Sunday, October 16, 2011

The Looney Tunes Challenge

My second week back at work has come to an end. It is hard to describe exactly how I feel, but I'll try. Think of one of those old Coyote and Road Runner cartoons. Picture the Coyote shooting off an ACME rocket that makes a big circle and ends up coming up behind him. Imagine said rocket hitting him squarely in the keester with a loud KA-POW and then him skidding on his backside across the desert floor. The sound effect might be a Whee-ee-ee-ee.

In many ways, I knew how this back-to-work period was going to play out. The train had already been moving for a month without me. I had to try to catch up, grab onto the train, and keep going without missing a beat. My teaching partner and the substitute did their best (which was very good) to have everything in place and moving the right direction. I had done a ton of work at home so that I was as prepared as I could be.

To be sure, the first week back was incredibly tiring. Besides working full time, I had various after-school commitments that kept me out and about until 9:00 almost every evening. The second week was better. I wasn't quite as tired, and I didn't have things going on every evening. I find that people (myself included) tend to think that since I am back at work, I must be back to my pre-injury self. After all, when someone comes back to work after having the flu, they feel pretty much back to normal, right?

Unfortunately, I haven't "just" been back to work, and haven't "just" been recovering from leg surgery. For the past month, I have also been battling an infection (TWICE) that required antibiotics, immediately followed by a spell of back spasms, followed by a tremendous head cold that hit me this past Friday. Seemingly, this trifecta of challenges has left me skidding on my fanny across the desert floor.

I have not been able to exercise the way I should. Exhaustion and feeling unwell have left me making poorer food choices. I have not been logging my food and water. I have fallen away from many of the things that made my summer productive and successful.

Yet, in some respects, I am still clinging to the path. As of this morning, my weight is only up about 2 pounds from my lowest point. My husband came to therapy with me on Thursday, and he was amazed at what I am able to do in the gym now. He kept asking me if I realized how much better I am doing on the bike and weight machines. He's right, I am able to do more. I am stronger than I was before my fall, in spite of having a rough couple of months.

I think this is a critical time in the lifestyle journey. I have had physical impediments for three full months now. The first burst of adrenalin and initial weight loss has past. The time when motivation begins to wain has hit. It would be easy fall into an old habit of telling myself, "It's no use, you might as well just give up."

It seems that the intellect (Super Genius) must step in and override the emotion when the journey road takes an uphill turn. I must make a DECISION to keep going, Ever Forward, even when I feel like quitting. I must take inventory of the challenges that the past two weeks have presented, congratulate myself for coming through it, and then turn myself around again. Just like Wile E. Coyote, Super Genius, I must pick myself up, dust myself off, and start planning my next week of attack. Don't just sit there, please pass my ACME catalog...

Friday, October 7, 2011

D- for the Teacher

Well, it is only Friday, but the score on my Test for the Teacher is clear. This has been quite the week! It was the first week back at work, but so much more.

I am very grateful to my teaching partner and the substitute who was filling in for me during the first month of school. They did a really great job throughout a very, very busy time. My partner has been exceedingly gracious all week in picking up and delivering my students every 25 minutes, in an effort to save my leg all the walking on the concrete floor. The staff and students were glad to have me back, and I was greeted daily with hugs and well wishes. It was the first true week with students for my partner, too. Somehow, we both forgot the breakneck pace we must keep during our day. Several times during the week, we looked at each other and just let out a big sigh and laughed! Of course, when someone else is "cooking in your kitchen", things are bound to be out-of-place; and it takes time to get things rearranged to suit your needs. By the end of every day, my partner and I were both exhausted!

I went home at lunch time every day and put my leg up. It seemed to help a little, but it was quite sore by the afternoon. By Thursday, it was sore even when I was getting up in the morning.

Besides being back to work full-time, I also had places to be after school every day. On Monday, I went for a therapy session. By the end of the hour-long workout, the therapist informed me I was to go home and ice and rest. She said I could not swim and I could not go to the grocery store. I was told not to cook dinner. Since there was nobody else at home to help me until after 10 p.m., I went through a drive thru, to get something to eat. NOT on my food plan, and NOT good.

