Monday, February 28, 2011

Saying goodbye

I went to a funeral for a close friend of the family today.  It's funny how these lasting friendships are formed.  My youngest sister was a friend of their daughter in elementary school.  It not only turned into a lifelong friendship, but our parents became lifelong friends as well.  In fact, we all became very close.

When I was in the hospital, their son, close friends with my brother, sent me a book to read about Herman Meier, the great Austrian skier known as the Hermanator.  He was a World Cup and Olympic Champion who broke his leg in a motorcycle accident and made a big comeback.   I was very grateful for the book as it helped me relate to what I was going through and what I had in store in the weeks and months ahead.  We chatted about it briefly at the wake on Sunday.  He knew I would appreciate it as he was a strong bike racer in high school.  He is now a NYC police officer with a wife and 2 young children.

After a brief chat, he moved on to other visitors and I perused the traditional photos of the departed one that are posted at these types of events.  There were photos of their Dad as a young Marine Corps. graduate as well as more recent photos with his grandchildren.   I saw a photo of our families together in front of our fireplace.  I was missing from the photo.  My Mom said it was New Year's eve.  I was probably in college at the time or newly married.

He was a good man.  He was very different from my fact, they were polar opposites in many respects.  They were both great fathers and good men with working class jobs.  They were both born in 1941, but very different in every other category.  Their Dad enjoyed reading, knew computers, and knew a lot of trivia.  He enjoyed gardening/landscaping.  He played trivial pursuit with us and I always found it interesting that he played the bagpipes.   He was a very modest man, kept a relatively low profile, but never turned away from a good conversation.

He could tell  a story as his son recalled at the service this morning.  He would come close to you liked he had a secret to you were going to get the inside scoop on something that we probably weren't supposed to know.  He was Irish-American with a pretty thick New York (Bronx?) accent.  He would say, "Hey, let me tell you something..." with a sly grin on his face, and into the story he would roll...

The thing that struck me most about this man was that despite the fact that he was the same age as my Dad, he treated me as an equal.  I was a teenager at the time our families starting spending a lot of time together.  I was 6 and 8 years older than their children, so I didn't spend much time with the kids.  I was into playing frisbee, driving around with my friends, hanging out with my girlfriend, etc.  On the off chance I was at the house when Mr. G was there, he would invariably start chatting with me about some interesting fact that he recently learned.  He might offer me some unsolicited advice or try to council me if I was at odds with my parents.  He always treated me like an adult rather than a kid, and I really appreciated it.  They say whatever you give, you always get more in return.  Well, he gave me a lot of respect at an age when few adults give you the time of day.  I had long hair and thought I knew everything.  In his subtle way, he made me aware that I didn't know everything, and tried to help me....the whole time treating me as an equal.  I have the greatest respect for him and thank him for his friendship.

I didn't have a chance to say goodbye to him as he went rather quickly this past week.  My little sister spent some time with him last weekend, and she said he asked about me.  He said that he always thought I was very smart and that I had to grow up very fast when I moved to Florida (I was a father at barely age 24 and again at 25).   He was sorry that we had lost touch and then he talked about my accident and running.  

I could see him now...If I were there, he would have looked around the room like he had a secret to tell.  He would make sure no one was within earshot, and then with a sly smile on his face and another glance around the room, he would say in a low voice, "Let me tell you somethin'....You don't need to run to prove anything to anyone.  You're too old for that stuff.  Just run for the fun and enjoyment of it.  Run with your friends.  Don't worry about the leg.  Don't worry about how fast you run....and you don't need to run another 100 miles for Chrissake...leave that to the young bucks!"  He basically told my sister as much on Sunday.  I appreciate the fact that he was asking for me and wish I had been able to see him one last time.  His advice was always good even if I wasn't ready to listen at the time.

So, I will miss you Mr. G.  I will run for fun when the time comes.  I may race again, but will remember to keep it fun and in perspective.  I'd really like to walk without this limp for starters, so if you have any pull with the big guy up there...please tell him a good story about me and see if he can help a little.

Thanks for the memories.  Peace!

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Setbacks and steps forward

It's been awhile since I posted anything, and I apologize for not keeping folks updated.  It's been a crazy, scary month and I wanted to have something positive to share in this space.  To say the last 5 months has been a roller coaster ride is a major understatement.  It's like saying there are a few Geico commercials these days.  Apologies to Mr. Buffett...I do enjoy the commercials, but I'm getting tired of them as much as I'm getting tired of being injured.  There is good news to share nonetheless...

As many of you know, I started riding the bike over the holidays and even did some elliptical work in January.  I gave up the crutches for a couple weeks and progressed to the point of walking unassisted (but with a limp).  I was psyched with my progress, but my Doc du jour (#4) insisted that we needed to remove the screw in my knee to put some load on the fracture site and promote good healing.  As an engineer, the logic made total sense to me, and I was assigned a surgery date of January 25.  Charlotte and I drove to NYC for the 5 minute operation.   I elected to remain conscious for the whole thing.  My anesthesiologist was a female marathon runner, so I did my best sales pitch on her to run the Traprock 50K (while she pumped a nice pain killing cocktail in my body) as the screw was extracted.  What can I say?  Traprock or bust!  The operation was a success, and I hobbled out of the hospital under my own power and drove home thinking all was good with the world.  Charlotte and I chatted away and discussed plans for the future.

