It’s Been a While

“Would you like to bike to Lakes Park with me?” Rich asked.

On the surface it was a simple question. It’s a nice park about six miles from our AirBnB in Ft. Myers. The route is totally flat, with bike trail all the way. The afternoon was sunny and warm, inviting for an outdoor activity.

For eight years we bike toured at least once a year, usually for up to a month at a time, covering around 1,000 miles. Hopping on our bikes together was ingrained in our retirement lifestyle. When we weren’t touring, we were still out there training or just staying in shape. We took it for granted.

But yesterday’s question was not simple. It carried a depth of meaning that was not lost on me. Since Rich’s open-heart surgery over a year ago, he has been fighting his way back to health and persistently pushing to increase his endurance. He no longer takes anything for granted. Nor do I.

I couldn’t remember the last time we biked together. I looked it up in my sports tracking app. The answer – August 31, 2020. That was just over a month before his heart took him down on the trail. Back when there were signs that we missed, when workouts were harder for him but we had no idea why. When we blamed it on getting older. Yet he persevered, and we went on a nice ride in Grand Marais. I didn’t know it would be our last for so long.

Throughout his recovery, Rich insisted he had to fight his own battles. Overcome his demons on his own. He doggedly went out trail running and passed the spot where he went down, his recovering heart pounding as hard as it could as the haunting memory swept over him. He got back on his bike when the weather warmed, walking the hills when he didn’t have the stamina to pedal up them. “Slow and steady” was his mantra. Each time I offered to go with him, I got the same response. “I have to conquer this on my own.” Admittedly, sometimes I set out for my own ride on the same route a little later, just to reassure myself he was still upright, on his way home.

Rich was told that the mental game would be just as hard as the physical side of his recovery. Not knowing how much his body has left to give and the extent of his long-term prospects for active sports has been hard.

Facing all this has clouded my horizon as well. Rich’s uncertainties leave me feeling adrift. What does all this mean for our future? Our mutual love of outdoor active pursuits hangs in limbo. It used to be a no-brainer to dream up vacations that revolved around cross-country skiing, canoeing, kayaking, cycling and hiking. How much of that remains within our reach? It’s understandable that Rich’s interest may wane with his abilities. The gulf between our abilities has plunged us into uncharted territory.

And the big question still looms: Will we ever be able to resume bike touring? I still long for those days in the saddle, grappling with weather conditions, the incredible views from the seats of our bikes, the wonderful people we meet along the way, and the sense of empowerment from traveling under own own steam. I can’t accept that it’s the end just yet. Only time will tell.

Rich’s question really marked a milestone. For the first time, he was willing to share his ride. Which really meant sharing his new reality. Riding with him would allow me to personally witness his capabilities.

Cycling down the driveway, I settled into place behind him, allowing him to set the pace and curbing my urge to forge ahead – an issue even in normal times. The sense of familiarity and normalcy was overwhelming, yet I recognized it as a gift. I was also impressed. Rich kept up a good pace, better than I anticipated. Clearly his efforts were paying off.

When Google misled us on the distance to the park, and the round-trip turned out to be closer to 16 miles than 12, I could see Rich tiring on the way home. He doggedly pushed his pedals to complete the ride, and still carried his bike up the 16 steps to our 2nd floor abode. But not without a cost. I witnessed the weakness imposed by his heart. A good lesson, grounding me.

But the ride held more significance. It was a measure of just how far he’s come. More and more often, I hear Rich utter “I never could have done that a few months ago.” Which I take as a good omen for the future. For our future. He’s fighting a good fight and winning. I’m already looking forward to our next bike ride. This time I don’t expect it to be such a long while.

The Owl Guy

That hospital is becoming too familiar. Since that fateful day last October when Rich took his ambulance ride from the woods to the emergency room at Essentia, we have gotten to know the landscape very well. The cardiac ward seems to be his second home, between multiple surgeries, procedures, doctor visits and rehab workouts. Throughout it all, I have come to learn what it means to be a model patient.

Molly with Rich in ICU

This is the man who rarely remembered names or faces. But from his bedside I could see the pains he took to check name badges and call each assistant, nurse and doctor by name. They responded in kind, treating him as a person not a patient. He cared about their lives as much as they did about his. I could see how it transformed personalities and care.

“Thank you” was constantly on his lips. Every poke, jab, test or adjustment elicited the same response. He was in good hands, these people were there to help him on the road to recovery and he let them know how much he appreciated it. It seemed to come as a surprise to many of his helpers, unused to being thanked for doing unpleasant things. I enjoyed watching the look of wonder come over their faces.

