Tuesday, May 6, 2014

First Steps Back

As I slowly opened my eyes, I could feel the tube being removed from my mouth, and it was done. 

The last thing I remembered before this was a mask being placed over my nose, and about five breaths in and five breaths out.  Then this.

In what felt like a blink of an eye, an aching and slightly torn left meniscus had been repaired, and my left leg had been wrapped in gauze and tight bandaging from my upper thigh to my foot.  And an opportunity to return to my old self was created.  Even an old self was a better prospect than no self.  A simple arthroscopic surgery in less than an hour returned the hope that I will again run like the wind, or at my age, at least like an old fart.  Any kind of wind would be an improvement from the dark side of surgery.

I was stunned when, about 10 minutes later, I was told “get up and walk to your car.”  I was expecting at the very least a wheelchair, which I had incorrectly assumed was standard procedure for any surgery.  I’ve never seen anyone released from a hospital who exited any other way, but this was an outpatient clinic, and I guess they have a different set of rules.  But being ordered to walk out of knee surgery, even before standing up?  That was surprising.

I lifted myself from the bed, and though I walked gingerly to the awaiting car, nothing hurt, and I could immediately put full weight on the left knee.  It felt weak, but it felt great.  Those steps to the car were my first steps in a recovery process I plan to document regularly, for two reasons.  First, I want to praise the wonders of modern medicine as it applies to me.  I see it every day in my career from a third person point of view.  Second, I want to hold myself accountable to what I am promising to myself, and that is to do everything in my power to make all the right choices in my road to recovery.

I am a non-clinician who is constantly in a clinical environment, spending all my traveling time in outpatient clinics, acute hospital settings, and in emergency departments.  I see the miracles that providers and clinicians perform on other patients every day, but this time, I have been the recipient.  
Ironically, Orthopedic Surgeons have always been my favorite group to work with, and that’s not about to change any time soon.

I am a runner, and have been for over 30 years.  At times, it has defined me; at times it has abandoned me; at times, it has thrilled me, and at times it has killed me.  But every step of the way, it has somehow led me to where I am at this moment.  Running has taken me many, many places I would have never have otherwise been, and I am not just speaking geographically.  It has helped define my circle of friends, it has defined several vertebrae of my backbone as a person, and it has defined a spiritually that I would have never found any other way.  It has helped me to build a great rapport with many other likeminded people, and it has found me love.

Yesterday, leg still wrapped, I walked about a half a mile, to the end of my street, and back home.  It was a start.  It left much opportunity for improvement.  It left a positive and hopeful feeling.  The whole way, I just shook my head and thought “One day removed from knee surgery, and I can do this.”  This morning, the bandage came off, and I laughed to see the initials of the performing surgeon still written on my calf.  Everything looked great.  Just a couple of stitches on either side of my knee, where I am assuming pinhole-sized incisions were made.  Just puncture wounds.  Amazing.  I am looking forward to the shower I’ll be taking after I finish writing this.  It won’t erase the marks of the incisions, but it was erase the mark of the artist.

My wife Kelli has been missing me on the roads.  We have always trained together, but in recent months, she has trained alone.  This past weekend, my forever bucket list race, Big Sur, went on without me.  I was there, but did not participate. Kelli had to run it without me, but I strongly feel, she also ran it for me.  She took wonderful pictures the whole way, and made it to the finish line in great shape.  Head’s up Sally Smith, we will be back next year, and will BOTH bring home finisher’s medals.

Kelli has also been a wonderful support for me, partly because she misses me running with her, partially because she is tired of my complaining about not running, but mostly because she wants me to once again be whole, and for me, wholeness requires running.  We woke this morning to a beautiful Atlanta spring sunrise.  Kelli decided to take her long ignored bike for an hour ride.  And I decided to walk some of the route I have been running for the past 11 years, since my current residence became home.  I chose this house in large part because it afforded the opportunity to walk out the front door and do a 24 mile training run.  That’s how important running has always been to be.  Most key decisions of my adult life have at least considered running.

The walk started cautiously, but by a mile, it became cautiously optimistic, as I gained confidence and stared favoring my left knee a little less as I warmed up.  By the time I finished my second mile, I was flooded with feelings and satisfaction similar to a 5K PR.  Two miles gave me 50 minutes to flood my head with positive thoughts, which I hope to share as I begin my journey back to running.  Just the feeling that, at 58 years old, I have the same sense of unlimited opportunity for improvement from where I am today as I did as a rookie runner, just learning my full potential over 30 years ago, is comforting.

So for now, I have no performance goals except to improve and get stronger.  I can’t yet lay down the gauntlet and declare a future distant marathon goal, or when or even if I will run my next 5K.  But I can control the things I can, such as diet, cross-training, commitment to improve, commitment to stay positive, and commitment to do everything I can to angle the odds in my favor that other goals will soon be out there.  So I hold myself accountable to that and that alone for now.  I am already excited about the prospect of my next walk.  It’s a great feeling, and one I have been dearly missing.  As in all things, everything will happen a day at a time.

Thank you for joining me in this journey.