Sunday, February 23, 2014

The Bionic Life: Year One

As I write this, I can't believe that it has already been a year. One year ago, my life changed forever. In a split second, I went from getting ready to ski my first black diamond run to not being sure if I'd be able to ski again. I went from sitting on a ski lift to being sprawled out on the icy snow in pain. One year ago, I became bionic. 

If you find a path with no obstacles, it probably doesn't lead anywhere. :: F.A. Clark

This past week has been interesting. Over the past year, I'd become use to the extremely vivid flashbacks of the fall. Well, I mean as use to it as one can get, because let's be real, you can't ever get use to something that frightening. It happened a year ago and I still have nightmares about it. Those flashbacks I was anticipating. What I wasn't anticipating were the flashbacks to significant memories from the days leading up to the fall. I remember the significant snowfall that Wednesday morning and how happy it made me (my new Subaru finally got to some snow to play in). I remember Mike sending me a comic about skiing black diamonds while he was in Seattle. I remember opening up to Kim on Friday afternoon and her giving me a "homework assignment" (which is almost a year overdue now). I remember Dave and I doing our traditional Friday night In-N-Out dinner and drive to Oakhurst (for skiing on Saturday at Badger Pass). Why I remember these specific memories, I don't know. Maybe because they are my last significant memories of what the "old normal" life was like for me?! Maybe it's just my mind wishing things were back to the way they were before being bionic?! I really don't know, but they've made this past week emotionally draining. I'm just happy that I'm able to have memories, good or bad, these days. 

Extremely Lucky 

One reminder I've never needed over the past year is just how lucky I am to be alive AND walking. I remember laying in the snow and making sure I could feel and move my legs and arms. I remember how frustrating it was the day after the first surgery to only be able to do two baby steps with a walker, BUT I remember how amazing it was that I could take any steps. It really hit home when I went back and looked at my pre-surgery CT scan recently. I'll just include one frame from the scan... it says all that needs to be said. 

See that fragment in the spinal column? I should not be walking.

I was lucky to have a great surgeon. I was lucky to have a great PT team. I was lucky to be such an active person before the accident. Most of all, I was lucky to have such amazing support from so many people. Dave was by my side through all of this. I can't even find the words to describe the level of support and love he has provided through all of this. The same applies for Mike and Kim. They went above and beyond the call of duty once they found out what happened and they treated me like family. Sandy would always come and visit me after work, bringing me baked goodies and keeping me company on days when I needed it the most. I'm pretty sure she was secretly trying to get me to gain a little weight back, but I wasn't complaining with all of the noms she made! I can't even put into words how awesome Natacha's support and encouragement has been. Jenn was always checking in on me and great at making me delicious Pad Thai! There are so many others I could name - coworkers, family, friends from all over the social media world, etc. - I am very lucky to have had so much amazing support. Actually, lucky might not be the right word... fortunate seems more appropriate. I am very fortunate and grateful for all of the love and support from so many over the past year. 

Moving Forward... 

I don't know what the future in the "new normal" holds for me, but I do know that I'm not going to stop pushing myself to get back to doing what I love. There are some things that are just going to take time to heal, and there are some things that might not heal any more. I don't remember what my legs and feet use to feel like before I broke my back, but I do know that I miss it. I don't like the "new normal" of itchy/tingly sensations in them all the time, but I'm just happy I can feel something! I don't know if I'm ever going to be the crazy backpacker like I use to be, but I do know that I'm going to try. I mean, who would have ever thought I'd be doing strenuous 10+ mile hikes this past summer?! I was hoping I would be able to, but I didn't think that it would happen as quickly and as successfully as it did. The progress I have made, and continue to make, still blows my mind...

The biggest question mark for me has been skiing. In "The Return to Skiing", I discussed a lot of the challenges I faced my first time back on skis. After two or so months off the twin planks, the past two weekends we decided to do a very tame ski tour around the Mammoth Lakes Basin. It had been suggested that I try cross country skiing a few times before hitting the slopes again as a way to get use to the feel of skis on my feet again. Well, Dave and I decided that we should just skip the skinny skis and go straight for the AT setups. I mean, why not? I can get use to skis on my feet again and be demoing the gear that we eventually want to buy. All in all, it went pretty well. It was fun touring around the basin and just being on skis again. I could definitely tell that I was physically stronger than I was back in December when I first demoed the same Dynafit setup (although I am now being reminded about muscles I forgot I had). The mind games kicked in when we started going downhill, even with how ridiculously tame it was. The same issues arose as in December - nervous about falling, not being able to control the skis too well - but there were small improvements. I might have looked silly being nervous about going down such a tame incline, but I really don't care. I know it will get better as I am on skis more. I mean, I can see a noticeable improvement from last weekend to this. Will I be carving up the groomers again anytime soon?! I don't know, but I'm just happy to be back on skis and taking baby steps in the right direction!

I'm stoked to be on skis again... even if it's tame skiing.

... and Moving On

How do I even begin to really move on from what happened? If I could, I'd love to snap my fingers and have life be back to the way it was, but I can't. For the most part, it's been getting a little easier to deal with the "new normal", but there are times when it's hard. My body is getting stronger every day, but it's a mental and physical struggle to deal with the things that I can't do anymore or that don't come as easily. I wish my brain would adapt to the aches and pains faster, and that the nerves would hurry up and heal, but it takes time. After a CT scan of my back last month, I found out that my hardware and spine were solid. SOLID. This comes after taking a tumble or two skiing the previous month. This comes after all the hiking I did this past summer. I still have to be extremely careful about what I do and making sure to avoid twisting as much as possible, but the voicemail from my neurosurgeon saying that it was SOLID was a huge relief for me. That news helped me "move on" a little so I can start to focus more on doing what I love to do rather than constantly wondering how my back is doing. 

The mental side of moving on is proving to be difficult. A huge part of me still wants my old life back, even though I'm well aware of the fact that I can never have that back. There are many times when I start tearing up because of how much I miss the way things were. No amount of tears or wishing is going to bring back the old me. There is no instant fix for this. I'm always going to have rough patches, but that's part of life - bionic or not. I just have to keep reminding myself of how far I've come in such a short amount of time, and how fortunate I am to be alive and walking.

The support and love from friends has definitely been a huge help in the moving on process. The outpouring of support on rough days has been amazing and uplifting. It's not always an instant fix, but it has helped in ways I cannot describe. I honestly don't think I'd be progressing this fantastically without all of the love and support from so many people. I've seen relationships grow from all of this - Dave and I are closer than ever and other friendships have strengthened. I've also seen how the dynamics of some relationships can be in a constant state of flux after I started hiking and skiing again. That one I have really struggled with over the past several months and in a way has added another layer of complexity to the healing process. That being said, if moving on were easy, I'd have already done it. It's all about baby steps...

A friend recently suggested that I should get myself something tangible at the one year mark as a reminder to myself of how much progress I've made in the past year. I wasn't really sure what would meet that need until yesterday when Dave and I went skiing at Mammoth. Why not get myself that sweet Dynafit AT ski setup that I was going to get 50 weeks ago on that vacation we had planned on taking... until I broke my back?! To me, it was the perfect thing to remind myself just how far I've come since that fateful day one year ago!

I finally got them... 50 weeks later!

One year ago my life changed forever. It wasn't by choice, but it was what I was dealt on February 23, 2013. Do I wish it never happened? Of course, but it did happen. It's time to stop looking backwards. It's time to start looking ahead and making the most of the journey. How do I plan on marking the one year anniversary? I had a date with skis...