Look, I’m a Peanuts character, complete with auburn hair and pale skin!
Thanks to Alisyn for this very excellent time-waster.
Eighteen months ago, an a Friday afternoon in March while driving to a memorial service for a 19-year-old girl, I noticed how brown everything seemed for a spring day. I took this photo:
Since that memorial service, some things have changed and some things have not. Sometimes things remind me of her death and of her parents, and I’ve written a couple blog posts when the mood has struck. Sometimes I’ve had a random urge to text one of her parents for no particular reason, but I’ve worried that it might be a bad time — would I give them a reminder of the sadness at a moment they had managed to smile?
While on vacation last month, I woke up to a dream about her dad. I don’t remember the dream, but the fact that I remembered any part of a dream was rare and I told Deb, my friend/host, a bit about the family’s loss and how it was strange to have such a random dream for no apparent reason. “It sounds like you have some unfinished business there,” Deb said.
Today marks the 21st birthday of that young woman. She should be alive to celebrate it. Instead, I am sitting here, thinking of her parents’ faces on that March day. I still don’t know what my unfinished business is, but there is one thing I can do: To pay for unexpected medical bills, I recently got money out of a college fund I never needed to use. It more than covered my bills, so the rest will be used for airfare to see ailing family. But I am also writing a check to the Kara Adams Memorial Fund, and putting it in the mail to Lodi High School. It’s not much, but it’s a little bit that can make a young student’s future brighter.
On my drive back home from that memorial 18 months ago, I noticed that the light had changed, and the hills no longer looked brown. I took this photo:
Sometimes light can bring a new perspective to the world around you. Sometimes a smile or a kind word can make things seem beautiful again. That’s what Kara’s family wants today — for people to make a gesture of grace to brighten someone else’s day. You never know when it will make all the difference in the world.
So, I have my first-ever cast.
After surgery, I had a partial cast that was plaster on one side and lots of soft padding on the other side, to account for swelling. And, boy, was there swelling. My fingers were sausages for about five days. But pain was minimal: I stopped the Norco (Vicodin/Tylenol) the next day because it was keeping me awake, making me foggy, and messing up my digestive system. Yes, it kept me awake; I’m also a weirdo who usually experiences the opposite sleep effect of cold medicine (which is one reason I don’t take the stuff).
Last Thursday, I had my post-operative appointment where they removed all the bandaging and I got to bend my wrist for the first time in a week. I’ll post a photo of the 12 stitches at the end of this post, so prepare your appetite. Now I have this terrible, horrible, painful cast for eight days. My outer wrist bone has become an innocent victim: It sticks out, so the hard cast squishes it 24/7, and I feel it every waking moment. I could have gone in today and had it replaced, but I really didn’t want to deal with hours of post-casting thumb pain, more time off work, and traffic — especially since I’m four days into this cast and will get a new one in another four days.
I’m currently debating the color of the new cast, though I’m thinking of buying decorative duct tape to put around the next cast so it stops catching on my clothes. It’s 2015, and casts are still this terrible?? Why???
Anyway, here is a list of things that are impossible to do if your left thumb is completely immobilized and encased in plaster:
And now for the post-op stitches photo. I’ll type a couple lines in case you want to stop scrolling. (Mom, this means you.)
I swear, it’s not bad.
Michaela said it looked like Frankenstein, which I’ll take as a compliment.
It’s really not bad at all.
It could be worse: My friend Matt was rear-ended by a car while on his bike the other day, and he has to worry about scaring customers at work with his injuries. (Yes, a car rear-ended him. In broad daylight. After he had signaled to turn, but the car decided to pass him. On a solid center line. So many WTF questions for that driver.)
Reminder: Always wear a helmet.
Okay, enough typing. Mom, if you’re still reading, here comes the photo.
Also, there are a couple Sharpie marks left. Don’t worry; those aren’t permanent.
I’ve followed runner Caitlin Smith’s blog for years, watching as she’s had ups and downs on the local trails I know, and on both the local and bigger racing circuit. She doesn’t post often, so it’s always refreshing to see her name pop up in my blog feed.