There were many dark days in that hospital. Days when Rich wondered what his future looked like, if he had one at all. But one thing could light up his face. Owls. His owls. All it took was a casual inquiry – “What do you do?” Where once that would have unlocked his identity as a techie and web guru, now it means photography and birds. Last year he traced down a great horned owl nest nearby, and photographed the owlet triplets from conception to independence. With the pandemic gripping the world, his blog attracted thousands of followers. Everyone, it seemed, was eager to watch the daily development of those furry friends – a joy amid hardship.

Do You Hoot book

The best of those photos found their way into a children’s book, Do You Hoot!, which chronicles the owlets’ young lives. Copies sold like hot cakes, and Rich made it available free online to anyone who wants to download it. His passion lies in sharing his owlets, particularly with children, not making money off them.

So that innocent question spawned stories, as many as time allowed. Sometimes it led to photos on his tablet or a card with the link to his photography blog and book downloads. Rich became known as The Owl Guy. Soon his reputation preceded him. New staff coming on duty would come in and say “I hear you’re the one watching the baby owls.” And that smile would travel across Rich’s face again. It was a ray of light in the midst of uncertainty.

Today we re-entered those walls again. For yet another procedure. Rich had been doing great – even back skiing and starting to ride his bike again. And then he wasn’t. His heart reverted to irregular beats, A-fib as we learned to call it. He was in it 100% of the time, and his heart was having trouble keeping up. It robbed him of energy, put an end to his workouts, and planted grim thoughts where hope had been growing.

But modern medicine is wonderful, and there are still answers. Rich went in for an “Atrial Ablation” this morning so they could zap all the erroneous signals in his heart, to return it to a normal rhythm. As I waited with him, numerous staff members came and went. Inserting IVs. Checking his blood pressure. Asking questions. Requesting signatures. Turning off his implanted defibrillator. And one by one they’d look at him, recognition dawning in their eyes. “Say, aren’t you The Owl Guy?” And it would start all over again – the smile, the stories, and of course the thank yous.

The same owl parents have found a new nest this year, and Rich was out during the winter hunting it down. Perhaps they knew his energy was waning, because their new home is much closer to our house. Easily accessible to a birder with limited energy. Rich has already begun photographing this brood’s young lives. He’s pretty sure there are three of them again, barely visible underneath Mama Owl. And God willing, he will document their development as well. Because he’s The Owl Guy.

Papa Owl
Mama and owlets

Living by the Numbers

Two huge numerical digits came to inhabit our backyard yesterday.  I planted them there, surreptitiously.  And when night fell, the timer clicked on and they proclaimed in giant illumination my husband’s new age.  60.  The big 6-0.  A turning point I have already passed.60-Birthday-Bash-Molly-RichWrangling those numbers into place drove home the numerical realities of life.  Of growing older (I refuse to say old).  Of how I have come to measure life by different standards.  Of the milestones I have reached.  Of the impact on my active lifestyle.  Admitting to my mathematical background, I can’t help but ponder my new life status from a numerical perspective.

My passion for endurance sports has not waned with my age.  But its key indicators are clearly suffering.  I’m embarrassed to find I am pleased to complete a long run squeaking in just under 10 minute miles.  Admittedly 7s are ancient history, but whatever happened to 8 or 9?  I’m learning to let go of the single digits when it comes to pace, as long as I can still rack up the mileage numbers. Thankfully marathons are still within my reach, they just take longer.  PRs have fallen by the wayside.  And forget finishing under 4 hours.  Just crossing the finish line is rewarding enough.

If I’m getting slower, so is my competition.  And here’s a case where the numbers are declining.  As I move up the age categories, the field keeps narrowing.  Moving into a new classification is exciting, as it signals yet another drop in participation.  I actually placed 3rd in my age group in a marathon ski race this winter, and won a coveted Dala horse prize.  I just choose to ignore the fact that I was 3rd out of 3.

Having taken up distance cycling just 4 years ago, I don’t have the same competitive baggage.  And rather than focus on speed and racing, Rich and I have taken up cycle touring.  Our mantra is “You see a lot more of the world when traveling at only 12 miles an hour.”  Here it’s more about the distance figures.  Our annual tours have typically taken us over 1,400 miles.  And to date our longest trip has covered 2,350 miles.  It took us nearly two months to get there, yet by the end we still wanted to keep going.  That’s a measure of success.  I’d still love to top that number.

