Tinnitus

Tinnitus

tinnitus |ˈtinitəs, tiˈnī-|
noun Medicine
ringing or buzzing in the ears.
Oxford American Dictionary

It was sometime during my 50s that I discovered I’d developed tinnitus. It happened at a cottage in Sauble Beach, Ontario, on Lake Huron. I had been sitting under a tree, reading and listening to bird song and the high-pitched buzzing of cicadas. After the mosquitoes began to find me, I went inside the cottage to continue my novel. To my surprise the cicadas were as loud as ever. It was then that I realized it wasn’t cicadas at all, but tinnitus — a ringing or buzzing in the ears that happens to many people as they age.

Tinnitus can arise from a number of causes and is frequently associated with hearing loss, as in my case. While there are a number of attempts to cure or reduce tinnitus, none of them have proven effective for most people. This may change in the near future.

A new treatment is being investigated at the University of Michigan: http://www.futurity.org/treatment-shows-promise-hushing-tinnitus/ :

[Dr.] Shore is now working with other students and postdoctoral fellows to develop a device that uses the new knowledge about the importance of signal timing to alleviate tinnitus. The device will combine sound and electrical stimulation of the face and neck in order to return to normal the neural activity in the auditory pathway.

“If we get the timing right, we believe we can decrease the firing rates of neurons at the tinnitus frequency, and target those with hyperactivity,” says Shore. She and her colleagues are also working to develop pharmacological manipulations that could enhance stimulus timed plasticity by changing specific molecular targets.

But, she notes, any treatment will likely have to be customized to each patient, and delivered on a regular basis. And some patients may be more likely to derive benefit than others.

It’s early days yet, but if the device developed by Dr. Shore and her associates proves effective, it may help me, and many other Boomers like me, who experience this often annoying condition.

A New Way of Walking

20070717_bipedalism

Everybody’s talking ’bout a new way of walking
Do you want to lose your mind?
Walk right in, sit right down
Daddy let your mind roll on
— Rooftop Singers, “Walk Right In”

I remember an incident from the late 70s. At the time I was Head Librarian at the Royal Ontario Museum and my main reference and cataloguing duties were with the museum’s science departments. As a result of this, I got first look at most of the new acquisitions, which included Scientific American reprints. One of the reprints was on bipedalism and one of the articles articulated the mechanics of walking upright.

The context of the reprint was on early hominids and what was required for them to walk on two legs. We now think bipedalism was a very early evolutionary development and that some of our ancestors who walked upright were apes with craniums no bigger than a chimp’s. In other words, bipedalism goes a long way back.

What I recall the most, after reading the reprint, was how for the next few days afterward I got stoned on watching people walk. It was if I were witnessing bipedal walking for the first time. I could see the mechanics in action, and the beautiful flow of balance and energy efficiency. (Of course pretty girls made the observation additionally interesting.) It was as if encountering a new idea for the first time, then seeing it applied everywhere.

All this came back to me sharply a few months ago when, getting out of bed in the morning, I’d step on my right foot and gasp at the sudden, sharp pain in the heel. Yikes, what was this? I thought at first I’d bruised it badly somehow, but the heel didn’t, well, heal. It hurt worse and worse as the days went on. So much so I had to grab a cane to walk any distance, and even that was painful.

It turned out I was “blessed” with a common condition called plantar faciitis, in inflammation of the plantar fascia in the feet. For which there is no quick or easy cure. I started walking less and icing my foot at least once a day. It significantly reduced my walking radius which in turn impacted my photography. My doctor told me to be patient, and that I might benefit from custom orthotics.

I did the next best thing. I hobbled to The Running Room where I found generic orthotic arch support inserts. As soon as I tried a pair, the relief was instant. Not a cure, but it made putting weight on my foot somewhat less painful. I bought them, transferred them from shoe to shoe in all the shoes I wore, and continued the ice treatments. My doc also prescribed an anti-inflammatory that helped with the pain.

As a result I began, gradually, to walk more easily. But with a difference. Whereas previously I would hit my heel down hard as I walked, I began to shift my downstride more to the middle of my foot. I didn’t do this consciously — it simply hurt less to walk that way. But it felt awkward, for awhile.