This time, she did well. Moreover, she appreciated it. I especially liked this line: “In life and running nothing is linear, but the chaos is well worth the moments like these.” Today, my marathon PR is two years old. Sometimes I think my fastest times are behind me, but then I read something like this and it makes me want to keep pushing through the chaos.
“Hi! I’m here to be operated on!!!” I said to the receptionist, upon walking into the surgery center yesterday morning.
She was expecting me, but I don’t think she was expecting a cheerful me. Granted, it had been 11 hours since my last water or food. But it had been two weeks since I broke my thumb and tore a ligament, so I was anxious to be out of limbo and on the road to recovery.
That was my attitude through the wait, which became FOUR HOURS due to a complication with an earlier patient (spoiler: I had no complications). My friend Deanne and I arrived at 10:15 a.m., and at 10:30 I was taken to a room to change. “We ran out of some gowns and only have XXXL or pediatric. You probably don’t want a mini skirt…” the nurse said. So I put on a gown with a bear print on it — no, I wasn’t seeing a veterinarian — that could have wrapped around me three times, though it ultimately didn’t matter because I was lying on a bed the whole time. The socks were just absurd, even for my size 10 feet, but the nurse found some slightly smaller ones without bear prints on them. The hair net was as attractive as a nun’s habit. Then her assistant struggled valiantly and successfully found my vein (and did much better than the Red Cross people).
Then they let Deanne in the room to keep me company. Their plan was for me to arrive at 10:15 a.m. with a 12:15 p.m. surgery start time. Surgery would last an hour, and recovery would be another hour. I had no choice; diabetics, elderly and young kids get priority due to having to fast since midnight. Well, then a nurse came in and said the doctor was running behind due to “a bump” in the surgery two people ahead of me. We asked how far behind… An hour-and-a half behind! Poor Deanne hadn’t eaten much and was getting a headache, had driven more than two hours just to my house, and yet, she didn’t leave to get food. I felt so bad, but it really was nice to have her company — plus, we don’t catch up as often these days since we live further apart. Our chatter combined with a few texts to pass the time.
The surgeon came in, looked at my hand, and then drew an arrow and initialed it with a Sharpie marker. I asked him about my “good” hand, which had been giving me concern. He looked at it, maneuvered the thumb a bit, and said he thinks it is okay but he’ll X-ray it next week at my post-op visit. The combination of a sprain in that wrist and little strength in that thumb have been wreaking havoc on me, and I suspect some of the pain was in my head. He said to use it as much as I can without too much pain, and that was a huge relief. He left the room and we resumed our wait, though now I was sweating (probably from the anxiety related to my worry about the “good” hand.)
Finally, the OR nurse came in, which I had been told meant that I would be on my way soon. And that’s when honest little ole’ me told the truth when she asked if I was wearing contact lenses. Yes, I was. But they were disposable one-day lenses, I’ve slept in contacts before, and I’ve been wearing them for more than 20 years. Plus, I’m so near-sighted that when woken up from the anesthesia, I wouldn’t be able to see anyone or anything (this is true; I can’t see stoplights without them). She went and talked to the anesthesiologist, who had met me earlier, and I think my good humor, patience and reasoning paid off: I was allowed to keep my contacts! That had been the one thing I really wanted to fight for, so I was happy.
I finally got into the OR around 2:45 p.m. It was chilly in there, which was such a relief. A couple more people introduced themselves and I asked, “Is there going to be a name quiz? Because I’m going to fail. You’re Guy In Mask, right?” I bet they’ve heard every joke by now… Then they put me next to what I now know was the operating table. A guy said something like, “Okay, you can move,” and I had no idea what he meant. “You haven’t done this before??” he asked. “NOPE, this is alllll new to me!” I replied.
The big light fixtures above me were cool and I wished I could take a picture. Then they started looking like doubles and I asked if they had started the anesthesia. The anesthesiologist joked, “It depends.” I think I said something about the lights swimming and he said, “Yes, we did.” And that’s all I remember.
