Friday, December 18, 2015

Staying Strong on Golden-Years Road

Addendum: December 18, 2017:

Wow, I sure was blogging more a few years ago than I have been lately. Haven't lost interest in blogging, just doing more free-lance writing to make ends meet. To update this: Still battling spinal stenosis in order to keep walking. Weirdly, it is now more comfortable to walk with cane parallel to the ground and across my lower back for support than it is just to walk cane to ground. (Maybe I could use my back brace for extra support as well, if I can remember to put it on before walking out the door.) I love PT: Will start my Dear Wife (DW) in PT tomorrow to help her balance and hopefully prevent any more falls. Meanwhile, I also love my core fitness class and hope to continue it throughout 2018. But at first opportunity, it would be great additionally to take another round of aqua therapy such as I described here two years ago. Just doing my best to stay the course. Keep on hiking with my loyal dawg.

Blogpost of December 18, 2015:

Maybe I should be writing to earn some money this evening. Thank goodness, I still have that option. Or maybe I should be preparing for Christmas. But I did that all day today, and will do it most of the weekend. And I have had a good week of free-lancing, even landing in The New York Times.

Instead, I am returning to my blog, which is beckoning me to reflect further on challenges to preserve reasonably good health in the senior years. As I write here about my own adventures I hope my thoughts may someday help others who wander across them, or maybe even find them in my collected works someday.

Two words tell my good news: aqua therapy. My go-to doctor, a smart and compassionate lady, put in a referral for me to a pool-equipped physical therapy center, and thereby spared me the rigamarole of having to go through a neurosurgeon's sending me to PT as just one of the required steps before talking surgery.

I will tell you why I love aqua therapy. But first, I was heartened to find that my thoughts are getting around. I googled "aqua therapy" and found amid assorted professional papers and clinical advice, one of my very own steadfastdawgwalker blogposts, from August 22, 2013, headlined "Adding Aqua Therapy to the Quest of a New Me With a New Knee." You can check it out in the archived articles of this blog if you like.

That was done four months after the total replacement of my left knee. I had done rigorous, gymnasium-style PT by then, but I envisioned embarking on my own aquatic follow-up in the community pool. Without direction from a therapist, sad to say, it mostly entailed splish-splashing around and didn't last long.

Man's best friend loves aqua time, too
My introduction to genuine aqua therapy came when I hit my first bump following the golden-years road (not to be confused with the yellow-brick road), a few years into my 60s. I had written finis  ("30") to newspapering to take a fling at being a think-tank wonk in the rarefied air of Washington, D.C. and environs. One day, walking up a steep hill from the Metro stop to my Arlington, Va,, office I discovered that I could not walk a block without having to sit down and rest a few minutes. The pain in the middle of my back was intense. At first, I feared it was heart-related, but the doctors and an MRI confirmed that I had (and still have) spinal stenosis, a narrowing of the spinal canal. It often hits seniors as a result of wear and tear, but some folks have it from birth.

Long story short, after trying an (unpleasant) epidural pain shot and listening to a spine surgeon explain what his handiwork might entail, I gratefully accepted referral to PT, which turned out to be aqua-based at a magnificent pool in Prince William County, with a follow-up at Gold's Gym. Thanks to a sharp PT named Michele (who now runs her own PT business), I learned stretching exercises I could do on my own, and found motivation to lose weight. My mobility improved. My back didn't hurt so much. I remember when I related how because of PT I had been able to dance at my daughter's wedding, Michele gave me a big hug. And on the day of my graduation, she wrote a card saying that people like me made it worthwhile to be a physical therapist. That was nice.

Unfortunately, near the end of that first round of PT, I got the news from my cardiologist that my leaky aortic valve had resulted in a severe enlargement of my aortic root, and that both needed to be replaced. I remember Michele googled "aortic stenosis" furiously to see what further intel she might glean. Anyway, I have written extensively about my combined aortic root-and-valve replacement, and in its current winter issue Heartbeat magazine features my experience as an example of shared surgeon/patient decision-making. You can read the article at the Mended website if you like.

Of course, good heart health has been a constant goal along the golden-year road, but mobility has been the biggest day-to-day challenge. For years, I limped through 2 to 3 miles of daily dogwalking in an attempt to be good to both my back and heart while enjoying the great outdoors. I had rounds of gym-based PT for both knees and back, but they helped only marginally. Finally, I had the knee replaced in 2013.

Now that I am entering a new phase of walking, my back problems have returned full force. The stenosis that is usually centered in the lower back now seems to be radiating pain to the left hip and then down to the left (bionic) knee. In the past week, it has gotten so bad that I haven't even tried to walk Dasher the Wonder Dawg. Just as I was on the verge of despairing, my doctor came through with the referral to aqua therapy.

Now I have hope again. Exercising in the water is liberating. You can move without pain. It is taxing, in that the water provides resistance, but it is simultaneously soothing. My first session will be the week after Christmas. I can hardly wait. After it ends, it will be up to me to get to a pool on my own and keep it going year-round.

                                                  © Robert G. Holland  2015

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