Up from the Pavement
Triumph over Grief and Trauma through Medicine, Miracles, Love, Laughter, and Faith

It has been over 20 months since my accident.  I am working full time.  I have completed several 5k walks.  I have done a short hike in the Superstition Wilderness.  I can get down on my knees and scrub floors and toilets and get back up.  I haven’t taken narcotic painkillers in almost a year.  However, I still go to Physical Therapy three times a week!

Seriously?  Three times a week?  One year and eight months later?  My Physical Therapist and I recently designed a transition plan to move me towards the end of my physical therapy experience.  Incredibly, it continues into 2012!  For real?

When I was in the ICU, I guessed it would take me 18 months to recover and planned my Recovery Party for Thanksgiving, 2009, to honor my medical caregivers.  The party has come and gone, yet I am not yet fully recovered.  And, I guess the truth of it is, I don’t know when I will ever be fully recovered, or if I will ever be fully recovered.  But what I do know is that I continue to make progress each week and each month.

I stopped writing my blog when I got out of the nursing home because I thought I was pretty much “done” with the major part of this ordeal, and I guess that’s still true.  I just never imagined how long after that I would continue to make gains.

Up until about a month ago, I still had a fair amount of hip pain.  I’d wake up in the morning, feeling like an 80-year-old woman, trying to get out of bed and limp the first few steps towards the bathroom until my hip woke up and decided it would go along for the ride.  It would take a few minutes each morning to get it to work in any sort of smooth fashion.  Then I could use it most of the rest of the day, provided I rested periodically, and perhaps, did some stretches.

A couple of weeks ago, the hip was well enough for my Physical Therapist to stop focusing entirely on it and she moved her attention to my sticky, but not painful, right ankle and foot.  After about 6 or 8 sessions of her mobilizing the ankle and foot bones, including running an incredibly painful hard piece of plastic between my bones and tendons and muscles, the ankle and foot have more mobility than they’ve had for the past almost 2 years and that gave me more efficient mechanics in the hip, which then stopped hurting on such a regular basis.  Now the hip pain only sets in about every 5 days or so, instead of every morning.

I have been walking on the treadmill to warm up before PT sessions.  I do anywhere between 15 and 30 minutes.  I start out at a relatively slow pace, like 2.5 miles per hour and by about 12 minutes, I’m up to a pace that would allow me to complete a half-marathon in the allowed time, provided I could keep that pace up for 13.1 miles, which I can’t today.  Today, I can hold that pace about one mile, or two.

The other thing that is new to me is that I can occasionally work my way up to a slow jogging pace of 4-4.5 miles per hour.  I can typically only do that if I have my MP3 player with me, loaded with the Marathon Playlist I made for myself to do the 2008 P.F. Chang’s Full Marathon in under 5 hours.  I am so, so, so, so, so, so grateful to have that marathon experience in my past.  Because the body has done it once, it remembers and the fool thing thinks it can do it again.  I trained for so many miles to that musical playlist that I have a Pavlovian conditioning to each and every song.  When the songs come on, I feel like I must run, and then I do.  For a while.  ‘Till my pelvis reminds me it’s made out of an Erector Set and my right leg muscles remind me that they are not nearly long enough to reach the bottom of my leg and they are tired from trying.

I can’t begin to tell you how many silent tears I have shed, running on the treadmill, at my Physical Therapy gym.  They are generally tears of happiness and sorrow, intermingled.  Happiness that I am there, I am doing it, I am alive, I am running, and sorrow that I’m not able to do what I once did, and sorrow for how fucking hard I’ve had to work to get to that place, and sorrow for everything I’ve lost as a result of this accident and happiness at everything I’ve gained and pride for what I’ve accomplished, and embarassment for running and crying at Physical Therapy and happiness that I’m not too vain to run and cry at Physical Therapy and that that attitude is part of what has helped me recover to this point and… well, about that time, my body chimes in with some sort of random pain and I have to slow down, which gives me time to dry my tears, wipe my runny nose, and carefully peer around to verify that no one is snickering, at which point, I usually notice that no one is even aware of the incredible journey I just made, all the while, never really going anywhere.

So, back at it today.  I’m taking my music and am ready for a run.  If it happens, it happens.  If not, that’s fine, too.  I’ll do my exercises, take the beating with the plastic implements of torture, thank my therapist for the privilege, and do as many of my exercises as I can before I get pissed that I have to be there and storm out in a huff, only to repeat that again on Monday.

