Knee Update

Since early February, I have run a grand total of one mile. It’s been so long since a real run that I’ve mostly stopped thinking of myself as a runner, which feels a bit weird. However, I still feel a tiny stab inside when I see someone out for a jog. I should be out there, too.

As you might remember, my orthopedist checked out my knee in early March and found no problems. His prescription was rest. It didn’t work. Maybe I didn’t rest it enough, but even two weeks of no leg activity at all didn’t change how it felt. So I went back for an MRI earlier this month.

The MRI wasn’t bad at all except for the price tag. I just had to lie still on the machine’s moveable table for 30-40 minutes while it made all sorts of loud noises as it captured the images. The technician let me listen to Jack FM on a nice pair of headphones and stay warm under a blanket.

The orthopedist also prescribed a fancy knee brace from The Brace Center in Bedford. Judging from the array of autographed Dallas Cowboys pictures in their office, I’m guessing many pro athletes find their braces here when they get injured, so that seemed like a good sign to me. I tried on a few and took home a hinged one called The Gripper. Despite a bit of chafing at first on the back of my knee, it seems to be helping. Knee-intensive activities such as cycling and elliptical are noticeable more comfortable. It’s not a perfect solution, but it’s nice to find something that makes a difference.

I finally met with the orthopedist Thursday to get the results. Structurally, my knee is nearly perfect. I have the “knee cartilage of a baby.” So the good news is that I’m not having knee surgery, and the doc gave me the green light to do any form of exercise I want. Although certain activities I enjoy might cause some discomfort, they won’t cause any damage to my knee, so the question is how much discomfort I’m willing to tolerate and how I can manage it.

The bad news is that after all the visits and imagining and money, I still don’t really know what’s wrong, so there’s no clear solution. I’ll keep wearing the brace when I ride the elliptical or my bike. He suggested trying to strengthen my quads to help keep my kneecap in place. I might meet with a PT later about therapeutic taping for my knee. But that’s all I have.

Will I return to running? Maybe. I might try a short run soon with my brace and see how it feels. I’d like to get back into 5Ks or 10Ks if possible. But I’ll be OK if I don’t. Riding makes me happy. Despite my initial reluctance, the elliptical machine isn’t too bad, either. And I also enjoy lifting weights now. From lifting 2-3 times per week for a couple of months, I’ve grown noticeably stronger and a bit more defined. So I’m mostly done feeling sorry for myself. Bodies change over time, and our interests and activities change with them.

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Recent Happenings

We’ve been busy at the Box house. Here are some of the recent highlights.

  • I was off work all last week, and I was determined to be productive rather than good off the whole time. It worked. I polished the car, decluttered our bedroom, gathered clothes for Goodwill, mowed the yard, replaced two normal switches with fancy fan controls, dropped one of the fans and destroyed a fan blade, and completed my annual cockpit time.
  • I also de-babyfied the house, getting rid of Jonathan’s old crib and mattress, the high chair, the booster seat, several toys, and all our baby gates. The bottom floor of the house looks strangely different without all the gates, much more open. I dig it.
  • Last Saturday was Jenny’s birthday. My main present to her was watching the boys so she could go be alone and play for a while. She spent Friday shopping in Canton (I’ll take babysitting over Canton any day!), spent the night at a hotel in Farmers Branch, read a ton, got her nails done, and took a nap. The boys and I ate donuts, played, and went to the gym. Then the four of us went out to PF Chang’s for dinner Saturday night.
  • Another thing I love about my wife? She doesn’t whine on every birthday about how she’s getting older. Instead, she’s just thankful for another year.
  • We spent Easter with Jenny’s family. First, we went to their church for an egg hunt and worship. Their church is very small, which was odd for me, but has good people. The pastor is an old friend of Jenny’s, about my age, and one of the funniest pastors I’ve ever heard. After church, we enjoyed a tasty lunch at her parents’ house and celebrated Jenny’s birthday.
  • That afternoon, Jenny’s dad and I picked up a patio table and chairs from Lowe’s for our backyard. I’ll cover them in a later post with pictures after we get the patio umbrella set up.
  • I passed my annual competency check at work, so I get to keep my job. The big change this year is that designated check dispatchers are giving the checks rather than managers. My examiner started a few years after me but is really sharp and did a fine job. I didn’t apply to become a check dispatcher. It would have felt awkward to be in a position of authority over my peers. I already do that to a lesser degree when I’m training someone, and it’s something I tolerate rather than enjoy.
  • After spending over a week on normal person schedule, it was really hard to switch back to midnight schedule earlier this week when I had to return to work. My body just didn’t want to stay asleep during the day. It’s getting better now, though.
  • I’ve started lifting weights three times a week. Now that I’m getting into that habit, I’m enjoying it more and getting stronger. Our gym also has a core class that I hit once or twice a week to work my abs, lower back, glutes, and hamstrings. Plus I’m hitting the weight machines and even tried a barbell class. Don’t expect me to transform into Arnold, though. Ain’t nobody got time for dat.
  • Next month, we’re planning to take the boys down to South Padre to play on the beach for a couple days. Jenny will be taking a class this summer, and we wanted to go play somewhere between semesters. We might try some dolphin and/or sea turtle activities while we’re there as well. Southwest now has a nonstop from Dallas to Harlingen that looks wide open, so we’re all over it.

