Wednesday, April 10, 2013

15 Months in a Week

I mentioned the bruising on my arm a couple posts ago, and I even added pictures.

I was a little worried about a blood clot, but I saw my local doctor today, and he's convinced I either partially ruptured or partially tore the medial tendon on my bicep. I'm sure he thinks that caused the bruising because over the last three weeks, the bruises have moved down around my elbow.

I'm pretty sure I realize now what happened. I was worried that I might have a blood clot because the bruised area really didn't hurt until a week after I played soccer and got the gigantic bruise. Also, the pain was getting worse, not better.

Once the doctor told me there's damage to one of the biceps tendons, I knew exactly what happened.

The bruise came from crashing into someone playing goalie. There was a little soreness just under my shoulder on the outside of my arm, and the bruising clearly came from there.

Since my arm wasn't hurting, I continued exercising, and of late exercising has included trying to get back to being able to do one pullup. Each day I was getting to where I could get an inch higher, but I was really going at it, holding myself up as long as I could and really straining. I'm absolutely certain this is what caused the tendon problems.

Even more so, a friend reminded me tonight that there are medications that damage tendons. That includes the antibiotic that I've been taking ever since my first chemotherapy over a year and a half ago.

I can strengthen the tendon by exercising, but I have to go easier on it.

Actually, right now I have to go completely easier on it. Since I was worried the pain near my elbow was from a blood clot, I've been keeping all the muscles around there moving. Exercise is good for a blood clot. It is not, however, good for a damaged tendon, and that is why the pain's been getting worse. Fortunately, there's been too much pain the last week or so to try pullups, so I haven't done any "heavy" lifting on that bicep.

Now I know I have to rest it, ice it, give it Glucosamine and Gelatin and light massage. I need to treat it like an injury.

I only didn't figure it out because I never thought of their being two problems, bruising from soccer and tendon strain from extreme exertion trying to do a real pullup.

I have a history of going overboard and injuring myself--mildly--when I exercise. In this case, however, the doctors aren't encouraging me to do less, they're encouraging me to do more.

I have a plan, though, and it's working. Today I ran & walked 5 laps around our warehouse, just over a mile, in 12:25, a personal PL (Post-Leukemia) best by over a minute. My previous best PL time was 13:34, and that was for exactly a mile. Five laps around the warehouse may be 1.1 miles.

Each morning I get up and run on the treadmill at least four minutes. Usually it's just over 5 now that I've been doing this almost two weeks. Four minutes is pretty easy now, and I get only mild strain in my calves. Five minutes has me breathing pretty hard, and my calves get pretty uncomfortable, but it's significantly easier than two weeks ago.

I have a mile-long run in my sights for two weeks from now. We'll see how that goes. I hope to be up to 6 or 7 minutes on the treadmill every day by then. A mile will take me something like the 12:25 I ran and walked today, but it's easier to run outside than on the treadmill by quite a bit, at least for me. I've already done 7:30 of straight running outside, and that was at least a week ago.

I'm kind of excited about becoming a runner again, and I'm trying not to push the progress so much that I injure myself. I've already done that with my bicep, which means I'm limited on the upper body exercises until it heals. At 51, muscles don't heal real fast, so I've probably cost myself at least 4-6 weeks. That's pretty annoying, though I can still do situps and lower back exercises. I can even do pushups if I don't do too many.

Otherwise, life is seeming pretty normal again. I have to watch my toes really carefully to prevent outbreaks of ingrown toenail, and I still have the medications to take and the steroid cream to put on every day.

Oh, and ...


I still have limited hair! As long as my hair is short enough that it can't be moved around, I'm okay. However, as soon as I let it grow much past a quarter-inch, then a hat moves the hair some, and it can leave me looking like I have mange. I just don't have that much hair.

What's funny about that is that I'm pretty sure the problem is that my gray hairs have not come back. It's not that they've gone back to being black, but they just haven't grow back. With only my dark hair on my head, my hair is pretty thin. Like I said, it doesn't look too bad when it's less than a quarter inch short, but seeing my scalp when it's longer makes me look sick (literally sick).

My white hair fell out 2 or 3 days before my black hair when I lost it, too. When it happened, the nurse told me she'd never heard of that happening to anyone else.

Now it's coming in last, too. I have my white beard hairs, though I don't think I have all of them. They are mostly on the side (and shaved off because there's so few of them), and my goatee is definitely not as gray as I remember it.

To give you possibly too much information, but it will be interesting for those who have gone or will go through chemo, I've grown and lost my underarm hair twice since I left the hospital after transplant. Mostly, I don't have any underarm hair now, even though I have most of the rest of my body hair back. I have a lot less hair on my legs, and I don't have any gray hairs on my torso. I used to have quite a bit of grey, at least on my chest.

