Caring for lymphedema can feel like a full-time job. But it’s a position that doesn’t pay a salary or come with benefits.
So, to help pay the bills in my household, I work for an elected official in New York. I do anything and everything I can to help my boss communicate with the public and the press in a positive and straightforward manner. It’s a 24/7 job. That’s not a complaint, just a fact.
My philosophy is: keep the mind engaged and you will forget about the uncooperative body.
It’s more satisfying to craft a speech that could shape economic or social policy, than to engage in the Sisyphian task of wrapping a leg that will swell again once it is unwrapped.
Staying late at the office to ensure that I have anticipated every detail for the following day’s press event is a heck of a lot more interesting than spending the evening elevating my legs above my heart, while stomach acid slides up my esophagus.
Work is analgesic. Inject the adrenalin of a media crisis, and I no longer feel the heaviness in my legs or notice the tightness of my compression.
BUT – I am aware that I cannot live with lymphedema by ignoring lymphedema. That is why I have developed a few techniques to help keep my lymphatic fluid, as well as my creative juices, flowing during long hours at work.
The first thing I do when I get into the office is fill up a pitcher with filtered water. I keep the pitcher (Brita, of course) at my desk to refill my glass throughout the day. This way I don’t have to keep getting up to refill my cup, and I know exactly how much (or how little) water I’ve consumed. Being healthy should be as easy as possible.
Keep a box of straws at your desk. Use a new one each day. A straw doesn’t mess up lipstick. Being healthy need not destroy one’s vanity.
A cup with a plastic lid will prevent spilling on your keyboard or paperwork. Being healthy need not entail Bounty paper towels.
Add a squeeze of lemon, if water bores you, or use a fruit infusion pitcher to add whatever flavor you wish.
Elevation. Lymphedema is a battle against gravity. For lower limb lymphedema, every inch we keep our legs up off the floor is a victory. That’s why I keep a footrest under my desk. They are an inexpensive and popular piece of ergonomic office equipment, with lots of styles from which to choose.
Stagnation. Climbing stairs is a great exercise for lower limb lymphedema. (Always perform stair climbs or any exercise while wearing compression stockings or bandages.) It provides a kind of pumping action that stimulates lymphatic flow. Working on the top floor of a nine-floor building gives me easy access to my very own Stairmaster.
After going out for lunch or a meeting, I take the stairs instead of using the elevator. When I get writer’s block, I’ll head for the stairwell and walk up and down a few flights to shake things loose in both my mind and my body.
No access to stairs? No worries. You can simulate the pumping action while standing in your office or cubicle.
1. Take hold of a wall or desk (hopefully while your boss isn’t looking) with your right hand to steady yourself.
2. Allow the right leg to take on the weight of your body and begin raising your left leg off the ground.
3. Affix your gaze to a point on the wall in front of you, spreading the toes of your right foot and directing your energy into the ground through your right foot as well as through the top of your head.
4. Hold your left arm out to the side for a counterbalance.
5. Slowly raise your left leg until your thigh is parallel to the ground and your lower leg is hanging freely at a 90 degree angle to the ground. Hold for a count of five and slowly lower the left leg back down.
6. Repeat ten times. Then turn around and repeat on the opposite side.
Relaxation. If I have been standing for a long time at an event or press conference, my legs beg for relief. I shut the door to my office, roll out a padded exercise mat, and lie down with my legs resting on a slant pillow. About ten minutes usually does the trick.
Temptation. My office, as yours may, has a plethora of goodies in the communal kitchen, tempting me to partake. As the day drags on, I get weaker in resisting their appeal – and their convenience. I keep a stock of low-sodium snacks in my desk – unsalted nuts, granola bars, cereal – to fight the allure of cupcakes, brownies and bagels. Occasionally, I’ll pack an apple or carrots. Oral gratification is necessary, go with it.
Self-congratulation. At the end of the work day, I melt into my inversion chair for at least ten minutes to reverse the damage of the day, while taking in the evening news. I’m healthier and more informed. Yay me.