Blog Soup March 10, 2013

Most of you are probably not happy about losing an hour of sleep last night, which is understandable. But it meant I spent seven hours at work and got paid for eight, so Spring Forward day is usually a good day for me. Perspective!

Here’s some soup to help you wake up:

  • Daylight Saving Time (apparently the S that we all add to saving is incorrect – who knew?) seems to be more popular than standard (winter) time. So why don’t we just stay in DST year-round? Or switch to Greenwich Mean Time (Zulu time) so the entire world can use the same clock?
  • I saw an orthopedist about my still-sore knee. The good news: he said everything looked fine structurally, so I don’t need surgery or anything dramatic. The bad news: there’s no quick fix, either. My knee is sore from overuse, and I need to continue my break from running until it quits hurting and then resume very slowly. It could take a month or two. Yep, I think my half marathon days are over. I might just wait until this fall before I start running again. In the meantime, I’m cycling and lifting weights.
  • I need to do some research on the best way to get stronger with weights, because I’m not sure whether I’m doing it right.
  • I tried a weight-loss experiment last month, initially to slim down for the half marathon. My goal was to drop five pounds – five fewer pounds to carry for 13.1 miles. I cut out most sodas, reduced my OJ intake, cut back on dessert, reduced my portion sizes a bit, and rode my bike a lot since I couldn’t run. It worked. However, the feeling of being on a “diet” sucked for a while. Once I realized I wouldn’t be running Cowtown, I relaxed a bit but not entirely, so now I’m just maintaining. That’s five fewer pounds I have to push on my bike. It’s much easier and cheaper than buying a new bike that would weigh five pounds less, which would probably run at least $3000-4000, maybe more.
  • North Texas Food Bank collects and distributes food to hungry people in North Texas via many different organizations. On their website, they say they can provide three meals for $1. If I take my family out for dinner, we usually spend at least $25. So for the cost of a single meal for my family of four, North Texas Food Bank could feed 75 people. Makes you think.
  • Starting next month, I will get to work some of our new flights to/from San Juan, Puerto Rico. These new flights will add a bit of complexity, but it’s exciting to expand my skillset and experience a bit. Sometime next year, we hope to start our own international flights once our new reservation system is in place. We’ll gradually absorb all AirTran’s international operations, which currently include Nassau, Bermuda, Montego Bay, Aruba, Punta Cana, Cancun, Mexico City, and Cabo Los Cabos. Start saving those Rapid Rewards points!
  • Mario Kart Wii is awesome. Brenden, Jenny, and I like to race each other. It’s cool to have a four-year-old racing buddy. Jonathan gets frustrated and quits after about twenty seconds, meaning the rest of us are guaranteed not to come in last.
  • My office has been in an odd predicament for years now. Hardly anyone wants to be in management, for two reasons. 1) Just working the desk is a great gig and doesn’t require the headaches of management. 2) For anyone who works much overtime (like me), management generally means taking a pay cut due to some weird compensation rules. So it’s been difficult to fill management positions. Rumor has it that the compensation problem is finally being fixed. I still don’t want the job, but I hope that this change will finally entice enough people, and the right people, to step into those roles.
  • Our shared fence on either side of the house badly needs to be replaced. One of the involved neighbors approached us a few months ago with a plan to replace it using some of his employees, but it still hasn’t happened yet. Part of me hopes one of the spring storms will finally destroy these poor fences so the project will finally regain its momentum. I suppose I could help…
  • Jenny and I have toyed with the idea of studying Spanish for work via a study-at-home course. It would help her as a nurse in Texas and me as a dispatcher working flights in the Caribbean and Latin America. The best program for our goals seems to be Fluenz, but it’s expensive, so we haven’t bought it yet. Why did I take Latin in high school again??

