Diet, Medicine and Supplements for Arthritis, the back story

Gentle Reader,

Before going into dietary suggestions, I want to share how I came to hold the beliefs and attitudes I have about allopathic medicine.

My father was an Orthopedist.  My mother was a nurse.  They believed in the miracles of medicine.  Mother worked for a General Practitioner during a New York City outbreak of the flu in the 30’s.  It was nothing like the great Pandemic that swallowed up between 20 and 40 million people, but she and her doctor never saw their whole list of patients in a day’s work.  When my parents met at the still new Morrisania Hospital complex in the Highbridge section of the Bronx, he was an intern, she a nurse.  Beginning married life in the Great Depression, theirs was a youthful enthusiasm for life, for medicine as a burgeoning panacea, for a future for any hard working person.

By the invasion of Normandy, recently discovered penicillin would save thousands who might otherwise have died of infection.  He would have had penicillin in his kit on board the USS Boise in the South Pacific where he was a navy doctor from 1942-45.  Before the war, practicing from his office in our home in West Chester County, NY my father became involved in the debilitating and wide spread polio epidemics of the late 1930s, early pre-war and on into the 50s years.  I remember his lecturing to parent groups and civic leaders about good diet and rest.  He encouraged people to continue to mingle in public places, but not large crowded movie theaters or swimming pools.  He felt isolation prevented the buildup of immunity.  He took me and my brother on home visits to polio patients, mostly children, expecting us to get exposed and build immunity.  Imagine his excitement when the poliovirus vaccine against polio wiped out this disease in the later 50s.  Much of his work in New York and later in Oklahoma beginning in 1947 was with polio victims and their rehabilitation through therapies and prosthetics.

I recount this history to get a better understanding myself of the enthusiastic embrace of pharmaceutical breakthroughs on the part of my parents.  Unfortunately my father’s excitement over each new drug led to indiscriminant experimentation with himself and his children. The largest drawer in the bathroom cabinet was filled with physician’s samples.  At the slightest sniffle, I would be offered the latest anti-biotic.  One such drug caused my first arthritis.

I was in high school, a competitive swimmer and when I came down with a serious sinus infection and was unable to continue swim practice, he gave me several doses of a new drug.  Unfortunately it settled in the synovial fluid of my knees causing pain especially when sitting in the back seat of a 2 door car or balcony seats in the theater.  Folding my legs tight was extremely painful.   I used aspirin for relief, carrying a bottle in my purse and often eating several tablets without benefit of water.

I deviate to tell you a little story about drugs and the Johnson family.  My brother Eric and I raised white Leghorn chickens for a 4H project.  The county extension agent recommended growth hormones.  This is the 50s when better living through chemistry was heralded on every side.  My brother decided he could hurry his growth by drinking one of the vials himself.  He was about 12 at the time.

Sometime during college my knee pain subsided somewhat, but residual creaking persisted.  Nothing stopped me from an active life of biking, swimming, walking, dancing and anything else where movement was involved.  There was always a bottle of aspirin in my purse.

Winters were tough on me.  I often had colds that descended to the chest, became bronchitis and required antibiotics.  A typical winter saw three rounds of colds, bronchitis and antibiotics.  Following my father’s model, at the first sign of the sniffles, I started taking Coricidin, drying up the natural response to a cold virus.

This cycle happened year after year until my senior year in high school, my sinus condition became so severe, and I begged my father to take me to a specialist in Oklahoma City.  It was a 4 ½ hour drive and a full day away from his own medical practice.  I remember sitting next to him in the front seat of our Nash station wagon, feeling special that he would make this effort on my behalf.  I am sure I had been a willing user of all the drugs he had offered me over the years.  After the office visit and some diagnostic procedure like today’s nasal endoscopy, the specialist told me there was nothing that could be done surgically.  I should give up swimming and certainly never dive into the water.

