Recovering

It has been over a month since I was in the accident, and thus it has been the same amount of time in which I have gone without running.  Other than going to physical therapy three times a week I have completely sedentary.  This is a huge difference in my lifestyle and I am still adjusting to the changes.  It has certainly been a difficult transition.  

Part of my routine was to wake up obscenely early and soon afterward head out the door to go for my run.  Without a set reason, actually the need, to get up so early I have been sleeping in later than I have been in years.  I am missing the beauty and stillness of the predawn hours, however.  I am missing the barely cognizant shuffle in the dark to coffeemaker in the morning.  I am missing the ritual of putting on my gear and shoes for a run.  I miss stepping out into the cold and the quick uptick of breath and shudder before I acclimate to the  temperature.  Most of all I miss the release of stress and anxiety that occurs with every run.  Emotions need to be reflected upon to avoid having them fester and causing inner turmoil.

While I am running it is relatively easy to maintain a very strict diet.  Everything I put in my body serves a specific purpose and function.  I know the calories I burned off and exactly how many I need to replace them.  Now, however, I can not rely on my appetite to determine how much I should be consuming.  There requires a much higher degree of self restraint and, indeed, it is a struggle to at times to shy away from the unhealthy foods.  When I am running I know that if I eat processed foods or too many carbohydrates then I will feel off the next day and have a crappy run.  At the moment there is no such deterrence.  A day of poor food choices has little effect on how well I am able to sit around.  By and large I have been sticking to my diet, though, so I can return quickly to running and hopefully heal quickly from my injuries.  I also have no desire, and no money, to buy new clothes.

I have been able to stick to my diet by continuing to track everything I eat on my calorie spreadsheet.  This has kept me basically on the straight and narrow, and shamed me when I have strayed, and there has not been any weight gain this past month.  But it has been an effort and a pain keeping up on this.  Maintaining a certain weight just to look a certain way, or even just to feel good about yourself, is much harder than keeping a certain weight to serve a real function.  The trick to weight maintenance is to have it serve a purpose, to allow you to engage in an activity you love, and to increase the performance and ease at which you can do these things.  The better I eat the better I run.  I recover quicker and have more energy, reducing the chances of an unpleasant bonk during my runs.  The lighter I am the faster I am, and I can feel the difference in the ease of my movements and the increase in my pace.  Admittedly, this a dangerous game and the line between healthy awareness and unhealthy obsession is a small one.

Not having my preferred method to decompress every day has been extremely challenging.  The stress and irritability that build up throughout the day does not have an outlet like it has previously, and it has been left to percolate.  The release from running gave me a great deal of perspective on my life and calmed me down immensely.  I can definitely feel this unease bubbling beneath the surface and I have had to find other ways to decompress throughout the day.  Having other coping mechanisms is necessarily a bad a thing.

It has not all been unpleasant.  I have been able to read much more than I have in years.  I have read quite a few great books over the past few weeks and this has helped ease the loss of my everyday running routine.  I have forgotten the sublime pleasures of spending a great deal of time everyday reading.  Getting caught up and lost in the plot, quickly passing through the pages in a trance.  Slogging through the difficult and tedious chapters and passages while distractedly taking numerous breaks.  Thinking deeply and reflecting on what I just read, occasionally having an epiphany about my own life.  In many ways this has been a good substitute for running and has helped me get through the more unpleasant days of recovery.  This is something I am not going to let go after I am able to run again, making sure that I make time to read everyday.  True to form, I have started tracking my reading data, which has helped since I am not able to track any miles at the moment.

I have been vacillating over the past few weeks between bitterness and anger that this happened, that someone’s carelessness is responsible for pain and situation I am in right now, and feeling a profound sense of gratitude that things were not worse.  It is easy to ruminate, especially while I am in a great deal of discomfort or having a difficult carrying out a simple task, like putting on my shirt, on the bad fortune of the accident.  I am spending an immense amount of time in physical therapy and money on medical expenses to get back to where I was.  All this can feel overwhelming at times and it is easy to fall into the trap of negativity.  So I make it a point to be grateful for my overall good health and the fact I will be recovering.  Although it makes me slightly uneasy, I will be out running soon and before too long this will only be an unpleasant memory, an interesting story to recount, and a pile of medical bills gradually being paid off.  

Knocked Off Course: In the Hospital

Laying on the stretcher in the ambulance my first thought was this is going to cost a fortune.  I also knew I was hurt elsewhere, and probably badly enough to warrant some sort of additional medical attention, but my primary concern at the moment was my teeth.  I had already hit my max spending for the year in dental costs and I was in a panic about how they would be fixed.  

“My teeth…There is something wrong with my teeth.”  I mumbled to the EMTs.