Today as I was walking, relatively pain free, I realized I had a new way of walking. That the small muscles in my legs, ankles, and feet had adjusted to the new stride, and that I was walking very comfortably. Now there are people who posit that walking in shoes is unnatural and that shoes rob us of the natural gait we evolved. This I don’t know the answer to. Perhaps.

All I know is that I felt comfortable, almost floating, and that my mind was rolling on.

Time for Reflection

Sundial

I spent last week in hospital. Some angina-like pains in my chest were sharp enough to convince me to call 911 for an ambulance to make sure I wasn’t in cardiac distress.

The immediate tests and bloodwork showed no sign of heart attack, but because of my coronary history, I was admitted for tests. After a couple of days waiting, and lots of blood work later, I took an electrolytic stress test. The results indicated an anomaly so I was next scheduled for an angiogram in order for the cardiologists to take a look inside.

The angiogram results were good news. No new blockages, and all the plumbing from my bypass surgery looked great. The anomaly turned out to be a small branch artery that had been blocked by an earlier stent. Arterially it isn’t important, but it’s blocked just enough to cause me some angina pains when I’ve exerted myself harder than usual.

Because it’s a little branch, or twig, artery, I’ve dubbed it “Twiglet.” As in, “Twiglet’s complaining again.”

Whenever I spend time in hospital, it feels like a reprieve when I’m home again. A time to reflect and be thankful for family, friends, home, and generally good health.

During this holiday season, allow me to wish you the best of all these things. May your life be blessed with love, comfort, imagination, and joy.

— Gene

A Fresh Start

Writing Table (by StarbuckGuy)

This is a photo of my new writing space. It was previously a sprawling computer workstation area, surrounded by scanners and an inkjet printer, but we consolidated our two desktop PC’s into one unit on the other side of our office, leaving me this space to write. I wanted a place at home where I could sit, shut the door if necessary, and concentrate on writing for as long as I remained productive.

Previously I did most of my writing while sitting in Starbucks, as part of my daily walk. I write well in coffee shops, but the Starbucks is busy and I’m uncomfortable staying for long periods of time, taking a table from the other patrons. So my writing has been done in bursts. And because it’s also a gathering place for many of my photographer friends, I often end up socializing rather than writing.

So this marks a new start, and it’s appropriately symbolic because today (April 22) is the first anniversary of my open-heart surgery. I’ve spent the past year recovering from a double-bypass operation. Only recently have I felt I was returning to normal. It’s been an up-and-down recovery and a little worrisome because the cardiologists and the literature suggest that most people feel back to normal within six months. I didn’t.

This in turn led to depression, which I’m also dealing with. My family doctor reassured me that many of his patients take a year or more to recover from the surgery, but despite understanding that at a rational level, I worried that I might never get well again.

During the past year I’d slipped into the habit of sleeping in late, and casually getting active in the morning, often not dressed and ready for a walk until after noon. In part I had little control over this, and sleep was highly important. Lately, though, I’ve begun some military-like discipline, getting up if I wake early — anywhere between 5 and 6:30 — getting dressed immediately and going for a power walk before breakfast. No stopping at Starbucks, though I carry a camera with me and occasionally stop to take a shot.

The result, combined with the natural healing of my body, is that I’m feeling better and more energetic through the rest of the day. This in turn should help with the writing.

I’ve not been able to shake the depression, but I have many very good days to every bad one, and I’m working with a psychiatrist to help me evaluate my condition and adjust my antidepressant medications when I require changes in dosages. Depression is a terrible disease — one I’ve come to understand first hand and I’m now very empathetic to anyone who is afflicted. Depression is a common condition, I’m told, among cardio patients.

But that aside, I feel I’m having a fresh start in life as I near my 64th birthday. You think a lot on death when you’ve been through major coronary issues, and one of the things that does is help you achieve perspective on what is important in your life.

Family and friends top the list, of course, but I also value creative work more highly than ever. My writing has taken a creative turn. I’m reaching beyond technology writing into creative nonfiction and even some fiction and poetry. I don’t know where this will take me, and I don’t have a particular goal other than to follow the desire to write creatively and to photograph creatively.