Apparently the doctor came out and talked to Deanne shortly before 4 p.m. Everything had gone as expected, and he had successfully reattached my ligament. Whew! The next thing I knew, I was looking at numbers, which I realized were my vital signs on a machine. The contact lenses were so welcome, because I focused on the heart rate number, watching it go from 50 to 52 to 51 to 50 (yes, I distinctly remember those numbers), probably because I was walking up.
And now the humorous “what I said while waking up from anesthesia” part, as told to me by Deanne: I asked the same questions four times each, including what medicine they had given me. I was happy that nobody had mis-pronounced my name. Then I was insisting to the nurse that I could exercise the next day. She said no because the open wound would get sweaty and probably infected, and that I could miss one week out of 52. The funny thing is, I had known this and intentionally ran 5 miles the previous night so I’d have one last bit of endorphins.
I don’t remember putting on my clothes, but I must have done that, because I didn’t leave in the ridiculous bear gown. And I’ve since learned that the nurse was impressed at how well I did at getting dressed. I’ve also learned that the nurse sat there and went over post-op instructions with Deanne and me, but I don’t remember any of that, either. They took me out to Deanne’s car in a wheelchair (and I didn’t freak out and start hyperventilating like the last time I was in a wheelchair, which is another story). The first thing I really remember is putting my feet on the wheelchair foot rests. Now I understand why they don’t allow patients to go home alone in a taxi.
While I was in surgery, Deanne went to Chipotle. We had some traffic on the drive home, so I was finally in my house and eating around 5:30 p.m., 19 hours since my last meal. That burrito bowl tasted soooo good. I wasn’t in pain, I didn’t feel groggy anymore, it was easy to eat, and I was ravenous. But it took me forever to eat — everything just took so much huge effort.
Deanne was beyond helpful. She’s put up with me for more than a dozen years now, and she drove more than five hours total to help me with surgery. Several other lovely friends offered to help, and any of them would have been amazing. But I doubt they have been through quite as many surgeries as Deanne has, both herself and her family. She brought me food ready to heat up, along with a little container of sour cream because she knows I’m a spice wimp. She stopped at the store for cereal and juice, which I just discovered she pre-opened because my “good” hand can’t really do that stuff. She opened a can for me; she stirred the new jar of peanut butter; she cooked a pizza, cut it and packaged it up; she emptied my dishwasher. She checked my mail and took out my trash. She set medicine alarms on my phone, filled a water bottle, and put it with some of the pills on my nightstand. She arranged pillows so I would elevate my hand overnight.
I went to bed — and proceeded to lie there wide awake. The medication (Norco, aka Vicodin and Tylenol) is notorious for causing drowsiness. Well, that was most certainly not the case here! On the plus side, at 10 p.m. I could call family in a timezone three hours earlier. I also had no problem waking up to the midnight and 4 a.m. medicine alarms, and by 6 I was awake for the day.
I’m going to end this long-winded narrative, since typing is a struggle (now I know to ask about cast thickness when I get a full one next week). But I’ve been amazed at the amount of support and offers for help. From ride offers to Facebook “likes,” I have appreciated every one of them. When I’ve had a couple melt-downs, the support hasn’t faded. I can’t name all of you, but please know that I appreciate it. I can only hope to be as kind as you have been.
I’m taking a break (pun unintended) from kvetching about my hand woes to bring you this catchy video from Rock County, Wisconsin (go, cheeseheads!). I’ve spent a lot more time around police officers and firefighters than the average person, but I don’t think that even matters. It’s just fun for all ages!
