Sunday, September 16th It’s hard to believe it’s been an entire month since the accident. In real life, I would have run 200 miles in the time I’ve been sitting still. There are reminders of what I’ve been through, all over the house. There’s an unintended shrine by the front door: my dented helmet, my bike shoes and my still unwashed padded shorts. I think about moving them but I can’t.
I opened the refrigerator this morning to grab an iced coffee. Sitting next to it, on the top shelf, was a macintosh apple someone brought to the hospital. I remember the nurse walking into my room and asking where it came from. It definitely did not come from the hospital cafeteria.
My friend Jackie came to help me around the house. She cleaned the kids’ room, the kitchen and the bathroom. I didn’t get to ask her if she’d been in the military but the kids’ beds suggest she may have.
While Jackie scrubbed, I sat to go through the bags and baskets that were covering my kitchen table. For the first time, I read the birthday cards everyone left at our party the night before my ride and, for the first time, I read the get well cards everyone left in the hospital during the week I spent there.
Our fridge is still full of beer from our party, the cans we bought to celebrate and the cans we were gifted. Although my exploits in my college years may suggest otherwise, I can’t drink them until I’m off my medications. At first, I thought I might get through this motionless time without gaining weight because I’m eliminating my liquid carb consumption. Unfortunately, that only took me so far and now the pounds are coming back as quickly as a few 20 mile runs took them off.
I tried to stick to a healthy diet during the first couple of weeks post-op. Now, more than ever, I crave comfort foods including, but not limited to, cookies, cakes & doughnuts. I started running because I wanted to stick with my two-doughnut-a-day diet. If I could burn the calories, I could eat whatever I wanted and stay at the same weight….if I could burn the calories….
Monday, September 17th I slept for 8 hours last night! I’m able to get myself into more comfortable positions. Before bed, I was laying on the sofa with both of my knees bent toward the ceiling. I hadn’t noticed it was a new achievement until Brad commented on it.
I’m starting to revert to my old standbys. I sat on the floor with the kids in a modified ‘criss-cross-apple-sauce’ position. That’s ‘Indian-style’ for anyone who grew up in my politically incorrect generation. I can lay on my non-surgical side with a pillow between my legs. After my last PT appointment, I was instructed to have daily ‘tummy time,’ where I go through a series of stretches designed to break up the scar tissue around my incision. It’s terrifying and relaxing at the same time.
I have exactly 12 steri-strips left to fall off before I can get in a pool. When I was in high school, I figured out how to remove my own braces using toenail clippers. Once the wire is cut and removed, the brackets have two points, one on each side, that when pressed at the same time, pop right off. I’m not sure who was more angry, my dad or my orthodontist. I’m fighting every urge not to pull off the last 12 strips of tape.
My partner in pelvic peril, Rebecca, told me that at a certain point during recovery from her surgery, her skin started to peel away. I’m glad she warned me. My stomach and legs look like a snake shedding it’s skin. Maybe it’s a good sign of new things to come.
The intense swelling in my leg has finally receded and I no longer have to fight to get the compression sleeve on each day. Without the fluid settling around my joints, I’m able to bend and there’s less weight to drag around.
I’m regaining more feeling in my thigh. There are still places, like the crease where my leg meets my torso, that are completely numb. I’m not sure if it’s difficult to bend forward because of the lack of sensation or the scar tissue build up.
Tuesday, September 18th The number of motions it takes to put on a sock is something I never thought about before. Not only do I have to be capable of bending over my abdomen to reach my toes, I have to be able to rotate my leg in my hip socket, just enough to reach the outer edge of my foot. Then, I have to muster the strength to push my foot forward and down into it’s sheath. This isn’t taking into account the dexterity I must have in my hands. Thankfully, my fingers, hands and arms are fully functional.
Today, for the first time, I put my left sock on my foot entirely by myself. I fought through the pain as I rotated my left thigh to cross my left foot over my right knee. I forced myself to bend over the mass of scar tissue built up around my incision as I reached to hook the sock around my toes. Then I sighed with relief as I let my leg drop back to the floor.
Last week, I asked Dr. Mayes at PT for helpful pointers on how to carry things when I’m on my crutches, like my dinner plate. He told me restrictions are in place for a reason and he will not contribute to my delinquency during recovery.
On Saturday, I was craving oatmeal fudge bars from Esther’s Treats at the farmer’s market. I gave Keegan money to retrieve one for me. When he returned empty handed because Esther was sold out of oatmeal bars, I realized this was one of the great divides between men and women. If I sent Josie on this mission, she would have come back with three alternative options to satisfy my sweet tooth. Keegan returned with my money.
Still craving the oatmeal chocolate bars, I decided to go to my bakery and make them myself. It would be a test of my dexterity and stubborn need to accomplish more. My staff has been incredible during this journey. The hardest part of my recipe test was getting them to let me struggle through on my own.
