Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Get them while they're ... warm-ish!


Bookstores.

They are, in my opinion, the greatest places on Earth.

(Right up there with all those other greatest places.)

Ever wondered what it might feel like to walk into a bookstore and, for the first time, see a book YOU wrote sitting on the shelf?

Me too.

And having made the decision to be a writer waaaaay back in high school, _____ years later, I finally got the chance.

My first book, on a SHELF. At a BOOKSTORE.

It was so.... so.... it was just soooo.......

Well, let me tell you what happened.


First, you should know that having a publisher does not guarantee your book will ever be in a store.

Small publishers like Cedar Fort distribute where they can. Before I signed I was told they could get my book into Wal-Mart and Costco. Not Barnes & Noble, but still, they're big respectable stores.

But, um. No. My book wasn't / isn't /won't be at Wal-Mart or Costco.

And a major chain like Barnes & Noble? This is dream stuff. My book definitely isn't carried there, except on-line where there is absolutely no risk to them.

So, it's left to the holdouts, the carriers of the torch, the (fireworks and canons and release the white doves!) Independent Bookstores of the West TM.

(Just kidding. That's not a real thing. And I can't even superscript TM.)

Cedar Fort distributed my book to a number of small independent bookstores throughout Wyoming, Idaho, and Utah. Not only was I unfamiliar with the store names, but also, none of them appeared to be close to me.

Then my dear friend and writing-buddy, Cheryl, dropped by my house last week and told me she had picked up copies of my book at Deseret Book. As far as independent bookstores go, this is a famous one locally, and I had no idea it was there.

So. Exciting.

To give you an idea, this is a store that has seen the likes of David Archuleta book-signings. I know! Right!?

Well, actually I know because I image-searched Deseret Book, and David Archuleta book-signings kept popping up. And also I'm his biggest fan which is the other reason I know.

With happy hearts and too high expectations, that night -- about the time Bridgette should have been going to bed -- we both donned our gay apparel and went in search of personal history.

Second, let's cover something. 

This is my book. 


In case an actual picture isn't enough, I will now describe it to you. The cover is red. It has colorful shards of pointy glass on the front as well as bright yellow & white typeface.

It shouldn't be that hard to find.

By design alone, it should have been easy to locate.

Now, it's time to play
(shout it with me)
FIND THAT BOOK!

No seriously. See if you can find it.

I guarantee it's in the pic. Not only that, it's on the nearer side of the photo where the image is not yet obfuscated by distance and distortion.


Now, I know what you're thinking.

"What? You thought you were gonna be on that prominent entryway table? The one pyramid-stacked with shiny new releases, twinkling lights and hand-embroidered snowman doilies?"

No, no. Don't be silly.

And just so you know, I've also never imagined anyone recognizing me in public and asking me for a signature. Or interviews with The New York Times. Or hordes of paparazzi dogging my steps.

Never crossed my mind. Not even while I was typing that.

I get it. I'm a first time author lucky to be published at all, let alone gratefully picked up by a mid-sized independent book distributor. It's only an okay book. I admit that. I embrace it.

But.

You'd think the store might like to display my book in an obvious enough fashion that it looks more like a bunch of books than an empty hole on the shelf.

You know, for business purposes.

So, that was a big clue to those of you who are still searching for my book in the photo. Look for what you thought was a small empty space.

Time to get silly.

I did finally locate it. Bottom shelf.

Right next to a famous Christmas author actually!


And that's when it hit me.

Why should best-selling Richard Paul Evans get all the face time?

So, after a quick *officially-first-pic* with my book and my tiny fry....


Bridgette and I rearranged.

I mean. Bridgette did it. Alone. I didn't even supervise.

(I so rarely do.)

We, I mean She didn't have to change too much. And she was careful to respect all the other authors. She didn't cover anyone else up and may have even improved the appearance of several lesser-known selections.


See! That's so much better.

Not quite resting-on-hand-embroidered-doilies, but more... perspicuous.

Also, notice how it suddenly looks like I've sold more books than Richard Paul Evans?

Bridgette's a genius.


Trying again.

After they kicked us out we left of our own free will and volition, I hit up one more Deseret Book.

I'm not sure which Deseret Book store Cheryl had visited earlier that day, but she told me there were only three of my books left on the shelf (which I'm pretty sure was post-her-purchase, so that was awfully nice of her).

That's why, when I entered Deseret Book #2 not long before closing, I actually thought it was possible that the truly empty holes on the seasonal shelf represented my sold-out piece of Christmas fiction.


Bwa-hahahaha! Can you believe I thought that? Oh but I did. And it was SO SUPER EXCITING!

Until I asked a helpful employee, in fear, if they were even carrying my book. 

What's it called, oh yes we carry it, where is it, I don't know, let me look it up, here it is, says we have 6 on the shelf, it's not there, that's odd, could you have sold-out, our system would have said so, then I wonder where it is, well did you check the other seasonal shelf?

The other seasonal shelf?

Why no. No I didn't. You've been so helpful.

Yes folks. The other seasonal shelf is about three rows back. And my book was there. On the bottom. In a corner. Fully-stocked. Available and invisible.


I didn't have the time, inclination, or space to put them all face-out this time, but I grabbed one more picture with Bridgette before management approached me with handcuffs and we bolted (the other store had called).

BTW: the lady who took this photo picked up my book! And then she had the guts to put it back right in front of me. But by the time I left, she had picked it up again and was carrying it around with her. Way to go decisive-stranger / new-best-friend!


So there you have it! 

My book! On a shelf!

This whole publishing enterprise has been one of amazement. And seeing my book in a store was no different. I experienced a wide-range of emotions but mostly amusement.

And the greatest thing? 

In one short week, my book really WILL be on a special table near the front of the store!

It may be marked 75% off... but hey! It will be unmistakably mine!

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Clever girl.

So, you know that scene in Jurassic Park when Robert Muldoon, played by Bob Peck, hunts a female velociraptor only to realize that while she's kept him distracted, leading him casually through the trees, a second female velociraptor has been hunting him, sneaking up on his other side. And moments before she pounces and he's torn to shreds in an act of ancient-cooperation, he says, "Clever girl," giving a vocal high-five to natural selection and the intelligent yet carnivorous creatures that have earned his respect?

Gosh I love that part.


Anyway, I have my own clever girl.

She does pounce. She does eat meat. She has yet to destroy me.

