HowsePassExos

Life Changing Hike

It’s now been a month since I received my ExoSyms and I can say with utmost certainty that these babies have made a huge difference, and will continue to do so.

This past month I’ve walked thousands of more steps than I used to and done things I wasn’t sure I’d be able to do again.

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At the top of Tunnel Mountain.

Last week I celebrated my 10th anniversary with my husband. We honeymooned in Banff, Alberta, Canada in the Canadian Rockies and have made it a special tradition to go back every five years. On our honeymoon, we did some hiking and I don’t remember it being too terribly rough other than my feet hurt a lot at the end of each day and I limited my hikes to a mile or so each way. My new husband did go on more strenuous hikes alone.

On our fifth anniversary, it was harder. By then I’d had my two kids and my feet hurt a lot more. My husband had to push me to make the hike to the top of Tunnel Mountain in Banff. I remember we only did a few hikes, and they weren’t that long. I spent a lot of time in hot springs and by the pool.

On our 10th anniversary, I blew those two trips away.

Despite only having the ExoSyms three weeks, and knowing full well I was still building muscle, I stood at the bottom of Tunnel Mountain on the first day ready to put these babies to the test. And test it was.

The hike is a little under three miles round trip from where we started, and has an elevation gain of 950 feet. And while some serious hiking guides, sites and apps call it ‘easy,’ I’m here to tell you if an out of shape, sea level dweller in new ExoSyms learning to climb inclines feels this is an “easy” hike, then “hard” would be comparable to burning in hell after being stung by a hive of angry wasps.

For me, inclines are difficult. My glutes, hip flexors, hip abductors, abs and quads (an just about everything else in between) are so very weak from walking different my whole life. Trying to keep my knee bent just enough to dig in with my toes and not snap back and hyper extend for 1.5 miles straight up was rough. I wanted to really bend my knees, which is also wrong. I was sure I’d be suffering knee pain the next day from all the times my knees snapped back.

Add to that when it got really steep my foot would slide out of my shoe randomly, and we had ourselves what we call a challenge.

Luckily I had my trusty walking stick and husband. With breaks to catch my breath, occasional leaning on his arm, the stick for more support, and taking it slow to try to focus on doing it right to save my knees, I made it to the top. It wasn’t pretty, but it was success. And I’m here to tell you every single hike after that was a lot easier.

And for you fashion watchers, notice having small calves means you can wear your ExoSyms under loose fit bootleg cut jeans! Yay for middle age modesty!

I walked all over Banff and on several trails around Banff National Park that week, burning up my activity app. According to it, I walked a total of 31 miles in six days. I’d say that’s a bump up from two miles a day.

I must admit though, the ability to wake up and stumble like a Walking Dead extra to the hot tub every morning was a big help. A good 20-minute stretch in the hot tub, 20 minutes swimming in the pool, another 10 in the hot tub then a hot shower worked out the kinks and any residual stiffness worked out in the first half mile of the hike the next day. I wonder if my insurance would accept a prescription for a hot tub…

What I noticed during all of this was:

  • My muscles hurt, but they hurt in different places each day, illustrating that I was building muscle, not seriously hurting myself.
  • I stood longer, not feeling the need to sit down as much.
  • My feet did start to hurt, but not like they used to and it took much longer before they hurt.
  • I really need true hiking boots as the lift in my left shoe puts my heel too close to the top, making it easier for my shoe to slip off on inclines.
  • Changing up the types of hikes each day helped build endurance without hurting any one muscle group.
  • I felt a lot stronger on the last day. I actually got stronger! On vacation. Without a gym!
  • Despite several hyperextensions, I didn’t hurt my knees.

It was a massive personal achievement for me to be able to enjoy the Canadian Rockies. I wish we’d had more days to hit more trails. I’ll just have to start hitting the Cascades here in Washington as summer begins to wind down.

The icing on the cake was coming into the Hanger Clinic the next Monday for my sixth visit. After working on a few things with me, Jared commented he noticed a big change. I had gotten stronger and it showed. I’m on the right track.

If only I could get excited about this working out in a gym thing. So not my thing.

