Another Small Step

Today I took Bear out for a ramble where we’ve been going lately — along one side of the golf course, along the main ditch, into the Big Empty. To one side nice houses and yards; to the other an empty field beloved by deer. I’ve seen this thing before. If anything EVER happens to make Monte Vista a place where people want to live, the field will be gone, but meantime it’s a borderland between town and farm.

We got to our turnaround point (a mile) and turned around. We’d gone only a few yard when a large black dog came barreling through the neighborhood to the wire fence along the ditch bank. There was nothing to keep him on “his” side, so we turned around. This meant going home ‘the long way.’

Most important, the long way isn’t a lot longer than our original plan, just 2/3 of a mile or so. I just have our walks timed so I can do other things (like langlauf) if I want to. We walked along a small ditch on a muddy path to a familiar road where we’ve often walked to watch the deer hang out under the tank cars. Neither the tank cars nor the deer are there.

When we were done, I had taken the longest walk I’ve taken in years. The big deal about it is that it was no big deal. I didn’t even think about the distance. Nothing hurt. We walked through snow, mud and on nice dirt pathways. It is the first time in a long, long, long time that walking has been easy, has been transportation, has been a way out of a bad situation. It also didn’t take a lot longer than the walk I’d set out to do.

The featured photo is from about a year ago, Dusty, me, Bear and my cane walking on part of the route I walked today. I notice (besides no cane) my recently operated left leg is longer now, closer to the length of my right leg than it was before my surgery.

I know this doesn’t seem like much of a story, but if you’ve had a joint go bad and you’ve had it replaced, there are (I think) stages in recovery and I think I just crossed another one, an important one. It bodes well for the coming summer, I think, and I’m happy.


That Time of Year

Today I took down my 2018 calendar and put up my 2019 calendar. I’m ready for a new year. Before I tossed the old calendar into my recycling bin, I looked through it to see the main events.


At the end of March, my sweet Australian Shepherd, Mindy T. Dog, suffered a severe stroke and I had to have her put down. It was difficult to feel sad because she was suffering incredibly. She was a miraculous creature who had the magical ability to make people feel better just by looking at her. She moved out here with me from California and loved every bit of the journey and her new home.

The main event of the year was my hip replacement surgery. Most of the year was made up of activities leading to and away from that moment — physical therapy, slow, painful dog walks and rides on the Bike-to-Nowhere.

I tracked distance and calories on my wall calendar most of the year. Not because I cared so much about either, but because I wanted to see that I was getting somewhere. On the calendar are the days after my surgery when I walked in the neighborhood with my walker and then with my cane.

Lois came down to get me and take me to Colorado Springs then spent 10 days making sure I was “viable” 😀

The dogs were kenneled because there was no way I could take them on walks with me. I missed them, but I knew they were being loved and I could visit them.

Bear and Dusty being loved on by Lori on my first visit to them after my surgery.

I’ve recently realized (duh!) that I don’t have to track all this on my calendar or do the math. I’ve used a couple of apps for years to track my walks, but a couple weeks ago, I realized I can use one for my bike rides, too, so now it all goes on Map My Walk. I still need to see that I’m getting somewhere, even when there isn’t anywhere to go, really, but it doesn’t matter. Just GOING without pain is absolutely wonderful. Walking without thinking about it is absolutely wonderful. Parking FAR from the front door of the store is absolutely wonderful. Regaining my balance without fear of falling, absolutely wonderful.

December, 2018

I’ve written often about the hip replacement because I know that a lot of people in my age group (I call that 50 to 80, since I had my first hip surgery when I was 54 and my neighbor had his two years ago at 83) might be looking at a similar procedure. I’m grateful for the help, care and moral support I received from my friends here in Colorado, in Italy and online. I’m exceedingly grateful for my doctor’s skill and sense of humor.

Bionic me. On the left, facing, my hip resurfacing prosthesis from 2006. On the right, facing, my hip replacement from 2018.

In October, my surgeon pronounced that I had no restrictions on anything I wanted to do. “Run up a mountain. Maybe I’ll see you on the slopes.” I do not remember ever being more unequivocally happy.

One of the high points, besides the surgery (actually, almost everything was related to the surgery) was my first mountain hike since I came back to Colorado nearly five years ago. My friend Elizabeth and I headed up to hike the Middle Frisco Creek Trail, but missed the trail head. It was no big deal. The three forks of this creek run parallel and we didn’t go far. We hiked on the fourth anniversary of my moving into my house in Monte Vista.

