Sunday, April 26, 2009

This Crazy Adventure...

18 miles... a helluva milestone for a rookie runner! My friend Theresa tells me once you've done 18, you're there... you can definitely run a marathon. WOO HOO!

The past few months have been quite an adventure in learning! I've learned to laugh at myself harder than I ever have, and I've learned a lot about the human body (not all of it pleasant, either). I've also learned that I can go out in public stinky and sweaty and really not give a rip about what people think.

So, for those of you who haven't run down this road and wonder what it's like from ground zero, welcome to my tale of the World of a Rookie Runner!

Having often thought that saying, "I'm a marathon runner" seemed pretty cool, I semi-impulsively (who? me?) signed up to join Team in Training to run the San Diego Half Marathon. That same night, at that same meeting I succumbed to the words of one of the mentors who insisted that I could run a full marathon! She told me I could do run/walk intervals, and if I changed my mind, I could back off to the half again. Having no clue what I was in for... I listened and checked "full" on my sign up sheet. And so began the journey...

The very first training run was on an icky, rainy, snowy, gloomy Saturday morning, I think in late January. All I know is that it was cold, and this crazy person stood up there and said we were gonna run three miles that morning! Are you kidding me? Okay, I'm active... I bike, hike, etc. when it's nice outside, but to start out with three miles? Well, we did it... and got back to the start looking like a bunch of drowned rats. I couldn't believe I left a warm bed and hot coffee for that!

Then we all got this training schedule emailed to us. This... this... Calendar that had pretty much every day filled with exercise stuff! Monday, Tuesday, Thursday - 30 - 45 minute runs, Wednesday core training, Saturday group runs... when the heck will I have time to drink my wine? I figured I'd better get a plan together! So I put the word out that I needed someone to run with, 'cuz I pretty much suck at the whole self-discipline thing. A lady I knew a bit from this group I hang with, Gwen, stepped up and volunteered to run with me. Gwen has been my life saver! She makes sure I get out there and run (even in 22 degree freakin' weather!!!) and has been my "coach" in all things running-related. The only bummer is, I can't just keep my butt in bed and blow off running, 'cuz she's waiting for me! Sheesh!

Week after week the miles we ran got longer. We formed our own little groups based on a common pace (heck yeah! I found my own rookie group of slower runners!). We were happy to learn that very few people run an entire marathon and that run/walk intervals are perfectly acceptable and endorsed by even hard-core runners. Yay! License to take lots of breaks without guilt! Works for me! I learned about "fuels" for running, which is a nice word for really icky crap you're supposed to eat or drink while you run. Crap like Gu, gel, and, horror of horrors, pure salt!!! I tried my first "Shot Block" on the six mile run... which if you've never had one, is a gel candy loaded with caffeine and sugar. The sugar/caffeine rush hit me so hard I thought I was going to pass out or puke... note to self: Shot Blocks ain't my "fuel"!

I learned that "hip flexor issues" is run-speak for "I think I'm gonna die, cuz my hip hurts like a sonofagun!!". I learned that I can rub a muscle out so hard I give myself bruises that hurt worse than the "hip flexor issue" ever did! I learned that instead of "My butt hurts like hell!", runners say, "I've got a strain in my right glute". But ya know, whether you call it butt or glute, hurt or strain... it feels the same! Fortunately, it all goes away the same, too.

After 14 miles, one of my new friends and I realized that we both suck at every other long run. Twelve miles, I pretty much walked the last three miles 'cuz my "hip flexor" was hurting. Fourteen miles, not too shabby! One of my other new running friends was having IT band issues (OMG! I'm sounding like a runner!) which is run-nese for "hard-core knee/outer thigh muscle pain", so I walked with her the way one of my teammates had walked with me on my crappy run.

The 16 mile run was my big, hilarious oops! I don't know how many times I was told to be careful with what we eat the night before a big run. I heard how too much protein will mess with your guts, how we need to balance carbs with a little protein, etc. Did I listen? Well... yeah... sorta! But I'm a protein-eater, right? My body is used to protein and I don't eat a whole lot of carbs... so I'm different, right? WRONG!

Friday night, I worked 'til about 8:30. I hadn't eaten since about 1:00 so I was pretty hungry. I decided to catch up with a friend at Cheerleaders for a beer. We were sitting at the bar and I knew I needed to eat. The bartender told me about that night's special: Filet Mignon with grilled prawns... uh-huh... I ordered it! It was soooo good! And hey, I had two beers, so I actually did have some carbs, right?

Next morning... feeling pretty good. Start the run... still good. Mile 10... uh oh, not so good... we run to Zamzow's cuz I think I need a restroom. Nope... that's not it and it's not getting better! Keep going... only about five to go... I didn't really get what was going on, I thought my body didn't like the "fuel" I was giving it on the run. At mile 13 I looked at my running partners and said, "I would give $100 right now just to puke!" A bit later one of the coaches came back to us and I was telling him about my dinner the night before. I think if he coulda laughed his butt off, he would have! "There's your problem!" was his euphemism for, "Way to go, dummy!" (not really, but close enough). So I struggled through the rest of the run, finished the 16, with the help of great friends who stuck by me, and learned a very hard lesson. A lesson I still laugh about!!!