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Chairs placed in random and sometimes remote areas around the Canadian National Parks this year to celebrate 125 years. We found these at a secluded overlook of Howse Pass, miles from the road. Perfect spot to have a quiet moment on our actual anniversary day.  
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The Mighty Shoe Dilemma

Almost anyone who has had an ExoSym will readily tell you, finding the right pair of shoes is a long and sometimes financially agonizing process. Anyone with painful degenerative foot problems will laugh through their tears while wisecracking “tell me something I don’t know.”

I’ve been on the search for the perfect comfy shoes for close to 20 years. As my feet hurt and further degenerate, this perfect shoe became more and more elusive. In all that time, I didn’t find one person – doctor, podiatrist, shoe sales person – anyone who could tell me what I needed to look for in a perfect shoe. Until now.

This past weekend, I took a trip to Wide Shoes Only in Renton. There I met Dominic, the shoe angel. The son of cobblers who has inherited the store and now runs it as president, Dominic not only knows shoes, he knows foot issues and what shoes are best for your situation. And he knows the ExoSym as well as other AFOs.

In fifteen minutes he’d educated me on what my weak, unstable club feet need and what the ExoSym requires to perform at full potential. He then showed me how to look for those things in every shoe I considered.

Stability

Dominic told me the ExoSym, and other AFOs, require a stable shoe. That means it is stiff in the bottom, not squishy to allow rolling right or left. The ExoSym doesn’t allow for the ankle to roll, so a shoe that does that will throw you off balance and be “like walking on a soft mattress,” Dominic said.

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See how I can squish it with my fingers? Not good for ExoSym.

For example, New Balance has a number of shoes with roll bar technology as well as newer technology, not allowing the heal to roll in either direction. The shoes the Hanger Clinic gives out with ExoSyms (New Balance 1540) includes this technology.

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Roll bar technology.

Another thing to consider is a stiff forward part of the sole. For me, it wasn’t a deal breaker, but a shoe that doesn’t bend so easily at the ball of the foot will provide more stability as your foot doesn’t bend at all in the ExoSym.

Width

Shoes come in all kinds of verbiage for width – wide, extra wide, extra extra wide, 2E, 4E, 6E, W, WW, etc. Generally, these are determined from the base of the heal up to the ankle. Imagine the letter V with the point at the bottom gone. The wider the V shape between the sides of the heel and the top of the shoe is used to determine width. It’s not simply horizontal width, Dominic explained. Every shoe manufacturer has their preferred width measurement and quite honestly, said Dominic, the width designation doesn’t matter anywhere near as much as the “last.”

Last

Drawn from the old cobbler word for the “last block,” or the block of wood that was whittled from drawings of a customer’s foot then used to design the shoe around, today’s “last” is the volume inside a shoe.

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This is on the wall in two places at Wide Shoes Only.

An extra extra wide in one shoe, for instance, doesn’t have as much volume as an extra wide in another shoe.

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The one on the left is a W while the one on the right is a WW. Yet, clearly, the one on the left is physically wider. Beware of only looking at width designation. Look at the last. (Neither of these shoes work with the ExoSym, however…)

I discovered for me I needed more last, in terms of physical width for my wide foot plus the ExoSym, but also the cone (top of the foot) needs to be higher than typical or the pressure down on my foot causes my toes to fall asleep. This is what the New Balance 1540s I got from the clinic were doing – too tight and putting my toes to sleep.

With Dominic I found three amazing shoes. A (sadly, this is the story of my life) discontinued New Balance 1123, in size 5 ½ 4E. It allows me to put in a little extra height in the right and both feet fit snug and with circulation (we ask so little at this point, don’t we?). And they discontinued it for the 1540 that hurts my feet. Boooo!

He also found me a Cambrian casual sandle that fit the ExoSym and had good stability for a sandal (hello summer) and a gorgeous Drew Geneva dress shoe in taupe that is so very comfortable with soft leather uppers and a stiff sole for support. Extra Wide Shoes can order any size and even some shoes they don’t have in stock for you to try.

In the end it was hard to swallow the almost $375 for three pairs of shoes. That was, until I went home and cleared out all the shoes that don’t fit any longer or hurt my feet. For years I spent $30-$50 a pop on New Balance shoes that felt amazing, for about two months. They didn’t have the stability, so they broke down for me once they were broken in. And they hardly look worn.