I looked over and was able to get a good look at the EMT’s in the bright fluorescent lights in the ambulance.  The man was tall and heavyset with a thick goatee taking up a great deal of his face.  He was in his late 40s and gray peppered his full head of hair.  He towered over me on the left side of me in the vehicle and I looked up into his face.

“Did you lose consciousness?”  He asked, ignoring my statement about my teeth.

“Yes.”

“For how long?”

“A few seconds, maybe”

He looked at the other EMT, a smaller woman in her early 50s.  She had short brown hair which was slightly curled.  She looked unconcerned and was calmly standing beside me to my right.

“Let’s get the neck brace.”  He said.

A brace appeared suddenly around my neck and was quickly, expertly secured.  My phone started to vibrate and I reached for it.  I knew it would most likely be Christina calling, so I asked the woman to please answer it and tell her where I was going.  She took the phone and then showed it to me.  The words “Sweetie Pie” and Christina’s picture was on the screen and she asked if she could call her Sweetie Pie.  I smiled slightly at the joke and told her sure.

As she told Christina what had happened and where we were going, my clothes were being steadily cut off my body.  First, my gloves, I had two layers tightly on my hands, were cut off and then my shirt sleeve was cut off around my left elbow.  I was looking intently at the ceiling of the ambulance, shivering uncontrollably when I heard him say there was a deformity along my elbow.  The woman shuffled over to take a look and I heard them quietly saying something to each other.

The cutting continued.  My shirt was cut off and electrodes were placed on my chest.  My pants were cut off and my legs were inspected.  My shoes came off.  An IV insertion was attempted repeatedly, the pain of which I was only faintly aware of, and then was given up after half a dozen attempts.  Later there would be multiple bruises along the underside of my right arm.

Soon the ambulance pulled into Harrisburg Hospital.  By this point I was in my underwear and shaking like a leaf.  I thanked both the EMT’s and was quickly wheeled out of the ambulance and into the emergency department.

In the emergency room there was a whir of trauma doctors and nurses.  A quick succession of tests, x rays, and questions occurred.  An IV was finally able to be inserted on the top of my right hand.  At some point I was administered morphine for the pain and the following sequence of events started to get fuzzy.  Time stopped becoming a fixed, measurable, and definable entity.  The whir of doctors and nurses around seemed natural; just part of the day’s planned events.

I opened my eyes at some point and saw Christina beside me.  Relief swept through my body her presence calmed me down and I knew this would turn out alright.  Her sister, Heather was also there and I attempted a smile and a hello.  I felt better knowing I was not alone, but my lucidity was fading fast.  Doctors and nurses came in and out of my room with multitudes of questions, of which they were becoming more and more difficult to answer.

Amidst the chaos a state trooper came in to investigate what had exactly happened in the accident.  He was taken aback by the flurry of medical activity around me, as well as my condition.  I recounted what had occurred as best I could.  I told him I had no recollection of seeing anyone approaching me on the bike.  I mentioned my reflective shirt and headlamp I had been wearing at the time.  He noticed the shreds of my bright shirt, pieces of which were still by my on my back and side.  The trooper was amazed at how a bicycle could do this much damage and ket asking me if it was possible a car had hit me.  I was also told that another man had come to the scene and picked up the person who had hit me and drove off before anyone could get his information.   He assured me he was going to try and find this guy and would search all the local employers and areas hospitals to see if he could find him.  He left the room became active again with medical personnel.

X ray machines were wheeled into my room to scan my arms and legs, I was moved to another room to get a CAT scan.  At some point my whole body was scanned for any fractures or broken bones that could have been missed.  After an indeterminate amount of time had passed I was told I did not have any damage to my skull or neck.  I felt something akin to relief, but I could not fully comprehend the significance of what was being said. I did have a broken arm and I also had facial fractures.  At the time I was most grateful my neck brace was taken off and I could lay quietly on the hospital bed, swathed in warm blankets, for a least a period of a time.

An orthopedic doctor came and spoke with me about my arm, specifically about my elbow.  It was badly broken and I would need to have surgery.  The surgery would happen first thing in the morning.  I nodded my head and said I understood, but what was of paramount of importance to me at the time was not the future surgery, but the roaring pain in my arm, which was enveloping my whole body.  My face was also radiating pain.  He prescribed pain medication specifically for this sort of pain and soon after a vial was pumped into my IV tube.