This is an X-ray of my left thumb, taken last Friday, hours after I returned to the country and about 20 hours after I fell off a bike:
This is what the radiologist wrote upon reviewing my X-rays, and which prompted the general physician to send me straight to an orthopedic doctor:
REPORT/IMPRESSION: Transverse, minimally dorsally angulated fracture across the base of the distal phalanx
Minute ossicle adjacent to the base of the proximal phalanx in the region of the MCP joint, probably an avulsion fracture. The joint is not widened but no stress was applied
The orthopedic doctor happened to be available that same Friday afternoon, which was very good for this sleep-deprived impatient person who couldn’t move her purple thumb. Here is my thumb, after some of the swelling had gone down, but before the bruising in my palm had spread:
The orthopedic doctor took one look at my thumb, said the words “might need repair,” and sent me to his colleague, who specializes in hands (and sports medicine, and has a very good background, and is a runner, and has good reviews, and has had no medical board complaints, and yes I have stalked him on the Internet thank you very much). I left with a taped-on finger splint and an arm splint, to make showers even more enjoyable, as well as a long weekend wait to see the hand specialist.
After a long weekend of waiting and googling, and then a long Monday and most of Tuesday, I finally saw the hand specialist. He looked at the X-rays, read the other doctors’ notes, did a few things to my thumb that had me both crying and muffling shrieks of pain, and promptly said he didn’t even need an MRI to confirm that I needed surgery to repair a ligament. He offered the MRI, but I had already researched “avulsion fracture” and knew there was no way around surgery. Opposable thumbs are kind of a big deal.
This is a pretty good idea of what happened to my thumb, only with a mountain bike handlebar instead of a ski pole, from this doctor’s site (which also explains the whole thing pretty well, Mom and family):
Surgery doesn’t happen until next Wednesday, which will be two weeks after the bike crash. I’m very impatient, so when the hand doctor said I would need to see my regular physician for a pre-op physical and lab work, I got outside to my car, got on the phone and promptly set that up — for the very next morning. Surgery won’t be delayed through any fault of mine, that’s for sure!
Meanwhile, this is how things looked before all of this happened:
This saga is what triggered my angst-filled blog post a few days ago, while I waited in limbo to see the hand specialist. I’m still very bummed, and I have canceled my fall marathon/vacation plans — it was the financially and physically smart thing to do, so that decision was not made in haste to be later regretted.
In the midst of my angst came a comment on that post from BT, who said, among other encouraging things: “You must be in some serious pain (both physical and emotional).” A lot of people were reaching out in a variety of amazing ways, and I’m grateful to every single one of them. But for some reason, that comment hit me the right way at the right time. I thought, “You know, I AM in pain. I’ve only taken one dose of Aspirin the night this happened, but it does hurt. More than that, it’s hurting my heart and soul. And that’s OK.”
I’m allowed to hurt. I’m allowed to worry about fully recovering, and about how my other hand still is not right. I’m allowed to be sad. But I am also allowed to hope. I’m not to the point of thinking I can break down all the doors, but I’m also no longer in the depths of despair. I have a medical plan, with a surgery date (September 2) and a post-op appointment (September 10), and a tentative plan to get the cast removed as soon as four weeks after surgery. For now, that is enough to keep me hanging on to a few threads of sanity.
I wanted to post pictures and write about the half-marathon I ran last weekend. About how it was my first race in 20 months, and how amazing it felt to stand amidst a sea of runners waiting to start, and how I nearly forgot my timing chip and then my water because I’m so out of race practice. About how I managed to run within the limits of my minimal training, and how I may have been slow by my standards but how I never once walked. About how the IT band pain that derailed me for so long did not surface, which was the biggest victory of all.
I wanted to write about Vancouver. About Stanley Park and the Olympic Cauldron and the polite residents and the cute neighborhoods and the piano on a bridge. About the lovely harbor views 38 floors above the city, about my disappointment in poutine, about the excellent restaurant service, about how I appreciated the currently low Canadian dollar value. About crossing a suspension bridge under brilliant greenery with a friend who’s shared many other miles with me.
I wanted to write about Victoria. About the island views and the goats and the piglets. About the Terry Fox memorial. About hiking up a steep mountain with another friend, with whom I once ran a 5k at midnight and was Rickrolled by bearded men on a train in Portland. About a lovely 38-mile bike ride that made me realize I have somehow become one of those people who actually misses being on a bicycle if a week has passed.
