Sunday, March 30, 2014

12 weeks and counting

It's been 12 weeks since I crashed my motorcycle, 12 weeks minus 1 day since I had surgery to put my knee back together, and 4 weeks since I last wrote anything about it.  For over 10 weeks I wore a leg brace, meaning I've been free from it for almost 2 weeks.  Eight weeks ago I started physical therapy, 5 weeks ago I started driving, 1 week ago I started boxing again.

Kneecap at T-minus 1 day of surgery and 12 weeks later
In a strange, Stockholm-syndrome kind of twist, I kind of miss my leg brace.  Not in the sense of the support it gave me, but for the physical reminder it sent to me and to others that everything wasn't A-ok in the general vicinity of my right knee.  Now I'm asked more often than not "So is your knee all healed up?"  And 12 weeks ago when I was told I'd be in a leg brace for 10 weeks, my reaction was the same: once it's off, I'll be 100% again.

But no.

My knee is still larger than my thigh because the soft tissue that was ripped apart is still swollen as it continues to heal itself.  I've come to understand this could last for up to a year.  My thigh is still smaller than my knee because my muscles atrophied (quickly) when I was be-braced and couldn't use them.  I've come to understand this can take 4–6 months to reach 80% to 90%, and up to a full year to get back to 100%.  While I used to be able to hang out at the bottom of a squat for minutes at a time, my knee currently doesn't bend far enough for me to do so, and I don't have the strength to get back up.  I have a 6-inch jagged scar running the width of my knee, I can feel knots under my skin where the surgeon tied off the plastic sutures she used to hold the 2 pieces of my kneecap together, and some skin and facia are still stuck to my kneecap where they adhered while my leg was stuck inside of its cage.

Be-scarred knee and atrophied leg
So no, my knee is not all healed up. And it won't be for a while.

I seem to cycle between good weeks and bad weeks.  The good ones usually involve realizing I've made some progress—another 10 degrees of bend, the ability to climb a step without a hand rail—which usually comes on suddenly, like "hey, look at that, I'm an inch closer to the floor and it doesn't hurt!"  That's been interesting to watch, since I thought the healing process would be more gradual.  The bad weeks involve trying and failing to do something I used to be able to do, or think I should be able to do, or try doing and then finding out how much harder it is to do than I thought it would be.  I expect these weeks to be more common now that the brace is off and I can try (and fail) to do more.   Hopefully they'll be countered by weeks when I realize that I've tried (and succeeded in) doing something, even if it's just a little more than last week.

So I still find the injury and healing process intriguing, despite the frustrating moments.   I'm hoping I might be more empathetic about both in the future, now that I'm developing an understanding of how much time it can take to heal and how difficult it can be.  I'm happy to be walking, hoping to be running (slowly) soon, and looking forward to hanging out in the bottom of a squat again.  This week I started hitting things (and got hit) again in boxing, and today I pushed a sled—not the heaviest one I've pushed before, but it felt awesome to move that sucker across the gym floor.

Tomorrow I may hurt.  And I'll likely be pissed off because of it.  It's easy to take for granted the things I could do before being injured, and it's frustrating not to be able to do them now.  But eventually I'll get there, with enough time and practice and patience, maybe just one small lunge or shallow squat at a time.   In the meantime I'll take whatever quarter-inch more mobility my knee will give me, and try to call it good.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Crash test dummy

Still in one piece
Eight weeks ago today I crashed my motorcycle, tearing open my knee and fracturing my kneecap into mostly 2 pieces.  I was geared up as best I could be (helmet; leather jacket, boots, and gloves; jeans), didn't hit my head, and never lost consciousness.  What I remember is my front wheel suddenly jerking to the right as I was traveling 3035 mph down the road, which caused me to low-side the bike and slam my right knee into the ground.  We both tumbled down the road for a ways, but I managed to get away from the bike (or it from me), so when we stopped moving, the bike was about 15 feet away from me, still in the same lane of travel.