On Tuesday, my mother called and said I needed to come to their house to go through some stuff she was cleaning out. Saying no really isn't an option when I get a call like this. So, off I went, loaded the car with "stuff" she wanted me to have and then went to the grocery store. I drove the half-hour home with quite a bit of pain. I got home at 9 p.m, and threw a pre-packaged something into the microwave to eat for dinner. NOT on my food plan, and NOT good, and NO exercise.

On Wednesday, it was my husband's birthday. I informed him that I had a staff meeting after school, then a check-up at the surgeon's office, then I wanted to go for a swim, and then have dinner with him for his birthday. As it turned out, he got off work about the time I was headed to the surgeon's office. AND, he set up meeting his parents at a restaurant 15 minutes after my doctor's appointment. Not really much time to swim when I had to be at a restaurant that is a 15 minute drive away. Although I made a healthier food choice off the menu, NO exercise. I drove myself home at 9 p.m. The leg was extremely sore and stiff.

Yesterday, as I have already mentioned, my leg was sore when I got up. It felt progressively worse throughout the day. At 2:00, we had a fire drill. The day before, the surgeon had cautioned me; no uneven ground, no twisting, no turning. For the fire drill, I had to lead my students through several inches of gravel bed for the playground (read that uneven ground) at a rapid pace. Fire drills tend to make young children squirrely (read that twisting and turning.) By the time we got back inside, the leg was throbbing. Instead of driving to the gym/pool, I went home after school and elevated the leg for two hours. Then I ventured out to teach a little crochet class that I had promised to my knitting group. I got home at 9 p.m. I ate a warmed up hamburger for "dinner." NO exercise.

In previous blog posts, I have related that a couple of weeks ago I was fighting one of those infections that women tend to get. I finished a 7 day course of antibiotics. I felt that the infection wasn't completely gone, and went back to the doctor's office for a recheck. Although there were a few bacteria that showed up, the doctor felt they were dead bacteria, and that the antibiotic had done its job. Those who are teachers will know that in the normal teaching day, people in this profession have very little opportunity to sneak away for things such as refilling one's water bottle, and using the facilities. These are the types of things that one fighting such an infection should make efforts to accomplish.

I was awakened at 3 a,m, today by said infection reappearing; bigger, badder, and most definitely angry that I had tried to snuff it out with antibiotics. The scenario that I had presented to the doctor about NOT wanting to miss any more work after missing the first MONTH of school has happened. I have a fever, I have chills, and it will be very clear that there is a problem when I go in to produce another "sample." I am NOT happy with my doctor, although I understand his reluctance to prescribe more antibiotics when it had appeared that the other course did the trick. It does NOT seem likely that I will be up to going to the pool or the gym today with a fever and chills, and well, the inability to venture too far from certain modern conveniences.

It is now 6:15 a.m. Since 3:30 a,m,, I have written lesson plans for the substitute, I have called my principal, I have text messaged my teaching partner, I have chugged a glass of cranberry juice, I have made 6 trips to the facilities, and I have vented in this blog post.

The whirlpool of everyday life has sucked me in and spit me out--the worse for wear. I'm not sure how I could have changed things this week to make it better. My commitment to this lifestyle change remains strong, but my worry over how to achieve balance has been sorely tested this week. I am frustrated, but reassuring myself that next week will be better. I am trying to remain positive and remind myself that the lifelong journey, not just a single week, is the true test.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

A Test for the Teacher

Well folks, it's been three weeks since my last blog post. There is a reason for my silence. I have been gradually re-entering my usual, every-day, normal life. I've got to be honest here, I've been worried about how I would handle this time since I had my accident. Now that the weekend before I go back to work full-time is here, I am still feeling unsure and worried about how this is all going to go.

In the past two weeks, I have worked three full time days. Two of the days were all-day meetings. I had worked at home for five full days to prepare for these meetings. They were mentally challenging, but I thought I would be physically fine, since I was sitting all day. Surprisingly, I was both mentally and physically exhausted afterwards. I felt that it was difficult to drive the two miles home. The third day at work, I had a morning meeting, and then worked in my classroom in the afternoon. The afternoon was more typical of a regular day. I sat and worked at my desk and at my teaching table, but also got up every few minutes and walked to various places in the room and the school. By 2:00, I was having throbbing pain in my leg and feeling fatigued. I stayed until 4:00, and was really tired by the time I went home. I put my leg up at home, but it continued to throb well into the night.