Medicine could not perform the magic I wanted.  My disappointment was profound.  I would not give up swimming.  I would wear ear plugs and a nose clamp, taking precautions.  Within three inactive winter months, I had gained 25 pounds.  No one noticed until one day a Doncaster clothing representative had set up his wares in our living room for my mother and several of her friends.  Mother urged me to try on several stylish slim fitting long skirts from his model size 12.  When I could not close the zipper, standing there in my bra and panties, she all but shrieked at the sight of me, belly too large with angry stretch marks running diagonally in two tracks down each side.  Now that I was the object of close inspection, further stretch marks were discovered on my breasts, buttocks and thighs.

This humiliation was reported dramatically at the breakfast table the next morning.  My father laid down the gauntlet, my two younger brothers cheering him on.  I would lose this weight.  Mother, who had slowly put on a few extra pounds, challenged me to a contest to see who could lose the most by summer.  Drugs to the rescue.  We bought boxes of those little chocolate and caramel chews laced with phenylpropanolamine – a substance the FDA has now ruled “not recognized as safe”.

What were we doing?  Lose weight without dieting.  Miracles through chemistry.

When I married Don Bell after my sophomore year in college, I was still a round person, strong, athletic, but carrying 25 extra pounds.  He gladly took over my father’s task of counting my calories and checking my weight every day.  But I needed to flex my independence from this tyranny and did so by eating a delicious double dip ice cream cone every afternoon from the shop on the University of California Berkeley campus.  After months of this indulgence, I experienced a humiliating episode of uncontrolled bowels.  I was paralyzed with cramps and loose stool as I trying to walk home from campus.  Finding a pay phone, dialing through tears, Don came to pick me up.  Tenderly sympathetic, he helped me to the bathroom where I cleaned myself up.  At an appointment with a proctologist the next week, I had to confess to the daily intake of rich creamy cones which had caused this mess.  Ice cream is not my friend.

In January of 1971, I was diagnosed with breast cancer and wheeled into the operating theater on the day my oldest of four daughters turned 10.  I made a pact that day with God that I would do everything in my power to lead a healthy life so no cancer would return.  Making sense of cancer at age 34 led me to believe all those antibiotics and other medications over the years had destroyed my own immune system’s ability to respond.  Perhaps irrational but nonetheless compelling, I decided against allopathic intervention for any illness I might develop until I had tried everything else.

Now that you have the back story for my crusade to heal the body without medicine, I will tell you what I have discovered to be helpful dietary choices and supplements.  Stay tuned.

I’d be interested in your story around medicine and medical intervention.  How do you feel about drugs?  How did you develop the attitudes you have?  Please share.

Be Well, Do Well and Keep Moving.

Betsy

Betsy Bell’s Health4U

http://www.HiHoHealth.com

 

Hiking the Wonderland Trail, Mt. Rainier 1990/2006

Gentle Reader,

The Goodwill Games brought 2300 athletes from 54 countries to Seattle in the summer of 1990.  My husband, Don Bell, chair of the public forum, Target Seattle: Preventing Nuclear War, in 1982, helped organize the representatives to the games from the Soviet Union.  Our house, a few blocks from the University of Washington football stadium where the opening ceremonies were held, was full of Soviets, young Russians in their 30s and a few Uzbeks from our sister city, Tashkent.  During the eight years between the first events in ’82, many groups traveled to and from the Soviet bloc including cooks (Peace Table), a team making and taking prosthetics and organizing competitive handicapped soccer matches here and abroad to name just a couple.  Many had been in our home.

In the middle of this pre-Goodwill Games opening swirl, my youngest daughter, Ruth and I worked in our spacious dining room preparing the food for our 13 day back packing trip on the 95 mile Wonderland Trail around Mt. Rainier.  Visiting Soviets–Uzbek and Russian–were mildly curious as we assembled a large metal bowl full of homemade granola and protein powder and then filled zip lock bags for each morning.  A second bowl contained all the ingredients for our favorite gorp which we mixed by hand, digging deep into the M & M’s, roasted almonds, sunflower seeds, dried cherries, peanuts and dried plums.  Salami sticks, blocks of hard cheese, rye crackers were divided for lunches.  We put together mixtures for the evening meals: peanut butter soup (too rich) and other quick meals, not all freeze dried.