Like I said, that's more than most of you want to know. I'm just kind of hoping to spare the next person the fear that they're relapsing if they lose hair they've already grown once. Happened to me, and I have no indications of relapse.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Math Prodigies & Autistic Savants

On our vacation a couple weeks ago, I was terribly proud of myself. My daughter gave me a math problem to do in my head. She started with a 9-digit number times a 9-digit number, which caused me to howl with laughter. "I can't remember the numbers," I told her, "much less multiply them. Give me something reasonable."

She ended up giving me a 4-digit number times a 2-digit number, it may have been 5974 x 37. Due to the fact that 5974 is so closes to 6,000, I was able to do it easily. I just did 6x37, added three 0's to the end, then subtracted 37X26, which was a math problem I could do.

It was the first time I'd ever done a 4-digit times a 2-digit number in my head, and at age 51, I'm way out of practice. I was excited, and admittedly a bit proud.

Today, however, I'm finishing The Spark, which you absolutely must read. I'm having trouble finishing these last 20 pages because I keep writing about it.

It's about this autistic kid who was delivered from his autism by some brilliantly creative thinking by his mother. By "brilliantly creative," I mean her methods should have been obvious to everyone, but no one else thought of it. ("No one else thought of it" is an exaggeration, but since her central idea runs contrary to "mainline" therapy for autistic kids, I felt free to say that.)

Her child did not so much come out of autism as he was allowed to benefit from it. At one point, Kristin Barnett, the mother, says, "Trying to cure autism is like trying to cure science or art."

This video is about savant Stephen Wiltshire. Jacob Barnett can't draw like Stephen, but he can memorize cities like Stephen can.

I'm toward the end of the book—only 10 pages from the end—so now I'm getting to read the superstar stories and not just the "oh, wow, how are we ever going to get through this" stories. Let me try to quote you this one.

To set the story in place, Jake (Jacob Barnett, the autistic son), has a summer job researching theories relating to light and fiber-optics. His mom is wondering why he has so much free time, and Jake, who may be the smartest person in history, explains that he's been getting the problems he's been assigned solved on the drive home from the university.

This week, he said, would be the exception. He didn't think he'd be able to solve the latest problem he'd been given in time for his meeting on Tuesday.

   I launched into a stern lecture about the importance of a strong work ethic. "You have a job now, Jake. You're being paid, and people are counting on you to do whatever is asked of you. These problems are not optional. ... "

   "I'm not sure I can," he said. ... "In that case, you give your best effort," I told him. "... And remember, there's no shame in asking for help."

A couple hours after that, Jake was leaving the house with his brother. His mom checked on him, and he assured her that he thought he had something he could use. Mom was happy, proud that her son had done the work required of him.

When he went back to research on Tuesday, he called, very excited.

"I did it, Mom. I did it!"

   "Slow down, honey. What did you do?"

   "I solved it! I solved the problem!"

   "That's great! I'm so glad you stuck with it."

   "No, Mom, you don't understand. It was an open problem, a problem in math nobody has been able to solve. And I solved it!"

   I had misunderstood. This hadn't been any ordinary homework assignment, but the kind of problem that career mathematicians take months, years, even decades to unravel. Yet in two hours, between working on his jump shot and playing on the Xbox, Jake had solved it.

I know this story makes it sound like mom's bragging, but there is nothing boastful about this book.

Sponsored Link

The other story I wanted to tell you from the book is when his story finally hit the mainstream media and people began hearing about this amazing kid. A researcher on child prodigies asked if she could run tests on him, and because this researcher seemed to care for Jake and be very "human," Jake's parents allowed it.

In the midst of the test, she read him off 60 random animals. He recited them back in order. She then assigned random colors to each of the animals. He recited the animals back, with their colors, in order again. At that point, she moved on to other questions, then a few minutes later asked him about the animals and colors again. Once again, he recited them back, in order.

The researcher told Ms. Barnett, "No one has ever done that before. Never" (Paraphrase).

Ah, well, I'm still pretty proud of that multiplication problem I did for my daughter. I want to go practice multiplying again, because I saw a guy doing math tricks on a Youtube video, and I figured out there's a secret to multiplying two 5-digit numbers that should put that within my reach, too. I'd have to practice, though.

Anyway, the book is a lot better than I'm describing. I cried through large portions of it, and I think her central theme for teaching not just her own autistic child, but several others as well, is brilliant and obviously, incontrovertibly true.

Who will benefit from this book? You get to ride the incredibly roller coaster of this family's life. I had to take a walk when I read this completely overloaded mom suffered a stroke at age 30, caused by lupus, an incurable auto-immune disease. I couldn't keep reading. But the highs in this book are so high and so amazing that I had to keep a tissue box with me when reading it.

