Tuesday, September 29, 2009

A Love Song From My Wife

My wife Jennifer handed me the October issue of the Running Journal last night. As I read what she had written I found I had no words to reply...tears, idle tears, I know what they mean. I may be a dumb guy, but even Forrest found his Jen-nay. It happens.

And when we die we say we'll catch some blackbird's wing
And we will fly away to heaven

Come some sweet blue bonnet spring


- Nanci Griffith, "Gulf Coast Highway"

*******

My Running Hero (Chapter II).

About two years ago I wrote a brief article that Running Journal published regarding why my husband, Richard Blalock, was my running hero. At that time he had both of his legs and had realized that he would never run another marathon nor qualify for Boston (his dream) because the damage incurred to his right ankle when a bus ran over it as a child had progressed into arthritis which could no longer be ignored. At that time he was still able to run shorter distances.

Shortly after that article Richard could no longer run at all. He could no longer even go for a simple walk without pain. After numerous doctor visits and consultations his orthopedic doctor agreed to try a custom ankle operation that would involve several procedures in order for him to have a chance at running again. Unfortunately, although considered successful by surgical standards, the operation did not give him the ability to run again as the arthritis was so severe that he was basically walking bone on bone. Even walks were painful and traveling was becoming difficult due to swelling of the ankle joint. The next option was to totally fuse his ankle which as you can imagine, for a runner, is really no option at all.

After several months of research and consultation with others Richard decided that removing the offending limb was his best choice in order to have any chance of an active life again. His orthopedic doctor was familiar and had done the procedure Richard required and the amputation was scheduled and performed without flaw. After many years of painful running and then no running at all, we were looking forward to this new stage of our lives.

It has now been 5 months since the amputation and my husband has shown such patience and fortitude through recovery and relearning to walk again that I am simply awed and so very proud of him. At his recent 5 month checkup he walked into the doctor’s office with no limp. His doctor had him walk around to show off his new leg and has asked him to speak to other amputees that need morale support as few voluntarily choose this route. As yet, he is not running but I have no doubt that he will not only be running races again but also take on more challenges.

Although I could never sum up this quickly the changes and adjustments our life has undergone in the past 5 months I am very grateful to be able to express the admiration and respect I have for my husband, my running and my life hero.

If interested in following Richard’s journey back to the running life here is his blog address: http://iiagdtr.blogspot.com/

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Blistering Pace

This morning Jennifer and I had another run together. We did separate warm-ups: I did a mile on the treadmill while Jennifer cruised the hood. The blister that formed earlier in the week seemed intent on staying and would eventually cause me to cut this run short.

I did everything I knew to do to slow the sweat accumulation in my liner; Certain-Dri applied at night, and some talc powder on the skin per another amp runner's recommendation. The day was going to be humid, but fortunately it was overcast when we started and at times we had some breeze. I had applied a soft blister block to my leg before my mile run on Saturday and it stayed put, so I figured it would last through this short run too.

This is only the second time I have run outside since my amputation, and the first in the neighborhood where I was 'that running guy' in years past. I found I had room in my bottle holder belt for two shamwows and an additional sock should I need it for fit; I had been adding at least one on my treadmill runs and sometimes two. We would not be far from home at any point so if I needed something I would just check into my supply closet.

We did our first mile very slow, over 12 min. pace. I am not trying to do anything fast right now, I have to build a base and keep the skin on my residual limb healthy. We stop by the house so I can clean the sweat out of my liner and add a sock; while I do this Jennifer runs around the block again.

On the road again and I decide to run around the back part of our neighborhood. Jennifer is doing a 10 miler so she really doesn't care much where we go, so I get to choose the route. It cools off a little with a nice breeze and I am able to extend the distance about 1.25 mi. before going through the sweat dumping process again. This time it is near our traffic circle, where there are some timbers framing a flowerbed. I sit on one and remove my prothesis; there is a least a quarter cup of sweat in the liner. I then notice the blister block has peeled away from my skin and the blister itself looks like skin is hanging off it. Yuckers.

I dry everything off and we walk home. The total distance turns out to be 4.6 miles; I was so tempted to walk the additional 0.4 but knew it just wasn't worth the gamble to make a bad situation a multi-day disaster. After my shower, a close inspection indicated the problem isn't as bad as I feared. The top layer of the blister did come off with the bandage, but some of the bandage residual looked like skin and came out with the bath.

