Can you tell I’m on vacation?
This is the view from my friend’s back porch. Cocktail in hand and intertube around waste, we enjoyed the warm lake water for a few hours before sunset.
I’m on a girls trip to Florida for a loooong weekend, and I’m proud to announce that Nick is doing extremely well without me. We miss the hell out of each other though. We are not accustomed to spending time apart, but this vacation is healthy for both of us.
Today MIA peed all over him and he got stranded at Project Walk for two hours after his appointment was over. But other than that, he’s doing great!
I went to a water park for my friend Kim’s birthday yesterday, frolicked in the surf at Daytona Beach this afternoon, and did what any self respecting woman would do on a girls trip: I saw Magic Mike on opening night.
Tomorrow we will scuba dive some fresh water springs in search of manatees. It is not manatee season, so I’ve been working on my manatee mating call to lure them in.
SCUBA diving is a pain in the ass, but the last dive trip was so successful we decided to try our hand at diving again – just the two of us. So yesterday we went down to San Diego’s Mission Bay and hopped on the Humboldt dive boat for a quick 2 tank dive of the sunken Yukon ship.
The Yukon was a Canadian Naval destroyer intentionally sunk as an artificial reef just over a mile off shore. The 366 foot battleship sits on her side in about 100 feet of water. She’s massive, and truthfully, kind of eerie.
As we descended, the visibility was so poor I couldn’t even see Nick a few feet below me. But at 60 feet or so, the water cleared up as we hit a cold sheer. California diving is cold water diving all year round, but yesterday could be technically classified as “colder than a witch’s tittie” diving.” We wear a 7 mil wet suit, a hood, gloves, and booties to protect us from the cold. All that’s exposed is a few square inches of our cheeks. Our poor cheeks man! My left hand went a little numb, and after 10 minutes I couldn’t stop shaking. The deepness of the dive combined with my desire to be warm again meant that it was a short dive – just about 25 minutes.
Swimming alongside this giant sunken battleship was surreal (either that, or I had a slight case of nitrogen narcosis). There were many cut outs so we could explore heaps of nooks and small spaces. The vessel was nearly covered in jumbo white, cauliflower-looking anemones, tons of pretty pink anemones, swaying kelp strands, and a few scattered star fish.
The water was surgy, and Nick didn’t feel very comfortable at times. His legs are weak and he wasn’t wearing fins. No fins means very little power to control himself in the surge. He decided he won’t be diving this spot again until his leg strength gets better. I think that’s a good idea.
Unfortunately we only did one of the two dives. Instead of exploring the magical underwater world with the rest of the divers, I spent the second half of our trip with my head hung over the side of the boat, feeding the fish. I made a costly mistake by not taking dramamine ahead of time. I know better than that, but just had a brain fart. I took some when we got to San Diego that afternoon but the seas were so rough that it didn’t help at all.
The crew and other divers were very gracious to both me and Nick. We were quite the couple on that boat. I’d say we were “those” people – you know, the ones you don’t want to be on a dive boat with – but there was another couple that took that honor. Between me puking my guts out and Nick having no legs and needing special help from the deck-hands, we were quite the spectacle.
I’m insanely grateful for the experience though. Despite how terrible I felt, I really loved our little adventure. It was a last minute excursion that took very little preparation, and Nick wasn’t completely wrecked the next day. We even knew one of the other divers on the boat (of course), and made a great contact at the JetSki rental next door. The owner offered Nick and me a free ride on his wave runners the next time we’re down there. Sold!
Check out this short video from our dive. The video doesn’t do it justice, trust me! If you’re having trouble playing it, you can view it here on the YouTube page.
Nick is, by definition, a creature of habit. When he finds something he likes, or something that works, he sticks with it. Guess that’s why he has tolerated all my craziness all these years!
Since he has a lifetime of prosthetics, one of the most common bits of advice we’ve received from amputees is to find a prosthetist you work well with. And we did! We love Phil! Last appointment with Phil, Nick asked him how long he’s planning to be working there and he said 15-20 years. Perfect!
So today when we called for a last minute appointment with Phil we were all but devastated to learn that he isn’t working with clients anymore. He’s been promoted. Damn it!
We got a last minute appointment with another guy and had a really good experience. Thankfully, because now our concerns of frantically seeking out a new prosthetist are squashed… for now.
Nick is still having some real issues with one of his shins from that epic hike in Sedona. Last night the skin even opened up a little bit, but the main pain is a bruised feeling that isn’t even visible.
