Monday, May 25, 2020

Learning Balance from the Stress of a Hibiscus

I suppose you could say COVID has changed even my daily life despite being a healthcare worker.  During the height of the pandemic something very unusual happened for me.  My urgent care was not busy.  Coverage was cut and I found myself with strings of days off.  Kids home.  No school.  Vacation cancelled.  No place to go.....  attacking the laundry list of home projects that had piled up during my year on the road for work it was.  I attacked these like I do anything else, 100 mph of throwing shit away, scrubbing nooks and crannies and replacing old broken crap.  I think I truly frightened the children, as they feared they would be tossed out next.  With the biggest of the projects finished it was time to turn my attention to my yard.  If I am being honest, my other half's heart surgery two years ago coupled with me on the road for a year for work, had left my yard in sorry shape.  With little else to do,a few weeks ago, I would find myself frequenting the garden center.  One trip adding lilies, another hanging baskets,  and multiple trips later to get a total of 82 bags of mulch to finally get my yard to be presentable.

I have to say, I don't really have all that much experience with this sort of thing.  In my adult life, if I had flowers it was two things.  It was typically something in the bulb family or hanging baskets.  I found bulbs to be simple plants that are fairly hardy, tough to screw up and come back year after year with very little effort.  Hanging baskets were similar.  Simply read the label, consider the placement and see how much sun they need..... and done. 

In the past couple of weeks, work has been very busy with the start COVID testing, so simple watering here and there was all I really needed to do to keep things going in my yard.  This week though, I took the leap.  I found myself with an unexpected few hours off.   A little time on my hands had  me wondering what I could put in on my newly appointed outdoor space brick patio (It had been power washed, redone and fire pit added on a previous pandemic boredom day).  A simple trip to the garden center and I would find myself with two braided hibiscus trees, a peach one and a pink one, well according to the label.  Neither had bloomed yet.  What exactly did I know about hibiscus trees?  Not a damn thing, but the braided trunks looked cool for sure. 

So, I did what I always do.  I bought some dirt designed for trees and shrubs and plopped them in that and watered.  Easy peasy.  Then it happened.  In the days that followed, the peach one would have a few leaves turn yellow.  Then they began to fall off.  I would pull off the dead stuff and the next day there would be more.  The pink one did not have that problem.  In fact, it had a bloom.  A simple consultation with Google would tell me my poor peach hibiscus tree was "stressed."  Ok.  A stressed tree?   It gave me multiple different explanations as to why.  Too much water, not enough water, too much sun, not enough sun, some variety of spider, the PH was wrong......  and go.  It was my job to figure it out.  Well crap.  I have clearly left the simplicity of bulbs and premade baskets and entered the deeply emotional world of the hibiscus.  However, I like a challenge and was not ready to let my little tree die. 

Multiple times a day I found myself babysitting my hibiscus tree as if it were my own child.  I test the soil.  No, it's moist.  I let it dry out a few days, as maybe it was too moist, no change.  Soil PH?  I got nothin'.  More leaves falling, no blooms.....  Now I'm stressed right along with my little tree.  Was my tree going to make it?  Yet here's the pink one on flower number three, with a few yellow leaves that were there when I planted it.  Yesterday, before my shift, I found myself just staring at the trees.  I was determined to figure this out.  What was the difference?  Same soil.  Same water.  Same flower food.  It was then I noticed it.  The peach one was placed in a corner.  It made sense to have one on either side of the patio door for the sake of symmetry.  Then I realized, that same symmtry meant far less sunlight, so  I moved it next to it's sibling.  This afternoon, just 24 hours later, I would walk out to no new yellow leaves and the most beautiful bloom I have ever seen, with new growth on all of the branches and my tree was back in the game. 

All of this shuffling around and concern for my stressed out tree has me thinking about how many times I take life at 100 mph.  I carefully balance working the long shift, taking on school for the kids, home obligations, running a business and race training.  Every minute of every day snatched up with a list of tasks so large I could never possibly get it all done in the time I have.  I'd love to say it doesn't end up for me the same way as it does for my stressed out tree.  I'd love to say I don't have insomnia or that there are not times that clumps of my hair come out in the shower much like my stressed out leaf shedding tree.  As my work hours have ramped up lately, I can neither confirm, nor deny that has been the case as of late.

