Sunday, October 19, 2008

Fully Healed - Oct 18

Last Tuesday, October 14, I had my x-ray. The previous x-ray, in April, showed bone growth but a significant gap. At that time, there was a real chance that I might need another major surgery - a bone graft. The x-ray before that, in December, showed no bone growth at all.

So, I prepared myself for an ambiguous, cautious answer from my orthopedic surgeon. Instead, he said this:

There's nothing more we can do for you orthopedically. The small gap that you see in the image is just an x-ray finding, the density shows that it's fully healed. You should have no limitations from the standpoint of the bone. I don't need to see you for a follow up appointment.

I wasn't prepared for such splendid finality. Fortunately, Melissa was. I played hooky from work for a few hours while we went out to brunch to celebrate. And this weekend ... I led some climbs and even took an unplanned lead fall. Whew! (here's a couple of pictures - Mark & Melissa in NH, Mark at the top of a climb, Teacup in a bag).

Hard to describe what this means - the ominous potential for another major surgery has been lifted. I am no longer convalescing; this chapter can close while we embark on the next. I no longer have to fear the tangle of insurance - trying to juggle two health plans just in case coverage is denied on my new employer plan. I am more than my accident.

Financially, we are so fortunate. To those that donated, your help allowed us to dip only partially into our savings this past year. And then, a friend covered even that gap plus all of my alternative care for the coming year! To many health practitioners, thanks for forgiving a portion of my debt. To Massachusetts, a humane safety net made all the difference. To various advocacy groups, thanks for coaching me on standing up to an unethical insurance agency. To Girls' LEAP, it has been tremendous to have work that was flexible and to which I could return at my own pace. And to the rock - thanks for leaving my head and heart intact!

We're even more fortunate in connections to people. When we went out to brunch, our waitress (who happened to be from Boulder, CO), asked what was the biggest lesson we had learned through the ordeal. Without hesitation, we both responded that it was the support of people - old friends, new friends and those that touched our lives. We couldn't have done it without you.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

There is no Tri, only do or do not... (September 11)

To mark the passing of a year of recovery, my friend Ken convinced me to do a triathlon. I was hesitant, since the run concerned me. However, I tried out a little "jogging" (if you can call it that) and found that I could manage a couple of miles. So - I signed up for a sprint triathlon: 1/4 mile swim, 12 mile bike, 3 mile run in Hyannis, MA.

Tropical Storm Hanna approaches...

My friend Steve's parents live down near the Cape, and he has run this particular triathlon for the last 10 years. He invited us down to stay over night for a 7 am race start. Ah, the best laid plans. We didn't get out of Boston until 8:30 pm. Gridlock traffic from construction and an overturned vehicle choked up I93 South, so we detoured on Dorchester Ave for a lovely tour of Boston's innards. We didn't arrive at Steve's parents in Falmouth until 10:30. After socializing with parents, we got to bed close to midnight. We knew that parking was bad for the race, and we had a 25 minute drive. This led to a 5 am wakeup. Even at 5, there was no update on the website.

Approaching the parking lot, we saw the stream of cars leaving. "Race canceled." Whitecaps on the water with waves lapping up on the shore. An overnight shower had soaked the road and left puddles. Makes sense that they canceled. So, we went out to breakfast and talked about how hardcore we were. ("I would swim in that water.") Thus, the first leg of the triathlon (omelets and hash browns) was completed.

Back in Boston, Melissa's parents were visiting. I had never taken the Sam Adams Brewery tour, and we decided to go. It was not all that enlightening (we just wanted to taste the beer). The beer jokes were definitely aimed at the college crowd. We had a small glass of three different brews, and the second leg of the triathlon was over.

We had planned to go out to dinner with Ken to celebrate the triathlon. I didn't feel like going, but Melissa convinced me that it would be fun anyway. I was speechless when I realized the surprise. Friends from out of state, from college and from Outward Bound showed up to celebrate my recovery. I even received a trophy! What a wonderful surprise and support from friends. Ah yes, the third leg of the triathlon, replete with dessert on the house.

