Monday, March 29, 2010

Vacationing with an infant is like having sex - Jamaica Part One

OK, not the comparison you were expecting but hear me out....

Vacationing with an infant is a lot like having sex because it's never as perfect as in the movies but, once you let go of that idealized vision and live in the moment, there are an awful lot of great 'moments' to enjoy.

Our week in paradise was definitely not perfect and we had to make some adjustments based upon previous trips: there was none of that idle floating in the ocean and topping off our tan (we barely got a tan); we didn't do any exciting excursions (in fact, we barely left the resort); and we spent more time in our room than we ever have before (3-4 hours a day just for naps). Yet, it was all worth it.

The moment we landed in Montego Bay with our smiling munchkin, a lump swelled up in my throat and I was filled with joy: I said I was going to travel with my baby abroad and I said I would be back to Jamaica... and there we were! Then, as I waded into the calm, aqua-blue sea with Daisy in my arms, I think a tear even escaped my eye. Just under two years ago, Hubby and I left that same stretch of beach in Negril having celebrated making it through my hip surgery, and in month one of trying to get pregnant. The very next month Daisy was conceived. And now there we were with our beautiful daughter, sharing our favorite place in the world with her. There is nothing like sharing the things you love with your kids, I have discovered. Jamaica is just the first of many places I'm excited to show her as she grows.

That car seat saved our sanity

Jamaica 2010 013
Thank GOD for binkies!

After we changed our vacation dates last December, our flights ended up being a tad cheaper and so we put some of the remaining credits toward a seat for Daisy vs. putting her on our lap. Since she is now walking (vs. just crawling in December) it was the best decision we have ever made. Let me say this now, unquivocally: I WILL NEVER FLY WITH DAISY WITHOUT BUYING HER A SEAT.

Maybe you have a kid that will happily sit on your lap for a few hours at a time and play with you, or snuggle in your arms when he/she is sleepy. If so, I'm happy for you. Save the money and don't bother with the seat. However, I do not. Daisy is a physically active, wriggly, independent and wilfull child. I wouldn't have her any other way but putting her on my (or anyone else's) lap for 4 hours at a time would have been a complete and utter nightmare - for us and everyone else on the plane.

Even with the seat, the most amount of sleep we got out of Daisy (usually an excellent sleeper) was an hour and a half per flight - and that was even with with doing a red-eye! The rest of the three or so hours was spent trying to get her to sleep, reading, singing to her, or walking up and down with her. Of course, it didn't help that, on the way out, we got stuck right at the back of the plane next to the engine (holy noise, Batman!) and right where everyone was coming and going from the bathroom.

Inbetween flights we didn't get much respite either. The two or so hour layovers we had in Atlanta consisted of giving Daisy the much-needed freedom from her seat that she needed to make it through the next flight. Pretty much what this meant was popping some shoes on her and letting her run wild through the terminal, Nanny usually in tow. It was pretty hilarious to see our little 30 inch munchkin toddling through a sea of passengers.

In short, it was hard work. But, for the most part, we avoided screaming fits and melt-downs. For that reason, we're calling the traveling part a success. Ms. Daisy made it through a four hour flight, a two hour layover, another two and a half hour flight, then a ninety minute taxi ride to the hotel and arrived with a smile on her face, ready for a dip in the ocean. A parent can't ask for much more from an eleven month old.

A rocky start

Having made it through the mammoth day of travel, we arrived into our room with a huge sigh of relief. First things first, we set about unpacking and getting all the miscellaneous baby paraphinalia organized - diapers, wipes, formula, bottles, onesies, toys, dolls, books... Except... We were missing a duffel bag. Yes, we had managed to leave the airport and get all the way to the hotel without realizing we had completely forgotten one of our bags. In our defense, we had seven bags and a stroller between the five of us. But, of course, we missed the biggie - the bag with the formula and the diapers in it. The only two things we knew we absolutely HAD TO make sure got to Jamaica because who knows what they use in Jamaica!?