However, this weekend I had on my list a virtual 5K.  A race put on by some friends who always support me, and as it was a good cause so I had registered twice.  So, yesterday, I found myself at the trail head staring down the 10k with a bit of anxiety as most of my long runs as of late have been cut short due to other obligations.  I would set out on the trail and run solid for an hour and 18 minutes.  Along the way, I found bright sunshine, cool temps, even splits and even saw a gigantic turtle.  At the end, I would see a good friend running the same race and she would cheer me on to the finish.  All of my other friends did the run as well and posted their results in a community effort that felt like the first normal thing this spring.  In the shower that followed, there were no hair clumps and last night, despite my mild sunburn from a glorious run,  I admittedly slept a bit better for the first time in a while.  I suppose we all need to pay better attention to the times our own proverbial leaves are falling off, and our blooms of progress are no longer present.  We need to see that at times, although the design of life appears to be logical and symmetrical, strictly adhering to it at 100 mph can leave us in the dark corners of stress actually achieving very little balance and stunting our own ability to move forward and grow.  Maybe the trick is to find those people in our lives who can help us to pump the brakes a bit, pull us from the dark to join them in the light so that we can once again find balance and  burst into full bloom just the way we were meant to.  It is only in those moments we will see the best is yet to come. 

Sunday, May 10, 2020

Doing the Awful Thing

When I graduated from NP school, I had two jobs to pick from.  One offered to me in an elevator on the fly one evening as I headed to the ER for one of my last RN shifts, and the other a formal interview and vetting process.  Me, being me, went with the on the fly offer and hoped for the best.  It happened to be in neurosurgery with a doc I had done some stroke research with and was regarded as the greatest local surgeon of that time.  He was an iconic member of the medical community and the most well respected guy around.  I suppose that's why the late night elevator offer seemed perfectly reasonable.  Besides, I kinda knew the guy so that made it easier out of the gate.

I would start my eight years there with no idea what I was doing.  Dr. B patiently took me under his wing and taught me just about all there was to know about the nervous system and the various pathologies that existed under the realm of surgery.  There were disc herniations and brain tumors.  Hydrocephalus and traumatic bleeds.  As for me?  I grew to love every minute.  There is a certain order to the body's wiring that clicked perfectly with my fairly linear brain.  Besides, I had a mentor that had a love for fast cars, which went perfectly with his work life which was pedal to the metal, 100mph at all times.  Coming from an ER background, and a self proclaimed adrenaline junkie, this suited me just fine.

Over time we developed sort of a dance we did.  On surgery days, I handled the office, hospital rounds, and the ER, and he would catch up with me between cases to handle pressing things.  Those calls always went the same way.  I gave him the rundown of the day, and ultimately would present cases waiting in the ER.  Early on I tried so hard to be prepared, ready to answer any question, preferring not to get stumped by the master.  I had my facts straight, like "62 year old male anticoagulated on plavix with a right sided subdural hematoma with 4mm of shift...."

Oh yes.  I had this.  That is until he would stop me,"Amy...."


He would ask,"Did you do that awful thing?"


He would then ever so gently say,"Go look at the patient."

I learned early on that he had been trained in an era there was no CT scan, no MRI, no fancy lasers or 3D imaging.  There was him and a patient.  Period.  He would teach me that your patient will always tell you what is wrong with them if you ask enough questions and do the right neurological exam.  The only reason to get imaging is to confirm what you already know. As he would say,"we don't treat films, we treat people."

I would come to learn that very often the patient did not look anything like the scan.  They were talking when they shouldn't be or unconscious when the studies did not necessarily support that and the studies we had were not capturing the problem.  I would also come to learn that his practice style was unique in an age where limitless imaging was available at our finger tips.  I would see other physicians ordering bunches of tests.  I asked him one time why they would do that.  He said this,"It's like this Amy.  If you fire a rifle into a tree full of birds, eventually you are going to hit something."  In other words, searching for a diagnosis without really listening to your patient.

I have been thinking a lot about this lately.  How many times do we look at our own health and get so desperate for an answer that we get wrapped up in the diet plan, the number on the scale, how fast our mile time is, counting macros and a million other measurements? I am wondering what would happen if we put down the proverbial rifle, walked away from the tree full of birds and did that awful thing of really spending time asking ourselves the hard questions to see where the root of our health failures lives.  Is it late night snacking?  Is it relying on past failures to hold us back from trying one more time?  Is it not trusting ourselves to be successful?  or a support system that really isn't all that supportive?  Only by working through these things are we able to systematically take control and figure out which of those birds in the tree it truly will take to make the changes lasting.