Since I have tomorrow off, I think I should be able to run again on Tuesday. I've decided not to run more than 3 or 4 miles for a while, deferring to 2-a-days to minimize blister problems. I'll likely run 2 miles on the treadmill before work and then 2 - 4 at lunch or in the evening. I can be content not pushing the length of the run while increasing the time spent running and, of course, speed. With this current prosthesis full of plastic, a liner, many plies of socks and a sleeve, speed is just not something that will be easy to attain. It's easy to see how all these layers increase heat and the body's response of increasing perspiration.

When I talked to my prosthetist last Friday, I asked when I might expect to get a carbon fiber socket and running foot. For the former, my leg should have its volume stabilized so the more expensive socket will be feasible. For the latter, I will need to obtain a sponsorship or have to cough up a considerable sum to buy it. You can probably figure out the preferred route. For me this means getting back to my old running self as quickly as I can, but balancing that with not doing something stupid that will set the timetable back. The timeline is January - February for the socket; nothing is assured for the foot at this point. Well, nothing I can speak of with certainty just yet.

I was up to nearly 185 lbs after my surgery; last time I weighed I was 173.5. I should be under 170 soon, which I need to be for the feet I'd like to obtain. In the good old days of the last ten years, I generally raced around 163 lbs, and for marathons I was in the upper 150s.

We have registered for two races, the Conway Inaugural Rivertown Half Marathon and the Turkey Day 5k run in Charleston. Jennifer will do the half marathon at Conway and I will jog/walk the 8k. I wanted my first race not to be local to relieve some anxiety of the moment. I am hoping this blister problem will be under control by then or I will be in trouble far from the finish line. I will have to do a lot more early walking to avoid having to hop on the SAG wagon for a ride to the finish line.

*******

It's been a memorable week for me. I have many challenges ahead but I have the tools to meet them now. This blister problem is one that should eventually resolve itself; the two things that I need to find answers for - managing sweat and getting a running specific prosthesis - will take a bit more work. I suppose as long as we live we will have challenges; I am ready to get beyond these on to the challenges of training.

Dammit, I have races to run! = ;-)

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Miracle Mile


Sweet are the uses of adversity,
Which, like the toad, ugly and venomous,
Wears yet a precious jewel in his head;
And this our life, exempt from public haunt,
Finds tongues in trees, books in the running brooks,
Sermons in stones, and good in every thing.
As You Like It Act 2, scene 1, 12–17

This morning Jennifer and I threw on our running clothes; I jumped on the treadmill to warm up and she headed outside to do a neighborhood mile. When we finished we gathered a few items and drove over to the new town track in the Park West neighborhood. I have a long history with the town and the old track, mainly because I didn't like the idea of being run down by their many vehicles driving on it - yes, you read that correctly - or to having it damaged by those same heavy trucks. But that is another story.

The current track is mainly in existence due to the efforts of Gary Santos, a town council member who would not compromise on its construction. I had stopped running by the time it was built, and another factoid is the company I work for did the design. It has a superb Mondo surface and the price tag was steep enough to keep off vehicular traffic, including the roller bladers who were allowed on the old track. Dang, that old story sure wants to be told but not now!

We arrived at the track to find little kids playing an organized game of flag football. There was a cow on the field, unbelievable! The Chick-Fil-A two-legged variety, having his picture taken with the kids. There were some spectators milling around on the track at times - some things never change - but they seemed more aware of the runners, meaning no one had a collision while we were there.

When we pulled into the parking lot I had a few butterflies in the stomach, the ones that migrate there on race days; these were a species closer to the ones I felt in high school. My brain starts shutting down everything but the task at hand, and this unfortunately means I become more scatterbrained than usual and the short-term memory ceases to exist. Just get me to the starting line and all will be well...especially if I don't throw up.

We drop off our sports bottles and my amp bag (with my socks, towels, and miscellaneous supplies) and walk to the start. We don't tarry, off we go.

I have been doing all of my running - except for a few steps at the office - on the treadmill, so running on this new track feels a little odd at first. By the time we run the first 100m I have settled into my stride.

