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Vibram Fivefingers

It’s raining in my office

For the last several months, it’s been raining everywhere I went.  I have looked for leaks in my house, my office, at the mall, at friends places, and on sunny clear days.  No matter where I go, it feels like it is raining on my face, hands, and arms.

The most obvious explanation is that I am one of the Gruesome’s, Fred and Wilma’s neighbours from the Flintstones who had that cloud that went everywhere they went.   Sadly it isn’t that easy but it’s a side effect of my diabetes.  I have a rare nerve disease which means that thousands of my nerves are constantly misfiring.  As explained to me, the rain drops falling on my body is how my brain processes what is happening to me and it happens in hundreds of places all at the same time.

While that is the good news, the bad news is that there are 20 to 30 places that are in excruciating pain at the same time.  They are misfiring really badly and have for years.  Looking back at life, my mom suffered from sciatic nerve pain but I really wonder if she was struggling with this.  They have tried to treat it with Gabapentin which coats your brain receptors and therefore softens the blow of the pain.  That is a great idea in theory but in reality it gave me really bad phantom feelings and therefore pain that didn’t really exist.  That and I couldn’t walk that well with my phantom feet and I had trouble picking up my car keys with my phantom fingers.   The only way to describe walking was that my feet felt like they grew several sizes and the rocker of my skate was off.  I could walk but it wasn’t natural.

Another solution was Oxycontin which is a rather addictive opiate based pain killer.  Of course they never told me that when they gave it to me.   I tried that and I wish I could say I enjoyed it but it left my constipated and emotional and for that know me, know that I hate emotions, especially my own.  A non-stop upset stomach didn’t help me.  If there was pain relief or a high, I didn’t get it.  That being said I have a freakish non-response to some muscle relaxants so maybe I was just resistant to everything but the side effects.

I was on Gabapentin and Oxycontin at the same time and I remember laying on my couch in terrible pain trying to decide if I was going to kill myself or not when I just decided to toss the pills and face the pain.  My doctor was shocked I had no problem quitting the drug.  Maybe I did but without emotions or constipation to bug me, it was like I was on drugs.  To be honest it made very little difference in the amount of pain I was in but I wasn’t as foggy which I took as a win.

Also the process of accepting that it was never going to get better was a big step for me.  It let me accept and process the pain rather than try to escape it.  I am told that I have a high pain tolerance but you can start to learn to live with it.

Since I have been diagnosed with neuropathy, I have been shot full of electrodes to see how my nerves are doing and the truth is; not that good.   I remember the first time after I was diagnosed that they tried my reflexes in my knees.  Nothing happened.  I felt it but my leg didn’t respond.  As they tried it again and again, I realized that this was not a good thing.  My legs are particularly unresponsive while my hands are deteriorating as well.  The result has been that I drop more things but I am starting to fall more often.

My balance started to go while I was at The Salvation Army.  I fell off my front porch one summer morning and broke my ankle.  I fell once while walking in the hall and several times stumbled into a wall.  This winter I fell twice on ice while downtown; both times in front of prominent developers locations who should have shovelled but in the end, I gave myself two serious concussions.  Well maybe the concrete had a roll in all of that but still…

Some on council have bugged me for my strong stance on snow removal after they voted it down.  I’d like them to try to walk through Mayfair or Nutana with my balance.  Even 20th Street, downtown, or Broadway can all be bad.  Walkable streets and neighbourhoods need to be that way for all of us.  

I fall at home now.  Generally getting up but often while walking around the house.  Walking has become a very deliberate and intentional act for me.  It’s weird to lose something like that and to be honest really scary.  I am not going to pretend it hasn’t been related to a bad bout of depression that I have struggled with this winter.  Well either that or the concussions but who knows?  Ether way I am taking the steps of handles in the showers.  My face hit my toilet bowl at a high velocity this winter.  Neither were impressed with that.

According to tests, it’s getting worse which means two things.  I have a closing window on a life of mobility and at least I am not going crazy.

