Roughly 20 of us in the outpatient program were treated to an outing to Piedmont Park yesterday, and were provided with opportunities to engage in various outdoor activities, none of which are worth mentioning other than riding a hand cycle. I was first in line to be saddled up onto one of the sleek machines and, before I knew it, was breezing around the park with my physical therapist in tow ("try to keep up" I cockily told him as we set out). What a feeling! The wind in my face, the sweat on my back, and a huge smile on my face. Until, that is, I encountered the first hill, whereupon my pace slowed such that my chaperone dismounted and walked slowly to keep pace with me. To call it a hill would be something of an exaggeration....a slight rise would be more accurate. I thus made the firsthand observation that the muscles of the arms, shoulders and back do not compare favorably to those of the legs in terms of their locomotive capacity. In any case, I was not discouraged, and managed to eventually reach the summit, and enjoyed a lovely downhill coast. With each subsequent lap I got more used to the gearing and figured out how to bring more of the back into my arm strokes, and became a bit more capable (though still quite slow) on the uphills, and more confident on the downhills. After 90 minutes or so I reluctantly dismounted and was returned to my wheelchair, which, by comparison to the bike, felt like an old rusty wheelbarrow.
Given that my injury occurred while riding a bicycle, one might rightly ask whether I had any misgivings about returning to the scene of the crime. But there were none. Why should I be hesitant to seize the opportunity to once again engage in an activity that for over 20 years provided me with hours of enjoyment (not to mention having burned off tens of thousands of calories, or cases of wine and pounds of cheese, pate and bread)? My injury could have occurred in many other ways (see previous post for details). It was random and just very bad luck. But to blame the bike and refuse the opportunity to return to one of my life's pleasures would have been silly, superstitious, and self-defeating. There was no other choice: riding the bike was just another step in the process of my recovery, and in my gradual re-claiming of whatever is still, or newly, possible in my life.
My daily program continues to challenge, but the rewards (besides the aching muscles) are commensurate with the effort. Snappier, and often unsupervised, transfers, stronger muscles, and more independence are but a few of the perks. However, all is not bliss. I continue to struggle with regularity and control of previously discussed bodily functions. One day everything will seem fine, and the next, well, it ain't. It can get discouraging and embarrassing, but almost everyone else is experiencing this as well, which makes it somewhat easier. Other complaints include a near-constant band-like sensation that surrounds my body at the Mason-Dixon line*, the feeling that my buttocks and adjacent nether regions are submerged in a beehive, vibrations akin to a plucked guitar string traveling down both legs, and, well, never mind (did I mention my swollen feet?). This is likely already more than you wanted to hear, but, all you need know is that these symptoms (and more) fall into the category of neuropathic pain, which doesn't respond to opioids but can be helped by drugs like Gabapentin, which I take. My physician says they're normal and may or may not improve, so I'm trying to make my peace with them, although we are still at a bit of a standoff at the moment.
During the upcoming week I'll be learning to drive a car using hand controls, practice dressing myself in big-boy clothes (long pants and shirt with buttons rather than shorts and t-shirt), and hopefully, finally, conquer the depression transfer. These are the tasks I know of, but I suspect my team will have a few additional items on their list (the cruel bastards).
Nancy and I were returning to our room this evening when we came across the path of a teenager who came to Shepherd perhaps a week after we arrived. He had initially struck us both as very fragile and frail, but over the intervening weeks has gradually gotten stronger and healthier, and tonight appeared to be a happy, engaged and enthusiastic teenager who just happened to be in a wheelchair. What a heartwarming transformation we feel lucky to have been a witness to. We continue to marvel at the resilience of the human body and spirit.
Thanks to old and dear friends John and Trish Rust who drove all the way from Bridgewater, Virginia to Atlanta just to take us out to dinner Thursday evening, and then turned around and drove home the next day. John was another superb pathologist I had the pleasure of working with for may years at RMH. He retired a few years ago, and watching John and Trish divide their time between the Bay, Idaho/Montana and Virginia has been a lesson for me in how fulfilling retirement can be. Not that I'm quite ready for it; I've met many people here who can't or don't want to return to their old jobs, and feel lucky to have a job that I will be able to resume, and that I actually still enjoy profoundly. I appreciate all the words of encouragement I've received from fellow physicians, co-workers, and patients, and hope to rejoin our incredible team before the end of the year. But first, a few more weeks of real work!
*My term for the level below which I have no sensation