Mortified, I called the airline and they were able to confirm that the bag did indeed make it safely to Jamaica and that it had never cleared security, meaning we had indeed just left it on the carousel. Unfortunately the Delta rep couldn't get a hold of the baggage claim in Montego Bay and couldn't find out if they were willing to deliver it to our hotel - the usually do not but given the critical nature of the contents, the rep was hoping they would make an exception. He told me that the phone just kept ringing, ringing, ringing without answer but that he would put in a request for them to help us out. However, if we didn't hear from them in an hour and a half, he suggested we go back to the airport (a 90 minute, $80 cab ride each way!) to retrieve it personally. This was at 1pm and the baggage claim closed at 5pm. Knowing the laissez-faire, "no problem" attitude of Jamaicans, we weren't holding out much hope for them to answer the phone or deliver the bag. So Hubby took it upon himself to bite the bullet and head back to the airport. After a hair-raising cab-ride and the greasing of some Jamaican palms, he did indeed locate and obtain the much-needed luggage but it meant he was gone for a good few hours on our first day of vacation.


Despite missing a Daddy, we headed out to the beach anyway, where we quickly learned that our visions of making sandcastles on the beach with Daisy were unrealistic. Daisy thought that sand made a better snack than building material and she was more interested in picking up handfulls (or bucketfulls) of it and dropping it on her head, than being artistic. It ended up in her hair, her ears, her mouth, her eyes... pretty much everywhere. Which made her mad. But not as mad as she was when we tried to take her off the beack. OMG, that was a doozy of a tantrum.

Oh, and let's not forget how much we DID NOT LIKE being slathered with sunscreen or having a hat put on our head. It took us two days to get her to accept a sun hat and the bucket was quickly relegated to the "too young for that" pile.

A rare moment on day one with our hat. I think she whipped it off shortly after this pic.


After our sand excursion, Daisy finally pooped out on my chest in a darkened hotel room (thank goodness for black-out curtains!) After a while I rolled her onto the bed where she stayed for more than two hours, totally comatose. Bless!


Yawn... more tomorrow...

Monday, March 15, 2010

A shot in the ass

Not the metaphorical kind but the literal kind.

Today, my doctor decided to finally listen to me.

After asking me every week if was "80% better? 90% better?" I finally stopped him and said, "You KEEP ASKING ME THAT! I know you WANT ME to be 90% better - I do too - but I'm not and I don't see any point in lying about it."

That stopped him in his tracks. He ditched his rush-rush attitude, sat on the table and looked at me. I breathed a sigh of relief. Dude, I've been trying to tell you I AM NOT SIGNIFICANTLY BETTER!

I explained the process of how my PT had stopped my previous relief strategies in their tracks when she diagnosed me with the SI joint problem and how that had increased my pain and created new pains because now I no longer had my short-fix, self-help treatments. I told him that yes, indeed, some of that had subsided but the fact remains that I have so many different pains that fluctuate on a day-by-day, week-by-week basis, as well as the original pains I visited him with initially, that's hard to say exactly what percent better I am. Depending on what measure you're using I could actually say I'm WORSE!

His feeling was that I was somehow stuck. I've done so much, had so many different kinds of treatments (CONTINUE to have many different kinds of treatments) and, while I may be progressing, it definitely seems as though something is getting in the way of me making that switch into real recovery.

I was all, like, WELL YES! THAT'S WHY I'M HERE!

In all fairness, I'm a new patient to him. He's been dealing with me since Feb 1, I've been dealing with me and this hip thing since October '05.

So, we skipped the osteo manipulation for today, since I don't think all that cracking was helping anyway. Doc asked me where the majority of the pain seemed to start from, where the worst of it was and I pointed to my right butt cheek - for the anatomically correct, my piriformis area. It pretty much never stops aching, being sore, and/or burning. He pushed in there too and agreed that it definitely felt hard and tight. (Again, I'm all like, YES, THAT'S WHAT I SAID!)

