I’ve written many odes to my Schwinn Airdyne over the years. Today I was riding through the Austrian Alps toward a glacier I would love to see but never will. The road is wonderful. I’m grateful to Bike the World — whoever they are — for all the rides I’ve taken with their videos as I ride my stationary bike.
As most of the readers of my blog know, I have damaged knees, two of them. The worst one suffered an ACL tear that was not repaired with surgery because I had no insurance. Yeah. I live in THAT country. The injury happened in 1992. It was treated with a leg brace and crutches and after that I was told not to hike for another six weeks.
It was almost 4 months in total before I was allowed to hike again. I got a mountain bike in that interval because a leg that is immobilized soon loses muscle mass. I know a lot of people — particularly women of my generation — don’t think much about “muscle mass” but I’ve realized in my sunset years that nothing was more important to me back then than keeping on the trails with my dogs. In 1992, I was 40.
The leg healed and I continued to run on it until 2004 when my right hip went south with osteoarthritis. This stuff takes a toll. I had surgery — hip resurfacing — on that hip and was supposed to be able to run again afterward, but I couldn’t. The three years between the first sign of the damage and my surgery were harrowing in many ways. The physical pain became excruciating, and it was very hard to get on any trails in that kind of pain. By the time I’d rehabbed from the surgery, my running muscles were gone and a repaired joint is not the same as the original. Ever. It’s good, but different. I tried running and it was so awkward and strange like I had someone else’s body. I have run since, occasionally, but I also know that high-impact exercise wears out man-made joints — of which I now have two — more quickly than does low impact exercise and that surgery and rehab is no picnic. I don’t want to do it again if I don’t have to.
My rehab back then — 2007 — involved an Airdyne just like the one I have now. That and an old-school Nordic track ski machine.
Where was I going with this? OK, so for more than 15 years now my primary sport has been riding an Airdyne. Today I was riding and thought, “Why am I doing this? What’s the fucking point?” A little voice answered, “There’s no point, maybe, but think of how it might be without it?”
I don’t know how it might be without it. I do know how it IS.
The Arthritis Foundation recommends an upright stationary bike above all other kinds of exercise for people with knee arthritis — both osteo and rheumatoid. So where would I be without it?
I don’t know. In worse physical condition overall, certainly. The Arthritis Foundation gives it several thumbs up for reducing pain and maintaining mobility. So maybe my knees would hurt (which they very seldom do) and maybe they wouldn’t work even as well as they do.
So I will persist…
My Airdyne is like the one in the featured photo but mine has racing stripes. I love the irony.
Yesterday I spent a little time looking for a trip. I’ve been — with a couple short jaunts up to Colorado Springs — in the San Luis Valley for the past three years. Yeah. One reason, of course, has been Covid. The other money. Boarding dogs isn’t cheap. A lot of people choose not to have pets because they want the freedom to travel. I guess I’ve done the converse.
In the process of looking for a trip, I did, of course, find a couple. Then I read the fine print and some of it concerned me. Even thought they are well-organized group tours for “seniors,” they have this:
Tour pacing & mobility
You will walk for at least 2 hours daily across moderately uneven terrain, including paved roads and unpaved trails, with some hills and stairs.
Travelers should be healthy enough to participate in all included walks without assistance. Adding optional excursions may increase the total amount of walking on your tour.
You should feel comfortable managing your own baggage at times, as well as getting in and out of boats and ferries.
Go Ahead Tours and the Tour Director who accompanies your group are unable to provide special, individual mobility assistance to travelers on tour. The responsibility of the Tour Director is to ensure the group as a whole enjoys a relaxing and informative journey, and he or she cannot be relied upon to provide ongoing, individualized assistance to any one traveler.
If you have any mobility concerns or physical restrictions, please contact our Customer Experience Team.
I thought about this for a while. Well, I’m still thinking about it. My walking problems aren’t a matter of endurance. I can’t define exactly what they are. I think it’s the reality that artificial joints just don’t work like the joints we’re born with and yeah, I have a messed up knee which adds to awkwardness when I’m tired. Getting in and out of a tour bus wouldn’t be easy for me. Walking on uneven terrain? That’s fine.
