We're finally back in our home in Staunton, but aren't quite settled yet, as the final touches of renovations wind down. It has been so nice to be back home, to see old friends and neighbors, to cuddle up with our canine and feline landlords, and try to step back in to our old lives. But, of course, we'll never get our old lives back for obvious reasons. Even so, a new life for us seems to be emerging, no better or worse than our old one, but different. "They" say that the first year after a spinal cord injury is the toughest, and I suppose the truth of that is obvious, but "they" never really get much more specific than that. The hardest thing for me at the moment is the utter dependence on others (i.e. Nancy) for so many of my needs. Yes, I can get into and out of bed, on and off the toilet, into and out of the car, and I can shave, brush my teeth, and even dress, but most of these activities take much longer than they used to. What I can't do (yet) includes helping with laundry, taking out the garbage, bringing firewood in, and grocery shopping, to name just a few. But depending on others for transportation is probably the most difficult to bear, and I now understand why this loss is one that many of my patients grieve the most. Fortunately, driving is likely to be one of the first of these to cross off the list, as I'm scheduled to have hand controls installed this week, and for a driving test as the DMV shortly thereafter. So look out Staunton/Waynesboro/Augusta County, there's a new driver on the road!
While I've continued to get stronger, my recovery was interrupted by a brief stay at Augusta Health over Thanksgiving for a nasty urinary tract infection. I had worked the afternoon, and then wheeled across the street for a medical staff meeting. It was great catching up with many of my colleagues before the meeting, and just so heartening to realize that I'd been missed by at least some of them. A few minutes after taking my place at a table to eat I experienced the sudden onset of severe nausea. I was rolled outside for some fresh air, but felt no better and came back inside, and was eventually laid out on the floor of the back hallway as several concerned peers gathered around me. Much to my chagrin, the consensus emerged that I should be taken to the ER to be checked out. By the time I arrived just a few minutes later I was shaking with chills and have a fever of 103. That bought me a night in the ICU, and though I felt much better by the following morning, I was confined for another couple days until they could determine the appropriate antibiotic to use. Another week of a self-administered antibiotic at home followed. I will say that I had superb care throughout my hospital stay, and that it was comforting to be cared for by so many familiar faces.
The most gratifying experience of all has been my return to work, albeit part time, starting in mid-November. The warmth with which I've been welcomed by co-workers and patients has been utterly heartwarming. It seems to me quite odd for patients to express so much concern for the well being of their physician, but it's so very therapeutic for me. I've also been given a ration more of patience from the staff with whom I work. The actual seeing of patients clicked immediately, but I was definitely on the slow side getting the computer work done. However, within a surprisingly short time even this came back. What has been slower to return is my endurance, but even it has improved to the extent that I'm planning to start back to full time tomorrow. Hopefully I'm not being too ambitious, but I do think I'm ready. One insight I've gained since my accident is how meaningful my work is to me, and it's made me realize with more certainty that I'm not even close to ready to retire.
On another front, I've been forced to put my money where my mouth is by a group of friends (Jim and Betsy Vance, Craig Marthinsen, Mark Larsen, Mandi Smith, Rodney Young, Ann and Matts Brodow, David Ophel, and Kent Diduch), who have committed to paying for a high-end hand cycle. So, in addition to spending the next few months determining which hand-crafted, custom-fitted, carbon fiber, sleek Italian racing cycle to make them pay for, i'll also be training hard to get myself ready physically for this new challenge by hitting the gym religiously. I've been working with a personal trainer at Augusta Health's Lifetime Fitness Center, and it's just so interesting how she's found entirely new ways to punish me. Anyway, it's going well, and I am committed to not turning the generosity of friends into an expensive clothes rack.
Given the season, I'm tempted to pen a closing paragraph tying together my experiences of the past four months with a message of hope and love, but those of you with who know me well (or with an intact BS detector) would immediately spot that as out of character. Instead I will just say thanks for your support, prayers, words and/or thoughts of encouragement during this challenging time. And, of course there's Nancy, who has borne the brunt of this ordeal, and for whom "thank your" is so blatantly inadequate. We celebrated our 30th wedding anniversary yesterday, and she has surely made good, and then some, on the "for better or worse" part of our vows. How can anyone make up for what she's been through since that fateful day in July? I don't think it's possible, so I'll just plagiarize the Brothers Avett with "I'm sorry, I love you."