Hence the new writing space is symbolic of a fresh start, and a new adventure in life. It’s never too late to start fresh. Somewhere in each of us, I truly believe, are muses willing to work with us, if we learn to listen to them. Call it subconscious or unconscious, or call it tapping into special areas of the brain, or even something new-agey if that’s your schtick — what it’s called matters little, as long as we listen.

I figure a good place to start is right here, at a simple desk, with a southern exposure. Pen and paper ready. Netbook on standby. Dictionaries at the side. The Muses whispering. Everything set to take those important steps into the world of imagination.

nine-muses (by StarbuckGuy)

The Scope of Things

Spring Cyclist (by StarbuckGuy)

Yesterday I underwent my first scoping procedures: an endoscopy and colonoscopy to see if there might be anything causing internal bleeding. My iron and hemoglobin counts went way down awhile back and my family doc was concerned that there might be some internal bleeding.

As I’ve been told my many people, the preparation for the procedure is worse than the procedure itself. It means fasting the day prior, having only clear liquids, no liquids at all overnight or in the morning on procedure day, and powerful laxatives on the day before that have to be experienced to be believed.  They need you to be clean so they can see the stomach walls and the walls of the intestines.

I discovered a couple of things during the fasting. Campbell’s beef broth is surprisingly nourishing, and I like the upscale drink called Ginseng-Up. A slightly fizzy drink with a delicious ginsing flavour.

As for the procedure itself, it was the usual hospital routine. Check in, get an ID bracelet, then a little hospital gown (short version for this test), then wait. Eventually they loaded me on a gurney and wheeled me into the op room.

“Mr. Wilburn, this is Jessica, a nursing student. Do you mind if she watches the procedure?” Of course not. Then an unexpected question: “Why are you here?” When the question was repeated, I answered “I thought that question was for Jessica.”

“Nice try,” said the nurse, “but you’re the one on the stretcher.” I assumed her question wasn’t an existential one, so I muttered something about my doc being concerned there could be internal bleeding, that my iron and hemoglobin count had gone low. But that they were fine now that I was taking iron supplements. That answer seemed to satisfy her.

The usual jokes as they inserted the IV needle and put some ECG electrodes on my chest. “Ah, you’ve been here before,” kidded the nurse as she saw my bypass scar. “We’re going to spray your throat a couple of times to freeze it. It tastes pretty awful.” That’s encouraging I thought.

She sprayed and I knew right away she wasn’t joking. It tasted very bad. “Just swallow it,” she said. “One more time,” she said, “this is to prevent a gag reflex.” On the second squirt I couldn’t swallow and began to choke a little. “Is this normal?” I asked. “Oh yes,” she said, “perfectly normal. You’ll be fine.”

“Mr. Wilburn, we’re now going to administer a little sedative in your IV. It might make you drowsy.” Bring it on, I thought, still choking and unable to swallow. That’s all I remember until some point when I awoke and could see the scoping monitors and thought it would be interesting to watch. Then nothing.

I woke up in the recovery room and a different nurse gave me some juice and said, “Time to get dressed and go home now.” I felt like I’d had a very pleasant nap. I dressed and soon a hospital volunteer came to me with a wheelchair and took me to the patient pickup entrance where Marion was waiting in the car.

Aside from a slightly sore stomach where I suspect they removed the polyp they’d found, I felt good and enjoyed some soft food: scrambled eggs and a fruit yogurt.  My instructions were to rest. In late afternoon I felt very good and took a gentle walk to Starbucks and back. While at Starbucks I wrote in my journal about the marvels of modern medicine and health treatment.

The polyp will be sent out for a biopsy. Polyps, I’m told, are common and most are benign, so unless I hear otherwise, I’m not worrying about it.

Today I feel even better, and am enjoying sitting in Starbucks writing a blog entry on a nice early-spring day.

“Does Exercise Really Keep Us Healthy?”

Runner (by StarbuckGuy)

I regularly scan the science, health, and technology pages of the New York Times (online) as a way of keeping up, in a layman’s fashion. The NYTimes, in my opinion, has a stable of excellent writers and reporters who tend to stay slightly ahead of the curve of popular reporting.

I was fascinated to find an article by Gina Kolata titled “Does Exercise Really Keep Us Healthy?” Here’s the NYTimes summary:

In Brief:

While exercise can boost mood, its health benefits have been oversold.