But then, that's why we haven't had another child.

Can't risk being surrounded.



With Bridgette's ever blossoming ability to speak, I've spent the last two weeks writing down some of our more amusing conversations. I hope you enjoy reading them as much as I (for the most part) enjoyed having them:


ON HIDDEN THINGS:

Me: Where did you put the Christmas countdown ring? The one you took off the tree.
B: Maybe in the M&Ms?
Me: No. You didn’t put it in the M&Ms. Where did you really put it?
B: Maybe… in your belly button? 
(Me giving her a look.)
B: In Chewy’s belly button?


ON ANIMAL NATURE:

(during a car ride with the dogs)
B: Why does Chewy sniffing, sniffing?
Me: I don’t know. I guess he likes to smell things.
B: Ohhhh! Liiiiiike . . . bears. And cheese. 
(Pause)
B: Bears, wears, sares. That rhymes!


(Bridgette's new super-hero cape, hand-made by her preschool teachers as a Christmas gift!)


ON HUMAN NEED:

Me: What would you like for dinner Bridgette?
B: Hmm. I thiiiink… cheese sticks and whipped cream. That’s all I need, Mom.


ON AWESOME DREAMS:

B: I had a dream too! Big circle, big circle, full of popcorn and candy canes, and then I *jump* in it and *eat it all!*


ON COMPETITION:

B: Mommy, I win.
Me: Good job, Bridgette.
B: And you win.
Me: Oh thank you, Bridgette.
B: And Chewy wins and Piper wins and Daddy wins, and the WHOLE EARF WINS!

(Consider yourself winners, cyber-friends.)





ON DEEP QUESTIONS:

B: One potty. Two potties. The world is full of potties. Why?


ON THE BEST JOKES EVER:

B: Knock Knock
Me: Who’s there?
B: Ummm… paintbrush.
Me: Paintbrush who?
B: (Laughing) Ah-hahahahaha! You said it!
(Pause)
B: Now it’s your turn.


ON STAR TREK:

Me: (talking to Jeff on the phone) I think we should eat pizza and watch Star Trek tonight.
B: (overhearing) I like Star Trek! Mom, bad guys.
Me: Yeah there are bad guys.
B: But the good guys kill the bad guys!
(Gets out pretend phaser)
B: Phis! Phis! Phis! Phis!




ON DESCRIBING WEATHER:

Me: That’s a stiff wind!
B: Wow! Yeah, that wind is really steep!


ON THE ART OF STORYTELLING:


B: I’m building a house with the paper.
Me: Nice. I like it.
B: And then the people were walking and then the alligators. And then the alligators and the people.
Me: That’s a good story.
B: Mom. It’s a great story.


ON GENERAL UNDERSTANDING:

B: Look! 
(holding up my Christmas stocking and saying each letter) 
B: K-E-L-L-Y
Me: That’s right, Bridgette. Good job. Do you know what that spells?
B: Yeah! MOM!



ON PARENTING:

(during a car ride)
B: (says something cute; I can't remember what)
Jeff: Bridgette, you are very special.
Me: And we love you very much.
B: Mom, everyone’s special. Even moms and dads.


ON THE UNEXPECTED CONVERSATION:

Me: Bridgette, do you know what a gun is?
B: No. 
Me: Are you sure? Do you know what a gun looks like?
B: Yes. Good guys shoot bad guys.
Me: Yes. Sometimes. But sometimes bad guys shoot good guys.
B: Oh no!
Me: I know. And yesterday there was a bad man who shot some people.
B: Oh no! (eyebrows furrowed) They die?
Me: Yes. He was a very bad man. He shot 20 children.
B: Oh no! I so sad.
Me: Me too. It makes me cry.
B: Me too. Mom, why bad man shoot children?
Me: I don’t know. He shouldn’t have done that.
B: Nooooo.
Me: I want to tell you what to do if anyone tries to shoot you, okay? This is important.
B: Okay, Mom.
Me: What do you think you should do if a man has a gun and you feel scared?
(B swings her fists and gnashes her teeth.)
Me: Yes, if someone tries to steal you, that’s what you should do. And scream. But if a man has a gun, I want you to run away as fast as you can and hide and be very quiet.
B: Why run, Mom?
Me: Bullets are very fast. You need to get away as fast as you can and hide in a closet or something like that and close the door and be very quiet. Do you understand?
B: Yes, Mom.

And I believe she did.

A Hirschsprung Hooray!

(Lorax Christmas Tree, PCMC, Riverton)

Hello friends!

We started this blog as all things Bridgette. And initially all things Bridgette happened to be all things Hirschsprung Disease all the time.

In the last year, Bridgette's health has been so good comparatively that I've basically stopped writing or, when I do, picked completely random topics to write about.

But today I'm back to Hirschsprung news.

On Wednesday, 12/5/12, I took Bridgette back to Primary Children's Medical Center for a check-up with her pediatric gastroenterologist, Dr. Janet Harnsberger.

When Dr. H walked in the door, she looked at B and her first words were, "She's so big! And beautiful!"

Then she looked at me and her second words were, "You look younger."

How would you have responded?

I think I laughed, nodded, smirked, shook my head, snorted and said, "Thank you," all at the same time.

My Dad says, "Age and chronology are two different things. Some years you get older. Some years you get younger."

Too true. Amazing how much you can age or anti-age, dependent on your circumstances.

So the last time we'd seen this doc was in March of 2011 after almost two weeks of hospital hell.


Those weeks stretched out into more than a month before we saw the improvement we needed to remember that life does in fact exist outside of zero sleep, non-stop diarrhea, and rivulets of tears and blood.

So, is it a surprise that I look younger now? Not so much.

What WAS a surprise is how well Bridgette is doing!


We did a blood draw, and I think Bridgette literally didn't blink. She thought it was cool to see her own blood in test tubes.

*Results*

Metabolic blood panel:
Blood salts, sugars, kidneys, liver, calcium and phosphorous = ALL NORMAL

Clotting (PT/INR):
Vitamin K = NORMAL

Vitamin D:
A fat-soluble vitamin, meaning results are indicators for other fat-soluble vitamins, like vitamins A & E = NORMAL

Vitamin B12:
A water-soluble vitamin, if normal once, should always be normal, and acts as an indicator for other water-soluble vitamins like all B vitamins & vitamin C = NORMAL

Folate:
Helps synthesize and repair DNA, aiding rapid cell division and growth, and produce healthy red blood cells to prevent anemia. Sulfasalazine (Bridgette's daily medication) can inhibit folate = NORMAL

(Bridgette, post-blood-draw, and Dr. H)

As the exam continued, I heard Dr. Harnsberger giggling. She's a no-nonsense woman, so it was a little disconcerting.

