Sunday, December 27, 2015

Bacteria Infection

I call it a bacteria infection despite the doctors saying all the tests for known bacteria infections and overgrowths are negative, because it's an introduced bacteria, not normal in the digestive tract, and it has adverse symptoms and effects. But that's my take on it.

What I've learned this month is that one of the effect is weight. As I wrote earlier, for reasons I didn't know then was that over a 4 day period I lost 4 lbs, from 150 to 146 lbs and a few days later lost another pound to get to 145 lbs, which I kept for a week.

That followed a complete loss of the symptoms, heaviness and tiredness in the legs, lower back pain, fatique, and mental effects, feeling tired and occasionally mildly depressed. All those went away and I was almost normal again, compared when I feel my best.

But then I noticed the symptoms of the bacteria came back the last two weeks. First, the weight gain which fluctuated between 145-147 lbs as the body flused the bacteria out (yes, it's obvious and numerous) and then didn't.

And then over a 3 day period I gained 3 lbs to 149-150 lbs again, back to where I was at the beginning of December. It was a Deja vu, all over again as Yogi Berra is credited with saying. This is followed with bloating and a distended abdomen, and tells me there is 4 lbs of bacteria in my digestive tract.

Yes, 4 lbs of it (since I weigh myself the same time every day). Sometimes the body can flush some of it out for some relief - the 4-5 lb loss in early December was a fluke - which I notice happens when I recover from a cold, the body seems to fight both simultaneously.

Now the issue is for the Primary Care Physician (PCP) and gastroenterologists to find an answer and a treatment, something they haven't done for the former and refuse to do for the latter. They won't prescribe antibiotics since they haven't identified it and the labs (two different ones) on call it "aggregate bacteria", meaning they don't know.

And as of now it's been a year and a month since it started, but a year when it took over the body and became a resident persistent bacterial infection. It's been worse, and better on rare occasions, but it's not going away, not without help.

And yes, I've tried 4 different probiotics, all of which were disasters as they made the symptoms and effects worse. They simply added more bacteria to an already overloaded digestive tract of bacteria. It turned into a war of bacteria for 1-2 weeks. Not fun.

So that's the story to date. I know more, and have some more tests to go through, but clearly the body needs help fighting it, and it's up to the PCP and gastroenterologist to act than just over words, which is the point about the medical profession.

They don't always know or have answers, and will leave you without any help. So, it's, "Good luck, next patient please."

Saturday, December 5, 2015

Getting There

November 2015 was an interesting month and December is turning into more of the same, which is good news considering the events of the past year, amd more so with the health problems last year, with the bacteria infections, which is what I call it but not what gastroenterologists call them.

Once the cold weather started in early November I started have a mild-to-moderate cold a week, which turned into a 3-4 day period of getting the cold, getting through it, and getting over it, and then 2-3 days of feeling good before the cycle started over.

I suspect it has to do with all the walking in the morning, often in the early, pre-dawn hours. I walked 25 days in October and 23 in November (didn't make goal of 25 days that month due to a severe cold)  3 miles to Starbucks for coffee and then home about 30 minutes later.

This is shorter than the 8 miles I was walking for awhile before cutting back to 6 miles for various reasons over the last two years. I don't plan to increase the distance until next spring as this distance is losing the fat and the weight, albeit slower.

This cycle of colds and recovery resulted in getting to what I call my base weight (minimum I reach every day) down to 149-150 lbs when I felt good and up to 151-152 lbs when I had colds which seems to foster the bacteria in the digestive tract.

Then in the last week of November into the first week of December everything changed. I had a severe cold (two days off) the last week of November where I gained the weight and then lost it over the week, only to get a mild cold into the weekend.

In getting over the second, mild cold, I lost the typical weight, but then I kept losing the weight over the week, from 150 lbs on last Sunday to 146 on this last Thursday, and I have kept the weight down around 146 lbs, longer than anytime to date.

