Monthly Archives: January 2009

pictures added for nookachamps, additions made to “what made a difference”

I’ve added some pictures to the post about nookachamps.  Not surprisingly I’ve also added some additional memories to the "what made a difference" post.

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what made the difference?

This past Saturday evening, Scott Adsit and I were recognized at the Eastside Runners holiday party for our inspiring recoveries.

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Scott is a longtime ESR guy, and is a really good runner.  When I would drag my lazy butt out to the Wednesday night track workouts, I’d see Scott running with the fast group – making me feel like I was standing still. 

This past spring, Scott had just finished doing an 800 meter interval, when he collapsed on the track.  He had gone into cardiac arrest.  Scott’s heart stopped, and he was revived by fellow runner Larissa and the EMTs, who arrived minutes later. 

I spent some time talking with Scott at the dinner, and we’re both feeling very fortunate to be around, and to be doing what we love (among other things, running).  It was interesting talking to Scott about recovery.  Both of us were under orders not to overdo things for a while, and had to make the best of it.  And both of us feel a new appreciation for life.  I told Scott that he’d inspired me – he was back at the track within weeks of his episode, and I remembered that when I was in physical therapy, or walking miles when I wasn’t supposed to run yet.

When it was my turn to accept my award, I stammered something out about having many people to thank, that I definitely did not do this alone.  I was genuinely overwhelmed, and could not summon eloquence.  But I really meant what I said. 

I’ve spent a lot of time trying to figure out how much of my good fortune was luck, how much was my determination, and how much can be attributed to the love and support I’ve received in abundance.

Short answer – I have no idea.  There’s no way to control blind luck.  But determination and support are very interrelated.  I think it’s impossible to separate them.

Life can truly be a game of inches.  One of my lesser injuries was a fracture in the outer spur of my C5 vertebrae.  One inch to the left, and I’d be dead, or a paraplegic.  Another stroke of fortune is that the accident occurred close to Harborview Hospital, the premier trauma center in the Pacific Northwest.  Top-notch medical care was nearby.  And I’m definitely lucky that my brain injuries were not significantly worse – the frontal lobes are responsible for much executive function, logic, and emotional control. 

While I had good health and determination working for me, the encouragement I got every step of the way was huge.  Whenever I started to feel discouraged, a family member or friend picked me up and helped me focus forward.

My wife functioned as an incredible medical advocate for me, starting during my stay in the hospital.  She made sure I was well-cared for, and that I knew what was going on.  Even more important was the difficult month she spent acting as my caregiver after I came home.  I was mostly bedridden.  She looked after me, and made sure I took my medicine.  More important were her late night jogs after me when I’d get out of bed without donning the helmet which protected my partially ‘deboned’ head.  She attended to millions of other things too – like making sure I was seeing good doctors.  There was a lot of effort expended there, and no way I could have done that on my own.

My children experienced something I never did when I was their age.  They nearly lost their dad, and were very aware of that.  Their fear of loss has proven interesting to talk about with them.  They also helped out at home, when Kris needed to focus a lot of her time on me.  That’s asking a lot from a six and eleven year old, and they did beautifully.  There were smaller things that they did too, such as weaving me friendship bracelets to let me know that they were thinking of me.  And although they wouldn’t have awareness of this, my desire to become an active, contributing father again was one of my biggest motivators.  I’ve never taken such joy in making them breakfast, driving them to school, or helping them with homework as I do now.

My parents were incredible through all of this.  They moved to be near their grandchildren about four and a half years ago, and having them close by while all of this has been going on was a huge help.  First of all, my mother was the one who picked the kids up from camp, and had to deliver the news about the accident to them.  Additionally, she made many trips to the doctors with us, and also did research to find doctors (including some I continue to see now).  My father was the first person I saw when I woke up.  He spent lots of time at the hospital with me.  I remember when he would come to be with me just after I’d finish physical therapy so tired I’d fall asleep, with him rubbing my feet.  They’ve taken the kids often, and have also ferried me to appointments on short notice too.  The list goes on too … I can’t thank them enough.