I have come to learn that Dr. B was right on a lot of things.  Nineteen years later I can honestly say he made me the provider I am today, and taught me a lot about life.  I was proud to call him mentor and friend.  Dr. B passed away today, leaving a hole in the hearts of thousands of patients and colleagues, not to mention his family.  Thank you for all that you taught me, RIP old friend, and I hope I continue to do you proud.  Don't forget to always drive fast and stay in your lane as the best is truly yet to come.

Tuesday, April 28, 2020

Roasting the Pandemic Marshmallow

Tonight I find myself sitting by my backyard fire pit, watching the kids use a "school night" to do an activity usually reserved for summer vacation, which is roasting marshmallows.  I am struck by just how different today actually is than what I envisioned four months ago.  It was then I secured a site for my 1DOS Albany 5k that was to be held on Saturday.  This was the week I was to be finalizing with sponsors, marking the course, picking up swag, welcoming my co-founder to Albany for the first time and admiring the cool ass shirts we designed.  However, like most things COVID related, my race has been postponed. 

Pressure:  pushing down on me,
Pressing down on you, no man ask for,
Under pressure that burns a building down
                                                                               - Queen and David Bowie

Longing for a sense of normalcy, I have been doing the Orangetheory at home workouts.  It isn't quite the same without my gym family around me, but I seem to be sticking with it and getting it done anyway.  However, I should probably apologize to  OTF corporate for muting their music and choosing instead the Bon Jovi station that today played this oh so appropriate song during a punishing core blast.  Now having the ability to do COVID testing is bringing with it a very busy season at work.  My time on my days off is largely being spent on the phone with nervous employees, arranging schedules and working on work flow.  Adding to this are my duties as elementary teacher, mom of stir crazy children and CEO of two businesses.  Tonight I find myself wishing for a normal day like the ones I had in February where my biggest frustrations were making sure the kids got up on time for the bus and repeating the speech that follows,"you have the flu" to patients dozens of times a day.  

That's the terror of knowing,
What this world is about.
Watching some good friends screaming,
"Let me out!"

With all these things running around my thoughts I am suddenly thinking about what an amazing thing it is to have my nine year old standing in front of me, barefoot, carefully roasting his marshmallow as he narrates the process as if he is the star of his own YouTube channel.....he wishes....  After weeks of horrible weather, being cooped up inside, and using the phrase,"I'm bored" like a comma, yes this was a welcome site.  

Insanity laughs under pressure

As I tuned into the commentary that followed, I couldn't help but smile, and eventually burst out laughing,"You have to turn it slowly.  Don't put it too close to the fire.  It's slow and steady rotation until it is the color of mom's arm.  Be sure it does not end up the color of my arm."  He is a very dark skinned Haitian.  In his mind a marshmallow that color is clearly ruined.  My daughter was commenting it would ok if it were her color, as she is lighter skinned, and so it went, until I had my 14 year old chiming in with his expertise.  The reality is all five of my children have a different approach to marshmallows, everything from the immediate jamming into the fire, lighting it up and waiting to eat it until it is a charred gooey mess, to slow roasting, to nearly raw, sparking an intelligent epic debate defending their point of view, which led to a full on fireside taste test, and a realization, there are other ways to approach the process that taste just as good and at times even better.

Having to adjust to this pandemic has been a challenge for sure, in fact I personally have had several runs at trying to establish a new "normal."  Some things have ended up a charred gooey mess, like when I tried to pluck my own eyebrows,  and others roasted perfection like realizing as much as I miss my gym family and cannot wait to work out with them again, I am more than capable of keeping myself going on my own workouts, a notion I never could have conceived of five years ago.  

This is our last dance,
This is our last dance,
This is ourselves

At the end of the day, I think the trick is to realize although we may have all been given the same pandemic marshmallow, it's all in the approach as to how we make it as palatable as it can be while not being afraid to change trajectory when the approach no longer tastes good.  As we begin to wind down with the corona pandemic and things begin to reopen, it is my hope that in final days of the last dance of isolation we take the time to try new things to help us find the best version of ourselves to launch into our new normal.  Only there we will be able to look ahead and see the best is yet to come.

