Monthly Archives: December 2009

off to play in the snow

For several years now, the girls and I have had headed up to the mountains to play for a few days just after Christmas.  We’ve gone to the Sleeping Lady Mountain Retreat, just outside Leavenworth.  We missed doing this last year, with everything else going on, but wanted to strike up this little tradition again.

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There are many things we enjoy about this time.  It’s good time together, it’s fun to play in the snow, and there are usually lots of other kids around for mine to make friends with. 

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This year was a bit different.  KK is 12 now, and wanting to spend more time with friends.  Another complicating factor is that she’s living with Celiac Disease, so needs to remain gluten-free.  I’d spoken with the chef ahead of time and ascertained that the Sleeping Lady would offer a number of gluten-free options at each meal.  What I didn’t nail down was whether my 12 year old would want to eat them or not.  Generally speaking, the food is very good – but pre-teens might be more fond of mac and cheese with rice noodles than they would be of stuffed portabello mushrooms.  Oh well.

There wasn’t very much snow this year.  We opted not to cross-country ski on the icy layer that was there.  R and I did go snowshoeing a bit, and had fun doing that.  We also went into town and enjoyed the sledding hill for a while.  Very icy, but fun.  I’m sorry I didn’t get a picture of the trains that the kids formed to slide down the icy lane on one side of the hill.

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We met a nice family who lives near us – good company all around.  R played Clue with their kids, while I got to visit with the parents and exchange stories. 

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Observing some of the changes this year tells me that I’m not sure how much longer we’ll do this.  That makes me feel a bit sad – but the answer is to enjoy it while we can.  Good advice in general, right ?

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harborview visit reflections

We did another visit to the Neuro ICU last night.  This time, my parents joined my brother Matthew and I.  We wanted to catch the folks on the night shift (7pm-7am), and weren’t able to do this the other evening.

 

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Another good visit.  We got to connect with several of the nurses who spent lots of time with me those first days.  One had apparently booted my family out of the room once.  Apparently I appeared to be straining ("storming" was the term used) to participate as well – which was difficult for me while in the coma.  She was direct, very clear about the reasoning (I needed to rest), and polite.  I’d heard the story before, illustrating how well the folks in the ICU looked after me.

I also learned that I was named "Gusto" in the ICU – something I’d not heard before.  Before I had too much of a chance to flatter myself into thinking that this name had anything to do with me personally, my mom told me that was owing to me being the seventh unidentified patient of the day on July 1st – aka "Patient G".  The process of identifying me was a bit interesting – you can read about it here if interested.

It was a privilege to get to meet them, and to offer my gratitude for a job well done.  I brought along another copy of my letter as well as some additional pictures from recovery, showing them the changes apparent from first few days in the ICU, pre-cranioplasty, and then at home.

Part of the reason I wanted to make these visits is that connecting with these people helps me work through the gradual emotional healing.  It helps me to speak to them, and also forces lots of things into perspective for me too.

Another amazing set of conversations for me.  And lots to be thankful for.

added photo on 12/31


visiting some old friends at the harborview neuro icu

The evening, my brother and I visited some old friends at the Harborview Hospital Neuro ICU.  The experience was amazing.  It’s difficult to convey what it means to me in words alone, but I’ll try.

I’d been wanting to do this for a while.  With my brother in town for the holidays, it seemed a nice opportunity to pay a visit to the fine folks who played such instrumental roles in saving my life, and giving me the care which made my recovery possible.  In addition to getting to experience the visit with him, he has the advantage of being able to remember the people in the ICU much better than I can – my memory of the days immediately following the accident is a bit hazy.

We’ve all heard that hospitals get hit hard during the holidays.  There are too many accidents on the road.  The people who work in hospitals experience people’s heartache every day.  That’s a lot to carry.  The folks at Harborview, particularly in the ER and ICU were amazing to me and to my family and friends during my stay there.  They offered excellent medical care, treated me with dignity, and afforded great support and guidance to those who were there with me as well.