 The pain almost immediately dissipated and retreated into the background.  I could hear and see what was going on around me, but I stopped caring or having any connection to what was happening outside the warmth of my body.  I just lay still on the bed and let the warm, peaceful waves traverse my body.  At some point I heard a nurse say my oxygen level was in the 80s and an oxygen tube was inserted into my nostrils to assist with my breathing.  I was taking shallow breaths from the medication.  I was encouraged to take bigger breaths, to which I nodded, but did not respond with the appropriate action.  I started to sweat profusely and I could feel the pillow behind my head grow damp.  And as the minutes ticked by I felt more and more at peace as my breathing decreased and the sweating intensified.  

Eventually, and I disappointedly felt at the time, the medication started to wear off and my breathing improved and I realized I was in a pool of my own sweat.  Apparently I had not responded well to the medication, however for the rest of the day I kept asking for it again.  Amidst all the pain and discomfort I wanted that glorious feeling again.  I had forgotten the name of the medication, though, and in my head I just kept telling myself I wanted the medication that made me sweat again.

The rest of the night was spent getting morphine and pain medications, falling asleep with my mouth open, waking up when the pain returned and then waiting anxiously until I could get the pain medication again.  Each time a nurse would come in carrying the pills and vial I would be flooded with relief and anticipation.  There is no appreciation like the one for the nurse standing over you squeezing a syringe of morphine in your arm.

First thing in the morning I was given my scheduled dose of morphine and soon after I was wheeled into the operating room.  There were masked people everywhere and several incomprehensible introductions were given.  Some chemicals were administered to me which had the purpose of calming me down, which they immediately did, leaving me completely alright with the reality I would soon be cut up and have my bones nailed back together.  I closed my eyes and thought to ask how long the surgery would last, but when I opened them again I was back in my hospital room.

I looked down at my left arm and it was wrapped in a tight cast.  My arm was heavy, anchoring me in a fixed position.  Pain was radiating from the area and I grimaced at the the thought of the work which was recently done on my arm.  I imagined the doctor raising his arm high, clenching a hammer and readying himself to take another swing at the nails in my open arm.  I looked over and saw Christina sitting beside and I was put back at ease.  Relieved to not be alone I went back to sleep.

I was unable to go home the day of the surgery due to the pain, not just in my arm, but also from the fractures in my face.  I waited for the nurses and their small vials of relief every two hours.  I would fall asleep after the administration, drift in and out of consciousness for an hour and a half and then shoot back up, wide awake when the pain returned in sudden waves of discomfort.  Time sped by quickly in a medication induced state of semi consciousness and then would suddenly, and forcefully, slow to an uncomfortable crawl.  I spent this time looking at the whiteboard where the next morphine administration was written, looking at the clock, and poised to press the nurse’s button when they aligned.

The next day the pain had not abated, however I was slated to go home.  I was told by the nurse that they were weaning me off the morphine.  I asked about additional pain medication to take home and the nurse cautioned against taking too much.  I also got a lecture against pain medication.  He mentioned ibuprofen and told me just how well this worked for inflammation and pain.  He told me he was going to talk to the doctor about this.  I was attempting a smile as he was telling me this and nodding along, but I was not liking this nurse, nor the discussion we were having.  The thought of going home with a bottle full of ibuprofen was making me cringe.  After he left the room a doctor came in to check on me and I was thankfully able to procure strong enough pain medications to make returning home seem less terrifying.

Christina and her grandfather arrived and we waited for the discharge instructions.  Christina got my medications filled at the hospital pharmacy while we waited.  Time was not a measurement I was able to keep track of at the time, so after what seemed like hours the nurse returned with the discharge instructions.  At this point I would have agreed to do anything, any course of action, in order to get out of there, and I was only marginally paying attention.  There were follow up appointments to be scheduled.  One with an ENT for the facial fractures, one with the Ophthalmologist since I had blood in my eye, and a follow up appointment with the Orthopedic Surgeon.  I looked over the paperwork, only somewhat understanding what was expected of me.  I signed off that I had received them and that they were explained to me and then I waited from my wheelchair transport to arrive.

The anticipation of going home had me more fully awake than I had been since I arrived, though I was still in an opiate haze from the medication.  I reflected on the recovery ahead of me and the lack of running I would be doing for an indeterminate amount of time.  I was lucky to have only suffered the injuries which I had, but the helpless state I was in left me in a dour mood.  I ran my tongue over my teeth, which felt to be in complete disarray.  I looked down at my arm encased in a cast.  May face was lightly throbbing and I was waiting out the clock for the pain medications stave off the pain.  Well, it certainly could be worse, I thought to myself, though the road ahead was going to be a tedious one.

A woman arrived to wheel me out to the waiting vehicle and I hobbled over and sat down.  She was not the talkative type and I was grateful as I did not have the energy or desire to maintain any sort of conversation.  Once we entered the elevator and started descending to the main lobby my mood started to improve.  The last three days had been a blur, a painful one, but they had gone by quickly.  Now I could focus on recovering from this ordeal and get back to where I was prior to the accident.  As the car pulled up and I got in the backseat I felt a burst of hope and optimism.  I smiled to myself, hoping no teeth wouldn’t fall out in the process.  