Frustratingly, during the past week and a half, I also contracted an infection. The infection was not in my leg. I had fever, chills, cramping, general malaise; and required a week's worth of antibiotic. My body does not love medications, and antibiotics usually make me feel as poorly as the infection. I did not exercise beyond my twice-a-week therapy sessions during the infection. I just didn't feel up to it.

On the positive side, my therapy continues to go very well. My leg is able to bend to its full capacity again. I am pain-free in the knee when I get up in the morning. Now that my knee is feeling better, I was noticing that the ankle on the bad leg was bothering me. The therapist informed me that I sprained the ankle during the fall, and it was inflamed. She has given me two treatments on the ankle, and it is feeling like it is calming down. I am using all the leg machines at the gym now, and increasing the weight I am moving. I have been riding the bike for three miles with resistance now.

Twice this week, in an effort to regain my strength and to prepare for returning to work, I went shopping. I needed to get my wristwatch fixed, and then discovered I needed a new watch. Shopping for a watch was an eight store trip until I found one I liked that fit my wrist.

I feel really good when I am sitting at home with the leg up, and I wanted to see how I would fare when walking on a concrete floor. The answer is, I can only walk on concrete for a short time before the leg starts to hurt. I am still somewhat weak, and have to sit down and rest frequently. This worries me, as it is similar to what I will be experiencing when I am back at work.

Throughout these days, I have fallen off my streak of tracking my food. I have been conscientious in making my food choices, but I have not been tracking. My weight loss has flat-lined since my surgery, just hovering in the same place. I have not been drinking the water I know I need. I have not been spending the time in the gym that I did before the surgery.

Since I started this lifestyle change journey at the beginning of summer, I have always felt that the true test would be the choices I made once I had returned to work. The exhaustion I have felt, combined with the general malaise from the infection and the hours spent at work or working from home has derailed my efforts. My biggest worry is here. My mojo has taken a nosedive. The running start I hoped to have before I went back to work has slowed to a crawl.

This week will be a big test for the teacher. Not only do I return to work for five full-time days, with students, and after-school meetings, and bus duty; but I also have a date with the therapist and another with the surgeon during the week. Additionally, I have my husband's birthday, and the knitting group I started seven years ago. My calendar overfloweth.

How I react to all this activity will make a big difference in how I feel about myself and my commitment to this lifestyle. It will be a challenge, to be sure. I am resolving to track my food every day. I am going to drink water while I am working. I have a plan to have some gym time at least twice on my own, along with one trip with the therapist. I am planning healthy meals for the week and making sure that I have the ingredients at the ready. I am placing healthy snacks within reach at work.

Wish me luck! I'll give you my test score at the end of the week!

Friday, September 9, 2011

Tribute to Grandpa

This is my grandfather. Today was his birthday. He would have been 102. He passed away 7 years ago this December. I was very fortunate to have him in my life as long as I did. He is the great-grandparent that my children remember the best.

His name was William E. "Pat" Boyer. He carried the mail, by foot with a big satchel, in our little town for many years. It was hard work, considering we get about 100 inches of snow annually. The children around town used to come running out of their front doors when they saw him coming up the walk with their mail.

This picture was taken on the day he started working at his dream job, Postmaster in our town. He was so proud! While he was Postmaster, he worked hard with "the Politicians" to double the size of our post office and make it accessible to all.

He was a true Renaissance man, who could do darned near anything. He rode motorcycles, and could build houses, and fix cars, and garden, and started a radio station that is still running today. He loved to go camping!! He adored babies, they always made him tear up. He remembered who built the houses in town and who lived in them after the town burned to the ground in 1918. He picked out a "Charlie Brown" Christmas tree every year, and swore it was the best tree he ever saw. He had a great appetite and believed slathering anything in butter made it twice as good. He went blind due to glaucoma when he was in his 80's, but continued to take care of himself until his death. He got books on tape and stayed current with what was happening in the world.

