Sunday, March 31, 2013

Still Life with Peeps


Besides exercise, diet and supplements are also key to recovery from brain injury. This advice tries to be generic and all-encompassing in nature; your mileage may vary. Some of it works for me and some doesn't feel that important.

What happened to me is my body actually started demanding certain foods. Protein, especially fish. B vitamins. Caffeine. For a couple of years after the accident I craved foods rich in potassium like kiwi fruit. It turns out that potassium plays a unique role in brain function; it enables all electrical conductivity. Potassium and phosphorus stores are lower after TBI.

You'll find these cute peeps under the Foods to Avoid header. Sugar is no friend to cognitive function. But, feast your eyes!

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Gravity

My first real bike ride was to Pescadero. From home, around 72 miles and 5800 feet of climbing. Could not believe how hard that was. Hill after hill.

When people start riding a bike and getting an idea of what's possible, they get stars in their eyes and head for the hills. Usually it's springtime. The weather is a perfect mid-60's, trees and flowers are blooming, puffy white clouds against a blue sky. Everything supports taking a risk.

Invariably the risk-taking optimists come back beaten, disappointed. This was the case with someone on my team, a guy who'd been riding the flats to work for 3 years. One day he came to me and said "Sunday I tried climbing a hill on my bike. It was really hard."

It's the hardest thing there is. Why? You lift the weight of the bicycle (as well as your own weight) against gravity. It works special muscles in the legs that you don't have yet. There's an optimum speed; maybe those are the right gears on the bike, maybe not. Finally, the lungs, they insist on following a certain rhythm. They insist on oxygen. All of this has to come together.

Even when it does, it's hard. You'll feel the heart bursting against its own limitations and the ribs. This intensity propels you into a dream world, a parallel reality. You're being strangled, suffocated, drowned. The only relief comes from pushing on through. It gets better fast, by climbing more hills.

Roadside attraction
There are mind tricks that help. Like counting the steep pitches on Redwood Gulch (there are 3) to get through. As in here's the second switchback of the second pitch, just hang in...

Saturday for some reason no need of counting. My legs click right in and do their thing and voila! the little bump a few yards from the top. That's what we're after. That means fitness. 

At the top after turning a tight corner onto Highway 9, all that sprightliness and power goes away. 3 miles in the little ring. Lots of traffic in both directions. Please let me make it to Saratoga Gap before I expire.
Looking toward home

Plodding along, there's ample time to compare this sequence with the struggle with insurance companies and employers. The first hill is the one you think might kill you, the quiet steep hill of your disability. The second one, trafficky and longer, is the one you don't consider or budget for until you're there. It hits you on an empty stomach, 4 hours since breakfast.

Humans in office buildings design virtual landscapes and invisible forces for the rest of us to struggle against. It's not a clean feeling. A person climbing the Redwood Gulch of brain injury inspires them to put another climb at the top, one that will take 18 months. Run through your stores of food and glycogen and mental focus. 

I'm trapped, choking. Trying to cough up a small bitter pellet lodged just above my lungs. The betrayal of human contracts, burning its way out.

In a nutshell that's what makes all the suffering on the bike totally, laughingly great. No matter how many hills or how steep or how bad the day, it just is. No human designs the hills. No theater or politics needed. No meeting or lobbying or email thread deciding how high or steep they should be.

It's all about something invisible and unchanging and organic. That thing is your equal partner. Over time it will make you strong.

I'll take gravity, any day of the week.

Seven kinds of happiness

  1. The big German Shepherd, head and shoulders sticking through the open sunroof as a gold Mercedes barrels down Highway 9. Elegant and calm. 6 more miles to Saratoga!
  2. The tall, beefy young guy passing on a red road bike "Hey have a good ride!" he calls out. The  jersey he's wearing is on the small side, exposing a bare patch of his lower back. Who cares? He's singing, probably to an iPod, and pedaling.
  3. The owner of the quivering wet nose, barely visible in the back window of a truck idling in a driveway. Part of a lab face comes into view. Dog+truck=happy.
  4. The back side of Black Mountain and Montebello Road.
  5. All the cars stopped at the Vista Point. Up to San Francisco, down to San Jose and you are here.
  6. The couple parked outside Robert's Market in Woodside, dirty mountain bikes strapped to the rack. Blissful, exhausted from riding up on the ridge. The guy shakes his head saying "It's like paradise! And so close to where we live..."
  7. In Woodside the grass is free.