First lap: Jen reports were are running around 11 min pace. I am surprised to feel and hear myself breathing very hard; although I have been running on the treadmill for a couple of weeks I thought I was in at least minimal shape. We complete the second lap dodging a few spectators and by now I am coming out of my starting fog...hey, there are several other runners and walkers on the track.

I get some love from the runners in encouraging statements; I feel my throat tighten a bit and tell myself to relax. You are just on an easy run with your wife; this day is the same as it ever was.

Lap three and I am feeling good and look around a bit. The cow. Kids running on the field. People on the track. I moved out of the inner lane to avoid them then, dammit, back to my lane. Jennifer yells "Track!" which is the signal for people to get the hell out of the way and they comply. They don't know how close they came to the lightning bolt.

Lap four and I am thinking, yeah, I'd like to stop after this. The prosthetic leg is heavy and I have to think about my mechanics, but occasionally my mind remembers how I use to run and wants to take off flying. I entertain the thought but know right now that would probably land me with my nose on the track and I resist the temptation to sniff the mondo.

As we run the homestretch, I do say something like "let's kick it in!" and speed up a modest amount, still recalling of what a sprint should feel like. We cross the finish line and I have run one continuous mile.

*******

We grab our bottles and my pack and walk to the far side of the track. I take off my leg and dry things out while Jen and I discuss taking some pics. I decide to run a lap so we can get a movie. During this time a woman comes up and talks to us; she is a lifetime runner and commends my effort. My form has a little too much forward lean but I am running without any limp with a decent stride; I have to learn to trust the leg and let it bear my weight. It will and I have to adjust to the new running me.

Teresa is a nurse and mentions she has worked with some amputees, others who chose this path because old limbs no longer functioned. I am thinking how good my nurses were to me at Roper Hospital...such wonderful care and several wanted to hear my story. We tell her this is my first mile run since my surgery, my personal goal realized this very day. As I write this, I am thinking how perfect it was to share this day with Jennifer and this nurse and the other runners on the track; that there are these small miracles happening every day. Mine is a little more obvious with my prosthesis, but this was my miracle, my miracle mile.

Jennifer later relates that one of the other runners was asking about me, saying he had just gotten off the couch a few months ago and had lost a lot of weight running. He said I was inspiring; I am hoping he has found what I know is running, the thing that is me.

*****

I am now what I am, a runner again. I hope by early next year to improve good enough to get a sponsorship to help defray the high cost of a running specific prosthesis; I hope the removal of the painful foot will eventually let me run faster than with it; but I will have my running prosthesis. The only limitation I will have will be of this physical body; and I know it has some peaks to see yet.

We will climb them all, and by all that I am, I will never, ever quit.


video

Friday, September 25, 2009

Never Quit

This has been a good week so far with a minor problem. I jogged/walked 3.25, 3, and 4 miles the past three days on the beloved yet ailing treadmill. The machine is about 8 years old and it will cost about half its value to repair, so I think buying a new one would be a better plan.

I did the 4 miles on Wednesday; it felt great and I wanted to do 5, but upon inspection of my stump I could see a blister forming on the distal end of the tibial crest as well as two tiny ones below the incision line. These are bad things for an amputee, and for an athlete it spells S-T-O-P. The problem has been one I've had since my first prosthetic leg, likely caused by the fitting process which undergoes more revision now as my leg is experiencing a somewhat drastic change.

Other amputees made it abundantly clear to me that fit would be extraordinarily important as the smallest abrasion could rapidly turn to a bleeding sore, resulting in days if not weeks of downtime. I don't know how much I will be able to callus my skin here but I doubt enough to make this an insignificant problem. It will have to be managed by fit, by a proper suspension system, skin care, and some common sense on my part to know when to say enough. As runners, we would rarely let a blister cause us any missed training; for an amputee it is a problem than simply can't be bulled through without significant consequences.

*******

The other major problem I am battling is sweat in the prosthesis. I knew this was going to be a challenge from before the amputation and now I am in the war trenches. I have been trying to get in contact with Rick Ball, the Canadian world leading time amputee marathoner, to see how he manages this time wrecker. From pics I see he has what appears to be a bottle attached to his thigh and I wonder if he is able to remove the perspiration through a pump or capillary action. I can deal with a small amount of sweat in my liner, but it is difficult for me to do more than 2 miles on the treadmill in cool, dry conditions before I have to remove (doff) my prosthesis, dry everything out, then don it again. This is unacceptable and I have to find a way to mitigate this aggravation.

