Friday, September 18, 2020

Eighteen Months: Thoughts on Recovery So Far

It’s been 18 months. Eighteen months ago today I drove up the mountain to spend the morning skiing. They tell me that I ended up riding down from the mountain in a helicopter that headed straight to the hospital emergency room.

It didn’t take too long for the doctors to figure out that I’d broken a few vertebrae. It took a couple weeks for the doctors to start talking with any sort of certainty about the extent of my spinal cord injury. Even then they were reluctant to say much definitively or to make prognoses.

Within a couple weeks, I was told that the extent of my injury officially put me in the category “quadriplegic” … which confused me (and I’ll never use that term to describe myself) because even by then I’d recovered probably 80% of the movement in my one hand, and the other never did seem to be affected.

About the same time I received this information, I was also told what a general timeline for recovery might be. In short what I heard was that the first six months were critical – that I should work as diligently as possible in those first six months in order to realize the greatest gains.

What I heard next was that while gains might not be quite so obvious, that I might expect to continue seeing improvement for as long as 18 months.

I’m thankful that the past eighteen months have proven that prediction right. Early on, the gains were obvious to me and to everyone who watched me move around. Recently, though, the improvements are much more subtle – probably not noticeable by most people, but enough for me to know that I move a little better today than I did a month ago.

One thing I don’t remember anyone saying when they talked about a recovery timeline was that I should expect after eighteen months. Will my recovery and improvements stagnate? Now that it’s been eighteen months, should I not expect any more improvements?  

It’s been eighteen months. I feel lucky that I’ve regained as much mobility as I have. I’m grateful that I can move around mostly normally.

It’s been eighteen months, and I get frustrated that I can’t move around as smoothly as I used to could. Just this morning, I almost yelled and threw things when I stubbed my toe on the (smooth, even, predictable) floor, because that leg doesn’t work right any more.

It’s been eighteen months. I don’t know the future, so there’s no way for me to know today whether I’ll continue making mobility improvements tomorrow; or next month; or next year; or five years from now. But I’ll keep working at it, doing my best to be more capable every day than I was the day before.

$ 0.02

Monday, June 1, 2020

Social Media: What I Want

I like looking at Facebook to see silly photos of my friends and my friends’ kids, to find out about food trucks coming to my neighborhood, and to remember people I don’t see very often.

I like looking at Instagram to see beautiful photos of beautiful places where people I may or may not know go on beautiful adventures.

I like looking at Twitter to hear different perspectives about political topics, and other random subjects. 

I like watching YouTube to find recipes for cooking delicious things on the grill, and to watch music performances. 

That’s what I want from social media. Right now, though, every one of the outlets I pay attention to is riddled with posts related to the murder of George Floyd. A similar thing happened with countless other black people who’ve been killed by our society. Social Media erupted. And rightly so. People have a right to be angry, and to express their anger and frustration through the means by which we communicate these days. 

I want my social media feeds to go back to the way they were. And also I’m glad that they’re being disrupted right now. Because from where I sit (white, male, middle-aged, cis-gender, employed, part of a healthy family, and with access to resources … the very definition of a position of great privilege in this society), I need to be disrupted. We all need to be disrupted right now. Because there’s pain and brokenness and suffering and struggle and turmoil and sorrow in our society today … and if we’re not disturbed about that, all we’ll do is perpetuate the problem. 

I want my social media feed to go back to the way I like it. But I hope that doesn’t happen right away. Because if things go back to the way they were before right away, then nothing will have changed. And we need change in our world, in our society, in our nation. 

I really do still want to see silly photos of children, and beautiful photos of outdoor adventure spaces. And at the same time, I want to see our world become more equitable. It's not gonna be easy, though.

The way I see it, this is what my role should be. 1) Shut up, listen to people who have been marginalized by society for centuries, and believe what they say. 2) Call out other white people when they perpetuate racism and hatred, because 400 years of our national history have taught us that white people don't listen to anyone who's not also white. 

It’s not gonna be easy. And it’ll be worth it. 

Wednesday, April 29, 2020

I wish: a brief lament

I realized a couple weeks ago that I’ve kind of gotten used to most of the lasting effects of my spinal cord injury. If I’m distracted by other things, I just move. But if I think about the ways I move differently now, I notice deficiencies.

Most of the time when I notice deficiencies, I either focus my conscious brain on engaging the muscles that aren’t working right; or I think to myself something like, “I need to exercise that muscle more intentionally.”

The view from as high as we got
The other day, though, I got frustrated. See, what happened is that we were out hiking. We had just started down when we were passed by this guy who had a child in his backpack. He was moving quickly, and with confidence. He didn’t look rushed. He moved really smoothly and fluidly as he flew by us.

I thought to myself (as I focused almost all my attention on foot placement and muscle engagement), “I used to move like that. I wish I could still move like that.”

When I think about how much more extensive my injury could have been, I recognize that I’m ridiculously lucky to be as mobile as I am. And still every so often I lament what I’ve lost.

Wednesday, March 18, 2020

It's Been a Year

It’s been a year.

It was a year ago today that I broke myself.

What was supposed to be a short day of skiing has turned into a year (and counting) of diminished physical capacity.