But both you and everyone you know will benefit from reading this book because you will get a new insight into human nature. Probably it won't be a completely new insight, but after you get done listening to Kristin Barnett, you are going to see places to apply that insight everywhere you go.

Now I have to go back to learning how to be a savant. I think it's just a matter of learning how to use different parts of your brain to do things a new way. I just have to find out if it's possible for me to make those kinds of adjustments in my brain. I'm hoping that being pretty weird already will give me a jump start.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

15 Months Post-Transplant: A Review

Results really vary among those who have had a bone marrow transplant. In fact, not all of us survive. Some of us worry constantly about relapse, some (like me) never give it a thought, even though none of us can rule it out. In fact, the 2400 rads of radiation I got in my brain and body means that I have a high risk of new cancers beyond relapse.

I can't see the good in worrying about that, and for some reason (I chalk it up to God's grace) I seem to be able to "fret not," that's what I do: fret not.

Health and Exercise

I've taken a new tack on getting my stamina back. I was doing two-mile sessions, running some, but mostly walking. Progress has been slow, and that's probably because the exercise sessions took at least 35 minutes, often close to an hour if I include some warming up before and stretching afterward. As a result, I didn't do those sessions on a lot of days and just limited myself to calisthenics, 5-minute or 10-minute sessions several times a day.

So now I'm running every day, about as far as I can run without stopping, which is a little over 5 minutes outside and right at 4 minutes on the treadmill inside.

I still try to fit in the walks and calisthenic sessions (push-ups, sit-ups, and a bunch of exercises I made up), but I am also sure to get in exercise that gets me toward my goal of being able to return to jogging as a main exercise. It's the one exercise that I know from experience that I will stick to on an almost daily basis for years.

I've just been doing this for a week, and I upped the treadmill time to 4:15 (not much of an improvement, huh?). I'll let you know how progress goes.

I'm a little frustrated with the pushups. I do pushups almost every day, and sometimes I do sets. Other times, I do pushups 2 or 3 times in a day. I've been stuck at 12-14 pushups for about 3 months. Admittedly in December, I could only do 10 pushups, then 12 in January, and now I think I could do 14 and maybe 15 at any time. Hang on ...

Just 14.

Still, 10 pushups to 14 pushups in 3 months, taking into account the work I've put in, is almost depressing.

On the other hand, I would say that I have almost returned to my slow, overweight level of soccer skill that I had at 49. I don't have the endurance I did, but I'm almost back to that pitiful speed I had BL (Before Leukemia).

My plan is to work on sprints once I can run 2 miles straight and get faster than I was BL.

Ok, speaking of soccer. Want to see a couple cool photos?

I found out that if you're taking Coumadin, you might want to be careful about how aggressively you go after loose balls when you're playing goalie. Diving for loose balls around the goal is important, as is rushing the oncoming striker in a 1 on 1 situation, but when your blood is thin it can leave marks on your body that really worry your friends and family.

The picture on the left and below was at the peak of bruising. The picture on the right and above is today. I had to take today's picture myself, so it's not very good.

Okay, here's another couple pictures, taken at the Huntsville Space Museum:

I had to let you see this old guy climbing with all the kids at the space museum. My hands still have a lot of strength to regain, so I didn't dare try this, but some white-haired, 60-year-old guy tried it and did better than most of the kids.

I told him I was impressed later, and he said he was pretty sure he was going to regret it the next day. I was impressed anyway.

Revisiting My New Life's Resolution

I didn't make an actual New Year's resolution, but I did make a New Life Resolution when I got out of the hospital after the transplant last year. I was not going to live life by the urgent anymore. I was just going to make the best use of my time, worry less, trust God completely, sleep more, and emphasize people, not tasks.

I failed.

I've been crazy busy, taking on more responsibility than I should have, and living my old way. I get a lot done, some of it important, but in the end the urgent and important end up in the way of God's best for my life ... That means it ends up in the way of God's will for my life, and I end up living in rebellion to God while doing what is good, important, and necessary.

The good can be, and often is, the enemy of the best.

Recommitment time. I'll let you know how I do.

Second New Life Resolution

My other New Life Resolution was to quit being such a perfectionist. There's tons of stuff I've written that is sitting on my hard drive because it's not up to my standards. You would not believe how much. I've been writing almost every day for at least two decades, probably closer to three.

I'm not going back to edit this blog. I wanted to say all this, so I said it. Feedback welcome from you. Feedback from me, however, has proven too critical and has been counter-productive. I'm firing the critic part of me, and I'm keeping on only the writer and editor part. (The editor is critical, too, but he finishes his job eventually.)