*Here Are Dr. Harnsberger's Exam Notes*
[insertions = mine]

"Exam
Beautiful, rosy, warm, busy, engaging
Skin hair nails all good
Eyes clear
Throat clear, no thrush
No lymphad, NI thyroid
Lungs clear
BORBORY MI  
[means audible bowel noise, a good thing]
Palpable bowel loops
[meaning when she lifts her shirt, you can see clear outlines of her intestines, not a good thing, indicates distension]
No hernia
Bum good
DTR good."

(Later that day, celebrating at the "beach.")

*Here is Dr. H's Assessment*

"Assess
Super everything after colectomy.
No trouble with low dose sulfasalazine.
See in a year."



Let's not forget her Height-for-age and Weight-for-age centiles:

From birth, B had always popped around between ~10-20% in weight, but when she was in the hospital the last time, she puked and had diarrhea for two weeks straight. She lost several *pounds* of weight she couldn't afford to lose. By the end of that visit, she looked skeletal.

*On 2/23/11 *
(Hospitalized)

Weight 22.93 lbs
Centile = 1% 

Height: 35.98 in
Centile = 54%

But in the last year, once again, we've seen a lot of positive trends:

*On 12/5/12*

Weight: 36.16 lbs
Centile = 46%

Height: 39.88 in
Centile = 31%





As the exam continued, much of it entailing questions to me about Bridgette's development, eating habits, attitudes, abilities, etc., Dr. H. just kept saying, "Wonderful! Wonderful!"

I said, "I get the impression this is unusual."

She responded, "This never happens."

Shaking her head. "I've never seen a Hirschsprung child do this well. And do this well this early. Especially one with a total colectomy. I've never seen one of my similar patients begin to potty train before about 5 years old. And if you had asked me about Bridgette a year and a half ago, I would have guessed she would never potty train. To start holding her bowels a year ago? Unbelievable."


Now, I'm gonna go ahead and admit that not everything is perfect. Not to be a downer, but we keep it real here. This is a blog where you learn what's really happening.


For example, B has to go potty about 6 times a day. Not just go potty like you or I go potty. She has to empty everything out or we start seeing those bowel loops protruding inside her belly.

You know how you can see an emaciated person's ribs, clearly defined under their skin?

When Bridgette is distended, which happens nearly every day, you can see her intestines in the same way you can seen an emaciated person's ribs.

It's quite a sight.

And when her Ileal loops are visible, it means trouble. Pressure, lots of pressure, created through the natural process of accumulated gas, liquid poop, and acid. Enough pressure to blow her up like a balloon and explode. Unlike most people, she accumulates all three extremely fast. Not only is it the precursor to explosive vomit, but if she doesn't vomit, it's the precursor to perforated bowel and potential life-threatening septicemia.

The trouble lately is she's scared of the potty.

Like. Terrified.



We've had to bring a pint-sized plastic training potty into the bathroom at home, and she uses that. Which means we have to empty the receptacle and clean it and her up at least 6 times a day. And we're talking explosive diarrhea here with a lot of force behind it.

It's messy.

In addition, she's having some accidents lately. Explosive accidents. It's no fun for anyone. We're also not sure why it's happening, but we think it's related to her new fears, the result of which is that she doesn't always de-pressurize as often as she should.

Even though potty-training issues are not out of the ordinary for HD kids, we went over six months with a perfect record, so it feels a little like moving backward. Still, compared to last year, life's a breeze!

The potty fear came on suddenly, and she talks about the "Flushers" as though they're monsters in the toilet. From what I can tell, she's afraid of falling in / getting flushed down, and somehow the "Flushers" are a part of that. I hope that as time marches on, she'll naturally grow out of that worry.

It doesn't help that I once convinced her to use a giant public potty (that she honestly *could* have fallen into, it was so big compared to her).

It flushed underneath her.

Loud, horrendous, water spraying, terrifying experience that that was...

Public potties are right out.

And not just the auto-flush ones. Little. Big. Auto-flush, self-flush. Family-oriented. Big stall, little stall. No stall. They're ALL out. Right out.

I've been asking fellow-HD parents for advice through Hirschsprung support networks, but if anyone out there in cyber-happyland has advice, I'm taking all suggestions.

(Shh... telling Big Bird a secret.)

Nowhere were our potty woes more apparent than at the same hospital visit about which I've been writing.

She hadn't been potty all day (this was around 2PM), so we needed to take an interim-exam potty-break, especially considering her bowel loops were practically sticking out of her skin.

I tried my darndest to find a suitable potty.

After some explaining and referrals, a wonderful understanding nurse escorted us to another floor, through some limited access doors to a post-surgery area and introduced us to a tiny, manually-flushing child's toilet in a family restroom.

The nurse even got Bridgette a red-flavored slushy.



She left us, and I closed the door for privacy. (B is into that these days.)

Did I mention that NO public potties are suitable? I think I did. No matter how perfect and small and lovely the potty.

My first effort: reward-based incentives. (Slushy! Ice-cream! Bouncing on the bed!)

This used to work.

Then I progressed (progressed? Not really. What's the opposite.... anti-gressed? degressed? non-gressed? regressed --- ) through pleading, logic, example (me on a tiny potty? yep!), begging, silence, more rewards, more logical explanations, more pleading, removal of rewards (no ice-cream), and finally my (vain) effort to pick her up and physically sit her on the potty.

Bridgette did her best to bury herself in the corner. And screamed.

No. Did I say screamed?

I meant, SCREEEEEEEAAAMMED!

Arched, rigid, panicked screaming. Like I've never heard before.

That's about the time the nurse came back.

"Hello? Everything okay?"

No. Nothing is okay.

I've been kneeling contorted on the floor of a hospital bathroom for 30 minutes, sweating with the effort of trying to get my kid to go potty. I'm a terrible parent. We're both miserable. I hate this. And I'm about to cry.

"Oh. We're fine! Just... trying... to go, you know. Potty."