This situation was bound to happen one day, ya know, his stumps getting injured, making wearing his legs painful, and forcing him to take it easy for days on end.
Despite the sore stump, he’s been tearing it up at Project Walk all week.
we’re going SCUBA diving again!
To me, this video is a breath of fresh air. Most of my videos are about Nick’s recovery; this one is just us having fun! I think I laughed harder making it than I did living it. Enjoy!
The excitement is mounting for Nick’s new volunteer project at the county hospital. Tonight we met with Nick’s ER nurse Tommy and the hospital volunteer coordinator Robin (Tommy’s wife and Robin’s daughter joined us as well for a great dinner). We haven’t seen Tommy since this time last year. He made a huge impression on Nick and me during our stay at County by taking the time to follow up and visit with us several times. Nick really enjoyed catching up with him again. Nick, Robin, and Tommy are masterminding a program to help support newly injured people at the hospital. Nearly all of the ground work has been handled and it’s almost ready to launch.
I know Nick will be perfect for this opportunity. He wants to give back, he wants to connect, he wants to listen. We’re all so excited. Depending on how long it takes to get the program rolling, he will likely be starting after his surgery.
The surgery to remove Nick’s hardware is scheduled for two weeks from today, July 5th. I can’t believe how quickly it’s going to happen. They had a spot open so we jumped on it. We’re not stressed about it, but there’s definitely a thickness in the air about how busy our next two weeks are going to be. I’ll be spending half of it away on a girls trip. Good timing? I guess we’ll see.
I never finished writing about our trip to Sedona. And now that we’re home, I forget everything! Not really, but now that we’re home, Nick’s pain has returned. There’s something magical about Sedona. We believe it with all of our hearts. I’d consider living there if it could help Nick feel better (and that’s saying a lot, because it’s a tiny little town in the middle of hot ass Arizona).
On our last day in Sedona, Nootbaar and I bought flutes. We bought hand made traditional Native American flutes. They are so cool!
Our new purchases sparked an interest in flute players, so we went to a free flute concert that evening at our hotel. David Wolfs Robe gave an incredible presentation about the history of native American flutes, and played music from a number of beautiful flutes in his collection. In the middle of his performance he began playing a song with a gorgeous flute made by a prominent flute maker and musician. After a minute or so he abruptly stopped playing the song and said he was only going to play half of the song. He then walked toward Nick and handed him the flute and said that he should finish the song and that the flute was his gift to Nick.
We were absolutely shocked! His generosity was so unexpected, we were actually quite puzzled. Nick even asked him if he was serious. That unforgettable moment when he handed Nick the flute is my favorite moment from our entire trip. The look on Nick’s face was priceless. What a cool souvenir! I feel like that moment was the exclamation point of our four fun-drenched days in the Arizona desert.
Now that we’re home, we’ve both enjoyed playing our flutes. Sitting on the porch, in the afternoon breeze playing my flute is so peaceful and meditative. I follow what Wolfs Robe said and just close my eyes and imagine scenes from nature. The dreamy melodies float with the warm breezes and carry on for great distances. I may be annoying the shit out of my neighbors, but I just don’t care.
Another full day of bodacious awesomeness in Sedona has come to an close. Nevermind the hat here, check out Nick cruising alongside the majestic red rocks!
He didn’t do much trekking today though. His shins and stumps hurt. Despite that minor grievance, he was in very little pain today and carried on kicking ass like he did yesterday.
He parked the lounge chair in a shady spot while I went to see Indian ruins with Mike and Jenn. It was a quickie stop but we got a personal tour of the pictographs from a lovely old man who resembled the rabbit from Alice in Wonderland. He volunteers his time daily to educate tourists about the site in exchange for living in a trailer on the property. Interesting gig.
We didn’t explore too much of the ruins because we were all antsy to take the Jeep on the “Cliffhanger” trail and get to the swimming hole.
Nick was at the helm all day today. He drove us through some very technical trails and gave us a good thrill, all with hand controls.
Being able to romp through the desert again was the highlight of his day. He spent many years riding quads and playing in the desert, so driving the Jeep today was like a slice of his old life.
At one point we pulled right into the creek giving Nick a 360 degree experience of the forest. The green leaves overhead waved hello in the breeze, the flowing stream created an amphitheater of watery sounds, the refreshing breeze soothed our sun-beaten skin, and those damn ciceda’s serenaded us with their creepy Blair Witch Project songs.