My brother spent much of July and quite a bit of August up here.  He spent lots of time with me in the hospital, and also walking with me when I began recuperating in earnest.  And apparently, he’s going to complete a marathon too.  According to a number of witnesses, he committed to doing this when I was in the induced coma, provided I recovered.  All other things aside, were he to do this and enjoy himself, it would be an incredible gift to me.

Kris’ parents came to be with us in early September, and they proved great company and a huge help to us as well.  I rode with her father as he took Rachel in to school for the first few days of the new school year.  I enjoyed spending time with her mom, talking about all kinds of things.  They were there right around the time I began recovering more quickly, and it was very special having them here with us as that happened.

Beyond family, friends did so much for me.  The crowd at the hospital those first few days provided incredible comfort to my family, when it wasn’t clear whether I would wake up.  Once awake, I benefited from caring support for most of the month I spent at Harborview.  I actually had company with me day and night, so when I woke up there was always someone to talk with.

Some of the conversations were humorous too.  John and Nathaniel and I had a conversation about going outside and enjoying the sunshine.  I was unaware that it was actually 3am. 

Mostly, friends provided great comfort. 

Landy and his family provided wonderful support to me as I recovered.  Katie and Jason posted signs around our house, reminding me to stretch or move around before trying to stand.  Landy was great company, and often provided encouragement and positive energy just when I needed it.  He also arrived at the hospital within minutes of my family.

My friend Ben was one of the first to the hospital, and continued dropping by to talk well after I’d returned home.

Two childhood friends were instrumental too.  My friend Pierre came by several times and (as he always does) drew me into great conversations.  My friend Doron visited me in the hospital, and got me pay off on a longstanding bet about the 2001 American League Championship Series.

My friend Brian videotaped our kids performing in a play, while I was still in the ICU.  I’ll add that Brian’s daughter was not performing – so this was entirely kindness on his part.  Watching the DVD later was much better than missing it.

May, Randy and Lynn were with me one night when I wanted more than anything to get up and talk to the doctors about some surgery due to take place the next day. 

Bob and Amy were with me when I wanted to get up and out of bed, despite having safety restraints on my hands and feet to prevent me from doing so.  They also spent time watching our kids while Kris spent some well-earned time out.

Jim was there when I collapsed one morning, trying to walk from the bathroom back to bed.  

Kim came from doing the STP ride to staying with me the night I tried to remove my feeding tube.

Gilman came by, and we enjoyed talking about how work was going.   He also helped set up the signup site for folks to sit with me at all hours, and handled the communication with my team at work.  Gilman was also one of the initial points of contact – directly or indirectly from Harborview.  He was kind enough to notify my good friends Landy and Ben that I’d been in an accident.

Sam, a coworker who had also spent time at the Harborview ICU a few years ago, came by and provided great comfort by simply listening to me, and empathizing. 

Simon came by the hospital with some great tomato soup.  We had the others in the room rolling with our banter back and forth. 

Susan, a running friend came by and visited, sharing some great food, and catching me up on her sister (who was involved in a serious bike accident some years back).

Often,  I’d get a huge boost from being able to talk to visitors about things not related to my medical condition.  I really enjoyed talking to Trish about how her son was doing (and then visiting with him).

I enjoyed visiting with people from work and kibitzing about work stuff.  I mentioned to Kris the other day that I’d often scour my injured brain for topics other than me or how I was doing, and she pointed out that finding these connections may have played a role in my recovery, as it required exercising memory and association.

I’m not even mentioning the folks that made my family food, so they could focus on being at the hospital.  Or the Seamster’s Union at Northlake Unitarian Universalist Church that made me a beautiful quilt that I love.  The folks at the July Eliot Institute camp provided great comfort and diversion to our kids.  Our good friend Jenny and her daughter brought the kids to the camp, and stayed with them.

In fact, the longer I sit here writing, the more of these wonderful things I remember.  The list goes on … I worry that by not mentioning all of the other stories, I’m not properly appreciating everyone’s friendship.

My point is that every bit of this support, all the small things sum to something very big and substantial for the patient.  It feeds our soul, and confidence just having people who care around.  It helps us focus forward, on recovery, rather than trying to understand "why has this happened?".  Every positive, caring voice makes a big difference. 