This here represents $1,000 wasted on shoes. Suddenly, $375 for shoes sounds very reasonable. With the right last, they’ll last.

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This is $1,000 of shoes, all of which don’t fit with the ExoSym or they hurt my feet. Luckily, many can go to my kids for them to grow into while the rest get donated.

So, the moral of my story is, do your research, visit Wide Shoes Only when in Washington for your ExoSyms (seriously, make this a requirement because no one I’ve met, not even the mighty Ryan, knows shoes like Dominic), and understand that one person’s perfect shoe may not be perfect for you. You can only try them on to know, and it’s best to try them on with someone who understands your condition and knows shoes. Like Dominic!

And on a final note, I’ve started a page here on Going Bionic dedicated to shoes and shoe tips, so as I learn things from trial and error, advice or tips from others, we can all find them in one place. May the odds be ever in your favor as you hunt for your perfect shoes.

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Learning the Ropes

Back at the Hanger Clinic for my third visit since getting the ExoSym, I was ushered into the routine of the place. Once you have been casted, tested the test device and received your ExoSym, the next step is to get you going on a training routine unique to your own needs to get the most out of the device. As Jared of Jared’s House of Pain fame put it, “These devices are perfect for you, when we get your body in the right shape for them.”

During my last visit, Jared worked with me on a number of core exercises, demonstrating them then putting me to work. His secret number is six. You do however many reps of each exercise (varies based on the exercise) six times. I have eight exercises I must do with progressively harder work for each. My routine is two days a week, with four of the exercises each day. Doesn’t sound like much, right? Well, I was inches away from buying an “Everything Hurts and I’m Dying” t-shirt after day one. It’s not easy, especially if you’re not one of those people who lives for going to the gym. I abhor boring routine workouts. I don’t find them fun, invigorating or in any other way enjoyable. It takes some deep discipline to ignore those “we can skip today” and “I don’t need any more of this crap” internal conversations, I tell you what.

After receiving your exercise demonstration, every visit after that is basically a visit to the gym where your personal trainer checks in on you, as does the magician who created the devices that allow you to be bigger, stronger, better for considerably less than $6 million. You sign in and go to work independently at the gym, working through your assigned exercises.

The Hanger physical therapy process is set up as a group atmosphere. There are several people doing their exercises and getting training from the same person all at the same time. It’s both a way for the good folks at Hanger to help as many people at once and also for us to mix and mingle, spot and support, and basically get to know our fellow ExoSym-ers. We’re scattered around the globe. This is the one place where we’ll always find each other. Kind of our own special Pokémon Stop of awesomeness.

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Stretching that flexor.

As I started through the House of Pain Day Two routine, Jared checked in on me and I had the wonderful opportunity to meet a new ExoSymer, Lucy, who was out from England for 10 days or so to get her device. Another four device owners were mingling about doing their workouts with Jared. Once I’d warmed up properly, Jared decided to add some spice and get me working on balancing exercises. With both feet being so bad and my center of gravity so off, balance is not my friend. However, in trying a few things we discovered the pelvic tilt I’ve had in my right hip so long has caused a tightened hip flexor. Jared added daily stretching exercises for that muscle to add to my routine.

Then he set up an obstacle course with a balance beam. The very name “balance beam” gives me the willies. Yet, I pulled it off. It wasn’t pretty, but it worked. My 7 year old caught me doing the double beam it on video. After that I did it on one beam and then a few other obstacles, which impressed me.

One thing that was mighty helpful was learning how to step down hard. Unlike how I used to, land on both or the best foot at the time, with the ExoSym, you land in the middle of your foot and keep going to dispense the force. The harder you land, the bigger the next step. Practicing that caused a few jarring experiences, but I got the hang of it.

Day 2, or maybe 5: Adjustments and Physical Therapy

Today was my first visit back to the Hanger Clinic since getting my ExoSyms last Wednesday. I was so looking forward to this visit as I discovered the morning after receiving my ExoSyms that there was a very real reason for feeling so uncomfortable the day before – the left one needed some adjustments. It was rubbing in a couple of places and causing pain.