I am not giving up.  There isn’t really anything I can do to stop or reverse what is happening but I can work out more and take some steps to make things better. I started to wear those geeky Vibram FiveFinger Shoes to slow the muscle atrophy in my feet and am working my core more at the gym and at home to help with balance issues.  The falling hasn’t helped my shoulder heal at all but it is coming along as long as I can stay upright.  Physiotherapy is helping a bit as well.

Of course another thing that Wendy and I struggle with is should I quit my job and go take a high paying job while I can or keep working with the homeless.  Working with the homeless doesn’t pay well and I don’t have any benefits at work which complicates the decision.  If I go, I feel like I am giving up but if I stay, it’s a gamble that can hurt the family in the long run.  

I get asked what the pain is like.  It either feels like I am being burned badly (which actually generated blisters), an extended shot of electricity, or a slow drill moving through your body.  It can be treated quite effectively by a naturopathic medicine called Neuragen.  A drop or two can stop the pain completely at that point but in times like right now, there isn’t enough Neuragen to stop all of the pain.  Being woken up 25 times a night by nerve pain take a lot out of you as well.

Before I discovered Neuragen and when they were giving me Gabepentin and Oxycontin all of the time, the pain was incredible.  The doctors would tell me that by next week the medicine would work and I would be fine.  At the time the only thing that would work is that I could grab my iPod and go for long walks in the neighbourhood.  I remember a couple of the local cops would stop me from time to time to see why I was always walking.  Later on they would see how I was going but I always hated to stop because if I could keep walking, the pain would go away and I could actually walk home and maybe fall asleep before the pain came back.  It was the worst time of my life and many nights I remember going out for the walk and thinking, “I should just end this tonight”.  I was never serious and while I will always disagree with those that choose death to end suffering, I understand it.

Now the pain is as bad or worse but I cope with it.  I know it’s never going away and never going to get better.  It is always going to be there, the question is how bad it today going to be?  The good news is that once I gave up all hope of getting better, it just became another thing and it could be dealt with like all other things.

What has changed for me is that the neuropathy has kicked it up a notch and now I need to deal with the lack of balance by figuring this out.

The good news is that this isn’t a terminal condition (although I am about 30 minutes closer to dying than I was at the start of this post) but a chronic condition.  It is just a chronic condition that is progressing at a rate I am rather unhappy with. Now if I could only find out where that water is coming from…

Christmas Gift Guide for the Outdoorsman | 2012 Edition

In case you are shopping for the great outdoorsman, here are a list of suggestions for those who often prefer to outdoors rather than inside. Check out the other Christmas gift ideas that have been posted this season. More coming soon.

FujiFilm XP50

Fujifilm FinePix XP50 $128 | The FinePix XP50 is outstandingly durable. It’s waterproof to a depth of 5m and can capture both movies and still images underwater. The camera’s casing will withstand shocks or drops from a height of 1.5m, while cold environments are also no problem for this rough and ready device. The FinePix XP50 can withstand temperatures down to -10°C and dust is never a problem, with all the camera’s access points specially sealed for ultimate protection.

Straight from Ned Flander’s Leftorium, the MEC Left Handed Slingpack $21 | Wendy has had a sling pack for years and just about jumped for joy when I told her that there was a left handed version available. She may have actually wept a tear or two. 

Pelican 1050 waterproof case $18.68 | These are great camera/GPS/iPod cases. They are water proof, padded, floatable, and strong enough to take a lot of abuse in the back of your trunk or any backpack. While you may not use it when you head to the park, you will use them when you are packing for a trip and don’t want your iPod, camera, or phone to be crushed. They are pretty much indestructible which means that of all of the things you have to worry about, this isn’t one of them.

Vibram FiveFingers Komodo Sport Shoes $70 – $130 | The typical human foot is an anatomical marvel of evolution with 26 bones, 33 joints, 20 muscles, and hundreds of sensory receptors, tendons and ligaments. Like the rest of the body, to keep our feet healthy, they need to be stimulated and exercised. The Vibram Five Fingers shoes are designed to simulate walking barefoot while protecting your feet like shoes do. If you have any questions, check out the reviews on Amazon.