These boots were made for sliding
From what I could tell, everyone around me stopped to help, calling 911, directing traffic around me, pushing my bike off the road.  Somebody grabbed my hand and told me to squeeze as hard as I needed to (I will forever remember this stranger).  The ambulance was there within 510 minutes.  I don't remember the crash itself being that painful (maybe between a 3 and 5 on a scale of 110, which was a question I was asked by every care practitioner who walked by me), but later in the hospital once the drugs and adrenaline wore off, it was awful.  I discovered morphine was my new best friend.

The next morning I was in surgery for 3 hours, half the time spent removing road debris from inside my knee, the other half to put the pieces back together and stitch me up (19 stitches).  The surgeon had me walking with a walker and leg brace the same day.  I was released from the hospital 2 days later after being doused with antibiotics to prevent infection from the open wound.

Forget the brace, those socks are sexy!
Within a week I traded the walker for a cane, then gave up the cane 2 days after that.  The next day I walked device-free (except for the brace, of course) into the gym, where I've been 34 times each week since.   I started working part-time from home a week after the accident, and have been adding more hours each week.

Me and Johnny Walker.  Or Walker, Texas Ranger.  Or Imperial Walker.
When I first got home, trying to be human seemed to take 3 times as long as beforegoing to the bathroom, showering, getting dressed.  But, as my leg has gotten stronger, I've been able to cut the time back to something closer to normal.  Four weeks ago I was allowed to start bending my knee 30 degrees, which meant I could finally put pants and socks and shoes on by myself (instead of skirts and flip-flops), and pretty much do everything by myself except drive.  I started physical therapy the same day.

I'm wearing pants!
The surgeon's schedule is for me to bend my knee 30 more degrees every two weeks, building up to 2 weeks at 90 degrees, at which point I can finally become brace-free (March 19!).  I've been pushing it a little, and am now past 90 degrees of bend.  A couple of weeks ago when I reached 50 degrees, I discovered I could drive again.  All of our cars are manuals, so this wasn't an option until I could fit both legs in the driver's seat.

Perhaps strangely, I've found being injured unexpectedly interesting, in part because I've never been injured like this before, so everything is new and curious, but mostly because I've had such amazing support during the entire process, so it's been easier than expected to be myself and do what I need and like to do.  My husband has been incredible, keeping me well-fed and helping me with all the daily tasks I couldn't do at the beginning.  I don't know how anyone could recover from an injury like this without having a retired squeeze at home.  My friends have been so generous in offering me rides to and from the gym and happy hour.  If it hadn't been for them, I would've gone crazy not being able to get my endorphins on or hang out with people I like.  And my coach at the gym has done a fantastic job modifying all of the workouts to something that accommodates my limited mobility while still kicking my ass.  I've made peace with the AirDyne, hang muscle cleans, sit-ups, ring rows, and anything else that doesn't require a deep knee bend.

Teaching that AirDyne who's boss

Ring rows should be easier with an exoskeleton, but no
I've also received a lot of advice and lectures over the past 8 weekswhat to do or not do while on pain medication (which I cut way back on after about 5 days and stopped taking after 10), what to do or not do while my knee heals, what to do or not do with my motorcycle.  I appreciate that everyone's concerned and I know they all mean well, but really, I'm done with being lectured.  I've also been told how lucky I was that I was in good shape before the accidentagain, thanks, but if 3 years of consistently going to the gym and lifting heavy weights constitutes luck, then I have a very different definition of the word (who was it who said "the more I practice, the luckier I get"?).  I'll chalk up the fact I was in good shape to good fortune and hard work; the good luck part comes in with the fact it was a Sunday with minimal traffic on what's usually a busy road in Tucson.  Sorry, I don't mean to be contrary, but I guess I have some buttons that are easy to push after hearing or being told the same things for the past 8 weeks.  I needed one paragraph to vent a little.