When I put them on Thursday morning my foot really barked. I had a couple of tender spots where the device was too tight or rubbing. I wore them for a couple of hours, but took them off for some relief from the tender spots. Thing is, the other pain was gone with them on, so it was a trade off as it came back when they were off. I didn’t wear them Friday and the pain was less when I put them on Saturday.

I spent all day Saturday moving into the new addition and unpacking the kitchen. By mid-afternoon the tenderness was back and I had to take them off. My feet screamed at having the pressure of my weight back, but I pushed through. When I couldn’t take the foot pain anymore I put the ExoSyms back on and got a second wind. It was like that all weekend.

So today I was thrilled to see Ryan and couldn’t wait to hand them over for adjustment. I resisted the urge to rip them off and run at Ryan with them in my hands. That would have been a little weird, even for me.

Truth be told, Ryan had been on vacation since my last visit, but texted me no less than six times over the weekend to see how I was doing and offer support. This is so much more than good customer service. This is someone who truly cares about the comfort and increased ability of his patients. In all my years of seeing medical professionals, and there have been many, mind you, I have NEVER had a medical professional check up on me like that. Sure, nurses have called to see that I’m not dead the day after I’ve gone home from surgery, but the doctor himself (or in this case, the very person who designed, fitted and sent me home with the device) – never.

Needless to say, Ryan met me right as I arrived and offered to get to work on the adjustments. As Ryan worked on the ExoSyms, Jared met me with his list of exercises he feels will help me develop my core in 12 weeks. Or as I’m want to call it, Jared’s Special Recipe to Make You Call out for Mommy. While my two kids spent quality time with Saint Steve Jobs (the iPads), Jared put me through the paces for about two and a half hours with exercises that pushed me pretty hard.

Adjustments, adjustments, adjustments

Almost everyone needs several adjustments to their devices until they’re perfect. Ryan came back a couple of times and I tried on the devices until we got all the spots addressed. He took a bit off the toe end, widened the foot plate, cut away the spot that was rubbing on my ankle bone and tightened the knee cuffs (that last one he said is very common to do in the first weeks of an ExoSym). He also helped correct my difference in leg length with a little extra padding in the right shoe.

OK, so it doesn’t show as much in the before and after photos above, but in the end, it was so very worth it. The left one felt so much more comfortable, and fit better in my shoe. I did some walking, took a stroll around the outside of the building, and even took on the stairs.

When I left, I didn’t want to lay down and sleep like I did on the first day. I wanted to WALK! I took the kids to a park and we played in the playground. Then we drove home and I stopped off at my husband’s office to visit. When I got home, I stood in my new kitchen and made a nice dinner and even cut up the ingredients and did some pre-prep for tomorrow’s breakfast. THIS is what it was supposed to feel like. I’m feeling a million times better about my ExoSyms now.

Oh, and remember that drawing of Jared’s I forgot to take a picture of last time, the one about how our body mechanics are like a clothes rack. Guess what he had on his board today? Here it is for your viewing pleasure.

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The blue on the left is the clothes rack. The two bodies to the right are showing the wrong way to stand and the right one with the red being the force distribution from steps, jumps, etc. It starts from the foot and is supposed to zig zag evenly up the body. In this one he’s showing distribution with and without the ExoSym. In my case, the red lines go WAY out to the front and are small in the back, thus the need for my core workouts to push that force back.
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Day 1: ExoSym Delivery

Day 1. The day everyone who has decided to take the leap of faith to the ExoSym looks forward to with anticipation, hope, anxiety, a host of “what ifs” and belief. It was an emotional and completely overwhelming day for me, both physically and emotionally. While the entire process of getting my ExoSyms and beginning my physical therapy was only three hours, I left feeling I’d been going all day.

It began at noon when I signed in, joking I was there to hand over my suitcase full of cash. Ryan met me at the counter and laughed. I could hand that over at the end, he said. Not to be out done, as we walked to the room he turned with a straight face, “So, what are we doing today?”

Touché, heir miracle worker, touché. He knows how to work with us nervous first timers and I love him for it. That was the laugh I needed.

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Ryan does his Vanna White with my devices and stuff.

