Aug 21, 08: My Legs and The Dog Lake Hike

Dog Lake is a 9,170 foot high subalpine lake in Yosemite. Beautiful views with Mt. Dana in the backdrop to the east surround this little gem of a hiking destination. Rounding out this year's vacation, we decided to go to Tuolumne Meadows in the High Country of Yosemite for a change. The cool air felt great, and I wanted to see what my legs could handle given the recent developments in the location of my weakness.

Having done the Half Dome hike last year just 2 days after getting my diagnosis, I had a very vivid recollection of how my legs were. Though only 4 miles round trip and about an 800 foot climb, I wanted to do this Dog Lake hike to see how my legs were different, if at all. Recall my recent post entitled "Something Happened Last Night" and how it felt like my legs had a major step toward a nerve repair. I figured this hike would shed some light. It did.

In the 2 weeks prior to this hike, Kathy, Jake and I prepared by going to the lake, swimming, golfing, drinking, eating whatever. It's a vacation, and it was nice to get away from the routine I have become so used to. I know I inflamed my bladder a little and had to wake up at night to pee a few times, but sleeping on the deck in the pine trees in the afternon made up for it.

As we got out of the truck, the two hour drive from the cabin to the meadow stiffened up my legs a little. As we found the trailhead, I really wondered if I was going to be able to make it. My legs felt so stiff and I was pretty uncertain. some thoughts of going backwards from not working out over the prior 2 weeks crossed my mind.

Soon those fears left me. My legs loosened up and I came to find I was quite able to do the walk. 9,000 feet made the climb a little challenging to the heart and lungs, but that was normal. I wanted my legs to work. My right leg was stable and strong. My left was fairly stable, but as I had blogged before, the weakness has clearly moved. The weakness in my left leg now is 100% on the quadracep. I climbed the path fairly strongly, going over uneven terrain more like a hiker than an MS patient.

The weakness for this hike came in lifting my left leg up each step in the climb. My left foot would drag a little bit as I would swing my leg up, but once my foot was planted, it was strong and I was able to thrust the mext step powerfully. It was quite thrilling actually.

About half way up, Kathy asked me how I was doing, if I could make it, and more importantly, would I be able to make it down. given the quad was the weak link now, coming down the hill might be a challenge. I knew it, but I said I was fine.

Two miles and around 800 or so feet up, Jake found the lake and we followed him in. We sat at the edge for a few minutes and ate our snacks and took in the view. After a little rest, we headed back down the hill to find out the question of how that would be.

I couldn't have been happier. I was more stable than in the Half Dome Hike last year, and even when I stumbled I was able to recover normally. The quadracep was definitely taxed on the downhill and I had to stop and rest it for a few seconds every little bit, but overall, this hike was clearly and definitively proof that I have improved.
So now I'm home and tomorrow it's back to the swimming and the normal routine.

8-08 Recent News on Tysabri

This past week Biogen and Elan stock dropped some 25% or so on the news that the MS wonder drug Tysabri had caused deadly brain infections in two people in the US. I think a story like this higlights a lot of issues related to long term health care and disease. Read my post on the A-fib I have a couple weeks ago and the blessing and curse it turned out to be. A blessing because there was an ER ready and able to deal with a serious issue like a heart, but a curse because of an overlealous cardiologist who wanted to go for the cut without any workup. (By the way, I've been back in the pool since the day after I got out of the hospital without a hiccup in my heart, which really leads me to believe there was some type of loss of prime in the pump. Swam a personal best in the 50 and 100 meter this past Friday.)

The news on Tysabri underscores several things in my eyes. First, it confirms to me that altering the body's chemistry with long term use of medication isn't a good idea. Second, it confirms that people have to take an active role in their health.

We hear all the time about these giant congomerates out for the buck pushing medications through the FDA only to hear about unfortunate events. Recall Vioxx, for one. I think it is easy for people to blame the pharms on the money grubbing idea, but I think it's going way too far to say these pharm companies are run by people who want a sick country so they can profit. Much like attorneys, people complain about them until they need them.