"Are you sure? Because I'm concerned you're abusing her. Should I barge in and rescue your child from the atrocities you're committing on the other side of this door? I'm about to! Just thought you should know!"

She didn't really say that. But that's what she said without saying it.

Finally. I gave up.

And I ate her slushy.

(Not all of it. I shared.)

All of that to say that our lives are not normal. They're good. They're great! But they're not normal, and we still deal with stuff in an average day that is slightly harder than what might be average.

If such a thing exists.


For example, no matter where we have to go, what we need to accomplish, or what we WANT to do in any given day, we have to plan our schedules around her needs, so we can get her home to her special training potty.

Or we have to take her potty with us. We recently drove to/from AZ for my brother's wedding, and we carried her potty with us everywhere.

It was pretty awesome!

"Congratulations! Where should we put your gift? No, no, don't worry. Not the recently-used toilet. Your gift is under my left arm."


Despite all that, these days, mostly we're having fun.


Bridgette is delightful.

She fills my world with joy.

She's active, clever and spry. She's energetic and sweet, sun-up to sun-down.

She's also a handful. She's less sensitive than she used to be to touch, but she's still got some ... specific ... ways of processing tactual sensations, emotions, and wants/needs.

She's inquisitive and enjoys learning, a broad range of topics. Her top interest currently is the human body.

But mostly she likes to play -- play, play, play all day.


Her mobility is a thing to behold. Her speech is coming along nicely. Not only can I understand most of what she says now, but other people can too. The hardest thing for me is when she switches topics mid-sentence, from something resolute and obvious to something abstract or imaginary.

"Bridgette, what do you want to eat? Do you want cereal?"

"No, Mom, no cereal. I want .... a (semi-garbled) ... "

"You want what? An eggshell?"

"No, a cashell. A cashell! " Grump, grump. Stamp foot.

"I know you're frustrated. I'm trying to understand. Can you point to it in the fridge?"

Stomping in the opposite direction and pointing out the window.

"A cashell! And a boat!"

Imagine me staring out the window, open-mouthed. For a long time. Then turning and doing the same to her. Big, codfish mouth.

That's my thinking face.

"Oh! You mean, you see a castle and a boat? in the clouds?"

"Yeah! In the sky, Mom! It's a nice day."

"Yes. It is. Now, what do you want to eat?"

In my mind, I give myself blue ribbons all the time. It's my version of, "I should get a prize for that." You should see my collection! I have a room that's full of ribbons and trophies. A room in my head.


But the ultimate prize goes to Bridgette. You know, for being her.

I don't know why she has done so well. Some of it is parenting and love. Some of it comes from the influence of her family, cousins, teachers and friends. Some may come from all of your faithful prayers, though I know a lot of prayerful parents far more faithful than me whose children are not doing as well. Still, we are grateful for all the love and prayers that have been offered up on her behalf, and I won't dismiss them as a blessing to us all.

Most of it though? I think it comes from her. She's a fighter. Strong-willed. Amazing.



Friday, November 23, 2012

IMAZ Inspiration

It's done.

Rather, it's just beginning.

I signed up for the November 17, 2013, Tempe, AZ Ironman.

Otherwise known as Ironman Arizona.

Otherwise knows as IMAZ.

Before everyone tells me I'm crazy (I know) or asks me why I'm doing this (I don't know), let me share this video to whet your appetite.

And Mom, since I know you'll be the first and last to read this post, you'll be interested to know that I'm in this video at time-stamp 6:05. I'm the flat one. With the words written down my front.



Okay, before I get to my personal experience volunteering at and signing-up for IMAZ (next post), let me share the tear-jerking-ly inspirational stuff.

Like, let me tell you about some of the athletes I saw.

A few stand-outs:

1) The paraplegic who did the entire race with his arms.

Below is his picture and a link to a news article on him. You can also briefly see him and his special wheels in the video above.

I was there when he crossed the line.

http://www.myfoxphoenix.com/story/20131573/2012/11/18/parapelegic-athlete-competes-in-ironman-arizona

2) The woman missing her leg.

The first video shows her crossing the finish line. What the video doesn't show is that she fell hard in her last lap (marathon course = 3 laps) and cut up her leg where it meets her prosthesis. Not one to quit, she reattached and finished anyway, in the last hour.

I was there.

3) Ryan.

Ryan and his wife, Bonnie, shared their pizza with me in the grandstands. Ryan's heart is calcifying, and nothing can stop it. He's slowing down the process by staying fit. And what better way? Ironman training and races.

Ryan is a machine, all muscle and sinew. When the race was over, he didn't even look tired.

He's a part of a documentary currently being filmed called Heart: Flatline to Finish Line. It will be out sometime Summer 2013.

Bonnie told me the stories of the racers in their group who were still on the course. I felt lucky she was nearby and that we happened to strike up a conversation. Each time one of her friends came down the chute, what could have been yet another person I didn't know crossing the finish line became a moment of overwhelming emotion for me.

I cried openly. Especially for one.

It made me wonder how many inspiring stories I was missing.

Hundreds? Thousands?

Everyone has a story.

The Ironheart film crew was there at IMAZ 2012, and given my own recent heart trouble, I'm donating to their cause and encourage you to do the same: http://flatlinetofinishline.com/donate/#fiscal

Official preview starts at 2:12.



4) The overweight racers.

I know that some form of political correctness is supposed to prevent me from writing the word "overweight." But it's the truth. Some of the racers were overweight.

They used to have an official Ironman division for higher weights, "Clydesdale" for men and "Athena" for women. They've done away with the division, but that hasn't stopped overweight people from training for the Ironman. And finishing!

And these folks were among the most inspiring of all!

Through the process of training, I assume that each lost a lot of weight before the race. But they still had more weight to carry than your average racer. So to finish? Their hearts and minds are as tough as anyone else in the race. Probably tougher.

It was like a live episode of The Biggest Loser, one of my favorite inspirational shows (when the contestants aren't fighting...)

Here's 13 seconds of video I shot of a finisher coming down the chute in the last hour of the race. She was not the biggest racer I saw who can now call him/herself an Ironman.

Pure awesome.



5) The 78 year-old finisher.

Yeah. You heard me. SEVENTY-EIGHT years old.

He's in the top video too. You should watch it, just in case you think that's no big deal. It is. He's 78.

I saw him finish.

6) The fireman who did the race in his gear.