Then he suggested a cortisone shot. At which point my hands began to sweat, I began to hyperventilate and I said something pathetic like "I don't do needles. I don't do needles!" Despite his assertion that I "wouldn't feel it" (when do you never not feel a needle piercing your skin!?) I was still mentally figuring out how to get out of there without getting stabbed. Yet, he made a good point: I've tried everything else and if I want to get better I need to try everything. It could be that I have a chronically tight piriformis muscle and no amount of therapy is going to release it. The cortisone shot could be just the thing to chill things out and allow other affected parts to release, heal, and get better.

I had to admit that he was right and, with Jamaica looming on the horizon, the prospect of some relief for my vacation without hours and hours of working out or icing, sounded very attractive. So, I just made the decision there and then to do it. JUST DO IT! No pontificating or working myself up, get that damn needle in my ass, stat!

As it goes, it didn't hurt that bad. It did hurt though. But, I've had worse. (Obvy... I've had a hip surgery and a c-section.)

Doc said that my SI ligament is VERY tight (pregnancy?) and that this could actually have more to do with my pain than any skeletal misalignment. (I like the sound of that.) So, we're going to see how these cortisone injections work and he's going to do some specific manipulation when I come back, just for the SI ligament. In the meantime, no PT, light stretching and rest for my poor sore butt.

Am I noticing any difference? Sure, in the department of less stiffness/aching but right now my butt is sore from the jab itself, so it might be a day or so before I feel the real benefit.

I also had another Alexander Technique appointment today. Despite my mixed feelings from the last one, I actually felt like we made progress today, finding some key elements to my posture puzzle. Pelvic floor muscles and illiopsoas need to be engaged. This totally connected for me because I've had problems with tightness in these places also. Engaging these areas immediately lifted me off my lower back, made me feel taller, and reduced my heel-fall impact while I was walking. Amazing! Everything started feeling much more natural!

We also practiced standing up, sitting down, bending over, and picking up weights using the same techinques and I immediately felt the difference, as opposed to my back taking the weight. Next appointment, in two weeks, we'll get into picking up less stable weights of like, oh, well, 20lbs. I wonder why....?

Friday, March 12, 2010

God Insurance

Why does religion sometimes leads people to throw all common sense and judgment out the window?

Although this kind of thing may sound like a good idea on the surface, the reality is that one big chronic illness could send this whole thing toppling down and leave someone who is really ill and in need of care, with crippling medical bills. Not only does not having health insurance mean there is no legal guarantee of coverage (or, at least as much guarantee as you have under the current system where insurance companies frequently find technicalities to avoid paying their bills) but it also means that, as individual purchasers of medical services, these people do not have the collective bargaining power to negotiate better rates. So, they're probably paying the highest price for the services they receive.

Add to that the fact that many health providers these days (as I found out during my mother's hip surgery) do not actually take cash patients any more, and you've got a recipe for disaster. Meanwhile, that person will be left with the inability to find private medical insurance that will cover them because their condition will be then classed as "pre-existing" and no profit-hungry insurer will touch that with a 12-foot bargepole.

Now, I don't know about you but, unless God is thinking of planting money trees sometime soon, I don't think faith alone can solve those problems.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

A great quote

Today I stumbled upon a great travel-related quotation that I wanted to share.

I don't get to travel as much as I would like to these days. I laugh as I write this because I didn't get to travel as much as I wanted to before I had a baby, or a mortgage, or a full-time job with vacation time to worry about. So now, with all the trappings of the regular family life, it's more difficult than ever.

The reality is that I love travel so much that I have never yet had the opportunity to test my limits or stretch my boundaries. In this, as in many other areas of my life, I often feel like a big elastic band that has only been pulled to 30% of it's stretching capacity. Some days I feel like I go through life on auto-pilot, going through the motions, doing the same things over-and-over again, seeing the same people, watching the same TV shows, eating the same food... Sometimes the comfort of the familiar is nice but, periodically throughout the year, I get a severe case of cabin fever and need a new environment, a break from the norm.

