Monday, March 10, 2014

Knee Replacement Anniversary Hike, Hawk Mountain, March 2014

March 8 was the two year anniversary of my bilateral knee replacement surgery. At the time I went under the knife I was in such pain I was taking the maximum dose of Ibuprofen daily, and still hurt so much one day I began to spontaneously vomit at work and had to go home. Aside from one short hike in 2011 and one a month before surgery I'd given up hiking. My last bike ride was New Year's Day, and it was the first in months. I gave up showering on days I didn't have to work as I hurt when I stood in one place. My world was becoming smaller and smaller. 

My procedure lasted over five hours. That's considerably longer than most knee replacements, but much of that time the surgeon spent straightening my severely knocked right leg. As he later described it to me, I was "one of the worst cases he'd seen" in a quarter century of joint replacement, and he shook his head and said, "all that correction."

But corrected I was. Recovery was long and very hard - I didn't stand until four days after surgery; in most cases the patient is up in a day or two. Just before discharge from inpatient physical therapy I developed a blood clot in my lungs and spent three days in another hospital. When I was finally home I worked hard on my recovery, but progress was slow. I'd never heard of post-surgical depression but I found out what that was. My stamina was so bad I'd fall asleep on the way TO a hike or ride. My weight ballooned and I thought I'd never be the eager, if challenged, outdoorsman I'd tried to be. 

My heart wasn't in it, but my heart recovered. I forced myself to do things, and friends helped get me outside and alive - Judy, Sayre, Aaron, and others brought me around. I struggled, but I was out there. 

I still struggle, but now I enjoy it. And I couldn't think of a better way to celebrate two years of recovery than to hike at Hawk Mountain again. The two and a fraction mile hike has some of the best views in Pennsylvania, and the hike would challenge me without defeating me. A friend decided to join me on a "kid friendly" hike on Meetup, and we met before noon at the parking lot. I was eager to see Hawk Mountain dressed in snow, and I was prepared for hiking in it - boots with good traction, microspikes, hiking poles, and determination. We met our guide at the South Overlook, and our small group was off. 

I found the going a lot easier than I expected, at least
at first. The snow was deep enough that the rock
gardens on the trail were covered. I strode carefully but confidently on the hardpack snow. Before we knew it were were at the first set up steps. These took some care on my part, but it was one foot over the other, and our party was at the short stretch of trail known as the Hall of the Mountain King. We walked on level ground for a few hundred feet, and then the tough part - the second set of steps. Melting and refreezing left a thick layer of ice on everything. I used the handrails and worked the microspikes for all they were worth, and soon enough we were at the North Lookout. 
The ice on the stairway combined with my problems descending led our group to chose the Express Trail down to the main trail back to the parking lot. The Express Trail is longer, but there are no stairs to navigate. I had three near falls, two of which I stopped and one of which a nearby tree halted. I had a scraped knuckle and a few tense moments, but I worked through them and joined my friends at the bottom. From there it was back to the South Lookout.

As I stood on the South Lookout, thoughts flooded my mind. My first post to Facebook the morning after my surgery, I wrote "I am experiencing new levels of pain." Two years later, thanks to medicine, friends, and hard work, I am experiencing new levels of pleasure and wonder. My world is getting larger day by day. And while Hawk Mountain was a great way to celebrate an anniversary, I celebrate every day. And I hope to celebrate every day as long as I have days. 



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4 Comments:

At March 10, 2014 at 2:29 PM , Blogger Gary said...

Great story, congrats on the hike

 
At March 10, 2014 at 6:19 PM , Blogger Dennis Crapser said...

So glad you did it Neal

 
At March 12, 2014 at 3:52 AM , Anonymous Jennifer said...

You are such an inspiration Neal. AWESOME.

 
At March 17, 2014 at 9:10 AM , Blogger Sunshine's Bags said...

Keep moving Neal! You are truly inspiring!

 

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A Taste For The Woods: Knee Replacement Anniversary Hike, Hawk Mountain, March 2014

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Knee Replacement Anniversary Hike, Hawk Mountain, March 2014