In the room, he’d already had my ExoSyms, a bag of knee sleeves, and those spongy heal lifts ready to go, spread out all Vanna White style. I have to admit, my heart skipped a beat as I saw my familiar foot shape, finally on a pair of ExoSyms. It was about to get real.

Ryan held up one of the devices and told me straight, “These are the perfect devices for you, in a year to 18 months. You’ll need to work to strengthen yourself to get the most out of them and they’ll serve you well. You have to remember it takes time and effort, and you have to go easy on yourself. Remember, one day at a time.”

I took a deep breath and reminded myself, I can do this.

I’m terribly skinny in my legs thanks to very under-developed calves. The knee sleeves Ryan had lent me when I tried on my test devices, and what we need to wear with the devices to protect our knees, slid down pretty quick. I asked him if he had something smaller. He brought me some flesh-toned sleeves with gel in the inside. They fit great, but on an 80-degree day, man did they make me sweat. It was a pick your poison kind of choice. I’m saving those for the cooler days (something like 80% of days in Seattle).

The first thing I noticed after I put them on was my shoes weren’t going to make the cut. They’d barely made it with the test devices, but they were not happy with the real thing, especially the right where I needed to add a lift. Unfortunately, Ryan didn’t have a size that fit me perfectly. I am a size 4 regularly. He put me in a Size 6EEEE (meaning it was wide and deep). It felt tight, and HUGE. Maybe it was just the new shoe needing to break in.

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My feet, the ExoSyms and my super huge new shoes.

Ryan had me walk a little in the room holding onto the bars for support, but quickly moved me out to the gym. There I wandered a bit before being introduced to Jared, an ex-Army doctor of science with some serious understanding of rehabilitative physical therapy. I’ve been through my share of physical therapists, and I have to say I was incredibly impressed with Jared right away. He really knows his stuff. He’s been helping all kinds of people strengthen for the ExoSym for almost three years now. I felt pretty quickly that if anyone would get me there, he could.

Jared took a few minutes to give me the best lecture I’ve ever had on why my body hurts like it does. I wish I’d thought to take a photo of his white board drawing. I was too enthralled. (I did take one on my next visit if you’re curious.) Basically, he compared body mechanics to a folding clothes rack. That diamond pattern of the two sides of the rack illustrate the forces that go through our bodies as we move – zig-zagging their way up from foot to calf to thigh to pelvis to abs to lower back on up. If we don’t do it right (think landing with straight knees from a jump that rattles your teeth), or one of those points is weak (like, say, half my body), the rest are out of balance. His job is to get me, and the rest of us, in balance.

With that he had me walk and focus on straightening my pelvis, tightening my abs and tucking in my butt (which he refers to as “pinching the penny.”) Right away my gait improved. With that, he had me pull some large ropes around, practicing my new walk. That’s about the time my dad arrived and started filming. Yay Dad.

Then Jared put me through some serious ab exercises. In one I laid on my back with my feet in loops hanging from a pole, so my feet were suspended. Then I had to use only my ab muscles to straighten my back and lift my butt off the ground (no pushing down with my feet). Once I got it, he said, “Great. Now, do that 60 times.” I almost choked. His rationale is he’s training me to althletic ability, which is what I’ll need to be to learn to walk correctly. I’ll have to do that three times a week for at least 8 weeks, but most likely longer.

After that, Jared had me stand with a bar to my side. Around the bar was another huge rubber band. A three-pound weight went through the loop of the band and I held the weight vertically in my hands. I had to pull the weight away from the bar, but not twist my body in the process. That was the hardest. I needed a mirror to see what I was doing wrong so I could correct it. I’m to do it 40 times on the weak side, 20 on the strong. Ryan walked by and asked how I was doing. “Kill me now,” I joked.

After I was good and sweaty, Jared took me over to try stairs. In the ExoSym, you need to step up on toes, and down stairs on the middle of your foot. Down was super easy. That’s how I do it already so I don’t hurt my ankles. But up, that was another story. I do it with my butt sticking out and leaning for leverage. We went outside to stairs going up from the street to practice. This, I’ve decided, is my biggest challenge. I’m so very weak on the right I can’t step up with my right foot without a railing, ever. We’re going to fix that.

