Friday, November 14, 2014

For my Grammie....

My Grammie passed away on Monday. There will be no funeral and so no chance to stand up and talk about her. If given the opportunity, this is what I would say…

Anne Richards is my grandmother…my dad’s mom. She was my favorite person who ever lived. I knew her for 40 years and I loved every minute I spent with her. What I am about to tell you is what I knew of her, what I remember and I can’t guarantee that others would remember it the same way, but all that matters is that this is how I remember it. How I will always remember it.
During my entire childhood, Grammie was a caregiver. I remember riding along with her to the house of whomever she was taking care of. The list was long – Joe Fretcher, Aunt Erm, Aunt Buela, Grace Davis. My Aunt Erm once told Grammie “some people were born to serve”. Then there was my Pop-pop. Grammie’s husband, my father’s father. She took care of no one else more than she took care of him. She spent 50 years doting on him, making sure he had what he needed. For years Grammie put her needs on the back burner and took care of us all.

Grammie and Pop-pop lived across the street from us and I spent a lot of time at their house. Every holiday and birthday was spent with them. Any big announcement involved a walk across the street to tell them. When I stayed home sick from school, Grammie took care of me. The channel 6 news was always on at lunchtime and there was always a glass of grapefruit juice for Pop-pop and a jar of peanut butter with a spoon on the end table.

There was no place I felt safer than with Grammie. She would rub my back while I fell asleep. She was always teaching me things…important things about life. When I wanted to constantly be with my friends she would make me stay home and say that it was important to know how to entertain yourself. On school days she would braid my hair and make sure I made it to the bus on time. Each summer, I would spend all my days with her. We would plan a project for the summer – knitting, crochet, needlepoint, arts and crafts of all sorts.

We would take trips to the bank in Pitman, have fried bologna sandwiches for lunch and there were always butterscotch crumpets in the freezer. She took me to get my driver’s license on my 17th birthday and gave me many rules of the road on the way there. When we were out to dinner, we would see women dressed “inappropriately” and Grammie would say things like “look at her, THAT is why you should always wear underpants”.

She taught me to wipe from the front, don’t go outside with wet hair, sit quietly in church, bite your tongue when you want to lash out and run to greet those you love. When I would come home from college or come to visit, she would always run out the door to hug me when I pulled in the driveway.

17 years ago my Pop-Pop passed away. For the first time Grammie didn’t have anyone to take care of. She and Pop-Pop had spent winters in Florida for as long as I could remember. First for a month at a time, then for several months. After Pop-pop died, Grammie bought a place in Florida and moved there permanently. No more New Jersey for her. She gave us all bottles of New Jersey dirt so that we would remember where we came from. She left the place that was her home for 70 years and she never looked back. This is where her real story began.

In the past few weeks Grammie was heard saying that these last 17 years have been the best years of her life and I believe this to be true. I watched my Grammie come into her own. For the first time in her life she did what she wanted to do and explained it to no one. When she went out with gentleman she always paid her own way because to quote her "she didn't want there to be any misunderstanding or expectations".

My whole life I remember Grammie being fascinated with Easter Island. She had pictures and books all over the house. She had always said that it made her homesick, something about that place made her feel like she had been there before, but she hadn’t. Over the last 17 years she became more interested in the metaphysical world. She read so many books, led study groups and belonged to different clubs. She talked more and more about the next dimension, the 5th dimension specifically. She wanted to learn enough so that she would go there when she died. She felt that her spirit had originated in Easter Island and that somehow it would go back there some day. She was a free thinker and she had been stifled all these years. Now she was able to really delve into all these things that would have been so taboo back in our little New Jersey town, in our little New Jersey church.

It may seem odd to hear it this way from me, but to listen to her was mesmerizing. She believed in so many different things and she was a very interesting conversationalist. She would always say “Tracy, there is just so much to learn….never stop learning”

Grammie was a collector. She had several phases of collecting in her life. Had she not been so focused in the items she collected, she would have been a horder. Instead, she scoured antique malls for her treasures, first the antique glass goblets that are now proudly displayed in my home then the yellow teapots that cover her home and the rose & rooster flatware that she had to have special shelving built for. She loved these things and it gave her a tremendous joy to search near and far for that one special item that was missing from her collection. I remember how much she enjoyed telling us about each of her finds.

My  Grammie was a very strong woman. For so many years she took care of others because it was the right thing to do. Many women in my time would have run away, divorced, left home to find themselves. Grammie knew that her actions would have irreparable affects on those around her and so she stayed and buried those pieces of herself that couldn’t be tolerated in the life she was living. She planted those seeds and in her later years, those seeds blossomed into the fullest life one could possibly have. Grammie experienced this second part of her life to completion. She got every ounce of living out of this world.

We all thought she would live to be 100. We couldn’t imagine someone so vibrant ever slipping away. The last couple years, when I would go to visit, we always talked about death. Grammie would say that after she died, she would be moving on to the next adventure and that we shouldn’t cry because it was all part of life.

In February of this year, on my 40th birthday, Grammie had a heart attack. We thought it was the end for her. She recovered, which is to say that she didn’t die. We knew she didn’t have much time left and she was ready to go. She often said that she was excited to die, excited to see what comes next, to get to the 5th dimension, the place she had spent so long learning about. She was excited to leave her earthly vessel and allow her spirit to find its next journey.

Back in October, she took a turn for the worse. I called her to remind her that I would be coming to visit in November. Every year in November, I would travel to Florida and work in a town just 20 minutes from her. I would always spend a couple days with Grammie. This was the highlight of my year. During that call she told me that it was her time and she was ready to go, her body was giving out. I asked her to hold on until November. I wanted to see her before she headed off to that journey. When hung up she said "I'll see you in November" and I knew she meant it.