My next youngest daughter, Eleanor, arrived a day before our early departure for the Ranger Station where we obtained our permit and assigned camping spots along the route.  She lived in Berkeley where she was in graduate school and took the train up to join us.

Less than a year earlier, I herniated disc L5 and began the therapies to get myself to this point.  We divided the gear, a 3 person dome tent, stove, sleeping bags, mats, clothes and food so each had about 36 pounds.  The girls probably carried more than I did.  I did not have hiking poles which turned out to be foolish.  I now use them on every hike except the short 3 – 4 mile ones in the city parks.

Our permit sent us counter clock wise around the mountain starting at Mowich Lake in the upper north west corner.  Others had secured camping spots high up on the ridges.  We had to settle for the valleys of the Mowich River, the North Puyallup and the South Puyallup rivers, Paradise River, Nickel Creek with Summerland the only up-slope campsite.  Our disappointment turned into delight as we were on top of the world each mid day and could skinny dip in the high lakes unnoticed.  We planned food pickups at Longmire where a car was parked with the next section’s food in the trunk, and again at Sunrise where Don was to meet us with the last segment’s food stash.

I fared well hiking carefully, thinking Pilates moves with each step.  I favored the left leg worrying that it would not sustain strength over the full 13 days.  Eleanor suffered knee pain from the extreme up and down each day.  We descended 2500 ft our first day, carrying full packs.  The next morning we gained 2400 ft by lunch time, took a dip in Golden Lake and descended 1400 ft to our riverside camp site.  I’d been training on stair cases and was managing well.  Eleanor was having so much trouble; she decided to leave the hike and took the car home from the Longmire parking lot.   After picking up a hiking stick and salty gorp (we forgot the need for extra salt when sweating so much), Ruth and I got our campsite settled and then hitched a ride up to Paradise lodge in a camper van from the Narada Falls visitor overlook.  Enjoying a pitcher of beer in the bar at Paradise, we eves dropped on a group from Minnesota just down from summiting Mt. Rainier.  The flatlanders had a tough time with the altitude, and a couple of them could not make the top.  I realized I had no intention of ever climbing a snow capped mountain.  Little did I know then that I would attempt Mt. Shasta in 2005 reaching 13,000 ft.

Hiking around Mt. Rainier weaves in and out of civilization and wilderness. Within 200 yards of a paved overlook, crowds of summer visitors trip along in high heels, flip flops, pushing strollers, tipping back cokes and munching on chips. Into this scene emerging from 4 days in total wilderness appear 3 women, sweaty headbands, heavy boots and packs, unwashed faces and unkempt hair.  We did not dally, but pushed through the milling groups to find the forest trail again.  Only at Longmire and Paradise did we take advantage of the amenities.

By day 7, my right leg and hip were becoming so painful it hurt to take each step.  The right side had compensated for the weaker left leg and ankle.  Using my new walking stick with each left step put more stress on the right side.  It was an eleven hour day covering eleven miles, up over snow fields and through spectacular fields of flowers, high bubbling streams, and alpine moon scapes above the timber line.  One special moment I remember all these years later, I lay down on the trail to rest just a few feet from a large rust, grey and back marmot slowly nibbling his way across our path to the lupine beyond.  We could hear him ripping flower heads and chewing.  Carrying my stick in both hands and putting each foot down as evenly balanced as I could, we finally descended into Summerland in the dark, head lamps locating a camping spot.  All I could do was get into the tent and stick my aching feet straight into the air.  We managed to fix dinner and were sound asleep without seeing the incredible beauty that awaited us in the morning.