So enough of that, moving on, we still don't know the cause of the crash, because the two theories we've come up with don't explain all of the details.  One is that I was tapped by a car from behind, which would explain my front wheel suddenly jerking to the right; however, this doesn't explain the damage to my front wheel, which indicates I hit something big (like a cinderblock or pothole). The problem with that idea is that nobody was in front of me, just an open road on a beautiful day, so it's hard for me to think I missed something as big as a cinderblock (no potholes
we checked).  Of course, you always hear about car drivers who say they didn't see that motorcycle until after they hit it, so maybe I hit another motorcycle.  Other theories include something with vampires, aliens, or a drone strike.  I'm inclined to go with a combination of all of the above.

Phantom wheel damage
Ultimately, yes, I'm extremely thankful it wasn't worse, that I was up and back to the gym within 2 weeks of the accident, that I have such a great support system to take care of me, and that I have a job with enough flexibility that I can work from home.  If any of those factors were different, I don't know how things would be going right now.  But fortunately all of those things are there, and I feel good.  Granted, I have up days and down days, but I'm looking forward to getting back to 100%, including observing the healing process along the way.  I'm looking forward to getting back on my motorcycle and riding again; before doing so, I plan to purchase body armor specific to motorcycling.  And I've especially loved hearing everyones' stories about their injuries (especially knee injuries) and how they healed, because I have a new appreciation of the challenges involved with an injury and I find your stories inspiring!

So thanks to all of you who have shared your stories with me, and thanks to everyone who continues to help me as I build my way back to 2 working legs!

Thanks, everyone!  Keep the rubber side down!

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Boba ... um ...

Boba Fetts?

Boba Fetti?

Bobas Fett?

Bobae Fett?

Boba Feet?

A question to haunt the intergalactic grammarian.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

The Ersatz Althete

I wasn't what you'd call physically gifted or cool or a jock growing up.  In fact, if you'd whispered the words Douglas Adams or Star Trek as you walked by, or better yet Red Sonja, I probably would've turned to see who was carrying on an interesting conversation.

Sci-fi-fantasy-music geek
It wasn't until college when the freshman 15 found me (or was it 20?), and hearing folks tell me I looked “healthy” (we all know what that means) during my first trip back home made me wonder if maybe staying up to date with the New Mutants and becoming TNG's new biggest fan perhaps wasn't keeping me in the svelte shape I was expecting.  Well, I suppose soft and squishy is a shape.  So sure, I was in “a shape.”  A roundish, malleable shape.  A soft-shouldered, slightly-out-of-breath shape.

Not having excelled physically at anything more taxing than walking to the dining hall, I had no idea how to change my shape, so the obvious choice was to join the women's rugby team.  Me, who bruises if you glance at me the wrong way.  Whose idea of tackling someone involved giving them a hug.  Obviously I was destined to become one of the rugby greats.

But I digress.  Well, no, I haven't actually gressed into anything yet, so it's hard to diverge from a topic when there isn't one to begin with.  What I mean to talk about in this post is the concept of recovery, which all started for me as a sci-fi-fantasy geek in my late teens when I decided to try to switch gears and be a jock.  That's a really long time ago for me now, so my memory is a little sketchy on details.  I'm pretty sure I never became a jock.  I'm also pretty sure I kept up with the latest drama in the world of Xanth, because that was important.  One thing I do recall, though, is that even though I started pushing my heart rate up more than 20 years ago, I didn't really grasp the concept of recovery until about a year ago.  And in all honesty, I'm still trying to figure it out. 

When I started playing rugby, I was young.  You can get away with a lot when you're young.  Probably more than you should, but damn, those are some fun years to get away with stuff.  One of the things you can do when you're young is to absorb all sorts of information about exercise, weight lifting, naughty lyrics, and alcohol.  Well, not so much information about alcohol, but alcohol itself.  Rugby is pretty much the perfect venue for accomplishing all of that.

