Sunday, October 7th Two months ago, I went out for an easy, long bike ride that turned out to be anything but. I was told it would be 6-12 months before I could run again. Nike will release two new versions of my running shoes before I can lace up again. They’ve already released one.
Today, I can walk without the assistance of crutches, canes or walkers. I still feel every step. I wouldn’t call it painful but there’s a constant ache in my hip. The nerves haven’t fully regenerated. My leg feels like a dead weight I have to lift to move forward. My left thigh has lost all muscle tone. It’s half the size of my right thigh.
My right leg has been compensating for the weakness in my left. As my body starts to realign and I shift weight onto my left side, the tightness in my right calf is reducing. My wrists no longer ache from clutching the handles of my crutches. There is no swelling in my left leg. I no longer need to wear thigh-high compression socks daily.
The bloating in my stomach has disappeared. The 14 inch scar across my abdomen is almost invisible. The shape of my torso is distorted from being taken apart and reassembled. I believe this is permanent. There is scar tissue built up below the surface of my skin, restricting my movements.
Although I’m not up to lifting a 50 pound bag of flour, I am able to carry tools and ingredients around the bakery. I can cook dinner for my family. I can last for two hours on my feet before I need to rest. I still require a nap every afternoon.
I can take a shower. I turned in my nightshirts and sweatpants for jeans. My clothes fit. I do not need help getting dressed. I can put my own socks on both feet.
I sleep through the night, although I often wake up from nightmares of my time spent in the hospital. I am able to comfortably roll onto my right side. I am no longer condemned to sleeping flat on my back.
I can drive my car. I don’t have to ask for rides to and from my PT appointments. I’m not able to sit in the car for long periods of time but I can go to the grocery store and take the kids to their activities.
I am able to get on a stationary bike and ride for an hour. I can swim a half mile of laps in the pool. My cardio fitness is starting to come back a little at a time. Running is still far out of reach. My hip throbs with pain just thinking about the force it would take to pound the pavement.
All of these are things I took for granted two months ago.
Monday, October 8th Last night when I went to bed, I was in a lot of pain. Although I didn’t bike or swim, I was more active than I’ve been used to in my daily activities. Over the course of the weekend, I made 10 gallons of white bean kale soup for the bakery and I hosted Keegan’s friends for his birthday party, two weeks late. There was a lot of moving around.
I strongly considered calling the doctor and telling him I couldn’t make my PT session today. I knew I would be pushed to my limits and when I woke up, just walking to the bathroom was enough of a push.
Reluctantly, I gathered myself and arrived just in time for my appointment. Now that I can walk without a cane, my exercises have become more demanding. So many of the stretches I’m doing are beyond what my body would have allowed before my injury.
I practiced lunges trying to get my back knee as close to the floor as I could. Dr. C started with three pads to raise the ‘floor’ high enough to meet my knee. Little by little he took the pads away until there was only one. This is a good six inches lower than I’ve ever been able to lunge.
Next, I completed two sets of squats, trying to keep my body as centered as possible. My right side is still very dominant. It’s hard to squat without leaning. My left knee is weak. It tries to buckle inward.
Dr. C helped me to roll onto my left side. This side has been off limits since my surgery. I was afraid it was going to be unbearably painful. It wasn’t. It was uncomfortable after a couple minutes but it’s no longer out of reach.
I moved on to side planks. I held each plank for 10 seconds before taking a break. What I think I should be able to do and what my body allows are not the same. I tried to lift my upper leg while in the plank, not for bonus points, because Dr. C instructed me to. It wouldn’t budge. My abdominal muscles are still recovering.
Finally, I worked on single leg balancing. It’s not obvious but walking is a series of single leg balances and running becomes a series of single leg squats. Even though I can walk, I was afraid to balance on my left leg for any length of time.
Once I mastered balancing on one leg at PT I came home and showered without the use of a stool for the first time. I stood to put my pants on one leg at a time. Before today, I was too afraid to hold the balance for the time it took to get my right foot in a pant leg. Yet again, PT has given me the confidence to progress.
Tuesday, October 9th I’ve never had a problem bouncing out of bed when the alarm goes off. For years, the alarm was set for 3am. Before I went to sleep, I put my clothes in the bathroom so I could get up and get dressed without waking the kids. I would arrive at the bakery to fry doughnuts by 3:30am.
Once I was able to hand off the 3am shift, my alarm was pushed back to 5am. I still followed the same routine only the clothes in the bathroom were of the poly tech variety and I made sure to include my socks, sneakers, head lamp & reflective vest so I could meet Anne & Ryan for a 5:30am run.