Oy vey. That's an extra 60 pounds. On purpose.

Brilliant.

Loved him.

Maybe it's all my emergency / disaster involvement, but I couldn't have been prouder.



7) The people who pushed it.

Everyone pushed themselves. This is fact. But there were folks who, when they rounded the corner, gave it everything EVERYTHING they had.

Here's a woman who tried to make it across the line is under 11 hours, and managed, by 1 second.



8) The last woman across... and all the people behind her?

There are time cut-offs throughout the race. You have to finish the swim in X, bike in X, run in X. The entire race must be done in under 17 hours, but if you're not on track, you get pulled early. For example, if you haven't started the last lap of the marathon by 10pm, you don't get to try.

I assume this is both a wild disappointment and a relief.

Of course there were people who didn't make time cut-offs, but everyone was amazing and inspiring, finishers or not.

Others couldn't close due to injury. I heard there were a lot of bike accidents actually. And I saw a lot of bloody shoulders at my run station to prove it. Joint injuries were not uncommon, knees and hips, and I personally know of at least one Achilles tendon failure.

A few even ended up in the hospital. Like the woman who got hit by a motorcycle on the bike race and broke her clavicle.

Not okay.

About 5 minutes before midnight, when all remaining runners shatter their glass slippers, the remaining grandstand crowd anxiously craned their necks, hoping another racer would make it around the corner. The announcer ran to the end, shouting, "If anyone can hear me, RUN! Five minutes to midnight!"

His cry continued, but changed by the minute.

"If anyone can hear me, FOUR minutes!"

"THREE minutes!"

"TWO minutes!"

And then the seemingly impossible happened. At one minute, a woman turned the corner into the chute.

She was moving too slowly, and everyone knew it.

One minute never seemed so short.

The crowd was manic. Cheering, yelling, shouting. A few people, including the woman's pro champ Linsey Corbin, ran out to run her in.

The woman picked up her pace, but it was gonna be tight.

Well, see for yourself.

And then... head out for some exercise. You can do it. Just a little. Just a bit. Take a walk, do some sit-ups. Stand instead of sit. Run. Eat better. Sleep more.

Be a healthier you.

Come on. Inspire me.



Monday, November 12, 2012

My Running Journey, Part 2: I Am Not A Runner


Why these posts? About how much I can't run?

Because I maintain the right to feel sorry for myself.

Mostly though, I'm trying to establish a baseline for a goal I've set.

And I need you to understand how very exceedingly unquestionably low that baseline is.

That's because .... okay ... breeeeeeeeathe ...

I'm making this official.

I'm signing up for an Ironman.

There. I said it.

What's that?

Oh. You couldn't hear me.

Right, right.

I'm, um. Signing up for an Ironman.

Gah!

An IRONMAN!

That's a 2.4 mile swim, 112 mile bike ride, followed by a marathon.

In case you're unfamiliar, a marathon is a distance that you run.

Run, as in, with your legs.

Run 26 miles with an additional 385 yards tacked on, just for kicks and giggles.

Also, in case you can't understand my problem with this, let me repeat.

I. Am. Not. A. Runner.

___________________________________________________________

So why the #*%&! (<---- that says "goodness") would I sign up for an Ironman?

This is not a complicated question, but it feels like a complicated answer.

Perhaps that's because anyone willing to go through misery of that magnitude is likely a complicated person. Or a masochist. And if you stop to consider, that's a complication in its own right.

It started with a couple of my friends, Daniel and Eli.


(Daniel, L, and Eli, R: paragons of physical prowess.)

I hadn't become friends with Eli yet, but I'd known Daniel for a while. Daniel met and befriended Eli who was training for the St. George Ironman and, because that's what friends do, Daniel said, "Hey! I'll join you!"

Though I suppose I wasn't there, so the conversation may have gone differently.

Point is, for a bunch of months, I was privy to watching them (not literally, that's creepy) train for this massive race. And I found it really inspiring.

It was easy to "watch" from the sidelines because I talked to Daniel all the time and Eli is a writer. He picked some of his choice despairing and triumphant moments to record for the public at large.

His humorous entries on the matter start HERE and go through and a bit past the event itself, last May (2012).

If you like Eli's writing and/or want to learn more about an Ironman, his posts are all helpfully organized in the right sidebar. There's one that's labeled "Ironman."

So... inspired to do a little by being vaguely aware that Dan and Eli were both doing a lot, I started running again, early this year. Say, around... not sure.

February? March? April?

When I run everything's a blur. Not because I'm fast but because my brain goes stupid.

Also, that's when my other issues (see "Thyroid," Running Journey, Part 1: All My Problems) were literally affecting my brain. I can't remember much from those months.

Then! (Oh, that fateful day!) The Saturday of their Ironman arrived.

I was holed up in a hotel for the weekend, ostensibly writing a book.

But I only wrote a few words.

I had multiple browsers open on my laptop all pointed to LIVE! Ironman videos and results. And what transpired through those little electric windows into another world was ... there is no description. I got very excited.

The race they chose was, in itself, the hardest of all the Ironman races. By like... a billion.

I say "was" because the course was so hard that the brand is no longer hosting a full Ironman in St. George. From next year on, it will be a half.

And that's just the course.

On race day, sheer winds turned the lake into -- well, have you ever seen THIS?


I've heard there were even ominous men in dark brown dusters who surrounded the lake and sang scary music while everyone swam.

It was bad.

The harsh winds continued throughout the day, knocking cyclists off the road.

And then. THEN! There was the marathon.

The craziest thing happened. People began crossing the finish-line.

This was astounding.

And I was hooked.

A woman crossed. About my size. Sliiiiightly better shape. They announced her name which I have forgotten.

The announcer proclaimed her age: 34.

He announced her occupation: mother of three.

Then the announcer said, with gusto, as he did for all who crossed-the-line, "Congratulations, __________! YOU are an IRONMAN!"

And, right then and there, laying comfortably in a hotel bed surrounded by plush pillows and warm blankets, where (let's face it) so many of life's bad decisions are made, I thought, "That's almost me. I could do that."

"I SHOULD do that."

___________________________________________________________

Reality is a #*%&! (<---- That says "moldy apple pie.")

An Ironman is practically impossible (duh), especially for me.

So I'm trying to do my research.

--I've decided on an "easier" Ironman location than St. George, a thought that will likely betray me.

