Wednesday, July 10, 2019

Continuing Recovery

I came away from my skiing accident broken. The knee that was injured (ACL and MCL) is part of the same leg that has been most significantly affected by the Spinal Cord Injury. It really didn’t work at all for at least a couple days. And when I started to be able to use it again, regaining muscular control was complicated by the fact that the ligaments weren’t doing what they were supposed to.

In addition to that leg hardly working at all, I’d lost most of my cardiovascular fitness while I was laying in the ICU for ten days – so much so that when I started PT, five minutes of balancing on my knees wore me out enough that I needed a breather. And while I made huge gains during PT, I spent most of the next five weeks in a wheelchair.

So when the inpatient portion of post-accident rehab was done, I had virtually no stamina. When I was discharged and able to be home again, every couple hours I’d have to stop what I was doing so I could lay down for a while. And when I wasn’t resting, I really wasn’t doing very much of anything except being more upright than horizontal.

It felt like a blow to my identity to need rest after a couple hours of simply existing in the world. I’ve never been the fittest guy around, but for years I’ve been able to spend a whole day going nonstop without really taking a break. Further, there are numerous times when I’ve strung together seven days like that in a row.

The physical recovery I longed for was that the mostly-broken leg would work again, and that I could regain most of the stamina that I’d lost.

Finally, over the past week or so, I’ve felt a beautiful confluence of healing. Our trip to California forced me to not stop for almost the whole day for a few days in a row ... which served to increase my stamina. And just this past week, one of the muscles that hasn’t worked for months finally started engaging again ... which allows my whole body to work more like it’s supposed to.

Add to that the fact that I’ve recently been able to start going on longer bike rides – bike rides on an actual bike, instead of that silly spin bike in the gym. It’s a good thing, because I’m registered for a 50k bike ride in a couple months.

The bike ride is a fundraiser for Craig Hospital. Craig is a specialty hospital which treats spinal cord injury and brain injury patients. I was inpatient there for five weeks, and continue to do Physical Therapy there as an outpatient. The staff there does phenomenal work. I’d encourage you to support Craig by making a contribution through my Pedal 4 Possible fundraising page

I’m not quite ready to take on the course I’ve registered for. Lucky for me I have time to build enough stamina between now and then.

Thursday, June 20, 2019

On A Bike Again

I got on a bike again.

It was awkward, and slow, and tough to start & stop, and scary. I can only manage about 60% of the speed I once was able to maintain, and have stamina for maybe 20% of the distance.

But I can ride a bike again.

A year ago, I started figuring out how to spend more time riding than I had before. Racing a road bicycle, riding more challenging mountain bike trails, plotting bikepacking trips through remote and beautiful places, learning how to ride and race on a velodrome, and seeing how quickly (and how slowly) I could make my two-wheeled commute.

A day ago, I struggled at the end of an easy six mile ride that we had taken a 20 minute break in the middle of.

But I was on a bike again.

One day, in a flurry of broken bones up and down my back, all the planning and preparation and fitnessing drifted away like a dandelion puff ball on the current of a kid’s breath, and the bikes gathered dust for a while. Since then, I’ve figured out that I can lash a crutch to my bike so I’m able to walk when I get where I’m going. And it’s joyous to be able to move in a way that I’ve loved since before the age of 10, when I was skidding coaster brakes on gravel roads.

I’m getting back on bikes again.

Monday, June 10, 2019

Ski Accident Recovery: Out of the Torso and Neck Braces

Good news today. The neurosurgeon (who didn’t do surgery on me) told me today that the fractures in my spine are healed enough to not need the braces any more.


I’ve been counting down the days for a couple weeks and counting down the hours for four days, waiting for the moment when I’d be free of those constraints. And I’ve been dreaming and worrying that I’d be sitting in the exam room and the doctor would tell me that I wasn’t healed enough to get rid of them.

Fortunately for me, we got good news today.

And then I experienced myself getting really slow and tentative, because this is all so new.

See, I’ve been in that turtle shell for so long that I’ve become somewhat dependent on it. All the muscles underneath the brace, which I haven't really used for months, have weakened to the point that I expect I’ll be exhausted by simply sitting up in a chair. And even though it was a pain to put on, take off, and exist in, I feel really vulnerable without the protection it provided, like I'm in danger of breaking.

But it’s time, and I’m thankful for being able to take the next step in this recovery that I’ve been working on for a few months. Right now, though, after being free of the braces for less than three hours, I think I’m gonna go take a nap.

Sunday, June 9, 2019

Ski Accident Recovery: Reflections on getting off the toilet

I used to tell people that I did my best to stay fit because I want to be able to get off of the toilet when I’m 90 years old. Thing is, today, at age 48, I have trouble standing up from the toilet without assistance.

Yep. I spent years riding bikes and running and swimming and hiking and climbing and playing volleyball & basketball – and I spent most of my 40s lifting and gymnasticsing and HIITing so I could be in good shape. Today, however, I walk slowly and with a limp. And I haven’t been this weak since … maybe, ever.

It feels unfair, that after the work I did to gain fitness, it’s gone in a moment. One day I had the physical capacity to do almost anything I wanted to do. The next day I didn’t get out of the ICU bed. And when I did get up days later, I couldn’t stand up even with help from four people.

I don’t expect this to be my permanent reality. I’m stronger today than I was at the end of March. I’m stronger today than I was in early May when I was released from the hospital. I’m probably stronger today than I was last week. In the ‘clouds and silver lining’ category, that makes me happy.

