120 Minutes for the Asthmatic Hiker

I asked for silence and the freedom to hike at my own pace as we entered the woods. Silence to quiet the noise. There was way too much noise in my head. Noise that means nothing in the grander scheme of things but was just enough to send me spiraling into a self criticizing session. Noise like, I’d set false expectations on the time schedule for the morning in my household and I was in fear of running out of time for a hike before we went to our Thanksgiving dinner. The REI hiking pants that I’d purchased in September were tight in the waist and the scarf I’d brought on the hike to cover my nose and mouth from the cold was too itchy.

It had been 129 days since my last hike. I’ve been hiding from the trail with my tail between my legs and making excuses why I haven’t made the time to go hiking. In reality when I want to do something, I find the time. Fear tends to paralyze you though. This year has not been a good one for my asthma. Sensitivity to below freezing or stifling hot temperatures, three rounds of Prednisone therapy between early February and late August and a harshly stated truth in September from my primary physician, “Your asthma is uncontrolled”. I also find myself easily winded when I am forced to walk or hike at other people’s paces. People who are taller than me and can handle longer strides and are able to take faster paces with ease. Faster than my 5’1″ legs. This has been my reality this year. Sometimes it makes me want to fucking scream. Scream in frustration as my self confidence smashes into the ground like my grandmother used to smash the ants in her backyard. There would be nothing left of the ant after she finished with it. Self confidence level zero in the feeling healthy and fit department. Great. Just great.

Well guess what? I got tired of that crap. I’m 47, not 90 and I enjoy being physically fit. Six years ago I was running 5K’s and treadmill running. I’d run 3-5 miles 2-3 times a week on the treadmill at the gym and I loved every minute that I was dripping wet with sweat and my heart and lungs felt like they were going to explode from my chest. I’ve since lost interest in running but I do know there are other ways you can get a satisfying high from cardio exercise. I prefer walking and hiking now.

Time to reclaim my lungs. Baby steps. First, I began using my inhalers differently. This was a little mental for me. I continued with my twice daily steroid inhaler and weaned myself off daily use of my rescue inhaler. I had to realize that I don’t need the rescue inhaler as much as I think I do. When I walk to exercise, I remind myself that my heart is pumping away and I’m sweating and breathing a little faster because I’m exercising, that I’m okay and this feels good. When it gets really cold out, I plan to wear a cold weather face shield. Second, I began taking daily vitamins. Vitamin D3, Super B-Complex and a Women’s One a Day Energy and Metabolism. Third, I joined Young Living. I purchased an essential oil roll on called Breathe Again that I roll on my chest after my shower each day. The fourth and final thing is my favorite. Deep breathing exercises. The easiest way to bring yourself into the present and prevent your mind from traveling to places you don’t want it to is to take deep cleansing breath. I found this has been beneficial to my lungs as well.

So on Thanksgiving morning, with my trekking poles in hand, my boots tied tight and a heart filled with hope, I left all the nonsense noise in my head at the trail head took my newly reclaimed lungs hiking for the first time in 129 days. My husband graciously left me to hike my own hike at my own pace and I set off by myself in silence and planned to meet him at our designated check point.

I was a little nervous at first. We decided to hike the opposite direction of our favorite trail and that involves a gradual steady rise in elevation that in the past I haven’t wanted to challenge myself with. I covered my face and kept a steady pace, pausing when I needed to for a quick breath or to just observe nature. When I noticed the swishing sound of my hiking pants rubbing together with each step, it occurred to me that I’d established my own rhythm and that I was tolerating my comeback hike without difficulty. With each landmark of the trail that I arrived at, I smiled in celebration and conquered each elevation rise at a pace I could tolerate. I didn’t see any wildlife but midway through I crossed paths with another hiker who had his two dogs off their leashes. The dogs approached me silently and we made eye contact and went our separate ways. They were beautiful dogs and my encounter with them only enhanced the beauty of the experience.

Yesterday I hiked 3.19 miles in 120 minutes of silence and today I hiked 3.75 miles in 150 minutes of silence, leaving the woods with renewed motivation, confidence and a sore butt. I’ll take it.

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Pressing On

In case you are new to this blog, I am a Pre-Op nurse. I am assigned on average 7 patients during my nine hour shift. My job is to do a physical assessment, a medication reconciliation, a health assessment and comb through their medical history with a fine tooth comb to find anything about their health history that may indicate the patient is not safe to go under anesthesia. I also educate patient and families, comfort them, medicate as needed, place IV access and give IV fluids. It’s fast paced and mental. Some patients come for elective surgery. Some come because their lives depend on it. Lots of sick people for me this week. Today was particularly difficult. Everyone’s life depended on their surgery today. To top it off, in the middle of the day, one of my coworkers was notified of a death in her family. She had to leave immediately. Those of us that remained just pushed on as if we were soldiers on a battlefield, pulling our own casualties to safety and pressing on to fight the terrible war against death. The day dragged on and on with hard IV sticks, complicated medical histories, and unexpected additional tasks.

When I sat in my car to go home, I realized that I had not yet processed the death of my coworker’s parent. Despite our busy start, we’d spent the beginning of our morning laughing, teasing each other and bickering as we always do when we are assigned in the same area. Now the flow of her life has changed and I am sad for her.

Towards the end of the day I was getting some negative vibes from a patient. I felt like she and her husband didn’t like me. Maybe I just sounded too systematic to her or too routine. Maybe it’s my imagination. Maybe she was too worried about her condition to appear friendly. She was assigned to me as fast as my coworker ran out the door. I was hypoglycemic and in shock over my coworker’s loss. Yet I pressed on as best I could, because I am a nurse.