Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Lessons In Patience

I Am Not Crazy Mountain Woman... Yet

Two weekends of setting goals and meeting them. I've admitted that I was surprised that I met them. Moro Rock was maybe not so much of a surprise, but the Crystal Lake hike was a huge shocker for me. I hadn't even walked a mile unassisted before it, and I made it three miles with elevation gain AND snow! Given this, what was the appropriate thing to do for the weekend? Set another goal! I wasn't sure if I wanted to set one for a longer distance or more elevation gain. I was tempted to do the Robinson Lake hike because of the increase in elevation gain and the distance was the same as the previous weekend, but I decided to try the trail to Shadow Lake near Mammoth. I'm a sucker for very scenic alpine lakes and couldn't resist trying it. This was a seven mile roundtrip hike, so I was a little hesitant about it. At the same time, I more than tripled my distance the previous weekend, why wouldn't I be able to double that distance this weekend. [This is probably where I set myself up for disaster - by setting too lofty of a goal, but I'll get to that later.]

I was excited about trying this hike, but a little queasy about it too. I knew with Shadow Lake being over three miles away, I'd have to be extra careful. I also knew that I had set my goal and I really wanted to meet it - and be able to soak in all the beauty of the Ritter Range from the lake. I knew things were a little off when I had some rib pain as we started the hike. This wasn't the typical side rib pain/sensitivity from where they split the ribs for the first surgery, this was front rib pain from those same ribs. I'm not going to lie, I was a little worried about it because it was not pleasant, but I pushed on. I was hoping that it would just go away after a bit of time, like the side pain usually does. After half an hour or so, it wasn't noticeable anymore. I was starting to have some problems with footing on the downhill rocky section in the first mile of the trail though. It's really not good to have footing and balance issues when you are going downhill. I at least had rocks on one side to steady myself with, and also Dave's hand when needed. It didn't get much better after that though. The trail then became kinda sandy/pebbly and that wore my legs down quickly I noticed. I was starting to get tired just over a mile into the hike and was just feeling off. I wanted to try and push on. I made it another quarter or a mile or so, but realized deep down that if I went any farther, I might do more harm than good - especially since the return trip was all uphill. 

I was in tears. I wasn't going to be able to make my goal for the weekend and I was upset about turning around in general. To make things even worse, after turning around, my shoe caught on a rock and I lost my balance. It freaked me out. I don't like the feeling of my heart jumping into my throat and almost falling. At that point I was hating myself and hating the Sierra. I wasn't happy with myself and Dave could tell it too. The hike back to the car was tough. I was mentally and physically exhausted. One positive thing we realized on the hike out though, is that elevation gain is not my problem. That is one thing that hasn't changed since before the accident, my legs love elevation gain! Bring on the Golden Staircase, bitches! [Someone drop me off there via helicopter and I will kick its ass. See? I have so not lost my feisty spirit.]

After getting some lunch and letting my body rest for a bit, I decided I wanted to try another little like. I didn't want to leave feeling totally defeated and there was still time to get more nature therapy in. We decided to drive to Horseshoe Lake and do the mile or so long lap around it. I really couldn't complain about the views, as I'm a sucker for lakes in the Sierra. I prefer ones over 10k feet and in the backcountry, but I take what I can get these days. I started to feel my legs getting tired about 3/4 the way around the lake, but I kept going. It was a little frustrating to me because I thought I wouldn't have a problem on the trail. Well, you know you are mentally exhausted when you burst into tears looking down and seeing a bloody toe. It was the last thing I needed to deal with right then. I was already upset with not meeting my goal on the Shadow Lake trail, and now I had to deal with a bloody toe. It just was not my day apparently. Dave was great through all of it though. He could tell that it just wasn't my day, and was there for me the whole time. 

Even in a defeating day, Dave can find a way to make me smile.

Lessons In Patience

The few days it has been since the hike(s), it's been really hard not to look it as being a failure. I didn't meet my goal, so I failed. The previous two weekends I had met my goals, one quite shockingly, so obviously I had failed. I felt defeated. [If you ask Dave or Kim, I'm really good at beating myself up over things, so this was nothing new.] I really should not have been disappointed in myself, this was only my second hike after recovering from a broken back after all. Plus, between the two hikes, I had covered the same distance as I had the previous weekend, if not a little more. It still crushed my soul though. I hated the Sierra in that moment. I started to think that I was never going to be back to my adventurous backcountry self again. Well, I also forgot about a little thing called patience...