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room 266, my old stomping grounds

I wrote a letter to them ahead of time, to bring along with the gift basket we’d gotten for them.  Based on my experience in visiting the Harborview NICU back in April, it felt as though leaving some kind words for them to post for others there would be helpful to them.  I included some pictures, thinking that seeing the people they helped the most would be nice.  You can read the letter here.  The words come from my heart, and the pictures reflect the good fortune I’ve experienced in recovery. 

Eighteen months ago, it wasn’t clear that I’d have been able to be an active person, and an engaged parent.  I think about this every day when I wake up.

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We went over in the early evening, the day after Christmas, arriving in the NICU around 5.  I was floored when the woman we approached at the desk said to my brother – "I recognize you".  She remembered what had happened to me (bike accident), a number of family members and friends, and even remembered my room number.  Several other folks came by who also remembered us.  One of the doctors who had cared me for was there, and remembered my father as "the lion of the family".  Amazing.

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I was able to stammer out some thanks (between some tears) and exchange handshakes and hugs all around. 

These fine folks almost never get to see what their good work means to the people they care for.  Being a trauma center, many of their patients don’t make it.  Many that do make it live a good distance away, and can’t easily get back.  The holidays are a great time to express thanks.  And in addition to potentially giving the Harborview folks a chance to see what positive impact they have on people like us, doing this definitely helps me put what happened into perspective.

I will remember this day for as long as I can remember anything.  What an incredible experience to be able to say "thanks for everything", and to literally mean "everything".

updated a bit more on 12/27.


another trip around the sun

Today I celebrated the end of my 45th trip around the sun.  As I’ve tried to do for the past several years, I started the day by running up Mount Si, a 3800′ peak in the Cascade foothills, about 40 minutes east of where we live.  This year I was fortunate enough to be joined by my friends Sue, Tony, and Bob.  This is the first time I’ve had company going up the mountain, and it was easily the most fun. 

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We started out at about 8:30 in the morning, with the temperature a chilly 30 degrees.  On the drive out to the trailhead, I came out from under a blanket of fog to see a beautiful blue sky.  We got ready, then headed out a few minutes after arriving.  The trail up was nice and even, helped by the dry weather (little erosion).  We took some walk breaks on the way up, but kept a reasonable heart rate most of the way.  The trail goes steadily uphill, with few level breaks.

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We clicked off the first mile in just under twenty minutes.  This is a bit of an adjustment.  When you’re running uphill, ordinary pace goes out the window.  Having company really helped here – how can you help but stay positive as you climb when you’ve got good friends to talk with ?

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By the time we reached the 3.5 mile mark, we were running mostly in snow.  There were some very slippery spots, but on the whole, the trail conditions remained pretty good.  It was a bit tricky climbing up past the final stretch of rocks, but we took things slowly and avoided any major falls.

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At the top, the view was incredible.  We stayed up there and enjoyed it for about ten or fifteen minutes before things started to feel pretty cold – time to get moving again!  It took about as long to come down as it had to go up, which always feels surprising.  But, the trip down is when your quads really tend to work hard too, so it makes sense to slow down and take things a bit easy.

And then we were done.  Always a treat to start the day like this.  And it was really nice spending the time with friends.

The evening was very nice too.  Kris prepared a wonderful Thai dinner, and we spent the time with my parents and brother (who is up from San Francisco this week). 

Nice day, and a great way to begin another year on earth.  I feel very fortunate indeed.


another chapter of cyclists vs. motorists

Earlier today, I was browsing a bit, and I ran across something a former work colleague wrote in response to a cyclist who apparently ran a red light at a bike path/road intersection in Seattle.

"Hey Bicyclists — I’ll start sharing the road when you start respecting the law. A stop sign is still a stop sign dumbass!"

I had several stages of response to this.  First response was to categorize this guy who I would consider a friend, and whose intellect I respect into the same place as all of the motorists who have no clue about what sharing the road really means.  Second response was to get pissed off when I read the text literally – because he said "I’ll be careful when you are".  Third response was to acknowledge that cyclists don’t uniformly respect traffic laws, and to recognize that my friend’s frustration comes from the fear that he perhaps came close to hitting the cyclist in question.  That’d be a lot to live with.  Knowing the guy who wrote it, I understand that he doesn’t really mean "I’ll be careful when you are".  Then I calmed down a bit.