All in all a lovely day, but then I had to earn the trophy. The next day, Ken and I did a 50+ mile bike, a mile swim and a 2 mile trail run (dark by this time - we ran with headlamps). Some other friends, Erin and Sarai, having a football party, sent us off and also cheered us at the end with a toilet paper finish line. A little more private, and a fantastic celebration of recovery. The truth is, running probably won't be in the cards in the future. With restricted ankle motion, too much impact is transmitted to my knee. Still, considering what might have been, this was a fine alternative and a fine milestone.

Friday, July 4, 2008

Colorado! - July 4

Colorado is amazing. (This isn't a recent discovery). It was such a blessing to take a two week trip out West during the first half of June.

This trip was about people.

Of course, we managed to get some nice adventures in. We climbed with an Outward Bound friend in Vedauwoo. This is an area of granite outcrops near Laramie, WY that is famous for it's offwidths - heinous, awkwardly-sized cracks that require stuffing appendages in using all manner of configurations. While we didn't avoid the offwidths entirely, we mainly stuck to some classic hand and fist cracks.

We also did several hikes. In one case, I was able to manage a 9 mile round-trip hike into a snowy basin. It was a tremendous affirmation that beautiful high places in the mountains are not lost to me. Remarkably, the mountains seemed to invite us in - at 2 pm, snow that should have been mushy was mostly navigable without postholing.

However, the main event was seeing people. We spent time with Tom and Kathy Hornbein along with their daughter Melissa and her partner Blase. (Remember them? They were on the rescue team). One of the pictures here shows Tom, Blase, myself and Steve Komito (who has resoled my climbing shoes for 15 years, but whom I'd never met). We were treated to an amazing welcome at Tom and Kathy's house along with rapturous views of the Diamond on Long's Peak and the rest of the Rocky Mountain NP vista.

We also saw old friends - the Jarrards in Lander, WY. I met Steve 17 years ago when his oldest daughter was just out of diapers. Since then, he and his family have welcomed me and then Melissa. I often parked my VW bus in their driveway when I was invited over for Mary's homemade pizza. Now, their oldest daughter has finished her first year at Boston University.

It was a glorious welcome at the Rocky Mountain Orientation for Outward Bound in Leadville. So many instructor friends showed such affection and relief to see me alive and walking. The news of my accident had circulated through the Outward Bound community. It is a community that has known loss and that walks with the understanding of risk in mountain pursuits. It is nice to have a happy ending when a peer has a traumatic accident.

My mama drove up from Albuquerque to visit for a few days. It was very sweet for her to meet us out there - and of course, my mom is not afraid to poach a campsite and sleep on the ground. She has been so supportive through this whole ordeal, and it was good to see her for a few days in her bioregion.

A few other friends from Outward Bound and Princeton Blairstown Center (an outdoor ed center where we all worked) have made their way to the Denver-Boulder area. And of course, they all have children, so we asked lots of questions (since we're thinking...). A theme that seemed to come up: How do you get out for adventures while raising kids? It's wonderful to see how different families patch their lives together.

And now we are home. I owe some more posts, but I should note that Melissa and I have moved into a new apartment - the first time in 6 years that we have our own space. This past year, through the recovery, has felt challenging in a cramped apartment sharing our space with housemates.

Also, we received some very good news regarding medical bills. The Colorado hospital wrote off a substantial portion. This means that we're probably not going to end up with medical debt. We're still holding out for Massachusetts, especially since I'll be switching insurances and there might be more expense. However, the short answer is that all of YOUR HELP has made a great difference, and the bills that we do have are largely covered by the outpouring of financial support.

My life feels something like a bonus right now. It could have ended on August 8, 2007. Instead, I have wonderful friends, an amazing relationship with Melissa and much fulfillment. I'm so fortunate.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Spaciousness - May 20

Time is passing quickly, as the curve of my recovery slows down a bit. There is still plenty of recovery available, it's just not as immediate now that I can walk around.