My options to ‘carry’ an item are limited. I can move it from one surface to another, one step at a time, until it’s in the right place - like my iced coffee from the fridge in the mornings. I can tuck it into my mini-messenger bag which I am never without these days. This worked for the can of sweetened condensed milk and the eggs. If it’s not too heavy, I can wrap it around the handle of my crutch and drag it along with me, like my pillow case. If it’s mostly flat, I can tuck it under my armpit. This works for my laptop and sheet pans and, as I discovered today, Pam cooking spray. Last but not least, I can use my mouth as was the case for the wooden spoon and the spatula I used to stir the ingredients. I discovered, this method also works for conventionally hand-held food items like pizza slices and PB&J sandwiches.
In spite of a couple hiccups along the way, I managed to get through the entire recipe on my own. It took two hours to assemble everything before it was ready to go into the oven. This is one of those dump-everything-in-a-bowl recipes that should have taken 15 minutes to prepare. I haven’t been able to figure out how to carry anything with two hands and the sheet pan was too heavy to carry using any of my other techniques. I had to ask for an assist to get it into and out of the oven. I was able to rotate it halfway through the bake time on my own.
Once I finally completed my oatmeal bars, my craving disappeared completely. They didn’t go to waste. Brad devoured the better part of the tray before we went to bed.
Wednesday, September 19th After my baking adventure yesterday, I decided to could carry one crutch under my arm, like I mastered with the Pam cooking spray. Every time I want to leave my apartment OR return to my apartment, I need someone with me for the sole purpose of opening heavy doors and holding a single crutch so I can use my free arm to do push-ups on the railings. It’s a road block to progress.
Brad was having a just-wait-for-me-to-do-one-more-thing morning. I was impatient. I tried using my butt to hold the door as I exited the apartment. Going through the door while on crutches requires a lot of faith in myself. If the door is attached to a self closing mechanism, it’s going to snap shut the second my foot leaves the ground. If I misjudged the amount of space I need to get that foot to meet the other foot I’m either going to catch my heel in the door, throw myself off balance and fall or both. I made it through the first door.
I tucked a crutch under my arm and made it down the first two staircases. Using both crutches, I wiggled up to the second door. This one is especially difficult because it’s heavy, it requires a step down and there’s no railing. I was certain I was going to fall on my face. I didn’t. I made it down two more flights of stairs and across the street to the bakery before Brad joined me.
Finally, I can have a little more independence as I continue on my journey.
Thursday, September 20th One of the kindest, most helpful parts of my recovery has been the meal train organized by my running club. Every night, dinner has been prepared for my family. There are always leftovers which means we also have lunch for the next day. It’s not just about the meal itself. The meal train saves me from figuring out how to get groceries, how to prepare the food and how to clean up after the preparation. If my oatmeal bars were any indication of my speed in the kitchen, I would have to start making dinner the second I wake up in the morning to have a meal on the table before bed.
From the time I graduated from culinary school, my friends and family stopped cooking for me. If they do cook for me, the meal is met with 1000 apologies of why it isn’t up to snuff. It is important everyone take a minute to familarize themselves with my all-time favorite meals:
Mac & Cheese, Tuna & Peas: In my family, we say it really fast so it almost sounds like one word. This is the number one go-to in our house when I don’t have anything else on hand to make the kids for dinner. It requires a box of Velveeta or Kraft Mac & Cheese, a can of tuna and a bag of frozen peas. Once the mac & cheese is finished cooking, I dump in the tuna & peas and call it a day. When Brad first learned of this dish, he literally threw up in his mouth. Tough audience.
Franks & Beans: In college (University of Florida NOT culinary school) my roommate, Jason, taught me how to up the ante on the trashy food front. He sauteed slices of hot dog with onions until the onions started to caramelize before adding a can of baked beans. This still remains a delicacy in my house.
Cream Chipped Beef Gravy Over Toast: This one is difficult for me to make because it was my grandfather’s favorite and it stirs up a lot of memories. He lovingly referred to it at ‘Shit on a Shingle.’ It was a frequently occurring menu item during his days in the Marine Corps.
When I was growing up, my grandmother would prepare a huge pot of the gravy, almost as if it were a stew. She would put the pot in the center of the table along with a bowl of chopped hard boiled eggs which we had the option of using as a garnish. My grandfather, my cousin and I would each grab two slices of toast and cover them with the gravy. My aunt would revolt because in her world - foods can’t touch. My grandmother continued to fill toaster after toaster with sliced white bread until we’d eaten through a loaf and a half!
This culinary masterpiece starts with dried chipped beef. Some areas of the US do not sell it. My grandmother would ship it to me when I lived in any of these regions. It’s found near the bacon, bologna and sausages in the refrigerator aisles. To make the gravy, I start by melting a stick of butter in the bottom of the pot. I add diced chipped beef to the butter and let it brown slightly. I like to leave big pieces of chipped beef, not the little bits that are often served if you have the guts to order this dish at a diner. I crack an egg into the pot and stir it quickly to scramble it into the butter and beef. Then I add about a cup of flour until the whole mess becomes a paste. Later in life, I discovered this is called a ‘roux.’
