Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Still a Gym Rat

English: Bodybuilder
Before I was diagnosed with MS, and for the first few years afterward, I was dedicated to my exercise programs. My ideal workout time was early morning, because all I had to do was wake up, get my feet on the floor, and lean forward. The next thing I knew I was at the gym.
After my MS diagnosis, I continued to visit the gym on a regular basis. Eventually, when my legs became too weak, I had to give up on the aerobic exercise and the lower body weight lifting. But I still maintained my upper body workouts – even when I started using a cane, two forearm crutches, and then a scooter. Finally, it became too much, and I stopped going to the gym in 2006.
Fast-forward to 2013. My neurologist told me about a facility in South Portland called the Medically Oriented Gym, or MOG. Saco Bay Physical Therapy works one-on-one with patients like me at the MOG. In September, I had my first appointment with Gabe, a physical therapist. We talked about goals. I wanted to maintain or improve the range of motion and strength in my upper extremities. Also, I would welcome anything they could do for leg strength and flexibility, but I knew that would be a more difficult task.
Gabe measured my strength and range of motion to establish a baseline. He then worked with his associate, Jodi, to develop a program for me. Over the past nine months Jodi has incorporated a variety of stretching routines and exercises to strengthen specific muscles and maintain or improve my flexibility. Gabe has evaluated my progress on a regular basis. I have at least maintained and even improved in some of his measures. It’s a beautiful thing.
Gabe, Jodi, and the rest of the team are consummate professionals. Not only do they understand the mobility issues I’m facing, but they exhibit sincere empathy. They know when to push me hard and when to back off. They constantly come up with creative new ways to challenge my muscles to do anything and everything they are still able to do. 
I generally have two one-hour sessions per week, and I plan to keep this up indefinitely. In my case, insurance is picking up 100% of the costs.
The benefits I experience from my workouts at the MOG are more than physical. There is an emotional component as well. I always feel more positive about my life when I am fighting back against this creeping paralysis. And even in the days before I became disabled, I experienced a boost from my gym workouts if for no other reason than I was getting out of the house and moving around. That still applies.
This physical therapy program isn’t going to overcome the relentless attack that MS is waging on my central nervous system. My overall physical well-being is continuing to deteriorate, and I don’t expect it to stop. But the work I am doing at the MOG allows me to maintain as much strength and flexibility as I possibly can, for as long as I possibly can. I encourage everyone with MS or other similar conditions to “use it or lose it.” If you live in the greater Portland area, I recommend Saco Bay Physical Therapy and the MOG. If you live elsewhere, find a physical therapist and a gym that you can work with.

If you're a healthy person, and you're not getting regular exercise, are you just trying to piss me off? You enjoy such good fortune, yet you do nothing to nurture and protect it. Don't make me come over there and kick you in the ass, because I will.

One of the exercises Jodi has me do is to lie on my back (which is no small feat) and execute bench presses. Before MS, I could do three sets of ten with a substantial weight on the bar. I would grunt and strain and put everything I had into each repetition. When working with free weights, I always had a spotter, because if the weight were to land on my chest or neck it could have been dangerous. But today I am bench pressing a broomstick, and I still grunt and strain and put everything I have into each repetition. Last week I said to Jodi, “You better stay here and spot me, because if I get pinned by this broomstick I’m not sure I’ll be able to breathe.”

We laughed and laughed. I’m a funny guy.

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  1. I love it Mitch! And if you can find one I highly recommend an MS Aquatic class. It is SO much easier to move in the water. And in our class everyone does what they are able to do. We've learned that even if we can't physically do an exercise, we still must THINK about going through the movement.

    Oh, and if you want to start an MS Aquatic class I can recommend someone to certify your instructor.

  2. I used to do PT -- a lot. I'm not sure I benefitted from it or not. I know it exhausted me, and after a number of sessions, they's declare me finished. I think I'll check to see if I should start up again, and if there are any MS-specific places I can attend.

  3. We definitely need a place that "gets" MS because just a regular PT isn't always geared to our needs. I started pilates in April after I learned it was developed for WWI disabled vets and wasn't just another kick and sweat workout. I am amazed by the very slow but definite progress I am making. A massage person there is also helping loosen up super tight muscles.

    How do you get there Mitch? Is it wheeling distance? We have a transport company here called Metro Mobility.

  4. Mary Ellen,thanks for the idea about an aquatic class. I'll look into that.

    Muffie, the attitude has changed in physical therapy relative to multiple sclerosis. Medicare now supports sustained treatment to maintain ability – no more discharging you when they think you have been "rehabilitated."

    Daphne, I've often thought about Pilates. The massage sounds like a perfect complement. I get to my appointments in a variety of ways. Sometimes they are late enough in the day that Kim can give me a ride both ways after work. Other times the young people who live in my house give me a ride, if they are not working or in school. Lately, I've been taking the city bus over and Kim has been picking me up when she gets out of work. We have a transport company too, but they are extremely unreliable and unfriendly, and they are my last resort only.

  5. i used to love going to the gym, i loved wheeling in my chair past all the studs. since giving up my driving, i can't get there. i don't live anywhere near public transport, or i'd still be going.

  6. Stephen, think about moving in town!

  7. Thank you Mitch! It's been a pleasure reading through your blog. You are an excellent writer with a great sense of humor and perspective. I've re-posted some excerpts from this post on the MOG's blog, with a link back to Enjoying the Ride so people can read your full post and others!

  8. Charity, I'm glad you enjoy my blog – I enjoy your MOG!