Monday, August 5, 2013

Accepting Setbacks Amidst Successes

My right shoulder from two perspectives, lame & way lame. It sort of looks like a
cylinder in cross-flow with an evolving wake, resulting in the ol' von Kármán vortex street.

There haven't been many updates from me in a while -- if I'm reading this right, it has been since Februrary, in fact. I doubt many people read this so I really only have myself to answer to. Unfortunately, I am my toughest critic for reasons unbeknownst. When I first began this "blog" (I still hate calling it that), I intended to document every ounce of my effort and learning process that I opted to devote to climbing. Just four or so years ago, I was just another avid outdoorsman  / layman hiker looking to define the edge of comfort within myself. I sought to push the defined and undefined boundaries of where I could take myself in this world, beyond the comforts of our coddled urban centers of living -- I don't know what to say other than I don't find peace in my everyday environment. I know I distance myself away from my fellow majority species when I simply state that I don't fit the mold of city dweller. Here I digress already from my original intent at penning this "post".

It's middle July of lucky year '13 and I find myself wrestling with my first possible long-term injury. I have had minor setbacks health-wise throughout my last few years, but few to this degree. In fact, this past March I accepted the consequences of my first fall while climbing. I was bouldering and warming-up on a very simple overhung but easy problem. When my feet blew, I could only hope that my crash pad below would be able to handle the rest of the next few events in rapid succession. Unfortunately, I bounced off of the crash pad and continued falling downward onto solid rock some several feet below, landing on the vulnerable area where my upper back meets my neck. The fall was enough to take the wind from my lungs and when I came to, I thought I had escaped cleanly. The next few hours of my neck seizing up would prove otherwise and so I slowly began what I thought was the ultimate spiral into my innermost struggle with coping. I enrolled myself in a physical therapy program, subjected myself to gamma particles to prove I had not fractured any vertebrae, and after a few weeks of ramped-up treatment, I was able to bounce back fairly quickly. Within a month, I was back on my schedule, training and planning for my next endeavor, Liberty Ridge.

It's amazing how fast the days in the weeks passed. In no time, I found myself arriving in Seattle, meeting my mountain comrades and dearest of friends, ready to conquer our next objective in this series of test pieces that we had laid out in our minds. This attempt at Mt Rainier's nordwand and most famous ridge was ever so close in my sights. We toughed out some harsh conditions, but we pushed on and arrived at one of the most memorable vantage points, keen to soak in the glory and the fear that lay before us. It was there at the base of the route, in the next turn of events that I would realize a goal that seemed so attainable was to be pulled away for reason's outside my/our control. It just wasn't time. As much as I want to say it was, it just wasn't. We retreated from the north face of mount Rainier, vowing to reflect on who we were as individuals and what our purpose was in tempting that ever-alluring route. I might write more about it later -- I still have many beautiful photos to pour over and each are of their own merit in sharing, though the wound still feels fresh. I came back to the desert with one of the most frustrated auras looming overhead.

Then my calling came. My friend Jay offered up the last-minute objective of seeking out some ever-waning alpine ice in the Eastern Sierras. Mt. Gilbert would be the arena. I found myself on the road one Friday after work, during the summer's most drastic heatwave, chasing the sun on the horizon as I inched closer to my prized stretch of mountain range. We made quick work up to our base camp at an alpine lake at 11k feet above mean sea level. Once again, we had a treasured view of the next day's route before us. Despite a rough night of sleep, battling a mouthful of mosquito for each breath, the morning came. We set out, with an early start as our proverbial "ace up our sleeve", but what we found was yet another round of humility.

