Thursday, October 27, 2016

Burke Khang Revisted

The last post I made about Burke Khang and our historic first ascent attempt, was from the Yak & Yeti Hotel in Kathmandu around this same time last year. click here to read it This story begins at the same hotel, except Denise and I are not in Kathmandu this time, but instead we are cheering on our good friend Bill Burke as he sets out on an expedition to make another effort on his own namesake mountain.
After returning home from our epic adventure with Bill high in the Himalayas last year, where we reached within 500 feet of the summit of Burke Khang, Bill could not resist the magnetic pull to go back and try again. We enjoyed many discussions and debates about the feasibility of safely scaling those last 500 feet of this steep and technically treacherous 22,775 foot peak. And as much as we would like to be with Bill right now, the decision to join him again was made largely by fate. ...and influenced by the strong opinion of my orthopedic surgeon Dr. Kramer, who advised me that my rotator cuff and labrum repair surgery of four months ago was not yet ready for this kind of test. Although I am feeling much better now, I would have to agree with the assessment as I still have a long way to go to regain the strength and mobility of my left arm (which I desperately need given the limited function of my right arm). 
Burke Khang is a demanding beast of a mountain and IF the summit can be successfully reached, it will require every ounce of strength, skill, mental fortitude, and a good dose of luck too. Please send your good thoughts and prayers for safety to Bill, his Sherpa team, and his friend and climbing partner David Liano, as they are already in Nepal and beginning their expedition now. If you would like to follow along on Bill's blog Eight Summits he is already posting along the way. Meanwhile all the best to you and let's take a lesson from Bill and live life to the fullest everyday!
Farewell Dinner with Bill & Sharon Burke
Bill at Camp 1 with Burke Khang in background - 2015 Expedition

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Bumpy Ride - Surgery #2 Complete

Second surgery in two weeks is now complete!  Hopefully this will be the last update to my blog relating to the "Wow What a Ride!" injury reports, as I'm happy for this part of the bumpy ride to be over.  
Last Wednesday, June 29th (15 days after the installation of a steel clavicle plate on my right arm) I went back to have a "full thickness" tear of my rotator cuff and labrum repaired on my left arm.  The procedure went well but the post-surgery pain has been without question the most excruciating I have experienced in my lifetime. It was far worse than the post-op pain the week of June 14th after eight screws were drilled into my right collarbone.  After six days now, the ache and throbbing on the left side is finally subsiding to a point where I have been able to reduce the potency and dosage of the pain medications. Thank you Lord.  

What has also been an interesting first-in-a-lifetime experience for me has been the harsh realization of the difficulties functioning without the full use of at least one arm. With the brachial plexus injury to my right arm at birth, I have figured out a way to do most things with my left arm. Now, with both arms seriously impaired I am HOSED least I would be without Denise to feed me, help me get dressed, go to the bathroom, shower, etc.  The best way I can describe this is to imagine (or even experiment) putting both hands in your pockets and see how many times you would be forced to take one or both of them out (or ask somebody for help) in order to simply get through your day! ...or perhaps even 15 minutes of your day!

The good news is that I am slowly regaining the ability to do some of the aforementioned things on my own, and I have been training my right arm and hand to perform certain tasks I have always done with my left. Unfortunately the rehab and recovery time for a rotator cuff surgery is a long one, so I won't be driving for at least 12 weeks - that's right 3 months of Denise's taxi service and interesting Uber drivers.  Full recovery can be up to 6 - 9 months. As a result it will likely be some time before I am able to make another post about an exciting climbing adventure, which by the way I am convinced is a much safer activity for me than skiing or mountain biking!  

Thank you for all of the healing and encouraging words, I appreciate them immensely and send you many positive wishes in return.
For those of you interested in the science and mechanics of a modern shoulder arthroscopy, I found this short animation to be educational and pretty cool to watch. In my case I had three anchor screws and five sutures, also done by Dr. Warren Kramer using Arthex products (like the collarbone surgery on June 14th).   