He was opinionated, informed, kind, loving, patient, devoted, loyal, faithful, funny, handy, a gentleman, and the kind of man you hope your daughter will find someday. We all loved him like crazy, and miss him even more.

The most important lesson I learned from my Grandpa is to treasure each and every day you have with your family and friends. He taught me that lesson by example.

Happy Birthday, Grandpa

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Mrs. Ever Forward Takes a Step Back

For those that don't know, I am "Directionally Challenged." Oh, I'm "challenged" in many ways, but my lack of a sense of direction is somewhat legendary. I tend to walk fairly quickly, and rarely am I moving in the correct direction for where I hope to go. Because of this unfortunate trait, my husband says my motto is "Ever Forward." He loves to point this out on the numerous occasions weekly when I finally come to the realization that I have no clue where I am going.

It should also come as no news flash to those who have been following my recovery from a fall down some stairs that I can be a Klutz (with a capital K.) I am not the champion Klutz in my family, that honor goes to my brother, Tom, who has had stitches in his head alone more times that you can count on two hands.

At this point, I should note that although the doctor said that my trip down the stairs resulted in a "catastrophic" injury, I have worked rather vigorously to heal myself and have made progress that has impressed the medical personnel who are caring for me. Pretty much, from the time of my injury on July 2, I have mostly made positive steps forward and surprised those who know how recovery should look. I was moving Ever Forward on a long journey to a rebuilt knee.

Yesterday, in an instant, Mrs. Ever Forward took a step back. A word of caution here, if you have problems discussing bodily functions or things done in private, STOP reading. Mrs. Ever Forward is about to share TMI.

It was a day in which I was feeling really good. The weather was beautiful. My physical therapist had given me a big two thumbs up for my performance the day before. I had pedaled the stationery bike backward and forward, and had been able to move the seat down to the same setting I had used prior to my reconstructive surgery. My extension was perfect, resting comfortably when flat on the exam table. My bend on the bike was 108 degrees out of 125 maximum for my chubby little legs. I was antsy with cabin fever. I took a stroll the 125 feet down my gravel driveway to the mailbox using only a cane. I was the cat's meow, the cock of the walk, and the belle of the ball; all rolled into one.

I was going to make supper for my husband for the first time in two weeks! I was feeling good enough that I thought I could surprise him with a home cooked meal. Before beginning my culinary adventure, I thought I should take a trip down the hall and use the restroom. You know, so I could focus my full attention on making a fabulous meal.

Now, when a person has an injury like mine, there is a bit of finesse that is required to use the facilities. It involves getting everything lined up, and making a measured descent onto the commode. As the descent begins, the offending leg must be straightened out so as not to over-stretch the newly installed ligament. It's really a blend of Highland Fling meets Swan Lake. It's a dance I've pulled off numerous times since July 2, without a hitch. Until yesterday.

I was backed in, lined up, confident in my final approach and impending descent. As I permitted gravity to take over, I started the straightening of my leg and my heel stuck on the floor and the leg stayed bent. Too far bent.

I heard myself scream, I saw black, I must have grabbed the vanity next to me. I think I moaned loudly, twice. My vision came back and the shaking started. I knew I'd done something not so good. I made it to the bed, and tried calling my husband. His phone went right to voice mail. I tried again in a couple of minutes and he picked up. I told him I'd had a little accident with the leg. He said he was 2 1/2 hours away, and what did I want him to do? I said I wanted him to come home ASAP because I was going to need a hand. I stayed put on the bed until he got there.

Today, I went back to therapy and explained my mishap to the therapist. She said she hopes I didn't tear the new graft. I had too much swelling for her to tell for sure that it is okay. She put me on the bike, three settings on the seat higher than Tuesday, and I only pedaled the bike backwards (easier, less bend) once and she took me off. She measured my bend, and I had gone from 108 to 95. The therapy plan for the day was out the window, and we went into damage control.