  8. One more because this, this makes me happy. Skyline with a tailwind and a big ol' storm front coming in...

Friday, March 29, 2013

Mind your mitochondria

In dire need of motivation to get out on the bike. There's nothing wrong, I just don't want to. This morning I dragged my feet, then ran to the gym to do TRX. While Elisa put us through our paces I wasn't thinking about anything except surviving the workout. Definitely not about the role of healthy mitochondria in brain function...

Some reading this might roll their eyes. Since after all, the medical establishment says there's no treatment for mTBI. Mitochondria, so what? The brain cells are dead. That is the conventional wisdom.

Right now a ton of research is going on in neuroscience and cognition, really great stuff. And we do know directly and indirectly that exercise helps survivors of brain injury. There are multiple ways that exercise helps.

  • Increasing blood circulation to the brain (more oxygen)
  • Lowering blood sugar
  • Reducing stress
  • Regenerating neurons
To which we can add
  • Jumpstarting your mitochondria
They already knew that exercise helps maintain muscles, partly by activating existing cell material and by generating new mitochondria as well. Now they can see that very same process at work in the brain. Exercise improves the functioning of mitochondria within existing brain cells. It also stimulates the brain to create new mitochondria. Perhaps leading to better cognition down the road. Potentially more rewiring and relearning on the road to recovery. Better outcomes.

Mitochondria are the powerhouses inside cells. They regulate the functioning of individual brain cells, such as cell metabolism. Specifically, researchers believe that healthy, plentiful mitochondria in the brain helps ward off neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer's, Parkinson's, and ALS. Survivors of brain injury are at increased risk for these. Since the accident my left hand trembles; it makes me think of the risks ahead.

This is something I can do for myself; it's not a doctor or a procedure or a pill.

So, I'm just doing it.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Waking up in Niles

Twenty miles, heading toward Palomares Canyon and I'm waking up fast. The last hundred yards in Niles Canyon didn't look familiar. Did I miss the turn? A little panic sets in. The shoulder is narrow, a tiny buffer against fast determined traffic. A concrete barrier on the right, like a fence. No escape. Where am I?

Double back to check that last undercrossing, a narrow passage under a train bridge. There are multiple bridges like it on this road. Was it The One At The Turn? It was not.

Cross the lanes again, retracing my steps. Ah. Just ahead a familiar shady intersection, the bottom of Palomares. It was only another hundred yards up the road. Breathing again. Occasional disorientation with panic. It lodges in those little attention gaps and hijacks them.

Reaching this point a few minutes earlier I'd relaxed, let my guard down. Niles is one of those familiar places I've never been to. It sits at the base of the hills, the mouth of the canyon where Alameda Creek runs toward the bay.
Mission Boulevard in Niles District, Fremont, California.
These days a detour off the main road is how you get to the town. And hardly anyone does make the detour; hence the sign. This morning I'm in a hurry to get to a bigger, more populated place. Just like the cars. Everyone needs reminding to visit Niles.

If I had been awake a few minutes earlier it might not have mattered. The view doesn't inspire even a cyclist to put a foot down and explore. Visible traces of the past? They're starting to disappear. Niles was always more of an intersection than anything else. A way through.

To get here you cross the tracks at Nursery Avenue. Here was the largest commercial nursery west of the Rockies. Palm trees were their specialty but citrus and nuts and grapevines all thrived here. Cattle grazed on the hillsides. A hundred years ago the landscape and weather were so beautiful that people came from miles around to sit down and have a picnic.

And this wide newly-paved road, Mission Boulevard leading south to Mission San Jose. It used to be dirt, of course. To reach the mission from the north or east you passed through Niles. Along the way you'd probably stop here for water, flowing in the creek as well as underground. The white sign in the photo sits near a once-prolific source, Mayhew's Sulphur Spring.

Aside from roads and water, the type of intersection Niles is most famous for can't be found along this road. You have to follow the arrow on the sign. To the train tracks. Lots and lots of them.

Take the Sullivan Underpass into the historic town of Niles
That narrow, disorienting spot in the canyon is right around where the Transcontinental Railroad was truly completed. The golden spike was driven in Utah, connecting Sacramento to New York City via Omaha. But the final spike between Sacramento and San Francisco Bay was driven 4 months later, in Niles Canyon in September 1869. It was made of iron, harder and more practical than gold.