Moderate exercise can reduce the risk of diabetes in people at risk. Exercise may reduce the risk of heart disease and breast and colon cancers.

Though the evidence is mixed, exercise may also provide benefits for people with osteoporosis.

Physical activity alone will not lead to sustained weight loss or reduce blood pressure or cholesterol.

I must admit to a penchant for iconoclastic stories — ones that puncture some of our most ingrained beliefs and values. Stories that probe issues with hard questions about the evidence, i.e., “Where’s the beef?”

I’m old enough to remember when nobody talked much about exercise. During my childhood, in the 1950’s, I was about the only kid I knew who liked to go for walks in the outdoors — unless they were officially sanctioned scout hikes. But it wasn’t about the exercise for me — it was about enjoying being out in nature. The fact that I lived on a small farm in the country about a mile and a half from the small town of Lyndon, Illinois (pop. 600) probably had something to do with my attitude. I walked to school and back quite often, preferring the walk in good weather to the school bus.

The only person I ever heard of to take exercise regularly was ex-president Harry S. Truman, who was still alive and living at his home in neighbouring Missouri. There would be occasional press photos of him “taking his constitutional” — his brisk daily walk.

During the late 60’s I remember an episode of the Dick Cavett Show in which the folksinger/actor Theodore Bikel was a guest. Bikel was a large, very rotund, man with a Rabelaisian appetite for life, and a raconteur’s gift of story telling. Exercise was becoming fashionable, largely due to the publication of Kenneth H. Cooper’s Aerobics, which became a best seller. Cavet asked Bikel if he exercised. “Exercise is a bore!” replied Bikel, with a look he might have given if offered a glass of cheap California plonk.

The thing is, Theo Bikel, who will be 85 this year, recently passed through Toronto on tour. He performed his extensive Yiddish repertoire at the North York City Centre. As rotund and unexercised as ever, he still sings well and heartily. Many a well exercised individual has long since passed away with a heart attack while Bikel keeps on singing and entertaining.

Take my own  case. I’ve been a walker all my life. I eat healthy, hearty food. I’ve never had a high cholesterol count or high blood pressure. I’m still relatively slim. When I had a heart attack, my family doctor, whom I think is an excellent medical man, was astonished. “Why you?” he asked me. Nonetheless I have coronary artery disease and it’s been aggressive. My condition, I’m told, is “asymptomatic.” Then I learned from a video on heart disease that as many as 40% of heart patients are asymptomatic. That’s getting close to 50%.

Which is not to say I’m against regular exercise. It’s just that it’s quite possibly an illusion to think it will prevent you from becoming ill. If your genetics predispose you to an illness, it’s doubtful that exercise will stave it off. For your sake, I hope it does, but the science to support the view is shaky.

Still, I take my exercise nearly every day. I know it makes me feel better and more energetic. Whether or not it has deeply beneficial medical benefits is, as they say in Scotland, “not proven.” But that’s okay. Much of life is “unproven” and I don’t see why exercise should be exempt.

Change in Energy

Cloudy Morning (by StarbuckGuy)

One of the more welcome changes for me in 2009 is improved energy and stamina. A few weeks ago I landed in a deep trough and felt weak and out of it. Some blood work showed I had a low hemoglobin count.

Iron tablets to the rescue. It’s been about three or four weeks since I started the iron prescription and I’ve started to notice a change for the better.

I also feel, unless I’m deluded, that my heart is stronger too. On yesterday’s photoshoot I walked farther than any Toronto outing I’ve tried since my bypass surgery. It was the first time I didn’t tire, as in boom! flat! and I still felt good by the time I left for home, and I felt fine all evening.

In fact, last night I got out my much-neglected six-string and played and sang for about an hour or so, until my poor fingers hollered “enough already!” I need to build calluses all over again. But, my, it felt good to be in a music-making space again. I was attempting Bob Dylan’s “Visions of Johanna.” It’s a stretch for me because the song bounces between octaves and when it comes to singing, I’m a prairie, not a mountain.

This morning I got up feeling well and headed out for a morning walk right after a bit of breakfast. On the way to Starbucks, I finished off the roll of 36-exp Reala 100 I had loaded in the Bessa R3A. While imbibing a couple of Grande Milds, I wrote another 1000+ word entry in my journal and began this posting.

