Thursday, March 15, 2018

Pushing My Luck

It took a long time for the drugs to kick in.

With the first round of steroid injections for my feet, the reaction was quick. I received the shots in an operating room, with a surgeon, an assistant, and two technicians in a sheltered room. A live x-ray showed everyone the best place to inject the pain killer.

The level of osteoarthritis in both feet is quite severe, so precision is paramount.

Two days after those first injections, I arose from bed and, for the first time in decades, I felt absolutely no pain. Nothing. Not even those initial effects of stiffness. It was as though I was in my late teens again, able to do anything.

I was so happy that I nearly cried.

But the relief was short-lived. While I was told, before entering the operating room, that the steroid shots could last as little as six weeks or as long as six months, or could not work at all. By the seventh week, I could feel a bit of stiffness return and, by the eighth week, the drugs had completely worn off.

It was depressing to return to a state of constant pain. And because the pain was at 100 percent at the eighth week, I discovered just how much pain I had been enduring over the decades. It was significant.

I had to wait a minimum of three months between injections because that was the margin of safety for such a drug. As it turned out, I had to wait 12 weeks—after the drugs wore off—to receive my next appointment.

The pain was bad: I managed it with heating pads, creams, acetaminophen, ibuprofen, codeine, and alcohol. And any combination thereof. When my appointment was postponed by a week, because of a fire at the hospital, I almost cried, almost wanted to jump into a fire.

Lying on the operating table, I told the surgeon that the first round of injections had only lasted for eight weeks. She told me that she could double the dosage, which would be the maximum dosage that could be safely injected. But even though she could increase the amount of steroid, there was no guarantee that it would be any more effective.

We rolled the dice and crammed as much of the drug as would fit in the narrow crevasses of my feet.

Two days later, I arose from bed, hopeful that these new injections would take the pain away, much like the first round. But it wasn't to be. My feet were as stiff and sore as any other morning, and by lunchtime, my feet were in more pain than before I walked into the operating room. I spent the rest of the day, sitting in a chair with my feet elevated, watching programs on Netflix.

The pain persisted for two weeks. In that time, I went through a dark time, not being active, thinking dark thoughts, looking for that bridge that could end all of my troubles.

But then, gradually, the pain subsided. When I found a comfortable pair of shoes, the pain all but vanished. It wasn't a complete suppression of aches, but on a scale of 1 to 10, in terms of severity, I went from 11 to 2 or 3. On a good day, the pain measured a measly 1.

I gained confidence, walking more, taking up a spin class, and, last weekend, braving the slopes at Mont Tremblant, spending a day of skiing.

That's when I pushed my luck.

When you ski, your feet are clamped into tight boots that have absolutely no give, and that's a good thing if you want to maintain control while your body hurls down a steep slope. When I put on my ski boots, I feel a bit of pain when I wiggle my feet into place. But once I'm clamped in, I don't feel much.

Before, I could ski until my arthritis reached its limit. With the injections, I hoped that the drugs would keep that pain at bay. And, in truth, they did.

But what I forgot, while on the slopes, was that I also suffer from a degenerative foot disease, called Kohler's. And although I had reconstructive surgery in my 20s to correct my right foot, my left foot remains untreated. I still have a pressure point in my left foot, where the Kohler's disease can cause me the most discomfort: it's on the upper side of my instep, right where my foot meets a pressure point in the ski boot.

When I cut a right turn on my skis, I lean in on my edges and my foot presses hard against the boot. While ski conditions at Mont Tremblant were near perfect, there were a few spots where there was bare ice and deep snow. On the ice, I had to cut especially hard, but I also turned hard in deep snow. All of these turns pushed my foot, at it's most tender spot, against an unyielding boot.

For the first couple of runs, I felt nothing. I was in high spirits, thinking that I was going to have a good day of skiing. But by my third run, I could start to feel a bit of pain where the Kohler's resided. Nevertheless, I continued to ski.

By the time I had a half-dozen runs, the pain was significant. Also, my quad muscles were starting to tire, as I haven't been exercising as much as I had. Not having been on a bike in a long time had its price. And, skiing down one run at Mont Tremblant was the equivalent of skiing anywhere from three to six runs at the ski hills in the Ottawa-Gatineau area.

By noon, I felt that my legs could hold up for another run, and the pain in my left foot was substantial. Even sitting still, I could feel the throbbing in that spot. We decided to stop for lunch, and give me a rest.

The pain in my foot eased, a bit, but I knew that as soon as I was back on my skis, the pain would return to full strength. "I'm done," I told DW and DD14. The trouble was, we were having lunch at the peak of the mountain, and we had a long ski ahead of us to get to the bottom of the village.

I seriously considered riding in the gondola to get down the slopes, but that's not how I really wanted to end my day. I decided to do just one more run.

We got about two-thirds down the hill, when we came to a small cable car that had reached its terminus: it had started at the top of the Tremblant village. I stopped and told DW that I would ride this car down, and maybe ski the short distance to the base of the village.

By the time we got down, I decided that I was spent, and we walked to the Cabriolet, and were carried to the base.

I spent as much time, for the rest of the weekend, off my feet. Even today, I can feel where my foot pressed against my boot. If I press lightly on the tender spot, I still experience pain. But it's slowly subsiding and my arthritis doesn't seem to be affected.

I pushed my luck, but I think it was worth it. I don't want my feet to hamper my quality of life. I still want to be able to be active. And, when I finally have my surgery, in conjunction with working steroid shots, I thing that I can return to a somewhat normal life.