Wrong trail but really who cares…

At this point, I’m no longer rehabbing but just getting ready for whatever athletic adventures await me. I’ll be 67 a week from New Year’s Eve (tomorrow!) but somehow I don’t care. I’m waiting for more snow to see if I can still X-country ski. I’m hoping I’ll be able to downhill ski at least once if only on the bunny slopes of Wolf Creek with my friend Lois in March. These are things I’ve loved forever, missed during my life in California, and hope I can have again, even just a little bit.

Behind all of this physical rehab were two books — The Price and Fledging. The Price is for sale on Amazon, and Fledging is a private project.

I think 2018 was a pretty amazing year.

Ski!!!

Through this whole thing — moving back to Colorado and having hip surgery — there’s been one thing glowing in the back of my mind.

Can I ski?

In my 3 month appointment with the orthopedic surgeon, the doc said, “No restrictions. Maybe I’ll see you on the slopes. Where will you ski?”

There’s only one rational answer to that, “Where there’s snow.”

Wolf Creek, the closest ski area to Monte Vista, is 1 hour away on THIS side of Wolf Creek pass. It offers classes for people over 50. I’m going to do the March class, thinking there will be more snow (we get most of our snow in March) and the days will be longer.

That’ll also give me time to practice my moves and practice getting up from a fall. I figure if I can improve those things, I’ll be in good shape for this BIG moment.

I love skiing more than anything, and I haven’t been downhill skiing since I went with a Swiss student to Big Bear in California sometime in 1991. It was horrible. It was my first experience skiing on ice, and I went backwards down the hill from the chair lift. Very embarrassing. Anyway, during the afternoon when the ice had turned to something resembling snow, I got a lesson. He was a ski instructor, and it was a great lesson full of useful things that I have never had the chance to try out a second time.

All I need are pants and goggles… 😀

Walking Update — Mule Deer and My New Buff

Yesterday after I rode the Bike To Nowhere, Bear and I headed out for a ramble. I kind of wanted to see the horse that I call “My” horse because she’s so big and so friendly. She’s about a mile away, across the golf course, across the driving range, past where the burnt house once stood, beyond some pastures. You get the idea. When she sees me, she runs to the fence to get as close to me as she can. I wanted to go all the way to her paddock (which I cannot do with Dusty because of his barking) and maybe give her an apple. Dusty was pretty stove up after our last walk together and needed a day off.

So out we went, just Bear and me.

Cesar Milan is right in saying if you want to bond with your dog, walk with it. 

I have been walking and hiking with dogs since I got my first one, Truffleupagus of Song and Story, in 1987. For years and years walking with them in a wild place was always a suspension of normal human life. These were soul-lifting walks into a world where dog and human shared an experience that wasn’t all dog and wasn’t all human. I always felt it was one of the things that drew dogs and humans together eons ago. It’s hunting, it’s non-verbal communication, and neither dog nor human is in charge. It’s a partnership.

Not every dog I’ve lived with has been suited to this relationship. Dusty isn’t. He just likes to go for a walk. The huskies (most of them) were not. They were passionate about the Husky Agenda and didn’t notice the human beside them, except Ariel who was Husky with a smidgeon of wolf. She and I shared a very deep rapport on the trail. Molly was also great partner, though she did not share everything with me. I’ve sensed that Bear would be a great partner in this way, but, as long as I’ve had her, I haven’t been up to the partnership. I’d even begun to doubt if it was real. Maybe it was a fantasy I’d fabricated to explain having fun with my dogs on a trail.

But yesterday, it happened. All it took was for me to feel well enough that I was no longer conscious of my body. For a long time it hurt to walk. Then I was aware that it no longer hurt. I couldn’t focus on what was outside very easily.

Yesterday I never thought about how I walked. It was my first truly free day on a trail since late 2004/early 2005. Really. I didn’t know this was about to happen when I set out; I didn’t expect it.

I got to share it with my wonderful big white dog whose gifts are immense. We took off and there we were, confidently striding across the world toward the big empty.

She spotted the deer — a young buck calmly walking along the railroad track. Bear alerted me without barking or making any sound. She just let me know he was there. Not all dog breeds are gifted with great eyesight, but the Akbash is. They are a composite of breeds assembled hundreds maybe thousands of years ago in Turkey. One of their components is a Sight Hound, like an Afghan dog or Greyhound. Bear just stopped, stood still and watched. I immediately looked where my dog was looking, just as she had told me to

As soon as she knew I saw the deer, she was ready to go get him (with me) but she didn’t. She looked at me, “How are we going to do this, Human?”