It was disappointing, to say the least. My weekend ahead looks a lot like my evening tonight. Sitting with the leg up, and lots and lots of ice. Limited exercise and lots of rest. Bummer. I don't think I've torn the new graft, just gave it a big stretch. I was worried about having torn the stitches putting the meniscus back together, but the therapist didn't think that was the case. She did say that it could have been much, much worse. She reminded me that I could have ended up on the floor with a break in the leg. After all, I have two fresh channels drilled all the way through both the major bones in that leg (that's how they thread the new ligament through the bone.) My goal of driving by the end of the second week (today) is not going to happen. Maybe one more week?

I am choosing to consider myself fortunate. This was a reminder that I'm not as hoity-toity as I was thinking I was. It could have been much worse, and it was a good reminder that sometimes you just have to give your body time to heal. On the positive side, my weight has remained constant in spite of having to sit a lot. My food choices have been within my target range. I am fortunate that although it is tough for me to be sitting home with cabin fever while my friends and colleagues go about their lives; I am lucky to have good health care, a good sub at school, a supportive teaching partner, and friends and family who care about me. It will be okay. Mrs. Ever Forward just doesn't like to take a step back.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Labor Day Fish Boil and Some Recovery Sadness

Well, it has been just under a week since I've blogged about my progress. The truth of the matter is that it has been a kind of a rough week for me.

As I was getting up for therapy last Thursday, the phone rang. It was the therapy center calling to say that my PT was out sick on that day. Weird, I thought, as I had been up much of the night with some stomach troubles myself. I was feeling pretty rotten, and my husband called the pharmacy to find out what we should do if my narcotics were making me feel BAD. The pharmacist suggested that I take some ibuprofen for pain control. I took the ibuprofen and then my husband chatted with the nurse from the surgeon's office. She told him that I SHOULDN'T take ibuprofen. Oh. She felt that it wasn't my pain medication causing the gastrointestinal distress, since I had been tolerating it for a few days. She suggested that it must be a stomach bug. The next day, Friday, I went and saw the physician's assistant to get my stitches removed. She also felt I was struggling with a stomach bug. In the meantime, I started paying attention to when I was having trouble. Strangely, there seemed to be a pattern with the stomach acting up about two hours after I took medication. The PA had suggested that IF it was my medication, I could just take acetaminophen instead of the narcotics. So, over the weekend, I tried that. No luck, still yucky.

Now, it is enough to deal with the pain in the knee and the immobility involved with it. Add pretty severe nausea, frequent field trips down the hall (if you get my drift), trying to stretch out the time between pain pills to try to prevent the stomach stuff, and virtually no sleep due to pain and nausea; and you've got my past five days of fun. Normally, I try to keep the sunny side up, and keep things light and positive; but I am also trying to accurately chronicle my knee surgery recovery. Honestly, it has NOT been fun.

At this point today, I have not had any pain medication for 16 hours. I will be trying to go to bed and sleep after I post this. I have to get up early and go to therapy tomorrow morning. Considering the speed (or lack thereof) in which I currently move, the early morning rush hour traffic through massive road construction; I need to sleep and get going early. So, the evening debate begins. Medication or no medication??? If this goes as it has been going, I will try to sleep without, be unable to stand the pain, and then take medication, only to be up two hours later and spending time contemplating the inside of my bathroom.

In spite of all of this doom and gloom, I can tell that I am making some progress with the leg. With no pain meds on board, I was able to do my exercises, and bend the leg using the rocking chair for about 15 minutes this evening. My extension can put the leg flat, and the thigh muscle seems to be working a bit better now. My goal for therapy tomorrow is to ride the stationery bike and stretch it to the point where I can pedal without pain.

My husband went back to work today, and I made it through my first day home alone. I was able to make myself a meal without any problem. I finished knitting a baby sweater, when I haven't really felt up to knitting , reading, or much of anything since my surgery. Tomorrow, my husband is dropping me off at therapy and then going on to work. My mother will be at the fitness center doing her water aerobics, and I will catch a ride with her when she is done exercising. That is our plan for therapy days until I am able to drive myself again.