Leatherman Skeletool CX $80 |  Now you’re ready to lighten your load and boost your survival skills — with Leatherman’s Skeletool. At a mere 5 ounces the new, full-sized multitool keeps weight and volume to a minimum without sacrificing quality and true functionality, and that’s what the Skeletool is all about. Many multitools have multiple options, but they’re often heavier — and they’re loaded with more features than most people actually need on a regular basis. Conversely, pocket knives are light and streamlined, but they render themselves useless when the task calls for a more versatile tool. Enter the new Skeletool platform, offering minimal weight, compact size and endless capabilities. And with the Skeletool’s integrated, removable pocket clip, you can easily clip this tool onto a belt, a pack, or a vest — with no sheath or tote required.

Cammenga Lensatic Compass $88 | This is the Rolls Royce of compasses.  It has been used by U.S. troops, foreign militaries, law enforcement, and special forces for years. A total of seven Tritium light sources provide readability in total darkness for 10 years without external power or the need to “recharge” using a flashlight.

Garmin Edge 500 Cycling GPS

Garmin Edge 500 Cycling GPS $249 |  Sharpen your cycling performance with Edge 500, a lightweight GPS-based cycling computer for performance-driven cyclists. Loaded with data, Edge 500 tracks your distance, speed, location and elevation with high sensitivity GPS. Add an ANT+ compatible heart rate monitor, speed/cadence sensor or compatible power meter for a finely-tuned analysis of your ride.

Jetboil Flash Personal Cooking System $99 | The Jetboil Flash cooking system utilizes the same efficient design as the now classic Personal Cooking System (PCS) but adds the additional convenience feature of an external temperature indicator. Designed to capture and focus heat more efficiently than traditional cooking systems, the Flash brings two cups of water to a boil in only two minutes. The lining also houses a color change window that alerts you to when the contents are hot. A sip-through lid further helps insulate the contents of the cooking cup and prohibits spills. The protective plastic bottom of the cup can be removed for use as a small bowl or measuring device.   

If the Jetboil Personal Cooking System isn’t what you are looking for, check out the MSR Pocket Rocket stove $39 | The PocketRocket backpacking stove from MSR provides full cooking function in an incredibly efficient form. Barely noticeable in your pack, it delivers precision flame control from torch to simmer while the Wind Clip wind shield boosts efficiency in breezy conditions. The PocketRocket stove’s diminutive size is also the foundation of a solid emergency kit for home or trail.

Cabin: Two Brothers, Five Acres and a Dream in Maine by Lou Ureneck $17 |  Confronted with the disappointments and knockdowns that can come in middle age-job loss, the death of his mother, a health scare, a divorce, Lou Ureneck needed a project that would engage the better part of him and put him back in life’s good graces. City-bound for a decade, Lou decided he needed to build a simple post-and-beam cabin in the woods. He bought five acres in the hills of western Maine and asked his younger brother, Paul, to help him.

Double Nest Hammock $65 | The DoubleNest allows room for one, two, three, or however you decide to pack 400lbs. The DoubleNest seats more than one person comfortably and is essential for family adventures. The DoubleNest still packs down to the size of a grapefruit, so there is no excuse to be without your ENO hammock.

Outdoor Coffee Press $40 |  Now there is no reason to bring that horrible tasting Starbucks Via coffee with you when you go camping or hiking.  Instead bring some fresh ground coffee or loose leaf tea with you and make some excellent coffee when ever you want with this outdoor coffee press.  Of course you won’t bring a bean grinder with you on most trips but it gives you an idea of what it takes to make a good cup of coffee while on the road.  Of course you need something to drink it from.  You may want to check out some excellent stainless steel coffee mugs/beer mugs to drink from.

Zippo Hand Warmer $20 | The Zippo Hand Warmer is a rugged, metal hand warmer with a high-polish finish and a sleek, thin design so it easily fits into your pocket. The hand warmer is virtually odorless (great for hunters) and stays warm for up to 12 hours. Plus, it’s reusable with Zippo lighter fluid and includes a convenient filler cup and warming bag. Whether you’re skiing, tailgating at the game, hunting, sledding, or enjoying any other cold-weather activity, keep a Zippo Hand Warmer in your pocket and keep your fingers toasty warm.

