Monday, September 27, 2010

Mark your calendars!

It's time for the 3rd Annual Fall Harvest Smackdown!! Even though my garden was a bit of a bust this year because of all the extenuating circumstances, i do have a few options for the secret ingredient. This secret ingredient will, of course, remain secret until the the day before the meal. If this is your first time to the Fall Harvest Smackdown, or for those who forgot, here are the rules:

1) dishes will be judged on a) presentation (that means you lose points if you serve your dishes in tupperware) b) taste and c) originality/creativity
2) all dishes must incorporate the secret ingredient
3) extra points will be rewarded for using local products for your other ingredients
4) you must cook as a team
5) finished dishes must be on the table at our house, plated and ready to eat by 6:30 pm.
6) judging will be by peer review

This year the Fall Harvest Smackdown will be on Saturday, Oct. 16. That means I will announce the secret ingredient here on the blog Friday, Oct. 15 at 5:00 pm. At that time they will also be ready for pick up. You are also welcome to anything else you want to take from the garden.

This may or may not be the secret ingredient.

This year registration will be a little different. To register to compete you must post your team name and teammembers to the comment board here on this blog entry. If you are looking for teammates, you can also post to the blog to find cooking partners.

And finally, in addition to the usual fun and good eats of the fall harvest smackdown, this year the artist will be premiering his labor of love: the documentary he has been working hard on since last year's competition. Hopefully he will have a trailer available soon as a little teaser of what's to come.

Last year the Bradley's swept all the fields. Is there anyone who will challenge them this year? Can you take on the the Bake-a-holic or Team Fashionista?

A complete wrap up of last year's competition can be found here.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Transitions . . .

Three years ago when i started this blog i did so as a means to help me finish my dissertation. Although it was titled "How to Procrastinate a Dissertation," something i was very good at, i actually hoped that holding myself publicly accountable would help me finish. I did post many great strategies for procrastinating (which i was very good at) over the next year as i struggled to finish, but eventually, finish i did. So now two years after i actually finished my dissertation the title "How to Procrastinate a Dissertation," no longer seems apropos. And given the transitions and changes i have been experiencing lately i figured it was high time to change the title of the blog to reflect all these factors. So i now introduce "A Gimp's Guide to the Galaxy!" Its scope is not really as wide as the galaxy, more likely it will focus on the Salt Lake City area and my limited wanderings, and it's not really a guide either, more a public journal of my day to day doings, but i just liked the alliteration, and i am afterall, now a gimp.

Speaking of which, after getting bored out of my mind riding the trainer in the house, and wanting to enjoy the great weather we've been having, i finally took the bike outside this weekend. This is something i should've done weeks ago. We rigged a little "stump holster" from a piece of T-dub's Pika bike carrier that hung from the top tube and into which i rested my stump while i rode. It didn't work perfectly, but it worked enough that i could ride and keep my residual leg up and stable. It was a little awkward at first, but it felt great to get outside, feel the wind in my hair (ok over my bald head), and actually get my heart rate up a bit. I managed to do a few intervals yesterday and rode for an hour, and then today got in a good 90 minutes. I know that doesn't seem like much, but i'm feeling pretty good about it. I even passed a lady today (nevermind that she was in her 50s, riding a mtn. bike equipped with those big mirrors that attach to the handlebars).

This wednesday i go back to see Doc Jones, which will hopefully begin the next transition: getting a prosthetic leg. It's an understatement to say i can't wait. I really want to walk, to be able to carry a plate from the table to the sink or sweep the floor without having to hop. I want to pedal my bike with two legs and be able to stand and sprint or climb and put in a good, hard effort. Hopefully by this weekend, i'll be taking those first steps!!

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Why the Tour of Utah should add a pro women's race!

Because Vroomen (one of the guys who started Cervélo bikes) says so. Well, that's not the only reason, but it is a good one. Vroomen, in an interview with CNN on the Garmin-Cervelo merger, made the case for men's pro teams to support women's teams as well, and even argued that the UCI should support, even mandate, such support. From the article:

"It's quite embarrassing that most big bike companies don't support a women's team," Cervelo chief Gerard Vroomen said by telephone from the Eurobike trade show in Germany. "They'll gladly sell bikes to women, but the sport itself seems quite difficult for them.