It's as if the immune system found the combination of antibodies to fight and flush the bacteria out of the system as I've hadn't had but more than a few small bacteria masses since losing the weight. And while it's only been a few days where the bacteria may, as it has in the past, come back, it doesn't appear so far.

This is what happened a year ago when I had the bacteria from last October to late November when the body suddently flushed it completely out, only to return a month later which started the 10-plus month episode having and fighting it.

What surprised me was the weight loss, which means there was several pounds of of the bacteria in the digestive tract the whole time, which was flushed out this week along with some masses, seen here, which are the source of the flushed bacteria.

What also has surprised me is how much the bacteria effected the whole body, including the mind. Some gastroenterologists have called the digestive system the second brain as it's connnected to every organ in the body including the brain.

This means everything it does, good or bad, has an impact throughout your body and mind. I've learned to understand this for me to know during the bacteria episodes, but didn't realize the extent when I lost effectively all of it this last week.

I'm surprised how much weight I lost in a short period from the bacteria to not only get below my original goal (150 lbs), but shows me with the fat I have now I could get to down to about 140 lbs by next spring, barring new health problems or the bacteria returning.

I'm not holding my breath but I'm continuing to walk 25 days per month for the winter months. The rain and cold weather gear may have to be replaced. I've lost one coat when the Gore-Tex liner peeled off inside, so it's the one better quality North Face Gore-Tex coat for now.

I'm looking at a new North Face rain coat with a down liner along with new rain pants to cut off for shorts. Pant length rainpants become too hot in fall and spring rain where shorts don't. I've noticed the legs below the rain shorts don't get that wet even in the worst rain since they're moving.

The only problem with the current rain shorts is walking against the wind in a rainstorm. The Gore-Tex rain shorts are good for fall or spring rainstorms, but just don't hold up against stronger (> 10 mph) winds or intense rain. This is why I need a better pair for the winter storms.

Anyway, that's the story to date. I'm getting there and getting better again. From around 190 lbs in September 2012 to 146 lbs this week walking over 3,800 miles has paid its dividends. And it's good to have a 66-year old body that feels fitter.

It only means much of my old wardrobe now is not wearable, as now I'm too big for the small size and too small for the medium sizes, but it will be next year before I address that, budget issues.

Monday, November 30, 2015

Walking 2015

I haven't walked very much this year so far, 138 miles in Novemer and just over 840 miles for the year. And while my physician is happy I'm walking, especially 6 miles a day for the days I walk, saying, "Most people don't walk 6 miles a week.", I haven't been happy for a reason, which is good depends on your perspective.

November has been an up and down month. After getting a flu shot in September I keep coming down with colds or flu symptoms, especially in November where I had to take a few days off because the cold and bacteria overwhelmed the body, but not enough to get just 2 days short of the goal of 25 days (150 miles) for the winter months.

The less distance this year is because since November of 2014 I've been fighting a bacterial infection in my digestive tract. I had one from March into August of 2014, gaining 8 lbs in 3 months and losing all of it in July, and then finally losing the infection after a round of an antibiotic in August for an ear infection, but this infection was and is different.

I've written about it, in March and then again recently when it almost completely went away to come back a month later, and now it's slowly fading as the body seems to manage the episodes better now to keep walking. Since they don't know what bacteria it is (all tests for known infections and overgrowth are negative) there's no treatment, let alone a cure, except, the old adage, "Patient heal thyself."

The issue now is that the latest MRI of my lower back discovered that my Sciatic nerve injury has improved but there are still some residual compression. They discovered some further degenerative bone issues with the vertebra in the lower back. I had an appointment with a spine specialist in October who will looked at the MRI's to assess the situation along with a physical examination of my back.

He was able to determine that while I should have some pain I don't have pain from the spine. The pain isn't the type which indicates issues with the spine, but the possibility of an abdominal aortic aneurysm. Not being his specialty he recommended a CT scan and consultation with a vascular specialist.