--I want PLENTY of time to train so that I can ratchet up my distances in the tiiiiniest increments possible.

--I'm hiring other people to help me. Like an athlete-mercenary.

In an effort to blame my body for the fact I begin running and immediately want to quit, I undertook some physical tests.

--I spent a morning with a Bod Pod, doing a detailed body composition analysis.

--I took a VO2 Max subtest, running on a treadmill in a science lab to determine my cardiovascular fitness and maximal aerobic power.

But that didn't work. My results were fine.

Which left me with two things that could still be wrong, both of which I GUARANTEE I have to address, 1) my mental status while I'm running, and 2) my technique.

--So I took a running class.

Whah???

Oh yessireebob!

There's such a thing as a running class. And I took it.

Guess what I learned?

(See title of post.)

___________________________________________________________

According to the gurus at Runners Corner in Orem, there are four primary techniques that, when perfected, can make you a good runner.


After filming us running both with shoes on and barefoot, the teachers of this three-hour class discussed each aspect in detail: cadence, foot-strike, posture, and arms.

I will spare you the details of technique.

I will not spare you my embarrassment.

The class examined the video footage in slow-motion, and I was informed that of the four elements, I was, "...doing a really great job at half of one of them!"

Mm-hmm. 1/8 ain't so bad!

In public health we like to use something called social math. That means we take statistical information and make probably inaccurate, possibly misleading, but visually catchy comparisons!

Using social math, I will now compare my running-technique to my body.

I currently have four limbs. If you cut off my legs at my hips, one arm at the shoulder, and the other arm at my elbow ... that's the kind of runner I am. Only people with no limbs actually run better than me.

The next morning I took my new-found knowledge and hit the street.

Whiiiich was a bad idea. Because on the street, people can see you.

Seriously. I looked like a chicken.

"Feet faster, strike front, arms up, body straight, fall forward..." became my mantra.

My chicken mantra.

It was truly so awkward that I moved to a back trail to practice where no one could see me.

And after a while, I fell into a rhythm (and probably old habits) and ran what felt like 20 miles, even though it was closer to 2... because, you know. I'm still a baby chicken runner, and everything feels like a really long way.

___________________________________________________________

I can't tell you yet whether this running-class has helped me, in part because I've been off traveling to exotic places the last few weeks (hello Kanab, UT!) and haven't been exercising like I should have.

Chances are the techniques themselves are great and that, as I continue to have trouble employing them, I will have to hand the technique-teachers wads of athlete-mercenary cash to take me on (please!) as a personal project.

Coaches enjoy a challenge, right?

In the meantime, I'm headed to Arizona this weekend to volunteer for the Ironman in Tempe! There are so many complicated people in this world that Ironman AZ fills up in record time, and volunteers get priority registration for 2013. It's not a guarantee that I'll get in, but it's on my list as a researched effort.


My volunteer group is manning run aid station #2, and our theme is Superheroes! so that'll be loads of fun. I haven't decided on my costume yet, but Halloween Part II? Yes, please!

Photos next week. Maybe.

Even though I know that hard stuff happens, and I may not finish the race, I'm gonna try.

And if you keep reading, I'll take you on my running journey.

The one where I ... dare I say it? ... learn to run and maybe even learn to enjoy it.

(Interspersed with posts about the rest of life.)

Sunday, November 11, 2012

My Running Journey, Part 1: All My Problems

So here's the thing.

I have this vivid memory of me in 5th grade, running with a gaggle of girls behind Monsieur Catania, a native Frenchman with tan skin, sculpted legs, and a languid accent. He transported from France to West Texas for marriage where he subsequently taught both of my brothers French and became my middle-grade soccer coach.

In this memory, Cathleen Wright flew blithely along at Monsieur Catania's side, chatting away with him while we clipped around the soccer fields, tracing giant rectangles in the freshly mown lawn. Her straight blonde hair was loose and bounced behind her like swinging sheets of sunlight. She smiled and laughed and ran. All at the same time.

We started in one big 11-year-old pack, but in no time the pack thinned to an unrefined line, with me trailing at the back.

The very back.

And when we finally, gratefully stopped, I curled up in the grass (in the shade, between the back wall of the gym and the kickball field) and tried to breathe and mostly failed.

Running seems like it would be the most innate ability in nature. Have legs will run.

Well, then why have I always always always struggled?



There are so many potential reasons.

I wouldn't maybe care to pursue this line of thought at all because my dating history with running is rocky at best. But I have reason (explained later) to give this particular partner another chance.

After two years of soccer team grief, always coming in last, mostly I avoided running, especially outside.

I played court sports in junior high and high school, volleyball--my one true love--and basketball. They both required high-intensity conditioning, including a lot of sprints.

My least favorite drill was a long series of short sprints called a "suicide."


The hardest practices were the evenings when that shrill whistle was followed by the call, "Again!" and we ran suicides over and over and over.

"On the line!"

"Do it again!"

And you know what? I wasn't a terrible sprinter. Not the fastest, but not the slowest.

When I got to college, it was harder to prioritize regular exercise without an organized team with practices and games, so individual sports became more appealing.

(This is not me. These are gods.)

I heard my running friends proclaiming, with apparent sincerity and a hint of nonchalant boasting, "Oh, you know." (Flip of the casual wrist.) "I just ran through campus, up the mountain past the temple, and watched the sunset over the valley."

"How far was that?"

Shrug. "Not very. Only 8 or 9 miles. It was SOOOO beautiful. You should try it."

I could never quite be certain, but as they walked away, I thought I could hear a faint snicker hovering invisible in the air. And even though I've never seen one, I know what a snicker looks like. It's a big disembodied mouth with thin lips and sharp teeth.

So I tried running.

And I hated it.

At first I assumed it was because I was out of shape.

Which was true.

At first.

But as I forced myself to run daily, I could feel myself getting stronger, and I still hated running just as much.

There were no glorious sunset runs where I felt free and alive like a slender, optimistic gazelle. Yes, the sun set. But I was too sweaty and tired to notice.

So what do you do when you hate something but know it's good for you?

Well, I don't know what you do, but I push on. I swore to myself I would run until I enjoyed running.

And I did, on both counts.

It took me 6 months.



I was not fast nor lithe, but I found myself looking forward to my runs and even running at odd, unscheduled times when I felt the need to relieve extra college-oriented stress.