The route was far from in condition and we sloughed up melting snow, scraped our crampons against loose blocks of rock for purchase, and desperately climbed frozen mud that was in a perpetual state of change. We rallied and topped out above Mt. Gilbert late in the day, relieved that we had safely ascended some of the most unnerving terrain of our climbing careers. We soon realized thereafter that the real adventure began on the descent. We quickly learned the value of clear heads and clear minds when staging each of the rappels back down to the glacier. By nightfall we arrived back on the snow, ever grateful but ever eager to get within a "cellular earshot" of our significant women and families back home. We pulled a 20-hour work day and by the end of it, we vowed never to attempt such misery again. However, once again, Time had a way of blurring the distinction between misery and unbridled success. Soon thereafter, we were both dreaming of the next alpine adventure to come. Cue next major setback...

On a rare Monday night, after playing our week's game the prior day, I set out to the ice arena across town following a long day of work. I was tired, but my commitment to my hockey team dictated my involvement, no question. For my birthday, I had just received a brand-new pair of skates from my wonderful, wonderful wife. I was still getting the feel for skating with better skates, something that I was far from accustomed to. During the second period, I was faced with what I thought was an opportunity to pay back some grief to a long-time foe. He had already cross-checked me in front of our net and butt-ended me with his stick early in the game -- I still have bruised ribs to show for it. He was on a breakaway and I was the only defender left between him and our goalie in net. I was matching his every move as he led in to our zone with me keeping pace in my backwards stride. I predicted his next move to cut left away from the boards, as he always seemed to do, and when I went for the hip-check he squeaked by along the boards unscathed. In a moment, I went from being in full-control to hitting the boards and then sailing backwards through the air. My elbow was cocked far back behind me, naturally aiming to break the fall. When I landed, my elbow guided my arm through the corner, where the boards meet the ice, all the way around to the front of my chest.

As I leaned upward, my right arm dangled in front of me, my wrist unresponsive. I couldn't feel anything in my arm, my fingers wouldn't move. The self-awareness began to set in as I realized my arm was outside of my shoulder and beyond the predefined space where I could sense it. I panicked and laid back down, writhing in fear. How the hell could this happen, was the only string of words that were pouring through my mind. I wretched my shoulder back and forth in a fit as I lay there on the ice. It felt as though the seconds were slowing around me. After what seemed like a long struggle, my arm "sucked" back in to the socket, all in a hail of "chalkboard-nails" glory. It was awful. But my arm was back where it belonged. I rolled over onto my knees, stumbled up to my stance and skated for the bench in what began the first of many unfamiliar reactions to come. I coped with my situation, sipping beers with the team in the parking lot after our game. Walmart was eventually given the weird, welcome surprise of one of it's own, shirt half-draped over one busy arm, clutching the painful other, stumbling in after-hours in search of an arm sling.

It's been two weeks to the date since that fateful Monday night. I have finally begun to shed the arm-sling at the risk of letting my right arm dangle in all of its painful glory. I can feel the muscles recovering, but there's a dull, throbbing pain when I move my arm beyond it's equilibrium position. I'm already tired of thinking about repercussions. I made a seriously careless error in judgement during that night and I'm stuck paying for it. I have already been faced with accepting and owning up the fact that I am uncomfortable being cast in the spotlight by having a very visible injury on display to the world. I enjoy blending in to the surroundings. With each act of kindness, with each door held for me though, I am realizing people, strangers as they may be, still act with compassion. I appreciate that blessing inasmuch as knowing the strong presence of goodwill, even when it seems hidden at times. I received my MRI scans on Friday and I have already self-diagnosed myself with a bankart tear of the labrum. But what do I know? I'm just a lowly engineer. We shall see what the doctors say. At this point in time, I'm in it for the long-haul if it be so.

Later that night update:
I have absolutely no reason to feel down. Yet another slice of humble pie :-)
I don't even know where to begin. What an amazing fella, this Richie Parker guy is.

Later that week update:
I just got back from my doc with the results of the MRI. No tears! My rotator is still intact. I have only fraying and blunting of the anterior-inferior labrum, which can be seen in the image at the top of this post to the immediate right of the humeral head (right scan). Luckily no bankart lesion with my partial separation, just some badly strained, beat up tissue and cartilage at the front of the joint. I should be able to heal with rigorous physical therapy over the next few months. Sigh... o'... relief.

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