So, I suppose my current project is similar to my project before the accident – get stronger, get fitter, so that I have an easier time getting off the toilet at 90 than I do at 48.

Monday, June 3, 2019

One Month Ago, One Week From Now

So, I'm ready. One month ago today (Monday), I was released from being an inpatient at Craig Hospital. And one week from today, hopefully my reality will change substantially. I'm ready.

See, here's what I'm dealing with. In mid March I experienced an accident while skiing, which caused damage to my knee and shoulder (sprains), to my spinal column (broken vertebrae), to my spinal cord (damage to nerves inside the vertebrae), and to my brain (concussion). Since then, I've been working through what feels like a really slow process of healing from those injuries.

But Monday is a big day. We'll be going to see the surgeon (who didn't do surgery on me) - the surgeon who first saw me because of the broken vertebrae - the surgeon who directed me to wear a torso brace whenever I'm not in bed, and a neck brace 100% of the time. Our hope is that the x-rays we get later this week will show that there's enough healing of the fractures that these braces will no longer be necessary.

Of course, the paranoia and worry that almost overwhelm me every night say that there'll be some problem that will require immediate surgery (on Monday afternoon), which will lead to seven more months of bracing. My rational mind does its best to squash those ideas, but they keep popping up especially when I'm laying in bed not quite drifting off to sleep.

Hopefully, soon I'll finally be allowed to go without those braces. Which will feel ridiculously great, and probably exhausting at the same time, since I'll hafta start using those torso muscles that've been on break for months. But I'll take exhausted, since it'll mean that I can move around more freely.

Here's hoping for good news on Monday - because I'm ready to start moving a little more than I've been able to.

Monday, May 27, 2019

It's Gonna Be a While - Reflections on Wishing Recovery was More Complete Already

I’m tired of not feeling right. I’m tired of not feeling like I feel like I should. It doesn’t get to me every day, but the list of ways I obviously don’t feel quite right gets to me once in a while.

The most frustrating part is that my muscles don’t work the way they’re supposed to – don’t work the way they used to. Which means that:
* I get up really slowly from chairs
* It’s a long and involved processes for me to get out of bed
* My gait is really slow, awkward, I walk with a significant limp
and I either have to use crutches or I weave all over the place

Add that to the neck and torso braces (which together prevent me from bending above the waist) that I’ll be wearing for at least a couple more weeks, and I’m feeling pretty physically incompetent.

Beyond that, my brain (which was never the sharpest or quickest), isn’t quite keeping up the way it should. Plus, unrelated to the injury from a couple months ago, I’m having my glasses prescription updated ... which means that I get to get used to wearing glasses.

I'm not feeling right, not feeling like I want to. I'm not moving around like I'd like to, and I’ve started resigning myself to the truth that I may not ever again be able to some of the things I used to love doing.

Yes, I'm still working at recovery - doing the stretching and strength training and muscular electro-stimulation that I'm supposed to - but running and jumping, cycling and skiing, climbing and backpacking, all are impossible right now, and it seems like a stretch that I'll ever get back to those things.

There are times that I believe fully and completely that after recovery I'll be back to being able to do 100% of what I used to do.

There are times when I dream that everything goes to hell and that everything I've gained back over the past couple months was a fluke - that I'll lose all the progress from the past couple months and will end up needing to use a breath-powered wheelchair to get around.

And there are times when what feels more true than the rest is that I've permanently lost some of the physical capabilities I once had.

I feel like everything's going to hell very rarely; I feel like everything'll be completely back to what was normal a little more often; most of the time, though, I just wish that I felt right again.

I'm tired of not feeling right, and I long for the day when what today doesn't feel right will all of a sudden be normal. I think it's gonna be a while.

Saturday, May 11, 2019

I Don't Feel At Home In My Own Body

I don’t feel at home in my own body.

If you’ve been following along, you know that I experienced an accident while skiing. You know that I spent almost seven weeks in the hospital recovering from my injuries and rehabilitating my body.

I’m getting around better now that I was six weeks ago ... better, even, than I was when I was discharged. But I’m still nowhere close to moving the way I did before the injury. Perhaps I’ll never make it back to that standard. Perhaps I’ll never get close to the standard, and my foot will always drag along the ground. I hope it doesn’t – I hope I get close to moving the way I did before. But even though I’ve figured out how to navigate current reality (slowly, carefully, and with a great deal of thought and attention paid to every single step), I long to be able to move the way I did before.

I don’t feel at home in my own body.

In addition to the loss and alteration of movement, part of this injury is that I’ve experienced a loss and alteration of sensation. Walking outside on a cool and snowy May day in Colorado, I notice that while one leg is cold, the other feels warm. Walking barefoot on the bathroom floor, one foot feels like the floor is heated while the other notices that the tile is cool to the touch. Stretching my hamstrings (which I know have been tight since like 1974), one feels the stretch while the other gets to a point where it just doesn’t move any more. It’s disorienting, and a little confusing.

I don’t feel at home in my own body.

It feels a little like I’m staying for the holidays at a relative’s house. The surroundings are sort of familiar, but not really home. And it feels like as soon as whatever’s happening is finished, I’ll be back in my own home.

Except I won’t. This is my residence from now on. This is how I exist from now on. Disorientated in my own body. It’s obviously not my first choice. But if I’m optimistic, I’ve got a few decades to get used to it. But the truth is still obvious almost every time I move around.

I don’t feel at home in my own body.