Not all cycle rides have to be that long.  100 has a nice ring to it.  A friend talked me into a Century Ride a few years ago, and it has now become an annual tradition.  Time is not a consideration, as long as we finish cycling before dark.  Thanks to the long summer days here Up North, we have yet to fail.  We may just need to start earlier each year.

Anniversaries are another good life measure.  For 24 straight years I have shared a cross-country ski weekend with a fellow mom/career woman/friend.  We do a lot of skiing and yes, I track the kilometers.  Our range may have narrowed over the years, but our support for one another and ability to come home recharged have been a constant.  All the more reason to look forward to our 25th trip. And to hope that number will continue to grow.

No matter how I look at it, I count myself very fortunate.  A little slippage here, a bit of stagnation there isn’t bad.  I’m still out there plying the pavement, spinning my wheels and gliding over the snow.  Good health and energy are gifts whose value can’t be calculated.  Not even for those of us who live by the numbers.

The Runner’s Low

I’ve been sidelined. And I don’t even know how it happened. What seems to be a groin pull has definitely knocked me out of the running game. I have no idea when I will be back in play.

Anyone who knows me will instantly recognize that this is not going down well. My whole being yearns to be out exercising. When I awake in the morning, it’s a crushing blow to know I can’t lace up my running shoes and put in 10 miles. The world as I know it has shifted.

Walking in Dubrovnik

The fact that I am traveling through Europe for the month is my saving grace. I’m already outside my normal routine, and there are so many other great things to do that I reconcile filling the void with exploring, sightseeing and visiting. I pretend that all the walking I do around each city I visit is enough exercise for a day. At times I even I admit that it is liberating. No need to agonize over when I will get in my run. It just isn’t a factor. And I have extra time for being a tourist.

Cycling with Mary

Before I mislead anyone into thinking that I may even be letting go, I’d better set the record straight. While I can’t run, cycling seems to be okay. So I appreciated the afternoons that Mary and I went for bike rides together in England. Even if they were leisurely jaunts to a tea shop to splurge on rich cakes. I also spent many a morning in the cruise ship’s fitness center spinning my way into port. I took it easy, though, and limited my workout to a fraction of the distance I would normally do. It’s a real challenge, but I really am trying to be good. Honest.

Sunrise in Rothley

Some days I get my fix of pre-breakfast fresh air by going for a brisk walk. That has its compensations, as I can bring a camera. I captured this nice sunrise one morning in England.

While in the Czech Republic, Rich and I have spent many an hour walking together while our “Czech daughter” Pavla is at work. I well remember running this same path in Ostrava on a previous visits, and each time a runner strides past us my heart twists with envy. But I stay the course, gently putting one foot in front of the other. Taking in the fall colors.

Fall leaves in Ostrava

It’s not easy being good. But I’m doing my best to keep a positive attitude. I can’t stay in Europe forever. So soon I will have to face mornings at home without a run on the Lakewalk. That’s a real runner’s low.


Just a friendly bet

It was a given that Rich would ignore the doctor’s orders.  We knew he would start skiing again before the prescribed recovery period was over following his surgery last Friday.  The only question was when?  He’s much too active to sit around and rest.  And going for long walks soon lost its appeal.  I just knew he was itching to be out on the ski trails, especially given the new snow.

So I went behind his back.  Early in the week I surreptitiously sent our kids an email titled “Taking Bets.”  I suggested we have a betting pool on precisely when Dad would head out to ski, and asked each to reply just to me with the day they expected him to break bail.  The only information we had to go on was the doctor’s suggestion that he take the week off work, not work out for a couple of weeks, and not lift more than 5 pounds.  I registered my vote for Thursday then waited for the other bets to come in.

Final tally:

  • Karen – Wednesday
  • Carl and me – Thursday
  • Erik and Matt – Friday

Clearly none of us thought he’d make it longer than a week.

The email responses had barely arrived when Rich started making his move.  “Where are my knickers?”  he asked Wednesday morning.  Uh oh, I was in trouble.  Sure enough, by 2pm he was outfitted in his ski clothes and waxing his skis.  Shortly thereafter, he was out the door.  So much for doctor’s orders.