I had the CT scan which reported the abdominal aortia is normal, so the lower back and leg is a mystery, but signs show it relates to worse periods of the bacteria. The bacterial infection has abated but not disappeared with episodes where it flares up in the digestive tract for 2-3 days, but the body is managing it better so I can keep walking through them now.

I parked the bike for awhile as I fell twice, once on the shoulder of the road nearly falling down an embankment and another hitting the curb and sliding on the sidewalk, taking chunks of skin off my elbow and knee.  Lesson learned.

So that's the story to date. I'm still walking 6 miles and planning to increase the walks to 7 miles sometime when the legs and body consistently walk 6 miles without problems. For now, there's no timeline for that, but hoping for spring.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

VW Syncro II

Part 2 of the story of the Syncro is more interesting in a way. The Syncro passed the second emission test with flying colors (the problem was a bad spark plug) and it's nice to know it won't need another emission test ever again, but I learned something new about the law.

The system has an oxygen sensor connected to the catalytic converter for monitoring the exhaust with the Engine Management System (EMS). The State prohibits a licensed dealer from removing the catalytic converter no matter the age of the vehicle. And the EMS requires the oxygen sensor to be connected and working to the converter, or some part of the exhaust system.

The problem is no one that I can find yet makes an aftermarket exhaust system for Syncros without a the converter with the connector for the sensor. In short, the converter stays for life, whether it works or not, unless you can find an exhaust system with a connector free of the converter. I'm looking for one.

Anyway, the second part of the story is the shop found a piece of insulation came loose and dropped into the radiator/AC fan area causing the noise. The fan is fine, and removing the insulation fixed the problem. But they found another problem, the brakes.

The master cylinder, which I knew was going bad, was bad, but the rear brakes were almost gone, almost completely worn out. So they did a complete rebuild of the brake system with complete new rear brakes (everything including drums) and new master cylinder. The front brakes were done a few years ago and are good.

The end result was a low 4-figure check and with the complete steering system rebuild last November, that's about $5K in one year for the van, and I still have the tires which could be replaced, or should be in the next 6 months. That's another $1K for the ones which legally fit the Sycnro (load range D).

The tire requires the load range because the van has a 6,000 lb gross vehicle rating, with about a 1-ton carry capacity (VW states it's 1700 lbs but that's low). The Syncro weighs 4,150 lbs with full gas tank and me (150 lbs). The weight is surprisingly split 2100 front and 2050 rear.

That's because of the extra weight of the front drive and 4-wheel drive train (gas tank moved to rear in Syncro models  where it's in the front of 2WD models - one way to tell the difference). This is where the tires pressures changes the driving dynamics which is normally neutral with some slight oversteer.

One of the arguments in the Syncro community is the tire pressures. VW requires 42 lbs front and 47 lbs rear to level the Syncro, something required for a full 4-wheel alignment, but rarely do owners normally run those pressures because if varys with the tires.

The Syncro originally came with 14" wheels, which I still run on mine, but had optional 15" wheels with appropriate tires. You can also get 16" wheels for them with lower profile tires. And with larger wheels, you can get wider wheels for larger tires.

This is where I doubt any Syncro owners run the same tire pressures. I run 40 or 42 lbs in all four which is for the best driving and tire wear.  Lower and the ride and driving is soft with understeer. Higher and the ride is too hard with bad tire wear.

The other argument is tires. Some don't follow the load range requirement because larger tires don't need it where load range C works to cover the weight per tire and for the whole van. The argument is VW recommends the overall wheel-tire diameter be 25-26" for the proper operation and wear of the all-wheel drive system.

Many Syncro owners and Syncro geeks have told me that's just a recommendation and subject to interpretation. I haven't found one VW engineer to argue against that recommendation since all-wheel drive systems are designed for vehicles with a specified wheel-tire setup, and while they may not test outside that setup, they test for the optimium operation.