So freakin' hot we had to forego the jerseys

Mostly what I seemed to absorb at that time (aside from C2H5OH – geek, remember?) was that more exercise and heavier weights were always better.  According to the broscience I heard, a little was better than none, some was better than a little, so of course a lot was better than a shot of tequila with a beer chaser.  Days off were for the weak, or because you had a really gnarly hangover.

So I entered CrossFit thinking that the more WODs I did, the better I'd get.  Those PRs during those first addictive months are so startling that it's really hard to believe that more is not necessarily better.  But at week 6, when my answer to the question of "how are you feeling?" came back as "really, really tired," Jenny suggested that I do a half-week, which meant only doing half the weight, or half the reps, or half the time, for the whole week.  And as timing would have it, I was scheduled to hike the Grand Canyon the week after that, so I wouldn't even be at the gym to win back my WOD cred.

Honestly, it felt weird.  I was pretty sure regression was imminent and I'd revert back to my “healthy” shape faster than Superman could spin the world backward and reverse time.  But I did it, I scaled everything and took the next week off for “active rest” … and a magical thing happened.  I came back to CrossFit feeling stronger and better than I did before. 

Active Grand Canyon rest
Which meant, of course, that I delved into researching the topic of recovery.  Because if you're an obsessed and converted geek like me, there's one thing you're really good at, and that's research. 

It turns out everything I learned when I was young was mostly wrong, but I could get away with it because I was … well, young, and pretty damn lucky not to get injured.  What I've come to understand – and this is probably dead obvious to those of you who did something more active than memorize all the lines from Star Wars in your younger years – is that your body does not actually get stronger during exercise, but rather after you've finished the exercise and you take a break to let your muscles heal up from it.  And not only that, but your ability to recover from hard (a.k.a. CrossFitty) workouts is completely dependent on everything else going on in your life, too, like how you feed yourself, how much sleep you get, day-to-day levels of stress … and yes, your age.  (Dammit.)

What recovery sometimes looks like -- a head pat
The libraries of CrossFit provide approximately one bazillion schools of thought on recovery.  A popular one among the masses is the “listening to your body” approach, which involves being tuned in enough to realize that if you try to increase your lifts or decrease your time at that moment, you might hurt yourself.  Ergo, take a break until you feel ready to tackle it again.

Personally, I love this approach.  I'll admit I'm occasionally guilty of loading the bar with a little more than I should during heavy cleans or deadlifts, and my back is all like, “Hey, WTF! That's 3 days of hard time off for YOU!”  Fortunately this provides the perfect excuse to sleep in for a few days (win!), heal up (Win!), and from what I now understand, get stronger at the same time (WIN!).

But sometimes the siren call of the endorphin is hard to ignore, especially on days when the workout looks fabulous because it hits all your favorite moves (power anything!), tweaked knee or sore shoulder be damned.  In these situations, a more structured approach to recovery may be appropriate, and it's one I'm really interested in trying more consistently.  This school of thought recommends doing a half-week every 4 weeks (even if you're feeling super peachy), and taking every 12th week off entirely from the gym to do something you've spent all that time at the gym training for.  You know, “active rest.”  Hiking the Canyon.  Strutting the beach to show off your hot CrossFit bod.  Cuddling with your squeeze.  Reading the entire Harry Potter series back-to-back.  (Or watching it.)  (Or both.)

Of course, there are infinite variations in between to try.  Three days at the gym instead of five per week.  Four days instead of six.  Two days on, one or two days off.  A half-week every six weeks instead of four.  There's even this nifty recovery point system, for those of you who dig on quantification methodologies.

This is part of what I think keeps CrossFit so interesting to me – there's always something new to try, diet details to be tweaked, extra sleep to be had, time off to be encouraged, weight lifted or number of reps to be increased or decreased – it takes more effort to be bored than to be engaged.  And with the added bonus of regular rest days built in for the sake of recovery and remaining injury-free, this ersatz athlete still has time to get her geek on, too.