In more ways than one Niles is how I got here. It's where my grandfather grew up. I wish there were some family stories involving this place but they're kind of missing. They were never told.

It's easy to guess that the Transcontinental Railroad brought my great-grandparents to this spot. If you landed in a place with good weather, plentiful water, and work then you stayed put. My great-grandfather looked for vineyard work at Mission San Jose. Finding none he tried his hand at the railroad. The rural beauty that has mostly been paved over, that was the scenic backdrop of their lives.

But imagine having to make your own soap. And it was not good soap!

His son, my grandfather, was more interested in trains than the old agricultural way of life. Trains flowed through Niles day and night on their way to San Jose and Oakland. As a boy he would have seen and heard them constantly. Progress, money, people. He went to work for the Southern Pacific and became a tough and determined engineer, not a teller of stories.

In its heyday around 1910 the town had aspirations to be more, or at least bigger. According to the folks in Niles it was the Next Big Thing! But the explosive growth of railroads had already peaked. So Niles stayed a little town, eventually bypassed. Until it wasn't even a town but a district of sprawling suburban Fremont. If you want to see the railroad museum at the old depot, come on Sunday.

My grandfather migrated to San Francisco and the main SP office there. Even that grand building changed hands and has been repurposed. Today it holds offices and an extremely fancy restaurant, One Market, on the ground floor.

Some day I'll get intentionally lost. Turn off Mission Boulevard, go under that bridge and see what is left.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Five fish

After a Valley Medical episode, what does one do? How to soothe that disturbing mix of helplessness and dread?
  1. Go home and do anything but think about the most obvious fact: there's clearly nothing they can help with right now. This is your life, stuck in neutral.
  2. Gentle Yoga at 12:30 with Shashi.
  3. At Hacker Dojo, surf the web.
  4. Head home a little too early. Assemble ingredients for Orange Glazed Tempeh. On the counter, to help them all actually become part of dinner.
  5. Crack open a bottle of Thomas Fogarty Skyline Red
Oops.

As I told young Dr. X (another Stanford resident), there are good reasons why I'm still drinking wine. One is to ease the humiliation of neuropsych exams and insurance denials. Any sense of grace and dignity, not to mention fairness - lost.

The other is to deal with the fatigue that dogs my heels every day.  Of course, there is caffeine. The Little Helper! But after consuming stimulants during the day, in the evening how to slow down?

There are a few more reasons, like being unemployable at the moment and having lots of people ask when I'm getting back to work. And by default, being alone during the day. Having no place I absolutely have to show up where other human beings expect me. Except Valley Medical...

It turns out it doesn't really matter what the reasons are. The reasons for not drinking after brain injury are better (see 2.1).

For soothing purposes today after Spinning I went and stuck myself in a pool of hot H20. It really helped with outlook as well as neck and shoulder pain.

No glass of wine with dinner.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Talk therapy


At dinner tonight Danny asked "So, what was this visit about?" As if the medical subplot will make sense.

Why go to Valley Medical today? Why talk to Dr. X and Dr. L?

  • Because. Once you're in the machine and on its conveyer belt you just surrender to it. No other option.
  • Fill out a questionnaire. This is weird, but brain injury symptoms do change over time.
  • Get admonished for drinking 1-2 glasses of wine per week. Explain about the neuropsych exam and second appeal. Review how I am managing my stress. Have I considered seeing someone for my mood, a counselor or psychologist?
  • Reflect silently on not reporting the drinking of wine.
  • Talk about how speech therapy went. It helped but ran out 3 weeks ago. Ask about online sites like Lumosity. Will spend the money if they work. No research showing that they work. Hmm.
  • Confirm that it's use it or lose it with cognitive function. 
  • Check in on other injuries (like whiplash). Describe pain. Get advice on how to stretch that part of my neck. It's getting stretched and worked out almost every day. It needs tending every single day. Get it?
  • Receive permission to sleep outside in a tent in the back yard. Seriously. The one position that works is lying flat on my back on the ground, on a Thermarest mattress. With an inflatable travel pillow wrapped around my neck. 
  • Explain to the MDs in the room how the insurance industry works. How you never interact with whoever is accountable, by design. The accountable folks stay in the castle behind the moat. Consuming all the time legally allotted to them. Because they can.
  • How absurd to wait in a queue for an MRI when surgery is not something anyone wants. Point out to the MDs that MDs don't really know how to fix the back and spine.
I'm fortunate to have access to the best medical care available. It seems to be mostly talk therapy though. Ten years from now will it be like this? Will there be some actual treatment for brain injury? 