Last week, my aunt (who lives next to my Grammie) got sick and so my dad made the trip to Florida to take care of Grammie who was in need of round the clock care. She was fading, her body giving out. All the family had been to see her. I was the last one.

When I arrived, Grammie was in bed and not able to get up. I laid down in bed with her and put my arms around her. She held my hand and we talked about the things going on in my life. When it was time to leave she sat up in bed, held my head and kissed me. I knew then that we were saying goodbye. I had to work the weekend and planned to be back to her house on Tuesday. I said “I will see you Tuesday” and she didn’t reply. She knew that she would not see me on Tuesday.And the truth is that I knew too.

The following Monday when I saw my dad’s number on my caller ID, I knew that she was gone. In that moment and for every moment since, the world has felt both emptier and more full. The physical world will never be the same and I will forever feel the void of her absence. The spiritual world is more alive than ever. I feel her presence in every sunset, I see it in every leaf blowing on the breeze. I taste it in every breath I breathe and I know that she is everywhere. In everything. And she will be forever.

I have a thousand memories of her, a thousand funny or sad stories. Every time I talked with her she told me something she hadn’t told me before. She was love and peace and life and hope and honesty and truth. As she grew older, she became more herself. She was unapologetic for her quirks and steadfast in her beliefs. I admire everything about her. The way she approached life and ultimately death gives me comfort, makes me less afraid of what is in store for me. I know now that I can face anything that comes my way in this life and I believe that there is an adventure on the other side.

I told Grammie that I would cry when she died, how could I not? She is off on this grand adventure and we are here to carry on without her. People will sometimes ask questions like “if you could have a dinner with anyone, living or dead, who would it be?”…my answer has always been and will always be “My Grammie”. The one thing I regret that is I can’t talk with her about where she is now. I can’t sit in her yellow living room with her and listen to her tell me in great detail, with a glimmer in her eye, a distant look and a longing in her voice, about what she has now learned.

There were only a few things of hers that I wanted to have after Grammie died. She did a great job of dividing her valuables up long before she passed away. If she wanted us to have it, we either already have it or there is a note stating that we should get it. She gave me her goblet collection about 10 years ago. She has mailed me things over the last couple years - mostly books about the goblet collection. The things that carry the most value are often not the things that could be sold for the most money. Grammie had a simple amethyst ring. She got it when I was in the fourth grade. I remember it vividly. She had bought it for herself. The one and only thing I ever remember her doing or buying for herself back then. I remember her being so adament about that...about buying it for HERSELF. Even as a child, I knew that it must be special. I remember it on her hand and I remember thinking that one day I wanted it. The most beautiful thing about that ring is that she wore it on her finger for so many years and it was special to her.

I also wanted a simple yellow coffee mug. It probably cost $8 and she drank her coffee out of it in the mornings. Worth nothing except that it belonged to her, that it was part of her daily ritual. And a of her many books. I looked for one that seemed well worn, that had lots of notes and markings in it. I like the idea of reading what she read, seeing what she wrote. 

I miss her tremendously and wonder where the last 40 years have gone. One thing I know for sure is that I have always known that my time with her was extraordinary. I always knew that she was special and because she loved me, I felt special. That feeling will never go away and for that I am forever grateful to my Grammie. I hope her next adventure is even more amazing than she expected.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Asha's two month update

It has been two months since our health scare with Asha. Two months ago we spent 5 days in the ICU. Two months ago we tried to prepare ourselves for a life without Asha. Two months ago we were fortunate enough to bring her home with us to recover.

We have spent the last two months watching her, evaluating her, medicating her and nursing her back to health. It has been a long road but it has gone so fast. I look at her now and find it hard to believe all we’ve been through in such a short time.
When Asha came home, she was still very sick. She was breathing on her own and taking all her medications orally. She took at least 20 pills per day. We also nebulized her 2-3 times a day for 15 minutes (nebulizing means holding a mask with a stream of medicated steam in front of her nose).

I was so nervous to have her home. I missed the comfort of 24 hour care. I missed having a medical professional there to give me an expert opinion. Without that I worried I would miss something. I was so concerned that she would go backwards. Considering how fast she got sick in the first place, I didn’t want to miss any sign of her getting sicker.
The first week Asha was home, we did not leave her alone for a second. I slept on the couch with her. She was still having her panic attacks at night since she had been off her anxiety medication for a few days. I knew it would take a week or so to get back to normal. When she has those panic attacks, she runs around and barks. She also hyperventilates. With her breathing issues, that really concerned me. She wasn’t able to settle down at all up in our bedroom, so we were back on the couch. Just like the good old days.
After a couple days, her anxiety leveled out and she was able to relax more at night. It wasn’t too long until we were sleeping upstairs again. It was so obvious that Asha didn’t feel like herself. She hardly moved at all during the day. She would go outside to go to the bathroom and take one step off the deck, do her business and come right back in to lay down.
We’ve worked hard to get Asha’s anxiety under control. “Under control” is relative. What that means is that Asha is still quite anxious. She doesn’t really relax very easily when we are around. She knows when we are home and she needs to know where we are at every minute. If we go upstairs and don’t let her know (we walk her over to the gate at the bottom of the stairs and touch her nose as we go up the stairs) she will pace the floor and bark uncontrollably. When we are downstairs with her, she will lay still for a bit but every so often will jump up, run and bark until we come to her.