At the end of the appointment I walked across that mat again, the one that tested my gait before, with the test devices and now with the real ones. There was even more improvement. I’m excited to see my progress again after more strengthening.

Throughout it all, though, my left foot ached. I’d really hoped I could stand longer than usual, but that wasn’t the case. My feet felt squished and my left one in particular was not happy. I knew it wouldn’t be perfect, but while the old pain was gone, I had different pain. That can’t be right.

I drove home questioning if this was the right decision (driving being another challenge as I’m so short and you can’t move your ankle in the ExoSym to move between the gas and break, but lifting my whole leg made the top of the device hit the seat below my knee). I called a fellow Clubbie with two devices for support and advice. She talked to me straight as she always has, reminding me that it takes us Clubbies a lot longer than others. Many of us have always walked wrong or had weak muscles. We need to make them strong to have the device work properly. In just her first month she’s seen huge improvement. She reminded me to have faith.

That night when I took them off, it wasn’t more than 20 minutes before the old pain was back and I was walking like a 70-year-old. This was going to be worth it. Maybe I just needed better shoes.

The next morning when I tried them on, my left foot barked. I had a sore spot on the inside of my left foot and on the ankle bone. That’s it!! The device simply needs to be adjusted – stretched a bit in one place, ground away in another – to better fit my foot. Unlike folks who come out for intensive 10-day or so visits for their devices, I have to space mine out. And Ryan is out of town on vacation now. So instead of give myself bruises and blisters in places where I know the device needs to be adjusted, I’m wearing it a couple of hours each day to practice my walk. My next appointment is Monday and we’ll get it all sorted then.

This was a long day coming, 44 years to be exact, and I can say with total certainty that this day was made possible thanks to the incredible support of other Clubbies who have gone before me into the world of the ExoSym. Through their honest advice and sharing of their experiences, my expectations were kept realistic and what I thought was a defeat, getting braces, has turned into a supportive elite club of dedicated folks who just plain get it – whether they have the ExoSym or not – because we all refuse to give up.

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Anxiety and Anticipation

Yesterday we received news that the remodel we’ve saved for 10 years to do on our house has exceeded the budget thanks to rising construction costs, despite my cutting the extras I’d wanted. And one week before I’m to pay out the high deductible for my ExoSyms. Awesome.

I had planned on taking the family with me on a work conference on the Big Island of Hawaii in October. The kids have been begging to see real hot lava and this was a great opportunity. However, based on the construction news, last evening we made the difficult decision to cancel the family vacation to save money.

After many tears (the kids and me), my husband had another idea: “Your feet are more important. Once you have your ExoSyms we can go on some hiking trips close to home to Mt. Rainier and Mt. St. Helens this summer with the kids. Hawaii and its lava aren’t going anywhere. We’ll go another year.”

Something in my subconscious must have grabbed onto that suggestion because last night I dreamt I received my ExoSyms. Well, if I’m being honest, it was a total anxiety dream from HELL.

The foot parts of the devices were the size of snowshoes and the straps (made of flimsy plastic in this nightmarish version) wouldn’t wrap around my tiny calves. The staff was nonchalant when I asked why they didn’t fit, saying my feet and calves were just too small and it wasn’t going to work for me.

My conscious mind must have known what was going on because I remembered I’d seen ExoSyms for a little boy, but when I tried to tell the staff this in my dream, they looked at me like I was high. I couldn’t walk in the devices and fell a lot. My feet and neck were killing me. I sat down on the floor and cried at the realization I’d not be doing things with my family after all. I was doomed to living in this constant pain for the rest of my life. I’d gotten my hopes up for nothing.

I woke up crying, with a neck kink for good measure. I was so relieved to realize it was a dream, but the reason behind it remains real enough. I’m afraid to put too much hope behind the devices. What if I can’t do all I want to do with them?

The good news is, the results of these devices is guaranteed to be 100 times better than that dream. But how much better will it be than what I live with today? The tendonitis in my left ankle still hurt when I tried on the test devices. That haunts me.

