Archive for March, 2009
I apologize that I’ve taken a while to post this blog. It’s a good reflection of where I was about a month ago. I’m still training and still trying to regain the form I had in December, but the questions of health persist. I will attempt to catch you up soon.
I saw my doctor nine days after I left the hospital. It was sooner than he’d like, but my mother wanted to hear what he thought, and she would have been on her way back to New Hampshire if we’d waited the usual 15 days. But really, what difference did six days make? To the doctor it meant a lot. As he looked at me, wearing jeans for the first time since I’d left the hospital at which time I looked like Chris Farley complete with my distended gut hanging over belt. In the doctor’s office my gut no longer hung over my belt, greatly relieving my doctor. He’d worried that this visit might be about theory—about how he thought my recovery might go, and much of my time in the hospital consisted of how the doctors thought my recovery might go—but he didn’t need to worry, my recovery had already started. He said that I was well ahead of schedule. He even agreed to let me start spinning on my trainer—a bike stand that turned my three-wheeler into a stationary bike.
Talk about great news. I had assumed that I would need a strong lobby to start spinning in the beginning of March. I was already two weeks ahead and planned to train when I arrived home. Midway through lunch, exhaustion rolled in like a fog. My doctor said I was well ahead of schedule, but my body said I needed a nap. I headed straight for the couch upon returning home. The training session—yes I’d let myself start to dream—turned into a three-hour nap. My doctor’s appointment was on Wednesday. I wouldn’t get onto my trainer until Sunday, and then it felt like I climbed uphill in deep mud. Prior to my hospital vacation, I’d tried to rig the internal hub into the highest gear—increasing the resistance. Now, on the lowest gear I felt like I pedaled the final 15 minutes of an eight-hour day during which I’d bonked. I stared at the pedals, willing them to move, surprised each time they did—literally One Revolution.
I made it 15 minutes that first day. The next day I made it a half hour, actually breaking a sweat. Today, eight days later, I finally started to move—not fly, but the wheel on the trainer makes a whining sound when I get to speed. Prior to my sickness, I had to turn the TV all the way up to hear a show. Those first few days I left the volume on the regular level, but for the first time today I heard the whine. It didn’t progress to a scream, but whine was good. A whine was a start. Sweat materialized on my hairline. I breathed hard, feeling the effects of all those days when the pressure in my stomach extended to my diaphragm. When I yawn, the inhale comes in ratcheted gasps, as if I’m breaking scar tissue or stretching my ribs and lungs to get air in quickly. That threshold between full breathing and small sips of air represents recovery. As I pedal I set my jaw slightly off-center, allowing my incisors to rest on each other propping my mouth open to allow full airflow.
Building back the muscle and stretching my lungs are small steps. Figuring out how to avoid the problem that landed me in the hospital is a much bigger one. My surgeon returned my stomach close to normal. I am relatively healthy. He said that his expertise stops there. Even though no one has given me a concrete answer on what caused the problem, I’m convinced it lies with the urinary tract infections and the antibiotics used to kill them. I must have run an infection 90 percent of the time, only treating the full-blown ones. The UTIs drained my energy and the antibiotics stripped my digestive system. So going to the root, how do I stop the UTIs? I don’t know, but I’m starting to ask questions of the rehab doctors, the urologists, and I’m starting to poke around on the internet. I’m not convinced that there are tried and true answers—I welcome suggestions, especially those that work—just solutions that have worked for certain people.
From the beginning I’ve said that I wanted to be healthy, and as I feel better I need to remember to dig to the root of the problem. I see athletes, most notably Allan Iverson, with tattoos reminding them of their chosen path. I don’t have a tattoo, but I do have a scar that surprisingly looks just like the One Revolution logo. The incision jogged around my belly button (at one point I peeked under the discreet steri-strips, to see if I indeed still had a belly button) creating a mountain like bump, and reducing the size of my belly button, as if this whole thing were just some cosmetic ploy. At the moment, I definitely have a smaller belly button, a reduced belly, arms and chest that make me look 16, and a desire to find the answer. How many times on this journey have I realized that I’m just starting? Here’s one more. I’m sure it won’t be the last.
Side note: In light of the lying, cheating, ridiculous baseball steroids scandal, how great is it that Tiger Woods is returning to competition? On a list of amazing modern athletes, he has to be at the top, not just for his prowess on the golf course, but for his work ethic, his respect for history, his family priorities (he waited for the birth of his son to resume competition), and mostly for his ease in his own skin. I’ve never met Tiger, but I would like to. Welcome back and thank you.1 comment
This blog comes from our trip to Tanzania in November ‘08. It’s out of sequence, but I have many partially finished blogs that to me are important to the overall story. Periodically, I will insert them with current ones. I hope you enjoy them. Thanks.
There must be 250 dogs outside the window of my hotel, which is an oasis, a patch of green with a sparking pool and a fence all the way around, in a sea of dusty brown. The road out front resembles a dried creek bed with rock outcroppings and deep ruts where the last rainy season water carved its path. Cement-structured storefronts border the creek-bed road only wide enough for one and a half Land Cruisers, but that doesn’t slow the drivers, nor do the pedestrians, some in traditional garb replete with spears, stray dogs or locals on their one-speed Chinese bicycles. From the front passenger seat, each confrontation looks like a fatal head-on collision until the last moment.