But that's just my personal view of things. Anyway, the van is running fine now with no major repairs anticipated for the next few years, just tuneup and the stuff that breaks. It has 170+K miles to date so it has 3-5 more years before I have to experience this kind of costs into it, so it's just drive and enjoy it.

Saturday, August 15, 2015

VW Syncro

I've owned a 1991 VW Syncro since new (bought and serviced at the dealer from the beginning outside of a few repairs at a local VW van shop), and over its life it's been reliable and durable, until it's not. In short, it's great until it breaks, which isn't very often.

But this last week has been the worst of it's life with more stuff to come. And it makes people ask, "So, why do you still own and drive it?" Remember, it's my sole vehicle so I have to keep it in running condition or I don't have transportation short of renting.

It started Monday when I went to Seattle for the appointment with the spine specialist (just south of the University (of Washington) district. I drove to Bremerton to catch the ferry downtown, then drive through downtown to I-5 to the university district and the clinic.

While going up University street in downtown about two blocks from the on-ramp the throttle cable snapped and the accelerator when flat to the floor. All I had was idle, and then only granny gear to get me up the hill, across the intersection to a red zone parkng (only parking I found).

The cable snapped at the motor end, so there's nothing to do except make some phone calls, to the clinic, "I ain't coming.", to the VW dealer, "I'm on my way.", and to the towing company, "Here I am and here's where I want to go."

While waiting the cop (they ride bicycles downtown) to ask why I was illegally parked there. I explained the situation and showed him the broken accelerator cable. He said, "You have an hour, otherwise, I'll call for a tow truck." The tow trucks showed up with 10 minutes to spare.

We got it to the dealer, but they couldn't get the part until just before the mechanics quit for the day, so it will be fixed Tuesday. There's an Enterprise Rental outlet about a mile walk from the dealer, so off to get a car and drive home.

They called Tuesday afternoon to say it's ready to pick up Wednesday morning. I did the same with the rental I did Monday with the van, turned the car in, walked to the dealer to get the van, made a few stops, and then drove home.

Thursday I drove the emission testing place in Tacoma. Washington requires an emission test alternate years from 5 to 25 years of the vehicle, and the van being 24 years old, was due for its last emission test and then it's free of them for life.

While waiting in line the radiator fan began making a loud noise. It's an electric fan you can't turn off except pull the fuse, which I found and removed. That done, the van failed the test by 1% over the hydrocarbon level at idle. It passed all the other tests except one (reading 405 versus 400 for the pass/fail level).

Really. They wouldn't give a retest sinc it took them 3 tests to get that one reading, or sign off a waiver as ok. Yeah, third time wasn't a charm this week. You're required to have an authorized emission specialist examine and diagnose the problem and either do the repairs or sign a waiver everything works but it's too expensive to repair.

The State requires you spend at least $150 for the specialist to diagnose the problem. It's extra if they make any repairs, like a new $300+ catalytic converter, tuneup, etc., or nothing if they sign off as unrepairable.

Remember it's its last emission test. I have an appointment Tuesday for the emission specialist. In the meantime I've been searching for a radiator motor/fan assembly (dealer can't find one in their global inventory) to take the van in for repairs.

So the van has two appointments, one for the emssion specialist then to go for a retest and to either pass or get a waiver by the testing company, and one for the radiator when I find all the parts. Fortunately, the van doesn't need the fan for cooling as long as you're moving and don't stop for too long to overheat.

It has a good cooling system so the fan rarely comes on except when it's stopped, turned off or it's hot out. It also needs two new rear tires, so that's on the list at the same place as the specialist. But now I have to find a radiator fan (ordered a new motor), so that's on the list, stop by local shops.

Anyway, that's the tale of the van this week. Overall the Syncro cost less than most new cars with payments, insurance, gas, etc. The difference is payments versus parts and repairs. The insurance is probably less being 24 years old, so it's a trade-off and just a personal choice of what you want to drive.