Monday, April 13, 2020


I suppose you could say, being the youngest of 3, and the only girl, growing up I really didn't know a whole lot about sisterhood.  I was the tomboy little sister who played basketball on the driveway, and chased fungos at the hand of my dad with my brothers on warm weekend afternoons.  Oh, I had friends who had sisters.  They shared sweaters and scrunchies.  They fought and they hugged.  Truly a culture I was really not all that well versed at, and didn't totally understand.  That is until I went to college. 

I found myself setting out for The University of Iowa in the fall of 1987, arriving a full week ahead of classes to go through the rush process.  My brother, two years my senior, had already attended that school for two years and was firmly entrenched in the Greek system and assured me this was the thing to do.  I had no idea really.  The only thing I did know was I was striking out alone for the first time in my life and launching myself into a sea of 24,000 strangers three hours from home and hoping for the best.  I guess I figured worst case, I would have a week ahead of most people, making it easier to navigate the sprawling campus when  classes actually started, and would likely get to know a friend or two.

I found the rush process to be a bit daunting.  I had grown up a fairly shy obese child who really wasn't sure of anything, and yet I was going to house after house, party after party, trying to put my best foot forward in 20 minute increments.  I'd watch skits, hear them sing, talk to a couple members and try to figure out where it was among these 14 houses I could actually fit in.  Each round cuts were made.  I was invited back to some houses, but not others, and by the end of the week, the field was narrowed to three, and eventually I got a bid for one.  Alpha Gamma Delta.  I called my brother to ask if this was a good thing.  His comment?  "I have several friends there.  They are a very diverse house."

I would find that to be true.  We all came from different places and liked a lot of different things.  Not quite the cookie cutter girls I had seen in the movies.  I would also learn what sisterhood was all about.  I would move into the house my junior year and live with 25 other girls.  Oh sweaters were shared, boys were snuck in, late night deep chats were had after a night out.  There were the formals with many pics of big hair and shoulder pads, and more laughs than I can even begin to describe.  We loved one another when tragedy hit, when there was the loss of a parent for one sister, divorcing parents for others,  not to mention all of the boyfriend related issues that ended with a bottle of Boone's Farm drank out of plastic cups, and a skilled game of quarters.  We had our rituals that bound us together, and an element of community I had never experienced before. Certainly the best years of my college life. 

Then as life has a way of doing, we all drifted off to our various corners of the world.  We got married, we had kids, we raised our families and grew in our careers.  There were Christmas cards, and sisters that remained closer than others, but this is the way life is.  Right?  That is until a little thing called COVID-19 entered the scene.  I suppose it is the dark reality of the body bags lining the New York City, or the eerie quiet of a surreal lockdown none of us could have ever imagined, that have us pausing a bit.  In the pause, for a lot of us, comes the realization of what really matters in the midst of an invisible demon that can claim whoever it wants. 

On Friday, I would find myself parked at  my urgent care, N95 and PPE at the ready seeing patients when a lull would allow me to join the newly appointed Zoom Happy Hour with my sisters.   Back in the day we called it "FAC", code for the pre-party known as "Friday Afternoon Club."  I would look at all of the virtual faces.  We are now scattered across the country in Georgia, Illinois, New York, Arizona, California and Iowa to name just a few of the places.  Yet here we are on the same screen Brady Bunch Style talking about old times, with my sisters in their respective homes, sipping higher end wine from real glasses and laughing.  Pictures were shared, scrunchies were donned, and someone even had a collection of our coveted mascot, the squirrel.

 Side note, I did not understand then, nor do I now, why with every animal in the world AGD would pick the squirrel, nonetheless, they did, and we now all have a weird appreciation for the bushy tailed nut gatherer. 

It is pretty safe to say COVID-19 has had a significant impact on me.  I have a certain amount of nervousness about going to work every day.  I have moved into my guest suite so my exposure will not get my family sick and I have all new precautions for decontam when I get home from work.  So, to take some time on a Friday night to remember a time when life was a bit simpler and laugh with a sisterhood I have loved for so many years was just what I needed, and I am reasonably sure they did too.  When I finally got home that night, I joined a second Zoom call with some of my 1DOS Sharks in Kansas City, only this time it was my turn for high end wine, and laugh a whole lot more with people who have always supported the dreams of my foundation and matter a whole lot to me.

I think in the end we will find that COVID-19 was a vicious monster that claimed a lot of lives, but we will also see it allowed us to resurrect those things in our lives that truly matter.  Going forward, my sisters and I will continue on with our Friday night Zoom happy hour and continue to reconnect after so many years.  As for me, I have made one small change to my office at home.  I needed a less than subtle reminder that in all of the darkness surrounding difficult times, we need to pause and take the time to seek out those in our lives that bring the light and allow us to laugh.  I suspect with a little bit more joy we will be able to see that there is life past COVID-19, and that the best is yet to come.

