In August of 2016, I opted to have a Baclofen pump implanted in my abdomen. It was my hope that the pump would help reduce the spasticity in my affected leg allowing me to run again. Of course my decision was based on more than just running. I wanted to be able to keep up with my boys, be less conscious of how I walk and gain the confidence I had lost. I understood that the pump is only a tool, and I would need to put in the work to reach my goals. And I was and am willing to put in the work. I stretched, exercised and stretched some more. I am putting in the effort to rewire my brain to recognize that my foot is actually a part of my body.
One year and two months later, I have not seen much success from the pump. I noticed small changes like my foot no longer curls up allowing me to wear sandals again (yay!), my foot now lifts completely from the ground allowing for a much easier heel to toe movement. Although it still happens once in a while, my leg no longer swings out from my hip when I walk. Otherwise, the spasticity is still high which results in my leg still feeling like it is 50 pounds heavier than the rest of my body, my knee still does not bend when i walk giving me a very awkward gait and poor balance.
One might think that running is simply putting one foot in front of the other in a faster pace than walking.HA! The biomechanics of running is complicated so I will not even try to explain, but let the experts educate you.
All my life I have been conditioned to listen to my doctor and to follow orders without question. After all, doctors know everything, right? Naah.
My email to my doctor got an auto “out of office reply” so I am waiting for him to get back so I could discuss my issue with the pump. I have been warned that the tone in my leg might be what is holding me up. Hence, the hesitation to raise the dose. I have told the doctor that I feel it is much easier to work with no tone, than too much tone. I’ve not tested this theory, but i am willing to try if I am given the chance. I am willing to take the chance. So, bring it on!
I understand doctors are cautious, I understand there are protocols to follow but I know my body. I know how far and how hard I can push myself.
The New York City Marathon is happening next weekend. NYCM is my bucket list race and it was my goal to run the 26.2 miles this year. I have not given up.
I may have overestimated the “power” of the ITB pump, but I do know that I had put in the work. And I am willing to put in more.
The Brazen Western Pacific race was my first ever 10k back in 2013. I planned on making this year’s race as my first post stroke 10k. I trained, I was pumped and I was ready. I asked my son Vincent to run this race with me.
I had trained, I walked around the neighborhood, walking up the hill and even attempting runs around the city track. Tuesday before the race, I walked/run 4 miles and I still felt good afterwards.
I posted my flat runner on social media and admitted I was a bit nervous for the following day. I was excited to do this race with Vincent. My plan was to have him run the 10k, finish get his medal and then have him wait for me at the last mile. He said “No, I want to stay and walk with you”. He gave me a boost of confidence! So we line up at the start, took the obligatory start line selfies and off we went! I decided to run intervals for this race. I did not use this method while training, but I figured it wasn’t going to make a lot of difference since while training, I run/walk anyway. I set my Garmin for a 2 min run 1 min walk. Vincent was goofing around (it’s nice to be at the back of the pack coz we had the trail to ourselves!) doing walking lunges during the walk phase on the intervals. Of course that didn’t last very long. Ha!
We kept up with the 2:1 intervals. It was 9:30 and it was already getting warm! I had lots of water in my pack so I wasn’t worried. Vincent & I were chatting and having a nice time. After the two mile mark, a very nice woman stopped me and told me how inspired she was to see me out there. She’s also had her share of health issues and she started crying, which of course set me off crying too! She ran the 10k and was on her last mile. She told me “no matter how long it takes you to finish, the important thing is that you finish!” I had her words in my head for the rest of the race. I had to finish.
My son was very impressed with the kindness and encouragement of the runners. He asked me how I knew all these people, I told him I didn’t know them, runners are just nice like that!
As we approach the turn around for the 10k, my leg started spazzing out. When my affected left leg spasms, it will kick out uncontrollably. I had to stop, stretch out a bit then continue. As with all Brazen races, the aid station was stocked with all kinds of goodies. Orange slices, candy, pretzels everything a runner needs to fuel up. I helped myself to some oranges hoping to get my energy level up again. We headed back. Vincent was getting very worried as I was leaning onto him while walking. I was determined to finish. A few runners were stopping to ask if I needed pain relief, others asked if they could get a course monitor to get help. I really must be looking pretty bad. I urged Vincent to keep walking. I was slowing down, but I wanted to finish. We were at 4.20 mi! (yes, my kid thought it would be funny to take a pic of my Garmin at 4.20)
I keep trying to convince him to continue we were so close! Mind over matter right? Focus on the finish! One step at a time. I had filled my mind with positive self talk (they didn’t work). I kept moving. I was willing my leg to move. I was literally talking to my leg out loud “swing, land on heel, roll to toe.” Since I was using my right to compensate for my left, I started having shooting pains going up my right leg. Vincent was clearly worried. It was nearing 11:30 am and the sun was beating down on us. Many of the runners could tell I was in trouble. Vincent had already asked one of the returning runners to let people the next aid station know that we neeeded help (despite my protests).
At this point, the lines of communication between my leg and brain have completely stopped. My foot was rolling over at every step, my leg was frozen and i was completely hunched over to my right. As hard as it was, it was time to admit defeat. A runner helped my son walk me to the bench. It was clear that walking was not happening. As we sat waiting for help to arrive, I was still contemplating the last mile. It was so close. I tried standing up, but Vincent held me back. I saw relief on Vincent’s face when the ranger’s truck finally pulled up and he had the a/c on at full blast.
