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Posted 2018-09-30T02:14:43Z

Getting back on the horse.......

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

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Comments (27)

  • Kathy Whitten
    Kathy Whitten

    I have only one word to respond...YES! You have embraced the "yes" of life and of your situation. Without ignoring the "no" side of things, you are proving each day to so many of us that "yes" is simply the better way. Bless you!

    one year ago · Reply
  • Valerie Weaver
    Valerie Weaver

    How wonderful that you could experience riding a bike again. I bet that felt amazing. Greg and I continue to marvel at your resiliency. We enjoy reading your posts so please sign us up for that book. We are cheering you on as you continue to grow stronger and more confident. Big hugs for you and Nancy.

    one year ago · Reply
  • Alison Marthinsen
    Alison Marthinsen

    High five on riding a bike again! Your progress is impressive and was wonderful to see. I'm routing for you both from the sidelines and still praying. Love and hugs.

    one year ago · Reply
  • Jim Vance
    Jim Vance

    Superb post. As someone who rode with you for 20 odd years on two continents and was with you when you crashed, I shivered with joy reading your analysis about you getting on a bike again. But of course not only that for it is just emblematic of your embrace of the possibilities you still have for a full life. Along with full bladder and bowels too, of course. Anyway, you make me proud to be your friend.

    one year ago · Reply
  • Cecelia Grasser
    Cecelia Grasser

    I’m joining the list of fans waiting for your book! Not only are you an inspiration to all of us, but you have a writing style that engages us, brings laughter and leaves us waiting for more. Keep up the positive attitude and the determination to reach your goals. You and Nancy are in my thoughts and prayers.

    one year ago · Reply
  • robert sanders
    robert sanders

    Rob: check this thing out: If it doesn't exactly work in your case, it is an example of things to come in the next few years. -rob

    one year ago · Reply
  • Ellen Lewis
    Ellen Lewis

    Hey Rob, Going out to ride my bike in a bit, and very happy to know that that's one of life's pleasures you'll be able to enjoy. I was reading about a cancer patient and he wrote that he felt being ill turned the sick person "into a celebrity of sorts", and that he was subtly apologizing "for reminding his visitors of their own mortality.” But while you are reminding us all of our very fragile hold on our healthy bodies, (and to watch our speed!) you're giving us hope, not apologies. Some of us are still interested in the gruesome details too. I've heard medical marijuana can be helpful. I know someone with diabetic nerve damage who thinks it's helping. Just a thought! Lots of love to you and Nancy, e

    one year ago · Reply
  • Elaine Dunaway
    Elaine Dunaway

    Bravo Rob! Truly enjoy reading about your journey. The resiliency of the human spirit is amazing. When you write we see that and it is inspiring. Thank you!

    one year ago · Reply
  • Deborah Ritchie
    Deborah Ritchie

    Rob, thank you for this honest, down to earth update. Your writing about the realistic struggles/challenges you are having gives me an insight that I never had before about people with spinal cord injuries and yes, may cause me to smile a little more readily at someone in a wheelchair...not out of pity but pure admiration. I'm so excited that you seized the moment and 'got back on that bike'...and you will have many more awesome rides!

    one year ago · Reply
  • Forrest young
    Forrest young

    After reading each of your eloquent posts here, I keep coming back to the same thought: Kyler needs to compile these into a book. I truly believe it would help those who are going, or have been, through the same or similar ordeal. I imagine someone without the character traits you possess, but none-the-less capable with the right encouragement of pulling through the other side of their challenge successfully, with the help of the frank and transparent portrayal of your experience, as well as humor. I'll volunteer my time to create the cover art for the book, and the music for the audio-version! You continue to be an inspiration to me and my wife, Holly! Love you!