Garmin GPS

Garmin eTrex 20 Worldwide Handheld GPS Navigator $168 | Garmin’s eTrex GPS series offers reliable satellite navigation, making it a favorite of hikers, hunters, and geocachers. The eTrex 20 is equipped with a high-sensitivity GPS receiver, a 2.2-inch color display, and ships with a worldwide basemap with relief. Add a wide array of detailed topographic, marine, and road maps, and start mapping out your next adventure.

Hennessy Hammock Expedition A-sym $143 | Next generation of Hennessy Hammock’s most popular model with all the key features including full velcro entrance seal, mesh pocket on ridgeline and webbing straps to protect the bark of trees.  The rain-fly is polyurethane coated polyester ripstop or silicone impregnated nylon and may be tilted to any angle, rolled up above, removed or used separately. The No-See-Um mesh and hammocks fabric will deflect wind to provide a calm space inside. Large area of No-See-Um netting to provide ventilation and keep insects outside the hammock. When properly sealed, the entrance design also makes sure no bugs get into your hammock.  All of this means that you can sleep almost anywhere.

The Black Diamond Orbit Lantern $25 | Designed for ounce-conscious backpackers and climbers, the Black Diamond Orbit lantern packs 45 lumens of bright, non-glaring light in an ultra-portable package. A DoublePower LED (1-watt) works with Black Diamond’s dual reflector system and frosted globe to illuminate everything from tent-bound reading to pre-dawn racking. A collapsible, double-hook hang loop attaches to tent ceilings and tree branches alike.  Mark and I both have one and they are simply amazing.  They are highly rated on REI, MEC, and Amazon.com and are loved by all that use them.  Whether you are a camper, hiker, or even a family who needs a safety light in the car, these are a must have.

Filzer UFO Light $8 | Alert vehicles and help keep track of your dog at night. The UFO light is designed specifically for runners, hikers and dogs. The light easily attaches to 1″ webbing, dog collars, clothing, etc… with a small carabineer. Five red LEDs put out highly visible red light in three modes – steady, flash and rotate. Its waterproof design makes it ideal for any weather.

Christmas Gift Guides and Ideas

If I missed anything or if my suggestion made you think I was absolutely crazy, let me know in the comments. You can access the current edition and previous years list of Christmas gift guides here.

Vibram Five Fingers

I have written about my type 2 diabetes before here and one of the more troubling aspects of it is what it has done to my feet.  Both my feet have suffered a lot of nerve damage and while the pain is under control by walking, taking alpha lipolic acid and using Neurogen.  Despite using both of those, I can’t walk barefoot on asphalt (the pain is overwhelming) or on sand.  At the lake I have on a pair of water shoes that makes it possible to go into the water and they work fine.

I had been thinking of getting a pair of Vibram FiveFingers shoes for a couple of years but they look dorkish and I didn’t think I would wear them.  Over the last couple of weeks I have been talking to a bunch of diabetic doctors who all swear by them, especially because they prevent some of the atrophy of the feet that come from the nerve damage that we experience.  

I finally decided to try some.  Sport Chek has both the Vibram Five Fingers and the Adidas Adipure.  I decided on a pair of black Vibram Fivefingers KSO (KSO stands for Keeping Stuff Out)

Vibram FiveFingers KSO

So far I don’t know if I like them which from what I have been told is kind of normal at first moving from a regular running or hiking shoe but we will see how it goes.  Michael Hyatt posted this review of his in 2009.  As he says,

Twenty-five percent of all your bones are in your feet. Your feet are a marvel of biological engineering. They are designed to adjust your stride, distribute your weight, and minimize the impact on your joints—on the fly. Unfortunately, when you encase them in modern running shoes, your feet lose contact with the ground. They don’t adjust. They aren’t free to do what they were made to do.

While I have read that your feet take some time to adjust to the shoes and initially feel quite tired, my feet have loved the shoes and have felt quite comfortable in them.  We will see how this goes throughout the summer and see if I get back any of the balance I have lost over the next several months.