Sunday, March 29, 2020

Sadness or Euphoria

They say that these are not the best of times,
but they're the only times I've ever known,
and I believe there is a time for meditation, 
In cathedrals of our own

                                                                                 "Summer, Highland Falls"
                                                                                              -Billy Joel

Well, it's official.  After 22 straight years of spending spring break in southern Florida, almost half of my life, we are not going.  That bastard known as King Corona ended that tradition.  What he fails to understand is that this trip initially was about uninterrupted adult time with my mom.  It was a break in my day to day adulting of kids, work and home to reconnect with the woman who raised me.  In our time together down there, she helped me to understand that a lot of life's knots could be untied with a healthy dose of sun, sand, salty air and the gentle rhythm of the waves on the warm gulf coast.  That is why even after she moved back to Chicago, and later after she passed, I looked forward to this time away from my otherwise busy life. Even last week the denial was deep.  We couldn't fly, but we could drive....  Well, no, a mandatory 14 day quarantine was imposed, punishable by law.  Then there was the notion of we could go someplace else, maybe a luxury cabin in the Smokey Mountains with an indoor pool.....  No.  Now there were travel advisories, and the final deal breaker, we are in medicine and now have to work.  The irony of a virus squashing a vacation for this healthcare provider is not lost.  So, whether I agree with the lyrics or not, I'm forced to meditate in my own proverbial cathedral.

Now we are forced to recognize our inhumanity,
A reason coexists with our insanity,
Though we choose between reality and madness,
It's either sadness or euphoria

Truth be told, due to a heavy first half of the month and lower numbers the second half, I have found myself home for the last few days.  Just like everyone else, watching the gut wrenching footage out of the emergency rooms just three hours south of me, coupled with phone calls of my own exposure and the actual contraction of the disease by a nurse friend of mine suddenly tied my proverbial knots of life just a little bit tighter. It seemed as though the insanity of all of this was not going away anytime soon, so I did what I do best.  I got busy.  In the last few days I have organized my office and dove headlong into the basement.  The basement.  This was kinda one of those things that was not urgent in the busyness of day to day life.  It wasn't going anywhere, it didn't really interfere with day to day life at Chez Summers, yet it was down there.  A full footprint of my 3500 square foot house, half of which is full of moving boxes and random Christmas clutter and God knows what else.  I should probably also admit we had a small flood a while back when the power went out, and the sump pump could not operate...  OK.  It was a mess.  

As I dug head long into the basement this weekend, I was reminded of something else.  When we moved here six years ago, our packers were a day late coming.  They had half the time to do the work as the truck was on the way.  This caused random shit to be thrown in boxes with no sort of organization or order as it was 2:00 am by the time they were done and really did not care at that point.  I had blankets from a closet with dishes from the kitchen in one box, master bedroom and front hall closet in another.  Quality packers we had for sure.

When we moved in, essentially when the day to day stuff was unpacked, the rest ended up down in the basement for another day.   Over the years I have looked at the mountain of said boxes and honestly wondered what on earth was in them.   We were operational day to day, so clearly it was not household stuff.  There were a few obvious things in them, like china, but what the hell was in the rest?  So, I started emptying boxes.  I found hidden treasures I had forgotten about mixed in with the random shit, like my high school year books, and sorority pics of me with gigantic hair that the kids thought was hilarious, packed with the linen closet.  Of course.  I found my high school softball letter jacket, and yes it fits.  It's actually too big in with the children's books.  There was the gold cross my mom had bought for my oldest when she got baptized, which shockingly was in a bin with her name on it.  Oh wait.  I packed that.  I found things I thought were lost forever, and things I forgot I had, and whole ton of crap I didn't need.  There were happy memories intermixed with twinges of grief as the purging progressed on.

