My journey along the Trans-America Trail

Falling flat – February 19, 2014

Roadblocks are bound to impede us from completing what we have set out to do along life’s journey at some point in time. I have found myself dealing with several such roadblocks. I am handling things but I can’t say I have been able to successfully maneuver around the barriers.

I haven’t exercised or plotted my miles along the Trans-America Trail since falling down my mother-in-law’s icy front porch steps in January. The recent fall and the cold winter have resulted in an increase in back, leg and hip pain. I recently talked to my doctor about how I have been feeling and he scheduled an MRI. The medical report shows spinal stenosis, scar tissue, and degenerative osteoarthritis surrounding a past spinal fusion, laminectomy and discectomy. No real surprises. Still, the doctor scheduled me for physical therapy to try and increase my strength, endurance and reduce my pain level.

I admit. I am skeptical as to whether therapy will work. Therapy has never been effective in the past, but the therapist I saw told me the treatment approach is much different now than it was twenty years ago when I last had therapy for back pain. According to the therapist, the treatment focus used to be on strengthening the abdominal muscles and the muscles surrounding the back to keep it stable in an effort to protect the back from further injury. The new approach is to focus on triggering the back muscles involved in causing pain. The goal is to encourage the muscles to remember to contract and respond quicker to stimuli. The therapist said pain occurs when muscles aren’t working or reacting as they should. He says muscle memory for chronic pain patients is influenced negatively by a patient’s natural reaction to pain and the propensity to avoid additional pain. Unfortunately, how I hold myself and how I react to pain often contributes to additional back pain versus alleviating back pain because it isn’t natural for a body’s muscles to work as mine do on a regular basis. The theory makes sense.

I have been telling medical professionals that left leg weakness, hip and back pain have been a problem for years and nothing I do seems to help! After any physical activity, I always feel worse and, the more I attempt to do, the worse the pain gets.

The physical therapist that did my evaluation said my left leg is definitely weaker than my right leg. He told me if I was blindfolded and I was told to “walk the plank”, I would never walk in a straight line and I would “end up in the drink”. I explained that I have occasional balance issues and I do feel unstable when I am walking uphill, downhill and on uneven surfaces. He attributes this to the leg weakness and the imbalance of strength in my legs.

Despite my skepticism, I will try anything that will allow me to be active without triggering significant pain.

Stuck in Oz – March 8, 2014

My last journal entry placed me somewhere in the middle of Kansas.

“Do not despair in whatever happens for behind the clouds is always the rainbow.”

This is the first time I have not exercised regularly in 3 years. I’ve been told that exercise is a vital necessity in keeping my heart in the best shape it can be. However, with additional health issues and setbacks, I can’t help but wonder just how helpful it actually is to try and stay fit and eat well? In my case, do my family genes outweigh my desire to do the best I can to stay healthy? I know it is best to strive for wellness but no matter what I do, “healthy” seems to be unattainable. Despite trying, I am still not what I would consider “fit”. I thought I was following my heart’s desire and doing what was healthy by setting out on this journey.

Yet, a recent doctor visit only resulted in more medicine, and a less than stellar health report. Right now, as far as I can see, I’m just spinning my wheels going nowhere. While plotting my miles through Kansas along the Trans-American Trail, it seems I’ve been swept up by a tornado of additional misfortune. My trike and I have landed smack dab in the middle of Oz. From my point of view, it might just as well be Never, Never Land.

I believe it may be necessary to use up one of my three wishes and summon the wicked witch of the West (of “I’ll get you, my pretty and your little dog, too” fame) to unleash the flying monkeys in order to carry me back to Kansas. Oh, foolish me, I almost forgot. I can’t leave Oz because the monkeys can’t cross the desert surrounding Oz. So, I guess I can’t cheat and leave all the exercise to someone else or simply write in miles I haven’t completed. The evil monkeys could take me to the border of Oz but it wouldn’t be a good feeling knowing I hadn’t gotten there under my own power.

Maybe, I could persuade the Great Wizard of Oz to leave Oz and hitch a ride in his hot-air balloon. Oh yeah, that wish won’t be granted, either. Remember, the rope holding the balloon breaks leaving the Wizard to rise and float away alone.

The scarecrow, tin man and the Lion can befriend me but, ultimately, they will be unable to get me out of Oz and headed in the right direction.

I thought about asking Glenda, the good witch how I will be able to leave Oz. Of course, she will tell me “You’ve always had the power, my dear, you just have to learn it for yourself”. At the moment, I have no idea how to go about leaving and, right now, I am unable to see the value in continuing my journey. Quite frankly, I don’t foresee my heart’s desires being granted simply because I can click my heels together. It’s not that easy; ruby slippers are only found in fantasies. It turns out Kansas and Oz are not all they are cracked up to be.

When am I going to learn that I can’t always succeed or get what I want simply by following my heart? How long before I realize that I am not the Great and Powerful Oz or Dorothy trying to tag along for the ride. Wearing a badge of courage doesn’t mean I am always courageous. Pretending that nothing ever bothers me doesn’t make it so. You see, I have the brains to know what I need to do and the knowledge and understanding as to what is and what will never be. Unfortunately, that doesn’t mean I never continue to beat my head against the brick wall in attempts to break down life’s barriers. Just because I have a brain doesn’t mean I always use it.

Lastly, seeking help and the support of others, even when they have my best interest in mind, and simply wishing for my situation to improve isn’t going to get me out of Oz and back in Kansas. No one ever said this would be easy.

Fortunately, after the rain comes the rainbow. Nothing bad ever lasts forever unless I make a conscious choice to continue along the path I have wished to travel.

Somewhere over the rainbow

Somewhere over the rainbow
Way up high
There’s a land that I heard of once in a lullaby

Somewhere over the rainbow
Skies are blue
And the dreams that you dare to dream really do come true

Someday I’ll wish upon a star
And wake up where the clouds are far behind me
Where troubles melt like lemon drops
Away above the chimney tops
That’s where you’ll find me

Somewhere over the rainbow
Blue birds fly
Birds fly over the rainbow
Why then oh why can’t I?

If happy little blue birds fly beyond the rainbow
Why, oh, why can’t I?