Sunday, August 9, 2015

Saving Grace

As much as I live on a very restricted diet and often consider food my enemy, I've come to also realize it's my saving grace. Really, food is a double-edge sword that can make me sick and keep me well. Yes, really.

The trick is that after reading an article in the Sunday newspaper (read four of them, Washington Post on-line, and the New York Time, Seattle Times and Tacoma News Tribune in print because I like sitting down with big print newspapes) I realized an extreme food sensitivity has advantages.

The author was writing about the loss of real flavor in food with the food industry using some many tricks to make packaged food taste good but often not real. I realized I rarely eat a packaged food product anymore because I can't.

That's because almost every food in packaged food, and restaurant food for that matter where I rarely eat anymore (about once a year), have foods or ingredients which at best will leave me mildly sick overnight and at worst moderately to seriously sick for days.

My diet consists mostly organic or natural foods, including meats (ham and turkey), vegetables, fruits, etc. and the rest are organic or natural packaged foods with few ingredients, like mayonaise, peanut butter, preserves/jam, etc.

In short I don't eat the foods the majority of people eat. I have a simple diet which I stay with along with occasional "food experiments", which are foods not on the list to see if they're still off the list or they're on the three strikes they're out list.

When I get a bad reaction to any food, I don't eat it for awhile, then try it, and if it still makes me sick, I wait longer and try it again. If it makes me sick a third time, then it's, yeah, three strikes you're out (off the list indefinitely if not permanently).

But sometimes food experiments are foods, such as meat, fresh vegetables, fresh fruits, etc. which are on the off list (FODMAPS or other rules, eg. "Nothing green or leafy") which I know provoke a reaction, so it's more to reaffirm what I already know.

Anyway, the point of this is that while the list of foods I can eat can be written on a 4"x6" postit note and almost all other foods are my enemy, my diet is my saving grace protecting me from industrial packaged foods, fast foods (yes, those too), and 99% of snacks, candy bars, drinks etc.

My food sensitivities are what's keeping me alive but also saving me.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Mountain Bike lessons

Each time I ride the Bridgestone MB-4 bike again, after a 15-year hiatus, I learn more about how to ride, again, and more about myself 15 years older. In short, I'm not as good as I was then, something I learned this week on my second ride.

I rode 6.5 miles round trip to town and back, a 3.5 mile route there with a variety of hills, from short and steep to long and low, and a the same 3 mile route home I took the first time. I learned my balance problems from my then pinched Sciatic nerve in 2012 haven't fully gone away.

I noticed it's hard to do something while riding I took for granted years ago, like looking back over my shoulder for cars (here it's the law that bikes are vehicles and required to follow the law as one, meaning ride with traffic and not on sidewalks unless necessary, something lost on many riders).

Anyway, while in town after crossing a major intersection (road has wide bike lane), I tried to look back for traffic before my turn ahead to see if any cars were signalling to turn too, I turned into the curb, and as expected, the front tire stopped and I tumbled onto the sidewalk.

I learned years ago never to try to break your fall with your arms or hands, it's a good way to break bones, especially your wrists. I learned to roll with the fall. I was wearing my backpack I use for walking for the stuff I carry which helped cushion the fall, but I took some skin off my right elbow and knee.

Nothing hurt, except a few sore muscles later that day, but it was the lesson I forgot about mountain bikes, you ride, you fall. I'm two for two now. Two rides, two falls. Both falls just being older and still reacquanting myself with the bike.

Anyway, that's the lesson so far. I still not very good, don't have the muscles for riding - have runner, walker and hiker's muscles than biker's muscles, and they remind me later. But it's good cross training and fitness, but something to do in moderation as it leaves a lot of sore and hurt muscles for now.