A way to trace and chase and address it, instead of me?

Monday, March 18, 2013

Finding the negative space


The old quarry, having given up its rock, reminds me of photographs by Naoya Hatakeyama. He makes these huge landscape prints in subdued colors, usually of the human-altered earth. The SFMOMA uses the word austere to describe his work. I like that. 

His series on limestone quarries is lovely and unpredictable. Gazing into the quarries he realized at one point that he was basically looking at the negative space of whatever was built with the excavated rock. 
If the concrete buildings and highways that stretch to the horizon are all made from limestone dug from the hills, and if they should all be ground to dust and this vast quantity of calcium carbonate returned to its precise points of origin, why then, with the last spoonful, the ridge lines of the hills would be restored to their original dimensions.
The rock from Neary Quarry lies under Moffett Field and under Highways 101 and 85. The luxury homes now lining the slopes were built with materials from elsewhere. But I like the way the old and new coexist visually, right next to each other. It would be easy to imagine the starter castle with its trophy vineyard springing from the raw, scraped hillside a few yards away.

Why are we here? Sunday's post talked about motivation (or lack of). Well there are at least two kinds: toward a positive goal, or away from a negative consequence.

Tomorrow, a follow-up at Valley Medical. No way am I showing up at 9am without first going for a ride. Just not a good idea. 

Thus it matters more what I don't want than what I do want. 

Atoning for a late start I choose the hilliest, most indirect way out of town. Leading into Los Altos Hills and the quarry neighborhood.

Climb Altamont, which is usually Deer Central. A small tribe is lounging under a spreading oak tree near the top. Right next to a massive construction site for someone's future castle. The noise doesn't bother the deer at all... They care about grass, which is new and sweet up here.

The idea of a mostly flat 50-mile ride got me out of the house. The Loop to Woodside, plus an out-and-back on Canada Road. Easy enough.

After a few miles another option comes to mind. Old La Honda. It's a better design to climb the hill, descend to lunch, then head home from there. I crack open the banana from my back pocket. Gonna need that in a few minutes.

OLH is our benchmark hill. Your time climbing Old La Honda marks the kind of rider you are. Twenty-five minutes or less, that's the goal. There are those who push for a personal best, passing as many cyclists as possible on the way up. So yes, the rush and competitiveness of Silicon Valley can be found even in a forest.

Today instead of this scenario I find its negative space. The road is a cathedral of silence. The mind runs out of chatter and lets go. Notices the rhythm of climbing that develops. The smooth pavement, several years young. The small clustered groves of redwood trees. The narrow bit through the bigger trees, exactly 2.1 miles from the bottom.

1.2 miles after that here we are, the mailboxes at the top. A big UHaul truck steams past on Skyline. No idea how long that took but the end came a little too soon.

 It's a joyful descent into Woodside for beef barley soup.



Sunday, March 17, 2013

N'y jamais plus

Never again.

This is what we tell ourselves out in the deep, dark nights of Basse Normandie. And even a year later, recalling fatigue, disorientation, pain, not to mention expense. We can't believe we thought it would be a good time. How something that starts out as a bike ride could become...well, a nightmare. How we could have voluntarily sacrificed so much for this experience, thus engineering our own demise.

Getting what you wished for. That's why PBP happens every four years. After a year or so of licking wounds you stop thinking woe is me and start thinking whoa! that's me...
Comparing notes on the vicious cycle...

Sometimes you can have a foot in both worlds, on the ride itself.

It was the topic of conversation with Joe Brown in the wee hours of the morning in Mortagne au Perche. My espresso growing cold on the counter. Both of us were here last time and what the hell are we doing here again!

Thirty-six hours later, safely in Paris, the same guy was skipping around telling anyone who would listen what a great ride it was... After one night's sleep he looked so altered, I had to look twice to make sure it was him.

Since the accident this cycle has twisted into something completely different. In 2009 the little voice that normally would have been saying maybe...what if.... was saying something else. Oh I'll never do that againThere was not a shadow of a doubt. Out of the question.

It was surreal, watching past PBPs from the outside as a different person altogether, a spectator. I'll never do that again.


Still a spectator I observed myself thinking those days are over. No way could I handle that again. Unable to put a name on it and completely sure this was abnormal. This was not me.