When you embark on this journey called "marathon training" you start with your pride and prudishness intact. Over the weeks and months the pride changes to a different sort, and your prudishness pretty much goes out the window! You talk comfortably about body functions, and quit caring who sees your nose run or hears you talk about your tissue-less, no hands, while running nose-blowing skills (I have yet to master that skill!). You're perfectly comfortable announcing that you need to find a bush to go behind. I realized I'd taken a huge step toward being a runner when I met my daughter for a movie after a run and hadn't had time to shower or change yet. Did I care? Not really... and hey, if it got us a whole row in the theater to ourselves, who am I to complain? (well, I was nice enough to leave my jacket on!).

Yeah, this marathon training isn't all about the running, although finally, finally that part became fun. It's about pushing on to do something you thought you knew you couldn't do. It's about realizing that with enough motivation and great friends you can accomplish anything. Most of all, it's about knowing with 100% certainty that I can't is your own personal limitation, not necessarily a fact. Anyone with working legs and reasonably good health can do this if they want to... ya just gotta want it, and ya just gotta do it.

Oh, and the perks? I'm not gonna lie, I'm lovin' my legs these days!!! My running buddies bodies are looking pretty phenomenal too! We were talking about a theme song for our little group and one suggested, "Fat Bottom Girls"... I voted no for that, cuz there aren't any, and these butts are all tighter than they've probably ever been! So yeah... the body perks pretty much rock!

Five more weeks till D-Day! Or shall I say SD-Day? On May 31, my girls and I are running the San Diego Rock & Roll Marathon together. We know we're gonna finish, we probably aren't gonna win (HA!) but we will finish!

Thursday, April 16, 2009

What a difference a couple days makes...

Not health-wise, nothing is better for my dad there... doctors are still working on being able to install the shunt. The geriatric doctor gave the go-ahead for surgery, but they need to have three good spinal taps before installing it. The first one failed when no fluid was extracted - may have hit scar tissue from an old back surgery. So phyically, nothing has gotten better, doesn't seem to have gotten substantially worse.

My attitude and outlook is where the difference is. I got my anger and frustration out and I can now look ahead with a clearer vision. I can't change the outcome, I can't control the universe... but now I can control my reaction to it. I am, for now, centered.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Pain... sadness... I don't know what to call this...

Too many things going on in my head... too many stresses, too much pain. I thank God for a forum in which I can write, because otherwise, I truly feel my soul would shatter.

I planned to write on April 3rd. I always get the urge to write on that date because it was my mother's birthday. In church the Sunday before, instead of listening to the readings, I scribbled numbers. I needed to know how old my mother would have been this April 3rd. She would have been 76. She died at age 42, when I was 10 years old, of colon cancer. Being 10 at the time, I really didn't know what was going on with her, all I knew was one day she went into the hospital, and very soon thereafter she died. I didn't know then about the surgery, about the military refusing to pay for her care at the university hospital once they deemed her "terminal" or my father's guilt over not being able to afford $800 per day in care. I didn't know that the transport back to the military hospital likely hastened her death. I didn't know that the time my father allowed me to stay the night at a friend's house instead of going to the hospital was my last chance to see her alive.

What I did know is that my world as I knew it ended on September 21, 1975. My 10 year old mind didn't know how to cope, so I did the only thing I knew to do. I put a shell around my heart to keep it from shattering, and since I had figured out how to protect myself, I set about protecting those around me. People around me felt the need to comfort me. I knew they needed to do this, so I would give them a little time, allow the appropriate noises to be made, thank them, demonstrate how they'd helped me, then move on. I didn't want comfort from them - I honestly didn't think they had anything to offer me. But I accepted their offerings graciously to make them feel better, and did what I needed to do.

I let my sister have the crying time she needed and comforted her. I stayed strong so as not to add additional stress onto my dad's shoulders. I returned casserole dishes, thanked loved ones, stayed out of the way, and finished parenting myself. My father never neglected me, he loved and cared for all three of us kids living at home to the best of his ability, and he did a wonderful job of it. I knew I was loved, but I thought I knew that it would be best if I didn't add anything to his already heavy load. So I chose to be "the easy" one.

The life pattern began at that point.

For the next almost 34 years I have continued that pattern. Yes, I ask for comfort when I need it so bad I feel I can't bear it. I have wonderful friends as well as a few of my siblings that I call when I just can't any more. They comfort me, and as they do, I wait for an indication that perhaps they've been listening long enough, and I make the appropriate "finished whining" noises, and move back into my upbeat mode. Were they really tired of listening? I don't know. Probably not. But I don't want to be a burden, so I cut it short, suck it up, make the appropriate noises, and move back to the positive one they know.

(note: I've never told them this, don't know if I ever will, so don't tell on me!)

