Video Update – Parallel Bars Walking

I’ve been using the parallel bars for quite some time now and just a few days ago I had a relatively small but significant breakthrough that I wanted to share. The following video (from March 1st) shows a great development in my walking exercises and reminds me that progress does occur, even when it doesn’t feel like it. As you watch, please keep the following things in mind:

  • Don’t be confused and think this is the big thing: I’m not walking on my own….YET. It’s hard to see but the therapist is holding my core steady with the strap around my waist and she’s also using her leg to lock out my plant knee because I can’t do that yet. That said, it’s still pretty cool.
  • I recently started doing this exercise without shoes because I can slide my feet with socks. Maybe it’s cheating a bit but it’s helped me initiate the movement from my hips and actually pull my leg through with more strength.
  • Previously, the therapist always had to move my legs for me but this was the first time I was able to shift, move and slide my legs forward on my own.
  • Yes I’m rocking a pink shirt. Real men wear pink. End of story.

Don’t sweat the sweat

For the first time since my injury, I broke an actual sweat a couple days ago. My arms were moist, my chest, neck and upper back were a little wet and I could actually wipe off some sweat off the top of my head that was slipping out under the acupuncture needles that were buried into my scalp.

Why am I pointing this out you may wonder?

One of the many less noticed but still significant aspects of my Spinal Cord Injury is the effect on body temperature, specifically the lack of ability to sweat. It’s not something that people think about very often, but sweating is extremely important in maintaining body temperature and cooling the body down when it starts to heat up. The nerves that control the ability to sweat are affected by the damage to the spinal cord, particularly in an injury like mine, high up in the spine in the cervical vertebrae.

I first noticed the challenges of not sweating just three months after my accident. On an unseasonably hot day in early October, I was enjoying a rare outdoor lunch, sitting in the sun in a beautiful park when after only a few minutes I started feeling very hot. I touched my head and face to check for perspiration but to my surprise, my skin felt as dry as leather. Not one bead of sweat. I stayed a bit longer only to find that I was unbearably hot.

I have to take a quick break from the story to explain how unusual this was. Before my accident, I LOVED being in the sun. Thanks to my ethnic heritage and my quick tanning skin, I’ve been able to avoid getting sunburned for most of my life. I would lay on the beach in direct sun for hours and hours, I was the guy at the restaurant who didn’t want the table in the shade, and I suffered immensely when I had an office job and had to accept being inside on a bright, beautiful sunny day. So to be overheating after only a few minutes of sunshine was an entirely new experience for me…

I cut the lunch party short and moved to the shade to escape the sun, with the hopes that I would cool down and continue my outdoor picnic. While it definitely felt better in the shade, I found that I just couldn’t bring my body temperature down. I started getting more and more uncomfortable and eventually decided that it was time to go. Sitting in the car as we drove down the hill, I checked myself for any sign of sweat again. Nothing. It only took me a few minutes to realize that I had to do something. We stopped the car and I poured two full liters of water over my head and body, right there in the passenger seat of the car effectively drenching the car seat and dashboard. Ahhhhh relief, finally. Luckily, my body temperature did come down but I learned that the lack of ability to sweat was something I had to be aware of in future situations.

In the months since this incident, I’ve had many intense workouts. I’ve challenged myself physically in novel ways and have pushed my limits on numerous occasions. Yet, despite these exhausting workouts, I’ve only had a few little drops of sweat making a cameo on my body before they disappear again. So to finally have a moment where I actually broke a sweat that lasted more than a few seconds certainly felt like a small triumph. The problem certainly isn’t solved and I’m not sure how soon I’ll get back to being my previous comfortably-sweating-during-physical-activity-yet-not-embarassingly-so self but at least it’s a start. I hope to be drenching many a exercise mat quite soon with my perspired goodness. Yup, that just got said.

Cupping Therapy and Body Muffins

Cupping therapy, known by Dr. Zhu as “muffins”

“Look, look at the muffins on your back!” exclaimed Dr. Zhu, my acupuncturist and master healing guru, as the suctioned cups on my body swelled up and turned my back into a collection of red, circular, muffin-sized lumps. Ok, I know to a lot of people it may seem kinda gross to refer to collections of blood flowing to my skin as muffins, but hey, that’s his type of humor and it doesn’t bother me one bit. In fact I snickered as Dr. Zhu said that he wouldn’t need breakfast the next day since I had provided so many muffins.

Cupping can mean a few things (get your heads out of the gutter you dirty-minded people…) but in this context, it refers to an ancient form of treatment that has been used for thousands of years in Egypt, China and the Middle East. Western/conventional medicine doesn’t officially recognize the benefits of cupping (this is a theme I’ll be coming back to frequently) but many people have enjoyed the relaxation and healing that comes with it. I was lucky enough to meet one of China’s foremost cupping experts last week as she was visiting Dr. Zhu’s office and she decided to give me a substantial treatment that she said would improve my blood circulation and relax my overused and constantly tired shoulder and back muscles. After identifying which areas had poor or obstructed bloodflow (the redder and darker, the more stagnant the blood), Dr. Wong pricked those areas with a needle, squeezed out the black, clotted blood, then put on new cups to suction and suck out more of the unhealthy blood.

Much like the acupuncture treatment I receive at Dr. Zhu, cupping is meant to work with the meridians and flow of chi in the same way as the needles used in acupuncture. The result is a painless, deeply relaxing experience that comes with red circles on your back for a few days. All hail the muffins!!