Artifacts of woe-is-me-whoa!-that's-me
It had to be the brain injury talking. In 2011 I fought back hard, threw everything at it. Bike, shorts, helmet, check. Signs pointing the way, check! Fellow crazy at the bar in Mortagne, check! As far as I know there is no French word for couch potato. En 2011 j'ai reussi encore une fois.

Unfortunately the couch-potato feeling is back. Right now I do not have the desire to ride my bicycle long distances. Just no motivation.

Normally at this point a randonneur would be dreaming and strategizing for 2015. Or, Super Brevet Scandinavia 2013! In fact, this very moment randonneurs are tearing up the pavement in Northern California. A portable riding frenzy, spring fever. I'm at home indoors on a beautiful Sunday afternoon. Alone again with this feeling. Where's the whoa!-that's-me?

Don't know if it's the brain injury, the detachment thing where nothing sounds worth doing. Or the tsunami of life events and destruction that came after. Or maybe the lack of work pressure driving it all. Or too many projects at the moment. I do not see myself there.

If it's the brain injury, time to fight. Trick myself into training. For something, anything. Any other reason, time to back off. Focus on figuring out where life is realistically heading. Find the route. Invest time and energy in that project instead.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Making it to the Y

The top of the steep part of Tunitas Creek Road (looking west).
Reaching the Y oak tree, dizzy and lightheaded. Definitely bonking. At least I'm in a beautiful forest. 

Trust me, this is not what goes through your head when your body runs out of fuel on a hill. Far from it. Instead you think what happened? This is wa-ay too hard. I'm so weak, I'm gonna die out here. Somebody help me. I'm going so-o-o slow. 

The riders in Woodside yesterday mentioned the detour. But it wasn't until we reached the intersection of Tunitas Creek and Lobitos Cutoff and someone called out when they saw the sign. Then, I remembered. Tunitas Creek is closed. 


At this point in the ride a detour is not welcome. Not 4.2 miles, 530 feet of climbing. No small matter on a bike. Kim's gotta pick up the kids after school.

She mentions this to the guy standing at the Detour sign. He just smiles. His job is to keep people like us away from the workers who are apparently fixing a sinkhole. He's a big guy but it's hard to tell without that paunch, would he still be intimidating. Buddha of the Road Crew.

I'm thinking, c'mon big guy. You get on a bike and haul that paunch up Lobitos Creek. I'll be right behind ya.

"Be nice", says Jim. He remembers the last time. So we do the bonus miles. On the way up Lobitos Creek I realize this is a first. Never gone down Lobitos Cutoff, then back up! A new wrinkle in the Old Familiar.
Forty minutes later, toasty at the top
It's my lack of climbing fitness that's the problem. Not the route. There's plenty of fuel to be had in Pescadero. That's where we stopped for ollalieberry scone, yogurt, and coffee. Ed rang us up. He says he's been there for 86 years, since Stage Road was the highway that ran through town.

Without the detour, that scone would have been enough. It was huge and delicious and only two dollars.

Lately I've been realizing how the unwelcome or unexpected, such as a detour or running out of fuel, have the potential to draw attention away from other, more positive forces. For example how multi-year conversations with unapologetic corporate entities can blot out the sun. The lack of awareness, mindfulness, compassion forms a moral sinkhole into which your whole life can vanish. It's up to me to stay focused. At this point it's taking everything I've got to keep on track.

If like me your faith in humanity needs a little boost, I can recommend spending a day with these 3 SuperTourists. Conversations are smart, funny, engaging. Also ride your heart out on these roads, the best, quietest, most beautiful in San Mateo County. Someone designed and built and paid for them. Go out to Pescadero  and meet Ed, steady and cheerful.

Even the Buddha of the Road Crew answered our questions, politely. No doubt he was right, there was no getting through even on a bike.

At the very top where Tunitas meets Skyline a delivery guy stops to ask directions. He's looking for a place off Star Hill Road. That happens a lot around here; cyclists and locals know their way around. Everyone else is a little lost. Right off the bat he says "Well, you look happy! 60 miles? You're gonna  sleep well tonight!"

That's the Buddha of the Delivery Truck, reminding me of the goal.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Hooky

Tuesday is usually Spinning with Roger. With the hour of noon approaching, I'm still not ready. The normal thing is to run around like a chicken gathering lunch, street clothes, bike shorts, water bottle. Today thoughts of getting ready just go round and round. No progress.