The biggest problem with this behavior is that there's never full relief of the pain. I thank God for my writing. Without the ability to untangle the emotional knots through "writing it out" I truly feel I wouldn't survive. These blogs, tangled as they are, help me to sort through pain in a way no human being has yet to do.

When I write out my pain, it's all about me and what I need at the moment. There's no one saying, "Well, let me tell you about my life, my pain, my situation". It can be all about me for a short time, and people have a choice whether to read/listen or not. I don't have the guilt of burdening someone else with my problems...

So here's my pain relief.

Over the past few years my family has seen my father's health deteriorate. There's not any one diagnosis, it's a horrible mish-mash of shit that has changed my father from the fishing, basketball playing, card playing, fun man he was, to a shell who sleeps 20 hours a day, can't walk, talk or feed himself and is dependent on others for every physical need.

Parkinson's. Dementia. Muscle Atrophy. Muscle stiffness. All part of whatever it is that's going on in his body. Newest diagnosis: hydroencephalus. Fluid on the brain. Diagnosed because experimental spinal fluid draining caused marked improvement. A brilliant neurosurgeon in Macon, Georgia wanted to take things one step further, found hydroencephalus to be likely and is hoping to install a permanent shunt to drain spinal fluid. Permanent because while each draining has caused marked improvement, as the fluid builds up again he gets worse.

A few weeks ago it was seizures. Not the thrashing kind, but the "asleep but can't wake him up" kind. Recently he's "forgotten how to swallow" and had to have a feeding tube put in his stomach. The hope is that it can come out once the shunt is put in, because they feel he'll be able to swallow again, and possibly even walk with assistance.

He was supposed to be admitted today for the shunt. No one told my family he needed to be off his blood thinners prior to surgery. Delay while they get those damn things out of his system, then they have to do three spinal taps to see how he reacts. Hoping for surgery Thursday or Friday.

The neurosurgeon said today he won't do the surgery unless my dad's geriatric doctor gives clearance, because he's so weak there is concern he won't survive. So that conversation takes place tomorrow.

As a family, per my father's wishes, it has been long decided that no "extraordinary" measures to keep our dad alive would be taken. Is this shunt extraordinary? I don't think so. It may or may not prolong his life, but the hope is not to prolong, but to give him a bit more quality and comfort. When the doctor discussed "quality of life", "next steps", etc. in my father's presence, thinking he couldn't understand, or was asleep - his blood pressure shot up about 30 points. Fear? Frustration? Anger? We don't know... but it's apparent to us that his mind comprehends, it's only that he can't communicate it. So as my brother said, if the doctor gives permission, we have to have the shunt installed. It may work and give him back the ability to eat, smile, maybe to say, "I love you", and maybe it won't. Either way, we tried.

So... everything leads to this.

I'm going to lose my other parent soon.

My instinct is to think about my stepmom losing her husband of 30 years, my siblings losing their father, the grandkids losing their grandfather, and worry about how they're going to cope. But right now, in this forum, for a few more minutes, I'm going to cry about what I'm about to lose.

My father and I weren't extremely close when I was growing up. I was "mom's girl" when she was alive, and for all intents and purposes I shut down after she died. I didn't need a parent, and in many ways, probably didn't allow my dad to be the father he was capable of. But I knew he loved me, and he knew I loved him. Over years our good relationship became even better. I always had a very healthy respect for his position as parent, and we never had father/daughter fights or anything like that. One thing I knew was that regardless of what decisions I made in life, whether he agreed or not, he would love me and accept my choice. I was the first in my family to get divorced (and the second one, too!!) He never judged me, just accepted my way of life. I knew he was okay with it when he made a joking comment, "You know Kim, maybe you just aren't meant to be married!" I laughed, because my Bible College attending, former assistant pastor, married 'til death parted Dad was okay with the fact that I had been divorced twice and was living with a man I wasn't married to. He was okay with it because he loved me. He saw me make bad relationship choices, and when they fell apart, he never said, "I told you so"... he just kept on loving me.

I was blessed this past summer to help my stepmom get my dad from California where they were staying to Arizona to see his doctor so they could see what was going on and consider next steps. I stayed with my dad while my stepmom ran errands. While she was gone he had a particularly lucid time. During this time I was able to thank him for being such a wonderful father to us all and for loving us the way he did. I was able to tell him, and know with 100% certainty that he understood, how much I loved him. I heard him say, "I love you too, Honey" just like he always did when I was hurting. So I have no regrets that things were left unsaid... they were said, and they've always been known.

I'm sad that my wonderful father is dying soon. I'm pissed because he's only 73. I'm sorry he won't see my grandchild. I'm upset that I probably won't be there when he goes.

I've had some time to get my mind around losing him... but it's not making it any easier. My logical mind is accepting it, somewhat... my emotional mind is railing against the injustice.

I want to escape... I want to cry until I feel full and total release... I want to throw things and smash things... I want to explode... I want to scream...

I want to hear the one thing that will take away all the pain... but there's no such thing.

I don't want to hurt... I don't want to say goodbye... I don't want to deal with it at all... I just want it to all go away...