Asha wears a leash in the house most of the time. That way we can keep her near and if she jumps up and starts to pace and bark we can pull her back in. For example, right now, I am sitting at the kitchen table and Asha is laying at my feet. I have her leash around my wrist. In the last 20 minutes she has gotten up twice. I pull her back to me, touch her and she lays right back down. If I didn’t have the leash, she would get up , run into the front room, pace and bark.
This is our reality, our routine….and we have gotten used to it. After Asha came home, she didn’t do any of this. She just laid in one spot, all the time.  As much as I have spent the last three and a half years wishing for peace and quiet, I didn’t like it one bit. It wasn’t normal. It wasn’t right.
We went back to see Dr Seekins after two weeks. Asha’s xrays showed improvement and we were able to decrease some of her medications. We stopped one and were able to start nebulizing 1-2 times a day. We were so happy that Asha was showing progress. As we started to decrease her medication I became even more vigilant about her breathing and her behavior. No one knows her like I do. I know every breath, noise and movement she makes. It had been such a crazy few weeks that I was starting to feel like I couldn’t even tell what was normal anymore. Her breathing had been so irregular that I worried I wouldn’t know what regular looked like!

During this time we were also making regular visits to see Dr Hope Valentine, Asha’s Chinese Medicine Vet. Dr Valentine is one of Asha’s favorite people so it was good not only for her body, but her soul to spend some time in her office. Asha was put on some different herbs to help her breathing and her organs. She also received accupuncture.
The days went by and with each one Asha became more herself. Soon she was spending more time moving around instead of just laying in one spot.

We went back two weeks later for another follow up. Asha would get so excited when we walked in the doors at Columbia River Veterinary Specialists. Her little nubbin tail would wag furiously until she was able to greet all her friends there. Her stay there was no picnic and so it was surprising to me that she still loved coming there.
I remember when the tech brought Asha back in the room after her xrays she said “the doctor will be in to go over the films with you in a minute, but I can tell you she smiled big when she saw them.” Sure enough, Dr Seekins came in to see me and was thrilled with how Asha’s lungs looked. We were able to again decrease her medications and move our next follow up to a month out. That was great news.

Now that Asha was feeling better, her personality was really showing. A month earlier, I had sat on the floor of the ICU, with a very sick Asha, and tried to explain to Dr Seekins all that this sweet girl meant to us. I am sure most owners tell her how special their pet is, but Asha is different. She isn’t like other dogs and I couldn’t find the words that day to express it. Now, Dr Seekins was seeing for herself and I loved that. Asha has a way of looking right through you, right into your soul. One of the great joys of my life with her is when other people see how amazingly special she is.
We headed home and we continued to monitor her progress. Asha was just starting to act like her old self. One day I was working at the kitchen table and Asha would not settle down. Just like before she got sick, she was getting up and pacing and barking. While we are used to this behavior and we have lived with it for years, it can still be incredibly annoying. Even though Asha is deaf, we still talk to her and sometimes even yell at her as if she was a hearing dog. I got up from the table and said “Asha, you are driving me nuts”. I stopped in my tracks. Then I sat down on the floor and hugged her while I cried. I had wanted Asha’s old self back for a while now. Ever since she got sick, all I wanted was her to act like “normal”. I cried tears of happiness because that time was finally here. Our girl was coming back to us. I have never been so happy to be annoyed by her!

I was getting ready to head out of town for a busy month of travel. I was happy that Asha was doing so well. We are blessed to have incredible pet sitters who I knew would keep a close eye on Asha. All has been well for the last month. Asha hasn’t coughed at all since we brought her home from the ICU. Her breathing has been steadily improving. Most days, Asha is her normal self.
Last week we went back for another follow up. Asha’s lungs again looked good but there is still some damage. It is hard to say if that is how they looked before she got sick (we have nothing to compare them to) and it is hard to say if this is as good as they will get. She may have some permanent damage to her lungs and she may always have a little more trouble breathing than before. But she is really doing great. Dr Seekins is very happy with her progress. We are continuing to decrease her medication. We will continue to watch her like a hawk for any indication that she is doing anything other than improving. Our next follow up is in 4 weeks.

We continue to take things one day at a time. Asha is the most amazing creature to me, as she has always been. I still look at her now and then and remind myself that she cannot see or hear. I am in awe of the life she lives, of the way she navigates the world with nothing but love and happiness. She has the most open heart and the most adventurous soul. It is like it never occurs to her that anything other than good exists in the Universe. I often forget how much she depends on Trevor and I. Her complete trust in us is humbling and my complete love for her is overwhelming. I didn’t think I could ever love her more, but with every passing day I find myself more in awe of her and her place in my world. I wonder who I ever was without her and who I would have become had she not come into my life.

If at the end of my life, I am judged only for the way in which I loved this girl than I will be content. She is all that is good and right in my world. She makes me a better person. She saved me from a life of ordinary. I am so grateful for every day that I get to see her sweet smiling face. I hope I get to see it for many more years to come.

Friday, August 15, 2014

The Gift

The last four weeks have been a blur.  Back in July, our dog Asha had started showing symptoms of kennel cough. We had taken her to a self serve pet wash and a pet store, three days later she started coughing. We assumed she picked up a virus. She coughed for a couple days and we took her to see our vet. While in his office, Asha didn’t cough a single time. The vet listened to her lungs and believed she had a mild kennel cough that should resolve on its own. A week later, Asha was still coughing and it was getting worse. I called the vet and he prescribed an antibiotic and cough suppressant. She took those for one day and got significantly worse. Her breathing went from a dry, hacking, deep cough to a wet, raspy, shallow cough. Within a day she was laboring to breath. I still don’t really understand how we got from there to here. I finally had the chance to reflect on those first days and all that has happened. I see how Asha continues to teach me things about hope and life and love.