Knocked Off Course: An Accident on the Run

 

Three weeks ago on a cold, windy early December morning I followed my usual morning routine.  I woke up at 4:30 am and sleepily made a pot of coffee.  I went over to the computer, logged on and started to write down my thoughts as they slowly formed in those early morning hours.  I thought of how relatively well my life had been going.  My running was progressing better than expected and I searched for upcoming races I could train for in the upcoming months.  As I got up to get my coffee I decided to write about the importance to me in getting out every day and running.  I reflected on the healing aspect of running and the integral part it plays in maintaining my physical and mental well being.  The words appeared on the screen and the lines stacked up and I grew excited and anxious to get out the front door.  

I looked at the clock and realized I needed to hurry up and get started on my run.  Outside it was cold, the streets were dark and briefly shuddered.  I went to my room and got my gear in order and started to get ready.  The act of putting on my layers of gear and gathering my gps, road ID, and headlamp awakened me further and my muscles slightly twitched in anticipation.  I followed the same ritual of getting ready for my run, without deviation, as I did every morning.  I stretched in the same way.  I put on my sneakers and outer layers in the same order.  I put on my bright greenish-yellow reflective half zip over my base layer and then put on my headlamp.  I turned off the lights in the kitchen and switched on the lumens atop my head, illuminating the entire room with their brightness.  I turned on my gps and head out the door.

Outside it was cold, in the 20s, and I shivered slightly as I shook out the kinks in my arms and legs.  I hit the start button on my gps and started down the dark street.  Sometimes the first steps feel heavy and my feet thud angrily against the pavement for the first mile or so.  Today, however, it felt effortless as I glided across the sidewalks and roads.  The wind picked up, but my core was heating up, keeping the cold outside my layers of clothing.  As I eased into the rhythm of my breathing and stride, I felt a sense of hope and gratitude.  The familiar houses and intersections seemed to zip by and I eased into a feeling of equanimity as I fully embraced the present moment.  It is rare when you are absolutely in the moment, the worries of the day are kept safely at bay and the thoughts of self doubt and uncertainty have left the forefront of your consciousness.  They are never completely gone, but during this time of elevated heart rate, increased breathing, and concentrated physical effort, they recede into the background and their constant dark whispers are momentarily silenced.

I picked up my pace as I left the outskirts of town.  I passed the last stop light and set a steady pace for the straight uninterrupted road ahead of me.  The traffic was slowly increasing as time was wearing on and I made sure to pay close attention to my surroundings.  There were clusters of headlights as the cars whizzed past me and I kept well onto the shoulder.  I thought to myself how odd that I considered this my safe place, my safe time, their congruence creating the conditions for daily healing, for a cleansing of what had previously occurred and troubled me.  And this was my space I knew I could return to day after day.  It was mine and I knew I could rely on these stretches of road and time to touch and feel a sense of wellness, no matter what else may be going on in my life.  During this stretch of road my state of mind was peaceful and calm.

Suddenly, the next thing I knew I was on the ground.  I was unable to breath in and was hunched face down on the pavement.  I opened my eyes and the headlamp brightly illuminated the ground in front of me, casting an orange glow around my face.  I looked up and the world in front of me was blurry, as if there was a dense fog encircling me.  I put my head down again and spit out a piece of a tooth.  A long string of bloody saliva hung from my mouth and swayed erratically in the wind.  I went to move and pain from my left elbow roared back at me and I remained still and started to shiver in the cold.  I looked to my left and there was a large man slumped over a bicycle, who was beginning to stir.  He looked over at me and I saw he had a bloody nose.  He blinked in my direction without saying a word.  He had hit me head-on and yet I had never seen him.  I could feel the blood running down my face from various spots and could taste the metallic tinge of blood in my mouth.  My teeth felt in disarray.  I went to move my legs to stand up and they howled in protest.  I was stuck in the position I was in.  I looked through the blur at the increasing traffic passing by.  I waved my right arm and gestured for help.  I watched helplessly as the cars streamed by, one after another, without slowing down or stopping.  I wearily put my head down and lowered my arm.  I was shaking from the cold and felt the urge to close my eyes and go to sleep.

“How are you doing there, buddy?” I heard from behind me.  I tried to turn around, but my body would not cooperate, so I mumbled and motioned to the man on the bicycle and indicated an accident had occurred.

“I”m going to call you an ambulance” he said, and I could hear him making the phone call behind me.  