I seem to forget at times that I am still recovering from a broken back. Yes, it happened to me and I remember every painful detail of it, but apparently the goal-setting part of me forgets that at times. I seem to still want to set lofty goals that aren't appropriate for where I am in the recovery process. Somehow I thought that if I was able to do 3 miles the previous weekend, that I could then double that the next. Clearly my body wasn't ready for that, and it let me know all about it. I was trying to rush myself back into the Sierra. As a very wise person told me today, "Sometimes pushing too hard will cause a disappointment. Simply regroup and start again!" It's true. Sometimes it's hard to remember, but it's something I need to remind myself of.

I've learned a lot about patience since the accident happened, but there is still clearly more for me to learn. There are a number of factors that I didn't even take into account that might have played a role in things (aside from the ones mentioned). I went back to work for a few hours two days before the hike, and I clearly didn't realize how exhausting it would be for me. Dave and I spent Saturday running errands in Bakersfield, so I didn't really have much time to really recover before the hike. Dave even mentioned to me after the fact that I just looked really tired. It's true. I am still learning about how my body handles things right now. Just because things go well one day, they might not the next. It's frustrating at times, but that's life for me right now. There's no book on how to recover, both physically and emotionally, from what happened. I'm pretty sure I'm writing it right now... with a lot of help from friends.

On the topic of patience, I am very thankful for others patience with me. I owe a huge thanks to everybody that has been helping me out since the accident and continues to do so. Dave, Mike & Kim, Sandy, Jenn,... the list goes on and on. In particular, I cannot thank Dave and Kim (and Mike!) enough for everything. I know that it has not been easy for them, but they have been so, so patient with me and it means the world to me. I am definitely taking a lesson or two from them in patience... even if it involves an ass kicking or lots of tears shed on shoulders. 

As hard as things get at times, I am still amazed every day by the progress I have made in the past four months. I've said it before, but I really am. The neurosurgeon reminded me last week that before surgery they weren't even sure I'd walk again. Mike had mentioned at one point that people have died from falling a shorter distance off a ski lift. Instead, I was walking again. It has been a rough road, and I'm sure it's only going to get bumpier, but I'm making progress. I might need a swift kick in the ass (it's Kim's new hobby) or a shoulder to cry on from time to time, but I'm learning that I just need to be patient and keep on fighting...

Monday, June 10, 2013

Not The Average Bionic Patient

Where am I going?

After taking a two week break from blogging following my last post, I feel like I am ready to start writing again. I was unsure of how I wanted to proceed with the blog entries and things had gotten a little stressful in dealing with some of the aftermath of the accident. The posts I had done to date made sense with how they're broken up - the accident, both surgeries, acute therapy, and two significant 'game changers'. Now that I am home and PT is an ongoing thing, the way to break up entries wasn't going to be as clearcut. What I've decided to do is make this post about significant milestones that are getting me back to my crazy, adventurous self. I don't feel the need to share details of PT like I did with the previous events following the accident. All the butt busting work in PT with Chris has helped me make ridiculously amazing progress in recovering from the accident. The progress is highlighted in this post.

The Return to Yosemite 

My first dose of nature therapy.
Seven weeks after breaking my back, I had my first dose of nature therapy. I needed it. Dave needed it. What better place to make my first steps back in nature than Yosemite?! What made it even better was that I was walker-free! Less than seven weeks after learning how to walk again, I was in Yosemite and using a cane! I have to admit, it was difficult for me being there and not running up and down trails, but it was nice to soak it all up in ways that I hadn't before. It was amazing to be back in nature, where I belong, again. It didn't take long for the exhaustion of the day to set in, but this was the first step to being whole again...