"First of all, women's racing is really fun. And it's a matter of respect. If I had my way, the UCI [cycling's international governing body] would order Pro Tour teams to have women's teams, and order Pro Tour races to hold a women's race. Problem solved. It really could be done at little cost with a couple of tweaks."

But that's not the only reason i would love to see the Tour of Utah add a women's race. I have to admit my reasoning is a little seflish. See, i'd love to watch my BFF race right here on her own home turf. T-dub is fast and excels at climbing. I love watching guys try to keep up with her on climbs, and then eventually blow up and let her go as their egos drop with their cadence (i stopped trying to keep up with her long ago). It pans out the same way almost every time without fail. T-dub moving along at her climbing pace catches and passes some unsuspecting guy. The guy, realizing he just got passed by a girl, inevitably will jump on his pedals and sprint past her then put in a good effort to drop her. T-dub just keeps up her constant pace, reels the guy back in, and passes him again. Depending on how much the guy has left, he will try to pass her again, jump on her wheel, or just admit defeat and slow back down to his usual pace. Ultimately T-dub usually beats them to the top of the climb and leaves them gasping and trying to repair their egos.

She did great in the hill stages of the Tour of Walla Walla, the Mt. Hood Cycling Classic, and the Elkhorn Classic, taking 1st place in the climbing stages of each, and taking 1st place in the overall GC at the Elkhorn Classic. She also held her own at Nationals competing against the best women in the nation and keeping pace up the short, brutal Archie Briggs climb, placing 9th overall and 2nd in the U23 division. I have no doubt that she would do well, especially racing on the climbs that she trains on every week if the Tour of Utah were to add a women's race.

In addition, she's improved her overall racing and handling skills racing in Europe this summer. She had the opportunity to race with the U.S. Women's team in Italy and France and then for the Italian team Chirio Forno D'Assolo. It's a big jump to go from racing with a field of 15 women in Utah races, or even 50-60 women at regional races, to racing in Europe with fields of 200 with some of the top women in the world, but T-dub did great and improved with every race, even placing 10th GC at the Tour de Charente Maritime where her team took the team classification as well.

But T-dub is not the only strong woman cyclist from our home state. Alisha Welsh, now riding for the Peanut Butter and Co. Twenty 12 team is also an amazing climber and we're the home to other strong riders like Tiff Pezzulo, Nicole Evans, and Nicole Waansgard. It would be great for all these women to race before a home crowd.

Additionally, with the positive press the Tour of Utah has received, they're in a position to build on this by taking Vroomen's suggestions and adding a women's race. It would be a great addition to the women's NRC calender, filling in the space after the Cascade Classic that is now, effectively, the end of women's NRC racing here in the U.S.

So, come on Tour of Utah, let's give our local girls a stage to show what they've got and bring the level of cycling up across the board.

Monday, September 20, 2010

My new love for two basic home and office furnishings

As you may recall, the second week after my surgery i started to get phantom pains. In the past few weeks i've done a little more research about phantom limb pain (or PLP as it is often referred to in the medical literature) and discovered that there aren't too many other theories for what causes the pain any better than the two i offered in my initial discussion of the topic. When it comes right down to it, nobody really know what causes it, though the neurologist Dr. Ramachandran from the University of California, San Diego, has developed some interesting theories and techniques for treating PLP. Dr. Ramachandran's theory is that the pain is not caused by frayed or bruised nerve endings or damage in any way to the nerve endings at all (as many previously thought), but rather is created in the mind because of the confusion the brain experiences after the loss of the limb due to a lack of input from the now amputated body part (my layman's understanding of complex neurosciencific theories). It's all kind of crazy. For example, the sensory areas on the brain for the hand and face are right next to each other, so some people with arm amputations can feel phantom sensation on the hand if you touch them on the face. Check out the clips from this BBC documentary on Ramachandran and phantom limb sensations.

So that brings me to one of my new favorite furnishings: a big, long mirror. I've started using mirror therapy to treat my phantom pain. Although i've only been doing it for about a week, it seems to be slowly working.

