Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Double Disc-ectomy rather than skiing in Ushuaia.

Ethan rides Gravity Logic for the first time. Yeah, it was a pretty good day!
Alllrighty. Here's the deal. The plan was to race in Sol Vista in the last DH Mtn Bike race of the year, then head to Ushuaia for three weeks of training with Kurt. We were planing to write an article on Ski and Surf, so were going to stop at Witch's Rock in Costa Rica for a week of surfing, then be back home in time for fall training.

Unfortunately, about three weeks ago, I had to stop doing massage all together because two motor nerves in my left hand have become impinged by my herniated discs in my neck from my car accident in 2008.

So being unemployed and unable to use my hand for anything other than hanging onto the handlebars, Kurt suggested that I go get an opinion. Motor nerves and loss of strength are significant.

I headed in to Dr. St. John, who I had seen before after my ski fall, and he told me it looked like it was progressive degeneration from the car accident, and it was probably time for a 2 level disc ectomy and fusion.

The mighty Flynn, Fastest DH racer in the Roaring Fork, schools Kate on the Vapor Trail at Snowmass.
I did not really want this to be true, so I trundled on for a while, and then my hand failed at pulling zippers and buttoning buttons, so I called for a second opinion from Dr. Corenman from Steadman Hawkins clinic in Vail.

He did my boss's fusion last year, and treated another friend of mine very conservatively, waiting as long as possible before surgery.

I went in and we did a new MRI, x rays and a full interview and workup again. Guess what? "I don't care about pain, and numbness and tingling, but when the motor nerve is impinged and you lose strength, it is possible that your strength will not recover fully. The longer you go, the higher the chance that you won't recover fully."

I felt suddenly like I was looking down the barrel of a gun. This is real.

Its really happening, and its happening now. No Ushuaia. No summer training. I may not be healed for fall training. I will be coming off of a two level fusion in the year of the tryout that I've been training for for six years.

What if I get fat? What if I get weak? What if I get FAT AND WEAK? What if I end up after surgery in the same place I was in six years ago?

Oh my God, it took me so long to climb out of that hole and get where I am, I had to work so hard (and I could have worked harder), is this possible?

I asked Dr. Corenman if I could wait to the end of the season, if I could race Sol Vista.

He told me that I could, that I had to decide if I was willing to risk another Chin Up fall (which could paralyze me since I have some spinal stenosis now), and if I was willing to risk that my hand might not come back.

I drove the rest of the way to Denver and laid down on the table at Think Tank Tattoo. I got a beautiful story put on my arm, a love story, one I've wanted for a long time, and I sat there feeling the pain in my arm over ride the ever present pain in my neck and shoulder.

I did not know what to do.

The work of Sam at Think Tank. Color comes in two weeks. In the meantime, its just what I needed.
The next day, I went and rode at Snowmass, I had three great laps, and then my left hand slipped off the handlebar. I was weak. It was time to quit.

I went up to Basecamp and was hit full in the face with a wave of sadness that I was not expecting. The sadness was so heavy that I couldn't stay awake. I laid down in the sun on the big black bench up there and fell asleep for an hour and a half.

When I woke up, it wasn't any better, because I woke up and started crying.

It was time to wash away the denial that this is as bad as it is, and face reality. There will be no more DH Mtn bike races for me this year, and I need surgery. Now.

I called the Dr. and asked to get on the surgical roster. I got scheduled for a nerve block to see if we really need to do two levels or one, and I headed home.

Ethan rocks the DH bike over his first bridge. This kid can ride!
The next night, in a fit of absolute denial and ludicrous defiance, I signed up for the race on line. I went out the next day and trained with The Mighty Flynn, we rode the Vapor trail and worked on cornering. It was the fastest run I've ever made, I made huge changes in my cornering and ability to pump the track.

One run and my hand was toast.

I asked Kurt if I should race, he looked at me in that special way that he does which tells me that I'm being insane and unrealistic. "If falling on your face can paralyze you, I wouldn't do anything that will let you do that."

"But its not likely that I'll fall on my face."

Silent stare.

I know. I don't want to admit it, but I know.


I stayed signed up, knowing all the while that there was no way I could go.

Nerve block on Tuesday the 6th. The day after the race. Which I could not go to. What a pity party. Don't you think that having a functional left hand is more important than any race, tryout, training???  Why wasn't I able to get past this idea that I was looking at the end of my life?

I stayed off the DH bike for a few days, did some short road rides, got myself to Bikram Yoga every day, and tried to look squarely at the idea that I now needed to be focused on getting as strong as I could so that I could recover well. This was going to happen and no amount of wishing was going to change that.

My friend Weems has been through surgery after surgery, and here I am complaining about one. ACLs have been done all year, so many people go through this. But I was still so sad and scared. And unemployed. The high season is ending no one is hiring for desk work during the slow season.