When my first hip went south almost 20 years ago now, I grieved that loss as if it were a person because itwasa person. The person was me, the person I’d always been, the person through whose eyes I saw the world. The abilities taken for granted (and enjoyed by this person!) defined a big part of my identity. “I’m not sure who I am, but I can go four miles in an hour in the mountains.” Nothing else worked. My romances didn’t work. I never got tenure so I worked as a lecturer at three schools, one of which, true, gave me three year contracts. No big publisher wanted my books or stories but dammit! I could go four miles an hour in the mountains. And then, suddenly — it was pretty sudden — I was doing 12 miles with a kid from one of my classes, a collegiate athlete, a body-builder who hiked with me every weekend for his aerobic training — and I was in excruciating pain several times, and had to stop. “I don’t know what’s going on,” I said to him.
“It’s OK. We all get injured.” He sat down on a log and took a drink from his water bottle. “Stretch for a while. We can rest.”
I put a hand out to balance beside a tree and did a few hamstring stretches until I felt better, a little loser in my hip joint. Back in those days, I got massages regularly and my masseuse had noticed there was no space in my hip joint. She diagnosed it a year before it began to hurt and three years before my (incompetent) doc sent me for a hip X-ray.
All my life until then — from childhood — if something went wrong at home, at school, anywhere, I could go for a good run and regain my balance. All that running led to my being a very fast young girl, and my coach wanted to send me to Olympic Training Camp when I was 13 or 14.
Running was my ONE thing, and suddenly it was gone forever.
We think of grief as the emotion we feel when we lose people (and animals) we care about, but we can also grieve parts of ourselves, abilities, independence, beauty, potential. I don’t know that we “recover” from grief; I think we just learn to live with the loss. There’s a lot of stuff about “recovery” and the “lessons we learn” all that — yesterday I read in one of the little literary anthologies published in the Valley every spring how humans learn from pain. The story — an anecdote about losing a beloved dog — said that animals don’t have this ability (I disagree…) and it’s the ability humans have to learn from pain that makes grief redemptive. I’m not sure grief is exactly “redemptive,” but continuing one’s life after a major loss is definitely another fucking growth opportunity.
As a positive person (positive meaning concerned with the possible) I looked around for help in redefining myself and existence without the ONE THING I could do. Direction was everywhere. Like the night I got the X-ray results (finally) in 2006 I leashed my sainted Lily T. Wolf and we went out in the darkness to walk up the road. The road that passed my house in Descanso, California, didn’t have much traffic, especially at night, so it was a quiet walk. The stars shone in the moonless sky. At the end of the road was a pasture with several red horses. As we approached their fence I heard them all move toward me. I walked over to the fence and found five soft horse noses reaching for me. I’d walked down this road many times and the horses had never lifted their heads.
I stroked their noses and any other parts of their heads and necks I could reach. They leaned over the fence to touch noses with Lily. As I walked along the fence, they followed me. In the next pasture, the horses there did the same thing. I must have petted ten horses that night.
The next day, on my way home from school, I bought a big bag of carrots and returned to the horses. They all gathered at the fence and I noticed that ALL of them were old, arthritic, with swollen joints. Many walked slowly favoring a sore leg. One horse couldn’t chew the carrot so I chewed it for her and gave it to her on the palm of my hand. I stayed with the horses for a long time and cried. A few months later the horses were gone. Glue? Dog food? I don’t know, but for me the time they spent with me had been a miracle.
I am 100% convinced they knew everything that was going on inside my heart and saw me as a fellow traveler.
I decided then that everything I would need to cope with this major loss of self would appear somehow. I just had to be open to it. I was about to enter a new world with a yet undiscovered self.
