Saturday, October 5, 2019

At least I was doing something cool?

Hey Friends,

It's been a rough month. Heading back to work after Monty's death has sucked the big one. The addition of way too many changes at work combined with feeling the loss of Monty every single day has made this one of my most challenging months yet. It's strange. I find myself bracing myself for moments that I know will be difficult - pulling up to my school and not seeing Monty's CRV parked in its spot, heading up to my desk in the office and sitting next to Monty's empty chair, the one with a piece of masking tape on the back with the word "nerd" written on it (I did that about a year ago and he, surprisingly, never took it off!), and heading to Friday happy hour knowing that Monty would not be sauntering in, predictably donning his trusty black t-shirt. Those moments are Ok because I'm prepared. It's the moments that I'm not prepared for that hit me the hardest. One day as I walked my student to my therapy room I thought I heard Monty's voice. I turned quickly and then my heart sank. Of course it wasn't Monty. Monty is gone. I felt such an intense pain in my chest I thought that I would fall over. I hadn't prepared myself for that one. The same thing happens occasionally when I am driving. The thought suddenly pops into my head, "Monty is gone." The hurt is so intense and I find myself bursting into tears.

I saw a grief analogy that explains this phenomenon perfectly. Grief is like a box with a ball inside. On one side inside the box is a pain button. Initially, in the early grieving stages, your ball is massive and takes up the entire box. It just constantly sits on the pain button. As your grief begins to subside, your ball gets smaller. It bounces around the box. It doesn't hit the pain button as often; however, you just never know when it will bounce directly on the pain. When it hits, you have no warning. Makes sense. I just really miss my bud. We leaned on each other when things at work were hard. Work is really hard right now and he's not here to lean on, nor is he here leaning on me. When things sucked at work we used to play "hands slap" to blow off steam (You try to slap the person's hands before they can pull their hands away). What I wouldn't give to play that stupid game again. I'd even let him win. Sigh. It just sucks.

In other news, I apparently tore a ligament and stretched a tendon in my hand. It's ok though. At least I did it doing something cool. One of my frustrations about my stupid cartilage disease is that I never have a good story to back up my injury. Do you know how many times I've wanted to lie and tell someone that I hurt my knee skydiving or whitewater rafting in the Rockies? "I'm on crutches because I have a disease in my cartilage" is so freakin' boring and lame. So although a torn ligament and stretched tendon is not such a serious diagnosis, at least I am able to back up this injury with a decent story.

As I'm sure you know (because I shamelessly bragged all summer), my knees were quite awesome and I was able to get back to one of my favorite sports, wakesurfing. With increased confidence and bravado, simply surfing the wake was not enough, so I began incorporating a few tricks into my surf. One such trick, known as the "fire hydrant," is comprised of placing your right hand on the board in front of you and lifting your right leg out behind you. I actually landed the trick a few times over the summer, so I wasn't too nervous about giving it a whirl during each surf. Unfortunately during my last surf of the summer I lost my balance mid hydrant and jammed my fingers and knuckles into the board as I fell. My hand swelled up and I couldn't close my fingers for a few days, but eventually it subsided and although it still ached, I assumed it would ultimately heal on its own with time.

Cue 9 weeks post "fire hydrant fail." My hand is still swollen and my fingers are stiff. I get shooting pains down my fingers when I try to hold a pen or open a jar. I really didn't want to deal with it until it began to affect my ability to stably grasp my wine glass. At that point I knew it was serious business. Once it interfered with one of the few things that is currently bringing me joy, I knew intervention was necessary. After numerous appointments with my Doc, X-ray, and physio, it has been determined that I suffer from a torn ligament and a stretched tendon. it is. I'm really good at physio and looking forward to showing off my physio skills to some new poor unsuspecting physio. Hey, at least when she asks, "How did you do this?" I can show her this:

#winning #sorta 

So that's how things are going. There are days when I wonder if I will ever feel true happiness again. I don't want to wake up each day just wishing for it to be over. But then there are days when I hear myself laughing at something one of my kids said, days when I catch myself smiling with a friend, and days where things feel OK-ish. So I guess eventually I will. I need to try harder and choose happiness. I know that...but easier said than done. Unfortunately the reality is that  regardless of how small that ball gets, it will always be bouncing around the box.

stupid ball 

Cheers Friends. Take care.

Wednesday, August 28, 2019


On August 10, at 2:30am, Ev and I got a phone call that would forever change our lives. A best bud, an island brother, Monty Larrew, had died. His death was sudden and unexpected. I had just been texting with him 5 hours prior! It couldn't be true and I sat up all night pinching myself in hopes that I would wake up from this nightmare.

