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.