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.