I am using a more powerful antiperspirant, Certain-Dri, which allows me to go the 2 miles instead of one between drying sessions. I've also been told to check out a special liner called the Silver Sheath Liner found here that I intend to ask my CP about. I really don't know why this problem exists today other than research has not really addressed it with the same exuberance provided to foot design. It's not a sexy subject but one that still deserves some passionate attention.

*******

I am going to see my CP Larry Wiley this afternoon to get a new socket fitted and to discuss the above items. Likely I will get another plastic socket as my leg is losing volume on a consistent basis, so getting a definitive leg is still a future event. I have a list of questions to be answered, like when does he think I will get a carbon fiber socket and, of course, a running specific foot (blade). So it's a bit like Christmas going to the prosthetist now, this amputee's life is full of such ironies.

*****

IF the blister has healed sufficiently, I still plan to do my one continuous mile run at the new town track tomorrow with my wife Jennifer. This will the milestone goal of becoming a runner again, not unlike when I was a kid and made that first run around the block, to be able to say, "I am a runner." As a child, I did understand what I was doing but it was impossible to know the significance it would have on my life. Who knows, maybe I won't fully understand it this time either.

I do know this; few people get a second chance to lose what they love to have it back. I never, ever, took my running for granted and often thought how I would feel if I could not have this part of what is me. I have been though the fire, I have gone the extra mile.

I did not quit, Glenn.

I never will.


Saturday, September 19, 2009

Starter's Gun

I had a database training class almost all week with little time to blog, tweet, email, or even train, with the latter getting what spare time I had. On Tuesday, I walked/jogged 4 miles and did 3 on Wednesday. I took Thursday off and then did 3 on Friday. I just did 1.5 before engaging some college football and will do maybe 2 more afterward with my first half-mile jog.

I have been jogging up to 600m at a time with around a 200m walk and then repeating the process. It is a very different thing to wake up in the morning knowing I can do a real running workout later in the day. I keep myself occupied on the treadmill with many little goals, like working up to longer or faster jog portion while shortening the walking segments. We have a small a/v system so I can watch TV or a movie or listen to music to help ease the visual boredom. Having the smaller goals helps keep the brain engaged so the treadmill monotony does not kill my will to live.

My residual limb continues to lose volume and I am up two 8 plies of socks to keep a good fit. I am going to email Larry at Floyd Brace and see if I should come in and get another socket. With the liner and socks I cannot bend my knee/leg back very far; this limits my stride length. I stopped riding my bike because this bunching causes irritation at the distal end of my leg, the mechanics of this is like a lever, think teeter-totter.

Once my leg gets down to a point where volume changes are not so large, I should be able to get better liners and have to use less socks to get a good fit that will not affect my stride. It is my understanding the elevated vacuum systems manage these volume fluctuations much better while providing a better fit; I intend to try one or two of these as I decide what works best for me.

If there are no further problems, I will do my one mile run next Saturday morning. I want to do it on the track, a new one in town that I didn't get a chance to run on before my surgeries. I could do it sooner, but being a milestone I want to make it a special thing with my wife Jennifer. She is training for a half marathon and I miss our Saturday runs, be they races or a tour of the neighborhood.

Heck I'm getting pre-race jitters thinking about it, just like standing on the starting line of a track meet. It will be the start of my second running life and I await the starter's gun:

Runners take your mark.

Friday, September 11, 2009

9/11/2009

Today was more special than I had imagined it would be.

Being September 11, I had decided to start mixing in some light jogging with my walking as a tribute to this day and all it represents. As I wrote on Twitter this morning:

"I am remembering today. Today I stand on my on two feet and will run again. Never forget, never quit."

The morning began with my stump feeling surprisingly good when I first put on my prosthesis, a very good indication I would have little discomfort later.

As I watched the memorials on TV, I began with a mile walk. Then I hopped off the treadmill and added some socks to my socket to improve the fit, as the stump does tend to lose some volume early in the day. Back on the treadmill I bumped up the speed to make fast walking difficult but jogging easier. I jogged - in the most liberal sense of the word - for about 30s at the beginning and middle of a lap, extending it a few more seconds and occasionally a little faster for the rest of the session.