For we are always what our situations hand us,
It's either sadness or euphoria

I am pleased to report about one third of the shit has been purged, and two van loads of garbage have been taken to the dumpster.  Yes, there is still a ways to go, but I am getting there a little at a time.  I suppose if King Corona had not cancelled my vacation I never would have found the important things today or gotten rid of the junk I never really needed to start with.  It makes  me think that sometimes having life as we know it come to a screeching halt can seem awful at first, but it also can be an opportunity to help us to take the time to stop, look in our own proverbial boxes stashed out of site.  The deep things we push away when life simply gets too busy.  These are the boxes that have been jammed with so much random shit, that we have lost site of our own treasures.  Interestingly, I am finding this process to be just as helpful as a quiet seat at the edge of the sea.  Yes, the job is a little messier, physically a little harder, and no my mom is not here. However, I did find a treasure that belonged to her, one that now holds a place of honor in my home. It is a Lladro nurse I bought for her many years ago as a teenager.  She was a highly educated, high ranking nurse who wrote national infection control standards for the country.  How appropriate I would find it today to watch over me as I head back to the front lines of Corona.  A little reminder that regardless of the invisible tyrant King Corona, we have the choice between embracing the sadness or choosing the euphoria associated with believing the best is still yet to come.

Monday, March 16, 2020

The Jungle of Corona

Welcome to the jungle, we've got fun and games,
We got everything you want honey, we know the names,
We are the people that can find whatever you may need,
If you got the money, honey we got your disease
Guns N' Roses                                    

I suppose you could say there had been a little shift in my pre work playlist.  It used to be I would gear up with something upbeat like Katrina and the Waves,"Walking on Sunshine."  Why?  I have been a nurse practitioner for 19 years and I love what I do.  I love solving medical puzzles, but more importantly I like to walk aside patients in their illness.  I like to help them to understand the steps we are going to take together to get them well, whether it is medication, a cast, or sutures...  There is a certain satisfaction in having a hand in making something better for someone else.  Well, there was anyway, but that is all different these days, as we are living in the age of corona. 

Welcome to the jungle, it gets worse here every day,
You learn to live like an animal in the jungle where we play

Ah yes, corona, more specifically COVID-19, the emerging invisible monster that has effectively put life on indefinite hold on so many fronts.  There are scary graphics over news stories, and frightening footage from Italy.  There are drastic measures to "flatten the curve."  Just like everyone else, I am frustrated by all of the closings.  Frustrated my kids are home for some weeks.  Worried about the lost time in the classroom for my Haitian child already behind.  Worried about a major event I am hosting not becoming a reality and hurting the charity I run. Hell, even my beloved gym is closed.   My worries went on and on and were only compounded with having to go to work  as usual, with the opportunity of said invisible monster to enter my doors at any moment, which made work a bit more like a wild jungle, rather than a cheery clinic.  

You know where you are?
You're in the jungle baby
You're gonna die

I get asked if I am afraid all the time.  I will admit.  My first shifts after the news hit I was apprehensive as  I didn't really know what I was walking into.  I am in leadership in my company, so I put on the brave face, geared up with a little Guns N' Roses, gave my staff a pep talk and got to work.  What I found was not really a jungle.  It was more me in a mask,  sitting down with patients that were absolutely panic stricken and once again doing what I love to do.  Walking the corona path with them helping them to understand the illness and making plans for moving forward be it testing, quarantine or reassurance.  As far as me catching the corona virus?  It may happen.  However, I took my health back five years ago.  If it does, I know I will recover and take on yet another badass 8 foot wall on the side of a mountain later this year at a Spartan Race.  Only now, I have the opportunity to truly test my own resolve, as with the gym closed, all training in this period is now self motivated. 

I suppose now that I really think about it, life is full of invisible monsters.  There is the haunting of past failures, there is the envy of those smashing the very goals we only dream about but never think we can really accomplish.  There is the healthy fear of change, as our comfort zones have become our very own paralysis, even when they no longer serve us.  It is these monsters that keep all of us trapped in our own jungles with no clear direction to get out.  Maybe the better thing to do is to put on the mask, trust our own resolve, grab the proverbial machete and start whacking away at the things standing in the way of our vision.  Only then will we see the path to our goals.

Truth be told?  I think we will come out the other side of Corona, maybe a little wiser, and hopefully a little kinder.  The better question is, until then, will we lose sight of the notion that better things are ahead?  I'll be honest, I lost it in the panic of it all for a bit.  However, today after my shift it was time to change up the play list.  As it turns out, stepping out of the jungle of frustration to walk on sunshine did help spark the air of optimism I have been missing as of late, and I was easily reminded that the best is yet to come.  

