with my Scandinavian cousins, and promise myself to keep it going despite the distance.