After he made the phone call he came over and started asking me questions.  I told him my name was Matt and that my left arm was badly hurt.  My left leg was hurt and I was unable to stand.  He told me not to worry and that help was on the way.

Somehow I managed to take my cell phone out of its pouch and I attempted to call my girlfriend, Christina.  She didn’t answer, so I called her grandfather, who lives down the street, and briefly told him what was going on and that I was being taken to the hospital via ambulance.  I asked him to please let Christina know.

I got off the phone and looked around me.  There was no sign of the ambulance and I continued to shiver and grow colder by the second.  I looked again to my left and saw the man who had hit me was walking away, receding from my view behind me.  The man who had stopped to help told him not to move, but he continued to walk.  I stopped paying attention and looked ahead for the flashing lights of the ambulance.  My mind was not processing the world around me.  The cars continued to whiz by and I felt their lights shine brightly on my face.  I closed my eyes and put my head down and started to shake a little harder.  I thought of the medical bills and how I was going to pay for the injuries I had accrued, the extent of which I could only guess at the time.  These thoughts were occurring in a hazy cloud as I sat on the side of the road when off in the distance I saw flashing lights approaching.

I breathed a sigh of relief as the ambulance pulled off the side of the road.  Two EMTs quickly came over and I told them about my arm and my inability to get up due to my leg.  I told them I had briefly lost consciousness.  With both of their help I was able to stand up and lie down on the stretcher.  The man who had stopped to help me was talking to them about what he had seen.  I did could not make out everything he was saying, but I did him say he sees me running every morning along this stretch of road.

“I put my card with your stuff.  You call me and let me know how you’re doing.  Take care now” He told me and then he started walking off towards his car.

I was wheeled and then loaded into the ambulance.  Before the EMTs shut the door I looked out into the darkness and asked if someone was going to get the person’s information who had hit me.

“Don’t worry, they’ll take care of that” the tall, male EMT told me.  The doors then slammed shut.

Raising Children in the Post Election World

fear

The other day I had a conversation with my 10 year old daughter that I have returned to reflect on numerous times.  We were in the car on the way home from the grocery store and I was talking to her about how things were going at school.  She gave her usual response of “good” as she concentrated on her ipod.  I told her about how there had been instances of racism in some schools where some children were being mean to children of different nationalities.  I asked if there was anything like that going on in her school and if anyone had been mean to her.  She answered, “no, why would they?”  Well, I explained to her that she is Vietnamese and that some people are mean to people who are different and make fun of them.  I talked to her briefly about how when I was growing up a lot of people were mean to me because I was Vietnamese and people said a lot of hateful things about Vietnamese people and also about me.  She said “that sounds really bad,” and that was the end of it.  

I grew up biracial in 1980s America, in a small town which was not in any way diverse in nature.  Being biracial was uncommon where I grew up.  It was also a time when the war was still fresh and raw in many people’s minds.  Many of my classmates had fathers, uncles, or family members who were in the war and did not like people like me, and these feelings were made known.  There were frequent taunts that I lived with on a daily basis.  I can recall explaining to them that my father was in the South Vietnamese army, which was the side the Americans were aiding, though this never seemed to matter and never helped slow the waves of overt racism, derision, and mockery that came my way.  I learned pretty quickly that facts and reason are not adequate responses to racism, which manifests itself in the deepest recesses of the human psyche.  Hatred and fear are impervious to appeals to logic and reason and are safely ensconced in the darkest regions of the human condition.      

I am not going to recount all of the experiences growing up and experiencing racism in 80s and 90s America, but living through this time has left an indelible mark on me.  Being Asian is an integral part of my identity and experiencing racial hatred has greatly influenced the way I view America.  I am slow to see the advancements America has made.  I am quick to see the cracks in the veneer of civility and respect in our society.  I am mistrustful of people and about how they really feel about those of us who are the “others” in their midst.  I see smiling, happy faces and wonder what is really going on in their minds, what is really being said behind closed doors.  These are not necessarily things I want to hold onto, and yet my experiences have shaped my view of reality and my perception of it.

Over the past few years I had slowly started to label these fears as relics of a bygone age, my lingering suspicions calcifying into paranoia.  I started the process of letting myself believe things were different now.  My children will not experience the same prejudices as I did.  We live in a world where the tide is turning towards more equality and acceptance.  And I started to feel hope for the future and cast aside misgivings I have held on to for so long.  

Then the election of 2016 occurred.  The racism of the Trump campaign does not need to explored here, but it has been well documented and is quite frankly, beyond dispute.  The election did rekindle and confirm all of my fears and suspicions of America I had slowly been hoping would be able to be put to rest.  They were now reawakened and reinforced in a spectacularly strong way.  The swath of Trump signs surrounding my neighborhood was a menacing reminder of how foolish I was to believe things really had changed.  The naivete of believing that progress was an inevitable force marching on its way towards greater equality seems obvious to me now.  