We all agree that renting this jeep for 24 hours was the best part of the trip. We explored the land on our terms, at our speed. Mike and Jen even buddied up with the lady who rented to us, and she told them about this super awesome spot which wasn’t highlighted on the map. This swimming hole and creek was so far off the radar that we didn’t see any other people the whole time we were there. During peak season in Tourist Town USA, we got to experience this heavenly oasis all by ourselves. You can’t put a price tag on that!
I climbed into this tree twice. When I first climbed it, I yelled out that there were dead crabs up there. Nick and the Nootbaar’s thought I was on drugs.
Mike came up to investigate, and confirmed that there were dead water-critters unusually positioned high in a tree. Turns out they’re craw-daddy’s and thus began the Nootbaar’s quest to catch one!
This is a beautiful red rock spire at the Boynton Canyon vortex site. That’s Nootbaar up there, halfway to the top.
The energy there was strong but peaceful. I felt content, calm, and present. I did some journaling, breathing, and exploring while soaking in the heat of the sun and vibrations of the earth.
A local man gave Jenn and me heart-shaped rocks to take the energy of Sedona with us on our journeys. Then he climbed to the top of a large rock formation and played his flute.
The whimsical melody drifted through the valley and even Nick could hear it from the trail below. The airy tunes lingered on my skin and allowed only peace and understanding to seep in. I was happy, despite the pangs of sadness I had felt on the climb up because Nick was left behind.
We rented an off-road jeep for 24 hours so we could REALLY explore Sedona.
Nootbaar took us to an old (haunted) house, driving carefully all the way there. Fener was doing quite well despite the jarring and bouncing.
On the way out though, he stepped on the gas and took us for a more exhilarating ride.
The lady at the rental company told us about a really cool night ride to take, so at sunset we headed in that direction.
We threw the hand controls on the jeep and Nick hopped in the drivers seat. As the sky got darker and the trail got steeper and rockier, Nick really got us going. We caught a little air, saw some deer, and even managed to stay on the path.
During the drive he mentioned that he didn’t really believe in the hoo-haw of the vortex stuff prior to coming to Sedona, but since being here he’s had very little pain and been feeling good. Even the bumpy ride wasn’t bothering him.
The night sky is bright with stars here. Part of the city planning includes limiting light pollution. In the convertible jeep, with my head tilted way back, the starry sky moved like a planetarium as we navigated the winding dirt roads. What a sensational day and night!
The dude was hiking today. Really. I thought we were just going to set his lounge chair in some shade at the trailhead and leave him be, but he wanted to join us instead.
He made it about half way to our destination in Boynton Canyon, a neutral vortex with a beautiful view, which was more than a half mile hike. We took the lounger and set it in the shade in a great spot half way down the trail.
He hiked over some serious shit today. We were both surprised! He made it up a rocky hill without falling or having to side step.
He told me that ever since we’ve been in Sedona he’s had very little pain. It’s the magic here, I know it!
We’re officially on vacation, touring the red rocks, vortexes, and New Age-y shops of Sedona.
Day one includes such highlights as Nick being unusually comfortable on the seven hour drive here (he slept most of the way), a sunset Denali tour de’ Nootbaar off the beaten path and into the wild, delish Indian food, a trip to the local grocery store, and only three falls (two by Nick, one by me).
Sedona is breathtaking.
This move is hard for regular folks, let alone a dude with long metal rods in his back whose abdomen was sliced open twice!
He did a set of ten, and then a set of ten more to the sides for a little oblique action.
Being at Project Walk has made all the difference. Today I watched him do many basic exercises that he was completely incapable of doing a few short months ago, like this one, for example.
Nick has officially graduated from walking crutches to hiking poles! We bought them last night and it’s already obvious how much less stability he has with them, and that’s the point.
The poles don’t allow him to lean on them, so he’s forced to stand up straighter and be more conscious while walking. It’s a great stepping stone to actually ditch walking with aid all together.
I love this feeling of emerging from a black hole out onto the beautiful pastures of true acceptance. No, I’m not talking about Nick’s accident here, I’m referring to these upcoming surgeries he’s having.