Outside the fog is burning off, revealing a gorgeous summer day. In March. Clear, mid 70s. As minutes tick by the thought of heading indoors to spin and go nowhere becomes repugnant. Wrong.

A quick inspection of the fridge yields nothing in the way of lunch. That pretty much decides it. Will ride to Woodside for food...

One good thing about heading out on a bike: the route can evolve. As a workout it has to be more than the Loop. But even with the time change, the coast is off the table. That's what the local hills are for, starting with Magdalena and Springbrook. Around the old quarry, now a decorative "lake" surrounded by trophy homes.

From there on autopilot, it's Altamont. But maybe, just maybe something harder and longer and quieter is called for. The Waterford happily doubles back and turns onto Moody.

Cruising up Moody Canyon, I briefly consider climbing the whole of Page Mill to the top.


On the steep part that idea goes away.

Tons on my mind the past week, tangled things that can't easily be worked out. Failures, loose ends without clarity. Sleeping weirdly, dreams tinged with conflict and guilt. Somehow I feel guilty for leaving work. Not for the way it happened, nor the reason. Just for not helping out.

The push up Moody pegs the heart rate but also dampens the noise in my head. Thoughts come and go at a slower, organic pace. In the absence of panic, it's possible to notice thoughts and notice the space between them. Silence.

And it's not just guilt. There's a lost feeling, too. I'm searching for something that can fill the void left by not going to work every day. A model, an organizational principle. Sometimes it's no structure means nothing happens. When structure doesn't work it's get out of the box. Today it happens to be both.


At Roberts Market I'm not the only cyclist. Three others are perched on a rock wall eating sandwiches in the sun. We greet each other in a disorganized way, like a pack of canines. Almost hot out here. From the Sierra Century jerseys my guess is they're from Sacramento. That turns out to be correct.

Today they're riding from Pescadero to Woodside and back, the reverse of what we locals do. As part of something they call a Zodiac. Every month it means carpooling to a jumping off point, then spending a few days sampling the local bike roads and routes. While we were in Death Valley these folks were riding in Borrego Springs. Same idea...

Every day is playing hooky; from their faces they're retired, content, relaxed. Not even a little bit guilty.

They're impressed by our hills though, namely Tunitas Creek Road. Yeah we usually save that one until May or June, later in the season, peak fitness time. Today was an interesting twist: the road was blocked and the detour led down Lobitos Cutoff and back up Lobitos Creek. Wow, that's a big bonus climb. They look pleased, and tired.

Tomorrow they'll head up Eureka Canyon. Another sweet and shady road. Next month it's Andorra, of all places, and their excitement is palpable. All I can say is these hills are good training for mountain passes. Not as long but your legs do get the idea.

As we talk cars and contractors' trucks roar by nonstop. The market is hopping, as usual. The center of town? This is it, really just a crossroads.

How did I come to be here in the middle of the day? I tell the story about Spinning class. How in the Bay Area recreational cycling is, well, competitive. That's the best word. Fall one workout behind and you will be left in the dust, too slow. One guy declares "I've never been to a Spinning class in my life!" It feels good to hear him say that. Like there might be something else, another way.

To tell the truth there was nothing super fulfilling or virtuous about my life before the accident. It was very, very full and busy. Like the intersection of Woodside and Canada Roads.

They'll head back over the hill to Pescadero, where the cars are parked. I'll finish my soup, poppy seed cake, and orange. Then cruise over Sand Hill, past Stanford Linear Accelerator and the venture capital firms.

Eventually it will occur to me to feel grateful for the freedom to get out and ride when it feels good, not just on the weekend.

Monday, March 11, 2013

The thing and its opposite


Survived the first week of March.

First, something about spring and new beginnings. Coupled with the grogginess and well, jet lag, of Pacific Daylight Time.

A week of 4 warm, clear days and 3 rainy, cold grey ones.

Monday, the denial of a second appeal from Prudential. Some details of which appeared here, then had to be removed. Apparently the truth can't be told until...well it's unclear when.

This week I heard from knowledgeable persons that insurance companies deny all appeals just for business reasons. Don't take it personally. It has nothing to do with anyone or anything.

And the employees they assign to review the appeals are sincere about their jobs and truly believe the business-driven fictions they create. They may or may not have a medical background. It is allowed, impersonating medical professionals. They can have their own parallel reality. I might be the only one who has a problem with this.