I remember thinking that we would go back to the vet, Asha probably had pneumonia, they would take  some xrays, prescribe a different medication and that would be it. When the vet came into the room to review her chest xrays, he looked at Asha with worry. I was surprised when he told me to get to the 24 hour emergency veterinarian, because Asha needed to be hospitalized. There are several of these types of facilities in the Portland Metro area and he wanted to know where we would go so he could call and prepare them. I chose Columbia River Veterinary Specialists because they were 10 minutes from our house (I believe that decision saved Asha's life,I don't think we would have gotten the same care anywhere else). Our vet didn’t typically refer patients there because it was further away from his office but said he would call them. I told him that we would go wherever he felt Asha would get the best care and if after talking to CRVS he didn’t feel like that was it, he needed to tell me.

The vet came back and told me they were expecting us at CRVS and suggested I be sure to keep the air conditioning on during my drive (in order to keep Asha as comfortable as possible). It was rush hour and the drive took forever. I know the gravity of the situation had not sunk in. I remember thinking about the words the vet used – severe bacterial pneumonia, suspicious nodules….these sounded serious. But how could that be? Just a couple of days ago, she was relatively fine.
We arrived at CRVS and they had Asha on oxygen almost immediately. They started IV fluids and medications. Trevor and I left her there for the night – we figured it would be easier for the staff to give Asha the best care without us there. She had been in the ER overnight as a puppy, when she had her first seizure. After she recovered that night, she barked until we picked her up in the morning. I honestly expected it to be the same way this time. I called and checked on her before we went to sleep and then again during the night. I thought I would call in the morning and they’d say she was better and come get her because she won’t shut up! That didn’t happen.

When I called in the morning, the doctor said Asha wouldn’t eat and asked if I could come over and help them. Again, I still expected I would get there, feed her, and we would come home later in the day. When I arrived, I was shocked. Asha looked sick. For the first time, she really really looked sick.
Asha was born deaf and blind, she has epilepsy and anxiety. She navigates the world well and it has taken us her entire life to get to a good place with her. But she still decides what she will and won’t do. Being in a strange place, with strange people, is not okay with her. She would not go into a kennel and she wouldn’t settle down when left alone. The staff at CRVS had taken the door off a kennel and made a big bed for Asha on the floor of the Intensive Care Unit. Then, someone sat with her almost all night. I was happy to take over that duty. When Asha was younger, I slept on the bathroom floor with her…for months. So this was familiar to both of us. Asha leaned in to me for comfort, just as she has since the first day I met her.

Asha wouldn’t eat. This was a problem because she couldn’t take her medication, so they started giving them to her by IV. The goal was to get her breathing under contol. I decided I would stay with Asha all day. I was able to do my work from there and it made us all feel better. The staff welcomed this.

As the day went on, Asha’s conditioned worsened. Then things got even more serious. I met with the doctor late in the day and she told me that Asha’s digestive system had shut down. Her stomach was not emptying and was filling with fluid. This was a problem because she could burp up that fluid and aspirate or breathe it in. That would make her pneumonia and breathing worse. If her stomach didn’t start to empty they would have to put a tube down her throat to suction out the fluid. They had started her on medication to get her digestive system re-engaged. Hopefully there should be movement within 24 hours. 

I remember calling Trevor and telling him this in a matter of fact tone, but feeling complete and utter disbelief. What the hell was happening here? Asha had been in the ICU for 24 hours and there was no talk of going home. Her health was going in the wrong direction. How was that possible?
Trevor and I decided that I would stay the night with Asha. She wouldn’t do well on her own and we wouldn’t do well not being with her. I don't remember us even discussing it. We had come home for about an hour to take care of our other dogs and when we headed back to see Asha, I had my pillow with me. I laid awake all night on the floor of the ICU willing her to get better. The next morning, the vet felt like she would have digestive function by the end of the day – the medication seemed to be working.

As the day went on, there seemed to be no improvement in her breathing. I was so focused on the moment that I wasn’t really thinking about the fact that she had been there for almost 48 hours and there had been zero improvement in her condition. They had been pumping her full of oxygen and medications and she wasn’t getting better. Then Dr Seekins (I called her Dr Megan in prior posts – up to that point we had seen so many doctors and I didn’t know any of their names, instead we referred to them as “blonde doctor”, doctor with curly hair who checked us in” and “Dr Megan with the cool tattoo on her forearm”) came in to talk to me. It was during this conversation that I realized the graveness of our situation. I wrote about that in my previous post HERE.

Asha had the diagnostic procedures and we felt like we had some better answers. I was hopeful we could start to make progress. Then, she had her seizure. I look back now and know that I was fortunate to have been there when it happened. There were no staff in the room, they were tending to other patients. I realized Asha was having the seizure, I called out for help and within minutes the nurses and doctors were treating her. When the nurses came in, I got up and out of their way. I sat down in a chair in the corner. I didn’t freak out, I didn’t cry. I texted Trevor and then closed my eyes. I could hear them working on Asha and I summoned every ounce of positive energy from the Universe. I wanted to fill the room with hope and life force.  At the same time I wondered how much worse it could possibly get. When  was it going to start to get better? Was it going to get better?

After we got Asha’s breathing under control, we sat and talked with Dr Miller about our options and what things could go wrong during the night. We discussed that Asha’s breathing could again become unregulated and they may not be able to get it under control. In that case the options would be either they put her on a respirator or they let her go. Dr Miller said that Dr Seekins did not think putting her on the respirator would be the right thing to do. It didn’t hit me at the time, but I later realized what that meant. Dr Seekins must have believed there was a real possibility that Asha was going to get worse. Trevor and I decided that we wouldn’t do that if it came down to it and then we looked at each other with all the hope in the world that it wouldn’t come down to that.

I spent that night laying on the floor in front of Asha. I could see her face and could also watch her chest rise and fall. I literally lived breath to breath for the next 12 hours. I watched each inhale and exhale. There was no before and no after. There was only that breath. Once we made it through the night I started to live minute to minute, then hour to hour.