I really struggled this week with the knowing that we’d be going back there again. Hospitals, intense pain, bed rest, wound care, waiting on Nick hand and foot. Call me selfish, but I was really embracing being done with all that. Making the choice to go back to that place again is hard for me. Last summer, we didn’t have the choice. Our lives were just ripped out from under us, and we were forced into survival mode. This summer, we are far beyond mere surviving. We are reshaping and retying the fragments of our former lives. We are learning what is possible now, and flowing with the ups and downs of pain and hope, carving our way through a life we are consciously creating everyday.
With a few surgeries on the horizon though, I’m feeling halted, stalled, and uneasy. What little control we were gaining of our lives, has now been thrust back into The Process. Have the surgery and wait. Have the next surgery and wait some more. Have the NEXT surgery and keep waiting. THEN, we can take the reigns again.
This is a hard pill for me to swallow, Little Miss Control Freak. Yes, three surgeries. One to remove his hardware, and two to get the spinal cord stimulator implanted. In a one hour period this week, we went from NO MORE SURGERIES to spending our summer (and fall) in recovery after recovery.
This is all for the best though. I KNOW this! I know this with every fiber of my being, but it still fucking sucks. I have struggled all week with these feelings to finally get to this place of acceptance. So…
Let’s get ‘er done!
We’re going to get the first surgery scheduled as soon as possible (they said mid to late July, maybe early August) and then just power through it. I’m hoping it’s all over by November and he’s back to working as hard as he is now.
In the meantime, the goal is for Nick to continue training and rehabilitating; to get as strong as possible before taking the blow of surgeries and down time.
Like I predicted, it’s been a crazy, twisty-turny kind of week.
Here is a brief list of some highlights and some lowlights of this last week in FenerLand… I’ll let you decide which ones are which!
We decided to go ahead with more surgeries for Nicks back.
I threw a bonafide temper tantrum over said decision.
Nicks brother Seth had shoulder surgery and stayed with us for the first 24 hours post-op.
I ate four doughnuts, in about two hours.
We got to hang out with Nicks cousin Brett, whom he hadn’t seen in over ten years.
I took a beautiful hike by myself and did some long overdue writing.
Nick and I met with his (our) new hypnotherapist/counselor for two hours!
We said farewell to a dear friend whom we probably won’t be seeing for a while.
I cleaned up a lot of puke and dog poop.
Nick had three acupuncture appointments.
He was phantom-pain-free for five whole days.
The phantom pains returned after the fifth day, but not as bad as before.
Target pharmacy failed yet again and caused Nick more unnecessary frustration and hassle.
I accepted that I’m terrible at playing poker.
We celebrated the Queen of England’s Jubilee with our lovely British (and Commonwealth) friends, and learned a bit of British history and gossip.
We saw his primary doctor after trying to get in with him for nearly a month.
We ate a therapeutic amount of frozen yogurt, despite our attempts to be dairy-free.
Nicks trainer at the gym suddenly quit, so we’re left to figure out what’s next and how he can keep it up and/or switch it up.
Nick peddled on the stationary bike for forty minutes, twice this week.
And… we’re pooped. Sunday is rest day, and lunch with my Dad. Last time to see him before his big surgery in a week.
Nicks happy place: a beautiful day, cool breeze, lounging in a shady spot on our porch listening to relaxing tunes and reading a good book. He’s currently reading The Brain that Changes Itself by Normal Doidge, MD.
You wouldn’t guess it by first glance, but Nick loves to read and can devour a good book in a matter of a few short days.
This afternoon he only got about 45 minutes on the porch, but he enjoyed every moment of it.
Nick walked in to see his spine surgeons today and was greeted with hugs, smiles, handshakes, and encouraging words. “You look great. You’re strong and the color is back in your face.” Actually, Nick has been hearing those words a lot lately. It’s just nice to hear them from the people who saved his life a year ago.
Remember last summer when Nick had his final back surgery? And how we’re through with surgeries and hospitals and all of that? Well… not anymore. Today we pulled the trigger for him to have another surgery this summer.
He’s going to have ALL the hardware removed from his back!
What a wild and crazy idea, considering that only a year ago his spine was disconnected from his pelvis. He is bothered by the bolts sticking out of his lower back, and he knows he will feel better without all that metal creaking and crunching around in his body. Both surgeons feel it’s a good idea, and Nick’s been thinking about it for a while. When we were discussing it, I could feel Nick’s excitement. He wants the metal gone, understandably so. The doc said he doesn’t expect any noticeable improvement in flexibility or pain levels, although we’re obviously hoping for the best.