It's bizarre, even though i mentally understand that my right leg has been amputated, when i watch myself perform the exercises in the mirror, i can feel every movement of my missing right foot as i watch the reflection of my left leg moving in the mirror. I haven't had the immediate relief that some amputees who suffered from PLP experience, but i have noticed a slight relief of the phantom pains over the past couple of days. I should clarify, that before starting the mirror therapy the PLP had transitioned from the short, but brutally sharp pain that i initially experienced to a more persistent and blunt pain. Rather than feeling like someone quickly shoved a knitting needle through my foot, it feels like someone is slowly pushing a ball point pen through the top of my foot. Every night the same pain starts in the same spot. It doesn't bother me much during the day, presumably because my brain is active and occupied with other stuff, but near the end of the day when i start to slow down, and most specifically when i lie down to go to sleep, the pain can become quite distracting. Most research on mirror therapy suggests that it requires 4-5 weeks of daily practice to alleviate or lessen the pain, so i'm hopeful that as i continue to give it a go the PLP will disappear. And although there isn't a lot of research on mirror therapy yet, initial studies, including one conducted by Dr. Jack Tsao at Walter Reed Hospital with amputee veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan suggest that mirror therapy is one of the most effective treatment methods, so i'm optimistic.

Given the simplicity of the treatment for potentially debilitating pain, i'm a big fan of the End the Pain Project, which is dedicated to providing unbreakable mirrors and small "toolkits" to people around the world who have lost a limb as a result of landmines, war, and disease. If all it takes to relieve or alleviate what can be a quite miserable pain is a $15 mirror and a month of daily exercises, this is one of the cheapest and simplest treatments for pain available.

So now on to my other new favorite furnishing: roller-wheel office chairs. A few of the classrooms i teach in on campus are furnished with roller chairs. These make for a great interim prosthetic. I can kneel on the chair and roll around the classroom, from the white board to students working in small groups and back. It's crazy how much simple pleasure even being able to move around in this way provides. There is a great satisfaction in being able to take all the pressure off my left leg and distribute it more evenly between both legs. I can't wait for a regular prosthetic.

Only about a week and a half until i get to go back and see Doc Jones again. He'll do a CT scan on my leg, and if everything looks good, give the go ahead to get fit for an initial prosthesis. I told Joe at Peak Prosthetics that if Doc Jones gives the green light, i'll be heading straight to Joe's office to get fit so he can get going on the prosthetic. He indicated it should only take about a day after he does the measurements to get it made, so with any luck i'll have my new "robot leg" (as my nephew Cassman likes to call it) before the end of the month. Can't wait!!

And finally, i leave you with a message provided by Cousin Todd and his wife Tracy who sent me a couple of T-shirts. This one is my favorite:

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Lotoja, the Gut, and the Gimp

Yesterday morning at about 4:30 am i got up to let the dogs out for a minute, then crawled back under the covers of my warm bed and fell back asleep. Not so for about 1,000 suckers up in Logan. When their alarms went off at 4:30, they had to get up, put on some tight-fitting lycra, and head out into the dark cold to ride the 206 miles from Logan, UT to Jackson, WY.

Notice the fashionista is still smiling in this picture before the race started.

As much as I enjoyed the warmth and comfort of my bed, i have to admit, i had mixed feelings. I've done Lotoja for the past four years with my brother the artist and a number of other cousins, teammates, and friends. In fact, had i been with them, it would have been my 6th Lotoja. But, as you know if you've been following my blog, yesterday marked one month since my amputation. And as much as i seriously considered DC's offer to ride his tandem with me, after an hour on my trainer pedaling with one leg and taking DC's summer training into consideration (which mostly consisted of crashing on his MTB and breaking more things), i decided to sit this one out. As i got updates, pics, and texts from the support crews throughout the day i was bummed i wasn't there, even though i kind of have a love/hate relationship with lotoja (as do most i suspect). Mostly i missed not being with my brothers and other friends, especially the fashionista, since this was his first year.

To his credit, even though he said it was the "hardest day of his life" and he cried 40 times, he finished. Cousin Thomas also put in a great first year ride, finishing in under ten hours.

The artist at the finish in a typical (for him anyway) post-race posture.

But even though i have one leg less than i did a month ago, i'm not done with Lotoja. In fact, i've already started training for next year, and even more significant, so has my dad.

Please allow me to introduce: "The Gut and the Gimp!!"

"The Gut"

"The Gimp"

Next year my dad and I are going to do Lotoja together in under 12 hours. This will take a bit of work because my Dad has about 35-40 pounds to lose (but he has lost about 30 pounds already from where he was about a year ago) and a bit of endurance to build, and i am missing a leg. But i have no doubt we can do it.