As long as I can remember, I’ve been an early riser. When I was in elementary school, I woke up hours before my mother. I turned on Saturday morning cartoons and sat in front of the TV until she finally got out of bed.
As a teenager, I loved staying with my grandparents because they were always up before the sunrise. My mom’s dad, Pop, would come into my room when he finished shaving and slap my cheeks with Old Spice aftershave to wake me up. Then I would sit and have coffee with my grandmother while I watched her make sandwiches. She packed school lunch for my cousin and I every day. When no one was looking, Pop would take one huge bite out of my sandwich and put it back. Seeing the missing bite when I opened my brown bag at the lunch table made me smile.
A couple weeks out of every year, I stayed with my dad’s parents. Depending on the season it was either in Gainesville, FL or Edgartown, MA. My grandfather, John, and I were always the first out of bed. We would walk to the nearest bakery to buy muffins or bagels for breakfast. He would purchase copies of the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times. While he looked at stock prices, I tried my best to complete one of Shortz’s finest. This routine solidified my everlasting love affair with the Times crossword puzzle.
Now, I feel like I’m in a perpetual state of jet lag. This morning, I turned my alarm off and went back to sleep rather than joining the running club to see the sunrise. I can’t seem to get back on a regular schedule. Some nights, my body is restless and doesn’t allow me more than a couple hours without waking. Other nights, I sleep soundly for nearly 10 hours straight. No matter how restful the night, I can’t get through the day without laying down for a nap. I have no endurance to complete daily activities, let alone of the athletic variety. I know if I can get back on a normal early morning schedule I will feel better in so many ways but I continue to struggle.
Wednesday, October 10th After my three pregnancies, I never did lose all the weight I’d gained. I held onto 20 pounds from each baby. When my youngest was a year old, just about the time I started making doughnuts at Montclair Bread Co, I started gaining back the pounds I’d lost while nursing him. I remember looking at the production photos from my TV appearance on Donut Showdown and not recognizing the person I’d become. I was so uncomfortable in my body. I was clumsy because I didn’t understand my own mass. I decided to take drastic measures.
I signed up for high intensity interval training at Architect Studios. My mom friends and I met Adrienne when she was a personal trainer and fitness instructor at the Y. When I heard she opened her own gym, I was eager to check it out. Much like our running club, Adrienne makes everyone feel good about showing up no matter what their body condition.
For months I went three days a week. I started to feel in control of my body. I stopped drinking soda. My clothes started fitting better and then they started falling off. It was a very slow process. I wasn’t losing much weight but I was losing my belly fat and I was gaining muscle mass. When December rolled around and I hosted the first ever Doughnut Run, the time I spent with Adrienne at Architect prepared me to run with the group. Until that day, anytime I’d tried to run, I gave up after a couple blocks, too winded to go any further. All the work I put into Adrienne’s classes gave me the abdominal strength, the leg muscles and the cardio fitness to complete the 2.2 mile run with ease.
My friend Kyra tried to get me to run with her for years. One time I met her for what she considered an ‘easy three miles.’ I made it a mile before we walked home. Kyra was the first person I called to tell her about my 4K achievement. She told me I should sign up for a race to give me a goal and keep me motivated. Naturally, I chose the Sleepy Hallow half marathon, three months out.
I continued to go to Architect Studios during my half marathon training. I only ran 3 days each week, no more than 16 miles total. The pounds started dripping off me like warm butter. By the time I’d reached my goal race, a year after I took my first interval class, I’d lost more than 30 pounds. More importantly, I felt great about my body, my clothes fit and I could still eat doughnuts.
One of my biggest struggles in the no-run-zone is managing my weight and my diet. It’s fall. It’s hard to resist apple cider doughnuts and hearty meat stews. I try to keep my meals as healthy as possible but I crave comfort more than anything.
Thursday, October 11th When I went to PT this morning, Dr. Mayes gave me the form I filled out one month ago, when I started seeing him for this injury. It was a functionality checklist. Today, I had to complete the same list to compare my answers and see my progress. It’s crazy to think, when I first visited his office, Brad had to escort me in so I didn’t fall. I couldn’t sit on a chair without assistance. Resuming normal activities seemed light years away.
My biggest accomplishment today was balancing on a wobble board for three minutes while playing catch with Dr. Mayes. I don’t have a good sense for where I should be in terms of progress but I’ve been told this is overachieving.
To celebrate, I decided to treat my family to a pot of chicken and dumplings the way my grandmother made it. It’s the first time I’ve tried to assemble the recipe since she passed which means it’s the first time I haven’t been able to call her with silly questions throughout the process. She started with a whole chicken or chicken breast which she stewed on the stovetop for hours. I put a couple pounds of chicken thighs in the dutch oven with garlic and herbs and slow roasted them until the meat fell off the bones.