It's been about 15 months since I left this country, and almost two years since I took a real foreign vacation (the other time was to my other home - the UK), so, this quotation hit home today.

"Without new experiences, something inside of us sleeps. The sleeper must awaken." -- Frank Herbert

Of course, it doesn't just apply to traveling but to life in general. It reminds me to keep challenging myself, to wake-up my mind, and therefore wake-up my spirits.

Something to think about as we head into Q2 this year.

An apology to my readers (should there be any remaining)

I have just noticed that my last six bazillion posts are either about my hip or my weight.

So, this is just a quick post to apologize to any of you left out there who may still be reading this blog and hoping (against all hope) that I will find something new to "rant" about.

At one point this blog was about travel and politics and opinions and interesting stuff like that. Now it's just a sad reflection of what my life has become - a merry-go-round of medical appointments and sulking.

Must do better. In life as well as on blog.

Stay tuned...

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Recovery is time consuming

I've been too busy recently to blog about what's going on, specifically with my hips problems, so it's time for a recap.

Last week I had my first Alexander Technique appointment. For those of you who have absolutely no idea what this is and are perhaps wondering if I'm heading for a bionic hip or something, here is a brief synopsis of what the AT is and why I'm trying it.

Using the description from the official website: "an Alexander Technique teacher helps you to identify and lose the harmful habits you have built up over a lifetime of stress and learn to move more freely." So, basically, someone takes a look at your body mechanics, the way you move, the way you sit, your posture, and helps you to be in a more natural alignment, thus helping you to mitigate muskuloskeletal pain caused by your misalignment. This, of course, is a gross oversimplification of what this process is all about but, unless you're really into it, I think that description suffices for the purpose of this post. If you want to know more, you can visit the Alexander Technique website at

The Alexander Technique has been around since the 1800s, when it was created by it's namesake, Frederick Matthias Alexander but I learned about it from my friend, E, of The Gurly Life, who has been suffering from the same hip and SI Joint issues as I have. It's not new news to me that my posture leaves a lot to be desired and, after hearing consistently from my physical therapist that I have the body mechanics of a rag doll, I felt the time was right to add Alexander to my treatment strategy.

As I live in the Sacraghetto area, I am not blessed with an awful lot of options when it comes to these alternative treatment options. So, I had the grand choice of one AT teacher within 100 miles. For the purposes of this blog, we'll call him Jim, although that's not his real name.

Jim works out of a granny annex at the back of his home and it did occur to me briefly, as I walked down the residential driveway, that I could be heading into the lair of a sex offender or something. Fortunately, although Jim is indeed 'weird' (at least by my definition of the word), he appears to be safe. Jim's 'weirdness' comes from his posture, general demeanor and the way he speaks. The first thing that bothered me is that he holds himself like a caveman, with long arms that seem to hang limply from his shoulders and large hands that almost brush his knees when he walks. This wasn't very encouraging, since I was there to learn 'better' posture from this guy - developing the gait of a prehistoric cavewoman wasn't on my list of goals for the year. (I know, right?) Secondly, Jim has this presence about him that is very... superior and supercilious, let's call it, but in that quiet and self-contained way that makes you think that he spends all day meditating, eating willow bark, and avoiding any and all stress in life.

I may be over-reaching in my first impressions, but it seems like Jim lives his life in a bubble of calm, peace, and ease, and feels a level of disdain and pity for the rest of us who run around in our complicated lives, stressing ourselves out with roller-coaster emotions, and poor habits. He obviously sees his work as an AT teacher, as a way to preach a better way and I guess that's where I had a problem connecting with him. His teaching felt borderline creepy-religious-cult. I know I'm over-reacting here, because I don't think at all that this guy is dangerous, but I'm just trying to convey the reasons why he irritated me.