I met with Doc Jones about a week ago and he took out the staples on the stump, did an x-ray, and said everything is looking good. I'll go back and see him again in about two and a half weeks, and if he gives me the green light, i'll get fit for my first prosthesis. After meeting with a few different prosthetists, i decided to go with Joe Mahone at Peak Prosthetics. He's doing some real cool and innovative stuff with socket design and has lots of experience working with athletes, so i'm excited about the possibilities. With any luck, i'll get a few CX races in before the end of the season. Although i've still been riding 3-4 times a week on my trainer, it's hard to get any good intensity workouts in with only one leg, so i'll probably come into CX season without much "uummph!", but i'll be happy to just be back on the bike. Regardless of how i race, however, i'm also excited to join Bruce B. as an announcer for this year's cross series. I've been harassing people at the races for years, now they're going to give me a mic and let me do it out loud.

My other immediate goal is to do the Run for Bun 5K on Oct. 9th in memory of my sister-in-law Bunny who was killed earlier this summer when she was hit by a truck while cycling with a group of women. I've never been much of a runner, but i do intend to walk the 5k with my new prosthetic leg. You can register for both the 5k run on Oct. 9th or the silent auction and dinner on Oct. 8th by clicking on the link below. Hope to see you there.

Monday, September 6, 2010

When it rains it pours (no.4) . . .

. . . and then your basement floods. And then, just when you think the storm has passed and everything is looking sunny again, one of those late summer microbursts will blow in, and if you only have one leg, that microburst will knock your right off your foot, and if you are working on a new dog run in the backyard and just cut some wire fence, you will grab a post for balance and catch your thumb on some of that newly cut wire and fall to the ground while that wire slices a nice gash in your thumb. And then you will sit on the ground swearing profusely in front of your dad and girlfriend. And your girlfriend will take you to the ER, and your Dad will stay and finish the last bit of the dog run you where wrapping up (thanks Dad!!). I mean, seriously, it was the last piece of fencing we had to hang.

But a quick visit (by quick i mean, it actually took 3.5 hours between waiting for each of the different nurses and nurses aids to come in and do his or her respective responsibility; so much for the efficiency of specialization) to the ER, a few stitches, and all is good.

I'm just trying to figure out how to use the crutches now that i can't put pressure on the palm of my thumb.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Simple pleasures

For the past couple of weeks T-dub has been helping me stick to a pretty good diet since I gained a few extra pounds over the past two months (hard to keep active between two foot surgeries then an amputation). I'm almost back down to my early summer weight, but it's a low sugar diet, and this is the worse time of the year, with all the fresh fruit and tomatoes, etc etc to really be limiting my sugar intake.

But today, I got to enjoy a big, fat peach, strawberry shake.

I've been craving peaches and ice cream all week, and we've got a peach tree full of ripe peaches, so Tay fulfilled my wishes and served me up a shake in the biggest cup she could find, which coincidentally was also my Huntsman Cancer Center cup that they gave me during my stay.

It was fantastic, even if it was sugar free ice cream.

I am happy!

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Phantom Pain: two theories

Before my surgery many folks warned me about the phantom pains and itches that often follow an amputation. Many medical practitioners also told me about specific techniques (such as an epidural) that can help limit these phantom pains. Many medical practitioners also told me that phantom pains tend to be worse in patients who had pain in the amputated limb prior to the amputation. Since i hadn't had a whole lot of pain in my foot besides the pathological fracture and the incision from the two surgeries, and my docs seemed to know what they were doing, i wasn't too worried about it. I mean, a small incision is nothing compared to having your leg smashed between two cars or blown off by an IED.
Well, i've already shared that the epidural didn't work. Immediately as i realized the epidural wasn't working i began to fear that this meant i would have increased phantom pain. Even as i lay there in the post-op recovery room taking deep breaths between monosyllabic pleas to the nurses to do something, my main thought was, "this is going to make the phantom pains worse, damnit!"

The first week after the surgery i had plenty of phantom itches, but no pain. I could deal with the itches, they were annoying, to have that little itch right there on the side of my pinky toe, but in fact have no toe to itch, but they weren't too bothersome, and most significantly, they weren't painful. I was even happy to tell people, "nope, no phantom pains for me."
But then, during the second week after the surgery they started: short, sharp, and painful. i described some of them to the artist and he did this rendition for me.