The last few weeks have been a blurry roller coaster of ups and downs, or as Monty would describe it, "peaks and valleys." While we operated on foggy autopilot, our family and friends helped Ev and I pack up our belongings at Candle Lake and we made the long trek back to the island with the pets. As we touched down in Cayman, my eyes filled with tears. I didn't want to be here. Monty was always the one who picked us up from the airport ("You guys look... 'fresh'" 😬), and I knew that this time Monty's silver CRV wouldn't be waiting for us. It just didn't feel like home anymore and nothing on this island would ever be the same. I wanted to remain on that plane and go anywhere but Cayman. But...we got off the plane and faced everything head on. Monty had been staying at our place before he was admitted to the hospital. Thankfully, Stacey had gone in earlier and took his belongings out, but Monty's signature scent lingered, and his coffee mug remained in the sink. It was just so hard to believe that he had recently been right here and now he was just...gone.

Monty's Mom, Fran, reached out from Eads, Colorado and asked me to write a tribute to Monty for the service in Colorado. That was a blessing. I immersed myself in my writing for two days, wanting so desperately to accurately depict Monty's life in Cayman. I wrote furiously, thinking, "What would his parents want to hear?" I knew that I had to communicate Monty's love for the children with whom he worked, his incredible work ethic, as well as his friendships with such a diverse group of people on the island. I wanted them to know what a thoughtful man he was, always bringing in treats for the office, helping me after surgery, and giving his time to any friend in need. I wanted them to know that he was so loved and respected here in Cayman and that he was living a good life. When I knew that Fran had received my written piece and that she liked it, I went to bed and stayed there for a few days. I alternated between being okay and sobbing uncontrollably. But....I could hear Monty's voice, "Ok buds, settle down," and I would force myself out of bed to walk the dog.

Evan and I, along with a small group of Monty's close friends, had the honour of flying Monty's ashes back to his family farm in Colorado. The trip was hard. It was long, gruelling, emotionally and physically exhausting...but one of the most rewarding trips that Evan and I have ever taken. Monty's family was so thankful and grateful to us and it felt so good to embrace his Mom and Dad and to meet his four siblings and nieces and nephews. It was soon evident to us that Monty was the perfect combination of his Mom and Dad. He possessed his Dad's mischievous twinkle in his eye and "stand up for what you believe in" attitude and his Mom's fun-loving "first person to arrive and last person to leave the party" personality and nurturing demeanor. We could feel Monty's presence everywhere - on the porch swing, on his John Deere combine, in the garden, and in the den where he read every night with his parents during summer break. For the first time since Monty died, I felt like he was still with me, that he was okay,  and that maybe I would be okay too.

Monty's parents, Fran and Randy flew back to Cayman with us. The last time that they flew was seven years ago when they visited Monty on the Brac. I felt terrible dragging them on a horrible red eye from Denver, but they never complained once, and it was our only option. Once we landed in Cayman, it was a whirlwind of dinners, services, celebrations, and condolences. The Department of Education held a service for Monty on Friday, which was an unprecedented government event. It was a beautiful ceremony - the hall was donned in flowers arranged in a farm theme, people whom Monty respected greatly read tributes, one of Monty's students sang the Cayman National Song, a tear-jerking slideshow with photos and videos was presented, and our beloved Music Therapist played Bob Marly "One Love" on the steelpan drums. I was so thankful for my island bestie, Andrea, who stepped up and read the tribute that I had written for Monty beautifully. I think that his parents felt overwhelmed by love and support and I hope that they felt proud of themselves for raising such a special human who had impacted so many lives. Saturday was the "friends event" at Monty's favourite beach bar, Calicos. We watched the sun set over the Caribbean with Monty's buds and the stories, hugs, and tears were shared over drinks and Monty's favourite songs. On Sunday we attended a quiet ceremony on beach where we prayed, shared a few words and stories about Monty. We watched one last sunset with Monty, spread his ashes in the sand, and released lanterns into the night sky. This ceremony felt like a final goodbye. It was all a LOT to take in, but overall, all three events were exactly what Monty would have wanted and truly represented who Monty was and what he meant to us and to Cayman.

It's kind of incredible how your body reacts to tragedy. With adrenaline coursing through my veins all weekend, I shed a few tears, but mostly operated without full awareness/feeling, ensuring that Fran and Randy were doing okay and distracted by the logistics of each event. I can't count how many hugs that I received. I'm not much of a hugger, but I found myself holding on tight to each and every person who approached me. I heard "I'm so sorry," more times than I can count, but my only reply was, "I'm sorry too." I'm sorry for Monty's students, I'm sorry for Monty's friends and co-workers,  and I am so deeply sorry for Monty's family. What else can one say? I am so sorry that this happened.