When you get a hip prosthesis the advertising promises all kinds of things. You see guys skiing moguls on them, running on them, all kinds of things which are indeed possible. But there is the question the ads don’t tell you about which is, “Should you?” The answer there is that depends on how often you are willing to go under the knife. One of the things I’ve learned from this is that the surgery is nothing. You’re knocked out. Rehab is long, and, though it’s rewarding because the pain is gone, there are always ancillary annoyances like kicking opioid pain killers and picking up your life where it was before. After my second hip (I have prostheses in both hips) I got cross country skis which proved to be the ONE true compensation for not running, but I don’t have any friends who X-country ski so I’m limited where I can go. I’m willing to go anywhere by myself, but I’m also not foolish. I know I can get hurt or stuck or godnose, so… Anyway, I don’t know anyone who wants to do it as much as I do. It’s always something. Like no snow…. Grrrrrrr…
I haven’t gotten over the loss. I doubt I ever will and reading “fine print” like that I read last night about mobility? The bottom line is I’m still walking and I have a big white dog who understands me and a little black dog who is the realization of joie de vivre when we’re out there doing whatever it is we do on that gravel road in the magnificent light, surrounded by mountains.
The featured photo is the pasture and two of the red horses. You can see how one of them is standing (back horse) with her leg lifted off the ground. The mountain is Cuyamaca Peak. The photo is taken from the exact spot where Lily and I spent time with the red horses. The hills behind the horses burned in the Cedar Fire a couple years before I took this photo.
“Things just happen in the right way, at the right time. At least when you let them, when you work with circumstances instead of saying, ‘This isn’t supposed to be happening this way,’ and trying harder to make it happen some other way.” ― Benjamin Hoff, The Tao of Pooh
I had all kinds of hopes when I moved here. I imagined hiking long mountain trails to pristine lakes and riding my bike on oh, wait, same thing. Even though I had to go thumbs down on two nice houses — one with stairs and another with a claw-footed bathtub I couldn’t climb into — I didn’t connect THOSE problems with the unlikelihood of my hiking long mountain trails to pristine lakes, etc.
It wasn’t long before those hopes shriveled. They grew again when I had my left hip replaced in 2018, but, they’ve retreated in the meantime. I was thinking yesterday how absurd it will be when I have two metal knees and two metal hips. I do not know if I will change my name to C3PO or not, but it’s something to think about.
Meanwhile I fight daily to keep moving. I was wondering yesterday as I rode the Sainted Bike To Nowhere where it gets me. Then my little brain said, “Where might you be WITHOUT it, Sweet Cheeks?” That was a good point. Where would I be? I’ve been fighting to sustain a life-long activity level. Humans can learn to like almost anything (as I’ve learned) and I actually LIKE riding the Sainted Bike to Nowhere. I wish I also had an elliptical, but I don’t have the money or the space.
I have no idea what the future holds, whether I’ll put my legs under some more knives and robots or what. I walk pretty well for now, and that’s the main point, for me anyway.
Last night I dreamed about the Big Empty, the surrounding fields flooded in the spring (irrigation) and the cranes and geese settling in for a while. I was standing on a road looking at it thinking how beautiful it was and how strange. It was — in the dream — as if I’d never seen it before. It was reminiscent of the first time I saw it. Then I thought, “If I could walk better, I probably would not have had any interest in this landscape or this place. Very likely, I would have missed it.”
The featured photo is the first photo on my phone. I took it the day I saw the Big Empty (Monte Vista Wildlife Refuge) for the first time, August 2, 2014.
A few days ago a friend stopped by between here and there. When she got out of her car, I saw she was bent over by at least 30 degrees and walking stiff-legged. I hadn’t seen her in a few months and I was a little stunned. As it happened, she’s also the friend that argued with me about my hip surgery insisting that I hadn’t had my mobility restored but “augmented.” That made me furious and I don’t get angry all that easily. I was ready to set her straight on that when she arrived, but when I saw her I thought, “We have a bigger problem now.”
She’s a very controlling person with strong opinions. I don’t like confrontation (she does), but I have confronted her before back when I was negotiating for my house and she was my agent. I also, frankly, think she’s kind of an idiot. Many of her opinions about things have been refuted for once and for all by solid scientific research, but I just let it roll away into the twilight zone of illusion. I’m not a person who has to be right, even when I am.
So, instead of telling her not to argue with me about stuff I know (like my own hip surgery and repair) I talked to her about her mobility. She was very defensive and attempted denial. “It doesn’t matter what you think,” I said. “Just get X-rays so you know what you’re dealing with. If it’s something, you need to know.”
