Saturday, June 21, 2014

What if

Aside from my mother, I worry more than anyone I know. Hopefully, Mom has found a worry free zone in the afterlife. If she is sitting on cloud 9 fretting over whether some angel is home late because she is dead in a ditch somewhere, I am pretty bummed.

I have posted Wendell Berry's poem before. Many times actually. I think of it most days, and the fact that it speaks to me so probably is one of the main reasons I have landed in such a rural, scenic area, despite the lack of things open after 8pm and the tendency for the population to wear socks with sandals.

The Peace of Wild Things
When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children's lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.

— Wendell Berry

Today I ran with my eldest on a trail along the Elk River (or stream, really, as it is in this drought). My foot hurt. What if I cannot run?

What if I never actually learn all of the preludes and fugues at once, and the Beethoven Sonatas? What if I never properly learn how to groom my standard poodle?

What if I chose the wrong profession? What if we go back to war in Iraq? What if my kids never call or write after they leave home?

First world worries, for the most part. I was thinking today about how much I like water. I mean a good, cold glass of water from the tap. It is miraculous, and even though I take things for granted almost every waking second of my life, I almost always say a little prayer of thanks for having clean, cold water, right here in my home, my workplace, wherever really. I don't have to walk 5 miles to get it while being shot at or threatened with rape and kidnapping. I don't have to then build a fire to boil it so my kids don't die of some diarrheal illness that will turn their guts inside out. Sometimes I worry of course, like, what if the "big one" hits? We have not set up a garage full of water supply for this purpose as we probably should. Despite being a worrier, I am not the type to build a bomb shelter or seriously plan for the next quake.

What if my hens don't lay eggs after my husband has so diligently built them a fortress? I mean a fortress. A bear might be able to get those girls, but every other critter will be thwarted. Even the poodle.

I worry about my patients. I worry about my friends. I worry about my family. I worry about that raggedy guy on the corner who looks like he needs a bath and 3 squares, stat. I have been having some dreams with whales lately, and that usually happens right before something big happens. WHAT IS GOING TO HAPPEN????

But I digress. This is about running, and redwoods. Today, I ran in the woods, by the anemic but still lovely river, with my daughter. For a time, I rested in the grace of the world, and was free.

Monday, June 9, 2014

Rock Bottom

Rock Bottom.
That was what I was thinking while I sat in the occupational health office getting my mandatory physical exam for my new job. Weight, blood pressure, pulse, all 10-15 points higher than my healthy baseline. Color me shocked? Not really. I can feel it. That is what 15 hour work days for months does to you. I am no CJ from the West Wing.

But now work life is more reasonable. And I am working with a coach to get my ass in gear for a PR and I am doing hot yoga and swimming and, and, and.

It struck me today, as I was walking on Parnassus, past the statue of Hippocrates and across from the Death Star. My very worst health was in residency. At the end of residency to be exact, when every fiber of my being was beaten into a pulp and my soul was barely intact. Or was it in medical school?

As a pregnant first year, I once walked across campus carrying a see through hefty sized bag of condoms to give a talk on birth control. It hit me that I looked a lot like Santa, only a girl, a doctor-to-be, expecting, and how very ironic to be carrying a bag of condoms in my condition. I wish now I had one of those video cameras people wear on their heads when doing extreme sports, just to capture the looks I got from passers-by. At the time, I was mostly just irritable, and probably did not see the humor. My ankles were swollen and I had a test to study for. And who the heck gets pregnant in medical school anyway?

Or was it in high school, when I felt out of place and bored to the point of despair? I used to leave class to practice piano, with mostly a shrug of "OK, whatever" from my teachers. I tested out of this and that and finally decided to just skip the rest of it and head to music school. I still have nightmares that someone comes to my door, pointing out I cannot be a licensed physician without my high school diploma. They then hand me my old PE uniform and send me out for laps. Or worse: golfing. Once in high school a classmate hit me square in the head with a wooden club (accidentally) (at least I think so). I awoke, on the ground, with my fat, toupeed gym teacher bending over me. From then on, he called me "Hard Head Heidmann". It is possible this injury explains a lot of my short fallings in life. It was not amusing.