Still, I have more day passes for Mont Tremblant. I may suck it up and do it again.

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Election Woes

Great, Ontario PCs, just great.

You had to go and fuck things up. Has what is happening in the United States not taught you anything?

The Americans have a person in the White House who is unqualified, uneducated, and self-serving. He is a polarizing populist who is tearing his country apart. Given the opportunity, he would start World War III.

Very few Ontarians like Kathleen Wynne and her Liberals, and many who, in the past, have supported her party, are having a tough time wanting to support her again.

I'm one of those people.

I voted Liberal in the last Ontario election because (and this is no surprise) I usually vote for the Liberals, but most importantly, I voted Liberal because the then-leader of the Ontario PCs was Tim Houdak seemed to be a bumbling moron who got his facts wrong, was too socially conservative for my liking, and seemed to run a campaign on fear and misinformation.

I wasn't happy with the corruption that seemed to be underlying the Liberals, but by voting for Wynne, I was hedging my bets for my riding, was trying to ensure that the PCs wouldn't get in.

I haven't always voted for the Liberals. In 1990, I was one of the many who became disappointed with David Peterson, especially when he called for an early election, at just three years into his mandate. At the time, there was a new, unknown leader of the PCs, some Mike Harris, and a veteran politician, Bob Rae, of the NDP.

I voted for Rae. Let's face it: it would take a radical change of my values to vote for a conservative party. And anyway, my values lean more toward New Democrats than even the Liberals.

I even voted for Rae in 1995, though by then it was pretty clear that his party wasn't going to win another term. It's too bad, really. I liked Bob. I still respect him to this day, even though he's now left the political scene.

Shortly after the last elections, I had my misgivings about voting Liberal, and as the years have passed, I've been thinking that this left-of-centre party has become too settled, that Ontarians have been paying too much for electricity and for insurance, and it's time for a change.

But it's not time for Doug Ford. It's never time for Doug Ford.

For the last couple of months, I've actually taken a bit of twisted delight in watching the Ontario PCs slowly implode. The sexual misconduct allegations against Patrick Brown, followed by the in-party finger-pointing, and then his expulsion from caucus.

When the leadership race was announced, there was no surprise that Christine Elliot had thrown her hat into the ring. This was her third attempt to become the leader of her party. There was an unknown candidate, Tanya Granic Allen, a candidate that was known for her (in)famous father, Caroline Mulroney, and then there was Doug.

Bumbling, classless, loud-mouthed Doug.

Doug likened himself to Ontario's Trump, and he was proud of that claim. Even though Trump's base has shrunk, his popularity was diminishing, Ford wanted to be our Trump.

I truly hope that Ontarians are smarter than those who voted for Trump, and put the good of our province over their loyalty to a party. If we want to make Ontario great, we must shy away from anyone who says that he alone can make life better.

Because Ford has become the Ontario PCs' new leader, he's fucked up my plans. I wasn't going to vote Liberal, this election. I was going to follow my heart, let the Liberals know that I'm loyal to my values, not to a party, and vote for Andrea Horwath. I've liked her for years, but felt that in my riding, her party was a long shot. But with the Liberals losing support and the PCs in disarray, I thought that this could be the chance for the NDP to make inroads in my riding.

And now, with Ford leading the PCs, I can't trust that he'll lose. I thought Trump wouldn't win.

I have to vote with my head.

Everyone: please vote with your head.

Monday, March 12, 2018

The Future of Blues is Secure

It is beyond words, how wonderful it is when a successful musician and his band take time and effort to help out young and upcoming musicians in their pursuits to reach the same pinnacle of success.

That is just the sort of people that JW Jones and his band are.

For a couple of years, the Juno-nominated Blues artist (his bassist, Laura Greenberg, won the 2017 Maple Blues Bassist of the Year award) has gathered musicians, aged 13 to 18, to show their stuff and perform along side him in his event, #613FutureBlues. Yesterday was the second year that my young drummer, DD14, auditioned and was invited to play.

Irene's Pub was full of proud parents and supporters. We heard a young vocalist, three outstanding guitarists, and a total of seven drummers. JW told me that it's usually a challenge to find more than a couple of drummers (I think that last year, there was only one other drummer than my kid), and this time he was flush with them.

All of the kids come with different levels of experience, and the pressure can be intense. I doubt that at their age, I would have been willing to play my trumpet in front of a crowd, alongside such a powerhouse as JW Jones. You have to hand it to them for gathering the courage, controlling their nerves, and prevailing.

It was also great to see how well DD14 has progressed. Last year, when she performed for #613FutureBlues, JW had provided her with links to three YouTube videos. She had only a couple of days to listen to the music and copy the beats. She was nervous, had never met JW Jones before and had no rehearsal time. She didn't know what to expect, but she pulled it off wonderfully.

This year, JW sent her one song, and she was a little more relieved. Memorizing one song was easier than memorizing three. After JW and his band warmed up the crowd, they called DD14 as their first young guest. She played the song, "I Get Evil," brilliantly.

As she was about to get up and leave the stage, JW told the audience that she would play another number with the band. He walked up to her and told her to play a shuffle. That was it.

I can't imagine how nervous she was.

The band invited another young musician to the stage. His name is Lee, and my daughter played a number with him last year. He's amazingly talented: I can only imagine how good he'll be in a few more years.

Here's the last couple of minutes of that number. Remember: DD14 had no idea of what the song was, had never played it before.

Thanks to JW Jones and his great band for this opportunity.