Pretty accurate, the only thing he missed was to add a bunch of little devils poking the foot in the flames with sharp tridents. Or my least favorite: the sensation that my big toe is being held in a vice grip and simultaneously hit by a ball peen hammer on one side while being torched with a welders torch on the other. It gets so bad at times i want to just cut my foot off, then i remember they already did.

But the real question remains, how can i feel such vivid, and painful sensations in a foot that is no longer attached to my body? I have two theories.

Theory no. 1: Law of contagion and pathologists at work. The Scottish Anthropologist Sir Richard Frazer, in his influential work The Golden Bough: A Study in Magic and Religion, defined a number of different forms of magic, one of them being the law of contagion. Basically, according to the law of contagion, two things that were once connected retain that connection even after separation and thus have the ability to affect each other (yes, this is the kind of incredible and highly sought after knowledge that a PhD in folklore will provide). An example of this is the popular conception of the "voodoo doll," created by attaching a lock of hair from the person in whose image the doll is created, and thus enabling the holder of the doll to inflict harm on the person by inflicting harm on the doll. So, according to my first theory, the law of contagion is at play here, and even though my right foot has been detached from my body, i did sign a bunch of consent forms saying that it could be used for various studies and research. Big Mistake!! So now my leg is being dissected, cut to pieces, broken apart and examined by a team of pathologists and researchers studying cancer and any other number of who knows what else. The problem is, now that i'm conscious, i feel every one of those cuts, stabs, bone breaks, etc. Every time some researcher deep in a lab in the bowels of the Huntsman Cancer center cuts into my big toe to extract a small sample of tissue to put under the microscope, i feel it. And not only do i feel that, i feel every time that small tissue sample is sliced thinner and thinner in order to get it thin enough to be examined under the microscope. I'm ready to go take my leg back, research be damned!

Theory no. 2: the Torments of Hell. In the New Testament Gospel of Matthew hell is described in the following terms: "The Son of man shall send forth his angels, and they shall gather out of his kingdom all things that offend, and them which do iniquity; And shall cast them into a furnace of fire: there shall be wailing and gnashing of teeth" (Matthew 13:41-42). Now let me clarify, that i've tried to be a pretty good person. I try to treat others with dignity and respect, and although i fall short at times, i do make this a priority. I certainly have my faults and plenty of "sins," but i try to live in a way that honors all of God's creations. Evidently, unbeknownst to me, my right leg did not share these same priorities, in fact, given by the amount of burning sensations i've felt lately, i'd say my right foot led a downright sinful and iniquitous life, and is now paying the price in the "furnace of fire." Unfortunately, the law of contagion applies here as well, and i feel all the sensations—the burning, wailing, and gnashing of teeth—to which my errant foot is being subjected. I'm not quite sure how my right foot managed to carry on so without my knowledge, but alas, it appears my foot is suffering the fate reserved for those in the inner ring of Dante's seventh level of inferno: to reside in a desert of flaming sand with fiery flakes raining from the sky. Of course, this is even more troubling for me since Dante recorded that this level of inferno was reserved for the blasphemers, the sodomites, and the usurers.

Neither of these theories is completely adequate, however. I have to reject Theory No. 1 because the pains persist through the night, and i can't imagine any researcher so committed to her studies that she is up at 2:00 in the morning slicing cell samples from the cancerous growths in the middle of my foot. Nor can i imagine that the Huntsman Center has the funding to run round the clock shifts of cancer researchers. Of course, it's possible that my foot has been parsed and shipped off to researchers around the world, which would help explain the round the clock phantom pains, but this also is highly unlikely.

And i have to reject Theory No. 2 because i just can't imagine how my foot could have been cavorting about, blaspheming, sodomizing, and lending money at absurd interest rates without my knowledge. I mean, i'm a socialist, i don't even have any money. i tend to give stuff away, so where my foot could have even gotten money to lend in the first place is beyond me.

So, in the end, while the phantom pains continue to shoot down my leg with an electrifying and profanity-inducing energy to a foot and toes that don't exist, i have no plausible explanations. Sorry Sir Frazer and Dante. Though your works were highly influential in their respective eras and areas of study, neither has satisfactorily explained the phantom pains that continue to ravage my non-existent limb. Perhaps what i need is just a good foot massage from Beatrice, but i doubt Dante would take too kindly to that.