Upon his triumphant return, Rich wasn’t exactly apologetic for his actions.  Far from it, the first thing he did was post his Garmin GPS data for the ski on Facebook.  I rather doubt that 10k at 5 min/k was what the doctor would consider an “easy ski.”  Rich ski 1 Rich ski 2

I decided it was time to break it to him.  So I commented on his Facebook post, informing him of our bet.  And about Karen being the winner.  As I expected, he was quite tickled that his audacious behavior was the center of family speculation.  And that he exceeded our expectations for the most part.

I’m just glad he’s feeling so good.  There’s a lot to being in good health to fuel a speedy recovery.  But I still hope he doesn’t overdo it.  I’d like to bet on a full recovery soon.

Documenting your health care

Since our recent Emergency Room experience, we have indeed gotten our health care documentation in order. That episode taught us that we were vulnerable, and Rich’s subsequent surgery was all the incentive we needed to make sure we were prepared with the information and rights we needed to protect each other’s health.  In short order, we accomplished the following:

  • Exchanged information on health care providers – we documented all our doctors, dentists, clinics and their contact information and shared them with each other.  I happen to use LastPass to securely store all my passwords and other critical data, so I added records for this information as well.  I can then access it from my smartphone, iPad, or any PC.

1) assign a primary and secondary health care agent and define their rights
2) outline your wishes for life-sustaining medical treatment and end of life care

Forms for Health Care Directives are easily found on the internet, but they are specific to the state in which you live, so it is important to select the correct one.  They also need to be signed by two witnesses or a notary public.

It wasn’t clear to us what rights a spouse has, so we each filled out a Health Care Directive assigning each other as our primary health care agent.  We also asked our unmarried sons to complete one as well.  Parents do not automatically have rights to information or to make decisions on behalf of their adult children.

At our age, one doesn’t often think about end of life care (really, we’re not that old!).  But in completing the forms, we discovered personal wishes that were important to share with one another.  And since these documents can be replaced at any time, we know we can update them if our desires or circumstances change.

Rich provided copies of his Health Care Directive to his doctors and the hospital for his surgery. We are also keeping scanned copies on our smartphones as well as home computers, and sent copies to our children. You never know when or where you will need it.

One is rarely prepared for a health emergency.  We certainly weren’t.  I think we are now in a better situation going forward.  And hopefully we won’t be needing these measures soon.  But I feel better for having taken these steps.

Have you documented your health care yet?


Home Again

It was only 27 1/2 hours.  But it seemed a lot longer.  From the time we walked in the front doors of the hospital to the time we walked out again, it felt as though the world had stopped.  Hospitals are like that.  Nothing seems to matter except what’s going on inside.

Even the short periods of time I spent at home were surreal.  Things just seemed, well, different.  Even the dog knew.  She is devoted to Rich, and kept looking around for him.  I wasn’t good enough for her.  She wanted Rich.  And she let me know it by whining incessantly at bedtime.  And beyond.

We were both very grateful that they decided to keep Rich in the hospital overnight.  Going home the same day as his surgery sounded like a great thing.  Sleeping in his own bed, a quiet, familiar environment and no hospital stay.  But seeing him hooked up to fluids with the nursing staff constantly checking his vitals, and professionals doling out advice or reassurance was a blessing.  The extra care and attention before we were on our own gave us an extra measure of confidence as Rich walked out the door.

It feels good to have all that behind us now.  Rich is thrilled to be showered and dressed.  He’s relaxing on the couch, not a hospital bed.  And he even sneaked a Diet Coke.

We’re glad Rich is home again.  And the dog is happy too.


On to Recovery

The waiting got long. I forced myself to wait at least 15 minutes between checking Rich's status, as it continued to hover on “OR.” I invented logical reasons why he was still in there. I pushed alternatives from my mind. In the scheme of things it really was not all that long. But it seemed like it.

Then suddenly Rich's doctor came out the door and was at my feet. He delivered the words I longed to hear, “All went well.” It did take longer than normal, and there was some additional work that needed to be done, but all still within the confines of the laser surgery. No incision needed. Blockage successfully removed. Yea! On his next fleeting visit he told me he'd just talked to Rich. That was major news. Being raised in a doctor's family, Rich has a healthy apprehension about anesthesia, so coming out of that was a big step. While it was still a long time before I was permitted to see him, I could at least relax.

Now it's all about recovery. Due to the additional work done, the doctor is keeping him in the hospital overnight. At this stage, it seems a small penalty. Rich has already gone from groggy to napping to tapping away on his tablet. Feeling better can't be too far away if he is already engaging with his beloved Internet. Soon Rich will be relocated to his own hospital room. Another first for him.