All kidding aside, though, as clear as it is to me that my surgeons saved my life, it is as crystal clear to me that physical therapy has been the absolute key to all the physical activity I am currently able to do.  If it is ever recommended that you go to Physical Therapy for an injury, I strongly, strongly, strongly suggest you not only go, but that you go until they tell you it’s time to stop going.  And by “They,” I mean your Physical Therapist, not your insurance company.  When my pelvis surgeon lead me to believe my insurance wouldn’t authorize any more physical therapy past the first year, Jon and I decided I’d continue to go and pay out of pocket.  Luckily, the surgeon was wrong and insurance is still paying, but I am so sold on the healing powers of Physical Therapy, I was ready to pay a thousand bucks a month for as long as we could, because I think it’s worth it.

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Today we’re going to the P.F. Chang’s Rock and Roll Arizona Marathon and 1/2 Marathon EXPO.  Yeah, not the race, just the expo.  We’re doing that because I’m pissed.  I’m pissed that I still am not in any condition to run, or even walk, the Half Marathon.  I really thought there was a chance I’d be entered in this year’s race.

The first year that the Rock and Roll Marathon and Half was in Arizona, 2004, I ran the Half.  The next year, 2005, I got ambitious and signed up for the Marathon, but I overtrained and was ready for it about 2 months early.  I then slacked off and really wasn’t ready when it actually came around.  I finished it.  Badly, but I finished it.  Next year, 2006, got smart and did the Half again.  I was in decent shape and let a girlfriend talk me into doing the Breast Cancer 3-Day walk later that year.  Although she dropped out of training for medical reasons, I found others to train with and completed 60 miles in 3 days in November, 2006.

I knew that the 3-Day would take place about 10 weeks before the 2007 P.F. Chang’s race, so early on, I told myself I wouldn’t be doing the P.F. Chang’s.  However, as soon as the 3-Day ended, I started calculating whether or not I could get enough rest and recovery time and still train for at least a mediocre Half Marathon.  I decided with all that walking behind me, if nothing else, I could walk the entire Half Marathon if I had to and I’d still complete it within the time limits, so I decided to do it.

I gave myself 2 weeks’ rest, then 8 weeks’ training for the 2007 P.F. Chang’s Rock and Roll Half Marathon.  As the day got closer and closer, I realized that I probably could finish much better than I had originally anticipated.  I was about as physically strong as I had ever been in my life and felt very healthy and vital.

Two days before the race, we went to the Expo.  I had Jon prepared that I was gonna spend about $300.  In the previous 3 years, we’d go to the Expo, I’d see a bunch of stuff I was sure I’d need, and he’d never let me buy it because it was very expensive and I couldn’t really convince him that this marathonning thing was going to be a permanent hobby of mine.  Plus, I really didn’t know how or why to use all the stuff I wanted to buy, I just wanted to buy it.  However, that year, I was prepared.  I knew exactly what I wanted and what I needed and I went to the Expo with both a shopping list and a $300 okay from my husband.

What joy!  I got real, grown-up athlete kinda clothes!  I traded my free cotton tee-shirt for a $60 technically-advanced running shirt and I knew exactly why I needed it and why the cotton shirts had to go.  I got throw-away paper clothes to wear at the start line and I finally saw the wisdom of buying $14 worth of paper clothes you absolutely intended to wear once and throw away.  I even got a “nice” shirt I could wear to work.  When I got home that night, I was so jazzed.  I was ready to run my Half Marathon in style.  I was really excited.

The next day, I had to work, and at 7am, I got the phone call that my 57-year-old father had died, after successful gastric bypass surgery no one knew he was having.

Now what?

Well, my father was dead.  I guess the thing to do is to immediately fly to Wisconsin and begin taking care of his affairs and arranging a funeral for him, but I had this little matter of a Half Marathon the next day, on a Sunday.  I found out he had named his girlfriend executor of his estate when forced to sign pre-surgical end-of-life documents, so I realized I didn’t actually have to go arrange for his affairs, nor did I even have any legal right to do so.  So, I made a difficult decision.  I decided not to rush onto a plane, but to stay in Arizona overnight, run the Half Marathon the next day, and then see about getting cross-country for a funeral.

My dad died from his obesity.  I was running marathons to combat mine.  He was gonna be just as dead after the marathon as he was before the marathon, so I decided to stay and do the marathon for me.