Spaciousness. Melissa and I are moving. It will be the first time that we have our own apartment for the 6 years that we've lived in Boston. (Our new address is 9 Spaulding St, #1 Jamaica Plain, MA 02130). My work is also moving - again to a much more spacious office. The extent to which we were piled on top of each other had passed a threshold of absurdity.

And the spaciousness of the outdoors. It has been good to get out. The hiking picture was from a 3 1/2 hour hike in the Blue Hills - a rocky tract of woods and rocky knobs about 8 miles outside of Boston. Yes, my leg hurt, but it wasn't so excruciating that I had to stop. That picture was about four weeks ago.

The climbing picture is from Rumney, NH. I was able to spend a day climbing with a friend. For those attuned to climbing grades, we climbed about 15 routes from 5.7 through 5.10. It wasn't a matter of not being able to do hard climbs so much as particular moves. There were just some motions that my foot and ankle didn't want to do, but on the whole it was immensely pleasurable to move over stone.

Melissa and I are heading to the Gunks this weekend - to climb with old friends. Then, it's off to Colorado for 2 weeks. This is a momentous journey. We'll stay with friends to whom we were introduced by a particular rock...friends who helped on the rescue. We also plan to do the climb on which my accident occurred. Actually, the accident didn't happen on the climb, but on the way down. We'll take a different descent route...

My leg continues to gain strength. I have been thinking this week about how miraculous the human body is. Sure, I have some limited range of motion, but this appendage that was dangling by a few sinews is now firmly attached and working! I deeply appreciate my biology and the healers who set up the conditions that would allow my tissues to mend. Showing the gruesome first night pictures to some co-workers, I'm renewed in my appreciation for being alive.

Get in touch with us! Let us know how you are! What spaciousness is opening up with the approaching summer?


Saturday, April 26, 2008

Continuing saga - April 25

Some explanations are long overdue.

I am hard at work - I'll be transitioning to full-time Director of Development at Girls' LEAP. Grant season has kept me quite busy (not to mention my side project consulting for Melissa's brother-in-law's business). So, I have not managed to blog much.

Melissa is networking up a storm - trying to find her way into a good Social Work job after she finishes her degree this year. A congenial work environment, good clinical experience and a reasonable salary - not too much to ask.

Teacup (the brown dog) is exploring medical conditions - two UTI's and an abscess behind her eye (makes her look really grotesque). Fortunately, we have very good (though pricey) local veterinary care. Teacup came to us for free, but we've been paying for her ever since. On the other hand, Glory (the yellow dog) cost us $20 as a pup and has been largely issue-free. (She does eat poop, though)

Now for the x-ray.

The pictures here are from October. I was trying to get the recent ones, but the doc didn't send them in a file I could open. So, I'll try to explain, and you'll have to imagine. In October, you can see all the hardware. The big screws came out in my surgery in Dec. However, you can also see the clean-looking fracture. It looked about the same in December (clean = no bone growing). That was the big concern in December.

What we understood was that if the bone wasn't growing, I was going to need additional surgery. However, what we didn't understand was that the bone could be growing (which it is), but NOT fusing. (Here is where your imagination comes in) Imagine the bone at the fracture growing outward like a big old Ponderosa Pine. On my x-ray on Apr 9, the bone showed A LOT of growth. Most of the growth was outward, and the fracture only showed fusing on one side (lateral). It is not clear whether it will fuse without surgery, and my next x-ray is not until OCTOBER! Interestingly, my fibula (which has a much better blood supply) is completely healed.

So, here's what could happen:
1) the bone could fuse together on its own (I like this option)
2) the bone could fail to fuse, and I could get a bone graft (shave a piece of bone off my hip, grind it into a paste, insert it into the gap in my tibia, compress the fracture with a plate to concentrate the bone growth...) - not my favorite option
3) the rod could weaken (even crack) from use. I would probably notice increased pain. At this point, I would either need surgery right away, or the bone might be taking enough weight (and would be stimulated to grow more since the stability provided by the rod would be diminished) that I would not need surgery (I kind of like how dramatic this sounds)
4) I could heal through some other mind-body method like acupuncture, Tantric meditations or Dianetics.