“So I know what my options are?”
“We don’t always have options,” I said. A person with bone-on-bone osteoarthritis has the option to have surgery or ride around in a wheelchair. I know she’s not a person who “believes” in objective reality, but it’s there, nonetheless.
Even then she’s (allegedly) going to get the X-rays and show them to her sister, a chiropractor, rather than let the doctor read them. I just figure “Whatever.” Then I tried to explain what long-term pain and challenged mobility do materially to our brain, the organ, not our mind the ephemeral entity.
Either that got her attention or she decided that agreeing with me would get me to shut up.
But, if you’re curious, what pain and being crippled do to our brain is this:
People with unrelenting pain are often depressed, anxious and have difficulty making simple decisions. Researchers have identified a clue that may explain how suffering long-term pain could trigger these other pain-related symptoms. Researchers found that in people with chronic pain, a front region of the cortex associated with emotion fails to deactivate when it should. It’s stuck on full throttle, wearing out neurons and altering their connections.
What’s more, a person in this situation — because it evolves slowly — has a tendency to accept the unacceptable — like my friend walking like that, and excusing it by saying, “I just drove 3 hours.”
I said straight out, “That doesn’t wash in real life. These are not symptoms of driving. They’re symptoms of a physical problem.”
I think that whether she does anything or not (it’s her life, her body) she knows I care about her. There’s not much more I can do.
I’m still fighting the brain changes every day. I was essentially handicapped and in pain for a decade. Sometimes I’m amazed by what I’m able to do now that I couldn’t do for a long, long time, like figure out a solution so my back storm door doesn’t keep breaking, like cutting back an unwelcome elm tree, like basically figuring out anything.
Today I filled the tires on my real bike which I haven’t ridden in more than 2 years. I was determined to ride it. The whole scenario reminded me of taking out my new Cross Country skis the first, second, third, fourth, fifth times. I felt a nagging apprehension, fear, that threatened to hold me back from doing something I wanted to do. As with Cross Country skiing, I didn’t know if I could ride, but I have no rational reason not to.
My fears are about getting on and stopping at a stop sign. I have to figure out a way to get on when I’m afraid? unable? to lift my leg over the bike. For now I lay the bike on the ground, straddle it and pull it up, but that isn’t what I want to do. So, as I wheeled it out of my yard onto the driveway and laid it down to get on, I felt real terror. What if I fell? Could I get up? Would I be hurt? Then my X-country ski voice said, “Don’t fall. Just ride. Just try. See what it’s like. See what you remember. Stop while you’re still having fun. Get on. Who cares how?”
It was a fresh and lovely morning. I rode a couple of miles where I wouldn’t have to deal with stopping. I thought of how nice it would be ride where I walked Bear in winter. I appreciated how much faster and more exhilarating is than walking. I tested out the gears since it had been so long since I’ve shifted bike gears. I think the seat’s too low, but? I don’t know. I decided to take it to Kristi Mountain Sports in Alamosa and get it fitted to me. It’s a small bike for a small person — maybe too small? I don’t know. Then I turned into the alley and felt the clutch of fear at the rough curb, the rutted dirt and without thinking I was in a solid mountain biking position on my bike. I felt a little spring of joy in my heart.
I might get this. “Keep trying, every day,” said my Cross Country ski voice. “It’s almost as good as snow, remember? Remember how you rode on all those dirt trails in California imagining you were skiing? It will get you through the summer. Don’t give up.”
I came in the house and cried. Fighting fear is very emotional. You hold it back until you can release it. It’s a very good feeling.
I’m in Colorado Springs. It’s my 3 month or something visit to my orthorpedic surgeon, Dr. Szuszczewiz. Maybe six month. Time has lost meaning.
Beautiful drive over La Veta Pass, uneventful drive the rest of the way, arrived at my friend’s house a little early, drove to the doc. On the way I heard my anthem, “Running Up that Hill” by Kate Bush.
He took three X-rays, one in a position I thought I wasn’t supposed to take. I waited for him in a cold little room wearing a pair of PT shorts (PT — Physical Therapy). He arrived, came in, said, “Go run up that mountain. Go ski. Where are you going to ski?”