The horror of the election results and then the following stories of hate crimes and racist incidents at schools jolted me back to the harsh reality of America.  Awakening to this world, which I was starting to believe was passing into the annals history, has been extremely difficult for me.  I think of all the children scared and hurt in our schools, on the playgrounds, on their buses, and on their walks home and the collective pain continued to be felt by a new generation of Americans.  The sadness of this situation is of an immense caliber, and the sting is made worse by the unexpectedness of Trump’s victory.  This was not to have happened.  But it has.  And the sleeping leviathan of racism has been given permission to be unleashed.  Many of us know the how this played out before, but we would foolish to think we know what direction this will go this time around.  

Which brings me back to my daughter.  I am terrified of what lies ahead and wonder how and if she will be affected.  I want my daughter to be proud of who she is and not be ashamed or fearful because of her ethnicity.  At the same time I am aware of the dangers and hurt which lie in wait for her around unsuspecting corners and I want to do everything in my power to prevent her from experiencing the racism which was so much a part of my childhood.  I wonder if I am letting my fears and concerns overwhelm her and make her outlook on people unduly harsh.  I wonder if I do not prepare her for the brutality of the world I will be doing her a disservice.  I am not sure how to proceed in this new reality with all too familiar undertones, let alone how to correctly handle my parental responsibilities in regards to the subject.  So I am just nervously and warily watching how all this plays out, looking for signs of danger, and mourning the loss of a reality I had hoped had arrived, but which never existed in the first place.    

Telephone Dread

I have been ruminating much on my hearing lately as I have an audiology appointment coming up on Monday.  Whenever these appointments approach I start to get nervous and irritable.  The audiologist is a reminder of my hearing loss and my likely march towards a cochlear implant.  

But what has me particularly on edge at the moment is the realization this week that I am no longer truly able to effectively communicate with my girlfriend on the phone any longer.  There were several occasions when I could not hear the words she was saying no matter how loud she was saying them.  I have been able to communicate relatively effectively with the people in my life whom I know well and talk to frequently, which is probably the case for most people who are hard of hearing.  I rely heavily on people’s speech patterns and the words typically used by a person to understand what they are saying at any given time.  A high degree of comfort with the person also helps greatly.  

I have been unable to really use the phone with most people for the last several months, and before that I needed my iPhone cranked up to top volume, a completely quiet location, and my utmost concentration in order to trudge through a conversation.  I have a certain process for dealing with phone calls when they came in.  First, I rush to a quiet room and shut the door.  Then I take out my hearing aid and hold on to it tightly so I wouldn’t lay it somewhere and forget it.  Finally, I sit with furrowed brow and concentrate on the conversation.  This whole process was never a relaxing experience, nor a passive one either.  A busy days of phone calls was absolutely exhausting.  

Now I am at a point where these processes and strategies are no longer working like they used to.  I truly dread getting phone calls or having to make them.  I tend to put them off or wait until I am in the most optimal location I can find in order to make the experience as least embarrassing as possible.  During the conversation I allot myself three requests for repeats before I give up.  I have grown less able to mask my own irritation during phone conversations when I am unable to hear what is being said.  I am sure this is increasing my isolation, but in the moment my mood tends to drift in a steady downward trajectory.  

Which makes me think of some new social norms which are associated with communication and phone use.  Texting is the preferred method of communication for most fiends and acquaintances.  Phone calls, and more specifically, conversations are for those for whom we are especially close.  In a digital age the very analog spoken word is a way of expressing intimacy.  For all the people we email and text on a daily basis, there are substantially fewer we call.  I’m sure we can all think of a flow chart which would illustrate our own personal methods we use to discern when to email, text, or call, and also to whom.  There is also that irritation provoking call to someone and then getting a text back:  “I saw you called, what’s up?”  That text is a good indicator to where you really stand with the person.    
Now in many ways I have benefited from this change from spoken to digital communication.  What saddens me, however, is losing that special place to the few people in my life where I am the person who is called.  A special connotation it is to be on this list for people.  I wonder if being on this list, but not being able to communicate in this fashion decreases the closeness and intimacy felt for the person.  I hope not, but I suspect this may not be the case.  I suspect this is a barrier to long term closeness and intimacy.  An unconscious reaction, no doubt, so if consciousness is applied to the matter then hopefully this is not the case.  Something to think about and mull over before Monday’s appointment.  

Why Race?