What a great decision that turned out to be.  If you have to get terrible, shocking, devistating news, I highly suggest you get it a day before a marathon.  On January 14, 2007, one day after my father had died, I ran the best Half-Marathon I ever ran in my life, and I cried during the whole thing.

When you line up for the race with 30,000 strangers, you are actually quite alone.  Everyone is focused on the task ahead of them and no one is even looking at you or thinking about you or even really aware that you’re there.  When the tears started coming, I was self-conscious at first, until I really looked around and took in the fact that I was essentially invisible, as was everyone else, so I let myself cry.  I jogged a mile or two, just letting the tears leak out, silently.

Then, one of the bands on the course was playing a song that totally reminded me of my dad and I was immediately overwhelmed with sorrow and I started wailing.  Again, self-consciously, I looked furtively about and seriously, no one even noticed.  So, I thought, what the heck?  I’ve got about 2 more hours of this, I may as well wail the whole time and get a good chunk of my grieving underway so I don’t have to do it later, at a professional meeting or some other, less convenient, place.

So, I ran and I cried and I cried and I ran and I finished in really good time.  I was exhausted and elated and defeated and victorious.  I proudly accepted my medal and went on to lunch with my family and friends, as was customary.  They tried to focus on me and my accomplishment, but with a dead dad hanging over the lunch, it didn’t turn out particularly festive, and that was okay.

I found out fairly soon after the race that next year’s race was going to be right on the anniversary of my dad’s passing.  I knew, immediately, that I would run.  Plus, it was going to be the 5th year of the event and I had run all previous years and it looked like they were going to do some fun things to celebrate their 5th year.  I managed to get myself elected to be one of 10 Marathon All-Stars a fun publicity contest they sponsored, but I had to agree to run the Full Marathon to be an All-Star, so on January 13, 2008, one year to-the-day after losing my father, I ran a Full Marathon with “I love you, Dad”” written in several places on my body with a black Sharpie marker.  I wore an image of him on my shirt, and the headband I had bought at the expo, the day before I found out he died, ironically said, “Will run for chocolate.”

Six months later, I was hit by a car.  In November of 2008, I got on my feet for the first time in 4 months.  It was clear I would not be running a marathon in January of 2009 and I was pissed.  That was the first one I was going to miss.  I didn’t miss the one after the 3-Day and I didn’t miss the one after my dad died, but I was going to miss this one.  Jon wrote to race organizers and they graciously agreed to send me a finisher’s medal, even though I hadn’t even entered the race!  So, I did miss the race, but at least had the medal.  The idea was that maybe I would at least walk in the Inaugural Rock and Roll Las Vegas Half in December, 2009.  That way, I would still be completing an event in 2009 and technically hadn’t missed a year.
As December approached, it was clear I wasn’t up to the challenge.  Although I had walked a few 5k’s, that’s about all the distance I had been able to put together and it would wipe me out for most of the rest of the day.  So, no race in 2009.  Fine.  At least I got the medal.  Maybe I’ll do the 2010 P.F. Chang’s in January?  Not likely, but I can dream.

Yeah, not even remotely likely.  Although I have begun to jog on a treadmill at Physical Therapy, I can only hold a jogging pace for anywhere between 8 and 30 seconds.  Yeah.  Seconds.  So, that’s it.  I’m going to miss the 2010 marathon, too, and I am pissed.  I hate that this accident happened to me and interrupted positive changes I was making because they are so freaking  hard to make.  I’m alot like my dad.  Left to my own devices, I’d much rather sit on the couch and eat pizza.  I love cookies and ice cream and cake.  I hate vegetables.  I hate exercise.  I hate almost everything about being healthy, but I had learned to love the marathons and they got taken away from me.

I have a few friends running or walking this year and I’m so insanely jealous I can hardly stand it.  I love them and I wish them well and I am also very happy they are doing it and I want to support and encourage them, but it does tear me up inside.

I want, very badly, to turn this negative attitude around, and that is why I’m going to the Expo today.  Fuck it.  If I can’t run the race, I’ll at least go hang out with the people who are, and I’ll act like I belong there.  That’s what I did in the beginning anyhow, and it worked.  It got me into the event and into the culture and I want to be back there.  I don’t know if I can ever fully go back there or not, but for now, I’m gonna dream.

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