Having Monty's parents, Fran and Randy here with us was such a gift. I don't know if they realize how their presence has helped so many of us heal. This trip must have been exceptionally difficult for them, yet they attended each and every meal, meeting, and ceremony with a smile on their face, interested and engaged in every conversation with anyone and everyone who wanted to share a Monty memory. Their strength really helped me maintain focus and stay relatively present for each of the events. I know that Evan and I have developed a lifelong connection with Monty's family and it gives me comfort to know that we will maintain ties with them forever.

I don't know how to do this island without Monty. Monty was a part of my work life, personal life, and "family" life here in Cayman. I don't know how to do this island without Monty, but I know that I will figure it out. I will go back to work, but I will have to begin each day without Monty. Monty will no longer be knocking on my school office door every morning to discuss our daily schedule and hash out our issues. I will have to be more assertive in meetings, as I will no longer have my passionate bud present to advocate for our students. I will have to step up and be more sensitive to my officemates moods and feelings because we no longer have Monty as the equilibrium of our office. I will have to continue going to the gym and taking care of my knees, but Monty will no longer be on the rower cheering me on. I will have to continue to organize happy hours, island tours, and Sunday barbeques for our friends but there will be a huge void left without Monty's sarcastic comments and contagious laugh. We will have to continue to travel and see the world, but we will no longer have Monty taunting us with his Exit row. I will do all of these things because that's what Monty would want. But I will have to do them all without Monty.

Eventually I will figure out how to do this island without Monty.  But at this present moment, I need some time. I feel so tired. I feel empty. My knees, which have been happy all summer, ache every time I move. My eyelids feel so heavy, yet when I attempt to sleep, my eyeballs twitch beneath them. I alternate between being ravenous and feeling sick at the thought of consuming food. I fluctuate between feeling so incredibly sad that my chest hurts and laughing out loud at some stupid punchline that I've heard hundreds of times on a "Friends" episode. According to the literature, these are all "normal" symptoms of grief. A book that I am reading, "Option B," discusses how brutal everyday life feels during acute grief. It advises against numbing or suppressing the pain with alcohol or drugs.  The book encourages you to "lean into the suck" because the suck is inevitable. I feel like I'm not just leaning into the suck, but am completely immersed in the suck right now. It hurts a lot, but it makes total sense. We just lost one of the most important people in our lives. We lost one of us. We lost a brother. It should fricken hurt. And it will...for a while.

I have so many memories of Monty, but I have one simple one that I am presently clinging to. It was a Friday in June. We had just finished DIBELS testing, an intense literacy test administered to hundreds of students by Ed Psychs and Speech Therapists three times a year. Monty and I were exhausted, but riding a high because we had just completed one of the most productive weeks of work. My car was in the shop so Monty gave me a ride home. Monty rolled down the windows that day and the hot tropical air was whipping through our hair. Monty stopped and grabbed us a Red Stripe for da road. He handed me his phone and instructed me to text Matty from Bob FM with a song request. I asked Monty, "Can we listen to Toto - "Africa"?" Monty knew that I loved that song. He smiled and said, "Sure Kirstie -  because God knows it's always all about you!" (He loved that line!) Matty obliged and "Africa" was on the radio within minutes. Monty cranked up the volume and we sang at the top of our lungs, "Gonna take a lot to drag me away from you!" We sounded pretty awful, but we smiled and shouted out the lyrics with no shame. When the song ended Monty looked at me, grinning from ear to ear and said, "That was real good, bud." Monty, I hope you know just how much I loved you.

Cheers Friends.

Monday, July 29, 2019

Pour some sugar on me

I'm sure almost everyone has "a song." You know...that special song that conjures up incredible feelings? That song that transports you to a time when you were at the peak of your awesomeness. Perhaps at some point in your life, "that song" began playing at a bar and all your friends screamed your name and pulled you on the dance floor. Maybe "that song" played during your midget hockey warm-up when you still believed you were destined for the NHL? Maybe "that song" was playing on the radio the night that you kissed your future husband for the first time? Everyone has "a song"!

I most definitely have a song. My song is "Pour Some Sugar on Me" by Def Leopard. Back in my beer slinging days, when I spent my summers drinking for free bartending/waitressing at Rick's Lounge, Candle Lake, "Pour Some Sugar on Me" was my summer anthem for nearly 5 summers. Rick's Lounge had a DJ every weekend in the summer. His name was Steve. When Steve couldn't make it, another DJ filled in for Steve, but because Candle Lakers aren't too keen on change, we all referred to him as Steve 2. I'm pretty certain that there was a third DJ in case of emergency. Naturally we referred to him as Steve 3. Regardless of which Steve was DJ'ing, all the Steves knew that Def Leopard was my jam. At any point in the night, the eery echo, "Love is like a bomb...bomb...bomb" would fill the stale bar air. That was my cue to drop my cash caddy on the spot. As Joe Elliot beckoned, "Step inside...walk this and me babe...hey! hey!" I was met on the dance floor with all of my Candle Lake buds and any hope of being served a drink for the next 4 minutes and 28 seconds by "Thirsty Kirstie" were completely out the window. I danced on tables, I danced on the bar, I played the smallest air guitar in the history of air guitars during the famous guitar solo. I even riled up the crowd by yelling the most epic line of the song, "Do you take sugar? One lump or two?!" Confession: I actually sang the incorrect lyrics for 5 years, "Do you take sugar? One more time!" Oops. No one appeared to notice or care so whatevs, right?