One cold winter's day, I came home from my 3AM janitorial shift and headed out for my pre-class morning jog.

I don't know if it was because I hadn't stretched or because it was below freezing and my limbs were covered in ice or because I was running on a severely angled surface, but within a few seconds I felt/heard a pop in one knee.

(Those of you who have experienced a similar injury will recognize that it's psychologically difficult to tell the difference between the feel and the sound of your body breaking.)

It didn't hurt too badly, so I kept going. A few minutes later, I felt/heard the other knee do the exact same thing.

Three miles later I stopped to talk to a friend who was playing basketball on an outdoor court along my route. We only chatted a few minutes, but my knees were at rest. And when I started off again, I found I could barely walk. I don't think I had ever felt pain like that before.

At my apartment complex, I sat on the bottom stair and pulled myself up to the second floor using only my arms. It hurt that badly.

That severe knee pain came and went and was unpredictable enough to erode my recent confidence that running might indeed be a sport for me.

Enter a 12 year series of running set-backs.



Diagnosis of asthma:

I had always thought of asthma as an excuse, not a real ailment. I was actually diagnosed in high school, but it was like the ADHD of the time -- over-diagnosed? real? what does it mean and how do you handle it? It's caused by "genetic and environmental factors." Could there be any diagnosis that sounds less clinical?

It wasn't until the end of college that I actually understood how real it was and that, for me, it needed to be managed.



There are variant triggers. From what I can tell, I deal with two specifically -- allergen induced and exercise induced. According to Wikipedia, the fount of all knowledge:

"A diagnosis of asthma is common in top athletes. One survey of participants in the 1996 Summer Olympic Games, in Atlanta, Georgia, U.S., showed that 15% had been diagnosed with asthma, and that 10% were on asthma medication. There appears to be a relatively high incidence of asthma in sports such as cycling, mountain biking, and long-distance running, and a relatively lower incidence in weightlifting and diving. It is unclear how much of these disparities are from the effects of training in the sport."

I can tell you that the difference between running with asthma unmanaged and asthma managed is like the difference between running with or without pneumonia.

When I run with my asthma unmanaged, I literally can't fill my lungs more than half-way because my bronchioles become inflamed. The inflammation causes the muscles around my airways to tighten which in turn causes the brochioles to constrict even more, narrowing and restricting airflow to the tiny terminating air sacs, or alveoli. Often this is exacerbated by the production of mucous which has the potential to plug the airways completely.



It's uncomfortable at best, dangerous at worst.

When I take my preventative asthma meds and keep a rescue inhaler on-hand, well, then my running problems are for other reasons.

Now I look back at my 5th grade self, gasping for air in the fresh cut grass and have a different view of my running woes.

Torn ACL:

During an Ultimate Frisbee game near the end of my undergraduate days at BYU, I went for a last-minutes potentially game-winning touchdown pass.

It was a hard, low pass, and I had a choice.

1) Stop my current forward momentum then dive for it, or 2) run through, reaching to my ankle to nab it as it crossed the line.

Incorrectly, in hindsight, I chose the latter.

(And I could have looked like this! Well, a more feminine yet hardcore version of this.)

To this day, I can't remember if I caught it.

Probably not.

At the time, it felt (quite severely) like I had bigger problems.

For example, being face down in the grass, about to pass out. Or, when full consciousness returned, rolling over to face the stars, clutching my knee in agony.

(Leaning forward to my ankle while running full-throttle caused my knee to twist and hyper-extend, ie: bend backward. Unlike this fantastic illustration, however, I was not wearing heels.)

Faces loomed over me. One of them said, "Are we gonna play, or what? Quit layin' around."

I didn't have an answer as I couldn't unclench my teeth to respond.

But he was right, sorta. I felt pretty foolish holding up the game and, assisted, hobbled off the field.

A couple of days later I went to a doctor (who shall remain nameless). He assured me I had sprained my knee and told me to stay off of it for about two weeks.

Having never sprained my knee before, this seemed plausible.

Also, I was clueless.

I used crutches for two weeks then ditched them and flew to Barbados.

The Caribbean was my home for most of the summer while I researched Crop Over, a Bajan festival that has changed a great deal over the past 300 years but continues to hold meaning to the island.

(What was once an evening of effigy burning at the end of the sugar cane harvest has turned into a tourist month of color and music: soca, calypso, steel, and tuk bands, stilt walkers, Grand Kadooment, art displays, markets, costumes like you wouldn't believe, lots of debauchery, Cohobblopot and food... souse, jug jug, and flying fish to name a few.)

The problem was... I kept falling over.

Anytime I walked uphill or up steps or tried to play cricket with the neighborhood children, my femur slid around inside my Jell-O-Knee.


Every time I fell, it felt like the old injury happened for the first time.

When I returned to the States, of course the first thing I did was hit a volleyball court. It didn't work out very well, and I found myself back at a (real) doctor's office.

He who shall be named, Dr. Kimball (as in the guy who treats the BYU football team -- he's so the best, that I'm including his website HERE), moved my leg/knee around in all kinds of ways it shouldn't move, and said, "WHO SAID THIS WAS SPRAINED!?"

At least, that's what I heard.

I was under the knife within a week.

(This is me, a day after ACL surgery, Sept 2001.)

Six months and a lot of pain later, I was finally allowed to run. I celebrated with a long frozen jog on a deep snow trail up Provo Canyon.

It was probably the best run of my life. I was slow, but I was freeeeee!

Torn ACL:

Only then I tore my other ACL.

Remember, all those years ago, that cold morning when I heard/felt both my knees snap?

I swear that has something to do with these injuries.

This time I was in grad school.

Volleyball being my prime outlet, I had joined an intramural team.

(Blatant advertisement for Tachikara!)

In the first five minutes of the game, I was given a sweet outside set. After my hit, I dropped to the floor and felt a wrecking ball crash into the side of my leg.

I fell hard and once again fought to stay conscious.

You know what kept me awake? I was listening for the whistle.

The guy across from me, the guy who had gone up for the block, had come down kicking my knee out. I was sure of it.

So sure, I stared at that one tiny dot of light, the one signaling my remaining consciousness, feeling LIVID that people were gathering to check on my welfare, but the ref STILL hadn't called "under the net."

In fact, when I was finally able to process the mighty choruses of... "Are you okay?" I blinked and said, "Where's the call!?"