Anyone up for a Firefly marathon?


Saturday, September 8, 2012

Stories of a wannabe frog biologist

Recently I spent an evening looking for leopard frogs in a lake located very near the Arizona-Mexico border.  It's called Peña Blanca Lake.  It's not a naturally-occurring lake; it's impounded, it has lots of non-native crayfish and fish, but it's still a beautiful place with enough water to float a boat.

Ready to launch.
Peña Blanca Lake was drained in 2008 to remove sediment contaminated by mercury from gold and silver mining operations in the hills around the lake, then it was allowed to refill through natural rain events.  It reopened again in 2009.

At the time it was drained, a lot of effort was made to eliminate bullfrogs in the lake and surrounding area.  You see, bullfrogs are native to the eastern part of the U.S., but not the Southwest.  And as cute and cuddly as they may be, they're actually one of the most voracious predators out there and have really taken a toll on the native frogs, fish, and snakes in this area.  I have no doubt that if they had the ability to wrap their mouths around your average-sized human being, we'd no longer be at the top of the food chain.

Even though bullfrogs were cleared out of the lake a few years ago, they're actually evil tenacious bastards bent on world domination, which means (in the words of Mad-Eye Moody) it takes Constant Vigilance to make sure they don't move in again and eat the crap out of the native frogs that found their way back to the lake when they figured out it was no longer a death trap.

So every few months a team of biologists makes its way to the lake, headlamps and frog calls in hand, to figure out what's going on.  Or at least to try to.

Floating frog biologists.
The process involves floating around the perimeter of the lake alternately playing the calls of the two native frogs, the Chiricahua leopard frog and the lowland leopard frog, as well as the bullfrog, and shining your headlamp along the shore to see if you can glimpse the shine of their eyes.

Frog biologists in their natural habitat.
One thing you don't fully realize until you start shining a headlamp into the undergrowth is exactly how many other creatures are out there (no doubt also bent on world domination), and exactly how many of their eyes shine back at you.  Like spiders.  And moths.  And deer.  And leopards.  No, not really, there aren't any leopards in these parts.  (Except in frog form, of course.)

Rare sighting of a frog biologist at night.
There are, however, jaguars.  Which are pretty cool.  I'm guessing their eyes shine at night, too.

So anyway, all of these thousands of shining eyes glittering back at you are pretty and yet creepy at the same time.  Rather, they're pretty creepy.

We didn't detect an over-abundance of leopard frogs in the lake that night (unless two is too many), but we also didn't detect any bullfrogs, which is always good news.  The quest against those wily bastards continues, so hopefully at least a small part of Arizona will remain available for our native fauna to inhabit.  Constant Vigilance!

Of course, for me it's mostly an opportunity to wash the dust off my boat and float around a beautiful desert lake.  I'm not sure how much I actually contribute to the cause, except maybe to get in the way.  But hey, if that's enough, I'll try to do my part.

My happy place.  Wait, you want me to do something?

Saturday, August 18, 2012

608 days

So in my last post I shared (probably TMI) about my experience after one year of CrossFit.

Today's post is about my experience after two years of CrossFit.

Well, no, not really.  It's about my experience after 608 days, which, if you remember anything about the planets from about the 3rd grade, does not equal two Earth years.

But if you happen to live on Venus, then I guess I'd have been CrossFitting for almost three years when I wrote this.

Speaking of Venus, did anyone see the Transit of Venus on June 5?  Seriously awesome astronomical event.  If only because of the cool glasses.

Transit of Venus viewers.
And how about that Curiosity Rover?  You know, landing on Mars and all a couple of weeks ago?  That was some pretty cool sh*t.

But back to the point.

608 days.

And a ridiculous picture to go with it.

It's important to wear a nice dress and your best Chucks during a semi-formal CrossFit workout at your gym.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

One Year Ago Today, or the Inconsistent Blogger

Perhaps I'm not meant to be a blogger.  Or at least not a very consistent one.