Sometimes all this waiting between test device and actual devices can be good – time to save money, do preparation exercise and plan the things I’ll do. And at the same time it can be bad – giving my over active imagination WAY too much time to design worst case scenarios. The fear of getting my hopes up too far is real, and completely natural. I’m doing my best to keep the faith and trust in the process. It will be better. Just how much better, we shall see.

In the meantime, I’m putting together my simple list of things I hope (please, please, pretty please) I’ll be able to do once I’ve received, learned to use and strengthened my body properly for the ExoSyms.

My ExoSym Bucket List

  • Confidently take thousands and thousands of steps every day without fear of sudden debilitating pain at the wrong step.
  • Go for several mile hikes over uneven terrain in the mountains with my family and my exceptionally outdoor brother’s family.
  • Walk around the zoo, downtown, state fairs, malls, Disneyland and any other hard surface area for hours without pain.
  • Walk with my daughter and her Girl Scout Troop in parades, hikes, and events.
  • No longer cringe when asked if we can walk the dogs or go to a playground.
  • Go for walks on rocky and sandy beaches.
  • Play tennis, basketball, baseball, Frisbee, soccer, and any other sport my kids want me to play with them.
  • Clean the house with zero foot pain during or at the end.
  • Go snowshoeing and cross-country skiing in the winter.
  • Learn to run (more to keep up with folks than to take it up as a sport; though it does come in handy during a zombie apocalypse).
  • Jump with the confidence that I won’t double up in pain when I land.
  • Go to bed at night after an active day and have no need for a Tylenol PM to help me sleep through the foot pain.
  • Confidently take a fast hard step to catch myself when I trip and not feel gut wrenching pain as a result.
  • Keep up with my active, energetic kids and be able to participate in whatever they want to do. (Never saying “I’m sorry honey, my feet won’t let me” or “I’m sorry, I hurt too much today” again.)
  • Tell a really creative story about my secret mission that lead to my injury and the ExoSyms, and what happened to “the other guy” if anyone asks what the devices are and why I wear them.

ExoSym Preparation Exercises

As a “local” – able to drive in to my appointments rather than flying in for 7-10 intensive days – I am on a more spread out schedule. I have to wait 17 long days between my casting appointment and the day I get my ExoSyms.

As I wait out those long days, I’m doing what I can to prepare. Ryan sent me a PDF outlining a number of pre-ExoSym exercise I can do to strengthen up for the devices – building up the weak muscles I’ll need, especially my core.

While the PDF didn’t outline the need for them, I purchased a 55cm stability ball and a 9 in pilates ball because I know several exercise using each that can’t hurt. Plus, it’s great motivation – having to work out in preparation for ExoSyms – to try taking a chunk out of the old muffin top, eh?

Now, when I got the PDF and excitedly had a look through the few exercises with visions of studly core muscles dancing in my head, I quickly needed to put a few things in perspective. The 30 repetitions, three times, five times a week of “injury side up T-crunches” is a goal to aim for, not an immediate expectation, for instance. If, let’s say, you’re crying for your mommy after 10 reps one time on day one, this is not a failure.

So I do my recommended exercises, plus a few more hip exercises I know my weak right side needs from past physical therapists. I try to do them every day. Lower ab work a day or two during a certain part of the month sucks raw donkey balls and therefore are avoided. But otherwise, I’m keeping up as best as I can. I won’t admit how many of the “recommended” reps I can actually do for some of these exercises, but the important thing is I’m doing them as much as I can. As long as I am sore the next day, I know I’m doing some good. That blasted pain-gain correlation and all.

It hurts to laugh some days and I need a hot shower in the morning to get going, so I know it’s working.

Exercises I do:

  • Straight and bent knee leg lifts on the right side (for my week hip muscles)
  • Plank exercise (on back, put calves on stability ball, slowly rise up to a plank, hold, slowly lower)
  • With small palates ball under small of back, leg lifts, scissor kicks and knee bends
  • Single leg push ups (both legs for me, from knee because hurts feet too much to do properly)
  • T-cruches (both legs)
  • Leg lifts – straight and bent knee (lay on stomach, lift legs)
  • Single-leg bridge (both legs – way hard for me on my right side)
  • Single-leg reverse hyperextension (both legs and easiest of all the exercises for me)

One week to go!