 I even brought Def Leopard with me to our wedding in 2005. While Ev maturely visited with our guests and thanked them for attending our big day, I danced precariously on my cousin's shoulders, arms raised in the air, bridal gown obscuring cousin Mark's view and shouted, "Do you take sugar? One more time!!!" Anyway, you get the drift, right? Pour some sugar on me was the anthem of my carefree party like a rockstar 20's. Unfortunately now that I've reached the ripe mature age of 40, my rockstar stage has disappeared. The Westin frowns upon tiny air guitars during happy hour and, let's be honest, these knees aren't capable of demonstrating just what being "hot, so hot, sticky and sweet from my head, my head, to my feet" looks like anymore. But still...I have the memories and Def Leopard will always have a special place in my heart.

Fast forward to 3 days ago in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan. Ev and I decided to leave the lake for a night and spend an evening in the big city. We rented a room at the Delta Bessborough in downtown Saskatoon and went out for dinner and cocktails. As I was checking out Friday morning, I noticed 3 giant tour buses parked outside the hotel. The buses were pimped out and obviously belonged to someone who would be considered a BIG DEAL.  I tried to peek inside but the tinted windows clouded my view. As I headed to our vehicle, wondering who the hell could be in the buses, I noticed a man sitting on the ground near my car, begging for money. I told him, "sorry," and carried on to my car only to realize I had forgotten my keys back in the hotel. As I walked past the tour buses again, I began thinking just how much Saskatoon had changed over the years. I couldn't recall anyone begging for money when I lived in Saskatoon in 1999, and now there appeared to be homeless people all over the downtown area. As I passed the tour buses, I also passed a greasy looking man with long hair and grubby jeans. I was a little shocked to see that the man only had one arm. My immediate thought was that he was probably going to ask me for money as well, and I realized that I did have a toonie in my pocket. I decided that if he asked me for money, I would give him my toonie. Life with one arm can't be easy! As I passed the one armed man, he gave me a head nod and walked toward the tour bus. "Oh!" I thought to myself, "he must be a roadie." Doesn't every great band have a one-armed roadie?

I pondered the tour bus situation as I drove back to Candle Lake that afternoon. My mom came over to the deck for a few bottles glass of wine and I described the buses and the one-armed roadie to her. My mom looked at me incredulously and responded, "Kirstie. Google the drummer for Def Leopard." I picked up my phone and was shocked to see that Rick Allen, the drummer for Def Leopard, has one arm. And...Def Leopard was headlining in Saskatoon that night. SHIT! You mean...I walked past Def Leopard and didn't even realize it? I had a chance to thank the man who contributed to my popularity and great success as the world's smallest air guitar-er and I missed it?? Thank God I did not toss him a toonie! In hindsight, it's probably for the best that I was completely oblivious to the fact that I was in the presence of greatness. As you all know, I get kinda weird around bands and do creepy, awkward things... so the cool head nod was a much better alternative than jumping Rick Allen and singing, "Do you take sugar? One more time!!!"

Cheers friends!

Saturday, May 25, 2019

Navigating a Chronic disease diagnosis: 5 things I wish I would have known when I was diagnosed

I can't believe how many people I know have been diagnosed with a chronic illness - young, seemingly healthy friends who have been handed a diagnosis of psoriatic arthritis, crohn's disease, endometriosis - the list goes on and on. I was diagnosed with a chronic disease at the age of 34 - about 6 years ago. However, it didn't really occur to me that my disease was chronic until just a few years ago when I realized that I was suffering from something that was persisting and reoccurring - hence; chronic.

My diagnosis is quite rare - 1 in 100,000 to be exact, so I don't know anyone personally who also suffers from Osteochrondritis dissecans (OCD - not to be confused with the compulsion disorder). This disease affects the cartilage in my joints (presently both knees and an elbow), and has required 11 surgeries over the past 6 years just to keep me mobile. I am a member of a facebook "support" group (more on that later) who share my diagnosis, so I do frequent that site from time to time. Just a few days ago as a read a new post on the site I felt myself shaking my head and cringing. A 25 year old woman explained that she had recently been diagnosed with OCD in both knees. She was a marathon runner. She expressed her determination to "fight the disease" and continue to compete in marathons, despite her diagnosis and her Orthopedic surgeon's recommendations. The reason that I shook my head and cringed was because that was me. Ok...I wasn't a competitive marathon runner but I fought my diagnosis with determination for at least a solid year...and you know what? I did not do myself any favors.