“Where there’s snow.”
I’m so happy. In my initial exam he said, “You might be able to run, I think so, but no skiing.” Today, “No restrictions. Maybe I’ll see you on the slopes.”
Next week I go see my orthopedic surgeon I think for the last time (I hope?). I guess it’s for my 3 month check but it will have almost 5 months. I may call and ask if I really have to go. It’s a 3 hour drive and I have to board the dogs… $$$
My novel — The Schneebelis Go to America — is in the hands of my editor. I miss it. As much as I disliked it for so long, it made my summer really pretty good. I’m only worried that my defective brain led to defective writing. But who knows? It could go the other way. I will be very happy to have it back. I’ve built a little spreadsheet of possible agents and their requirements.
I got a small bottle of pepper spray to take on walks to the slough. I have not been there since the uncomfortable encounter with Grizzly Man — except with my friends when they came for the Potato Festival. I got the hot pink bottle so that it would be very visible to anyone approaching me. It’s crazy that I lived in a high crime city in a high crime neighborhood, hiked alone (with dogs) for years, walked around the hood with and without my dogs, and never before felt afraid. But the creepy guy has made me a lot less interested in hiking at the slough and along the river. I’m not sure the dogs miss it at all. Bear likes meandering strolls that focus on all the smells in the neighborhood and Dusty, at 13 yrs 7 mos isn’t the athlete he once was. That’s very old for such a big dog — and he’s doing great for his age. Anyway, soon the golf course will be closed to golfers and open to us. 🙂
Props to everyone who’s still posting daily prompts. I’ve returned to following along with one of them. I still miss that one cryptic word that used to show up every morning, sometimes inspiring a story to write, sometimes summoning Lamont and Dude (where are those guys?) during the blissful moments when I have a full, hot cup of coffee. Maybe I’m just out of shape.
Two weeks post-op and my second bad night. I guess that’s pretty good. The worst part of my day is taking off my compression stockings without violating my precautions.
The wound is tender and wants the staples out. The obligatory walks are not much fun, and invariably (so far) the night after I walk, I have painful muscle spasms. I would like to get off Percocet because it upsets my stomach, but muscle spasms at night make that difficult, and I cannot take NSAIDS. Yesterday was awful probably because I forgot to take any pain meds so by night, I was hurting.
Four more weeks until I see the surgeon again and get the “all clear” to return to my normal life and physical positions. I’ve given up the idea that I’m going to bring home the dogs any time soon, but I would if I could find someone who wants a job walking them.
I know from life in general, and my previous hip surgery in particular, that there are ups and downs with this and that patience is, itself, a doctor. It’s amazing to think that just two weeks ago RIGHT NOW (!) I was joking with the OR nurse about maybe drawing a target on my hip. Not long afterward, some guy was rooting around in my left hip joint, cutting off bad bone and replacing it with metal and plastic. It’s bizarre and freaky, but it really happened.
SO… Lois and I took three walks yesterday and went to the grocery store, a distance that ended up totaling a whole mile. Otherwise, I’d put the day up against “Most boring days in my life in which I was 1) an adult and 2) it was not Christmas Eve. We took a photo for the blog of one of these events, but ultimately, I wasn’t in that photo. Instead there was a chubby old lady leaning on a cane. This pitiful creature has giant bazooms inside her Life is Good t-shirt, enormous thighs and one severely bowed leg. I don’t know who she was, where she came from or if that was supposed to be a joke, but it wasn’t funny.
Who TF is this?
Damn the only thing on my mind is my hip surgery. I’m so sorry. Well, maybe this is useful…
Advice Section: The BEST thing I did maybe in my WHOLE life was train seriously for the sport of total hip replacement. If you find yourself approaching that event, get on the bike-to-nowhere, ride as “far” as you can. Find a pretty place to walk and walk as far as you can as often as you can. Don’t get daunted because the bike isn’t fun and you can’t walk far. Do exercises to strengthen your core because that’s actually what holds you upright. Complain occasionally because you’ll need some moral support from friends and blogging buddies 😉 AND you’re going to be a little scared. The big fear? Well, there’s the death thing, but even bigger is
“What if I go through all this and NOTHING gets better?”