Well, I AM trying acupuncture (which sounds better than option 2). My acupuncturist is doing something that seems a lot like the bone stimulator used by physical therapists. She wraps chains (and tin foil) around my injury and uses a sparker to produce some current. I don't know - it feels like it's doing something. I'm also getting regular massage - actually "structural integration." A lot like rolfing (very deep tissue work to break up scar tissue). This feels much more effective than the PT that I was getting, yet insurance doesn't pay for it. Still, it's worth it to me to try to get more range of motion back.

And today ... Melissa and I hiked for 3.5 hours. It's true. My leg hurt the whole time, but it didn't get worse over the course of the hike. I used trekking poles (but so did many of the other hikers out there). So - there's hope. Oh yes, I also bouldered on the retaining wall up the street (being careful not to fall off in an uncontrolled way).

This is a long haul. I get down sometimes. I think I understand why people give up, and I don't judge that. It's just plain hard. However, I also get stubborn. There's not much else to do except to keep on keepin' on. Giving up would only mean that I'd have to climb back out of that hole in order to move on - which seems like far more effort than doggedly staying on track. And so, the saga continues.

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Seven Months ... and Climbing! March 9

Three weeks ago, Melissa and I went up to Vermont to visit some friends from Eckerd Youth Alternatives - where I worked with juvenile offenders a decade ago. The first picture is our 3 mile walk - a beautiful sunny day on the road where our friends live. Naw, I don't miss open spaces and mountains at all...

Then, this weekend was momentous. Yesterday (Mar 8) was the seven month anniversary of my accident. It was also the first time that I've been on a climbing wall since. I was a bit apprehensive and doubtful; for the last half year, climbing has taken a back seat to more basic issues (like walking and pain management).

However, the trip went very well. Although I know this number won't mean much to some, I was able to climb several 5.10's - mostly without hanging on the rope. I even made it up an easy 5.11 with a couple of hangs. My foot and ankle didn't really do all the things that they're supposed to, but I'm happy that I was able to use it well enough to climb reasonably well.

It also reminds me that I'm not the only one with limitations. You don't really have to have a high profile, gruesome accident to have physical limitations (I just tend towards the dramatic). Plenty of climbers have tendon issues, knees that don't bend a certain way or shoulders that give trouble. The same goes for other sports. Somehow, it's a little easier to put things in that context - nobody escapes without limitations for long. And part of the task (or even the joy?) of getting older appears to be figuring out how to do a good job taking care of those limitations.

Okay - enough philosophy. On another note, I also carried Teacup for 10 minutes this weekend. Some of you know our arthritic pointer, Teacup. She walks for about 20 minutes, then we put her in the backpack and carry her for the rest of the walk. She's 50 pounds, so not too heavy but more than a day pack. Teacup has summited quite a few 4,000' peaks in New Hampshire that way. Well, today I carried her for about 10 minutes at the end of a walk. It was just like old times, and she and I both appreciated it.

One month from today - April 9 - I get my x-ray. I've started weekly acupuncture and rolfing, in addition to weight lifting with my legs and other cardio options. It's all I can do, so I hope it is stimulating bone growth. I'll know in a month.

Thanks to everyone for your care, friendship and support.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Six Months! Feb 8

Some people travel the world taking pictures with a stuffed animal or pink flamingo in each frame. For us, it seems to be Teacup - our quirky mascot. She embodies such a wonderful attitude. With a sudden onset of arthritis four years ago, she went from being a marathon dog to a hobbler. Yet, she stays happy and excited and motivated. So, Teacup surfaces in our pictures as a symbol of good spirits in the face of adversity - and besides, we love taking her with us.