As we were nearing the finish area I could hear Sam (the Brazen race coordinator)calling out the names of the finishers, the audience cheering and I could see the happy, triumphant faces of the runners. I was devastated. I had let myself down, my brain worked against me. I so wanted this to be a victory, not just for me but for other stroke survivors as well. I wanted my family & friends to be proud of me. I feel that I had let a lot of people down. The exhaustion that I felt from the race, did not measure up to the sadness, pain and disappointment I felt inside.
Now that a few days have passed since the race, I’ve had some time to think about what happened. Although I didn’t finish the race, I still tried my best. I am grateful to have a 19 year old son who still likes to hang out with his crazy momma. He and I got to witness the kindness of other runners who were willing to help and lend support when we were in need.
I have also received so many positive feedback and support from my family and friends. Am I still sad about this? Yes, I definitely am. I am also still experiencing pain in my hip and shoulder. My brain is still a bit foggy. Neuro fatigue takes a bit longer to recover from.
I am sad and disappointed. But I’m in no way stopping! I might lick my wounds for a few days, rest up the old noggin and come up with a better training plan. There will be another race, another 10k and I will come back!
Thank you, thank you to everyone who slowed down, stopped and offered encouragement, Advil, Bio-freeze and Gu. i know those few seconds mattered in terms of a PR.
I would like to give a special shout out to my son Vincent for putting up with me. We had nice conversations and talked about anything under the sun. He knew I wanted to finish the race, so he tried his best to give me emotional boosts and physical support. He was propping me up, urging me to keep walking. But it came to a point where he knew it was time to just stop. In his gut, he knew I could be in danger. I am grateful to him for looking out for me.
I love the rain. The sound of it as it falls on the roof and hits the window panes, the way the air smells before the rain falls; for me it is the scent of the air preparing to be cleansed. Rain for me is a lullaby, a gentle song that calms my mind.
Running in the rain was a treat. I feel so bad ass when my sweat mix es with rain water. My faithful running partner Twinkie loves it too! She loves splashing on the puddles as do I. So, my decision to sit out the Hot Chocolate Race tomorrow was really hard.
The Hot Chocolate Race is a very well-organized race and running through Golden Gate Park is beautiful! And of course, chocolate! They give chocolate at the course and after you cross the finish line, a chocolate fondue in a cute little bowl! The swag is nothing to sneeze at either: a nice, warm, cozy jacket.
This year, the Hot Chocolate race just happen to be on the same day thata big storm hits. I decided to sit it out for a few treasons: It is a pain in the ass to get there and I am sure it will even be worse in the rain, the park will be muddy and slippery. I usually would not mind this, but my balance is still off and my affected leg has been giving me trouble lately. The cold has literally frozen my leg. Walking has been tough and painful. The choice to DNS (Did Not Start) this race is a common sense decision (yes, sometimes I still use my broken noggin).
I am worried that I would slip, get hurt. and set my recovery back. Sometimes, it is better to just admit that the forces of nature are just more powerful than I am 🙂
I had run the 15k in 2014, skipped 2015 coz I was just out of the hospital, walked the 5k last year, and sitting it out again this year. I am optimistic that I will be able to the 15k again next year.
So, as I sit here in the warmth of my living room, wrapped in my cozy blanket, I am sending out well wishes that all those who braved today’s race, stay safe and enjoy their well deserved post race hot chocolate.
So, it has been 6 months since I had the Baclofen Pump surgically installed inside my body. Yup, had my stomach cut up, and a foreign device inserted to get medicine pumped directly into my spinal column to get my stroke affected leg to move somewhat normally again. This quite invasive surgery had set me up with great expectations. I had that scene from Forrest Gump in my head. You know, the part where Forrest was running from a pack of bullies, Jenny cheering him on with “run, Forrest, run!!!” His leg braces flying off and he takes off! Yup, I envisioned myself running as soon as I got out of the hospital. Reality hit me smack in the face. My leg still felt like it was 20 pounds heavier than the rest of my body. I noticed some improvement. I felt my knee bending, my leg felt lighter ( 20 lbs is better than 30 right?), but running is still proving to be difficult. My foot is still curling in too. I am able to walk faster, and have even tried jogging. I use the term jogging very loosely. My walk is much faster than my jog 🙂 My doctor and I are still working out the kinks. Still trying to figure out the correct therapeutic dose. Too much and my leg will turn to spaghetti, too little and the implant will be pointless.
In late November, when the pump was refilled the Doctor changed the concentration of the medicine. It is now heavier which means I only need a smaller dose (theoretically). He told me that it will take a few days for me to feel the difference. Unfortunately, I did feel a difference. But it was for the worse. My leg has
returned to pre pump status. My leg feels so much heavier and my friends and family are noticing that I am dragging my foot again and my knee is not bending. The nerve pain on my thigh also returned. Unfortunately, The nerve pain has also been really bad on my shoulder. I have been stuck in an insurance limbo this past December, so I am unable to call my doctor for advice and assistance. Read about that mess here:
I am sad that the pump is not working out as quickly as I expected. I would be really angry if it does not work at all. I am still putting on the work: walking regularly, going to the gym, stretching and strengthening not only my leg, but my body.
I am broken hearted. I had that huge goal of running the NYC marathon in 2017. A wise friend advised me to take a step back, analyze my goals and slow my roll. Perhaps, I will start with actually running first. No matter how slow, I will get myself to run again. I need to build my endurance. I need to start training. I need to set short term goals. I know for sure that I will do the 408k in March. I would like to actually run that race. And not take two hours to finish.
As hard as it is, I have to put aside my NYC marathon goal for now. FOR NOW! I will revisit this in a couple of years.