I Once Was Blind…

I got LASIK on my right eye Friday morning, and my results are fantastic! Some people are curious about the LASIK process, so here’s my story.

As I shared in a previous post, I’ve been dogged by recurring pink eye in my right eye for the last year. My left eye is 20/15, but my right eye is badly nearsighted, so I’d worn a single contact on the right side for about 20 years. It bothered me on occasion – minor irritation and dryness, getting lost in my eye, even falling out a few times – but the recurring pink eye finally persuaded me to get this thing fixed for good.

Why Dr. Tylock?

I called Gary Tylock’s office about 10 days ago to set up a LASIK appointment. Lots of surgeons do LASIK, including my previous ophthalmologist and various doctors who advertise on the radio. I chose Dr. Tylock for a few reasons:

  • He’s extremely experienced, having done over 80,000 procedures and been in practice for over 20 years. He has won numerous awards and taught eye surgery at UT Southwestern Medical Center.
  • He uses the latest LASIK technology (unlike my previous ophthalmologist), helped develop the LASIK technology and procedures, and was among the first surgeons in the world to perform IntraLASIK, which uses a laser to create the corneal flap rather than a metal blade.
  • He offers a 20/20 money-back guarantee. I don’t know whether anyone else in the area matches that offer.
  • At least two of my coworkers recommended him. One of them already had very dry eyes before the surgery, and Tylock’s staff refused to approve him for LASIK until they could get his eyes moisturized sufficiently with various drops and gels. That process took a few weeks until he was finally ready. Apparently, LASIK doesn’t work well if one’s eyes are already too dry. I was impressed that they were unwilling to take large amounts of money from him when the outcome was questionable. That told me that Tylock values his patients’ sight more than their money.
  • His office is near my parents and grandparents, which came in handy on surgery day.

Pre-Op Exam

I called on a Friday and set an appointment for the following Wednesday. It was nice to get in so quickly. At the pre-op appointment, every single person I talked to was very nice and helpful. Tylock’s staff performed a variety of tests to ensure my eye was a good candidate for LASIK. The tests included a traditional vision test with dilation and a battery of “One or two? Three or four?” exercises, eye pressure check, and a computerized eye mapping that would show Dr. Tylock exactly how to set up the laser so that it would reshape my cornea perfectly. Everything looked good, so we scheduled surgery for Friday morning – two days later. If only all medical appointments could be so easy to schedule! As with most plans, my medical insurance didn’t cover LASIK, so I had to pay out of pocket. Before I came in, they said the cost for both eyes was anywhere from $2900-3600. My cost was $1500 since I only had one eye. Being a freak pays off sometimes!

Surgery

On Friday morning, Jenny dropped me off at the office and took the boys to hang out at my mom’s house with my niece and nephew. I would receive mild sedation and somewhat disrupted vision, so they require all LASIK patients to have someone drive them home.

One reason I’d hesitated for years regarding LASIK was fear. I enjoy watching surgery videos due to my interest in medicine and the body, but eye surgery always made me squeamish. However, since LASIK had become such a common procedure with almost universally good results, and it only affected the outer layers of the eye, and I still had a good eye left if something went wrong, I decided the result was worth the small risk involved. That morning, I felt much more excited than nervous, contently watching the Olympic women’s gold medal tennis match in the waiting room.

When my turn came, I went to another waiting room and received some instructions regarding what to expect and how to care for my eye post-op. A tech administered some eye drops and offered us all a sedative, which I gladly accepted for two reasons: 1) to help me not freak out on the table, and 2) to help me sleep afterward as they recommended. Then they had me lie down in a comfortable recliner outside the operation room and gave me disposable booties for my shoes and a hairnet. (really? um, have you seen my head?)

