Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Mind games: Access the anger

This a strange time for me. My dad, who is 82, went from the hospital to a nursing home to rehab from a hip replacement. My younger brother Rick made the trip back to Wisconsin to look after and care for him, and from his report my dad's progress is slow. It's one painful step and then another, with a long road looming ahead.

I can't envision getting mobility back into a new hip, but I do know what it's like to journey back from ground zero, from a place where some would tell you there is no return. That's me at the left, at St. Francis Hospital in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. The year was 1992, and I was a guest visitor in the Intensive Care Unit.

The effects of Guillain-Barre Syndrome had racked my system, leaving me paralyzed from head to toe, without the ability to use lung muscles to breathe. So, I was hooked up to a respirator to pump air in and out, in and out, in a long methodical cadence.

I was several weeks into my illness when my body started to reverberate. Muscles twitched and my limbs tremored; it was even possible to learn to swallow again. I had many depressing thoughts about the end of my endurance sport lifestyle. But deep inside I wanted to press out of my surroundings and race again.

It took several weeks to get back into a sitting position. The world would spin and I'd lose equilibrium. From sitting and gaining balance, I went to the edge of the bed and tried to put weight on my thin and tired legs...with the help of two rehab nurses.

A prevailing through continued to creep into my mind. It was now the start of 1993, and I had four whole months to prep and get ready for the Ice Age 50 mile in May. Sure, why not? Wasn't it time to get down to business?

On one occasion I shared my racing goal with some of the hospital staff. A nurse chuckled and muttered "you'll be lucky to be up in a walker by then."

That was the point of rage inside. It burned hot and I felt it warm my body. But I knew the best thing I could do was channel that rage, bring it under control, and use it to push me harder and further than that nurse or many others could imagine.

I got back on my feet, wobbled away from the hospital, and was scheduled for more outpatient rehab. Each day I was told to go home and rest, that my body could take no more. Instead, I went to the local YMCA and pulled myself onto the Nautilus machines. I couldn't even put the pin in the weight stack. But I pulled and struggled, until I could add a few pounds, then a few pounds more.

Running was not possible, but water aerobics was. I did the workouts with the senior citizens and learned to like it. As I splashed and jumped, I could see the face of that nurse ridiculing me only a few weeks before.

Watch me go now, baby.

I ran Ice Age that year in something like 11:30, using a pulse meter to make sure I never got over 130 bpm. The next day I stepped forward at church, held my finisher's buckle high, and thanked all those who had prayed for me over the many weeks that had passed.

I made it back, dad, and so will you. Get angry at times and channel your energy. You can conquer whatever obstacles are in your path.

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