All of this helped me to trust myself to recover, and to rely on my own determination to overcome barriers.  The story may be inspiring, but I definitely could not have done this alone.


setting expectations and rolling with change

It’s been an interesting two weeks.  Last week I completed my first ‘race’ since the bike accident, and felt good about how I did.  We have a new president, and there’s an abundance of hope about what he may accomplish.  And my company announced a significant round of layoffs two days ago.  Several friends are now unemployed, although I know them to be smart, highly capable individuals.  This latter thing has dominated many work conversations these past few days.  The uncertainty of 1400 current layoffs , and 3600 heads yet to be reduced really stinks.

Early this morning I went out on what was intended to be a 15 miler.  I ran with some of the Eastside Runners, who had charted a course called "Best of Seattle", summing to about 13-14 miles.  The course was pretty nice.  We ran down the Burke-Gilman Trail, crossing over the University Bridge to circle Lake Union’s south side.  Then we circled back over the Fremont Bridge and caught the west side of Green Lake before returning to our starting point (Burgermaster in U Village) via Ravenna Park.  Very nice run, with great company.

I felt fatigue early on, and found the group’s pace to be a big faster than I’d have liked.  I’m sure my friends noticed that I was much quieter than usual, owing to this.  Still, when I reached the end of the 13.5 mile run, I very nearly went back out to do another 1-2 miles, because hey – that was the plan, right?

My good friend Landy recommended that I call it a good run, and stop.  Judging by how difficult the final two miles of the run were, I opted to take his advice, and go in and enjoy breakfast.

The thing I’m wrestling with now is setting reasonable expectation of myself.  I’ve experienced an incredible recovery so far.  The fact that I’m able to run about 35 miles per week, and do half marathon distance is amazing.  I could continue to press on with distance, or perhaps the thing to do is spend time training myself to go a bit faster, and to build some strength (doing weight workouts).  The latter plan sounds sensible, but requires patience, which has not been my forte during recovery.

I’ve plotted a training ramp which definitely gets me into marathon range by early June.  It also puts me within spitting distance by early April.  If everything went perfectly (and I went out and did the additional miles today), then I could potentially run 26.2 in early April.  It’s a stretch, but I’ve done harder things.  Is it wise?  I don’t know.  This is exactly what I’m going to wrestle with in the coming days.

Part of my dilemma is feeling "the sooner, the better" with everything.  I’ve gotten new religion about seizing opportunity and living to the fullest as a result of what’s happened.  This can cut both ways.  I may end up completing a marathon in April, or I may injure myself trying.  And even if I do complete the distance, will I feel good about it?  Lots to think about.

A side note about our new president.  I really like what I’ve heard him say.  I agree with much of it.  Yet I’m completely flummoxed by the tendency of people to lionize the guy.  He’s very smart, has demonstrated good judgment, and speaks with an intelligence and eloquence that I’ve sorely missed these past eight years.  However many Obama supporters seem to forget that Mr. Obama is a politician – one who ascended through the Chicago political machine nonetheless.  I wonder if people are setting themselves up for disappointment by placing him on a figurative pedestal.

He could be a great president, but it’s a bit early to tell.

Again with the expectations, right?


running nookachamps again

 

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photo courtesy of John Dickson

This morning I ran my first event since the bike accident last July.  It was the Nookachamps Half Marathon in Mount Vernon, about an hour north of where we live.

Since starting distance running in the mid-nineties, I’ve had a soft spot for Nookachamps.  It’s a great, small event.  Well-organized, showers for after the run, and they have nice shirts (with the same trumpeter swan logo, just done in different colors each year).  I’ve run this race more often than any other, this year being my eighth trip.  I PR’d here back in 2005, and typically run pretty well.  If you’re interested, check out my race reports from 2005, 2006, and 2008 – which all reflect my affection for this event.

After over a five month layoff, I’ve been running again since December the 20th.  In that time I’ve built mileage to about 30-35 per week.  I’m typically running over a minute slower than before the accident, but figure to get all or most of that back once I’ve built strength and stamina.  So today’s half marathon was all about finishing.