Part of the reason seems to be the need I feel for every post to be perfect, articulate, and somewhat amusingThat bar is just too high to surmount on a consistent basis, or it is if you're the one inside my head.

Another reason is that I write a lot at work, and by the time I'm home and have some time to myself, often words have left me.

But even another reason is that a little shy of two years ago, I found this thing called CrossFit, which not only became something that completely changed my fitness level and how I think about exercise, but unexpectedly provided a creative outlet for my mind, too.

And so over the past year or so, I've been using the right side of my brain to express some of the changes I've felt and thoughts I've had as I've watched my body and mind evolve through my experiences at the gym.   And my gym, bless it, has been kind enough to share some of these musings on their website.  Below is the first of these, which I would link to if I could still find it on Wildcat CrossFit's website, but it seems to have been lost in the ether during a recent website upgrade.

So here it is, this time with pictures ...

August 2010.  Not fat, but not fit.

One Year Ago Today

10/11/2010 – 10/11/2011

One year ago today, if you'd told me that I'd willingly join a gym and be happy about it, I'd have laughed in your face.  Absolutely no way.  I'm not a joiner.   Never have been, never want to be.

One year ago today, if you'd told me that I'd look forward to working out so much that I'd actually get up to do it before work (and on Saturdays!), I'd have told you you're crazy.  Working out is boring.  I get enough exercise biking to work, plus I like to stay up late and sleep in.

One year ago today, if you'd told me – with the specter of age 40 darkening my doorstep – that I could be in the best shape of my life (including my college rugby days), I'd have said “yeah, right, what're you smokin'?”  We get older, we gain weight, we lose muscle.   The way the universe intended.

One year ago today, my life changed.

Today, one year later, I can lift 100 lbs from the ground to overhead and can jump onto something 34.5” high.   (I'll get 36” yet!)

Today, one year later, while I still weigh about the same, I've lost two dress sizes.  And have had to replace most of my wardrobe because of it.

Today, one year later, I practice push-ups with a 10-lb weight on my back because I HATE PUSH-UPS.   Which means I need to do more of them.

Today, one year later, I'm throwing bags of citrus fertilizer into my truck and thinking “hey, these 20-lb bags are feeling pretty light!”  And then I realize they're 40-lb bags.

Today, one year later, my husband can't keep his hands off me.  (To his credit, he's always loved my body, even when it was 25 lbs heavier and jiggly, but now he's telling me to keep doing what I'm doing because “hon, you're hot!”)

Today, one year later, my diet has changed (not perfect, but getting there), my sleeping habits have changed (not perfect, but getting there), and, holy crap, are those abs!?!

Today, one year later, I'm fit.  I have muscles.  I can open my own jars (mostly).  And the daily activities of life are so much easier because CrossFit has made me strong.  There's no going back, because I've experienced both sides of the fence and this is the side I want to be on, where the grass is greener (for the cows, of course), the people are stronger, the food is better.  Because I'm in the best shape of my life at age 40.  Because I have calluses on my hands and am damn proud of them.  Because being strong is the new black.  And, since I had to replace my wardrobe anyway, I'm all about the latest fashion.

So thank you, Wildcat CrossFit, for the amazing community you've generated.  I'm humbled every day by all of you who sweat and yell and push yourselves to be better, because you're pushing me to be better at the same time.  Thank you Noah, Eric, Jen, Erin, Mike, and Kevin for the motivation you inspire though your thoughtful and dedicated coaching.  I'm constantly learning, constantly striving to perfect my form and get stronger because of you.  And thanks especially to Jenny, who, in coaching me through my first WOD in your backyard, with chickens pecking nearby and kids running around, nearly made me puke but hooked me in that very moment.  I think back to where I was one year ago today, and can't believe how far I've come since then.  You've all changed my life, and I can't thank you enough.

November 2011. A work in progress.