Now, I'd like to be clear in this - I don't aspire to live a life of calm, peace, and ease. Really. I mean it. The very thought makes me want to puke with panic. I like roller-coasters, both literally and figuratively. I never feel more alive than when I'm zooming through the air on some crazy theme-park contraption, the wind whipping at my face and adrenaline rushing through my body. I don't want to live my life on a flat-line - I'm ok with ups and downs because the downs make the ups so much sweeter, and the ups make the downs bearable. I recognize that's not for everyone - some people prefer to live life on a calmer sea - but that's me. And for some reason, people like Jim just freak me out. I have a phobia of those quiet, self-contained, calm people. I think part of me fears that they're really just bottling it all up and that, at some point, it's all going to come bubbling over in some major, psychotic breakdown. Emotions - both high and low - are natural and it seems unnatural (and dangerous) to me, that someone can regulate their emotional self to such an extent that they never really display or experience extreme joy or sadness. Ok, psychoanalyze this all you want, it is kind of an oddity I'll admit but not something I plan on stewing over. So let's move on...

The point is that it was hard to settle into the advice I was getting from Jim because of how I felt about him. However, I did get some good nuggets that make sense and that I have been trying to deploy into my regular day.

Our spine (neck to tailbone) is connected, not just in a literal sense, but in a behavioral sense also. Meaning, what you do at the top of your spine affects everything below it, and visa versa. This may sound simple and obvious but it's more than that. For instance, if you let your chin jut and/or down out when you're stressed or thinking, it not only affects your neck and upper back (which is a no-brainer) but it throws off your entire balance because now your whole spine has to readjust to balance your head (which, let's face it, is a big-ole thing on your shoulders) resulting in unnatural load bearing in different areas of your back and the connecting muscles. It's these types of readjustments that result in chronic pain. Your body, over time, unlearns the way to be in balance, the way our skeleton was designed. Our muscles start taking over from our skeleton, to do the job of holding us upright, and - hey presto! - all sorts of odd (painful) things happen.

Personally, my poor habits include hyperextending and locking out my legs when I stand, over-arching my back, curving my shoulders, and (at the same time) driving my heel into the ground ahead of me when I walk. This last one is important because, what this means in relation to all my other body mechanics, is that I am literally driving the head of my femur into my hip socket with force, every time I take a step. OUCH! All the other stuff amounts to me placing too much load on my lower back. What feels like a "natural" or "upright" posture for me, is actually leaning back. When readjusted for 'neutral', I feel like I am leaning forward. It's the craziest thing! So, I have to re-learn standing, sitting, and walking (amongst other things.)

Jim actually told me to watch Daisy walk because, obviously, her body mechanics have not been contaminated by modern life... yet. She walks with her head leading and her body following, almost as if she is about to fall forward at any time. Although this may be an extreme example of what I need to do, the basis for my new posture is right there: lead with my head, not my feet. There's a lot more involved in it than that, of course, stuff about pausing, giving my body directions, "letting my neck be freeeeee!", looking down from my ears (!), and pulling back my ribs to name a few, but essentially that's the primary guiding factor. (And yes, I did feel and look a bit like a prehistoric cavewoman in the "ideal" posture. I think I'm going to have to modify it a bit to suit me, for vanity purposes!)

After all the walking and sitting instruction, I got to lay down with my head balancing on a paperback book, knees up. Again, my instruction was to let my neck be "freeeee" and to lengthen my spine through relaxation. My homework was to do this for 15 minutes a day every day. Something which I just haven't found the time to do. I guess I could be doing it now instead of blogging, so maybe I don't really have an excuse. Drats!

Add this to my physical therapy exercises and appointment, doctor appointments, and other miscellaneous advice about how to move, bend-down, stand, roll-over, sit-up etc... and it's all a little overwhelming.

I've calculated that, if I did everything the physical therapist and Jim tells me to do, I'd spend approximately 4 hours each day just working on my recovery. Who has that kind of time when you have a full time job and are the mother of an 11 month old??? It's like having a second, part-time job!