Results of the latest X-rays show Nicks spine is doing great. Fener-1, Hardware-0. About two months ago while working out at the gym with his trainer, Nick heard a LOUD pop and thought something hit him in the back. His trainer, 15 feet away, heard it too. There was no pain, but it scared the hell out of him. He laid down for a few minutes just to be sure everything was okay before continuing the workout. We never thought much of it, and assumed it was the hardware moving around. Boy were we wrong. The hardware wasn’t moving around, one of the metal rods snapped! I know, we can’t believe it either. This is not a reason why he’s getting it removed, however. It’s just a “holy shit” factoid I couldn’t help but share. The doctor didn’t seem too worried about it and will have a closer look at that area during his upcoming surgery to be certain it is fully healed.
Due to the unexpected turn of events today, there is a high probability that Nick’s skydive won’t be happening on August 18th as planned. But, in true Fener fashion, we haven’t completely written it off, and will be continuing to work toward that goal until it becomes overwhelmingly apparent that he won’t be ready on that date. Getting his spine sorted out is far more important that skydiving, but a dude’s got to have goals!
One last bit of good news is that Nick’s phantom pains have been virtually nonexistent today. We’ll take this WIN… and build on it, one day at a time.
We’re developing a pattern here: one good day, one bad day, lather, rinse, repeat.
Yesterday was awesome, so naturally today had to suck.
We were at Skydive San Diego all day yesterday while I took a course to learn how to fly my parachute more effectively. It was a massive success and I made a huge breakthrough. I even walked away with improved ways of teaching the basics to my own students. I got to soak up knowledge from one of the top dudes in the sport. Such a win! Well worth the money, time and considerable effort to get down there. I highly recommend the Flight-1 course to any skydiver! I just wish I didn’t wait 8 years to finally take it.
Our friend Whitney came over tonight and performed a killer massage on Nick and taught me some manual lymphatic drainage techniques to use on his stumps. She also brought some special stump compression socks that are made with silver. He loves the way they feel!
It felt really good when Whitney told us how healthy we look. She said we are “practically the picture of health.” I work so hard everyday to keep us in good food, clean water, healthful movement and peaceful energy. It’s nice to be noticed for it, even though we are truly doing it for ourselves.
Our health is my number one priority right now, and I can see it remaining that way from now on. I learned at an early age that if you don’t have your health, you don’t have much. In my youth I didn’t always seek to live a healthy lifestyle, but I’ve always recognized the benefits of doing so. It’s a lot of effort to be healthy, maybe that’s why more people don’t do it.
We have a hellacious busy week ahead of us. Hope we can keep our shit together long enough to power through it…and maybe even enjoy the process.
We took a huge leap of faith yesterday and got Nick on a different medication in hopes of helping his phantom and nerve pain. Nick wants off all the medication, and has even weened himself off of one in the last two months, so to want to try a new pill for his pain is a big step. He took the first dose last night and is already noticing some changes. His phantom pain has dramatically decreased, but he’s groggy, foggy, and irritable. Hmmm… that’s quite a trade-off isn’t it? He has decided to give it a run for a week or two to see how it affects him.
But just because he’s taking a fancy new pill that doesn’t’ mean we’re giving up on all the alternative therapies. He had his second acupuncture appointment yesterday and he’s seeing a new hypnotherapist on Tuesday.
These past few weeks have been rough, and I wish I could say otherwise. His pain is a constant reminder of how drastically our lives have changed. I’m doing everything I can to support and encourage him, comfort and console him. I’m also doing everything I can to keep a positive head about myself. It’s hard, but I know I’m kicking ass and making the absolute best out of every moment. That’s all I can do, right? Be my best self.
I realize that I still haven’t completely healed or put the trauma behind me. It’s obvious by how much it still rules my daily life. I’d like to make quicker progress, but because Nick and I are so intertwined, we are moving at a mutually effective pace. And I’m okay with that.
Yesterday we went to lunch with my two cousins Cheryl and Kim. I’ve never hung out with them like that and it felt so good to make that important family connection. And Nick was completely transformed after spending a few hours with those lively, loving women. He was absolutely miserable on the way there, and left two hours later feeling happy and alive. How awesome is that?
EDIT: I spoke too soon. Just moments after hitting “publish” on this blog post Nick told me that the phantom pains have been kicking his ass for the past hour. I feel so bad for him when he’s hurting like this, I just can’t stand it.