We finally started to see progress. We were 72 hours into our stay. Things had gotten worse and were now getting better. There was some talk of going home now, but it wouldn’t be for a couple more days and that seemed so far away. You would think the time would drag, but it went surprisingly fast. Every two hours Asha was getting medication, trying to be fed, being nebulized, going out to potty.

There were benchmarks. We had gotten through the eye of the storm and were now working the plan. We had reduced her oxygen and then stopped it all together. We started to move her medications from IV to oral. In order to go home, she needed to be able to take her medications…and there were a lot of them….by mouth. We worked on this for over 24 hours and finally had success.

I felt quite a bond to the staff, to the doctors and especially the nurses and techs who spent their time with us. They were seeing me at pretty much the worst moments of my life and I knew they were on my team. As Asha started to improve, her personality started to come out and I could see these people realize how special she is. I could see them start to understand what I had been trying to explain for 5 days….that this dog is my soul. My favorite thing is when others get a glimpse of how amazing she is. That started to happen. I could also feel their hope grow….their hope that she would actually go home. When I felt that, I started to have hope too.

At one point I asked the doctor to go over all the medications Asha was on and would have to take once we got home. She went over the list and I felt like I had been punched in the gut. I had been so focused on the moment to moment that I hadn’t thought about going home and what the next steps would be. It was overwhelming and intimidating. I began to see that getting out of the hospital was not the end…we still had an uphill climb and a long way to go. I tried to be grateful that we even had the chance to move on to this next phase. We would be leaving and Asha was coming with us…alive.
The last three weeks have been focused on making sure that Asha continues to improve. I watch her like a hawk, so concerned that she would go backwards. She has not, she has continued to improve. She's had two sets of xrays, both showing her lungs starting to clear. We are slowly reducing her medications. She has spent time with Dr Hope Valentine, her Chinese Medicine Veterinary. I have no doubt Asha is alive because she was able to be treated with both western and eastern medicine, in a very integrated approach. We are moving forward and that feels so very good.
Asha whole life with us has been impossible and yet there was always somewhere else to go, something else to try. We never felt like we were at the end with her, there always seemed to be another possibility, another hope. I think that is what saved us and what saved Asha. I refused to believe that this was it for her….that this was it for us.  Usually when one of our pets is dying I have a conversation with them about heaven. I never did that with Asha. At one point, I did tell her that if she needed to go, she could go…but I didn’t want her to. I look back and wonder why I wasn’t preparing her for death, because she was on the brink.

My life changed the day I met Asha. I have learned so many things about myself and the world because I have loved her. I feel so lucky that the Universe chose me to be Asha’s advocate in this life. Every time I think I’ve learned all there is, she brings me yet another lesson. Through this experience, I’ve found another part of myself that I didn’t know existed. I’ve seen a strength in myself and in Trevor that is beyond what I believed possible. My bond with my husband has grown deeper through this struggle. I have always known that he and I are a good team, but this really showed me that we can get through dark times as long as we lean on each other and stick together. He is my person and there is no other who could do that job the way he does.

Asha has taught me that when you think it is the end , there is always another beginning. The start of something new. We have started a new journey, along an untraveled road. We will meet the most amazing people and have the chance to expand Team Asha and let more love and light into our world. This is a tremendous blessing. Without Asha, without this chapter in her life, we would not have met Dr. Seekins and her team and what a shame that would have been.

Asha is also teaching me about letting go and giving up control. This is an ongoing lesson, the one that I believe she was sent into my life to teach. It is my nature to want to be in control, to plan, to have the next 4 steps figured out. I can’t do that right now and it is incredibly difficult for me to not know what comes next. We have done more than anyone could possibly do and I must come to peace with that. Asha’s life will continue to unfold the way it should and all I can do is continue to support that in every possible way. However it turns out, I can have no regrets, I can never wonder if we should have done anything differently. I can only have faith that anything is possible and that we have searched to the ends of the earth for her and for us.

I know without a doubt that my life, my world is better because of Asha. This sweet soul was entrusted to me and I to her and that is the most beautiful gift I have ever received.

And so our story continues....

Friday, July 25, 2014

Asha fights for her life

It is 12am on Thursday and I am laying on the floor in the ICU of our local 24 hour emergency veterinary hospital. I am face to face with our dog Asha, who is also lying on the floor, watching her breathe. I'm not sure if this is the end for her or if it will be just another bump in the road. I have spent the last 48 hours pondering that question and trying to come to terms with whatever way things may go.

12 hours earlier, Dr Megan, came and sat with me and Asha on this same floor and told me that we were at a crossroads. Asha was seriously ill and she was not getting better. Despite a very aggressive protocol to treat what presented as pneumonia, Asha was showing no improvement. It was time to make some decisions. We talked for about an hour. Up until that point, I was hoping that Asha would get better, that she would respond to the endless barrage of antibiotics, pain killers, airway dilators, IV fluids and oxygen. This was the moment when I couldn't hope anymore. Reality hit me in the face.

Asha's chest xrays looked like a tree in a snowstorm. Her lungs were full of white, there were nodules of white. All of this is abnormal. A chest xray should look like a tree in the dark night. All that white was mucus, inflammation and/or infection. All of that white was suffocating our girl, taking away her breath. She has been struggling to breathe since Sunday night. We visited her regular vet on Monday and when he saw those xrays he said "we are transferring you to the 24 hour emergency vet, there is no time to wait". We had been there a week earlier when Asha has started with a dry hacking cough. It was so minor that she didn't even do it during the visit. He listened to her lungs and they sounded fine. The diagnoses was kennel cough and we were going to keep an eye on it. A week later Asha started to struggle to get comfortable at night and the next night her breathing started to sound crackling and bubbly. Her cough was no longer hacking and dry, but shallow and wet. Within 24 hours she was struggling to breath. The vet seemed as surprised by it as I did. The urgency and seriousness in his voice concerned me. I drove as fast as I could (in rush hour traffic) to get to the ER.