Once I’ve cooked and beaten out all the flour lumps, I switch over to a whisk and add whole milk a little at a time. With each addition, I whisk the gravy until it’s smooth and wait for it to thicken before I add more. I keep adding milk until the overall texture is thin enough to spoon over toast but thick enough to coat the back of a spoon.
Meatloaf on Wonder Bread: Don’t get me wrong, meatloaf & mashed potatoes are a sure winner but cold, leftover meatloaf with mayo on squishy white bread is where the real magic happens. Whenever anyone bashes commercialized, processed bread, I let them know there is always a time and a place. This is the one time no other bread will do. It has to be the squishy white stuff that tastes more like sugar than flour. When my grandmother sprung for the actual Wonder label and not the supermarket brand, we knew we were in for a real treat.
Pistachio Salad: Only it’s not a salad. It’s made with a box of pistachio flavored (I don’t think there are any actual pistachios in the box) jello pudding mix, a tub of cool whip, a can of mandarin orange slices, a can of crushed pineapple and half a bag of mini marshmallows. If that’s not over the top enough, it gets garnished with halved maraschino cherries and more marshmallows. This dish was served alongside the savory items on the dinner table when I was growing up. Despite the insistence of the ingredients, it is not a dessert.
I have truly enjoyed sampling everyone’s home cooked meals. I’ve eaten classic American dishes like I grew up with, along with homestyle Italian, Puerto Rican, Colombian, Spanish, Indian, Irish, Mexican and more. It’s been a trip around the globe every night and I couldn’t be happier.
Ask any chef or baker to describe their favorite meal and I bet anything they’ll tell you it’s the one the didn’t have to make themselves.
Friday, September 21st When tragedy strikes, it’s impossible to know what to say. Here are a few things you NEVER want to say to someone (ME) who can’t do what they love for the next 6-12 months. I promised Tracey I would put this list together. I may edit to include any new additions as they come.
“It could have been worse.” Um, yeah, or I could have stayed in bed when the alarm went off.
“What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.”
And along the same lines…”You’re going to be so much stronger when you get through this.”
“This is your body’s way of telling you to slow down,” or “Maybe you needed to take a break, you move too fast.” ARE YOU FUCKING KIDDING?!?!
“Are you going to get back on your bike?”, “This is the risk you take when you ride a bike,” and “This is why I don’t ride bikes.”
“How much longer before you can XXXX,” If you’re not asking me how much longer before I can consume alcohol, don’t ask.
“Do you miss biking more or running more?”
“Are you sad you can’t run with me (or ‘the group’, or ‘in the race’)?”
“It doesn’t look like you’re going to be running anytime soon.” (Upon seeing me on crutches walking out of the Running Co.)
“When is your location in Upper Montclair opening?”
If you were the one who uttered any of these things, don’t worry, I’ve heard them each 1000 times. They come so often, I’ve developed an immunity to them. I know it’s difficult to find the right thing to say to someone who is going through a period of recovery or grief and I appreciate everyone’s way of expressing care and concern.
Thank you to everyone who tells me “you look great,” even if you don’t mean it. It’s a daily struggle to stay positive. On the other hand, please don’t hesitate to tell me I look like shit, if that’s the case.
Saturday, September 22nd Nine years ago today, I woke up from a restless sleep, soaking wet. My water broke. It was start of my labor with baby number two. I called my midwife, Jessica. When she arrived, 30 minutes later, Keegan was already crowning. I was on all fours on my bedroom floor. The water birth I planned, was not in the cards. This would be the last time in his life Keegan did anything fast or even on-time.
After his head emerged, his shoulder was stuck. In this moment, he tried to take a breath and he couldn’t. Once he was finally out and resting on my chest, he was completely blue. His breathing was so labored, his chest caved in with every his every attempt for air. He had to be transferred to the hospital.
While I waited for Jessica to organize everything for our trip, a 15 month old Josie came in to meet her baby brother. She had been eating the chocolate chip cookies I made the day before and her face showed it. She gave Keegan a chocolatey kiss on his forehead that would remain in place for the rest of the day.
Jessica loaded me and the baby into her van and drove us 40 minutes away to the closest hospital. Her assistant covered Keegan’s face with an oxygen mask until we arrived. When we checked in, Jessica explained to the nurses what happened. Keegan’s face was bruised from his precipitous trip down the birth canal. The hospital staff thought we dropped him. They wanted to fly him to another hospital. Although he was barely getting any air, he was nursing and latched on stronger than Josie did during the 18 months she was on the boob. I fought to keep him where he was.
I have never cried harder than I did when they put an IV in my baby boy’s arm. They couldn’t find the vein. There were several failed attempts.
Keegan and I spent four days in the hospital. They wanted to give him formula. I said no. They didn’t want to wake me to nurse him. I insisted. It took him a little while to figure out the whole breathing thing. Once he finally got it, my 9 pound 8 ounce baby boy and I were cleared to go back home.
The nurses in Newark were shocked by my lack of personal experience in a hospital, hooked up to machines. They asked several times over “don’t you have three kids?” I told them, I wasn’t sick or injured, I was pregnant and I had my babies at home.
Happy Birthday Keegan.