Sunday, August 31, 2008

Les-Pieds-Sont-Nous / Feet-R-Us

Late in July I decided to take a couple days off and head up north to our bilingual neighbor Canada with our 15-year-old pride and joy. It had been two years since our last visit to Victoria together and those pleasant memories were still vivid in our minds.

It was obvious that slow economy is affecting life even there. At the height of the tourist season the Victoria Clipper is usually quite full; now the fast and comfortable catamaran was perhaps one-third occupied. Our check-in time at the Chateau Victoria was 3 p.m. but when we arrived with our luggage around 10 to drop them off, we were told that our room was available. Naturally this was an indication that bookings were not at their usual level. A few times I overheard locals telling that this has been the quietest summer they can remember. Yankees usually amount to a majority of visitors to British Columbia, but Canada is no longer as cheap as it used to be and many people here have more urgent financial obligations than taking vacations. We heard German spoken occasionally but bumping into a Québécois happened far more often. As Victoria has a very British feel to the city, it was as if the French were visiting old England again.

Time after time my daughter remarked how nice people were, polite and caring. Canada may not be a paradise as no place is, but it surely seems to have fewer issues than this country. Walking back from a wonderful Japanese dinner, we discovered a needle drop-off receptacle on a utility pole. Sarah had never seen one and I had to quickly explain it to her. She thought it was a remarkable and advanced idea and I wholeheartedly agreed. An I.V. drug user is going to have his/her needles and in this society of ours has to hide the used ones in a pocket. Emergency workers know that this presents a hazard to them as they often have been injured by a sharp tip, leading to potentially terrible infections of AIDS and hepatitis.

For the past two years walking has been a pain for me, literally. My feet are either numb or overly sensitive and most of the time I feel like there are big blisters on the soles or perhaps rocks in my shoes. I have to rely on visual input to know that I am standing upright. Quite a few times I have tried to walk in the dark and taken bad falls; nowadays I remember to first switch on the light first. There in Victoria I was resting on my bed in the hotel and my daughter was snapping her toes, something we used to do together when she was little. I looked at my own toes in sadness because they wouldn’t obey my will and remained stiff. After hours of torturous walking it became clear to me that the medical advice and drugs prescribed by the neurologist weren’t doing me any good and I decided to benefit from logical thinking I’ve been blessed – or cursed – with. After all, I am supposed to be smarter than those doctors and also capable of thinking outside the box.

So, upon returning home I dug deep in all the information I could find on the internet and also studied the anatomy of the feet in great detail. I learned all about tarsal tunnels and other possible trouble spots where nerves could be compressed. For the next days and weeks I have been experimenting with somewhat unorthodox means of reducing my pain and learning what works in my case and what doesn’t. I ended up ordering stuff from Canada and buying the rest locally. Now, a month later I barely have to take my prescriptions for neuralgia. Yes, the feet are still a bit uncomfortable at times but I can cope with that. I can again snap my toes and with ease. There is no single key element to my improvement; much of it indeed has to do with creative thinking. It surprises me how few people are able to do just that, as it is a key element in making successful discoveries in the sciences as well as in interpreting music. In the latter case most musicians just copy something they have heard or been taught and then try to present it as their own, whether they are instrumentalists, singers or conductors. A pedagogue needs to be able to think outside the box as well, as there are often gifted students who don’t fit the mold and the standard approach would fail in their case.

When my wife is able to keep me company, we often descend to the beach below my favorite Discovery Park. It is a 285-foot climb down and obviously the same coming up, on a narrow path with altogether about 450 steps. I couldn’t even think of doing the trek for a long time; now it is a piece of cake as long as I take care of my balance. To facilitate this I purchased a lightweight Komperdell walking staff from Seattle’s wonderful REI. It also turns into a camera monopod should I need to use one. Half way down the path is an area where one often sees snakes, of the harmless garter variety. My wife freaks out upon such an encounter although she has improved in this respect. I keep on reassuring her that on this side of the Cascades there are no native poisonous snakes, although in the past she has had to frequently deal with a venomous Pit Viper, a European import. Perhaps that explains her disgust with slithering creatures.

With my own good medical success comes upsetting news from Finland. My father Veikko Talvi had somehow tried to climb over the rails that are up around his bed for the night. He had fallen onto the floor, breaking his "good" hip and rushed to surgery. I was able to get through to the hospital when he had just come from the operating room. As general anesthesia is often risky at that age (97), the surgery was done using a spinal block. The next few days will be critical. He will be moved away from the hospital to specialized recovery center, in part due to the dangers of MRSA, present in all Finnish hospitals although perhaps not widely as in similar institutions here. Silja, my eldest, is leaving for Finland tomorrow. My dad has managed to fool the Grim Reaper many times; perhaps he’ll be successful this time as well.
Photos: Sarah in Beacon Hill Park, Victoria
Yellow Eyelash Pit Viper