I met several friends from the Eastside Runners at Skagit Valley College where the race begins and ends.  I’d been a bit nervous in the days before, because I’d not run the full distance before (topping out at 12.8 one week before).  Shortly before 10, we gathered at the start and jostled about to find a reasonable place to start in the pack of several hundred 5k, 10k, and half marathon runners.  We all lined up together in the thick fog on this chilly morning.

There was no gun or air horn at the start this year.  Everyone suddenly began running. and I was off on my 13.1 mile training run.  I’d figured that it would be difficult for me to finish in under two hours, based on my recent running performance.  I’d usually been between 9 and 10 minutes per mile.  So at the start, I figured I’d do well to finish in under two hours, but wasn’t really counting on it.

I ran with Trish Ostertag and Doug Chase for much of the first mile, which we did in 9:01.  I already felt some soreness and fatigue in my upper quads, so I wasn’t sure I’d be able to maintain the pace.  Over time I felt better and more confident though – clicking off nine minute miles one after another.

As I hit miles 8 and 9, on the out-and-back portion of the course, I decided I’d not only be able to get in under two hours, but I could most likely beat the nine-minute pace goal I’d developed.  And the really cool thing is that I was getting faster as I went.  Mile 10 saw me getting close to 8:30 miles, and the course began to slope downhill too!

The last three miles were great fun.  I always love speeding up towards the end when I can, so covering the final 1.1 miles at a 7:47 pace was phenomenal.  I took the turn off of Laventure Road, into the college with a final burst, and passed several people on the way in.  I’d really not run this fast in over six months, and it felt incredible to do this at the end of a half marathon.

I crossed the finish and felt overcome with joy.  Several times I found myself choking back tears.  Back in July and August of last year, I’d not been sure I’d ever do this again.  Finishing in 1:54 was a good ten minutes slower than I would have wanted to before last July.  But this morning it was great to finish, and to finish feeling as strong as I did.

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photo courtesy of bob wismer

I unwound over lunch with my Eastside Runner friends.  We kibitzed back and forth about the race, and about events people were planning to do into the summer.  Amy and Bob talked a bit about their Ironman training.  Sue talked about training for Boston.  Many of us were snug in our burgundy 2009 Nookachamps shirts.

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photo courtesy of sue maybee

I couldn’t see any of the trumpeters through the fog this morning, and no horses joined the race this time around.  And it wasn’t a fast race for me, but it was strong. 

It’s great to be back in the running. 

Charts and Graphs for Running Geeks

I typically track my splits and average pace during a race to learn about how well I ran.  Good races have me speeding up late, and my average pace increasing. 

In looking at the numbers today, I’m very pleased to see these things happening, although my final average pace (8:44) is 45 seconds to 1 minute slower than I’d like.  That will come.  Today it felt good to finish, and finish strong!

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visiting the neurologist

Today I went to an appointment with my neurologist.  It was uneventful, but interesting in the larger scheme of things.

We talked about my surgery last month, and how I’m running 30-35 miles per week, and swimming too.  He asked about new pain (some minor tension where the prosthesis went into my left temple) or concerns (none to speak of).  No more medications, and I’m back to work full time too.  Good stuff.  The doctor was very cordial and positive.

The interesting thing is that the first few times I visited him, he was very detached, and fairly dismissive.  In fact, during our first visit, he spent a good bit of the appointment reading through my files while Kris and I sat and waited.  He didn’t ask me much of anything, and only asked Kris a couple of questions.  I left feeling like a hopeless case, since he’d pretty much dismissed my presence.  At the end of the appointment, he remarked "well – we’re out of time, so I can’t really examine you, but you don’t look like you’re up to it anyway".

He was right, I wasn’t up for much at the time.  The sad thing is that the first time he’d really spoken to me was about 45 minutes into the appointment, and it was dismissive.

The second and third visits were pretty similar.  I recall asking for clarification about something, or expressing some confusion about a recommendation he made once, and he rationalized it as him being a smart guy who’d dealt with these things for a long time.  Another time I remember sitting there with Kris while he read through the papers quietly, and then asking Kris whether she wanted to neck.  After all we were just sitting there waiting anyway, so why not have some fun?  The doctor didn’t even bat an eye – he stayed busy reading through the papers.