That four hours breaks down into:

  • 20 minutes of physical therapy exercises 3x per day
  • 20 minutes of laying down, icing my back, 3x day
  • 15 minutes of AT head-on-book balancing 1x per day
  • PLUS, at least one hour per day, most days, at appointments for either my doctor (who I see for osteopathic manipulation once per week), my physical therapist (who I see 3x per week), and now Jim (one time per week + 30 minutes drive-time each way.)

All that time comes out of somewhere and none of these folks take appointments outside of business hours, so, I have to take early or late lunches, resulting in things like me eating pre-packed salads in the bathroom while trying to shower.

As I said, this is not to mention the almost-impossibility of trying to remember all the other advice about my general, everyday movements. Trying to go through a 3-step, back-friendly process just to bend down and pick something up off the floor, kind of just flies out the window when it's your daughter reaching for a choking hazard. It's ok when you have the time to remember it but, for the most part, I'm too busy to spend time thinking for ten minutes every time I move a body part. I try but it's an imperfect science right now. I guess I would say that I'm learning to be more aware of what I'm doing, when I'm doing it, which is a start.

Adding to this, I am trying to re-incorporate some yoga back into my routine every day. I know my physical therapist said no yoga but she isn't a yoga practitioner and I think (from what she has said to me) she has a shallow understanding of the discipline, reducing it to all those power-hot-yoga classes, taught by a svelte 20-something, who understands little-to-nothing about proper body mechanics. Good yogis spend years and years refining their technique and understanding of the human body and there are certain sectors of yoga that place strict emphasis on proper posture and alignment, most specifically Iyengar yoga, which is what my friend, E, practices. So, I found a book on yoga and back pain using Iyengar principles and which has a section on SI Joint Dysfunction. On Monday I started (slowly and gently and cautiously) adding some of the positions into my evening workout routine. My other goal is to find a weekend or evening class locally that I can attend, where I can get some one-on-one instruction (which has really helped E) but finding that in the Sacraghetto area is proving to be hard and, anyway, when on earth would I fit it in????

Then there's the cost.

Each doctor's visit is $25, each physical therapy visit is $45 and each Alexander Technique appointment is $70. Add that up and I'm already spending a wopping $230 a week on these treatments! I could literally go broke just trying to get healthy.

It would all be easier to bear if I were feeling any significant difference in my pain but I'm not. The only improvement that I have noticed is a reduction in the shooting, nerve-related pain that was occasionally going down my thigh and into my ankle. I'm still left with a sore low back, a sore right butt cheek, a very, very sore outer thigh (from a tight IT band) and soreness and twinges in my inner thigh/groin, as well as around my hip flexors/psoas.

I keep telling myself that I have been experiencing this chronic pain for years and so it's going to take more than weeks to undo all the damage and compensation and bad habits but, as much as that makes sense rationally, emotionally (and financially!) you need to see results to keep plugging forward on the same path. I've been with this new diagnosis and treatment plan for 5 weeks now and I would have thought I would be feeling more of an improvement than I have.

My doctor seems to bear this out because, every Monday when I see him, he asks me how much better I am doing (as a percentage). Each week he sayes something like: "So, are you 70% better? 80%?" and each week I reply with "No, more like 30%." I get the feeling he thinks that I am being obstinate or difficult but really what's the point in lying? 30% may even be overstating it, quite frankly.

I veer from despondent to hopeful on any day in any given week. My hope comes from my friend, E, who has battled this and come out the other side. My despondency comes from my lack of time to really do everything I need to do, the cost, the slow (if at all existent) progress, and the repeated pattern of pain. It's not an excrutiating pain but, at any time of day, whether sitting, standing, laying down, or walking, I'm experiencing low grade pain (3-4 out of 10) somewhere in my body. After a while it wears you down.

So, after all of this, I'm not sure where it leaves me. Except, it seems, with a broken "J" key on my keyboard. It literally just flipped off, up into the air, and landed on my lap. Not that I use the J key much but every time I tap a key near it, which is I, H, K, M, and N, it flies away again. So, off to order a new keyboard from the IT department...
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