I'm on one foot, balancing my hip along the edge of a boulder.
My backpack is sprawled on the rock next to me, its insides spewing out everywhere: harness, climbing leg, shoes, socks, towels, liner, alcohol spray, and more. It's all I can do to keep from dropping my Allen wrench into the ravine 100 feet below.
|On the plus side, it's definitely the most beautiful|
place I've ever adjusted my leg!
Ants scurry across the sloping trail as I fumble to get my socket back on. Alex and Sam have hiked off to find our next climbing route. They'll be back for me in a few minutes.
At Mile 7,650, I wanted to get outside, yet I forgot how challenging outside can be.
In Ralph Stover State Park, climbing turns out to be the EASIEST part. After 4 years on gym walls, my skills are deeply ingrained. Muscle memory takes over. I recognize familiar patterns on the rock face, and I know exactly what to do.
On the ground? That's a different story.
|Balancing at the top is tricky too!|
Alex and Sam are both more experienced than I am. I watch as they competently place cams and set top ropes. They check my knots and encourage me from above when I freeze up under an overhang.
When I can't find a stable spot to belay, Sam suggests I sit on a boulder, wedging my feet against the rock wall and my back against a tree trunk. It works!
On another climb, he belays me from the top and then teaches me to rappel down. For safety, Alex secures the rope in a "fireman's belay" from below.
I adjust my leg between climbs. Once it's back on, Alex and I continue down the trail to where Sam has scouted out our next climb.
This is just the approach -- the path you take to reach the climbing area. For most people, it's a simple trip from here to there. For me, it's the hardest part of the day.
The trail tilts diagonally, higher on the left, lower on the right. It's all wrong for my prosthetic side. My foot catches on tree roots and trips over rocks. I can't get enough traction to bend my knee.
I pause to think. To plan. To problem-solve. To watch the sure-footed steps of other climbers passing us by.
"Wait," I say a thousand times.
Alex waits patiently.
I shift my trekking poles into one hand so I can grasp the cord of his backpack with the other. Side-step, pivot, hip-hike. Right hand on the backpack, left hand on the rock wall. I feel my prosthetic socket loosen again, control withering with each step.
I think about the smooth floors and air-conditioned buildings where I do my best walking.
Inside I'm good, I think. It's outside I struggle.
Seven miles later, the exact opposite is true.
Inside, it turns out, I'm not good at all.
At Mile 7,657, I'm on my way to volunteer at an adaptive climbing night when abdominal pain kicks in.
It's familiar, but ambiguous at first. I get pain sometimes. It passes. Sometimes.
Not this time.
Two hours later, my brother Mark drives me to the emergency room.
My old trauma team rallies to get me through triage and into a cubicle as soon as one opens up. They start an IV to help with the nausea, vomiting, and excruciating pain.
"You need an NG tube," says Dr. M. (Not the Dr. M. who admitted me in the trauma bay 8 years ago, but a different one, who was just a resident back then.)
|That's him on the right, when he presented my case |
at a trauma conference back in 2012!
Now, he and two new residents are standing beside my gurney, NG kit in hand. They probably expect me to argue, or cry, or yank my head away. Placing an NG tube is an excruciating process all its own.
But at this moment, I'll agree to anything. I'll do ANYTHING to stop the pain.
They cue me to tilt my chin downward and swallow as they insert the tube. An NG tube can relieve a blockage by decompressing the stomach and intestines. In other words, it draws your insides out.
|Relief from pain is the BEST feeling in the world!|
I look over at my parents, who've driven more than an hour through torrential rain and detoured roads to arrive at the ER tonight.
Just like old times, I think.
It's difficult to talk with the tube in my throat, but I do it anyway. "Can you believe this?" I mouth. "Here we are again."
It's been 6 years, 10 months, and 25 days since my last hospitalization. Almost 7 years.
This resets the clock.
In my drug-induced calm, I picture that sign that hangs behind the deli at Wawa. You know the one. It goes something like this:
And then I imagine a store full of employees throwing their hands up in futility... as the bagel guy slices off the tip of his thumb.
Here we go again...
|The familiar routine is a reminder|
-- never take good health for granted.
It's what's on the inside that counts.
On Monday morning, I return to work.
I tread slowly. Eat small bites at a time. Take deep breaths to keep the anxiety at bay.
On the outside, this looks like bouncing back. A mere 5 days in the hospital, taken in stride, sandwiched on either side by 2 hearty slices of normalcy.
The next weekend, we celebrate my parents' 75th birthdays.
|Happy Birthday, M & D!|
It's 3 days of fun, food, and field trips!
|Like our matching t-shirts?? :)|
|We trek through Crystal Cave...|
|eat ice cream...|
|and play mini-golf.|
|(Well, some of us anyway...)|
My health holds steady. And while it takes effort on the inside, it's nice be outside -- with family -- and turn the focus outside of myself.
For an abdominal problem, this occupies a lot of head space. You might say it throws me for a loop -- beyond the ones in my small intestines.
While it looks like I'm moving forward, I'm really in a holding pattern. With each step I take on the outside, I can't help wondering -- what's happening inside?
In the first 2 years after my accident, bowel obstructions haunted my recovery. They landed me in the hospital 6 more times. I thought those days were behind me, but now it seems they're making a comeback.
The idea knocks me off balance, like an unstable hiking trail where I thought the ground was solid.
I try to think. To plan. To problem-solve. But it doesn't get me anywhere.
At Mile 7,695, I'm at a standstill.
That's when Jasmine and I walk to the farmers market.
We walk and talk, and on the way home, the conversation finds its way to my latest bump in the road. I tell her how unsettled I feel. How weighted down by its resurgence. How I'm struggling with what the future might bring.
"This problem isn't one and done," I tell her. "There's a pattern. It happens over and over again." I give her a brief rundown of those dark days 7 years (and 7,000 miles) ago, before we met.
Her response surprises me. "In 7 years, your body changes," she says. "It's different now."
We compare this episode to the previous ones, and I see what she means.
This time the pain came on suddenly, not after days of struggle. It resolved quickly in the ER. I only needed an NG tube for 2 days, instead of the usual 4-5. My digestion returned to normal in record time.
Jasmine is a pediatrician, but I think she might be onto something.
"Maybe it'll be 7 years before the next one," she says. "Or 10."
"Or never?" I chime in.
She agrees it's possible. "It's time for a new pattern," she says definitively.
On the smooth-ish sidewalks of Old City, it's exactly the answer I was searching for.
|Thanks Dr. Jaz!|
My footing is stable -- for the moment anyway. I don't know what lies on the trail ahead. But maybe it's something different.
One good walk, and a dose of hope, turns my perspective inside out.
Thanks to Alex for the climbing photos, to my family & friends for always being there, and to my trauma team for (still) coming to the rescue whenever I need them!