In June of 2013 I completed the Laurel Highlands 70 mile run in what is still my crowning achievement in running.  The last twenty plus miles I ran with a guy, whose name I sadly do not recall, who stayed with me through some extremely dark times.  I know I would not have been able to finish the race if it wasn’t for him.  Flash forward to June of 2015 and I am again running the race.  Around mile 45 or so I run into the same guy.  He and I start to chat and I realize at this point, as my mood was already starting to plummet, that I was unable to understand a word he was saying.  This is when it really hit me just how much of my hearing I had lost in the last two years.  The depression set in with a vengeance and I eventually dropped out of the race at mile 56.  While I do not blame my ignominious DNF on this moment of clarity regarding my hearing loss, there were many other factors, mostly from my own foolishness, it certainly did not help.  And since this race I only have attempted one other ultra, Stone Mill 50 miler, and I also DNF’ed that race as well.  Again, there were certainly other factors involved, but mainly I just did not have it in me anymore to finish.  Being completely unable to communicate with the other runners and aid station volunteers was a dismal experience.  And just like in any ultra, there was ample time to ruminate on my continued hearing loss and to fear for what the future will entail.

 

As my mileage is ramping up for my planned 100 miler in the fall, I have been thinking often during my runs of how my race will play out.  While it was never the primary motivating factor, the camaraderie at the races was a meaningful experience in which to be a part.  Having this no longer be part of the event is in many ways quite sad.  Also, running with someone and sharing some time on the trail and hearing their story, their journey to the starting line, was an integral part of the whole experience.  To have this no longer be an option is, again, sad and I will miss the interaction.  I have seriously contemplated getting a shirt or sign which says that I am hard of hearing so people do not make the assumption I am ignoring them.  Admittedly, this would not be an odd thing to do and would distantiate myself even further from the other runners.  

 

So, then I ask myself:  why am I training for a ridiculously challenging event, which already will have inevitable moments of extreme unpleasantness, that will not be even more difficult and draining?  Well, to be honest, I have not come up with a satisfactory answer to this question.  What I have realized, though, is the beauty of hard, all encompassing training.  I love the feeling of finishing up my normal 10 miler with a “that’s it?” feeling still in my legs.  I love the feeling of floating down the road and just how natural and efficient the body becomes at something when a great deal of time and effort have been put into it.  And I love the feeling of accomplishment after hitting my mileage or pace goal for each workout and for each week.  The fact I can not hear the cars as they drive by me is somewhat unsettling, and probably dangerous, but it is well worth it in my mind for the brief moments of elation I get on an almost daily basis (there are, of course,  some runs which are so awful and tedious their only redeeming quality is the acclimation to suffering they bring).  
And so the conclusion I have come to is that I am racing this year as an excuse to train.  As an excuse to spend hours and hours each week away from other activities and from other obligations, as a reason to briefly feel that everything is possible and things may just turn out just fine.  

Hearing Aids

Hearing aids are absolutely exhausting.  Having every little tick and tock, whir and hum amplified to the same level as to what I actually need to hear and listen to creates an absolute cacophony of distraction; slowly draining energy like a small electronic parasite attached to my ear.  Conversations just out of discernible range whisper around me throughout the day.  And while I can not make out the words of what is being said, it seems like I could almost feel the breath from these voices on my skin they sound so close.  For instance, as I walked to my car yesterday I could hear voices, which sounded nearby, and I looked around and saw no one.  Perplexed, I continued to scan the area.  I finally saw people across the street in the parking lot exiting a building talking to one another.  No words were detectable from them:  just a disorienting sequence of voices picked up and transmitted to my nerves in an incoherent fashion.  

Conversations in particular prove to be taxing experiences.  When I speak I am completely unable to modulate my voice to how loudly or softly I should be speaking.  The hearing aids distort and mask the volume at which I am speaking.  The volume of my voice is based on the looks on the person’s face I am talking to.  Is there a furrowed brow to indicate a straining to hear what I am saying or is there a slight wincing, or pursing of the lips from me braying a few decibels beyond the comfort zone.  My eyes dart back and forth and scan the scenario to make sure the volume is reasonable and appropriate, though at times I would be better served to pay closer attention to the content of the conversations is equally thought out.  Often I realize a little too late I have reached the Goldilocks conversational level, onto to discover I have subjected the person to tedium and boredom.  All of which makes for an exhausting experience and one which requires a certain amount of preparation and attention, a level I would not think is the typical experience of one engaged in light, pleasant conversation.  

One result of this inability to hear my voice in a constructive fashion in conversations is that I have been forced to limit the topics I talk about.  Since I am unable to tell just how loudly I am speaking, I tend to discuss only what I would be unashamed to have those passing by overhear.  This has inadvertently made me into a better person in some regards, and I must say I am I a little resentful of this.  Integrity out of necessity, as opposed to actually being someone of high moral fiber, casts a shadow on one’s soul.  