I whispered, “Bear, sit.” She sat. “Just watch,” I whispered. She watched, rapt, ready. I’m sure she wondered when we were going to go get him, but she didn’t make a sound.

When he took off (calmly, slowly) by going under the train car, she stood as if she were saying, “Hey, Martha, what?” 

When I said, “You’re perfect, Bear,” and hugged her she understood. 

I can’t explain the connection clearly. I don’t think it’s a word thing, but I’m sure others have experienced it. You see it with working dogs all the time, Aussies and Border Collies working with their people to keep a flock of sheep in line. 

And now for the product plug…

Trying to combat the effects of cold air on my lungs, I’ve been heading out with a scarf wrapped around my mouth. OK, mostly, effective but it doesn’t stay put or tied or… Then Xenia, in Scotland, whose blog is Whippet Wisdom mentioned a thing called a “Buff” that she wears when it’s cold. I checked into this thing called “Buff” and bought one.

I just got back from a Dusty and Bear walk, heading north, which is always cold this time of year, walking in my own shade. I wore my new Buff today. It was GREAT. Because it can get to -20 F here, I got the extreme one, fleece on one side and microfiber on the other. It matches both my jackets which is pretty amazing since one is red and one is purple. It contorts into numerous functional shapes and the one I bought is made from two plastic bottles. I love it.

Hip Replacement Come Back — 5 Months Later

 

I’m getting a great deal on one of the best elliptical trainers there is. I can’t wait! It will help me achieve “no restrictions,” and I’m very happy about it. It was advertised on the community facebook garage sale page more than a week ago at an incredible price. The price was more than fair, but even that was too much for me so I sighed, “Oh well,” and gave up on the idea.

I never expected NO ONE but me would want it.

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Comebacks can be slow — I don’t think mine has been particularly slow. Fast or slow — it depends on how far a person has to go.

I have a ways to go still, but I can walk at a decent clip now and swing my leg over my bike. There are lots of other things I can do — very small, daily life things — that I haven’t been able to do for a long, long time. Some so long that I forgot about them and then, BAM suddenly, the abilities had come back.

There are some things, though…

For years I’ve walked slowly. I still took my dogs out into nature, and in our slow rambles, I began experiencing a different walk and a different, slower world. It was sweet, and the beauty of nature and the events taking place — wind, a random bird, the sky — were as effective as meds in relieving my physical pain. Back in the day, I rushed through the world, still saw it, but was proud of my physical prowess, my ability to cover 12 mountain miles in 3 hours. Stuff like that. I don’t think that mentality will make a comeback, not because I don’t think I”ll be able, but because, well…

Here’s the kicker.

I’m nearly 70. What that literally means is I’m closer to the last scene than I was at 40 (presumably — though we never know. My dad died at 45.). I don’t want a rushed goodbye to this place. I want one that is slow and lingering, that pays attention to clouds, birds, wind, and trees. I want to savor all of it as I learned to do during the — I’d say decade — of pain and awkwardness.  Maybe that was the point.

“Look, Sweet Cheeks, you’re missing something here, like the main idea. I’m going to slow you down until you get it.”

https://ragtagcommunity.wordpress.com/2018/10/03/wednesday-rdp-comeback/

“No Restrictions!!”

I’m in Colorado Springs. It’s my 3 month or something visit to my orthorpedic surgeon, Dr. Szuszczewiz. Maybe six month. Time has lost meaning.

Beautiful drive over La Veta Pass, uneventful drive the rest of the way, arrived at my friend’s house a little early, drove to the doc. On the way I heard my anthem, “Running Up that Hill” by Kate Bush.

He took three X-rays, one in a position I thought I wasn’t supposed to take. I waited for him in a cold little room wearing a pair of PT shorts (PT — Physical Therapy). He arrived, came in, said, “Go run up that mountain. Go ski. Where are you going to ski?”

“Where there’s snow.”

Colorado girl.

I’m so happy. In my initial exam he said, “You might be able to run, I think so, but no skiing.” Today, “No restrictions. Maybe I’ll see you on the slopes.”

I don’t have words, I’m beyond happy.