Sarah Wallis, our Swahili speaking, Aussie/Kiwi, Tanzanian liaison told us, over a glass of wine, about a rash of burglaries in the area. One of the doctors at her hospital held off intruders with a shotgun. They shot up his lower level but never entered. The owner of our hotel offered his own story.
Even with those stories, jetlag has softened the edges for me. As I climb into my bed with the gauzy mosquito netting wrapping from above, I figure I can sleep through anything, but the dogs bark in a chorus that’s like a complicated domino configuration—first there’s one, which elicits a response, then another, and suddenly there’s a crescendo of yelps from every direction. I still feel that I’ll drift into sleep until it sounds like a little one gets sucked backwards into a blender—four tortured yelps. I try to convince myself that my imagination runs wild in the dark. It probably isn’t a moshpit of dogs outside my door.
Sleep comes, I assume, but I’m well aware of a seamless transition from the dogs to the streetcorner preacher. Armed with two high-powered speakers, he begins at 5:30 am. Later in the week he will start as early as 4:30. I can’t understand a word of what I assume is Swahili, but the preacher’s crowd rivals that of the dogs. At 5:30 in the morning, I wonder the need—the popularity—a developing country with a belief that the next life, life in heaven or whatever will be far better. I don’t know if that explains it all or if I can begin to comprehend, but that’s what I think lying there in a cocoon of mosquito netting.
Finally, I succumb to the inevitability of not sleeping. Dave and I head out the front gate, now open in the daylight, for our second training session on a brand new vehicle. The day before we’d climbed much of the first day’s climb on Kili. The first 2000 feet up the mostly pumice stone porters’ road took me 2:42. I didn’t realize how difficult the road was until I turned to descend. On the way up I only broke traction two or three times. Dave has worked hard on this new rig, an important prototype that weighs less than 50 pounds—a far cry from the one I used in June which weighed 83. We moved the rear wheels 13 inches forward so that my hip bones are almost directly over the rear axles, greatly improving traction. Almost all of my effort results in forward motion. This new vehicle rolls so much better. I can feel the difference, but with winter covering my training routes back home in snow, I don’t know if I’ll be able to figure out what that difference will mean in terms of speed and distance covered.
We take a left out of the hotel, then the first left and a right at the big tree. Kids in forest green sweaters and skirts or pants and white shirts—the sign of a public school all-stare. Mt. Meru sits off in the distance. We’ll climb to her shoulder before it’s all done, but first the stares. I say” Jambo, hello,” some say it back, others just look. The road tilts and we climb. I push hard always with the idea that I want to make Dave walk fast. Even at 7 a.m. people are up. A woman sweeps purple petals off her front yard with something that looks more like a branch than a broom. Surrounded by dirt, she makes it tidy.
We open onto the field where the Olympic athletes train. There’s a soccer goal in one end, a basketball court behind it. The grass gathers in clumps. Three sets of men spar on the basketball court—something that looks like mixed martial arts. They stop and stare. One speaks English. He’s most concerned with the training benefits of my rig because he’s one of the skinny guys. He comments on my arms tying a direct correlation to the vehicle. He’s right. This training has made me stronger, though we impress upon him that this is one of a kind, and we move on climbing higher.
Another dried creek-bed road brings us closer to Meru’s shoulder, which is shrowded in a layer of fog like a shawl. We say “Jambo” to those we pass. It’s close to the extent of our Swahili. Most say “Jambo” back. Some are headed to work, the kids headed to school. Music blares in a tiny, transistor radio way from the hair salons. Dave and I figure that that’s the place of excitement. On one uphill section, not a steep one, I make Dave run. After a summer of him walking so slowly uphill, this is encouraging.
Looking back, we’ve collected a group of kids. I feel like Rocky running to the steps of the Philadelphia Art Museum. The kids talk among themselves. I wonder what they say. I wonder what they think. I could be like a UFO in this neighborhood. By way of explanation Dave and I say “wheelchair” in Swahili, or at least we think we do. I can’t even remember the word we used now. The kids seem to nod in understanding. I still want to know what they think.
So many times in the U.S. I’ve said that from the time we’re little we’re taught not to stare at someone who looks different. In Tanzania everyone stares. They stare like I’m on television—like I can’t see them. They don’t stop when I wave and smile. They continue as if it’s all part of the act. I’m told they stare because I’m white, because I use a wheelchair and because no one pushes me. Okay, I can handle those, but what do they see?
Later that day we go to the market. The sun beats down in a way that makes me think of Matthew Brodrick in the movie version of “Brighton Beach Memoirs.” As he said, “It’s Africa hot.” There are no supermarkets in Tanzania. Everyone comes to the market for their produce. Sellers stack garlic, tomatoes, potatoes, rice, etc., in artistic formations on their blanket. Occasionally, I ask Sarah to name a particular fruit or vegetable, but mostly I look at the ground. As we turn the corner having passed through the produce, the clothing and shoes, mostly American knock-offs, and the sewing machines turning bolts of cloth into traditional African wear, Sarah asks me if I saw all the people staring at me. At first I have trouble answering because another hair salon blasts a transistor radio rap song with only one lyric, “Barack Obama.” Apparently, the soon-to-be elected U.S. president’s name is music in Tanzania.
No. I didn’t see them stare because I worried so much about flipping over on the rocky terrain in between booths. From the dogs, to the street corner preacher, to climbing to the shoulder of Meru, I was exhausted. The market was the final straw. I wonder if I would ever eat if I lived in Tanzania. And I wonder how those that we hope to help with wheelchair and handcycle donation do it.