In my mind’s eye, June 20, 2015 represented the end of an extensive journey back from a major operation. Long ago on the eleventh day of my recovery, I began keeping a log of the daily indicators of my progress, small steps all leading towards this late-springtime Saturday morning in New Hampshire when I would return to racing by competing in the Mount Washington Road Race and, upon reaching the summit, declare my recuperation complete.
Beginnings and endings make for nice stories, but they are sometimes just myths. Even as conditions improve and problems slip into the past, they still exist somewhere. Perhaps that is why alcoholics often still label themselves as such even after decades have past since their last drinks. My back will always demand my attention and vigilance, just as diabetics must continue to practice daily blood sugar management, as opposed to achieving their target A1C values and leaving their endocrinologists’ offices thinking they have wiped their hands clean of the disease. Not that I am complaining or feeling bad for myself; we all know that life could have dealt me a much worse hand.
Next week, I undergo a third back operation to correct what my surgeon terms an “extremely rare” complication related to last year’s procedure. Although I can run up the highest mountain in the northeastern United States, I cannot jog around the block or even go for a walk without significant pain. Go figure.
While this past Saturday was not the metaphorical finish line that I anticipated, the occasion still carried a significance. As I neared the summit, I remembered that exactly 15 months earlier I laid in a hospital bed unable to do anything more than slowly shuffle about the unit with my walker and a back brace. The days that I thought I would actually make it back to competitive racing were vastly outnumbered by the days I felt in my heart that I never would, but I always kept working and accumulating small daily indicators that I was inching back towards my old self.
Effort alone, however, is not enough, and I never would have gotten to this point without the help of many people, including my surgeon, Dr. Jean-Valery Coumans, my physical therapist, Sue Bloom, and most of all my wife, Joanne, who has experienced this saga from spending sleepless nights on a couch in my hospital room to waiting for me at the summit. Literally and figuratively, it was a long way back to the top of that mountain, and I could not have gotten there alone. We got this far, and will go even farther, together.