    one year ago · Reply
  • Greg Miller
    Greg Miller

    That’s another entertaining and enlightening post, Rob. The upcoming driving lessons sound especially exciting. It’s great to hear you’re on the road to getting back on the road - via bike AND car. -Greg

    one year ago · Reply
  • Melissa Orlov
    Melissa Orlov

    Glad you finally got to the hand bike since I know how much you were looking forward to it! Melissa

    one year ago · Reply
  • Jean Howard
    Jean Howard

    Rob, your comments are witty and poignant at the same need to consider turning your posts into a book someday, maybe when you retire from medicine! As someone who has spent many hours on the back of our tandem bike, it was great to read your account of getting back on the horse for the first time. And a special hi to Nancy!

    one year ago · Reply
  • Deborah clark
    Deborah clark

    GOOD to hear another encouraging update, Dr Kyler, I know what you mean about biking and I was very happy to hear you felt that wind in your face again, you continue to be an inspiration to me , I hope every day you continue to hold onto the positive !

    one year ago · Reply
  • Laurel Weddle
    Laurel Weddle

    Prayers continue as you improve each day. Laurel Weddle

    one year ago · Reply
  • Julie Thurnau
    Julie Thurnau

    How awesome that you got to ride a bike! Sounds like you savored every second. So glad that you have the ability to recognize and savor those tiny bits of pleasure, that in whole, enrich life so much! You are blessed. Enjoy the wind on your face 😀

    one year ago · Reply
  • Lynell Firebaugh
    Lynell Firebaugh

    Rob, You continue to amaze with your diligence, attitude and hard work. I feel certain that everyone at home in Staunton and NY and your work will be happier to see your smile face than you will to see ours. My love to you, Nancy, Jordan and Alex! I'm headed to Italy on the 9th so in that vein... Mantenere gli spiriti Addio

    one year ago · Reply
  • Cristi Kyler
    Cristi Kyler

    It’s so wonderful to hear about your bike ride! Sending lots of neuropathic pain-healing vibes your way and lots of love to all of you! ❤️

    one year ago · Reply
  • Vicki A Stinnette
    Vicki A Stinnette

    Loved reading your post!! You continue to amaze but not surprise me as I understand your drive and spirit. You are overcoming what would be insurmountable for so many. Lots of positive thoughts and care coming your way daily....

    one year ago · Reply
  • Anita Sowers
    Anita Sowers

    Awesome!!! And ditto what everyone else has said!! (No need to be repetitive.)

    one year ago · Reply
  • Jean Toman
    Jean Toman

    I continue to marvel at your wit and determination! You really need to put all of these posts into a novel! Continuing to hold down the fort and ensuring the cafeteria continues to serve pasta bar in your absence :)

    one year ago · Reply
  • Richard G Bosland
    Richard G Bosland

    Love to hear that your getting "back on the horse". Your spirit and attitude are AMAZING.

    one year ago · Reply
  • Karen Goodell
    Karen Goodell

    This is such wonderful news! We have been waiting for this to happen for you. I love how you describe how it feels to be back on a bike. We are sending lots of love your way. Karen and Tim

    one year ago · Reply
  • Rita Lehman
    Rita Lehman

    So happy to read about your biking venture! I can imagine the huge smile on your face as you motored around the path. Keep up the hard work, it's paying off.

    one year ago · Reply
  • Linda Morrison
    Linda Morrison

    You are one impressive man Rob! I did a lot of whining when I had neuropathic pain after back surgery, but after a good while (months) the gabapentin did really start to help and now I'm lucky to just have minor "tingling" and that "grabbing" feeling down my sciatic nerve. Thanks for keeping us apprised of your progess! Linda Morrison

    one year ago · Reply
  • Craig Marthinsen
    Craig Marthinsen

    Hey Rob It's inspiring that you got back on the horse and had such a nice time. I know I have mentioned this before, maybe not in this forum, but you should consider writing, in earnest. I know you want to get back to your day job, but maybe write just as a hobby, initially. Don't forget our "dips" competition, which you agreed to reluctantly. You can use the shoulder and arm strength and you WILL thank me for suggesting the challenge...or at least I hope so. One, two....puff, puff..three, four..

    one year ago · Reply
  • Virginia Lloyd-Davies
    Virginia Lloyd-Davies

    So, are you driving yet? Biking is cool, but driving will get you further! Following every post with excitement!

    one year ago · Reply