Titans

Where I live, you can find yourself in heart-to-heart talks with perfect strangers pretty easily. Today it was at the supermarket. The woman behind the counter was talking to the woman in front of me about how quickly time passes and how did they get old? I arrived at my turn and said, “Don’t even talk about it.”

“Right?” she said. “I feel thirty.”

“I know,” I said. “My mom used to say that all the time. I shoulda’ listened.” I paused, and gave my mom a thought, “Never mind. Maybe not.”

“I don’t FEEL different,” she said. “That’s the thing.”

“I have two titanium hips,” I said. “I know how old I am.”

“Does the surgery work? Do you really feel better?”

“I can’t even describe how much better it is.” I felt tears starting, but I’m trying to be less weepy on this subject. “It’s amazing.”

“Both my hips hurt,” she said. “It’s arthritis, right?”

“Probably,” I said. “I got it early. I used to be a runner.” I don’t think I’ve used the term “used to be” in that context before, but now I’m OK with it.

“I have runner’s knee,” said the bag boy, a kid about 17 with a tiny gold stud in one nostril. Very cute, very innocent. “I have water under my knee cap.”

“Take care of your knee,” I said.

“I’m trying to.”

I paid my $$$ and left.

Yesterday I was thinking about the book review I wrote and the times that my former professor mentioned William Butler Yeats in the book. Yeats wrote about old age in a way that I understood in my twenties but see even better now. I don’t agree that I’m a “tattered coat upon a stick” and that schoolchildren laugh at me. At worst, I don’t exist in the eyes of younger people, but even that, I’ve learned, is kind of up to me.

And I don’t care that much.

It’s disability that’s my fear and nemesis.

As I walked out of City Market I thought of “Sailing to Byzantium,” the poem Dr. Richardson referenced in his book. I thought of my titanium hips and the future they have afforded me. I thought of the golden bird upon the bough… here

Once out of nature I shall never take
My bodily form from any natural thing,
But such a form as Grecian goldsmiths make
Of hammered gold and gold enamelling
To keep a drowsy Emperor awake;
Or set upon a golden bough to sing
To lords and ladies of Byzantium
Of what is past, or passing, or to come.

 

And I thought it uncanny that I am partly metal now, not hammered gold, but something less expensive and more durable, safer for its purpose, stainless steel, titanium, chromium, cobalt or some combination of these.

I’m so grateful.

  • Fun Titanium Facts
  • The word titanium originated from the Greek Mythological Titans, the first sons of Earth.
  • Titanium alloys are used in situations where lightweight strength and ability to withstand temperature extremes are required.
  • The metal is frequently used for components which must be exposed to seawater.
  • The complex process of converting titanium ore into metal has only been commercially viable for a little more than 50 years.

Results

I’ve had more physical therapy than ever imagined possible, but I can walk 3 mph (on pavement) and I’m using my hip joint like a legit walker. I’m standing up straighter and dreaming about X-country skiing.

I’ve also faced some realities. My therapist is applying to Medicare for an extension on my therapy. Even though I’ve achieved the stated goals of a person after hip replacement, I have not yet achieved MY goals in rehabilitation. It’s a win-win thing. They need my business and I’m very happy to have a personal trainer (who is also a person I like) and an almost private gym.

I’m the ideal physical therapy patient. I WANT to improve. I understand physical activity, I’m movitated to follow instructions and try things. I went into it with certain goals (and a few dreams) but my recent physical therapy induced existential meltdown a couple weeks ago led me to the place where I am now.

I’m probably not going to run again or do lots of severe hills. Somewhere in my mind and heart this has been working itself out in the realization that for the past few years, in severe pain, I’ve had a good time walking my dogs 1 mile an hour around a small loop trail in one little place. I had enormous pleasure just in that small “hike” (not the pain part). As all that was going on, I was being taught by my own self things I had not begun to be aware of.

Our bodies ARE our minds.

So today I had a sit-down with my therapist. “We need to talk,” I said. Half-joking. I’d been reticent about asking what we are doing now and thought we might actually BE breaking up. He explained how the Medicare thing would work, and I explained my realizations about the objective reality of my age-related physical limitations. We both agreed that I’ve done incredibly well, but I want (and can achieve) more in terms of flexibility and strength for the purpose of being safer on an uneven mountain trail. Pain creates a little “being” of its own in our mind/body and the main drive of that “being” is fear as a self-protection tool. Fear stiffens us where we’re weak. It’s human nature. It’s the same thing as a kid not wanting to try learning something new for fear of failing, or a guy not wanting to ask out a pretty girl for fear of rejection, in a way. I’m fighting that and physical therapy helps me fight it. Not all the limitations are purely physical. As I said, our bodies ARE our minds.

