28 November 2010

Did I give up?

No, don't worry. I haven't given up.
No, don't worry. I haven't fallen into a deep depression.
No, don't worry. I haven't gotten busy with life and forgotten the blog.

Actually, it's been because I've been busy with this blog that there will only be three blog posts for November.

Think I'm making up excuses?

First of all, more and more spinal cord injury cures are being brought to clinical trials or are applying for approval, so I would like to give you an update next month. I'm not the most scientific minded guy in the world, so I'm doing a little bit of reading so I can give you some good information. It even looks like there will be a clinical trial in Japan in the near future. The cure is coming!

Secondly, just so you don't think I'm making this stem cell/spinal cord injury cure stuff up, I've been very fortunate in getting an interview with a world renowned spinal cord injury scientist. His words and activities will be a focus of another December blog. He also believes a cure is possible, and he knows what he's talking about.

I also have another interview planned in the next two weeks and I'm currently doing the background work for this. It's with a great spinal cord injury cure organization based in America. They've just finished up with a conference which brought together many leading researchers and activists from all over the world. I want to be able to show you all how regular people can contribute to a cure, because this group believes a cure is possible, too.

The other language editions are also taking off. Since starting this blog in English, I've also launched the Japanese (幹細胞&原爆) and Italian (CelluleStaminali&BombeAtomiche) versions with the help of terrific volunteer translators. An Italian facebook page and an English facebook page have also been launched. Please sign on to your facebook accounts and 'like' these pages. I also hope to launch the Russian, French, Romanian, and German pages in the next month. I want to bring information about the cure to the rest of the world.

Finally, the goal of this blog wasn't to be a 'spinal-cord-injury-world-according-to-Dennis' type venture, but to bring me closer to other activists fighting for a cure. I've made terrific contacts with people all over the world who all have the same goal: getting us out of our chairs and back into the walking world. My discussions with these people have been wonderful and I hope to have some news for you about these activities. These people all believe that a cure is possible.

Next month and next year, I would like to focus on how you can help make the cure a reality. Everyone I talk to thinks that the cure is within our reach, but your cooperation will make it come even sooner.

PS. And just to show you that I'm not all work, work, work. The pictures in this blog are of my family that were taken during my youngest's SHICHI-GO-SAN. These are the people the cure is for.

20 November 2010

Skydiving? Why in the hell would I go skydiving?

Day one after the cure.

It's 7:00am and already the kids are buzzing about my head on the first floor. Singing Japanese songs that I am vaguely familiar with and then they begin to demand that I play with them. So I do.

Leaping from my futon, actually you don't leap from a futon on the floor (tatami to be exact), I roll over and get up. I shew the kids away and tell them to give me fifteen minutes. I go out the front door, get the paper, grab my cigarettes, and head to the washroom where I can read the paper and smoke for a few minutes in peace and quiet.

After I've had these few minutes, it's time to get breakfast going on the second floor. I ask the kids how they want their eggs done. "Hard boiled," answers one, "sunny-side-up," answers the other, but I tell them to decide ONE way to make their eggs and I'll agree to whatever. They engage in a quick round of janken (paper-scissors-rock), and Luca, the oldest, wins. Sunny-side-up it is.

Eggs, sausages (not real Italian sausages, but little tiny wiener type sausages from Japan), toast (not with olive oil and garlic, but with melted processed cheese), milk, and coffee for me. It's time to eat, but for Luca and Lio, it's time to fight about every egg, wiener, and slice of toast. I holler, and that calms them down. Finally we eat.

Next battle. It's Tuesday morning, during Obon holidays (that's when the dead come home in Japan and we have a week off to welcome them back), so I don't want to waste the day. "Brush your teeth, and get dressed." Again I win and they're off to the third floor to get ready. For me, it's five minutes of peace with which I run out to the balcony with the remainder of my coffee and newspaper, and cigarettes to grab a moment of peace.

"We're done." They come racing down the stairs and get ready to play in the street. I wonder if they'll now leave me alone, but looking at the deserted street below, I see that with no other kids, they'll soon be beckoning me, and I'll be happy.

All three of us now in the hot August street playing the Obama game. Interesting game it is. It used to be called the Osama (not the Bin Laden kind) game. Osama means king in Japanese and in this game you move up levels until you are finally the king. We named it the Obama game after the American elections.

We play for about one hour until we are all drenched in the Osaka sweat that goes along with the humidity and then all agree to go back into the house and the air conditioning. I hope that it's done, but my wife, who hasn't yet been out in the open heat, declares that we're going to Konan, a neighbourhood home centre.

Despite the fact that the heat is stifling, I'm quite happy to go. I want to get some wood to build shelves in the pantry, pick up some new plants, a new potter for my olive tree, and buy whatever else these places offer. Konan is great, but the bike ride to get there is HOT!

Finally there, we buy all the stuff we need, and don't need, and then head out to the parking lot for icecream. I wish that there was a beer for me, but there isn't, and even if there was, my wife is not going to let me drink beer at three o'clock in the afternoon.

We get home after the long bike ride up hyakuenbashi (one hundred yen bridge), and just when I'm ready to start relaxing and drink a beer regardless of whomever objects, we decide to go out yet again. This time for okonomiyaki which is like...I don't know what it's like. I ate okonomiyaki my first day in Japan and was told that it was a Japanese pizza. Well, it's not a pizza, it's more like a pancake full of chopped cabbage and slices of pork. Whatever, it's delicious and we eat it.