From Summerland to the White River camp ground is a short distance.  Thy day was hot and clear.  In the wash house, we washed our hair hoping to look presentable for our men who were meeting us in the late afternoon.  It was August 8.  We began the 2000 ft. ascent in bright sunshine.  Half way up the 2000 ft gain from White River to Sunrise, heavy weather caught us.  Clouds, thunder and lightning moved in quickly followed by hail.  The alpine trees are so short at that elevation, they offered no protection.  We put on everything we had to keep dry and warm and hurried up the last couple of miles, a stair case to the Sunrise parking lot to find Don and Ruth’s boyfriend sitting in the car with the windshield wipers going full blast.  They convinced us to abandon the last segment of the hike, 35 of the 95 miles still to go.  When we got to the Mowich Lake parking lot to retrieve our car, clear sky and full sun greeted us.  Mt. Rainer makes its own weather and the storm was confined to the Sunrise side of the mountain   So disappointing.

Persuading me to quit was not too difficult. I doubted my ability to do the last 35 miles.  That remaining section of the Wonderland Trail haunted Ruth and me.  We tried again to do it from Mowich to Sunrise in 2000 and were snowed out again on August 10th.  Finally after I had trained and climbed Mt. Shasta in July of 2006, I felt was strong enough to carry a pack, and we completed the Northern loop in August.  Our circumnavigation of the mountain did not end on the Wonderland Trail.  Those permits were all taken.  We began in mist hiking in from Lake Eleanor through Grand Park, a little known back entrance to the Park from the north. The second day we walked in heavy wet weather, moisture coming up and in sideways from the water laden plants along the narrow underused trail.  On the third day the sun broke out to reveal the most glorious infrequently visited section of the park, Yellowstone Cliffs.  Climbing out of Carbon River to Seattle and Spray Parks in hot sun, we breathed the fragrant air, eyes feasting on a sea of wild flowers and deep green grass.  Spreading our wet gear out on high rocks to dry, Ruth and I read, sketched and languished lazily before finally hiking the last miles to meet our waiting family.  We could now claim the Wonderland Trail, 95 miles of absolute glorious wilderness.  My first 60 miles celebrated my 53rd birthday.  The last segment celebrated my 68th

This blog post is a reminiscence of triumph over injury, of doing a great physical activity against all odds.  I know you have had similar triumphs.  I hope you are inspired to keep moving.  Do not give up. Leave a comment with your story.

Be Well, Do Well.  Keep Moving,

Betsy

206 933 1889

betsy@hihohealth.com

http://hihohealth.com

Pilates for back pain?

Pilates for back pain?

Becci announced that after 6 months of attentive Feldenkrais sessions, I was now ready to see Mary Sue Corrado.  Like Becci, Mary Sue is a former dancer and turned to Pilates as a path to help increase body awareness, find pain free exercise movements and improve posture.  After several private lessons in her Bodies in Balance studio, I joined others in her semi-private classes.  The hour and a half sessions were serious business.  For 8 ½ years I showed up, mostly on time, took off my shoes, gathered my tools—ethafoam, blocks, triangular cushion, theraband, little foam roles for my neck, wrists, knees—and began my routine under her watchful eye. (In Seattle, we have http://friendlyfoam.com/ store that sells all sorts of therapeutic foam).

There was no side talk amongst the other students.  “Make a coffee date to talk about that,” she would instruct if we fell to gossiping.  Mary Sue was free to talk about what was on her mind, however.  We just turned to Pacific Standard Time and I can hear her voice complaining about moving toward the dark of the year and fussing with the clock to hasten it.  Mary Sue would describe walkers she had observed as she did Green Lake and exclaim that she wanted to go up to people and indicate ways to improve their stride, back position, swing of the arms.  It is no wonder that her nickname is the “Posture Police.”

I loved and hated those sessions.  They saved my life.  With Feldenkrais, Becci had moved me.  Our effort on her table was to gentle my tendency to push my body; to learn to listen to it and use all supportive muscles to lift, twist, bend for natural flow.  My graduation to Mary Sue’s brand of Pilates meant bringing effort to the work.  She showed me how to place a gentle finger on my abs as I lifted a bent knee leg inches off the floor so that I could be sure they—the abs were doing the work and not some other muscle.  I was to isolate the working part and its tendons and muscles and teach the particular mechanism to do the job without engaging non-essential parts.