It will seem strange not to have him home in bed with me tonight. It's not like we haven't spent time apart, it's just that this feels different. But once again we have a lot to be thankful for. This hospital stay is just for good measure. It's not a long, dragged out affair. And I know his recovery is already starting.

The Waiting Room

True to its name, this is where I sit and wait. I just left Rich’s bedside so they could administer the anesthesia and wheel him into the operating room. Fortunately, he is able to benefit from the medical and technological advances that allow his enlarged prostate to be treated with lasers. So as opposed to full blown surgery, with big incisions and a long recovery process, his less invasive procedure should allow him to go home later today, and return to normal life much more rapidly.

We have been truly blessed and fortunate that in almost 30 years of marriage (not to mention our 20-something individual years before that) and raising our children to adults, we have never experienced surgery before. By the same token, we are both very healthy adults – marathoners, cyclists and long distance skiers. I’m sure the two are related. A friend of mine who is a nurse in a surgical recovery room told Rich that the doctors and nurses are going to love him for his overall good health. It’s a treat, she said, to work with people devoid of other risks and complications – unfortunately something that is all too rare these days.

Being newbies to all this, there are so many unknowns. It’s still surgery, after all. How will Rich feel later today? How long before he can resume his workouts? On the way to the hospital this morning, Rich remarked that if he was feeling nervous, how must someone feel going into a major operation? We couldn’t imagine what it must be like to face something like open heart surgery.

Technology has moved into the waiting room too. I have a restaurant-style pager that will light up when the doctor wants to talk to me. That will let me wander around in the hospital. There is also a monitor in the corner that reports the status of all the patients behind that door. Checking Rich’s patient number, I can see that he is in “OR.” More time to wait. But that’s okay – it’s where I need to be for the day, and I brought plenty to keep me occupied. And I was even able to get a good latte at the coffee bar.

I can wait.

Are you prepared?

Nothing can prepare you for a phone call from the Emergency Room.

I’d had a lovely morning making cookies and decorating Valentines with my grandson, completely oblivious to the trauma that was going on in my husband’s life.  We were just finishing up our lunch when I got the call.  Rich was in the Emergency Room at the hospital, and managed to relay that he’d been sent there by ambulance from Now Care – but he was “okay.”  Really, okay?  He’d been pumped full of morphine and other drugs, so the conversation wasn’t 100% lucid, but he had a burning question for me – what was the name of his primary doctor?  The hospital wanted to access his health history, but he just couldn’t recall the doctor’s name.  Not surprising under the circumstances.

Unfortunately, I hadn’t a clue.  I did recall the general location of the clinic where I’d taken him for his colonoscopy, and Rich managed to put a name to it.  Contacting them, I was able to find out he’d been a patient there, but his doctor had retired.  All other information was locked behind the health information access laws.  But at least I had a number that Rich could call to request the information himself.  It wasn’t ideal, but it was a start.

That was a wake-up call.  What if Rich had been unconscious, and unable to speak for himself?  What other information would I need, that is locked in his head, his phone contacts or his computer?  We’ve done pretty well at sharing financial data and logins with each other, but we never gave health information a thought.  It’s clearly time to get our information sharing in order.

For now, I’ll start with the names and phone numbers of our doctors and attorney.  Then we need to move on to any health information access forms we can sign to authorize each other to manage that data.  We recently learned that should something happen to our 20-something, unattached sons, we would have no say in their treatment unless they had a Health Care Directive giving us those rights.  Who would have thought about that for young people?  That just moved up our To-Do list.

From there, we need to move on to other information.  In this age of digital data, that takes on a whole new meaning, especially as Rich and I are very technology-centric.  I used to work with a trust and estate attorney who specializes in managing one’s digital assets.  His Digital Passing blog immediately came to mind, and there I found a wealth of information.

By the way, the scare is over, if the health ordeal isn’t.  What they originally thought was a kidney stone turned out to be an enlarged prostate.  I brought Rich home that afternoon, and he’s in the midst of additional tests to determine his treatment.  It doesn’t appear to be cancer at this point, which is a relief.  And despite his “extra plumbing” Rich is determined to remain active, which his doctor encouraged.  Yesterday he went cross-country skiing, and he hasn’t yet ruled out doing the Birkie!  He’s also facing this head-on, blogging about the physical and emotional side of his journey.

Nobody ever wants a call like the one I received this week.  But I hope to pass along what I learn about managing our health and personal information for just such an emergency.  So others can be prepared.