Now, here we were 48 hours later, trying to decide how to save our girl. There were really two options. The first was to perform a bronchoscopy and CT scan. They would put Asha under anesthesia and scope her lungs. They would take samples of anything that looked unusual and send it to the lab. Then, a CT scan would be taken for a more complete view. This would give us all the diagnostic information possible to see if Asha's lung issues were being caused by either bacterial pneumonia that was just not responding to the broad antibiotics, cancer, an autoimmune inflammatory disease or something else. It would allow us information on how to treat her situation. The other option was to let her go. She wasn't getting better and couldn't breathe on her own.

Dr Megan looked me in the eye and told me that we had to make a choice. She said that we also needed to know that the procedure has risk because Asha would go under anesthesia and with her strained breathing, that was risky. Dr Megan said "there is a very real possibility that she will not survive the anesthesia and you need to prepare for that". She also told me that we needed to go into that choice with no regrets, knowing that we had to make a decision because she wasn't getting better on her own.

I knew what our answer would be, but I had to call and check with Trevor. Dr Megan left to go put together an estimate. My quiet tears turned into loud sobs as I digested the information I was just given. I was laying on a pile of blankets in the ICU room. Asha was laying in my lap. There was one other dog in the ICU. His name was Hunter. He had been there since Sunday and just doing so well. His mom was there visiting him. She was so happy about how well Hunter was doing and she got to sit there and listen to me get this most awful news. She then got to listen to me cry. The ER vet is a tough place to be.

I called Trevor, told him what we had discussed and we agreed we really only had one decision and that was to do the procedure. He was going to leave work and head straight to the hospital, He hoped to arrive before they took Asha to the procedure, but said not to wait. I told Dr Megan we were set to proceed. She told me that she was 100% in and she wanted us to be 100% in too.

During our earlier conversation, I attempted to convey our relationship with Asha and her place in our family. I explained all we had been through with Asha and all that she meant to us. Dr Megan said she had spoken with Dr Pachel, Asha's Behavioral Vet, earlier in the day and he was explaining to her the bond between Asha and us. I finally said to Dr Megan "Asha has to live". She assured me that she would do everything she possibly could to make that happen.

The procedure was scheduled for 3, Trevor arrived shortly before that. It actually began at 4. During the time between when I spoke with Dr Megan about our options and when they took her back for the procedure, I sat in the room and tried to understand what this all meant. I wondered, if this was all we got with Asha, just these three short years, would it have been enough? Did we do all we could, did she experience all the things she wanted, all the things we wanted? What would it mean for us to go on without her. I am Asha's mom, Trevor is Asha's dad. I can't imagine a life without her. For those few hours, I tried to imagine it and it was more than I could handle.

Earlier that day, when we started to realize that this wasn't just a  little thing, we started contacting those closest to us and those most involved in Asha's life, to let them know what was happening. We are always very active on social media and so many people follow Asha's life through that. I didn't want Asha to die and have to share the unexpected shock of that. I also wanted every God that was believed in to be prayed to, I wanted every positive thought, energy work or mediation to be given towards Asha's healing. I wanted the Universe to be alive with love for her. I wanted her to be lifted up and surrounded by everything good, kind and right with the world. That meant that I need to let everyone know.

When they took Asha back for her procedure, Trevor and I went into the comfort room and I wrote a post detailing what was happening. Our phones and computers lit up with all the things I had hoped.

Asha came out of the procedure fine. They felt they could rule out cancer and were more likely to lean towards other causes, but we would know nothing for at least a day maybe more. Asha's Chinese medicine vet, Dr Hope Valentine, came up to provide some acupuncture therapy. They added some additional antibiotics, I stayed with her for the night and Trevor headed home.

Asha was laying next to me, resting calmly. Then, she sat up, rolled around for a couple seconds and I realized she was having a seizure. I called for help, the nurses and doctors came. They worked on her, the doctor telling me this wasn't a set back, a seizure after that procedure with her history was not unexpected. I texted Trevor and he headed back to the hospital.

Asha came out of the seizure and her breathing was erratic. It would not calm down, she could not get it under control. Either it was left over from the seizure or she had breathed in some vomit or fluid and made her pneumonia worse. If it was just the seizure, a sedative was going to slow her breathing, if she had breathed in something and her condition was worse, the sedative wouldn't work and we would probably lose her.

They gave her the sedative and said it should work within 5-10 minutes. I put my hands on her body and said the Lord's Prayer to myself. Over and over. We all sat there watching to see how she would respond. Within about 3 minutes, her breathing slowed. We turned up her oxygen and settled back in for a long night.

Trevor needed to go home, he had work the next day. Before he left, we sat with the doctor and discussed all the possible scenarios and what our decisions would be in those cases. That way I could make the decision without having to check with Trevor, giving Asha the best chance to survive.

Trevor left and we both knew that Asha was in big trouble. She couldn't seem to catch a break and we both felt we were exhausting her options. We were heartsick. I could see it in his eyes and that is why I love him so very much.

The staff at Columbia River Veterinary Specialist have been amazing. They have been so supportive and complete with Asha's care. They have been honest and open about our options and the consequences.  The first night we arrived, Asha was belligerent and wouldn't allow them to put her on oxygen or put in an IV. I remember thinking that she was going to die because she wouldn't let them help her. When they realized she wouldn't go into a kennel without going nuts, they made a bed for her in the middle of the floor. When I decided after the first night that I didn't want to leave Asha's side, they made me a bed right next to here's. Every night, they walked around me while I tried to sleep next to Asha. They would turn out the lights in the ICU when they could and turned on soft music to keep the other noises out. If I wasn't there, Asha would get up and be restless, so it was better for them, me and her recovery for me to stay close. One nurse brought me lunch, another gave me some of her food. They have told us over and over how welcome we are to be here and how happy they are that we can be here. I appreciate that I don't feel like I am a bother or like I am in the way. They have welcomed input from the rest of Asha's team, all her doctors. I know we are in the right place and that everyone is working towards the same goal....a healthy Asha.

