04 September 2017

New Braces and Hiking in Colorado

After about a year-and-a-half of wearing my old carbon fiber AFO braces (Ankle and Foot Orthoses), I recently got a new pair of Phat Braces which are also made of carbon fiber, but have a much better warranty and are widely used by people everywhere.  The big difference between my old braces and the new Phat Braces is that the Phat Braces are taller and stiffer (but they are beginning to soften a bit). They come up my leg to right below my knee which is further than my old braces . This makes them much more stable and it which allows me to balance and walk much easier. They also have some flexible plastic that wraps around the foot (as you can see in the image to the right) which also helps to provide more stability. The biggest benefit about them so far, however, is that it did not take my body six weeks to adjust to them. The previous braces actually took six weeks for my body to adjust and I was in pain the entire time. The company that provided them told me that's just how it goes. Through that adjustment period, I had to have at least a dozen manual adjustments to the carbon fiber (e.g., heat them up, bend out here and there, etc.), probably closer to 18 or so. With the new Phat Braces, I've only had two adjustments and my body has already adjusted to them -- literally less than a week. In fact, I have had the Phat Braces two weeks now and yesterday I did my first true Colorado hike since my injury in April 2014!


Yesterday we decided to go hiking in Evergreen, CO because we were trying to get back to the spot where I proposed to Janene 20 years ago. We thought it would be cool to go back there because later this month Janene and I will be celebrating our 20th wedding anniversary. I was a bit intimidated when we started the hike because of the elevation gain on the trail and the number of large rocks that you hike over on the trail. I did take a single arm crutch with me but it almost made things more difficult because of the angle at which you hold the arm crutch vs. the angle of the rocks on such an uphill elevation. Also, my new braces make going uphill difficult because they are still stiff, but they will soften a bit more in time. But with Janene's help, I completed the hike. Janene did make a good suggestion that instead of using an arm crutch I should consider getting some hiking poles. Because you hold them at a different angle, it could make going uphill and downhill over rocks easier for me. So, I'm going to try some out soon at REI.

Although the distance was not that great (1.7 miles), this was the most uphill/downhill I have done since my spinal cord injury 3.5 years ago -- I actually impressed myself. As proof of the level of workout for my body, my lower back and my hips were really tired after the hike and sore this morning. But I really enjoyed getting out for a hike with Janene and Bailey. So, I'm really looking forward to doing more hiking. I guess I can really start enjoying the fact that we live in Colorado again!

27 April 2017

Three Years After

Monday, April 24th marked the third anniversary of my spinal cord injury. It seems like the injury took place so long ago now and yet it has only been three years. So much has happened in my family's life in the last three years. I now have a 19-year-old who is about ready to complete her first year of college and a 14-year-old who is getting ready to enter high school in August. Through all of these experiences along this journey, I now feel like I am emerging from the other side. I believe that I have finally found peace with this whole ordeal. It has not been easy to get to this point and it's difficult to convey how hard-fought my successes continue to be. But those closest to me know, and that's what matters to me.

Gratitude

As I look back at all the photos and videos Janene has taken over this three year period, read through the Caring Bridge posts and my blog posts, the progress I have made is pretty amazing to me. Believe it or not, I actually have a lot of gratitude for the fact that this experience happened to me. Yes, I just said that I am thankful for the experience. I did not arrive at this place easily or lightly, so stop and consider that statement for a moment. After three years of pondering every aspect of this entire situation, I feel that I am a better person for it in many ways. This whole experience forced me to get myself in order and I'm now a better person for it.

From the beginning of this experience three years ago, I have been lucky enough to be surrounded by people who provided me a constant stream of positive support. From the folks I worked with at the hospitals to all of my family, friends and co-workers, the positive vibes are what have inspired me to keep going. There were also a couple of notable things that two people told me that I have hung on to that have kept me going to this day:
  • My wife Janene has always taught our girls that no matter what you're doing in life, you need to 'fake it 'til you make it'. This catchphrase helps you to feel confident and optimistic about something until you gain the necessary experience to actually feel genuinely assured that you have reached a successful point. Although she has always intended this for the benefit of our daughters, I have been able to internalize it and use it to my own benefit in my recovery. Repeating this statement in my head has taken me quite far and I continue to use it to this day. Thank you so much, Janene. I love you!
  • My friend Greg, who has had two spinal cord injuries in his life (can you believe that?!), told me something very early on in my journey, that I held in my head to help me get through the first year and beyond. He said something like, 'I know you you are not in a place where you can understand what this means yet, but you will get there in time. Just do everything you can to make it through the first year and everything will seem 1000% better. You won't be totally healed in one year, but you will feel much, much better.' Ironically, I saw Greg the week of my first year anniversary and I told him about this and he didn't even remember telling me this. I think he was quite surprised that I held on to it for so long, but it was truly a lifeline. Thank you, Greg.

