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You should be able to use your SB-22 with your D5000, however you can only use it in the manual mode since it is not a TTL speed light. That means you will need to manually set both the camera and the flash unit. I have done that successfully with an SB-25 on both my D800 and D90 in a pinch, but you should consider investing in either an SB-700 or SB-910. They are allot more versatile.
Remember that the SU-800 works by sending out an infra red beam as the trigger pulse, when out doors available light can swamp the sensor on the side of the flash with too much light, therefore the flash cannot "see" the pulse from the SU-800.
Also if you refer to the manual, you will find nikon recommends working within approx 30 / 60 degree angle of the sensor, so if you were working behind the camera with the flash it would have had even more trouble.
As you found when you used your hand you strengthened the output beam for the flash to be able to pick up the pulsed output beam. You may need to create some kind of hood, to place in front of the SU-800 to direct the beam in the direction you need it to work.
Hope this helps
1) i-TTL: TTL flash control by 1,005-pixel RGB sensor, built-in flash, SB-800, SB-600, SB-400: i-TTL balanced fill-flash and standard i-TTL flash 2) AA (Auto Aperture-type) flash: Available with SB-800 used with CPU lens 3) Non-TTL Auto: Available with Speedlights such as SB-800, 28, 27, and 22S 4) Range-priority manual flash; available with SB-800
My SB 600 is doing the exact same thing. I used Nikon's online support service and this is the response I got:
"I would try doing the 2 button reset on the flash and then see if that helps. Also disconnect any battery packs you may have connected especially if its a third party battery pack. If none of the above work then please service the speedlight"
Sounds like they don't know what it is, either. I tried the reset to no avail. I'm not sure I want to send it in to have it fixed, since it does seem to be working. But you're right, it's annoying.