The Great Western Divide... and Double-Edged Sword

Moro Rock with Dr P. Don't tell Kim about the stairs.
A few weeks after our adventures in Yosemite, our outdoor adventure buddy, Natacha (aka Dr Peach), came to visit. The only natural thing to do was go to Sequoia! One thing that I wanted to do was see the Great Western Divide again. I knew being there was out of the question for this year, but at least I'd be able to see it by making it partially up Moro Rock. Even after getting lectured by a certain someone (ahem, Kim*) about stairs, I decided to go for it. I was greeted by an amazing view of the Great Western Divide about halfway up. I decided this was a great place to stop and soak it all in. I'm sure I could have made it farther, but I didn't want to overdo it. I wanted to share this moment and small victory with Natacha and Dave. I was speechless. I was so happy to see the Great Western Divide again, but at the same time I was bitter about not being able to go there this year. It killed me knowing Precipice Lake was 17+ miles away and I couldn't make it there. Such is the double-edged sword that is nature therapy. That aside, I was just amazed that I made it that far up Moro Rock! The adventure also included a trip to see General Sherman (no, we did not park in the handicapped lot... I never got a temporary permit on purpose) and It's-It's! What trip to a CA national park is complete without an It's-It?! I was tired after, but I could see the progress made since visiting Yosemite a few weeks prior.

The Return to Moro Rock

On top of Moro Rock 14 weeks after the accident.
After a few weeks off from nature, we returned to SEKI. This time, there was no cane! I had set a goal for this trip - making it to the top of Moro Rock. I knew Moro Rock would be a challenge, but I was ready for it. It wasn't easy, and it was a little nerve-wracking at times, but I made it! I made it up all 400 steps with no cane - and I passed a person or two too! I miss sprinting up it like I did last year, but maybe I'll make that a goal for the fall! 

A Mammoth Adventure

Naturally there would be snow...
After how well things went in SEKI last weekend, we decided to start looking at mini hikes that I might be able to do. Mammoth had a few options that I liked, like Crystal Lake. I realized looking at the topo map on the way there, that I had completely disregarded the 500-600ish feet of elevation gain on that trail. Not only was I looking at a 3 mile round trip hike, but I was dealing with decent elevation gain too (for me at the time... I prefer it to be 1000+ft/mile). Well, we decided to go for it and if I was getting tired or sore, we could just turn around. At the very worse, I'd have done a little bit of walking on an actual trail and be making some progress. The first 1/2 mile wasn't too bad, I was feeling pretty good. Then we started to see snow. Naturally, the first trail I'd attempt would have to have snow on it. Since I'm always one for a challenge, I kept on going, but with hiking poles and some help from Dave for the snowy parts (I can't kick step or stomp the snow yet). Little did I know, I'd make it all the way to Crystal Lake. The view of Crystal Crag was amazing and we just soaked it all in while resting for a bit. As we headed back down the trail, I was still in shock that I was hiking. 15 weeks after breaking my back, I was hiking again. I shed a few tears of joy as we got back to the trailhead. I had just hiked three miles with elevation gain and snow. The most I had walked before that was maybe 1/2 a mile. I was tired, but I felt amazing at the same time. I'm honestly still smiling about it as I'm writing this post. 

Not The Average Bionic Patient

I have to admit, I still have a hard time believing the progress I've made in 15 weeks. The doctors told me I'd be walking device-free close to six months after surgery. I was walking device-free three months after the accident. Three months. It's hard for me to wrap my head around that sometimes. I could have been dead. I could have been paralyzed. I could be using a walker still. Instead, I was walking with my own two feet again. Not even four months after surgery, I did my first hike. It was a baby one by my standards, but I was on a trail again! It's been a lot of hard work in PT and at home, but it's paying off. It hasn't been easy, just ask Dave or Kim about the number of times I've cried on their shoulders, but I'm making progress. The road ahead is still long and winding, but I'm taking things one step at a time. With the way things are going, my "goal" hike to Lamarck Col might be happening a lot earlier than expected. Who knows, maybe backpacking is still a possibility for this year. It's all about taking things one step at a time...

*disclaimer: I know Kim got on my case about the stairs, among other things, because she cares and has my best interests at heart. She knows me a little too well and doesn't want me to go backwards in the recovery process. I just have to give her a little crap about it because she would be concerned if I didn't! ;)