Finally, I entered the OR. A flood of various types of drops – numbing, antibiotic, irrigation, and who knows what else. The room was cold, so the assistant covered me with a blanket. At this point I finally got to meet Dr. Tylock, who was very nice, comforting, and confident that the procedure would go well. Once my eye was ready, I lay down on the laser table, and they moved the first laser over my eye.

Two different lasers are involved in IntraLASIK. The first creates a flap in the cornea. Thinking about what was about to happen, I was a bit nervous. My biggest fear was that I would panic while one of the lasers was firing and permanently jack up my eye. Supposedly, the laser can detect any movement and adjust or shut down if needed, but…you know. They positioned the machine over my eye and told me to expect some pressure and temporary loss of sight in the eye. My job was to focus on the center of some greenish rings. They inserted some eyelid retractors, which were much less uncomfortable than I’d expected, and got to work.

I tried my hardest not to move my eye, which was a bit of a challenge once my vision went dark since I no longer had anything to focus on. The pressure was firm but not painful, and the whole flap creation only took 10-15 seconds, I think. I saw some different lights and weird stuff. No big deal, really. Then the bed slowly moved me across the room a bit and under the second laser, which does the actual reshaping of the cornea.

My assignment now was to focus on a fuzzy green light inside the device. I saw more flashing lights and weird stuff while the laser did its work. I remember Dr. Tylock telling an assistant that it would fire for 14 seconds. Suddenly, I noticed that the fuzzy green light was now a green pinpoint. It had worked! After that came the strangest part when Dr. Tylock used an instrument to fold my corneal flap back down and slide it back into its proper location. The numbing drops kept it from hurting, but it was still a bizarre sight to see. The flap quickly adheres into place without stitches. Dr. Tylock said it went beautifully. They sat me up, checked out my eye with one of the standard eye exam devices, and then sent me to recovery. Although I was dying to test out my new eye, instead I followed my instructions and sat in a recliner with my eyes closed to let the flap set.

Post-Op, Day 1

I was supposed to go home and straight to bed, but instead I had lunch with my family first. My vision was hazy all that day, almost like peering through a fog that drifted in and out, but through the haze the image was sharp. This wasn’t hocus-pocus or a marketing gimmick. LASIK really did work, and work very well. I had a blast reading things across the room that were previously a blurry mess without my contact. Minus the haze, my right eye seemed comparable to my left. I later learned that the haze resulted from slight swelling in the cornea caused by the surgery. I was prescribed anti-inflammatory steroid drops to combat the swelling and moisturizing drops to keep the eye wet. While it healed, the flap was also sensitive to impact and rubbing, so I wore safety goggles during the day near the boys and a different pair while I slept. I slept all afternoon, watched some Olympics, and then slept several hours that night. Sometimes I felt minor discomfort in the eye, but some drops usually returned it nearly to normal.

Post-Op, Day 2

Day 2 was pretty similar to Day 1, only with a bit less haze. I pounded the drops as directed. At my post-op appointment, the optometrist said my eye looked great. I could read 4 of the 6 letters on the 20/15 line and probably would’ve had the other 2 if not for the haze. We went to a baseball game that night, and I kept amazing myself by reading the advertising signs across the field with my formerly bum eye.

Post-Op, Day 3-4

The haze is mostly gone. My eyes are nearly identical in focusing ability. I know it’s technically not a miracle because LASIK is a medical procedure made possible by medical technology, skill, physics, and other human factors, but it really feels like a miracle. I once was practically blind in my right eye without my contact, but now I could see almost perfectly. It’s amazing.

The main problem I have is dryness, so I’m still using lots of eye drops. The dryness is especially bad when I wake up. This is a common problem that should improve over time.

One quirk may be specific to my situation. When I test my eyes separately, each one seems to focus at a slightly different depth. So when I switch from one to the other, the image starts out mostly sharp but takes a moment for the image to reach full sharpness. I believe my left eye was always dominant, and my eyes are adjusting to the new reality. It’s a good problem to have.

That’s all I have for now. I am very pleased and wish I could’ve done it a long time ago. That seems to be a common sentiment among LASIK patients, and now I know why.

How Fit is Fit Enough?

Today’s First World Problem: I enjoy too many different types of exercise.

You already know I love running. I’ve backed off a bit this summer due to a slightly sore hip and the Texas heat, but I still hit the trail a couple times each week. After Hotter’N Hell, I’ll start running more to prepare for the big trail run in October.