After the outrage, note that the King of Clubs did indeed provide an Independent Medical Examination.

Tuesday, a second insurance company denied the cervical spine MRI, lacking proof that other options had been tried. This was the first visit to Dr. S. Maybe because he is a neurosurgeon. Not the first person you see for neck pain. Hello?

Did I try six weeks of treatments first including anti-inflammatory medication and physical therapy or a physician supervised home exercise program? Yeah, in 2010. But hey don't pick up the phone, no no, just deny it. Start the grievance procedure and meanwhile (in theory) no major exercise until an MRI shows what's going on.

Then, TurboTax says I'm getting a refund...

Wednesday, lunch to go over SBI auction script. Yay, they like it! Yet somehow no catharsis in telling the story. In a funk, slogging through it again. Nightmares leading up to the meeting. Concerning work and my manager who morphs into the lawyer. And a strange scorpion/centipede hybrid with an armored shell. It latches onto her neck and shoulder and can't be shed.

Thursday, dentist. Spinning. TV. Avoiding drama at all costs.

Friday, TRX. Which should be getting easier but totally kicks my butt. Barely ambulatory. And Route 66, a journey hits a milestone: 10,000 page views.

Saturday the auction, a room full of wonderful people. Hawaiian theme with hula dancers, fun and relaxing. Speech OK not great. Don't get me wrong, it's a real honor. The story puts a human face on brain injury. If it has to be MY face, could we get a better ending?

Fingernails and toenails fabulous in blue. I never win anything, but we did win a trip to Hawaii! No kidding...

There is a philosophical principle that says when a statement and its opposite are both true, you  approaching something profound and real.

Don't know about that. I'm writing this post and taking a rest day.

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Showing up



Tonight I'd like to start with a question. It's a question you're familiar with, maybe from a job interview: where do you see yourself in 5 years? And to answer it you've had to stop and reflect where you see your life going, your hopes and dreams for the future.

Except this evening, I'd like to explore the question in reverse. I'd like to share what my life was like 5 years ago, compared with today.

In 2008 I was a manager in engineering at a high tech company, a few miles from here. I had 11 direct reports. We had just been acquired by a large multinational and our roadmap was on fire. The aggressive milestones meant all of us gave 110% every day. It was challenging, fast-paced, interesting work. 

As an employee I got excellent performance reviews. I loved my job and did it well. With an Ivy-League education and an honors degree, the future looked bright. Most days I commuted by bike 10 miles each way. At home I would put down my keys and start making dinner, talking on the phone, doing laundry, planning for a weekend bike or ski trip. I was never still and never doing just one thing.

Just over 4 years ago on Christmas Day 2008 I did something that would change all that. I got in a car. That's something we do every day; we don't give it a second thought. It's necessary for daily life. 

This car was headed down I-5 to San Diego and it was very windy that day. There was a dust storm that made it impossible to see. So when there was a car stopped on the freeway in front of us, we hit it going 35-40 mph. I was in the back seat, without an airbag. And my head hit the seat in front of me at that speed. When I went back to work after Christmas break, that's when I realized something was different. That's when life slowly began to unravel.

Let's fast forward to today. What's today like?

Well, it's quiet. I'm unemployed. This injury is invisible so I'm not on disability. Every day starts with a dose of caffeine. Like many survivors of mild TBI I have lingering issues with attention. I'm constantly losing and forgetting things like sunglasses, keys, passwords. Everyday things. So I need to be vigilant about tasks to complete them and do them right. I need to keep a routine. Structure is my new best friend.

Getting enough sleep every night has become a priority. No more late nights at the office, or 4am meetings. Almost every day I head to the gym or get out on my bike. Afternoons are at a coworking site near my house, blogging about brain injury and how exercise helps with cognitive function. 

Because of these challenges, it's tough to imagine working in high tech again. Instead, my business card has the name of the blog on one side and on the flip side "How my traumatic brain injury became a gift".

You might say my social life is in a "rebuilding" phase. People don't really understand brain injury, they may not be able to offer support, they don't understand why you can't just get better and move on. So what happens is, most people just fade away. 

And while looking at this huge crowd tonight and telling you about the last 5 years is truly overwhelming, it is my pleasure and privilege. Everyone in this room is progressive and one step ahead. You are not fading away, you are showing up and supporting SBI. They in turn support people like me. And without them and my partner Danny, I could not tell this story. 