One particularly difficult lesson for me was lying on the mat face down, arms out-stretched over my head, and lifting one arm and the opposite leg barely off the ground.  I was instructed by her gentle hand on the muscle below the shoulder wings to lift from way down, the erector spinae,  not the trapezius.  Of course, my shoulder muscles wanted to scrunch up around my ears to help.  She would lightly touch the big triangular muscle below.  I gradually learned to engage it and leave my traps lying quietly along side the upper spine.

Do you know where your multifidi muscles are?  Lying under the erector spinae.  This ropy length of muscles on either side of the spinal column are primarily responsible for holding you up.  Mary Sue was helping me re-discover these essential muscles.  I needed them to function if I was going to carry a heavy pack for 12 days on the Wonderland Trail.

I call this blog NoWheelChair for a reason.  When Dr. Herring, the UW Sports Medicine Neurologist

looked at my Magnetic Resonance Imaging—MRI, he declared my bones to be poor candidates for surgery.  They already looked worn out at age 53.

“You are going to have to build strong supportive muscles.  Your bones are no good.  If I didn’t know you and with only your pictures to go by, I’d think you should be in a wheel chair.”

Pilates was my ticket to strong muscles.

Let me add here that not all Pilates is the same.  Mary Sue had more than one client refugee from improper Pilates technique.  In a large class with no personal, hands-on supervision, one can easily over-strain the back, especially in the 100’s, a Pilates exercise where you form an inverted triangle with your bottom at the base, your torso and legs extended to form the sides.  With your arms held tight and straight, you pulse forward engaging the abs as you breathlessly count to 100.  Mary Sue did not approve this posture although her students did plenty of ab strengthening V shaped exercises as we progressed to that level.  I confess that I have never attended any other Pilates classes.  You see, I am such an energetic learner that I will attempt anything the instructor calls out and end up over doing and hurting myself.  Remember in my first post when I described following Jack LaLanne as he performed doggy leg lifts, even though it hurt like the blazes.  I figured pushing through the pain would cure the pain.

“Nothing should ever hurt,” was Mary Sue’s mantra.  Since my daily activities often produced aches and pains, I showed up in her studio once too often hurting in the tiniest beginning exercises and she made me start all over at baby steps.  It was the always having to begin again that made me search for something else after eight and a half years.  Happily I still begin most days with her voice in my ear, my index finger lightly touching my abs as I do my tiny leg lifts, pelvic tilts, and controlled crunches.  I bought a strong iron footstool on Ebay to use for the standing exercise where one foot is placed in a length of sports tubing, the other end of which is held tight over the top of a closed door.  Standing on one foot, the other swings back and forth across the erect, perfectly postured body.  This exercise particularly helps with balance and strengthens each leg’s abductors and adductors.

I have not found a Pilates instruction You Tube for you.  Everything I looked at is geared to athletic strengthening, does not use any of the foam pillows and blocks designed to help an injured body isolate the muscles that need to be recovered while the others rest.  We learn so many compensatory strategies to help us avoid pain and keep us moving.  Quite often, these strategies exacerbate the painful condition rather than help it.  Therapeutic Pilates may be necessary before Pilates itself, in the normal studio for normal people, will be beneficial for someone like me.  I found one website that advertises a therapeutic approach to Pilates.  If you have plenty of money and time, you can check it out.  I was lucky enough to have a couple former dancers bring my back to life again right here in Seattle.

Next week I will tell you about the hike.  We nearly made it all the way around Mt. Rainier. It was one of the greatest adventures of my lifetime.

Be well.  Do well.  Keep Moving.

Betsy

BetsyBell’s Health4U

www.HiHoHealth.com

Betsy@HiHoHealth.com