We had two of Asha's favorite people come to visit on Thursday morning. At that point we weren't sure Asha was going to make it through the day. Tamara, Asha's friend and pet sitter came first, Asha was thrilled to have some awesome belly rubs.  A little later, our friend G came. Asha is in love with him and couldn't get close enough. There were many tears during these visits. These were very special moments when I had the chance to see what effect our girl has had on others. It was incredibly moving and I will carry this in my heart always.

It is now Friday. We have been here since Monday. Asha is doing better, She is breathing on her own, eating on her own, drinking on her own. We have some initial results back and think we know what is causing her illness. The doctors all suspect it is eosinophilia. Basically her body is attacking her lungs. We don't know why, but we are starting to treat it. I have lots of questions for the future, those answers will come. We have to get her self sufficient enough to leave the hospital. That will probably happen tomorrow. We will have a plan and go forward. I feel good about the fact that we have hope again. There was quite some time here when I thought I would leave this place without my girl. I don't think that will be the case. I look forward to leashing her up and marching her out the doors we came into 5 days ago. I love this girl and have never taken our days for granted. But now we really won't waste time. She's never touched the ocean. That's first on her list, so we'll make that happen.

We've seen a lot in this place during the last 5 days. While we have been dealing with our crisis, we have seen others dealing with theirs. We've seen some animals come and go home, we've seen others who didn't make it. I have seen these doctors and nurses care for their patients with an amazing amount of love. They talk to the animals the same way their owners do, in soft, funny, baby voices. They are kind, even when presented with belligerent difficult animals. They answer endless questions. They come in on their days off and check on their patients. I don't know how they do it. There is a lot of sad stuff going on here. I have also seen their joy when a dog who they didn't think would walk again starts to walk. I see their joy when Asha starts to eat on her own. They are rooting for every one of these creatures and they balance that with the ability to know when enough is enough. That is perhaps the greatest measure of compassion. They have cried with us and cheered with us, laughed with us and been concerned with us. Asha's team has just expanded exponentially and we are incredibly blessed.

The story doesn't end here. There will certainly be more to come. Stay tuned and thanks for loving our family.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Three years with Asha

Tomorrow is the three year anniversary of the day we adopted Asha. Three years ago tonight I laid awake for hours wondering if we were making the right decision. I worried that it would be too much for us. I worried that we were too selfish to handle a dog like Asha. I know for sure that my “what’s the worst that could happen” scenarios were not as bad as what would follow. I also know for sure that what I thought we would gain from loving Asha did not even come close to reality -  we have gained way more.

Three years ago everything changed. We could never have imagined or prepared for it and we didn't really even see it coming. Three years ago today I wrote a blog about our new addition. You can read it in its entirety HERE.

This is how that blog post ended:
I keep thinking about what a great life she will have with us. Yesterday, one of my friends said "she will change your life forever". That really hit me....I think we are going to save her life, but I suspect it will be the other way around.

Sunday night, we will bring Asha home to a place that she will never see. She will never hear the barking of our other dogs, the hissing of our cats, the lawnmower, the trash truck, the vacuum. She won't hear us call her name or see how we look at her when we disapprove of what she has done. She will experience her home in a completely different way than the rest of us. But she will know love. We all will. Welcome home have no idea what great things lie ahead of you.

You can read through my blog over the last three years and see the things we have been through with Asha. I sometimes forget how things were, how she acted, how that made me feel, what that did to our lives. I think back and wonder "how did we ever make it through all that". I look at Asha and I see my soul, living outside my body. I have never loved something or someone as much as I love her.

Are things perfect? Far from it. But I have learned that perfect doesn't mean happy. The secret to life is finding joy in the imperfection, seeing beauty in the flawed, loving something more than you love yourself.

Asha is so smart. I am amazed every day at how she navigates the world. People have asked us "what do you do with a dog who is deaf and blind". Asha does not know or care that she cannot see or hear. I often forget because she does just fine. I sometimes wonder what it is like for her, how she experiences things. When the other dogs run and play or chase a ball I do feel a little sad that Asha will never do that. But then I see just how happy she is and I know that it doesn't matter.

The last time I slept through the night was three years ago. Since Asha, there is no sleep. 8 hours of dream time is a thing of the past. However, year three with us has brought a big change. After two and a half years of sleeping on the floor or the couch with her, Asha finally decided that our bed and the floor next to our bed is sufficient. At last I can sleep in my own bed again. That happened back in December and has really made things tremendously better. Maybe on her fourth anniversary I'll be able to say that we get to sleep through the night. Until then, every morning around 3:30am (if not several times before then), this face appears next to me (after some walking around and barking).

Asha still runs and barks uncontrollably. Not as much, but she still does it. Asha still takes medicine to control her seizures, medicine to control her anxiety, herbs to help with everything and she still eats a special diet. She isn't a "normal" dog. She never will be and that is okay with us.

She sure has grown! 

Our lives are richer because Asha is a part of our family. I cannot imagine my life without her. I love her so completely and am thankful every day that she came into our lives. I hope we celebrate many more years together. Happy Anniversary Sissy!!

Here is a video about our lives with Asha:

Friday, June 6, 2014

Goodbye to Poppy...