Monday, March 2, 2020

Terminator Pull Ups, a Lesson Learned at the Bar

My 14 year old likes to go out for long walks or bicycle rides.  He has explained that he uses the fresh air and quiet to regroup, all in all a pretty healthy coping mechanism for a kid in the throws of high school.  Much to my surprise this year, all he asked for for Christmas was a pull-up bar.  Such a curiosity to me in the age of air pods and souped up electronics.  He is not really a formal exerciser, but he explained his love of being in motion has made his lower body strong, and left his upper body weak.  So, his solution was a simple pull-up bar.  I figured that seemed logical, so Christmas morning he found himself in our home gym with his first steel free standing pull-up bar pounding out ten at a time Sarah Conner "Terminator 2" style.  Ahhh.... youth.

What I did not anticipate with his gift was the personal reaction I would have to said piece of steel.  I suppose it is the PTSD of being the fat kid trying to earn the Presidential Fitness Patch in the 70's.  At that time, pull-ups were part of the deal for boys, as was the coveted,"flex arm hang" for girls.  Honestly?  It didn't really matter what it called for on this torture device, I certainly was not going to achieve it.  I grew to loathe the pull-up bar and the humiliation associated with it.  Yet, here I am at age 50 with that very thing taking up residence in my basement. 

When I think about my past year of Spartan racing, yes, I have a pile of shiny medals, and fancy finisher's shirts, but the truth is, my racing was different this year.  Adding 15 pounds of muscle, as I focused on strength training, suddenly made the already difficult hanging obstacles simply "Amy's burpee stations."  I did not effectively cross even one this race year, which was certainly a change from last year.  My mounting frustration over being able to lift super heavy and yet not cross the rings like I had in past years became quite the mind game.  So, I did what I always do when I cannot take the turmoil, I ratted myself out to my accountability partner and commit to doing pull-ups every day to try to prepare for Spartan Race Season 2020, because 2019 held way more burpees than I cared to repeat. 

The first time I approached the bar, I knew it wasn't going to work.  I could do little more than hang.  My childhood humiliation and frustration came flooding back to me, and I found a hatred for this piece of steel that came from deep within.  I found myself on Amazon ordering the freaking bungee assist, because that's what independent badasses need, a stupid bungee cord.  Why couldn't I do this?  Why did I promise my partner I would?  Screw it.  Will take the burpees.  I hate burpees too, but let's face it, I could do those.  The only flaw in that logic is it is much easier to let myself down than it is someone I made a promise to, so here I was locked in.

So, off I went in week one, five full assisted pull ups, only I could not do them five in a row..... I could do three then two.  This was going to take a while, and to be honest, I found myself giving this steel contraption of horror the bird every time I had to walk by the stupid thing, as if the steel could somehow absorb my anger with it all.  Yet I did it anyway.  I should probably clarify, this is a lot of bird giving.  The bar is on my way to the laundry room.  With six humans under my roof laundry is my second full time job. 

I would go on to do what anyone suffering through difficult training would do, I whined to my trainer.  This was hard.  I was not getting anywhere.  Apparently, I thought he had a magical wand to wave to make it somehow easier.  He didn't have that, but he did have a simple piece of advice.  Try a chin up.  Wait... aren't those the same thing?  No.  Reverse the grip to underhand and use the biceps I have worked so hard to gain.  Much to my surprise I could do those.  I still needed an assist, but I could do them, even five in a row.  Somehow finding this little change gave me enough success to keep working toward the bigger goal of full on  Terminator  badass pull-ups, just like my kid.

My experience working the bar has made me think about the frustrations of life.  How many times do we direct long standing frustrations over seemingly insurmountable past circumstances to the proverbial pile of steel we are currently trying to overcome?   Maybe the better answer is to seek out those who see our potential better than we do, let them help guide us to change our technique to use what we have already gained, and not be afraid to push past the pride of being an independent badass and use the assist to grow into what we really hope to achieve.

So, here we are in March.  I suppose I should give a status update on Operation Terminator Pull Up 2020.  I still do them every single day.  I have decreased the amount of times the steel is shown the bird and increased the pull ups and chin ups to 8 apiece with the assist, except on laundry days.  Then it is the usual 16 plus two per load, making the walk by less about the bird and more about the work.  It's still frustrating, but the deep seeded trauma of the Presidential Fitness Test 1979 seems to be fading.  As for my son?  He's up to banging out 15-20 at a time and has biceps that rival my 23 year old's.  It just goes to show, if we celebrate the small victories sometimes we get the glimpse of the best things that are surely yet to come.