Things changed after I improved (following the first cranioplasty).  He spent time talking to me, and asking questions about how I was feeling.  In fact, the past few visits have included lots of connected conversation, answered questions, and explanation of his recommendations.

I imagine it’s difficult for a doctor when your patients are not doing well, and have varying levels of cognitive abilities.  And doing that for years must cause some amount of emotional detachment.  I’d have to say though that I’ve not been a difficult patient.  I took good care of myself, followed recommendations, and have a very supportive wife who acted as a good caregiver during that time.

Speaking as someone who’s turned the corner on recovery, it would have been an easier trip if my doctor treated me like a human being all the way through.  Human beings with Traumatic Brain Injuries have many fears and concerns – because much of what we’re experiencing is new and very frightening.

If you happen to be a doctor reading this, please take it to heart.  Showing a consistent and caring bedside manner makes a huge difference to your patients.


a half marathon training run

I’ve been pretty quiet about it, but I’m hoping to run a half marathon on Saturday.  This is the Nookachamps Half Marathon, up in Mount Vernon.  It would be about the eighth time I’ve run it (more than any other).

It’s a wonderful small half marathon that I first did about 13 years ago.  It’s well organized, and the vibe is wonderful.  There are a bunch of good masters-level runners who do it too.  A few years back, when I was 39, I ran the fastest half I’d run in 7 1/2 years.  A year later I PR’d!  Funny thing is that I finished farther back in my new age group (40-44) than I did in the previous age group, even though my time was faster.  I’ve run it several times since then, just not as fast.

The idea to run the half was hatched in my brain about two or three weeks ago, when I was just starting to run again.  I anticipate a very slow run.  Each time I go out, it’s difficult for me to go much faster than about 9 minutes per mile, or a full minute slower than my usual half marathon pace before the accident.

My strategy so far has been to try to cover the miles, and get my body used to running again.  I figure that when I’m finding it easy to run easy, then I’ll worry about speedwork.  Mostly it’s been fun to be out running again.  Recently though, it’s gotten tougher to keep going out and struggling to keep a pace for five miles that I’d have been able to maintain for 26.2 before.

All of that said, clicking off a half would be a great accomplishment.  We’ll see how I feel tomorrow, and then I’ll decide whether or not I’m heading north on Saturday morning.


week’s end

We’ve reached the end of another week, and now’s when I typically look back on the week’s happenings.

This was the first week back to work since the weather, holidays, and vacation.  Things are pretty crazy right now.  We’re in the midst of a product cycle, and it feels a bit strange to join in the middle.  On the other hand, it’s a cool opportunity to jump in and make a difference too.  People are working really hard, and we’ve got some substantial decisions to make about what’s going to fit (because not everything will). 

And again, the more normal things get, the better I feel.  This is true, even if normal is chaotic.

The kids are back into school again, following a longer than planned holiday break.  Rachel has started swimming lessons again, and Kayla’s got basketball.  Someday we’ll be able to operate day to day without feeling like we’re running late or behind.  It’s challenging figuring out how to handle the kid’s commitments, including homework while still leaving time for us to spend together.  Over the break, we’d started carving a little time before bed to play games together.  It’s great family time, although it sometimes doesn’t necessarily calm the kids down before bed.  Between eating, homework, packing lunches for the next day (Rachel generally participates in this activity, Kayla packs her lunches herself) – there’s not much time for unstructured fun.  Bummer.  So this is definitely an adjustment.

Workouts have gone pretty well this week.  I started going to coached swim workouts again.  Ugly.  Slow.  But it does feel good to get back in the water and get the yardage in.  My per-run mileage was a bit down this week.  Last week I tended to get 6 miles per weekday run in.  This week it was a bit under 5.  Still – I went out six times this week, and did my longest run since the race in Bridle Trails a couple of days before the bike crash. 

It added up to about 35 miles, roughly the same as last week.  That’s a goodly sum for someone who’s taken six months off.  I’m not running fast, usually hovering between 9 and 10 minute miles.  My intent is to work on strength and endurance by covering the mileage, and then I’ll worry about speed.  Definitely feels good to be out running again.

So despite some craziness, it was a pretty good week.