My new road bike is a blast to ride, and with Hotter’N Hell 50 coming Aug 25 and a 27-mile warmup race called The Goatneck (?) on July 28, I’m trying to ride three times a week.

So that makes two activities, both of which make my muscles stronger but potentially tighter. To help them stay loose and maintain muscular balance, I’ve been practicing yoga at Jenny’s gym once a week with her guest pass. I’ll probably join eventually once they offer a good deal. So now I’m up to three activities.

As you might have wondered, since I already run and ride, why not add swimming and become a triathlete? I’ve never been a competitive swimmer, but I could probably learn. Or why not take up tennis to strengthen my core further and add some upper-body activity? Or why not hit the weight machines to support all the other work I’m doing?

So far no one has offered to sponsor me as a full-time athlete, and to be honest, I’m not exactly holding my breath. So I still need to make a living. Plus my body needs sleep and food from time to time. And I have two cute little boys and a loving wife and want to spend time with them. My grass grows (much to my chagrin) and needs to be mowed. I go to church and spend time with friends and family.

Something has to give, which leads me to today’s question:

How fit is fit enough?

How would you decide? Does working out four, five, or six days a week make you fit enough? What about three hours a week? Five? Ten? Is it being able to fit into your preferred pant size? Is it winning races in your preferred sport(s)? Is it being satisfied when you look in the mirror? Is it being satisfied with how you feel? Is it a heart rate, blood pressure measurement, or cholesterol level? Is it being able to run/ride/swim a certain distance or lift a certain amount of weight? Is it not being tired at the top of the stairs or being able to pick up your children or grandchildren?

I’m still working through this question myself and suspect it will take a little while to find the right balance. I definitely need to limit my activity to some extent, so don’t look for me in the Hawaii Ironman anytime soon. Rest days are important, so I’ll need at least one or two each week. Perhaps some days I’ll ride a bit and then run a bit, or maybe ride to the gym for a yoga class.

For those of you who do exercise, how do you decide how much to do?

Things I’ve Learned Lately

  1. If you ever get overconfident regarding your own abilities, try applying them in another discipline and see how you do. Due to my running and cycling, I’d convinced myself that my legs were pretty strong. Then I went to a hot yoga class with Jenny at her gym. My legs were sore for two days afterward.
  2. My original hybrid bike (Specialized Sirrus Elite, size XL) weighed 27 pounds. My new road bike (Trek 2.3, size 58cm) weighs 21.6 pounds. Jenny’s bike (Specialized Dolce Elite, size 51.5cm) weighs 21.6 pounds as well.
  3. We tried a test ride on Friday right after we brought the new bikes home. I hit 26mph on a flat at near max effort. I never came close to that speed on a flat with my hybrid. It felt like I was flying. I liked it.
  4. If someone can watch our boys for the night, Jenny and I plan to ride the Hotter’N Hell 50 mile race on August 25. It will be a challenge, but with our current fitness levels and ten weeks to train, I think we can finish it. As a warmup, we might do a shorter race in late July at Texas Motor Speedway.
  5. There’s a thing called sprouted grain bread that my friends are eating on their new diet. They say it’s easier to digest and better for your body. Bread made from sprouted grain is more expensive, but they say it’s worth it. According to Livestrong, it’s similar to whole wheat bread with a few added benefits.
  6. A $6 bottle of sparkling white wine can be just as tasty as a $45 bottle of real champagne, maybe even more so.
  7. We don’t use our beautiful wedding-present champagne flutes enough. There’s always something to celebrate if you look for it.
  8. An easy way to feel guilty is to ignore a panhandler on the corner and then drop $4 on a cappuccino at Starbucks.
  9. Gloria’s in Oak Cliff has fantastic Mexican and Salvadorian food and great service. It seems to be in an old firehouse and still has a fire pole. (no, they won’t let you slide down, maybe due to their strong margaritas). We ate there with Jenny’s family for her parents’ 40th anniversary, her brother-in-law’s birthday, and her father’s birthday. The only downside was the forced valet parking. Living in the suburbs has spoiled me in the parking department.
  10. Brenden and Jonathan will be in school three days a week starting in July: Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday. This will help Brenden get ready for kindergarten next year (WHOA) and give Jenny a little more free time.