I may not be functioning at the same level as 5 years ago, but I am a whole person. I'm truly lucky to be here. Thanks for your generosity tonight, thank you for listening, and enjoy the party!

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Laundry

Sometimes the journey is not about lofty stuff, like raising awareness or fighting an evil corporate entity.

Sometimes it is about laundry. Lots and lots of dirty workout gear.

Pre-wash? Yes. Power Wash? Yes. Multiple doses of detergent? Yes. A sprinkle of baking soda? Why, yes.

118 minutes in the Bosch front loader.

Warm water? Yes. Not cold. With cold water clothes don't come clean. I don't care what they say.

Press the button. Go, go.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Sunday Montebello


No structure means nothing happens.

So it came to be late-ish on a Sunday afternoon, slightly warm, partly sunny and most important not raining. There's been basically no rain in January and February. Most unusual.

Through some strange mix of coercion and motivation, Danny is coaxed out of a lounging position and into cycling togs. Even though it is nap time.

As we leave the driveway he says he just wants to head south and go to the top of Mt. Eden, then turn around.

A voice in my head says 'well THAT's not long enough!'

Sometimes someone asks, how does one get to the point of doing endurance riding. Of riding a 200k. That's how. It's as good an answer as any.

Here's another way: suppose you do a little more than just the top of Mt. Eden. What we call the Southerly Loop. Climbing Pierce to the Mountain Winery, then back down into Saratoga. The long slog home, 15 miles through suburban hell.

Ah. Maybe there's another way?

Conversation can be helpful, too. Like an argument about the ideal design of a parallel life in France. The proper escape.

Whether it's desirable to go into olive farming. Or a money-generating venture of any kind. Or just to loaf and contemplate the beautiful landscapes and write. Converse with locals. Take in a little fruit of the vine.

You might be able to guess between the two of us, who was in favor of what.

Personality, job fatigue, these are not the only differentiators. I think differently. My life has been rich, but not in capital. With the insurance debacle and job loss, it's worrisome. Spending without money coming in.

Hence no posts describing an $8000 series of HBOT appointments. Shoving oxygen into the brain while climbing hills on a bicycle is free. Maybe Prudential will come through...?

Honestly until this moment it was a blissful and carefree day. Rounding Stevens Creek Reservoir, Montebello Road just ahead. Forgot about it somehow. Angry legs turn the Waterford up the hill, leaving Danny to solo in peace through Stevens Canyon.

Never mind the comedy of two cyclists on a gorgeous March 2nd in California, discussing the best way to decamp to a foreign country. Where we barely speak the language. There's likely still snow and ice on the roads. The system of taxation is byzantine. Here we have basically Heaven on Earth.

And yet, yearning for quiet. Affordable health care. Respect for people, not money.


It's so easy to forget what is close at hand. Without really understanding how this works, fantasies of escape are powerful. They have way more appeal than today, right here.

Thinking the grass was greener is what brought us all here in the first place: Spanish missionaries, Mexicans, explorers from back East, homesteaders, gold seekers, Dust Bowl farmers (on Route 66), aspiring actors. Now, the entrepreneurs of Hacker Dojo.

My dad's grandfather came to escape the phylloxera epidemic in the Languedoc. Which paradoxically would turn out to originate from North American imports. It launched the wine industry in California. It is the reason these hillsides at the top of Black Mountain are rowed with vines.

Is it really better somewhere else? Is it possible to know?

Maybe not. But it might be possible to have enough, today.




Friday, March 1, 2013

It's a party!

The folks at SBI provided the motivation and courage to start this blog.

They know what it takes to recover from a brain injury. That's their job, helping people through this process.

Next weekend is SBI's gala auction at Villa Ragusa. Last year I was in Williams, AZ on auction night.

That day we rode from Seligman, where Angel Delgadillo has his barber shop, to Williams on Route 66. Lots of old road that day. There was a lot of climbing and a lot of dirt.

That evening through video chat SBI had my support. This year, I'm excited to be there in person!

Clicking the invitation above takes you to the auction page. Here are some ways to contribute:
  • Buy a ticket and dress up and attend. It's a party!
  • Buy raffle tickets @$50 each for a chance to win a Hawaii vacation. Don't we all want one?
  • Click here for other great ideas...
Thanks!

Fence-jumping is sometimes necessary... (Kaibab National Forest)