I understand that my chronic disease is much different than most of the diseases that my friends are facing. OCD specifically affects my mobility. It is a visible disease in that people can see when I am suffering, unlike diseases like crohn's or diabetes where there are no overt signs to signal "Hey! I feel like shit today!" On the other hand, I think that anyone who has been diagnosed with a disease that seemingly has no cure will share similiar experiences and feelings. Although I'm still navigating life with a chronic illness, I have learned a lot over the past 6 years. Therefore, I've compiled a list of 5 things I wish someone would have told me when I was first diagnosed with a chronic disease:

1) You and your body are on the same team

Like the 25 year old woman on the online support group, I immediately went into fight mode when I received my diagnosis. I vividly recall sitting in my Ortho's office, listening (but not "hearing")  his shpiel on life changes associated with OCD, and thinking "F#$% you. You have no idea who you are talking to. I will fight this. I will win." Each time I achieved something that I was told I should no longer do (i.e. jumping), I quietly kept score - Kirstie 1: Knee 0. I recall posting a surfing video of myself and captioning it, "Take that, knee!" I was quickly humbled when I stared at an MRI that indicated that my activities had resulted in significant cartilage damage. Eventually I came to the realization that keeping score implies that my knee and I are on different teams, which is ridiculous. My knee is part of my body and instead of fighting against it, I've learned to keep it happy. You know the saying, "The happier the knee, the happier you will be," No? Okay, I made that up, but you get the point. Follow your Doctor's recommendations, cheer on your body when it is performing well and pamper it when it is struggling. Stop fighting against it.

2) Find a balance between seeking knowledge and living life

With all knowledge available with the click of a mouse, it can be empowering to read, research, and seek out others who share your diagnosis. My online support group has provided me with many useful tips on medication, knee braces, as well as support when I am feeling low.  On the other hand, spending your days studying your disease and interacting with others who share your diagnosis can throw you into a black hole of despair where you become consumed by your disease. If you find yourself searching for the "thing," that magical "thing" that will cure you, it is, unfortunately, likely not going to be found on some online support group. The fact is, people who are consistently posting on your support forum are typically the people who are not doing so well. Think about it, if you are feeling pretty good and positive about your health, you are not spending your days posting on support forums. Therefore, the information that you are getting from your support group can be negative and bleak. Trust me, I've been that person who is laying listless and depressed on the couch and posting daily - misery loves company.  If you find yourself perusing the internet for hours, and feel increasingly hopeless, it's time to get off the computer and get outside of your disease for a few hours.

3) You will experience the grief cycle MANY times and it's Ok. 

Grief is a natural reaction to receiving a diagnosis of a chronic disease. You are essentially grieving your old self. Your life will change. You will never be the same. It's freaking sad. You will experience denial ("Not me. I will fight this!"), anger ("Why is this happening to me? I've always taken care of my body. This is not fair!),  depression ("I can't face the world today"), bargaining ("If I could just run again I swear that I will be a better person"), and acceptance ("I can't run anymore, but I can swim"). I would also add a new and exciting stage to this cycle: Fear/Uncertainty ("Sure my disease is dormant today, but what's going to happen tomorrow?").

I would estimate that since my diagnosis 6 years ago, I have cycled through anger, depression, fear, and acceptance at least 300 times! What's shocking is that I often don't recognize this and am suddenly dismayed that I feel an intense emotion! Just last week as I was recovering from surgery #11 I was out at a social event with my friends, my knee gave out, and I fell on a table. Initially I was mortified, but that was quickly followed by intense anger. Once I returned home, I threw my purse against the wall and screamed. And then I cried.  For about 60 minutes I felt betrayed by my body, I felt sad that I have this stupid disease, and eventually I came to the conclusion that my knee is still recovering, it wasn't a super huge deal, and my friends don't think any less of me. A few years ago that incident would have preoccupied my thoughts for days. I will say that now that I am able to identify why I'm feeling a particular emotion, and allow myself to feel that way, I am able to move through the grief cycle much faster.

4) Help your friends help you

I think that it's really important to educate your friends and family about your disease. Don't beat them over the head with it, but provide them with the basic knowledge and how this disease is affecting you so that they can help. I spent a good few years telling everyone that I was "fine." Like a robot, I generated key phrases like, "Coming along," "Feeling fine," or "Getting there." This was sufficient information for acquaintances, but my friends and family became frustrated by the distance that I was creating between us with my nondescript response. I didn't realize that my friends felt powerless too! They, too, were mourning the loss of their old vibrant and healthy buddy. I eventually divulged that I felt sad, hopeless, and depressed. I'm not going to lie - some friends responded with radio silence. Those peeps were surface friends, and I soon realized that they were my "feel good" friends - those buds with whom you party, but not necessarily the friends who you count on. My close buds, on the other hand, responded with an outpouring of support. Although I struggled to answer the age-old question, "What can I do to help?" (I honestly didn't know!), my friends stepped up by simply being there - sending me a funny text, stopping by with a tea, and making me laugh (there were times when I thought that I would never laugh again!). Let your friends help you.