So we spent my session today moving forward, literally.

https://ragtagcommunity.wordpress.com/2018/08/19/rdp80-reticent/

A Painless Hike and a Kind of Prayer

Thinking back over the past several months, all the kindness that’s come my way, finding the best possible doctor, having a hospital stay that was comforting and healing with wonderful, caring nurses, being surrounded by friends, and cared for in the most intimate ways by a friend who was willing to give up ten days of her life to see that I was ready to be on my own, finding out that shopping with a friend is fun, having a friend fix me food that might make me want to eat something, being joined in walks in my hood by people I like, knowing that my dogs weren’t just being cared for but actually LOVED, well — the list is way, way, way too long.

I’m not a church person. I don’t think God is in a building — well, he is, but not only — and at the end of this day I looked at Dusty and Bear and thought, “I have to say thank you somehow for this miraculous moment of my life, but what?” Of course, they had the answer.

So out we went. I walked the entire mile loop — it took 45 minutes but that’s fine. I was there expressing and feeling gratitude plus it was my first walk on uneven ground, though very familiar ground. The wind blew, it was dinner time so no one was out there and Dusty was free, the dogs walked carefully and slowly beside me, the light was beautiful, meadowlarks sang, a redtail hawk swooped. I saw that the the wild iris HAD bloomed there after all and I was happy, even though I missed them. I love that nature is going to do its thing whether I’m there to see it or not. I thought for a moment about how inconsistent my parents were and realized one of the reasons I grew to love nature so much is that it is not inconsistent. It can surprise you, but the reason behind it will make perfect scientific sense and can be understood. It’s not just drunk or in a bad mood.

About 3/4 of the way, I began to feel tired and we went more slowly. Bear pulled a little but a gentle “No” brought her back to my side. It was paradise and in the midst of it I realized that there is no way I will ever be able to express my gratitude, but these months have changed me and not just the first pain-free “hike” I’ve had in years, but in other ways that I will learn as time goes by.

What Happened…Hip Replacement Update

I slept pretty well last night in my beautiful B&B four poster bed.

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Got up, dressed kind of and went out for a delicious breakfast and good coffee. The hour neared — it was a 30 minute drive to the doc in a part of town that — when I lived here — were inscrutable boondocks where you went four wheeling but times change.

They called me right away, took X-rays, put me in the doc’s room, doc came in, said “It’s beautiful. You’re free to bend 110 degrees, pretty much everything. Do you have any question?”

I didn’t. I should but I don’t. I showed him that I can walk pretty well without my cane. He smiled a huge smile and put his arms out for a hug. I said, “Thanks for everything. Thanks for everything. Thanks for listening to me. Thanks for saying fuck. Thanks for explaining, And thanks for this.”

I sat down and I told him something that I completely surprised me. I explained that while I don’t know about other people, but that for me without the ability to move freely in nature I really didn’t know what my life would be. I told him about my dad having had MS and dying young. He said, “So you know exactly what it means to lose the ability.”

“Yes.”

In the room — unsaid — was, “So that’s why you’ve been so frightened, so emotional and so desperate.” I hadn’t realized it before. I told him about taking my dad out to see Pikes Peak with a storm coming over it just a few months before he died and how soon after, my dad go pneumonia. I said, “I think it was the kindest act of my life.” The doc nodded. “It was,” he said.

So that moment passed and he told me I am able to to anything I want that’s low impact for the next three months. I can hike anywhere, anything, ride a real bike, whatever I’m fit and ready for. I go back on September 20 — that’s the fourth anniversary of my return to Colorado. And if all is well at that point he said I can run and I can ski (X-country).

I am not sure anyone else can know completely what this has meant to me — maybe. But today I got my life back. I have a lot of work to do and I’m not young any more but I won’t get any younger and I have nothing I’d really rather do motr than the work. I have a good team of allies and my dogs will be home tomorrow.

Thank you everyone for all the encouragement and moral support. I know I’ve been a cry baby sometimes and pretty self-indulgent other times. Forgive me for that. I’m just a little lady after all.

Tomorrow Lois will join me for breakfast, then I’ll leave this place which has been a little haven and a little dream come true and return to Heaven where I will work toward a more active life with my two best buds.

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