From there I did my longer, cardio-intensive, walk on the way home. The sun was disappearing behind a cloud cover, but I snapped a shot of the Ridgetown from the pavillion at St Lawrence Park that made a good B&W. When I walked up to Lakeshore Road, I noticed that Planet Organic was open, so I popped in for some oat and stoneground wholewheat flours. Got home and started making wholewheat-oat bread. The dough is rising.

Marion cooked a nice-looking tofu lasagna. It smelled great. While the yeast was doing its multiply and conquer routine in the bread dough, I cooked some onions to the clearing point, added two cloves of garlic, then filled the pan with fresh kale, steaming it with the onions and garlic and an added tin of navy beans.

For Trev’s sake I’ll also stir fry some chicken strips to go with it. I’m looking forward to tonight’s dinner.

A good day.

Biking to Wellness

Morning Light (by StarbuckGuy)

This week I took my longest bike ride yet. According to my cycle computer I rode a total of 18 km. I started early in the morning after waking at 5:30, looking out the window, and seeing a clear sky after several rainy days. I dressed quickly, toasted a slice of multigrain bread, smeared it with peanut butter and strawberry jam, gobbled it down, grabbed my helmet, filled my water bottle, and started out.

The night before I’d thought of trying my first ride to Jack Darling Park and the Rattray Marsh, just to the west of Port Credit in Lorne Park, or maybe it’s Clarkson. The old townships in the southern end of Mississauga blend together without any distinct boundary markers. But when I started out from our driveway, I decided to ride straight down Hurontario to Lake Ontario and catch the Waterfront Trail going east.

I wanted to ride at least as far as the Adamson Estate and maybe as far as RK McMillan Park, the western edge of the Lakeshore Promenade series of parks. The Adamson Estate appeared before I even seem to get started. I stopped there a took a couple of early-morning shots of the estate. Then I headed for the Promenade.

Bridge (by StarbuckGuy)

There are some nice little bridges along the route, crossing streams and creeks, all flowing into Lake Ontario. I arrived at McMillan, the farthest east I’d been along the Mississauga lakeshore trail. The sun was rising and I headed for a spot I remembered might be good for photographing the light. I almost stopped there, but noticed a photographer already set up with camera on a tripod. I didn’t wish to disturb him, so I rode on. A photographer up at the crack of dawn, enjoying the solitude of nature, hoping to catch a great sunrise shot should not be disturbed.

Instead I kept on riding. Already I was into new territory. As the sun rose I found myself riding directly into it. I fiddled my sunglasses and got them on my face but still had to watch carefully. It was blinding at times. I followed the path as it wound through parks, then cut northward where it hugged Lakeshore Road. Passing over railway tracks and through an industrial area, the path veered south again, cutting into a wooded area. Along the way I’d been seeing lots of birds, including a green heron flying overhead and an excitable number of redwings. A mockingbird mimicked in full song.

As I emerged from the woodlot, into another park structure, I passed by some baby cottontails nibbling on plants. A vole scooted across the road in front of me. As I rounded a corner, I watched a doe walk casually from the parkland into the woods.

Soon I crossed another bridge, this time over a more substantial stream — almost a small river. I was in a very large park and when I rode down to the beach I saw a cannon sitting on the sand. I couldn’t tell if the Waterfront Trail continued at this point or not. The signage was poor. Besides, knowing I had to return, I figured for a cardio rehab patient I’d gone far enough for one outing.

I didn’t know what park I was in, but I guessed that the large stream was Etobicoke Creek. Later, at home, I studied an Internet map and confirmed that my guess was correct. It was indeed Etobicoke Creek and I had been in Marie Curtis Park.

The trip back was pleasant, especially since I no longer had to face directly into the sun. I felt like celebrating so when I arrived back in Port Credit, I rode to the harbour and across the bridge to Starbucks where I had a Tall Bold and a big glass of water. Then home, where everyone was still asleep.