What I look forward to is riding this fall when the weather is cooler and not always sunny, even maybe rainy. The bikes fat off-road tires do ok in that weather as I used to ride on the closed roads they allow bikes in Mt. Rainier NP. But I'll need some lights so cars see me.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Bridgestone MB-4

In the early 1990's I  bought this Bridgestone MB-4 bicycle. I rode it for about 5 years, mostly in Mt. Rainier NP where they allow bikes, which are the paved and dirt roads (Westside Road) and the Carbon River trail to Ipsut Campground (just the main trail and no tributary trails).

After that I realized I don't have the leg muscles for riding bicycles, mostly have walker/runner legs muscles (slow twitch instead of fast twitch muscles), so I parked it and rode every now and then over the years but mostly it collected dust and flat tires.

This weekend I got it out, cleaned it, pumped up the tires and rode 3 miles to Starbucks in town and back, about half downhill and half uphill, from 240 ft elevation where I live to about 100 ft and back up to about 300 ft elevation (reverse ride home).

I won't aruge the big fat off-road tires and the quick turning makes it harder to ride on pavement, but I got myself there and back with only one tumble in soft gravel (wait, gravel isn't soft) with the result of a skinned knee from not getting my foot out of the toe clips fast enough.

The bike will be used more often now that I know I can ride to town and back to add to the walking or days I want a late afternoon or early evening ride. There's a bike/walk trail along the highway I can take beside the rural roads (many with wide shoulders for bikes).

The bike looks and works great since it's been little used in the past 15 years. Sorry I can't say as much about the body and legs. They're 15 years older and worse for wear.

Thursday, January 1, 2015

A Mole

I live on the third floor of an apartment building with a gorgeous view from a 44" deck. I've also had between 12 and 16 planters of various sizes over the years. It started with one planter after my brother passed away to grow a Bristle Cone Pine for him.

Over time the number of planters grew and shrank as the weather took some plants each year and I decided to add or subtract them. I've always occasionally had birds visit the planters, after which sometimes I would put bird seed in the planters.

This summer I started feeding the birds but then lessened it over time as the summer changed into fall and then winter. I part it was due to the fact the larger birds, mainly Jays, started showing up and effectively trashing the planters.

I've also had squirrels (this is an area which was a forest and is surrounded by small forests between housing and commercial areas, meaning, no shortage of squirrels and chipmunks). They love digging for nuts they buried or thought they buried, where I sometimes find peanut shells in the dirt.

But this winter a small creature started showing up in the wee hours to get into the planters and dig in the dirt. At first I thought it was a rat of some sort, and after getting a trap to find it was always empty every morning, I discovered it was a mole.

We have some moles in the area between the building I live and the one just north, but I've never seen moles, but a juvenile one found my deck and the planters, and it came almost every night to dig in the planters.

I started putting aluminum foil over the planters without plants and slowly reducing the number of planters for the mole, but it always seem to find one to dig in and spread the dirt around the deck. After the birds and squirrels, I was cleaning the deck twice a week so I could walk on it without stepping in dirt.

The deck if 6' wide by 44' long which I put outdoor carpet over the rough marine finish (hard on the bare feet), so vacuuming the deck is tedious. So after consulting garden people as the various local home improvement stores, there was three choices to deal with the mole.

A trap, either trapping or killing it, wouldn't fit the planters. Repellent, which is for yards, would ruin the carpet and wood deck. And that left the last option, poison.

This was something I didn't want, but the mole was clearly coming to the deck almost every night and there was no way to stop it without removing all the planters, something I don't want to do right now because I don't have a place to put them, and likely it would return if I brought them back.

So I checked the one planter he always dug in and cleaned to put the pellets per the instructions where it would find them, and sure enough the next morning all the signs showed the mole ate all the pellets, and I haven't seen it since.

I regret having to do this and I know many home owners consider moles a pest not worth a second thought to kill, but it just seems unfair, for the mole who was only surviving and me who had no alternative to deter it.

Somewhere though a mole died without really realizing what it had done but find some good and tasty food, which was laced with a poison. He didn't deserve it.