Although I felt kind of lousy yesterday, it was my in-laws annual Labor Day Fish Boil. My husband hates to miss family events, and so I had my first non-medical outing since the surgery. It was a long day. It takes us an hour to get to their house. They live on a lake. I sat in the back seat of the car, with my leg propped up on a pillow on the back seat. The family was glad that we made the trip, and they were generous with the recliner chair for me to put the leg up. I did make it out into the yard for the famous boil-over.

For those unfamiliar with a Fish Boil, here's what happens. Fish boils are common in Door County, Wisconsin and in some places in Minnesota. We started this tradition several years ago after my in-laws attended a boil in Door County. We start with a wood fire and put a large cast iron Witch's Kettle over the fire. You dump in a whole box of salt and bring the water to a good, strong, rolling boil. There are three ingredients in our traditional boil, and you have the ingredients prepared in advance. Timing is everything once you start cooking! When the water is boiling well, into the pot goes your red potatoes. They are scrubbed up, but still have the skins on them (they hold together better that way.) The potatoes boil for exactly 10 minutes. Then a large cheesecloth bag of onions go into the kettle. We chunk up a bunch of white onions. The onions and potatoes boil for exactly another 10 minutes. The last ingredient is white fish. It is gutted and cut into chunks and put into cheesecloth to keep the pieces together. The skin and fins are still on our fish, but they have no scales. Our white fish was swimming in Lake Superior on Thursday, and we were eating it on Sunday. Very fresh. The fish goes into the kettle and cooks for exactly 10 minutes. The water in the kettle is now just a couple inches under the top of the pot. Any oil contained in the fish rises to the surface of the water. At the end of the cooking time, a coffee can of diesel fuel is thrown onto the wood fire causing a tremendous flare of fire! Exciting!!!! The sudden flare of fire causes the liquid in the kettle to boil up and over the sides of the kettle, taking all the oil with it. Here's how our boil over looked yesterday.

Anyway, we serve the Fish Boil with fresh coleslaw. The traditional dessert from Door County to go with your Fish Boil is a fresh tart cherry pie. When you think about it, with the exception of the pie, it is a fairly healthy meal. Boiled fish, potatoes and onions with coleslaw isn't too bad.

Hope you all had a great holiday weekend!

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Let the Therapy Commence!

I have such wonderful support from all my friends! Thank you for commenting on my blog posts and offering such great advice.

I went to my first physical therapy session yesterday. My husband came in with me, and my mother came in after she was done with her Hydro class. I am working with the same therapist who saw me after my initial injury. She is tough, and I like that. I feel like we can work well together, and that she will see me through to full function of the knee again.

Therapy is uncomfortable. I know that and I expect it. I took my pain medication so that it was in place during the therapy, and that helps. Sherree, the therapist, asked me how I was doing. I told her that I thought my bending was coming along, but my extension was still a bit stiff. We took off the brace, and I showed her my stuff. It took a couple of flexes to get the knee flat onto the table, but I did it! I was able to flex it to 95 degrees, which she said was very good. Although it felt like I was tightening my thigh muscle to the same degree as my good leg, she said I wasn't. It may be due to the nerve block they put into the muscle. She hooked me up to the ionizer, which causes the muscle to contract, and I lifted the leg each time it contracted. She checked my walking from the front and back, and said it looked very good. I have to make a conscious effort to keep my toes up and not have toe-drop. I was a bit light-headed from the narcotics, so I did not get on the stationery bike. We are going to try that on Thursday.

In the meantime, I am able to stretch my pain meds out two hours longer than I could a couple of days ago. I am able to have it up in a recliner chair for a longer time, rather than flat on my back with my knee propped above my heart. I sat in a rocking chair today, flexing and extending it. I used the can under my heel and pressed the knee down. My leg raises are getting easier, and are a lot less painful. We still have to get up at night and change out my ice pack and take a pain pill, but I am resting well.

Throughout this process, I am trying to keep a positive attitude, and focus on what I CAN do. School has started this week, and I am not there. Lots of people have been emailing, sending notes and calling to let me know they are thinking about me. What a lucky person I am to be blessed by so many friends! Although I am not at work, I have been doing important work from home, and focusing on getting healthy. I CAN spend this month getting my leg back in shape and becoming healthier so that I when I can return to work I can be the best I can be.

As always, my motto is, "Ever forward."