Although it's important to educate your friends and family, don't assume that they are always aware or conscious of your disease. I remember feeling pissed off when my buds chose a venue with stairs for a social event. "Why wouldn't they realize that these stairs are going to be difficult for me? How selfish!" The fact is, your friends aren't thinking about your disease/disability every second of the day because they don't see you as your disease. And that, my friends, is a good thing!

Disclaimer: If you are feeling depressed to the point where you are thinking about harming yourself and/or you can't see a way out of the black hole, please seek professional help. I worked with a pain psychologist who was instrumental in arming me with the strategies that I needed to keep my head above water during challenging times.

5) Life does, in fact, go on

Ahhh...easier said than done. There were so many times where I really didn't believe that life would go on. I likened myself to my little white dog, sitting at the window and watching the world pass by without me. It's been 6 years since my diagnosis and realizing that life does go on has been the most difficult concept for me to grasp, and there are still days where I feel just the opposite. And you know what? - sometimes we are just not ready to hear that life will go on, and that's fine too. But looking back at the past 6 years I can see that this sucky disease has actually opened up opportunities for me - I was forced to adapt and make changes, changes that have opened up my eyes to a whole new world. For example, the cold weather in Canada was wreaking havoc on my joints, and that was the push I needed to pursue a life in a warmer climate. And here I am - loving life in Grand Cayman! In addition, although receiving this diagnosis initially challenged our marriage,  I know that my husband and I are much stronger as a couple having navigated this disease together. We are a better team because of my OCD. Your disease might prevent you from continuing with your  job or partaking in physical activities that you love. You are allowed to grieve that, but also see it as an opportunity to try something different. Often people become stagnant, locked into the lifestyle they believe they are supposed to live and are scared to veer in a different direction. Sometimes a diagnosis creates the push that you need to make those changes and, essentially,  live a happier life.

Friday, May 3, 2019

Philly trip: Cheesesteaks, baseball....and a little surgery

Hey friends,

Well I can't believe surgery #11 has already come and gone and I'm back on our little island, recovering quite nicely.

I hate to brag, but let me tell ya, after enduring all these freakin' knee surgeries (11 to be exact), I'm pretty damn good at surgery. Is that something to brag about? Despite my fabulous surgery skills (it sounds like I perform my own surgeries πŸ˜‚),  there has always been some type of complication - whether it's pain control or nausea and puking, there has consistently been an issue post surgery. Hence, I'm typically prepared for the worst - compiling pain management strategies and meditation techniques to combat nerves. Surgery #11, however, entailed no preparation whatsoever. None. Zero. I literally wolfed down a ball park hotdog at Citizens Bank Park,  and cheered on a 5-1 Phillies victory without a care in the world a mere 10 hours before I limped into Penn Hospital for my surgery at 5am on Monday morning. Whatevs. Dr. Carey, take the wheel! She's all yours!

Surgery, what surgery? Go Phillies!

My awesome Team!

Any nerves that I did feel dissipated as soon as I ran into all my Penn Med "friends." It was nice to be greeted by the same Nurses, Anesthesiologist, and of course my Surgeon and his fabulous PA, who all remembered me and were keen to see how I was doing while prepping me for surgery. I think one of the most important things to me during the last  6+ years of dealing with this disease is to form personal connections with the medical staff who is caring for me. It's paramount to me that my care providers see me as a real person - plus I'm a social person and it calms my nerves to learn more about the people who are helping me as well! So it was nice to hear that Nurse Tom's daughter is loving 3rd grade and that Dr. Sabrina just had a well deserved spa weekend. I felt a bit like a Penn Med celeb as I overheard another patient in pre-op brag about his "4th knee surgery," to which I heard my Nurse quickly respond, "That's nothing! My patient lives in the Cayman Islands and this is her 11th knee surgery!" haha. Trump that one random knee dude in Preop #8. Funny aside: I overheard random knee dude explain that he was a lawyer. When the Anesthesiologist asked what type of lawyer he was, he responded, "a good one." hehe. Touche. Anyway, by the time I was done catching up with my buds,  I was being wheeled into the operating room. I met a new OR Nurse, Charlie, and just as I was chatting to him about the Phillies win on Sunday, I was out cold.  I woke up a few hours later, and other than the foul taste of anesthetic in my mouth, I felt pretty darn good. On my typical post surgery high, I listened to other patients in recovery moaning in pain, sat up wide eyed in bed and exclaimed, "Ok, I'm ready to get out of here!" (I always feel like I don't belong with the sick people after surgeryπŸ˜‚!!) Once back in my room, I bragged to Mom and Evan about how I awesome I felt and showed my Nurses how talented I was on crutches as they realized I did not require assistance to the bathroom. I was a cocky little shit! know what? It felt good! 