On the Trail (by StarbuckGuy)

Thoughts on my 63rd Birthday

Gene  (by Lizzzzzzzz)

Photo of Gene on his new bike by Liz O’Neill

My 63rd birthday on June 10 came and went but despite my intentions I didn’t write a blog entry on that day. It sometimes bothers me when I’m not writing every day, even if it consists of nothing but a few notes in my Moleskine notebook, but this hiatus in my writing is different. I needed some time off from writing and photography. Some time to think about things and to assess priorities. Exercise certainly makes it to the top of the priority list. It’s now two months since my bypass op, and I’m gaining in strength and energy. Besides the natural healing process, the main driver is cardiac exercise — primarily walking. Starting with little five-minute walklets that tired me out, I’m now capable of walking up to thirty minutes or so at a stretch. Marion and I have taken to having morning and evening walks through our neighbourhood. She’s a fast walker and I have to remind her occasionally to set a slightly slower pace.

In addition to walking, I’ve taken up bike riding. My main birthday present was a new Giant Cyprus DX hybrid bicycle. I haven’t owned a decent bike since the late 70’s and the few times I’ve tried riding bikes in the past couple of years angina pains cut my rides short. Fortunately the bypass seems to have fixed that problem and I’m taking modest rides in the neighbourhood and along the Port Credit lakeshore bike path.

I’ve been casual about photography during this period. Mostly I take photos of flowers in our garden and now that I’m walking greater distances I often carry an ultracompact P&S digital, taking a few shots around the harbour. I’m beginning to combine bike riding with a bit of photography too. I’m eager to get back to shooting B&W film, but I’ve been holding off until I was strong enough to develop film again. I’m just about there.

I can scarcely say enough about the support I’ve had from family and friends. I’ve had lots of visits, phone calls, emails, and local meetups. These kindnesses really bolster the spirits.

On the relaxation and entertainment side of things, my second birthday present was DVD disc set of the entire Buffy, the Vampire Slayer TV series. Marion and I had not seen the series when it was live, so we’re new to it but we’re already Buffy junkies. It’s a series of surprising depth and the dialogue frequently has us laughing out loud. It’s as creative as anything I’ve seen produced for television and each of us has our favourite characters.

The weather during my recovery period has been spectacular. Except for one week of hot, humid weather, the days have been cooler than normal for this time of year, with mixed sun and rain. It’s our favourite kind of weather and we’ve been outside as often as we’re able.

In some ways, I feel like it’s a New Year — that time when you resolve to do certain things in the near future. I’m unresolved about my writing. I tried some fiction writing last fall and although I learned a lot of things that will make me a better and more appreciative reader, I confirmed that fiction is not my strength.

I like writing essays, but I’m not certain what kind of essay-writing project I’d like to do. I no longer write articles for technology magazines, or do so rarely, but my interest in science and technology remains strong. I think that I’ll start including more on these topics in my blog writing.

There will undoubtedly be more blog entries about photography,  technology, gardening, riding, and walking. And the various thoughts that arise from reading and observing.

In closing this entry, I’ll simply say I’m grateful to be alive, to be recovering my health, to be surrounded by family and friends, and to be continuing my lifelong learning.

My deep thanks to all of you who have taken the time to read my blog entries. I’ll try to keep them interesting, and I really appreciate your comments.

Walking the Walklet

Walkin' the Walk

One week ago today I had open-heart surgery — a double bypass. Today is my third day home. I’m still amazed at how quickly the recovery begins. Years ago people were kept in hospital, then in bed, for weeks. Now they have you up and moving the day after surgery.

I’ve been assigned several tasks: deep breathing, foot wiggling, and what I call ‘walklets’ — little five-minute walks during the day. The deep breathing part is to help re-inflate the lungs, which partially collapse during the surgery. The foot wiggling helps pump blood back towards the heart. For the first time in my life I have swollen ankles, but I understand it’s de rigeur for bypass patients.

The walklets are my favourite. I was provided with a chart to follow that starts out by working my way up to six walklets a day, totalling 30 mins. Today I’ve already taken four walklets and it’s only dinner time. That was my personal minimal goal for the day. I should be able to do at least one more walklet today.

Eventually the walklets get longer in duration and the number of them gets smaller until the walklets have smoothed out into a single 30-min walk per day. At that point I will be ready to begin rehab.

It’s interesting to be in a situation where I have to learn patience, howevermuch it goes against my nature.