When I arrived at home, I knew something was wrong when I got out of the car.  The pain had increased to the point that I could hardly walk.  It felt like the worst Charlie horse you could imagine.  By that evening, I was ready for painkillers, so Goat and I made a run to CVS for some hard stuff.  By the next morning, I could barely touch my foot to the ground without screaming.  It was ugly.  Furthermore, I could see that my foot seemed twisted counterclockwise.   "Is it me or is it really?", I kept wondering.  I could hardly walk with the cane after 2 days, so switched back to crutches.  My knee felt hyperextended and the pain was incredible.  I contacted the Doc and he told me to come back for an X-ray on Monday.  The x-ray showed that the gap had closed and that I lost approx. 5 mm in length due to the compression.  The doc insisted that my legs were equal length now as he believe it was set in an extended position originally (hence the gap).  He also said the rotation was fine.  In fact, the surgery did exactly what he wanted.  The gap was closed and we had good bone to bone contact which would promote good healing.  I drove home as confused as ever.  The pain over the next 2 weeks was incredible and the mental distress of having lost nearly 1/4" in leg length was even worse.  I went back to Doctor #3 for his assessment.  He indicated that I did have a leg length discrepancy with some rotation, but he could not make a firm recommendation until we knew the exact nature of the situation.  He recommended a catscan to assess the length and rotation.  After consulting a radiologist friend about the radiation exposure, I decided to go for the catscan and get some data.  The results indicated 3-3.5mm leg length discrepancy (about 1/8") and 7 degrees rotation.  I consulted Doctors 3,4 and now #5 and they all agreed the situation did not warrant any additional surgery.  I was within 1 sigma variation of perfect alignment which meant I would be fine for an average person.  For the question of whether I could ever run 100 miles again...I was on my own.  OK, I thought, I can live with it if I can live pain free and without a limp...I can be an average guy.  Just stop the pain!

I don't like the leg length discrepancy.  1/8" does not sound like a lot, but it feels like a lot to me.  It is said that most people cannot detect a 1/8" difference and podiatrists typically do not shim for that level of discrepancy.  My concern is whether I bottomed out at 1/8" or if it kept moving.  At this point, I think it has found it's happy home, and is healing rapidly.  The awkwardness and imbalance are improving each day.  I'm sure it will be fine in the long run (no pun intended), but it's hard to come to grips with it right now.  I can spin on a dime with my right leg, and I don't care for it.  The good news is that the 7 degrees seems to be less of an issue each day, and the pain level is steadily improving.  I've managed to start walking without the cane the past couple of days, but I still have a limp.  I believe the limp is do to the muscle imbalance because I seem to be walking without a limp when I use the cane.   Since the Docs don't want me doing PT until the callus can be confirmed via x-ray, I have adopted a few exercises to strengthen my balance in an effort to lose the limp.

I've ridden the stationary bike 3 times in the past week.  The first time was extremely painful and somewhat discouraging.  The second attempt was much better, and today I cranked for 35 minutes at a pace of approx. 18 mph.  I think I may go again tomorrow night to do a little more work.  The balance and limp seem to be getting better, and I think I'm almost back to where I was 1 month ago before the screw was removed.

The mental battle over whether removing the screw was a good decision was a tough one, but I've come to terms with it.  If I can escape this event with only a 1/8" leg length difference, I consider myself a very lucky man.  I fell 100 feet and lived to tell about it.  The director at the YMCA reminded me of it today.  Over the past weeks and months, many of you have reminded me how lucky I was to be alive with only a broken femur.  Unfortunately, the pain level (mentally and physically) over the past 5 months has been so great at times that it was hard for me to appreciate my good fortunes.  It's hard to understand, but it's hard to cope when people need to do most of your domestic chores for you, when your friends are out running without you, and you just sit around playing mental games all day.

Over the past month, I have had an ongoing negotiation with God.  I asked for the pain to go away and to just let me walk normally without a limp.  I asked for the ability to hike without pain and sit at a desk without having to shift every 10 minutes.  I was so distraught that I did not ask to run again.  It was something that I was willing to sacrifice in the negotiation.  Just let me live a normal life and I will be OK.

Of course, as each day improves, the terms of the negotiation change.  As the pain level improves and the walking gets better, I start to think forward to the next steps.  I believe I will run again, but not sure how often or how far.  Will there be pain?  Will it be temporary?  Will I need a shim in my shoe?  Will I be able to run that marathon with my granddaughter in 20 years (she turns 2 tomorrow :-). Will I ever run another ultra?  Is it too much to even think about running another 100 miler?

I guess all of these questions will be answered in due time.  I am learning to practice patience and take each day as it comes.  I told my boss that my goal was to walk without a limp by April 1.  It's funny... I had planned to run another 100 miler this year, and now my goal is to walk without a limp.

Things are looking good though, so perhaps the April 1 date will move up by a few weeks.  I'd love to be able to walk the Traprock 50K course.  If I can start PT before April, I may even be able to run by June.  Wouldn't that be something?

I need to be patient though.  Right now, I'm happy to be able to walk to the mailbox, carry my laundry up the stairs, and do my own grocery shopping.  These are all things that I appreciate so much more now.

I gave my big screen TV to my Dad last night.  I had my cable TV service disconnected a couple months ago, and haven't really missed it.  I mentioned it to my Dad and offered him the TV on Christmas day.  His eyes lit up, and I knew there was no turning back at that point.  I know he will enjoy it in a big way which will give me more satisfaction than watching it could ever provide me.  My Mom always said, "Your health is your wealth".  Never worry about money as long as you have your health because you can always earn more money if you are healthy.  She is a wise woman.  I'm working on the health part now, and hope to be back in the black (in terms of health) before too long.

It would make a great story...running another 100 miler.  It's something to dream about...but for now the focus is on walking.

Looking forward to the first steps along the way.