That's when they were all sure I was not okay.

At this point I had been married for five years. A fellow cohort member called Jeff to pick me up and then helped push me out to the car in one of those fabulous office chairs with wheels. You know the type. The kind that has no armrests and the back is perpetually tilted to the right. Gray upholstery.

I went back to Dr. Kimball.

Once again he was quite certain it was torn. He asked if there was any chance I could be pregnant. Because if I was, no surgery.

Um, no.

No chance.

But, I guess, it could, theoretically be possible.

He made me pee on a stick, just to be sure.

And that's how I found out I was with child. Surprise!!!

Baby:

Baby.

Baby and grad school.

Baby and grad school and torn ACL.

Baby and grad school and torn ACL and rough pregnancy.

(Pumping her fist in utero. Happy, apparently, to exist.)

Baby and grad school and torn ACL and bed rest.

Grad school and torn ACL and newborn with Hirschsprung Disease.

Newborn and grad school and torn ACL and Hirschsprung Disease and (eegads amounts of) homework and Ileostomy bag changes and nursing and pumping and exams and projects and surgeries and fieldwork and nights awake with infant and hospitalizations and medical specialists and dissertations and defenses and occupational, speech, and physical therapists and Kindermusic classes and motor classes and hippotherapy sessions and biostatistics and epidemiology and nursing an infant in a desk and lobbying in D.C., and, oh yeah, I had a job too.

Those were the good old days.

I didn't run much ever.

Thyroid:

This is a pretty new ailment about which few (to this point) are aware. But in an effort at honesty (and apparently full disclosure), here's one more difficult-to-run reason I'm throwing on my pile.

A little over a year ago I noticed I was exhausted all the time.

No, I first noticed it at the beginning of my pregnancy.

But a little over a year ago I was finally sleeping through the night (mostly), and I was still exhausted all the time.

(This is also not me, but she does a pretty good impression.)

The fatigue was so bad I went to a doctor. That alone was unusual.

I think the last time I had been to a doctor for myself was three years previous during Bridgette's second hospitalization. The little time I had had to sleep in the hospital was marred by impossible discomfort. I had ignored it since her first hospitalization. For three weeks I'd been getting steadily sicker.

Diagnosis: UTI that had infected both my kidneys.

I hadn't been back to a doctor since.

So three years later, after a smattering of tests and questions, we couldn't pinpoint a problem. I went home thinking all I needed was to catch up on sleep now that Bridgette was doing better.

But for a full year on, I had an intensely difficult time functioning. And it was getting worse.

By the time my heart began having problems (in May of this year), I was painfully tired only an hour after I woke up each morning. Two hours if I was lucky.

It was affecting everything: my ability to mother, to take care of my house, to set and accomplish goals, and to do my job(s), not to mention my ability to exercise.

I was doing my best at all five and more, but it was overwhelming, and I was often miserable.

Then in May, not long after I'd started (once again and all together now) *running!* my heart started missing beats, double-beating, beating in triplicate, and generally and otherwise misfiring.

(I <3 anatomical hearts!)

I know a lot of people deal with electrical impulse trouble, so at first I ignored it.

But instead of going away, it became more erratic.

On the Friday night of Labor Day weekend, I sat down to watch a movie, and my heart started going crazy. I listened to it with my stethoscope (because of course I have one), and what I heard scared me. 

So I drove myself to the Emergency Department at a local hospital. I made that choice especially because I was headed to Yellowstone a few days later, and I didn't want to fall off a cliff or into a boiling cauldron of thermal mud if I became suddenly lightheaded from too few heartbeats.

They hooked me up to an ECG, and an erratic beat was recorded almost immediately.

I was admitted for continued observation and given a thorough blood workup to see if I had signs of imminent or past heart attack and to check anemia, cholesterol, various hormones, etc.

When discharged, I was attached to a Holter monitor for 24-hours at home. It was not a pleasant experience, but it wasn't terrible. I wore some baggy sweats so none of my neighbors would notice. And of course none of them did because baggy sweats are par for the course in this house.

Diagnosis?

Well, you already know from the title of this section.

It wasn't my heart, but it was my heart that led to the correct diagnosis.

I was seriously hypothyroid. Like, for reasons unknown my thyroid was almost dead.



My Holter monitor said my heart was having 500+ single, double and triple misfires a day and that I was dropping to a super-low 31/bpm at night. With already low blood pressure, that seemed potentially dangerous to the doctors.

But the solution was to give me a daily synthetic thyroid med to replicate all the missing triiodothyronine (T3) and thyroxine (T4) which normally affect protein synthesis and regulate protein, fat, and carbohydrate metabolism. Your thyroid decides how nearly every cell in the body uses energetic compounds.

According to Wikipedia, the fount of all knowledge, I experienced hypothyroid symptoms in all three categories (early, late, and uncommon). If you, or someone you love, may be suffering from hypothyroidism, here is the article in Wikipedia (the fount of all knowledge), so you can check it out: Hypothyroidism.

Among other symptoms like low heart voltage signals, memory loss / brain fog, and cold intolerance (Oh wait! No! I've always been cold intolerant!) I was noticeably fatigued. 

I may have also been depressed, but honestly, it's hard to tell the difference between fatigue and depression. 

For about a year, I was having approx. 1 good day out of 100. And on those good days, I wondered, "Is this how the other half lives?"

After four weeks of treatment, good and bad days began to average 50/50. Now I'm having a lot more good days than bad. Five months later, it's still getting regulated.

Considering everything, I've lived (and continue to live) a pretty healthy and normal life, for which I am grateful. And even though, like practically everything in life, there aren't obvious explanations for what goes wrong inside us, I'm glad that it was my thyroid and not my heart.

(This is not my doctor, but she does a pretty good impression.)

The one (so far) good thing to come out of this hypothyroid experience (besides empathy, I hope) is something my doctor said at a follow-up appointment.

"I guarantee the ED doc took one look at you and called a T3/T4 test because you're thin and he assumed you were hyperthyroid."

I said, "I'm thin because I work super hard at it."

To which she replied, "Then you must be working EXTRA hard at it because one of the most common symptoms of hypothyroidism is weight gain, followed by high cholesterol. Your weight is great and your cholesterol is normal. And even though your heart was erratic, staying in shape was the best thing you could possibly have done for it."

So... running, it would seem, is worth it.

Now to learn to love it.