Friday was the six month anniversary of my accident. It is also the "halfway" point, based on the medical opinion that it would be a full year recovery. I feel like I'm able to take the long view - able to see that this will turn out fabulously well in the long run. No matter what bumps in the road I encounter in the short term, this can be a long-term source of motivation and staying present. It doesn't go away, so I have to keep paying attention - keep listening to what I need to do to heal.

Taking stock at six months:

- I'm alive
- I have a leg
- Melissa and I care deeply about each other
- We're not bankrupt
- I'm happy

What else?

I hiked 2 1/2 miles last weekend! Up a rocky trail in the Great Blue Hills just south of Boston. I did pretty well and didn't have to use my poles until the very end. My strength is coming back, and I'm supposed to do squats and lunges. I started with 65 lbs squats (yeah, I'm pretty ripped...).

Melissa is taking her last classes for her Masters in Social Work. We're counting down the weeks. It has been a long road, and this fall felt particularly difficult - trying to juggle school, work and caring for me. Lately, Melissa has been working both days on the weekend. And then I end up working both days, too. However, it feels really good to have work that I care about.

I'm trying to dodge all of the colds and flu that are going around Boston. Our housemate came back coughing up her lungs after a few weeks away. My co-workers have been sick, and Melissa has just come down with a cold. I definitely don't need to get sick while I'm trying to heal my bones.

I am walking around without a cane, though I walk slowly and weave occasionally. This weekend, I walked for an hour in the Arboretum without a cane. The last 15 minutes were pretty painful, but I didn't feel wrecked the next day. I'm sure a lot of people didn't notice my injury. I'm realizing that most of the time, other people's hurts and pains (even physical ones) aren't very visible. Lots of people have to overcome some kind of adversity every day.

I'm gravitating towards very energetic music - it seems to help drive me forward and keep up my motivation to heal. Green Day, Flogging Molly, Ozomatli - lively stuff. Lately, I've been wearing my iPod in the subway - it makes me feel like I'm in this self-contained bubble of happy motivation, and I can keep going through the pain and fatigue.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Learning to Fly - Jan 26

I flew to Omaha two weeks ago. Ah, the heartland in winter - just the place for some R&R. Okay, actually, I went to my cousin's wedding. This cousin is the sister of my cousin (Jason) who was with me during the accident. It felt important that I go for so many reasons - to support their marriage (a gay couple having a ceremony in Nebraska), to see Jason for the first time since my accident, to support their family after some hard times this fall and to see my mom and sister. When I returned home, my mom came along to spend a week with us and help out.

Well, I was afraid to take the trip! I have never been nervous about flying - the statistics about airline safety usually calm my fears. However, the weather was rough, and I had just read Deep Survival. The author (himself an aerobatics pilot) recounts his research on airline crashes. As a result he declined to go on a scheduled flight because the plane was a DC-10. That very flight crashed, killing all aboard. Yikes - not a confidence booster. I also questioned my aboard flight reading selection, K2: The Savage Mountain...

Well, I did fly. I actually sat in the airport for half an hour before checking in - debating whether or not to go. The flight out was one of those bumpy, scary flights where the captain talks to you in a calm voice. Then, I spent an extra day in Omaha because of the Boston snowstorm on the day that I was supposed to fly back. (Kind of like spending an extra day in Cancun, but not quite).

I feel quite sure that this is the aftermath of the trauma. I feel nervous about other cars on the highway, knowing that a flimsy seatbelt won't keep me safe from a crash at highway speeds. I shudder to think about climbing the North Chimney to get up to the Diamond on Long's Peak. Interestingly, I don't feel very concerned about Boston's iced up sidewalks. Perhaps it feels more manageable when it's a hazard right in front of me that affords me a little control.

This is the work, learning to fly again. The good part - the clues to my recovery - are in the details. I was able to carry my luggage and to walk through the Detroit terminal. I noticed that I handled stairs much more easily than even a week before. Then, last week, I ran up a flight of stairs. (It was more of a galumph, really). I walked a mile twice in the last 10 days, and I rode the subway at rush hour!

