Ramblings on healthcare, medical education, and life with a spinal cord injury
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The Passing of Time

One thing that has truly struck me since being discharged from the hospital is just how quickly time passes.  And I’m not even talking about how quickly life flies by when we’re all busy living it, but how quickly it passes when you’re not busy living it.  Time seems to be passing me by much quicker now than when I was preoccupied with work and/or school.  I would have thought it to be the other way around.  But I guess when one doesn’t have a significant mental goal to reach for and focus on that there is no basis by which to judge how quickly time is passing.  Or at least, that’s how it is for me.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s not like I don’t have a significant goal to reach for and focus on.  Far from it.  In fact, I’ve got a goal much more challenging and difficult to achieve than any I’ve been faced with before.  More difficult than losing a parent, more difficult than working full-time while in college (which really isn’t too hard, unless you over-extend yourself the way I did one year – good thing I learned from that),  more difficult even than getting into medical school.  But there’s a big difference in how those challenges have forced me to grow, and how the current challenge’s physical orientation leaves my mind with a lot of time to wander while pushing myself in therapy or the gym.

And don’t let me give you the idea that the rest of me is just lying stagnant while I push the body to grow and strengthen.  The Greeks would be proud, as I daily nurture my mind and soul.  I’ve been doing my own information security vulnerability research (the field in which I worked prior to medical school), learning things to the depth and breadth that I had always wished I could while I was too busy running a company and providing services to clients.  I’d go into depth about what I’m researching here, but it’s not that type of blog.  :)  Although I may start writing a second one soon… but I digress.

I’ve also been nurturing my artistic side by spending a lot more time with photography and music than I had been immediately prior to my injury.  Prior to returning to school to complete the academic work necessary to apply to medical school and preparing for the MCAT, I used to broadcast two weekly Internet-radio shows: one on a Sydney-based station, another on a New York-based station.  Due to time constraints, I had to give up both shows and put my music pursuits on hold.  Studying for the MCAT while taking twelve credits and working fifty hours per week was the straw that broke the DJ’s back, as it were.  Finally again I am able to dedicate the time and energy I used to, and it feels incredible to have that outlet once again.  I’m entertaining the idea of starting a weekly show again, which I had intended to do upon reaching medical school.

It sounds like I’m doing a lot, but I used to do these things while working full-time and going to school.  Looking back on it, I have no idea how.   People told me back then they didn’t know how I did it, but it all felt natural to me.  Now my days are filled with physical therapy, exercise, typical daily tasks (which take a lot longer than they used to, and are thus a significant source of frustration), security research, music and spending time with those who are important to me.  Time-wise, I’ve merely replaced school and work with physical therapy.  But it feels odd not to have some major milestone that I’m pursuing.  Again, I realize that walking is a huge milestone.  But it feels different, because it doesn’t mentally exhaust me.  Emotional exhaustion is a whole other story (and a whole other blog post).

And thus, the weeks seem to be passing me by insanely quickly.  I realize how long it’s been since I last posted something, but it seems so recent in my mind.  Just about a month.  It’s already been three-and-a-half months since I was discharged from the hospital.  The whole summer has rushed me by and it feels like I just got home.  When I came home, I had set the completely arbitrary goal of taking my first steps in a walker within three-to-four months.  There was absolutely zero medical basis for that goal, it was just something that felt like a good goal to set for myself.  That time is almost here, and I’m *almost* at that point.  Melissa, my therapist, today said she’s even feeling frustrated that I haven’t been able to start taking steps on the parallel bars.  She agrees that it’s all because of the significantly lagging right leg, and that the left is more than ready to move on to taking steps.  Despite my prior fears (geez, even that was over two months ago), the right quadriceps are finally starting to fire, as I’d mentioned before.  They’re getting stronger, and now when I dangle my legs and try to kick, the right one does move between four and six inches.  Progress is progress, but progress is slow.  Four months might be just a bit out of my reach (but thankfully, it doesn’t seem to be entirely too far off).