Something that is perhaps indicative of other issues, though still problematic in regards to having hearing aids, is the fear, rather terror, I have over losing them.  It is strange in many regards to depend on something so small and fragile to function with others throughout the day.  While I type this the smartphone comes to mind as somewhat similar, though not even close to being comparable.  While it is far from perfect, and indeed in many ways frustrating and actually maddening, I do absolutely rely on my hearing aids to get through the day.  If they were to stop working or worse, were to be lost, I would be unable to work in the manner in which I need.  This creates much anxiety about the care and placement of these small pieces of technology.  There are many nights when I am about to drift off to sleep and then jolt awake, wondering if I put them away safely in their drawer.  I get up and check on them and touch each one, counting out loud:  one, two.  Close the drawer and then open it again and repeat the process.  Just making sure they are alright.  Just checking on them one more more time like a concerned parent of a newborn looking over a sleeping baby in their crib, getting close to ensure soft, consistent breathing.  A worried look on my face until I know for sure they are there, and then the sweet relief sweeping through my body when I see them, touch them, count them and knowing that for now I have the tools necessary to function at a passable level.    

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City Trails

Getting far away from it all and escaping to mountainous (for Central Pennsylvania), remote trails is something I rarely have the opportunity to do anymore.  The responsibilities of being a parent, as well as the myriad of other time commitments I have make getting those trips to secluded trails far and few between.  

There is definitely a fair amount of guilt after driving half an hour or more to do a 4 hour run and then returning in the afternoon.  And that is when it is even feasible, because mostly it just is not anymore.  Which is alright.  

A few years ago I really got caught up in the wonderful sport of ultrarunning and jumped in wholeheartedly with both feet.  I had visions of completing all the major mountain ultras and traveling the country to do so.  The cost and time commitment has proved especially daunting, however, and I have come to terms with what is possible at this time in my life.  

And that is getting out every day for a run.  It means a lot of road miles.  And it means the urban trails surrounding the city will have to suffice for the trail miles I need to get in.  I can get up early, drive the less than 10 minutes to the “trailhead” get in some nice miles and then be back at home before the kids are up.  

And the trails surrounding the Harrisburg Greenbelt are actually really quite nice and fun to explore.  And while I am not likely to come across rattlesnakes or bears on my run, there is the discarded pornography that makes an occasional appearance on the side of the trail.  And that certainly beats the gym.  

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Sunday Morning Greenbelt Run

This morning I went out to the Greenbelt for the first time since the blizzard in late January.  I have been spending much of my time running aimless loops around the neighborhood, with occasional jaunts out for a longer loop here and there.  While I have been able to maintain my fitness, these excursions have been less than exciting and quite tedious.  I have gotten to know my neighbor’s comings and goings quite well and I suppose I have become quite the fixture in my little town.  

At any rate I put on some decidedly upbeat music and headed to the trailhead parking lot right by Dauphin County prison.  Setting both my gps watch and strava on my phone, I started off at a pace completely unrealistic to where I am physically at this time.  In running, as in life, the unrealistic seems quite doable for a short while before reality sets in.  I think of the promise of the future and the endless possibilities of life.  All I have to do is try hard and maintain a steady pace.  Just a little bit of steady effort is all it will take, and I’ll be right where I need to be.  A few extra cups of coffee in the morning is all I need and I my life will get turned right around.  I need to do more with my life, I need more friends, and I need to continue my education.  And then reality to starts to set in and I drastically downgrade my pace expectations and also my mileage expectations for the day.  Hey, that’s not too bad.  I can totally live with that.  And then the thoughts become much more mundane and I start thinking about what I am going to eat for lunch as opposed to what I am going to accomplish in my life.  

The rest of the run was pretty much unremarkable until when I was almost done I came across a guy taking pictures by the river.  He smiled and took a few of me as I was approaching.  I smiled back and said “good morning” and he said”hey, you wanna make some extra money?”  I had no response as I ran past and mulled over this request.  How much and what in particular was being requested?  The man did have a Nikon, so I imagine it would be a reasonable offer.  I briefly thought of turning around and getting the specifics.  For someone who questions their own self worth as much as me, I was of course curious as to where that rock-bottom  worth really lies.  But alas, the answer to this question was to elude me today as I had to get back to my car and get to work.  Rest assured, though, next time I will be prepared and will find out.  And as I slowed down at the end of my run my thoughts were no longer on the great heights I can attain and strive for in my life, but rather how much I could get for a few illicit moments behind some shrubbery by the river.  

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