And then I broke my thumb. I have two splints, one for each break. One splint requires tape, which is extra fun to redo every time I take a shower. Tomorrow I see yet another doctor who will hopefully tell me how long it will be before I can wrap a ponytail holder around my hair, wear my new hoodie (or anything long-sleeved), and steer with my left hand so my right hand (which is also mildly sprained) can go back to its main job of operating the gear shift.
At some point, I will find out how much money I must pull out of savings. I know I’m more fortunate than most because I do have that savings, so I will be more than fine. But that savings has been earmarked for something bigger, and I hate to dip into it, as I have already since my rent was increased and my spending habits did not subsequently decrease.
And so, the combination of money and now-limited training and maybe even surgery have led me here: I don’t think I can run the fall marathon that has encouraged me to keep fighting to get back on the running track of life. The expensive race-rate/Washington D.C. hotel is refundable, and that would pay a significant amount of my medical deductible. I wouldn’t eat out in as many restaurants, which would get even worse if I kept to my plan of going on to New York to see multiple friends. I wouldn’t show up with minimal training.
I entered the Marine Corps Marathon through their lottery — I threw my name in the hat and told myself, “If I get in, I’m going to take it as a sign that I should not give up on running.” I got in.
I wanted to run another marathon. I wanted to revive the hope of Boston. Last week at the end of the half-marathon, I received a carrot-shaped medal that was the most appropriate medal I could have ever received. Standing by the Olympic Cauldron, it felt like I had walked through a door into a ray of light, and that another door was finally opening ahead of me. Four days later, I smashed into the asphalt. The sound I heard was that of a door slamming shut. I don’t know if I have enough strength to try breaking down yet another door.
What do you do if you’re a 20-something travel/internet nerd who wants to escape from a breakup? Well, if you happen to have zillions of airplane miles and credit cards with free perks, you could just move out of your apartment and into … airplanes. Yes, that’s exactly what this guy named Ben has done.
I think any of us who enjoy travel have fantasized about traveling for free. I had a college classmate who could fly for free because his dad was a pilot. So he flew somewhere almost every weekend, not even staying in a hotel in order to save money. He would just go to the airport, get on a plane, wander around his destination for a few hours, then fly home.
As someone who’s been flying since infancy and is on four planes this week, I would love to have free flights and perks (first class, please? someday?). But for now, I’ll just read about people like Ben and continue my day job.
I grew up in a very small town I know you’re thinking THAT kind of small, but that’s still too big. Try this: My graduating high school class had 51 students. See, that is what I mean by “small.”
Well, this link to “17 Things People Who’ve Ever Lived In A Small Town Understand” recently made the Facebook rounds among my high school’s alumni. (You see, in a small town, you know everyone in the high school, not just in your own class. You know everyone from all four years, and all of their parents.)
If I tried to comment only on the items in that list that were correct, this blog post of mine would go on for another 17 paragraphs. But here is my take on that link: We did not have Costco, and weren’t close enough to one to even consider getting a membership. Our “downtown” named Main Street, and that was it. High school dating wasn’t just awkward because you were friends with their ex — you were also friends with their siblings and parents. Visiting family in another city was so different that I never even realized that’s how many people live. Going for a drive was definitely an activity, and it got more exciting when a certain friend would lean over and press down on my leg that was on the gas pedal (platonic friend, and yes, I knew/know his sisters and parents and cousins and aunts and uncles).
Also, you’re big rivals with another small neighboring high school. BIG RIVALS. Like, you go paint “graffiti bridge” in their town before a football game, even though you know they’ll have it covered up immediately. However, if someone from their team is named Jason Sehorn and goes to play in the NFL and proposes to a gorgeous actress actress on Jay Leno’s show, you definitely claim him as your own. After all, he played at a community college where some of your classmates went. And if the little Black Bear Diner from that nearby town becomes a big chain, yep, you claim that as your own, too.