My best friend’s wedding was this weekend.  We’ve known each other for fifteen years already, and we’ve been through so much.  We grew up together, and have seen each other through a lot.  We’ve watched each other grow and change, all the while never losing who we were.  He taught me the meaning of brotherhood, and it’s fun to think about where we thought our lives were going back then and where they’re at now.  Surprisingly, we were both pretty accurate.  It still felt weird to make him say “my wife” for the first time after the wedding, though.  He said it a few more times, and it still feels really weird.  I’d never been anyone’s best man before and I’d never given a speech at a wedding before, so I wasn’t sure exactly what kind of thing to say, but I thought of a few important things and just nervously went with the flow.  It seems to have been well-received.  They’ve been together for what must be close to five years now, and I wish them both the best.  I think they’re really perfect for each other.

I saw a lot of old friends this weekend, a few for the first time since the injury.  I was surprised with how well I dealt with seeing so many people and talking in front of over one hundred people – I thought I was going to feel a lot more uncomfortable.  It helped that I knew a good number of those present, and I also realized that I’m only nervous or uncomfortable the first time I talk to somebody.  After that, it’s completely fine.  I think I’m always nervous that people will think there is something mentally wrong with me because I’m in the chair.  I’ve heard stories from others to that effect – waiters asking people what an individual in a chair would like, as if they are incapable of ordering food just because they’re in a wheelchair, or other such nonsense.  It still surprises me when people I don’t know treat me perfectly normally, which is far more often than not.  It’s as though I expect everybody to treat me differently, and I still carry that fear with me.

A year seems like such a long time, but exactly one year ago now I was arriving in Cleveland for my first medical school interview, at Case Western.  I had prepared myself intensely: written and reviewed all my notes, re-read my primary and secondary applications, done several mock interviews, and thoroughly read over the school’s web site.  Additionally, I had gotten in touch with a friend of a friend who was a first-year at the time.  He agreed to let me stay with him while I was in town, and to let me attend classes with him the day before my interview.  For some reason, Case felt like the right choice, so I arrived three days before my interview and stayed at a hotel in downtown Cleveland so I could check the city out.  It was a Saturday night, September 8th, before a Browns vs. Steelers game, and I quickly learned how much that takes over a city like Cleveland.  I found some good restaurants downtown, walked around a lot and explored the neighborhoods in the small downtown area.  Then I headed out near Case to meet up with my host and see the area more closely.  It’s strange to think that one year ago, I was so wrapped up in the medical school admissions process and had no idea where I would wind up when it all came to completion.  Even stranger to think that one year later, my life has taken such a strange turn of events.  Case is well-known for attracting and admitting “bent arrows,” students who have had other careers before pursuing medicine, and my life has certainly become even more bent than it was before.

It’s hard to believe that it’s already been nearly eight months since I was injured.  I get scared sometimes that I’m not moving fast enough, that I’m not progressing enough within the allotted time.  Deep down I’m sure that’s a huge part of why time seems to be passing me so quickly.  Just over a week ago, Melissa did a re-eval necessitated by my insurance company for approval of more visits.  During the eval, she assessed my functionality below the level of injury and assigned numerical values to muscle strength.  It was encouraging to see that some of those numbers have changed a fair amount within only a month of working with her, and knowing that helps me to stay positive that therapy is working and that I’m moving forward regularly.

The eight months since my injury have all flown by me so fast, and yet it all seems so distant.  My memories of daily life prior to my injury are non-existent.   All the little insignificant things I used to do every day are the hardest things to remember.  I have no idea what it feels like to be able to easily move my legs without thinking about it.  I have no idea what it feels like to shower standing up.  I have no idea what it feels like to only have to spend fifteen minutes getting ready in the morning.  Those are only some of the things I can’t comprehend anymore.  Strange that the things we do every day can be so hard to remember, but given their immemorable nature, it makes sense.  Life without a spinal cord injury really is just a distant memory to me at this point.  And yet it also is held in my hope for the future.  Some day I hope daily life with a spinal cord injury is but a distant memory.

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