I stared into the sadness of missing training with Kurt in Patagonia. We had these beautiful plans, plane tickets, passports, a writing gig, enough money saved... it was not only possible, it was finally finally finally going to happen.

I rode the last two days of the lift served Mtn Biking season with Ethan, who rode the Gravity Logic freeride trail for the first time and absolutely rocked it, and with some friends from the Bike school. I took one big kid run, and that was enough for my hand.

The needle goes in, the dye goes in, the nerve turns black, the lidocane goes in, the steroid goes in. Ew.
Tuesday, we took off for Frisco at 4:45 in the morning and got all ready for the nerve block. Two injections into my facet space at c5/6 and c6/7, done two hours apart, with no anesthesia. I couldn't get knocked out because we needed me to be away to notice the subtle differences in order to decide if we were going to do surgery on one level or two.

I laid there and watched in the reflection as Dr. Dickstien at Peak One Surgery Center slid a needle through the front of my neck and into my spine. First he injected a dye that the x ray machine could read, then some lidocane all around the impinged nerve. Then, for good measure, he added some small amount of steroid to try to give me some relief until my surgery, happening on September 19.

I was quite nervous before the first injection, and just as the numbing needle was coming toward my neck, the most awesome thing happened. "Fat Bottomed Girls" came on the stereo. Now I love this song, and its on my "hero" mix for getting amped to ski to. It was recently used in the "Best Ski Movie Ever Made", The Claim from Matchstick Productions. Sean Pettit kisses his big fat powder skis and then proceeds to ski the most fun, fluffy, bouncy, silly powder ever. I laid there thinking of how this is just part of the path, part of the lesson, part of my growth, and that I want to ski like that.

I listened to the song, hero mix for a new reason now, and in went the needle. "I love this song!" I said to Dr. Dickstien.

"Me, too." He answered. And then the dull crunch of the needle as it passed through the fascia and musculature, and then the pressure through my shoulder as the nerve was surrounded.

The first injection was amazing, suddenly my pain was gone. My thumb was numb, but my pain was gone. After a few minutes, I realized I still had a headache and pain down my spine, but my shoulder was all better and most of my neck.

Its real, post injection, time to face facts.
I slept for two hours out of exhaustion from fear, curled up around Kurt's down jacket, and then back we went again. The second one was deeper, harder, and much more uncomfortable. The needle was near a nerve and needed to be repositioned. The pressure in my collar bone and pec was unreal. The burn as the Lidocane went in was intense. And then my other fingers went numb. And for the first time in three years, my headache went away.

It worked. Unfortunately, that means that we need to do both discs.

"How do you feel?" The nurse asked.

"All better." I said.

"Oh good!" said the nurse.

I felt the tears coming. "Not really, that means we probably need surgery on both discs."

"Oh. I'm so sorry."

Screw the tears. Feeling sorry for myself does NOT change anything. And yeah, I wanted to go train. And yeah, its a bummer that the four chances I had to go this summer didn't pan out. And yeah, whatever. But here we are. Its time to quit pretending and get to work.

So, surgery. Kurt came back and looked at me.
This helped! If you are in Frisco, eat here!!

"You ok?" he asked.

"Yes. I am." I said, and for the first time in a couple of months, I meant it.

We went outside, there's a great new bike park right across from the hospital that Kurt took a bunch of photos of, and then wandered around town, looking for a place to eat. We found amazing Nepali food at a $7 buffet in town, I broke my fast on Dal Bhat, and turned my focus inside to reality rather than wishing.

It turned into an incredibly nice day, we took our time visiting bike shops, walking around in the rain, seeking refuge at the Bookworm in Eagle, CO where we had coffee and read for a while, visited the bike shop and the farmer's market in Glennwood springs, and finished the day by watching a horrible B- movie about a female assassin. Mindless entertainment. Perfect. It had been an incredibly long day.

This morning, I woke up feeling good. My neck is sore for sure from the injections, but I know my path and I'm at peace with it. I got on the bike and rode as fast as I could to the grocery store, and it felt good not to be in pain for the first time in a very very long time. My hand is still totally weak, but for the next few days, I should be pain free. (Although as of this writing I can feel it creeping back in my neck).

Twelve days left. At c5/6 we are doing a full fusion with titanium plate, at c6/7 I will get a disc replacement. I'll be a hybrid!

I'm strategizing about how to get myself up to do some reading and writing while I recover. My amazing friend and gourmet organic chef, Janice has agreed to make me nutrient dense food in the right amount to keep the weight off.

My tryout skis and boots came today. Movement Analysis starts next Monday. Life is moving forward, and so am I.

4 comments:

Home Improvement said...

I'm so glad to read your blog. it is very informative

Kate Howe said...

Thanks for reading!

MS said...

You are so amazing! Your courage and determination has been my inspiration since I 'met' you through your blogs. I'll be sending good vibes your way for a smooth surgery and swift recovery.

Kate Howe said...

Thanks so much, MS! Sorry for the delayed response. I'm grateful for your readership and your comments!