Or was it in junior high, when I used to walk to the orthodontist from my downtown brick school, which was well in the aroma-sphere of the local brewery, to get my weekly torture, tightening of the wires? My orthodontist was mean in a way that would not fly in today's litigious, helicopter-parenting society. He was an asshole, actually. Once I bit him on purpose. He asked me at one visit what we did in school that day, and I reported happily about the English Muffin pizzas we had made in home economics class. His reply, and I swear he had a cigarette hanging out the side of his mouth while he drawled this, was "I wouldn't feed that to my dog." That might've been the day I bit him

Or was it during puberty, when my body rebelled and went from wiry thin kid to slightly curvy, menstruating and gawky (braces-wearing) teenager? I hated myself as a teenager. I wanted to be Alberto Salazar, or Grete Waitz, or any of a number of my cuter friends who somehow went through puberty without the freaks and geeks detour. To my credit: never drank, did not do drugs, and ran and ran and ran with the discovery that running was my bliss and my ticket to health.

Which brings me back to this: rock bottom. I am finally not working 15 hours per day. I am sleeping, I am eating well, and my 10-15 point elevation of weight, blood pressure and pulse is starting to drop. But my foot hurts. Plantar fasciitis, probably. A first for me, or at least the first foot pain in a long while. In the grand scheme of tragic events, this ranks low. But I do find myself wondering what God is thinking. Running for me: my meditation, my mental health, my passion (well, other than Beethoven anyway), my mental health, my drug of choice, my mental health, my lifelong, as long as I can remember, THING. I am not and never will be elite, but running is my non-animate soulmate.

My Dad had a heart transplant. My Mom had breast cancer, twice. My kids are strong and they rise up against the BS of adolescence with grace and humor. My husband writes magical books and has raised our children and has been there, all out, for our family from day one. My dear friend had a baby and traveled across the country. My patients face death with astounding grace. My colleagues continue to fight the good fight in a system that promotes insanity. My dogs offer unconditional adoration. Beethoven and Bach beckon.

Rock bottom?

A little foot pain never killed anyone.

That I know of.

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Vultures and Vampires

When I was a kid, one of my best friends lived across the street. We had nighttime neighborhood games, like kick-the-can, and ghost in the graveyard. We had sleepovers in my treehouse and we danced in her basement to the strobe light her super-cool older sister possessed. We commiserated over the "vampires", which was, in our parlance, the people who tried to suck the life-blood out of you. We could just mention the V word and know that someone was trying to sap our power.

Because we were powerful.

Today, when running along this road,

the turkey vultures circled overhead.  It reminded me of the childhood vampires. Now, as then, I scoffed. Do not mistake me for weak and powerless. 

It occurred to me today that this is a mantra for my own misgivings, and not only for those who see me as prey. 

I care for the old and the dying for a living. Dying is inevitable. Old age, well that is just a gift we can hope for. My parents did not get it. Many people will not. We like to think it is a curse, this thing called aging. Aching bodies, wrinkly skin, lesser vision and ears that fail us. 

At age 44 I may only be half way there, and though I feel the years in a new way, no longer oblivious to my body's needs, I don't think I am vulture food. 

Today, when running along the roads, I passed through the tri-kids triathlon course. Signs warned me they may be about, but really just made me think: My once-kid triathlete leaves home in a few months.  

College. To learn and grow and live in a dorm and run D3 cross country and likely steal into Portland for  Voodoo doughnuts now and then. How and when did I become the parent of an adult? Should parents of adults still be attempting PR's? Or is that akin to shopping in the juniors section after age 40, whilst clerks less than half your age pop gum on one side of their mouths while sneering at you from the other? What is truth, and if they are calling my child an adult, does that make me one too? Do I like get a badge, or something?

I am going to miss that kiddo. 

There is nothing more true and visceral than running. Than running on a road that evokes memories of vampires of youth. That evokes the certainty of death through vulturous eyes and those ugly-beautiful wrinkly red heads, turkey-like, yet not.  That brings the ugly-beautiful truth of the limitations of a body no longer young, but not quite old either, right to the forefront. That criss-crosses the path of the next generation of tri-kids. That promises health of mind, maybe of body, certainly of soul, and offers proof of what we all know to be true:

what doesn't kill you makes you stronger.

Win some, lose some. Age. Or not. But whatever else happens, don't let the vampires or vultures get you down. Probably you can outrun them anyhow.