After the trip to Nebraska, it was great to have my mom here for a week. She cooked a few meals and helped out whenever possible. She also downloaded nearly all of our music onto her new Mac! We had some walks and talks. Altogether it was a pretty low-key visit - not an easy feat when we put her up in the living room on a wafer thin futon mattress.

This is my life for now. I'm not sure what I'll be able to do when this is all said and done. However, I have the support of Melissa, my family and wonderful friends. I have fulfilling work at a local non-profit. I'm able to swim, bike and lift weights regularly. I have Pink Floyd playing on iTunes - all the ingredients needed for learning to fly again.

Sunday, January 6, 2008

Holiday Gifts - Jan 6

The picture on this blog entry has nothing to do with the holidays - its just a reminder of happy times and feeling whole and alive.

One thing about being injured - a lot of friends come to visit! It has been great to see many friends over the holidays. Friends came to cook, brought wine and treats, made us truffles and shared stories of what is happening in their lives.

There's something else about the holidays. So many people have been AMAZINGLY generous in helping us with medical expenses. Our financial picture looked pretty dim a few months ago. Since that time, it has been both humbling and uplifting to need so much help - and to receive it. Although we are not in the clear yet, the donations have been adding up. What looked like unimaginable debt (my bills total around $400,000) is descending to a level where we know we'll be okay.

Melissa and I have had many an emotional moment. Personal friends have reached out to help; we've also received support from parents and friends of friends. Several friends, including Mark's sister, have put together fundraising efforts. Mark's mom reached out to her circle, and they have been tremendously supportive. Friends who work in the outdoor field or attend graduate school (and we know how much they make) have helped out. A couple of friends who have the means have offered to make a meaningful gift to help close the gap. Even some strangers who heard the story and empathized have supported us. The list goes on. Finally, we should thank the state of Massachusetts that takes a humane stance towards people facing large, uncovered medical needs.

Our financial picture is not settled. Some insurance questions linger (Mark's insurance may pay a small portion, despite the effective coverage date coming after the accident), and we have yet to negotiate with the Colorado hospital. Even scarier, it is possible that I will need more major surgeries (we'll see how my bone is doing at my next x-ray in April). However, Melissa and I both feel so supported and cared about. It has eased considerable anxiety on our parts.

Several friends requested that we use their support for "extras." This has been so helpful. These days, I am in pain most of the time. Sometimes it diminishes to just slight discomfort, but usually I have a deep ache from my hip to my ankle. Thanks to some really generous friends, I'm able to get regular massage - something that I couldn't afford otherwise. It also allowed us to join our neighborhood gym - something that I need in order to do some specialized physical therapy exercises.

And there is progress - I have been able to walk normally (although slowly) about a quarter of a mile recently. I can walk upstairs (on a good day) without a cane or holding the rail. Downstairs continues to elude me. I'm still missing a lot of range of motion in my ankle and toes, but I continue to stretch and work for it. My thigh is so weak (and skinny!) that my right leg shakes when I stand on it and bend my knee. Still, I can feel the strength coming back. I'm also able to swim - a life saver in the Boston winter.

And there is always the question of how to deal with the hard moments. I wish I could say that I'm always upbeat, always remembering to be grateful for keeping my life and leg, always focusing on the positive. Well, I'm mostly those things. I have some moments when I swear or cry or mope. I don't give in very often, because I'm finding that frustration and desperation actually don't help my leg to heal. Even with the pain and uncertainty about my future abilities, I know that the only thing to do is to keep going.

I also know that I'm not the only one. Something else about being injured - I hear lots of stories about other people's injuries and medical travails. Our species seems to have a wise impulse to share stories; it is a holiday gift not to be underestimated. It gives me perspective, helps quiet my selfish sense of unfairness and helps me empathize with many others before me who have dealt with pain and trauma.

Let's hope that 2008 brings healing - on so many levels.