It’s a possibility, I guess. Pretty unlikely, though. The fifth day after my surgery I walked a mile and have essentially no pain, that’s pretty amazing.
Drugs… Pain management is serious, but, at the same time, the pain drugs have some nasty effects like constipation and mood changes. I wonder, also, if the medical professionals realize that anyone with this problem has already been living with substantial pain, and post-op pain might be nothing in comparison. BUT pain can keep some people from exercising and that’s a problem. Anyway, I pretty much stopped the prescription pain meds the second day I was home. I have so much less pain than I had before I had surgery.
I hope this is the last post for a while on this subject but who knows.
Happy Mothers Day to all among you who are someone’s mom!
Home from the hospital with many contraptions, but the best “contraption” is my friend Lois who has the icky jobs of taking off and putting on my ted hose and helping me get up in the night. She’s an awesome, friend and I am very lucky.
I discovered in the hospital that — at this point — when I’m not on oxgen, I get nauseous, so I came home with two oxygen tanks and a prescription for oxygen.
Oddly enough, I enjoyed the hospital. The nurses were kind, competent and — after a while — fun to be around. I was happy to be in the hospital and being cared for. Realizing this, the nurses were happy to joke around with me. We ended up having a good time, agreeing that laughter really helps with attitude adjustment and healing.
And…a word on Millennials. All of my nurses were Millennials, beautiful, personable, 30ish women living in the moment of raising kids, pursusing a difficult career on the surgical floor of large hospital. They asked about the book I’m reading, Another Good Dog by Cara Achterberg. We talk about our dogs and our jobs (mine in the past obviously). One of them had been a non-traditional college student and she was eager to tell me all about her experiences.
My “family” was there, too. It’s a family with no blood ties to me. I guess we’re held by love ties.
Francis the Blue Dragon and Little Bear
I’ve already experienced the benefit I gave myself of all those months of riding the Sainted Air-Dyne and the two months of physical therapy. Yesterday when I was gotten up and taken for a walk around the hallways I could feel the muscles in my thigh supporting, holding onto, the wounded area. My legs are closer to the same length and I stand up straight.
As for the incision, it hurts, but not much and my hip joint no longer hurts at all. They sent me home with pain meds, but I don’t feel enough pain (IMO) to need to take the full dosage. Just at night, I think. I have also the distinct “pleasure” of giving myself a shot in the stomach once a day. The physical therapist wil show up this afternoon. Things are moving right along — even me, kind of. I made my own coffee this morning. 🙂
I’m in Colorado Springs right now, drinking coffe and a smoothie and getting ready to head back to the San Luis Valley. It’s been an eventful short trip.
The purpose was to see my orthopedic surgeon for a follow-up exam after the cortisone shot and six weeks of physical therapy, ostensibly to see how all that worked but really to schedule surgery. And now I’m scheduled for hip replacement on May 7.
The way it’s supposed to play out is I go to the hospital, they plop me down in a special operating “theater” (?) designed for this procedure, they do the job, they take me to recovery then to a room, then they get me up and walk me around and I go home. I would be able to go “home” the same day but my home isn’t here so I’ve asked to spend the night. I’ll go home “home” the next day and my friend, Lois, will bring me and stay with me for several days.
The way it is supposed to work is that at 6 weeks I’ll be pretty “normal” which will be a completely new thing for me and I hope I can adjust (ha ha). That is the beginning of summer.
While I’ve been up here I also finished all the edits I’m capable of on The Schneebelis Go to America (working title). I sense that something pretty large is missing from that story, but I’m in denial. It’s almost like the proverbial and cliched “elephant in the room.” About that elephant, I think people can actually SEE it but they’re not looking. I could be wrong — and that’s something I’m not sure of — so I got in touch with the wonderful editor of two of my earlier novels and we’ve worked out a deal for her to give it a “structural edit” which means she will look directly at the elephant (if it’s there) and give me feedback.
So… more than a few glimmerings that by summer I’ll be walking a lot better and my little story will be better.