It turned into a year of trying to understand that I don’t move physically through the world the way I used to - the way I wish I did.

It turned into a year of coming to recognize who the people are who love me - and recognizing that they love me because of who I am, not what I can do.

It was a year ago that I broke myself.

It’s been a year that I’ve spent experiencing healing.

It’s been a good year.

Wednesday, September 18, 2019

Six Months

Six months.

That’s how long it’s been that I’ve been figuring out how to deal with a spinal cord injury. And six months feels like a milestone, for a few different reasons.

Here’s why. Last Sunday I went back to work. There didn’t ever seem to be a question about whether I’d be able to work again - it was mostly that we didn’t know when. The doctors say, and the research seems to point to, the reality is that the first six months after a spinal cord injury are the most important for recovery. So we decided a long time ago that I’d focus almost exclusively on recovery for the first six months. Then, a few weeks ago, it started to feel like I’d recovered enough mentally and physically to be able to pay attention to both physical recovery and starting to work again.

Here’s why. We’ve gotten mostly moved into our new house. No, the boxes aren’t all unpacked. No, the garage and basement storage spaces aren’t quite organized the way they ought to be. No, we don’t have every piece of furniture exactly where it should be. Yes, we just recently got some of the art hung on the walls. Over the month or so since we moved in, this space has started feeling more and more like home.

Here’s why. Last Saturday I participated in an organized bike ride event again. It was a fundraiser for the hospital where I did the first five weeks of post-ICU rehab. During the ride, another group of cyclists passed the group I was with. I snuck out of our group and held on the back of the other group for a few minutes. Without knowing it, that group helped me feel more like myself.

Here’s why. More than all the rest. I’ve been ridiculously lucky to have been surrounded by a community of people who picked me up and carried me when I was most broken.

The community of people, some of whom I don’t have any idea who they are, stepped up by giving money to help us be able to pay bills while I was on disability leave from work.

The community at the gym where I used to work out stepped up by carrying heavy things. And when I was ready, buying me beer and whiskey. And by recognizing the struggle someone who likes to be active might have with reduced mobility.

The community at the church where I’m the pastor stepped up by praying. Continually. Relentlessly. And by sending handmade cards and posters and get-well thoughts that I could use to decorate my hospital room and my heart.

And most significantly for me, my family carried me when I was broken. The children in my life treated me like normal, but a little more gently. My parents showed up at the hospital, and at the other hospital, and in our tiny apartment, and as chauffeur, and in continual messages of support (including my dad always waving at me, but with just one finger).

More than anyone else, my wife isn’t giving up on me. She promised me in the ICU that we were gonna get figure this all out together, no matter what. And we’re figuring it out.

I’ve talked a lot in the past about the importance of community, and about the truth that it’s ok for people who are in need to rely on those who love them. I said that from a purely theoretical and theological perspective. In the past six months I’ve experienced that truth - the truth that it’s better to live this life as part of a community than to be isolated.


Wednesday, July 31, 2019

I Place My Foot Carefully: A Reflection on Moving

“I place my foot carefully
            out of necessity
      so that my progress is
      unhindered by a misstep
            a stumble

using my hands well
      is critical
      they’re instrumental
            in maintaining good balance
      and help facilitate
            forward progress

it takes concentration
      my body knows
      when my mind wanders
      then brings all of me back
            to focus
            on the next step

when it all works together
      I get where I’m going
            and revel in
      success achieved”

was written about climbing Class 3 ridges in Colorado’s high country; also applies to recent excursions along city sidewalks.

Wednesday, July 24, 2019

Lamenting and Rejoicing: Some Thoughts on Goals

“What are your goals for fitness if you join this gym?” the coach/owner asked me when I applied for membership.

“I want to be able to do whatever I want, whenever I want to” was my reply. (It was only later on that I added “I want to be able to get off the toilet when I’m 90” to the list of goals.)

For a while I felt like I’d accomplished that goal (the first one – I’m not 90 yet). I wasn’t the fittest; I wasn’t the fastest; I wasn’t the strongest. But there was a good chunk of time when I felt like there wasn’t much I wouldn’t have been able to get up and go to at a moment’s notice.

That all changed about four months ago. Today there are a bunch of chairs that I can’t stand up from without hoisting myself with my arms. Today I can’t walk without limping; I can’t run; and if I’m on the floor, standing up takes a lot of effort and concentration (and isn’t always a successful endeavour on the first attempt).

My current physical condition feels like a problem. Now, I’ve been known to say that the solution to every problem is to do more squats. Not strong enough? Do more squats. Bad day at work? More squats. Failing classes in school? More squats. Just got dumped by your boyfriend or girlfriend? Squats.

Today, though, I can’t do a single squat.

Don’t get me wrong – there’s a lot that I am able to do that I couldn’t do before. Three months ago I spent most of my time in a wheelchair. I rejoice in the physical capabilities I’ve recovered.

At the same time, though, one of the things that gets me more than most of the rest is that I used to be able to participate in the activities; now I find myself a bystander, watching from here what’s happening over there.

My fitness goals are still the same as before. And so, I lament what I haven’t recovered. Yet.