Wednesday, November 29, 2017

in good spirits

For some reason, it makes people laugh to hear that I went swimming the morning I had surgery.
First of all, have you met me?  I didn't have to be at the hospital until 6:30am and the pool opens at 5:00am so in my head, the math was simple.  I was in the water at 5:04 and swam every last little second until I had to get out.  I ripped through the shower and showed up to check in with my hair still dripping and uncombed, my swimsuit clipped to my bag and a monster set of goggle eyes.  It is good that some things will never change.

Swimming - triathlon - is not about the obsession.  None of sport is for me, that is not my why.  It's not about burning calories, or getting faster, or selfies, or being able to flash an asshole number of watts on the Strava.  (Maybe a little bit, on the selfies).  It is an honest and deep passion for the art of movement.  Swimming is my meditation, it is a safe space, where I work out angst and anger and sorrow and joy.  The dive into the water, the rhythm of the breath, the still-dark sky when I push off and roll to my back, the quiet, dependable strokes, the hour I spend enveloped by peace.  And I knew that I was going to lose it for months due to rehab and recovery - although this time, thankfully, by choice - so it is logical that it is how I spent my last hour with two arms in 2017.

It's a bit weird how quickly surgery happens when you consider the months of recovery.  Three hours playing take apart, six months playing put-back-together-except-actually-works-now.  My surgeon had written up a comprehensive list prior to surgery called, we'll check out all of this and repair only what is needed.  Once inside my shoulder, he found that the answer was all of it, plus another tear that hadn't shown up on the MRI.  Of course that was much worse than anything else we knew about prior to slicing me open, but it doesn't matter.  He repaired everything and a few hours later, after two rounds of Zofran and 16 miniature ginger ales, I was dispatched back into the world with a killer hangover and no more (for a while) right arm.
The first week was bad.  Everyone had warned me that it would be, and I was prepared; none of that is the same as living through it.  A couple of friends came to visit or stay with me while the poet went to work to make sure that I didn't choke to death on my opioids or try to eat the plastic fruit, but the first three days I spent mostly asleep.  Dozing, actually, propped up in bed by 17 pillows and 4 golden retrievers that did not leave my side.  And I won't sugarcoat it for anyone unlucky enough to land here after googling, two labrum tears bicep tenodesis surgery does it suck: the pain is pretty fucking terrible.  The first day or two I was maxed out on my prescription pain killers, which helped about as much as when people tweet good thoughts and prayers to a national disaster.  But emotionally, I was okay, I checked in with my doctors and tried to sleep and only once did I end up sobbing on the bed after trying to get out of a shirt.
Day 4 I started working again, mostly via talk-to-text at the amusement of my patient and understanding athletes, who are probably going to miss me replying to everything within .2 seconds of uploading out of boredom once I'm healed up and can start doing other life things like leave the house.  I tried to go for a walk but that was too much; I made it to the next set of driveways before we had to turn back and that adventure resulted in a 3-hour nap.  Recovery is slow.  It resets your expectations of what you can do in a day.  The first week, I could shower and get dressed, but not on my own, and not without a break in between.  I think the worst unexpected handicap came in the form of the ponytail.  My husband is pretty awesome but he is not a hairdresser, and after a lifetime of wearing it scrunched up on the back of my head with a pencil shoved through it, it was torture to just have it laying around on my neck all day.  Hair!  The struggle, as they say, has never been more real.
Day 10 I left the house on a little trip, to visit some friends and their gorgeous new house.  Wearing a bra!  Getting in the car!  Seeing the real humans!  It was a good adventure, I got a bit tired and cranky by the time we returned home but it felt like progress.  Life has been pretty quiet.  I've been busy with work and continuing education, which is what I usually focus on this time of the year because no one is texting me crying from the middle of their 6-hour ride (man, do I miss being on the sending side of that text, though).  I had a talk with someone recently about continuing ed in coaching and how important it is because there's no real system that forces you through.  I've done it for years, it's a huge part of my daily work, mostly tracking down & devouring research as well as stalking good coaches, kinesiologists, physiologists, experts in nutrition, anatomy, mental performance.  It's as important or maybe even more so than the dailies of coaching, mapping out training loads and season planning and reading funny post-workout commentary and actually reviewing data files which apparently is a rarity among coaches nowadays.  

I think it was around the two-week mark that the pain really started to calm down.  The surgeon wanted me in physical therapy right away but due to a bundle of scheduling issues, I wasn't able to get in until I was two weeks into recovery.  I had done some research googling and started at home with some range of motion work, and it almost came as a surprise when I woke up the day of my first appointment and realized with a start that all the ridiculous nerve pain had been gone since the day of surgery.  The absence of pain is a crazy thing, it's the ringing silence after an explosion, the sonic boom to the shell that is left when suffering lifts.  The pain was - and still is - gone.  Gone.  My nerve pain is gone.
It's hard to look in the review mirror and see how difficult life has been for the people around me over the last six months or so.  So many injuries, the incredible amount of frustration that comes from working through the healthcare system - one that most of the time seems to be chock full of doctors who only want to turf you into someone else's office.  So much emotion (gross) around so much pain, so much struggle to keep chipping away; more phone calls, more physical therapy, more research, more getting up in the middle of the night to search for more specialists, but here I am.  Out the other side.  I made it through.  And as I'm starting to crawl out from under this massive rock of depression and grief, the first thing I'm doing is trying to find my people again.  To say to them, maybe not with words or all that well, thank you.  For not giving up on me.  There are a few people in my life who have taught me this year what friendship really looks like when it gets down and gritty, and I will value these relationships maybe a bit more than I used to, because now I know.  This is what it means when someone literally has your fucking back.  

There is still a lot ahead before I'm back to what I consider my own normal.  I haven't even really started into rehab yet; this morning I celebrated that I could hold my toothbrush with my right hand and put toothpaste on with the left instead of wedging it between my hip and the counter, an operation that has resulted in a lot of Toothpaste Jammies Fuck.  I'm looking forward to the day where I can once again put a shirt on not like pants, or ponytail up my hair, fall asleep starfished on the bed, scrub out both armpits without an assist.  Let's not even discuss the "blender started dancing and I didn't have a hand to catch it before it fell off the counter while still on" incident.  And I know there's going to be more pain to work through as I teach my shoulder to act like a shoulder again instead of a weird dead arm baby that I carry around stapled to my side.  
But I'm in good spirits - that's the thing I say when people poke me to see how I'm doing.  I am in good spirits.  I'm starting to feel like me again, I might even be cheerful sometimes, the wrench of chronic pain has cleared and is no longer is the first thing I see when I look in the mirror.  Surgery was the right decision, and I'm putting it in print because lord knows I'll need to remind myself of that over the next few months.  The world feels different, and not just because I have to do everything with my left arm.  I can look happily into the future again.  I'm grateful to move through life again without relentless nerve pain.  I am, unfortunately and ironically after so many years of talking shit about bloggers who abuse this sentiment, blessed.