Ten years ago today, I woke up, tired. Again. With my usual self-recriminations I told myself to quit being such a baby. Lots of people get tired. I made it into the master bathroom and pulled the kitchen stool that I had commandeered months earlier, over to the bathroom sink to begin the process of brushing my teeth. A few months earlier, it had become too much effort to stand up long enough to brush my teeth. Then it had become too difficult to raise my entire arm to brush my teeth, so, in my efforts not to be a baby, I had come with an ingenious process of sitting on the kitchen stool and supporting my weight with my elbows on the edge of the vanity. Now, all I had to do was raise my forearm to my mouth to be able to brush my teeth. Brilliant! Until this day ten years ago. I sat on my kitchen stool, rested a bit from the strenuous walk from the bedroom, and stared at my right forearm, commanding it to move. Nothing happened. As hard as I tried, I could no longer raise my forearm up off of the counter.
That began our odyssey. It was a journey that would take about eight years in its entirety. It began with the first eighteen months where most days I couldn’t make it out of bed. Rick would bring me all of my meals so that I could preserve the precious little energy I had; saving that for trips to the bathroom that covered less than twenty feet but which felt like twenty miles.
In the first six months, we consulted many doctors. One of the many that we consulted was very compassionate. He was the only one that was remotely helpful. Unfortunately, he didn’t think there was a lot that Western medicine could do for me. He told me that based upon his research and consulting with other doctors, he believed that I probably had less than a 3% chance of ever really recovering. And, as far as being an athlete again and running or playing tennis, I was gently encouraged not to dream that big; that my days of being an athlete were over.
A year after that prognosis, and with the help of an amazing integrative doctor and an even more amazing massage therapist (thank you Kim Payne!), I began walking outdoors again. My first “walk” was to the end of our driveway, which was maybe thirty feet long. My second trip was to the end of our block (three houses away), where I had to sit on the curb to rest before returning home. I was grateful to be outside walking again, but it felt so discouraging when I compared it to the runner I once was (eight miles, every other day, in under an hour). Which is when it occurred to me that it didn’t really matter what I could – or couldn’t do – in the past, all that mattered were the next steps that I could take.
Ironically, in all this time, I never missed a single speaking engagement. I would rest for the entire day and Rick would drive me to the event so that I could preserve whatever strength I had. I remember standing in front of an audience talking about “Pursuing our Passion” and loving every minute of the experience, yet I was also aware of the sweat that was pouring down my back with the effort it took me to stand. As soon as the event was over, Rick would help me to the car, where I would collapse onto the seat, unable to raise my head from neck rest. I didn’t want to let anyone who had hired me down. It never occurred to me that maybe I was letting myself down. Or, as I re-read this paragraph, maybe I simply loved what I was doing and I believed so much in what I was saying that it would have felt like I was letting myself down by not speaking?
Forward to today. Ten years later, I hike almost daily here in the Rockies, I am a road cyclist, I cross-country ski, and I’m a pretty good Disc Golfer. I have learned a valuable lesson: last October, I had a brief scare where I was feeling some unusual fatigue. Instead of thinking, “How can I push through this and ignore it?” I asked myself, “What do I need to do to care for myself and protect my health?” That question led to some tough decisions, but I learned that nothing is really more important than health.
This summer I will bike to the top of Vail Pass. It’s a tough climb, but last summer I did the majority of it; I only have about five miles left to go. I will take a picture from the top – once I can stop crying from joy.
I have always known that the love that Rick gave me during this time was priceless. We weren’t yet married and I know that many people in his position would have left. Instead he was the gentle, strong, loving man that I fell in love with. Together, we found ways to have fun and enjoy our time. We also experienced love from all of our very dear friends in Portland who were there for us with kindness, support and true caring.