Saturday, June 18, 2016

"Wow What a Ride!" - 2 months later

As an update to my last blog post "Wow What a Ride!" this past week has been a whirlwind of change, pain, and practicing acceptance. What started as a simple orthopedic doctor visit on Monday afternoon to follow up on the healing progress from my skiing accident in March and my mountain bike crash in April, turned into a One-Two Punch of bad news. Just after 5 PM Dr. Kramer studied the x-ray of my broken right clavicle, which he had hoped would be mending on its own by now. It was clear from the picture that the bones were still disjoined, so he asked "How do you feel about surgery?" And then came the question, "How do you feel about surgery tomorrow?"

After gulping, but before answering, I asked about the MRI I just had on my left shoulder from my skiing accident on March 19th.  I have been going to physical therapy regularly and experiencing some improvement, but went for an MRI after still having limited range of motion and sharp pain at night. And my left arm is my "good arm" (non-brachial plexus injury arm) that I rely on for everything.  After studying the MRI, Dr. Kramer wound up for the second blow; "Your rotator cuff and labrum are both torn and you definitely need surgery on your left arm as well."

I've been fortunate to make it through my 4½ decades of life so far without a single surgery, and now I am preparing for two! So back to the question about surgery tomorrow…?  Sure, why not. Let me just look at my calendar and start re-arranging my schedule for the week, next month, and the rest of the year to allow for recovery. :-) 
Post-op w/clavicle plate (Jun 17th) Pre-op (Jun 13th)
Arthrex Distal Clavical Plate installed with 8 screws on June 14
No more mountain bike races or triathlons this year and my hard-earned spot into the Leadville 100 in Colorado this summer just evaporated, but at least I have my coveted belt buckle from completing the race last year. Although some other plans and international travel adventures will have to be canceled, I feel incredibly grateful for everything I still can do and for all the good things in my life.

First and foremost is my amazing wife Denise. She has been an incredibly positive and caring nurse and I will be even more lucky to have her when her Florence Nightingale aura shines twice as bright after my second surgery on my left arm, sometime in the coming weeks.

There are so many other things I am grateful for especially my friends and the inspiration from countless CAF athletes who have far more significant injuries to overcome than mine.  On Tuesday after the surgery "waking up" from a general anesthetic (a first for me) felt like a small miracle and made me appreciate life even more. Thank you for allowing me to share it with you, and for the continued support.
Jun 18 - four days post-surgery, far less pain.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Wow What a Ride!

Big Bear Valley Hospital - Sat. Apr. 16, 2016
Today I find myself with some unplanned free time as I rest in bed with two icepacks on both shoulders and an ample supply of Tylenol on the nightstand. During the last 14 years of mountain climbing adventures on the highest peaks around the globe, I have been blessed with the good fortune of always returning without serious injury or broken bones.

And now this past Saturday, exactly 4 weeks after I injured my left shoulder in a skiing accident, I was mountain biking in Big Bear and had a near run in with a truck, leaving me with a serious injury to my right shoulder! To be exact it was a complete fracture of my right clavicle. As a bonus I bruised my ribs, hyper-extended my left thumb, and lacerated my thigh.

The truck was coming uphill (on a fire road closed to vehicles nonetheless) while I was descending and rounding a corner. I reacted with excess vigor in applying my new hydraulic disc brakes, locked my front wheel in a classic rookie move, and went over the handlebars and into the dirt hard. 

Denise caught up to me after I collected myself from the impact, and I asked her to do something a husband shouldn't have to ask of his wife. Thinking my right shoulder was dislocated since it wouldn't move properly, I asked her; "Hold my arm steady while I pull hard and try to get the shoulder back into the socket." It didn't fix the problem but the ER doctor later told me after examining the x-rays, that I probably helped field set the bone into a better position.
It was a long and painful 7-mile ride out to the trailhead but it gave me time to reflect and come to the following conclusion:

Even though we are bound to encounter unexpected setbacks in life, it's worth a certain amount of risk to pursue your dreams and those things you love to do.

I love mountain biking and so did my friend Doug Fletcher, to whom I am dedicating this blog post. Doug passed away last month at the age of 83 after living an enthusiastically full, active, and purposeful life. His wife Mary sent me this quote which truly personifies Doug's life ...and after my recent skiing and mountain biking injuries, I think I'll adopt it too!  

"Life is not a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a well preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and loudly proclaiming, 'Wow What a Ride!'"