Anyone seen my knee? Anyone? Anyone?

Usually my cockiness fades as the anesthetic wears off, but this time the pain was minimal and I was able to go back to our apartment that day. It's always important to me to stop taking narcotics as quickly as possible, given my history of dependence, and the yucky way that they make me feel. I was quickly able to transition from Dilaudid to Tylenol, and although I felt a little queasy, there was no puke, which was a welcome surprise. Overall, I'd say it was my most successful surgery yet - it only took 11 to find the sweet spot. Whoot whoot.

The results of the surgery were fairly positive. Unfortunately, I've now had a few complications from the big transplant surgery that took place 2 years ago. Dr. Carey explained that the chances of any complications are less than 5% and I've now had 3 complications - which makes me...rare? One of which is that my cartilage overgrew. But is that really a complication? I would say that's overachieving cartilage, no? Anyway, that overgrown cartilage was catching so he gave it a little haircut. In addition, I had a tear in the new meniscus transplant that I was equipped  with 2 years ago. Dr. Carey had to trim that I'm now I'm only left with 75% of my newly acquired meniscus, but I had 0% meniscus for many many years, so 75% seems like a decent number. The meniscus acts as a "first defence" to my cartilage transplants, so it is important, at this point, that it's there in some aspect. I think the daunting information is that my other knee, the right knee, is continuing to deteriorate with the disease.  Luckily, despite these complications in the left, Dr. Carey is optimistic that my prognosis is good, and I am still a candidate to receive the transplant surgery in my right knee. However, I have to be prepared for the fact that my right knee will likely have the same complications as the left knee.  After an informative discussion with my Surgeon (have I mentioned how much he LOVES cartilage?), my goal is to put off the transplant surgery in the right knee for a few more years. I need to continue to strengthen both knees, and just live my life (with no running or jumping, of course). The upcoming transplant surgeries will be intense, and likely require multiple surgeries, but that's a "future Kirstie" problem. I am cautiously optimistic that I can get back, participating in all the activities that I was partaking in last summer, quite quickly. Dr. Carey admitted that he has a successful surgery patient file, which presently contains a picture of me surfing. The type A perfectionist in me really wants to maintain my "success" status. 😜

I am rare like the exquisite rare pink dolphin! πŸ˜‚

I'm already back in Cayman with my Mom and Ev. Philly has become a bit of a second home these past few years, and although I find the people to be really friendly and the food to be delicious, it is sooo nice to be back in the tropical sunshine! Mom is staying to help out for as long as I need it (thank you MOM!), but I'm hopeful that my recovery will be fairly quick this time around. I need to remember that I did just have surgery, and although it's important to get back into physio and regular activity, it's also important to just chill and take a break. So I'm tabling the cocky attitude and taking it easy. My body deserves that.

I really appreciate all of the messages that I've received from each and every one of you. It means a lot knowing that I have an awesome group of friends and family supporting and cheering me on. I've learned from experience that recovery can be lonely, so it's super helpful to surround myself with people who lift me up. Thanks guys! Cheers to you and cheers to the medical researchers who think cartilage is cool.

Wednesday, April 24, 2019

40 - feeling comfortable in your own skin and swimming with pigs

Hey Friends!

It's been another exciting month - a joint boat birthday party with my buddy Barrett, getting rear-ended in the new (to us) vehicle, and actually turning the big 4-Oh on a boat in the Bahamas!

My buddy Barrett turned 40 a few weeks before me, so we decided upon a joint birthday party, given that we share the same set of incredible friends. My island bestie, Andrea, planned it for us and it was a super fun day! One of my favourite things about the party was that my sister was on island. I love having Kayla here and it was so special that she could be here for my birthday party! The other favourite part of the party was the giant "40" board that Andrea created using my and Barrett's pics from our childhoods. Barrett and I could have been brother and sister, given our dorky blonde bowl cuts and similar frame. We had a fabulous day with super fun peeps, swimming with the famous Cayman stingrays (I kissed one for good luck), drinking champagne in a floating pineapple, and jumping from the top deck of our boat. I even danced on my shitty knees, and although they protested the next day, it was well worth it! At one point, a giant yacht pulled up next to our little rental and I peered over to observe what looked like the Biggy and Puff "Hypnotize" video (I am totally aging myself here!) There were beautiful big bootied girls posing on the helm while large dudes in thick gold chains cooly observed their harem. The back "hatch" of the yacht opened to reveal a fleet of jet skis. It looked pretty incredible. I glanced back at our group who were devouring Doritos and Popeyes chicken whilst shooting Patron from a bottle, and laughing hysterically on an oversized pineapple floaty and thought, "These are my people!" Haha. What a great feeling to celebrate in a beautiful place with people who "get" you. Cheers to being comfortable in your own skin. I think that's what 40 is all about!