I did 3.25 miles for the entire workout and roughly about 0.25 miles total of jogging. I even took a movie of some of the running, which I might post later. I look like Big Bird in a crow's suit with chicken wings. :-) I consider this my first dedicated running workout and it was tough not to push it. In fact, the idea came to mind that I should go outside and try to run my official back-to-running mile. I believe I could do it, but the last thing I want to do now is irritate my skin with a blister or open the incision that would set me back for days or weeks.

I was very pleased with my workout, and I do believe by next weekend I can safely do my mile. I intend for Jennifer and I to run together, something that hasn't happened for well over two years. We are lucky; we have each other when others have lost so much. It will be a good day. A very good day to run.

*******

I posted a status update on Facebook and received numerous comments from family and friends. One in particular, from Dyana Margeson, moved me:

"Speaking as a nurse, you are that rare, determined soul that we'd see so rarely. Ppl like you are what kept me going for 22 years. You're making fantastic progress... God's speed!"

My response was:

"I am deeply touched and humbled, Dyana. I can tell you my health care professionals were so good to me, angels on this earth. You have a noble calling, and know I appreciate you all. The bad often overshadows the good in life, but in that night we see the stars. And reach for them."

Perhaps a little dramatic but there is the truth. A number of friends posted messages of encouragement and support, if I have a drug I am addicted to it is this outpouring of...love.

It still strikes me as a huge irony that I had to lose my foot to gain my running, but even more that I lost a part of me to find something that has enriched my life beyond what I could imagine. As I wrote on Twitter, "I've met some amazing people since starting this journey, a whole universe of challenged people who do even more amazing things."

Jennifer tweeted: "Twitter makes me realize how lucky I have been in life. Lots of folks here dealing heroically w/ life challenges. Strong bunch I follow!"

I am no one special, my condition may be unfortunate, but I wish to change nothing. I am blessed. And soon I will be a runner again.

Monday, September 7, 2009

A Good Day To Run

Yesterday - Saturday - I walked 3 miles on the treadmill, the furthest I have gone since my surgery and probably further than I have gone in close to 2 years. This is the tipping point that I wanted to reach before I start running again, to get my residual limb use to the pressures of walking some distance before adding more stress from running. Well, running is too strong a word to use; it will truly be jogging for a while.

It is my plan to walk a couple more days then start adding a few intervals of 30s to a minute of easy jogging to the end of my walk. Since this is unchartered waters for me, I will lengthen the jog portions and increase the repetitions using my best judgment. I am use to goal setting as a runner, but as an amputee I have to understand that goals are somewhat 'good suggestions' at this point, that a skin irritation can quickly stop me in my tracks.

My goal, which I think is reasonable, is to run the Turkey Day 5k in Charleston this November. If I feel up to it before then, I may look for a smaller nearby race. There is a good chance I will do some run/walks, but my first race will mean I run all of it except if I need to remove the prosthetic because it is full of sweat.

I wonder how I will feel that day; will I be overwhelmed with emotion or made numb by it? A little of both? I do know no matter what, it will be a good day to run.

A very good day indeed.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Phantoms Fade

Either phantom pains have declined or I have become more tolerate of them. It really is a combination of the two over time. I have yet to meet a leg amputee - haven't met other limb loss peers yet - who didn't have these pains.

They are most noticeable when I am still, like trying to go to sleep. This is because I have no distractions and they have a captive audience. The more my brain is engaged on other things with lots of sensory input the less likely I am to feel the electrical nagging from my phantom friend. I do get reminders several times a day, a sharp jab lasting less than a second and sometimes causing an audible response: DAMMIT! or more colorful depending on the scale of pain.

My old arthritic foot, in its later stages, hurt every step I took with it; sometimes several intense pains would shoot through my joint when the bone-on-bone grinding occurred. I have been asked the hindsight question several times: any regrets about the amputation? It's really a non sequitur, what is done is done. I can say when I think about enduring that daily pain compared to the phantom pain, there is no contest. Yes, I would have preferred not to have gone done the road not taken, but now that I am there I have no regrets. Soon I will run up that hill.

