Friday, November 22, 2019

The Bag Lady and the rainy day

We spend the winters in Arizona rather than in Washington, where we have our family home. The rain and gloom begins in November there, and usually doesn't end until at least May. I struggled with the winter darkness for the 25 years I lived and worked in the Pacific Northwest. Now that I'm retired I choose the sun.

This week it rained in Arizona. After many weeks of sun it was a nice break; I knew it would last only a few days rather than months.

I'd been struggling with some low back and hip pain for a number of months. Not an injury, maybe related to being overweight or wearing shoes without proper arch support. Usually these things improve with time, but this one hadn't. I finally made an appointment with my doc. She said, "We'll want to get x-rays, and you'll need to get physical therapy. Are you ready for that?"

I said yes. I was weary from not only the chronic physical discomfort, but of thinking about it. I have health anxiety and usually make things much worse in my mind than they actually are.

I got to the x-ray place the next morning. I'd had to turn on my windshield wipers for the first time in several months. I was sitting in the parking lot and realized I'd left the x-ray order on the table at home. The retrieval of the order took half an hour. By the time I was back in the parking lot agin, I had thought way too much about my physical issue, and I did a foolish thing: I ventured alone into the dangerous neighborhood of my mind. And what I concluded, for some reason, was that I've lived a good life, and if I were to die, it would be all right. It wasn't a suicidal thought at all. It was more of an awareness, which is probably a good thing to have when you're 71.

After I got the x-rays I waited to hear from the doc. She didn't call that night so I assumed it was because she was trying to figure out how to tell me I had a tumor in my spine. Really, that's what I thought. See how my mind is a dangerous neighborhood?

I saw the physical therapist the next day. I explained my symptoms. He told me that the muscles in my hip and the muscles in my back were fighting with each other. Something about compensation for a less-than-perfectly-symmetrical alignment - and wearing shoes without good arch support, and being older. He showed me a few exercises and then handed me a paper with pictures of them. I said, "You mean what I'm experiencing is common?" He said, "Oh, yes." I have appointments with him once a week for the next month.

Later that afternoon I got a text message from my doc. She said the x-rays showed arthritis. As, most likely, would be the case for any other 71-year-old person.

So there we are.

But maybe it wasn't the rain that triggered my parking lot thoughts. Here are some other possibilities:

  • After five trips to Greece in the last three years to volunteer at a refugee camp, the nonprofit closed its Greece operation last month for lack of funding. The situation in Greece is as bad or worse than it was. Many of the people we helped have moved on; many are still living in the camp or on the streets of Athens. Many new people arrive every day. I keep repeating the starfish story..."It made a difference to that one", but politics and human nature being what they are, I'm not optimistic that things will improve.
  • I'm volunteering at an asylum-seekers' shelter in Tucson now, but we haven't had guests for more than a week because people fleeing for their lives from other parts of the world are being held at the border. Again, it's about politics. The situation may improve, but I don't know when.
  • I had spent several hours listening to the impeachment proceedings.

On the other hand, there was a fellow named Scott Warren being tried in Tucson for giving humanitarian aid to people who had walked through the desert from the southern border. I heard him speak a few weeks ago, when he acknowledged he was afraid of the possibility of prison. The day after I sat in the parking lot, he was acquitted.

"Humanitarian aid is not a crime."

The sun is out again today, and I had a wonderful massage this morning, and I'm meeting a good friend for lunch, and meeting up with other friends for dinner and a card came. I think I'm okay with being 71.

Monday, November 11, 2019

A shoe story

Until I was about 45, I bought shoes in a size 7 1/2 B. Back then I was looking for style and color.

When I was 52 I walked in the Avon Breast Cancer Three-Day: 60 miles in three days of walking in Seattle. I trained for five months for that event. I needed the perfect clothes - wicking t-shirt, comfy shorts and underwear and socks. And shoes. The shoes were the hardest part.

I ended up with Brooks Addiction shoes from Shane's Food Comfort Center in Shoreline, Washington. In size 8 1/2 wide. With custom orthotics. So outfitted, I was able to walk 20 miles a day. My feet hurt at the end of each walk, of course, but the rest of my body was okay.

For the next ten years I was a Brooks fan; Addiction and Ariel were my go-to walking shoes. I'd call Shane's and ask them to save a pair, that I'd be in to pick them up. They asked if I wanted to try them on and I said no, thanks, I knew my size. My exercise of choice was a two-to-five mile walk, in my neighborhood and in neighborhoods where we traveled.

When I was 63 I hurt my back when I sat in a chair that was a couple of inches lower than I expected. An electrical light show coursed down my legs and left me with tingling feet - like a low-voltage electrical current running night and day. The doctors said I had nerve impingement of some kind - what you can't see on an MRI. They said it would probably resolve with time, but it could take a couple of years. It has been eight years now and it has not resolved.

In the meantime, my tingling feet didn't want to be enclosed in walking shoes. So I looked for more comfortable options. I found neutral Vibrams, then Merinos online in 8 1/2 or 9. Minimal arch support, but my feet were satisfied.

In June of this year - when I was 70 - I took my granddaughter to London. We did a lot of walking. I was wearing my Merinos. By the end of each day I was just about limping from pain in my feet that radiated up to my hips. I thought walking tours were over for me.

In October of this year - when I was 71 - I went to New York City with my friend Ellen. Again, we did a lot of walking. I was wearing my Merinos. By the end of each day I hurt from feet to hips. I sat down whenever I could, and Ellen had to slow down everywhere we went. I felt ancient and defeated.

Then she said over lunch, "You know, Linda, I bought a pair of Merinos at your suggestion, and they are the most comfortable shoes I have ever owned - for about a quarter of a mile. But they have no arch support. I didn't even bring them on this trip. I brought my Brooks Addictions."


We found a shoe store that carried Brooks shoes half a mile from our lunch place. On the last day of our trip. The salesman grinned when I told him my problem. "Yeah, you need arch support and you probably need a bigger size." He was right on both accounts. I bought a pair of Brooks Ariel shoes. In a size 9 1/2 extra wide.

There is NOTHING like arch support. Or trying shoes on at a shoe store rather than ordering them online for eight years.

We live and learn, I guess.