It took me a few days week to recover from the birthday festivities and just as I was starting to feel like the party fog had lifted, I got rear-ended at work one day. I was stopped, signalling to turn right and a young kid barrelled into me at rocket speed. Luckily our vehicle is a big mother, and only sustained a large dent, while the kid's vehicle was smoking and leaking, and unable to drive away. I thought that I was fine, but I must have sustained a little whiplash because my head and neck hurt for the next few days, which was unfortunate because Ev and I had planned a long weekend to the Bahamas to celebrate my "real" 40th.

The trip to the Bahamas is pretty easy from Cayman. There is a direct flight that stops in Nassau on it's way to London, so we were able to reach Nassau in about an hour. From there, we caught a small plane to Great Exuma Island - you know, where the Fyre Festival didn't happen? We arrived on Exuma on the morning of Good Friday. I was a cranky. My head was pounding and my neck hurt, and I honestly just wanted to sip a pina colada under a palm tree; however, we were immediately greeted by signage all over Great Exuma stating that Good Friday was a "dry" day until 6pm. Now I'm not saying that you need booze to have a good time. In fact, I  have a pretty strict rule on Cayman - I only drink alcohol on the weekends. It's a slippery slope people, especially on a tropical island where everyday can feel like a Saturday! But...I was on holidays. We had 3 days to celebrate our vacay, and I knew that with another surgery looming in the near future, I would be out of commission for about a month. I wanted to thoroughly enjoy my holiday, dammit! We tried sweet talking the bartender, searching for suspicious looking locals who might bootleg us booze, but no luck. This 6pm thing was legit. Needless to say, by 5:58pm Ev and I were saddled up to the bar, waiting for our first holiday cocktail!

I can see for miles and miles...and not a pina colada in sight!

The Bahamas are beautiful islands - comprised of over 700 islands. The water is the most impressive combo of turquoise and aquamarine blues you have ever seen! The Exumas are home to the famous swimming pigs, and although our tour was initially cancelled due to weather, we were able to get out at the end of the day and hang with the piggies. The pigs are very cool - a combination of a giant dog and a bear, the largest ones were huge - weighing more than 300 pounds. Like little puppies, when your boat pulls up to their island, they lumber into the water, and place their giant hooves on your boat deck, begging for some snacks. There were more than 20 baby piglets as well and the massive sow wasn't bothered if you picked up her babies and gave them a snuggle. I loved this island, laughing nervously the entire time, and placing my empty hands in the air when the pigs chased me for more food.

There were a few others people on our tour. Although, I wouldn't really say that they were "on" our tour, due to the fact that they spent the majority of their time trying to capture the perfect selfie, snapchat, or insta story. I'm guilty of posting on social media - probably over-posting at times - but this was next level! It was apparent that the goal of their "tour" was to capture the perfect pic/vid and then immediately get back to the boat to wait for the next photo op stop on the trip. There was NO participation in the tour. I understand politely asking someone to take a picture of you, but they were requesting snapchat videos and 20+poses! Yes, I took a few videos and pictures, but I did put down my phone and  hung out with the pigs for about an hour without actually documenting it (gasp!). Ev and I couldn't believe that our fellow tourists were so obsessed with their devices that they were missing the experience. Shame! Shame! (again, aging myself!)

Even the pig thinks this is hilarious!

The last day of our Bahamas experience was perfect. It was my actual birthday and the sun was back out, the water crystal clear. Ev and I rented a little 17 foot boat to island hop on our own. We packed a cooler and spent the day exploring our own private islands, cruising amongst beautiful yachts and catamarans, and stopping in at little island bars where we met some really interesting people who spend their days sailing the world. We did misjudge low tide just a bit and ran into a sandbar, but Ev got out in the ankle high water and pulled our boat  into deeper waters. Haha! oops. Overall, it was an incredible day!

found a conch shell

beauty day with my bud!

Now that we're back in Cayman, it's suddenly dawned on me that I undergo my 11th knee surgery in less than a week. We fly out to Philly today, and although I think Philadelphia is a really great city, it definitely reminds of pain and puking - two things that I am not looking forward to at all! Typically I try to prepare for surgery, meditating more and strategizing how I will cope with the pain, but I kinda said "eff it" this time around. My plan is to show up and let my trusty surgeon take over. I'm hopeful that my cartilage man can determine why my knee is locking. I'm crossing my fingers that it's an easy fix, and not an indication that my cartilage implants are failing. My trusty Mom and my buddy Ev will be there to support me, which always helps. I go again!

Cheers friends!