Lesson Learned

I have learned a lot in three years as this experience has taught me a lot, especially the way that you handle an experience. Most importantly, I've learned that when you are faced with a horribly painful experience (emotionally, mentally, physically) that changes your life, you can choose to one of two paths:
  1. Either, you can be angry, resistant, resentful and stuck on the fact that something was taken from you. I have met plenty of people on my journey who were here and until they change their outlook, they won't be able to move on.
  2. Or, you can acknowledge that it sucks but still feel gratitude for the positive aspects and for being able to be alive to experience it all. I haven't met any people who can say that they feel thankful for their experience with a spinal cord injury, but I have read about some. It wasn't easy for me to get to this point.
And this certainly doesn't mean that I'm done. My recovery will continue for years.

On that note, a singer-songwriter who I have listened to for years says this best here (Blogger won't let me embed this video correctly):

https://youtu.be/zbsbk7D2eI0?t=28m54s

He says it best by summarizing it this way: Pain helps us learn who we really are.

Reminders Along the Journey

Just recently, one of my colleagues from our Munich, Germany headquarters visited my office in Boulder. I have not seen this guy in person since before the accident so he was really shocked to see me walking and to see how well I am doing now. He said he was so surprised because the last he heard from me I was still in the wheelchair (the look on his face was priceless!). It's moments like this one that remind me of how far I've come.

Thank you to everyone who has helped me in any way along this journey.

09 March 2017

Annual Spinal Cord Injury Re-evaluation

Recently I went back to Craig Hospital for an annual spinal cord injury re-evaluation and the results were very positive. It was really nice to see some familiar faces of the people for whom I have such deep admiration like my doctors, physical therapists and administrative staff. My doctor and therapists were quite surprised to see how well I am doing, especially given that I'm still seeing improvements three years later. Mainly because so many spinal cord injury patients have serious issues even years later. I am so lucky to no longer be taking any medications and to be walking again.

It has also been nearly one year since I have been back to Craig Hospital and it seems like such a different place to me now. Being back there again feels odd for a couple of reasons. First, due to the extensive construction/remodel, the amount of change to the hospital makes it seem like a different place entirely. It used to be much smaller which encouraged more close interaction between patients and staff. Now the place is so big (i.e., big hallways, larger individual rooms, etc.) that patients can have more privacy if they want or even avoid some forms of interaction. Second, although I am comfortable being around so many folks who have been so severely injured (not everyone is), I have noticed that some folks are confused by me. I can tell the way they look at me that they are wondering what I am doing there because, outwardly, I do not appear as someone who has experienced a spinal cord injury. I have been lucky enough to make it out of the wheelchair and to walk on my own. Though my feet are still paralyzed, I wear flexible, carbon fiber AFO braces on my legs and walk with one arm crutch, the braces are covered by my pants so it's puzzling to many people.

The folks who I wish I could see more are the nurses and techs. These are the folks who helped me the most when I was so vulnerable and confused and to whom I grew very attached. To understand just how attached I was, simply moving to a more independent room as I was getting better was upsetting to me because I was so emotionally attached to them. I learned that these people are cut from a unique cloth and possess very big hearts to do the work they do every day. Because they are so involved with the acute care of in-patients, they are very busy during the day and not available for much socializing as past patients come through. Luckily, there was one of my nurses who I ran into and was able to spend some time speaking with him. I really enjoyed catching up with him and hearing about new adventures in his career. He was one of the folks I was attached to at the time and he really made a difference in my experience. I will be eternally thankful for having met these wonderful people during such a traumatic time in my life.

Today I am walking nearly 100% of the time with the leg braces and have been for over two years. I am working to rebuild my calves and my glutes, but this is a very, very long and slow process due to severe muscle atrophy after not being able to move my glutes for five months and my calves for two years. Although my feet are not responding yet, we will see what the future holds. I still feel so very lucky to be alive and continuing to make progress.

Although I cannot run at all or cycle the way I did previously, I am very thankful to be able to work out as much as I can. I am now riding the stationary bike regularly, using my Total Gym (yes, I have a Chuck Norris Total Gym) to build my calves, using a Bosu to work on balance and strength in my lower body, doing ab roller workouts and walking as much as I can both indoors on a treadmill and outside. I'd like to make time for swimming laps again, but all of this can be time consuming (and tiring!). I am not nearly as fit as I was at the time of my injury, but I continue to work hard and to see noticeable improvements for which I am truly thankful.

Thank you to everyone who continues to stay in touch and check in on me from time-to-time. You may not think it's much to send a quick message, but these messages have meant a lot to me through this process. The support from family and friends has been what has truly kept me going. The patience displayed by Bailey, Jade and Janene is pretty amazing.

Next month will mark the three year anniversary of my injury. It seems so far away and yet it continues to affect my life every day. My life will never be the same, but I do believe I have found peace with this entire ordeal.