I also think the pharm companies have a valid defense in the above argument by claiming this country has a "fix me now with a pill" mentality. The drive for instant gratification feeds the system, and yes they profit, but in profit lies motivation. Necessity isn't the mother of all invention; profit is.

So what's the average person to do when ther is a litle bit of "right" in everyone's argument? People suffer, companies profit, but people get second chances on life too and companies take losses.

I think we have to recognize the difference and find the right time to use big medicine. The more urgent the problem, the more medicine has to play a role, whereas the more a problem is related to overall health, the less medicine should be involved. Doctors in this country are quite good at diagnosing things, but not as good at the right thing to do for a person's health. A urologist has a protocol to follow which is based on studies and legal proceedings over time. If a severely overweight patient comes in complaining of blood in their urine, it wouldn't be too prudent for the doctor to tell the patient to stop eating hamburgers and go do a colon cleanse.

Where I lose faith in the system is in the name calling. Proponents of Natural Healing argue Big Pharm doesn't care about anything but money whiile the medical industry labels alternative medicine as quackery.

Is there a balance? I think so. But currently balance only exists for people willing to look for it. The severely overwight patient who saw the urologist for blood in the urine should follow the orders for that specific treatment, and then ask himself what he could do to stop it from happening again. But will he? The statistics are pretty overwhelmingly against it. As soon as the blood goes away, he'll be drinking a case of beer a night again or eating calories excessively until something else goes wrong.

MS is a disease that happens slowly over time, mimicking the symptoms of old age. This is a disease that gives the benefit of time, because it generally doesn't lead to death. It's like a fire that burns little pieces and parts of a tree, affecting its overall health but letting it live. MS is one of the best diseases for patients to make lifestyle changes because we still have time on our side.

MS patients have got to come to a realization at some point that there is no synthetic cure, no pill, no drug, and no doctor that is going to remove MS from their body. Sure they will help a person deal with the symptoms, but nothing further. A person has to have the mindset that they aren't going to tolerate the disease, set out to find the way to cure it through eating, exercise and enzymes, and stick to that road with a real commitment to the cure.

Conversely, MS doctors have to stop telling patients there is no cure and there's nothing left to do but ride it out as comfortably as possible. They also have to stop lying about the notion that some magic pill is right around the corner. Of all the things I heard from various doctors about the disease, I think I found this the most hurtful. Though it might provide some sort of short term hope as the patient leaves their office, it really doesn't do anything for the longer term except add to the frustration.

The body doesn't respond to synthetic drugs in curing anything. Cold medicines don't cure the comon cold anymore than painkillers actually stop pain or Interferons cure MS. All these drugs do is chemically alter the body to suppress a natural reaction, allowing the person to manage symptoms until the body heals itself. The trick is understanding that MS is a lengthy cold that is going to require an enormous investment of time and energy to commit to the cure.

But what a challenge we're faced with. The information is out there. It's readily available. Once a person realizes the doctors are limited in their scope and a life change is required, sorting through the sea of supplements, MLM's, scams and other nonsense is enough to drive a person right back to the pharmacy.

As I tell all my friends, it really is easy. Forget the science and the little head. It’s simple. Here’s the easy rules.

1) If God made it and it will rot in a day if you leave it on the counter, eat and drink more (think fruit, veggies, fish, chicken). If humans did stuff to make it last longer so they can raise their profits, eat and drink less (think chips, coke, cake)
2) The body knows what it wants more than the mind does. This means if you mess up one day on rule #1, you will live. Just try to get back to rule #1
3) The body was designed to do stuff. So do stuff. Swim, walk, run, beat a rug. Moving the thumbs on a video game doesn't count.
4) Use digestive enzymes to improve the movement of food through the body, making sure to eliminate waste frequently (at least once a day).
Oh.......and be a human. Use the 80/20 rule and allow yourself the joys of life once in awhile. Eating a piece of cake on a weekend will be ok......just get back to it the next day.