Oh, I forgot something. Before we go to eat okonomiyaki, my kids decide that it would be great to go to the sento (public bath) after we eat, so first we got to get our clothes and towels. I don't know if any of you know what a public bath is, but in Japan I go often.

It's basically a place with great big baths and showers along the walls. Great big tubs of steaming hot water, some inside and some outside, along with saunas and massage chairs. It's great and if you can learn to get naked with a bunch of guys, you'd soon learn to love it, as I did.

So after the okonomiyaki, me, Luca, and Lio are sitting up to our necks in hot steaming water outside. It's great, but I forgot the real reason for their insistence. The public bath I go to, Shintokuyu, has a lounge area with ice cream. So even though I want to stay and soak in the boiling water, I get out and satisfy my kids' desire for ice cream. I'm lucky though, because they sell both ice cream AND beer.

I'm beat but on the bike ride back home (about 2 minutes) I realize that I'm missing the most important thing for the end of a great day - MORE beer. We stop at the shop and pick up a few and head home.

We play upstairs in the kids' bedroom on the third floor. I tell them a story and then we say our prayers. 'Our Father', 'Hail Mary', and a host of other prayers said between English, Italian, Japanese, and even Latin. But it wouldn't have mattered if I had said them in Swahili, they're both asleep.

Now, I go back down to the first floor, it's too hot upstairs for me, roll out the futon, crack open a beer, and read myself to sleep. Tomorrow I've promised the kids that we'll go ZA BOOM which is a big swimming pool at an amusement park about thirty minutes from my house.

Sound boring? Not to me.

It's actually what I did the day I became paralyzed. That day, I only got to the futon part on the first floor before the pain started and I was rushed to the hospital, leaving my kids to be worried about their father AND why they weren't going to ZA BOOM.

For me, the first day that I get back my freedom, I wish to relive the last day without the pain that started this all (and hopefully without the cigarettes). Then I want to finish up my Obon holidays and head back to teaching and the union, and do it standing.

That's all.

I remember my first session of rehab three days after my operation. The physiotherapist, who was a really nice guy, told me about how people in wheelchairs climb mountains, go scuba diving, parachuting, and travel all over the world.

I thought to myself, "This guy is crazy." He was talking about my new enjoyable life in the chair. Why in the hell would I want to go scuba diving or parachuting from my chair? I never did these things before I got paralyzed, so why would I want to do these things now? I would much rather have had a discussion about new cures that are being researched for spinal cord injury. Instead I got the "life in the chair" talk.

Maybe it's about validating yourself or feeling alive; that you can do these things even if your are in the chair. But I don't need these things to validate that I am alive. I have pain and pins and needles that remind me that I'm alive. I'm not criticizing those who do do these things. Maybe they like it. Maybe they used to do it. Maybe they started doing it after they were paralyzed.

All I'm saying is that I would rather spend my time trying to make the cure a reality rather than ski down a mountain in my chair. I don't need amusements, because life in the chair is not amusing.

When they tell me that there is no hope whatsoever. When all the research shows that curing spinal cord injury is impossible, I might then decide that scuba diving is something that I really should get in to.

05 November 2010

The Washington Post on standing. And revolution?

Mark Ramirez, a senior executive at AOL, does it. "It feels more natural. I wouldn't go back to sitting."

Kate Kirkpatrick, an executive at Gensler, does it. "I don't get that need-to-take-a-nap feeling in the middle of the day anymore. My body feels more healthy. More alert. The tightness you get in your neck from sitting all day, that's gone, too. I'm just more comfortable now."

Accountants do it. Programmers, bureaucrats, telemarketers do it. Even former defense secretary Donald Rumsfield does it.

Do what, you ask?
Stand. And they love it.

Just when I thought I was reading an article about people who used to be confined to wheelchairs but are now standing, I realized that the article was about standing, at work. It was an article about a new elevated desk and the company that makes them, GeekDesk. Yes, you too can stand at work with a new $800 desk which is elevated using electric motors.

You can,  if you can stand.

But as I was about to move on to the next article, I decided to keep reading, and I'm happy I did. I found some really interesting reasons why getting out of my chair is so important. I may even have found some insight on how to accomplish this.

James Levine, an endocrinologist at the famous Mayo Clinic and the author of "Your Chair: Comfortable but Deadly", gives us more details that back up his claim that, "we were built to stand."

  • When we sit, important biological functions take a nap.
  • An enzyme that vacuums dangerous fat out of the bloodstream works properly only when the body is upright.
  • Standing prevents heart disease, burns calories, increases the way insulin lowers glucose, and produces good cholesterol.
So I did learn why sitting all day is, what a leading researcher on inactivity Marc Hamilton calls it, hazardous and dangerous. Hamilton even goes so far as to call the sitting problem, "the new smoking". 

I've joked that if I stand again (no, not if, when I stand again) I'll even throw away all the chairs in my house. But how do I get out of my chair? That's the important point.

It wasn't until I got to the last sentence of the final paragraph that James Levine, like a new Lenin, gave the answer on how we'll all be able to get out of our chairs. 

"Sitters of the world unite. It is time to rise up now."

All quotes are from the 17 October 2010 edition of the Washington Post article, "Those with a desk job, please stand up"