Dis-Ability into Hike-Ability
AT in 23 even rhymes!
It’s been a challenging year.
In Feb. of 2022, I fell, literally on my arse ending up in the hospital, with a bleeding head, and no walking due to a fractured back.
Once in a hospital, you are held captive in a twilight world, fed meds and ignored: you are either gonna live or die.
If you live, they spring ya, free to go home trying to figure out your limitations. If ya die, another stiff for medical students.
I lived. Knowing disability, wanted to expire.
Had to board mutts, get a housekeeper, groceries delivered, sign up for PT, and tried to avoid terrible depression; life as I knew it was over. No walking; no hiking. Just turning over in bed was painful.
I was suddenly an old cripple. Outlived most relatives and had to function on own, alone.
“They” said: “Surgery is the only way!
At your age, forget walking, go to bed. Now, let me tell you about my health.”
Rot in bed?
NOT be restored to 100 percent?
Worse? Listening to health woes of others brought about by obesity and junk food!!
Nothing like righteous indignation to motivate!
I will strengthen joints, ligaments, muscles, facia, and bones myself.
For decades, I lifted weights, biked thousands of miles, canoed, fished, earned graduate degrees, became vegetarian, walked my mutts; practiced Yoga; kept weight and blood pressure down, competed in the Olympics; hiked, camped; traveled.
In short: a very active life.
I was widowed; sent two children through college, saw them marry, move; I then bought a smaller house, decorated it my way; wrote my Power of Attorney, Will, called my kids and said “have fun”, then took off: utterly free.
Now, I was not only grounded but damaged and alone. Planned hiking trips all gone.
Went home from hospital crippled and cried bitter tears.
I was still in a hospital gown, my backside showing, a friend driving, as I could not. I was disgusted with medicine, specialists, meds, and hospitals; LOVED nurses, PT, helpers, and ER folks.
I did NOT want to recover from an invasive surgery yielding maybe 85 percent restoration.
My former student
I called a former student, now successful MD (cardiologist) for his advice.
After preliminary questions, he said a big fat “NO!!” Do not do any surgery, it’s too risky. He adamantly said he would not have it and not advise either his own mother or siblings to have ANY back surgery.
He said, “Bones heal, give it time, maybe a year, ok? Call me any time. ”
I decided NOT to have any surgery.
I was retired after 40 years.
Made too much money. “Older” people face subtle workplace discriminations, called names; shown the door.
Do you think medical personnel treat “seniors” the same, prejudiced way? (they do…).
As I lay in my bed I thought of seven things I had to do:
- X rays of current condition
- X rays in about 8 months to check any improvement
- Really good PT
- Excellent doc who specialized in back fractures
- Healthy diet
- Lawyer specializing in personal estates
- Read all research on back fractures
Determined to not only walk but cycle and hike again, I ditched pain meds, avoided negative comments, nixed surgery, hired a PT dude, researched therapies for my fractures and carefully exercised daily.
I hired a young female doc suggesting new films, her diagnosis, and an Rx for PT.
She agreed and helped me get new x-rays, diagnosed me as an L-5 compression fracture, and some un-pronounce-able condition. She prescribed home health care, PT, and all the other stuff my insurance allowed.
Physical Therapy (PT)
Was I lucky! I left my pack n poles in the hall after my last hike.
I also have decent insurance…. insisted upon (by me, was I a loyal employee anymore?) along with a large cash settlement.
When the PT dude came, and glanced at my hiking stuff.
He knew EXACTLY how to help me as a hiker himself.
He said: “Look, I’m gonna get you walking, ditch that walker, and help restore your self esteem, but it’s gonna be hard. Hard on you and me. But, I know you are determined.”
I was thrilled to be his “poster child” for redemption!
It was hard. But, he showed me exercises never known!
I kept balance and large muscle tone by using my walker daily all over my ‘hood and wore that walker out!
I figured oxygen, deep breathing, sun, and mild exercise were therapeutic. If I saw a big curb, wet pavement or grass, I had to hobble around, cautious about falling. Then found as flat a walk as possible.
At first, I slowly hobbled to the bathroom, had a walker in the shower, and kept many lights on to see.
Within 5 weeks, much to my astonishment, the PT dude had me walking.
For “graduation”, we WALKED outside, FREE of walkers. I was thrilled! IT WAS possible!
Then I walked to Doctor God of All Things Orthopedic Surgery.
He said: ” No surgery. You are healing. Some of your vertebrae are mashed and slipped. You can’t do anything about it but avoid arthritis by moving.”
He also said: “Take over the counter pain meds.”
Dr. God shrugged. “Perhaps within a few years (like three – I asked) you will heal almost 100%. It’s all up to you, ok?”
Then he handed me his bill and left.
Almost 100 percent?
I remembered laying in bed unable to move.
I’ll take 95 even 90 percent for now…..
First foray was a tentative section hike of Colorado Trail in 2022 (see photo below).
Later, sections of Lone Star Trail in Texas, then sections of Big Bend National Park. I am now planning a 2023 September hike of A.T. Most of my caution is in my head not legs.
HAVE to be Ultra Light: I simply cannot carry much; have to go slower, watch footing, avoid puddles; use poles. It’s OK to say “no”.
Oh. By the Way: I just turned 71. I will be close to 72 by the time I hike the AT.
For training, meeting some friends to hike close-by at a State Park. We are gonna take our rescue mutts.
Read someplace the only remedy for age is diet and exercise.
The human body evolved for movement and healing.
….I can walk.
No, I will never be 100 percent. When young, we bounce; when older, we don’t.
I can carry about 25-30 lbs and carefully stretch daily; focus on balance, small muscles; optimistic about the future.
A section hike or two is my only “failure.”
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Great story. Let nothing stand in your way. Fair winds and following seas.
Vince aka The Dude, SOBO, A/T, LASH, ’16, ’17, ’18, ’23.
Fractured L1 & L2 when I was 14 years old, I am now 78. Wore a steel brace for over a year. Fortunately I was young and determined and while I still have some issues that I have learned to adjust. I have been able to undertake all of the activities I have wanted to – off road motorcycle riding/racing, long distance motorcycle touring, camping, AT LASHES, and most anything that keeps me moving in the outdoors. I will complete the southern half of the AT in 2023. Maybe we will meet on the trail. Congratulations on your recovery and undertaking the AT!
Sounds like you’ve already been on a grueling, challenging, uphill Trek – and you made it. Tackling a section of the AT should be something similar. Harder than you thought in some ways, easier in others. Approach it with the right attitude, and proper preparation, and I’ll bet you will succeed again. I’m 68 years old and in year two of what was originally a three-year plan to section hike the AT. I made it to mile 610 in 2021. Made it to mile 1100 this year, but not without some “drama”. Nothing like your level of drama, but for someone with zero issues before this year, it was “interesting”. Tore the meniscus in my right knee playing with my dog in January. Sixty days of RICE kept me from training for the AT. Still managed to get out there in April and May. Then developed AFIB and Flutter on Memorial Day Weekend while in Shenandoah Nat Park. Rest and beta blockers in June, heart surgery in July, rest and inactivity until August 30. Back on Trail in September (65 miles) and October (150 miles). Off for the winter now, working on my “trail legs”, cardio, and back strength. Plan to be back out there April 1 with VT/NH border as my goal. I always say that no matter my situation, others have challenges much greater – like you. If you can do it, I can do it. And while my challenges are minor compared to you, perhaps you can get a little bit of “if he can do it, I can do it” from me. Good luck. Happy trails! “Willi Pyro”