When I had stronger phantom pain I may have been pushed to waiver more on this subject, but I knew others said it would get better in time so I clung to that promise. And yes, the discomfort has decreased and yes, I have become more intimate with my adversary. Though we are still at each other's throats, the kung-fu grips are numbing the limbs and we have at least reached a stalemate.

As an experiment, I took a Lyrica Wednesday night to see how it affected my lower pain level, and it knocked it out around 90+ %. The Lyrica does dull my senses some, at least at this dose, but it does work wonders for phantom pain. All medications have side affects, you have to weight the benefits and risks. Some think all drug risks can be eliminated. Some thought the world once flat. Same thinking. You can die from drinking too much water. Sue the universe.

*****

At this point I'd say I am well tolerating the residual phantoms to the point it is nearly a non-issue. I am prepared to deal with years of fleeting reminders of my lost limb; I've talked to people that say they never go away. Well as long as you live you will have pains of the body and heart, this one will not break either.

Training Wheels

What will constitute the goal of "I am running again"? Like many goals, it is a process that is achieved over time. This goal for me has two parts; the first is to be able to walk 3 miles in comfort, then starting a walk/jog (a sort of gimp-fartlek plan) as I extend the jog part as I can.

My specific criteria is to be able to jog (I hate the word but I have to use it) one mile to meet the goal of running again.

As a bit of history to put my goal in perspective, when I first started running as an endeavor, it was to go around our block (Wannamaker / Jahnz Aves.) in Summerville, SC, at Salisbury Acres. The distance was about 0.8 miles. My foot was run over by the school bus on Wannamaker Avenue. When I do the Flowertown race next year, I will take a pic of the exact spot.

I have been thinking I need to get a runner's log. I have used many of the years, but always preferred the John Jerome paper journal. I don't have anything for 2009, and it looks like the Marty Jerome (his son) has taken over the log and changed it for the worse. I may just get a simple daily planner book for the rest of this year to log my walk/runs.

I love looking at my old running logs. In my handwriting, they are more tied to that history than an Excel spreadsheet. The ink on the page is usually right after a run, with times transferred from whatever watch I was currently using. Writing in my log felt like a little present to me for my hard work, and adding up the miles was seeing a goal visibly achieved. Makes me want to dig them out and take a peek right now. So...

See ya! = :-)

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Hill Running

This morning I walked into the office of my orthopedic surgeon.

I walked into his office without a limp, pain, cane, crutches, or a wheelchair. I walked out not needing any future appointments.

*****

I always have a good chat with the x-ray technician; we talked about my foot history as she prepared to take the pics. Very nice lady, she always seems genuinely interested in her patients. Afterward I was shown to my room and waited for Dr. Ohlson.

A short time later the doc steps into the room and I stand and shake his hand. He admires the work of the prosthetist and examines my stump. It looks good with the small exception where I overdid it recently, but even that area is almost completely healed. We take a trip down to the imaging computer where he reads the x-ray and shows me where the bones have grown together, very cool.

He thanks me for the letter I wrote to the CEO of Roper St. Francis Hospital where I had my surgery; excerpts of it were posted in the elevators so the employees could read it. I was happy this was done as the people there are truly inspiring in what they do for the patients. I took a walk down the hall for Dr. Ohlson and an associate, and another short parade for Kate, Dr. Ohlson's superb PA. They said if I wasn't wearing shorts that most would have no idea I was an amputee.

Dr. Ohlson also has a patient he wants me to talk to, but the person will need to contact me. This is a tough thing to go through, and having a compatriot does ease the sharpness of the edge. There are many things you just can't know in life without the actual experience because it will change you, usually for the better or worse but you do not escape unscathed. I hope I can help but know the power to move forward is in the individual, and they alone can decide to climb the mountain or fall.

*******

I asked Dr. Ohlson if I needed to schedule a follow-up and he said unless I had a problem, no, was I done. Wow. I make my copay, get in my car, and drive to work.

I had the odd sensation of the day I decided to have my amputation was like today, but different in that I had some closure to that lost part of me. Not of sadness, but of celebration that I was done with this phase of my life, ready to move to the next. Tears of joy are often surprising because we see them so rarely, a singular thing that can have two meanings.

Today I had the better one.


And if I only could
I'd make a deal with God
And I'd get him to swap our places
Be running up that road
Be running up that hill
With no problems...

- Kate Bush "Running Up That Hill"