My Feet Will Carry Me, but My Hands are Important Too
In preparation for a 2018 AT thru-hike, I’ve had to take care of several important medical issues: 1) getting my diabetes under control, 2) submitting to 2 carpal tunnel surgeries, and 3) dental work. I want to be as healthy and pain free as I can before I start my trek. In addition to strengthening and losing weight, I needed to take care of these medical issues to help support my body and be as healthy as possible.
I have mad respect for people who deal with diabetes and its complications. This disease is not easy to cope with, not only due to the issues related to insulin and glucose absorption, but also due to the disease exacerbating other medical problems. I was diagnosed with Type II diabetes about 1 ½ years ago. I was diagnosed in a bit of a strange way (at least I thought so at the time). I was driving along an interstate and my vision very suddenly blurred. I have a long history of severe migraines, which would often impact my vision. However, I was not suffering from a migraine at the time. My eye doctor saw me right away. The exam didn’t reveal any eye problems, but he asked me if I’d ever checked my blood sugar. I went to my mom’s house, pricked my finger and found that my blood sugar was skyrocketing! Several doctor’s visits later, a specialist diagnosed me with Type II Diabetes. I walked out of his office, stood in the parking lot, holding my husband’s hand, and shouted FUCK!! as loud as I could. Assuaging my husband’s shock of me shouting and swearing, I said that I was super mad. Mad that I got the disease, mad that I have a family history with this disease, and mad that I let my health slip at such a young age (44 at the time).
Since my diagnosis, I have lost 40 lbs. I still have another 40 to go. I worked with a nutritionist, walked my dogs a lot, and am determined to control this disease.
Weakened Immune System
Unfortunately, even though I’ve been successful at getting it under control, the disease has weakened my immune system. In September 2016, I spent 10 days in the hospital because I had double pneumonia and my sugar levels spiked to 547! During treatment, we discovered steroids have a HUGE impact on my blood sugar. I will forever avoid those meds from now on! While the hospital stay was no fun, I can at least say that the diabetic menu was really yummy and I learned a new appreciation for sugar free Jell-O.
I have discovered a new problem that this disease is exacerbating and could really hinder my thru-hike. I completed a 5-day shakedown, only hiking about 20 miles total from October 1-5, 2017 from Snickers Gap to the AT Conservancy. Physically, I thought I had done pretty well on this little shakedown. However, when I got home, my body decided it didn’t like me and was going to make me suffer. In the crook of my left leg, between my thigh and my perturbing, flabby stomach, I developed a boil. I can honestly say this was almost more painful that childbirth (well, not quite, but it really hurt! Can you hear me whining?). It hurt so badly that I went to the walk-in clinic; they gave me a round of antibiotics and said that if it didn’t resolve that I should see a surgeon. In 5 days, it wasn’t better; in fact, it was much, much worse. We were worried about it going septic and went to the Emergency Room in the middle of the night. The ER doc did an ultrasound and then took a scalpel to my leg, without any local anesthetic, cutting 4 times (Ouch, Ouch, Ouch, Ouch! Nothing happened, except for me cursing. The doc was surprised, gave me a strong IV antibiotic, offered steroids (which I refused) and told me to see a surgeon the next day. I discovered that it is really, really hard to get in to see a surgeon on a next day basis. Three days later, and lots of pain medication, I was able to see a surgeon. Luckily for me, the boil decided to explode in the wee hours of the morning before my appointment. I’ll save you the gory details (my husband wishes he was spared). The surgeon put me on a 3rd round of antibiotics, checked me 2 days later, and now I’m set for another visit in 2 weeks to make sure I don’t have a cyst. Due to my diabetes, my body has a harder time fighting off infection. Out on the trail, something like this could end my thru-hike. Thus, cleanliness, eating well, taking needed medication, and paying close attention to my body will be paramount to my success.
In 2009, I completed my dissertation to obtain my PhD. This entailed many long hours sitting at a desk typing. As a result, I developed carpal tunnel in both my wrists. The wonderful benefit of carpal tunnel is that pain can emanate from the wrist up to the neck and shoulder. The impact of using poles increased my nerve pain and made shoulder movement challenging. Using poles on my thru-hike is very important. Poles will help me with balance, help me to not fall flat on my face if I trip on tree roots or miss my footing among rocks, and help to protect my knees. Supposedly, poles can also help you hike faster, but I haven’t figured out how, yet. Given these important aspects of pole use on a thru-hike, I enlisted the help of an Orthopedic Surgeon and had carpal tunnel surgery in May 2017 and July 2017. I am so happy I had these surgeries. I am a lucky one; the surgeries have reduced my nerve pain level to almost zero! In addition, with physical therapy, I have gained a substantial amount of strength in my wrists and hands. I am amazed that I can now open jars, hold (most) things without dropping them, and can even do 2 push-ups (hey, don’t judge, 2 is better than zero! Ha!). On my little shakedown hike at the beginning of October, I was able to use my poles successfully, pain free. Hallelujah!
I am sure you can see a pattern here, I don’t like to experience pain. This is to include dental pain. I want to be sure, as much as possible, that my teeth and gums are in good condition, because if they are not, it could take me off the trail. I completed my 6 month dental checkup and found that I had a crack in an upper back tooth, needed a root canal in a lower back tooth, and needed a crown replacement on another lower back tooth. Getting older and having diabetes is really wreaking havoc on my teeth! This week, I complete the last of a string of dental appointments and all of those issues mentioned above will be fixed. Yay! And, just for good measure, I’ve set a dental checkup for about 3 weeks before I leave for the trail. If you meet me at camp, you’ll see me with a good tooth brush, dental floss and Listerine. All dentist recommended 🙂
I don’t know how many wanna-be thru-hikers have prior health complications. I haven’t found many blogs or much information about this topic online. So, I took matters into my own hands, or rather, put matters into many doctors’ hands, and am taking care of much-needed medical issues way, way before I leave for the trail. I am sure that my body and mind will thank me later for taking the year before my thru-hike to address my personal medical needs.
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