But given my own frame of reference about the relationship between cyclists and motorists, having a visceral response to this sort of thing isn’t a big surprise to me.

I also expect that my friend is a bit pissed off at being mildly taken to task for what he wrote.  You know though – there’s a way for him to prevent that next time.  It involves taking more than a split second to think about what you’re saying, and the way it might be perceived.  Worse – on the off-chance he’s involved in an accident with a cyclist, this snippet could be cited in court.

Think about this a bit.  You can’t push the burden of judgment off from either side.  Motorists are operating vehicles with the capacity to take and alter lives forever, in the space of seconds.  And with that privilege comes the unconditional responsibility to be totally aware of others on the road.  On the other hand, being completely aware of others on the road matters a whole lot more to the cyclist (given that they’re a lot more vulnerable), so you can’t view stop signs and other traffic laws as optional.

Like it or not, on the road, we depend on everyone to show patience and good judgment.  Makes you think twice about whether you need to be on the road, doesn’t it ?


exercise and anxiety

The other day, I was having a tough time.  My low back was hurting me (muscle spasms).  I’d had a rough meeting at work – lots of contention, not much clarity or resolution.  I had an hour between meetings, but it was pretty cruddy outside.  Motivation was low, and overall frustration was high.

I figured I couldn’t go wrong trying to fit a short, easy run in.  Didn’t set any speed records, but it definitely calmed me down a bunch.  It almost always works like this too.

I was reading an article in the New York Times Magazine a couple of weeks back about this.  The article claims that exercise actually leads to the development of neurons that are "specifically buffered from exposure to a stressful experience".  The subjects in the study "had created, through running, a brain that seemed biochemically, molecularly, calm".

My first response was "didn’t we know this already?".  Well – it’s been suspected that exercise stimulates growth of new brain cells, but it was apparently not yet established how these cells are functionally different from others.  The Princeton study cited in the article lays the basis for understanding these differences.  Another interesting distinction drawn in the article is how exercise might directly affect mood and anxiety.  We’ve taken for granted that exercise "enhances mood", but did not really understand what this means.

When listening to your own body and mind, it’s easy to surmise that exercise is a great mood equalizer.  It’s difficult to tell whether this is due to the psychological effect of choosing to stress your body a bit.  Doing so is bound to shift your mind away from unpleasant thoughts.  The positive effect of taking a challenge on will also elevate your mood.  So – we already have diversionary qualities as well as results from "opting into" challenge as a means to test yourself.

But it’s apparently the case that you’re actively changing the way your brain is physiologically made up as well.

You should check out the article for yourself and draw your own conclusions.  It’s definitely worth a read.


a proud father

One of the lessons I’ve learned as a father is that very little goes strictly according to plan with kids.  As we often conveniently forget as adults, there are twists and turns each day that take things in some unexpected directions.  This can be good, and sometimes not so good, but it’s never dull.

This holiday season, both kids are performing in seasonal productions with local children’s theater companies.  If you asked me whether I could have foreseen their interest in theater, my honest answer would have been no.  But they seem to know their own hearts, and certainly have their own interests, and these things have taken them to the stage.

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There are a number of things people can be concerned about with respect to the performing arts and kids.  There can be pressure from parents and from theater folks.  It can be a glorified beauty pageant, with all of the negatives associated with those things.

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On the other hand, being part of a play can teach you poise and teamwork.  You can hone your creative skills.  And because you wish to do well, you can learn to work hard and devote yourself to something larger than yourself.  I like to think that this is what the kids have done.  Both of them have performed in a number of kids productions and have attended numerous theater camps as well.  I don’t know whether their hearts will remain in the theater, but do appreciate some of the things they’ve learned from doing this.

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Best of all it’s mostly fun.  And that’s the most important thing.