Once the chicken was deboned and shredded, I covered it with water, added a few bay leaves (this was my grandmother’s secret ingredient for everything) and let it simmer. My grandmother made a basic pie dough recipe using shortening, salt and pepper for the dumplings. I did the same but I replaced half the shortening with butter to give it a little more flavor and a better mouthfeel. Josie helped me roll out the dough and cut them into one inch diamonds.
When the pot with the chicken was bubbling, I added the dumplings one at a time, stirring it after every dozen so they didn’t stick together, Cracker Barrel style. Once the dumplings puffed and started rising to the top, I added a bag of frozen peas and let the pot simmer for another hour. The flour from the dumplings turned the stew into a creamy, thick blend of nostalgic yum.
After all the preparation, no one in my family would actually eat my chicken and dumplings. I thought Keegan cleaned his plate but he just hid it in the refrigerator where he puts all the food he doesn’t want eat. He says he’s “saving it for tomorrow.” Ungrateful assholes, all of them.
Friday, October 12th What a rollercoaster. Recovery is like life amplified. My ups are really high and my downs are really low. Today was a down day. I’m finding that I need a full day to reset after each PT appointment. Though the exercises seem easy at the time, the muscle & bone fatigue a day later is harrowing.
Yesterday, I was at the peak of productivity and today, I feel like I’m letting everyone down. I’m unable to focus on simple tasks and I just want to lay in bed.
As I’m able to walk and look seemingly normal, everyone around me expects me to operate at 100% even though I feel like I’m at 50%. Everyone needs something….Josie needs help with math, Keegan can’t find his socks, Mac wants a different dinner than everyone else, Brad can’t find his keys (again), the accountant needs sign off on my (delayed) tax filings, the sales reps from 15 different companies need face-to-face meetings, the entire town of Montclair (and all the surrounding towns) needs donations for fundraisers, the bakery needs staff for the Upper Montclair location, the elementary school needs volunteers for the book fair, the carpenter needs construction permits filed for work on the running store, the running club needs waivers…this is just today’s list. It’s my mom’s birthday and I didn’t send a card. I’m unraveling more and more with every demand. I need solitude.
On the bright side, I reheated the chicken and dumplings I made last night and served it for dinner, again. I guess they were desperate because they ate it without too much grumbling.
Saturday, October 13th As Josie spends more time helping me in the bakery and gains more independence in her baking endeavors, I think about the first time I attempted a solo baking project.
The summer I turned 8, I stayed with my grandmother on the Eastern Shore of Maryland. She lived less than a mile from my mother and six doors down from my aunt. Her house third from the the end of a row of 12 Nanticoke homes. Behind the houses was a cornfield that stretched as far as I could see. I spent hours getting lost in that field.
My grandmother let me help tend to her vegetable garden. She and her neighbors had a contest every year to see who could grow the first red tomato. The garden remained unchanged every year….tomatoes, bell peppers, zucchini, watermelons and cucumbers.
I lived in her pool, a four foot deep, above ground structure in the backyard. Every few hours, I’d run inside to get Schwann’s ice cream sandwiches, refuel and jump back in. She had pool floats that would hold me and my soda. She also had a float for the dog.
One day, my grandmother was outside mowing the lawn. I decided to bake a batch of brownies. I knew where to find the recipe in the red, gingham covered, Betty Crocker cookbook because the pages were stuck together from all my previous brownie endeavors. I wanted to surprise everyone with brownies I baked without any help. I preheated the oven. I was so proud of myself for remembering this critical step.
I assembled all the ingredients. I melted the butter in the microwave. I started measuring the dry ingredients into a big metal bowl. While stirring them together, I started to smell something strange, like melting plastic. I turned around to see smoke billowing out of the oven and flames inside. I ran out to get my grandmother. She sprinted into the house, turned off the oven and threw two boxes of baking soda onto the flames to put the fire out.
I forgot to remove the Tupperware bin of sliced white Wonder Bread and Muller’s potato buns she kept in America’s favorite secondary storage space. Melted plastic dripped through the racks and puddled in the bottom of the oven.
When Pop came home from work to see the charred wall behind the stove and the melted mess that would force them to replace the entire oven, he told me ‘that’s why pencils have erasers.’ Years later when I backed the car out of the garage and knocked out the side wall, he repeated this adage.
I’ve never set an oven to preheat without checking to make sure it’s empty since 1988. I still have the Betty Crocker Cookbook with the gingham cover and the brownie batter covered pages. In fact, I have multiple copies. I can’t go to a used book sale without rescuing it from the piles of unwanted fad diet and Junior League cookbooks