In April of 2013, Trevor and I took in a hospice foster dog. We named him Ducky because his tail looked like a platapus. We expected him to live a week or two and figured we could give him a safe, loving home until it was him time to go. He had come into the shelter as a stray, no one claimed him. He was about 16 and in pretty bad shape – his teeth were awful, he was blind in one eye and had bad arthritis. He wouldn’t be adoptable and instead of just putting him down, they asked us to take him. Here is the story of our meeting.

Within a week we started calling him Poppy because this old guy acted like a grumpy grandpa. He stomped around, demanded to be fed, held, let out, let in. He was quite a character. He liked to be held close and would jump up on the couch, the coffee table or my lap. We quickly grew to love him. He was pretty confused for a while, not sure where he was and who we were. That changed over time – he soon realized that we were his family and that was that.

Many times, we thought it was the end for Poppy. I was out of town for work and Poppy wouldn’t eat. Trevor just wanted to keep him alive until I got home – we didn’t want Poppy to die without both of us by his side. Trevor gave him some cat food and Poppy loved it.  The brand of food was called “Fussy Cat” and that became his nickname. Fussy cat ate his cat food diet for several months until he decided he didn’t want it anymore and we switched him back to a dog food.

At first, Poppy would jump on and off the deck by himself. His joints were pretty stiff so he kind of threw himself off the deck and hoped for the best. After a couple months, we didn’t make him jump off or on anymore, we helped him. At that point he would come to the deck and put his chin up while he waited for us to come get him. If we didn’t do it soon enough, he would stomp around the yard and then come back to the deck. Recently he stopped doing that – he would just wander around the yard in circles until we came out to get him.

Most days we expected Poppy to die in his sleep. When he woke up from a deep sleep he was always a little surprised that he was still alive. “Is this heaven?” he would say as he stumbled to his awakeness.

Through it all, he loved to be held close. Poppy’s best times were when I would sit in the sun or lay on the couch and just hold him. It was those times when I knew that he knew we loved him. He knew he was our family and that he was safe with us. It was those times when I was overcome with a feeling of peace and the realization of my purpose here on earth. I knew it. Poppy knew it. These last few weeks, I’ve been spending as much time as I could holding him close and telling him how much I loved him. I’ve also been telling Poppy about doggie heaven – how the others who have gone before him will be waiting for him, how he will be restored to good health and he can run and play just like he did when he was younger.

We have known this old guy was going downhill the last couple weeks and were just waiting for him to give us the sign. I was out of town last weekend and when I got home Monday night, I knew. I picked up Poppy and he looked at me as if to say “Don’t leave me again”. And I knew it was time. We decided to give him this week to enjoy eating some super yummy food and being held close in the sun. He has enjoyed it but has also made it clear, he is ready to go. His time here is done. 17 years is a pretty good run for a doggie.

I don’t know what the first 16 years of Poppy’s life were like, but I know that this last year has been full of love and comfort. He could have died in the shelter, alone, last year. So many others die alone. But because he came here to be with us that didn’t happen.

Today, Poppy went to the Rainbow Bridge. We held him close one last time as he took his final breathe and slipped away into the next life. My heart is both full of love and broken into pieces. I loved him, I’ll always love him and I will miss him terribly.  It was an honor to be with him at the end and I am proud that he was a part of our family.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Wildflower Long Course Race Report

Last year, I did 4 triathlons and barely trained for any of them. I spend my life working triathlons, am around it all the time, but don't get to participate. This year, I wanted to do a race before my work travel season began. We found a race as late as possible (before May 18 - the first Rev3 of the season) and close enough to home that we could drive. We chose Wildflower in California and have been training since December for this specific event. I would have loved to do a Rev3, but since I work for them, racing isn't possible....

Trevor and I arrived at our rental house in California on Thursday afternoon. We had been driving since Wednesday. It took us a total of about 14 hours, which really wasn’t as bad as I expected. We got settled in the house, got some groceries and went to bed early.

The weeks leading up to the race had been pretty hectic and we were both feeling quite a bit of stress over many things in life. I was feeling very anxious about the race. I am not sure why. I was prepared, I had never been more prepared for a race and I felt comfortable with my plan.

The logistics of the race were overwhelming to me and I was trying hard to wrap my head around all that was involved. I was happy when we got to the race site on Friday morning to see about a practice swim, bike and run.

Because the water level was so low, they moved the swim. We would swim, then run 2.2 miles to our bikes, bike 56 miles and then run the additional 10.9 miles (to make a total of 13.1).

We rode our bikes the 3 miles from the parking lot to the swim start. The water level was VERY low. It was sad and kind of hard to believe that there was so little water. We rode our bikes back to the parking lot and then down to the transition area/finish line. I was getting the lay of the land and feeling a little better about that. We got our bikes back on the car and did a quick little jog around the trails in the park.

We then drove down to the swim start and did a practice swim. We had heard that the water was very silty and dirty and wanted to test it out. I had been in my wetsuit once this year, Trevor hadn’t at all and we wanted to do a little test before race day and work out any of the kinks. We had also heard the water was really warm.  We were both pleasantly surprised. The water wasn’t too dirty and it felt plenty cool to us.

The biggest challenge was going to be the steep grade of the transition area. We got out of the water at the bottom of a boat ramp (that is usually submerged). Our shoes and transition bags were staged on the ramp. At the top of the ramp we transitioned to the run portion that would take us to our bikes – 2.2 miles away.

It was getting hot and we were out later than I had wanted to be. But we had gotten a good look at things and I was feeling better about understanding how it all would come together.

We went back to the house and got organized, showered, ate lunch and relaxed for a bit. Then we headed back to the park to pickup packets and check our bikes. The bike transition area was at the bottom of a long steep hill. We took a school bus shuttle, with our bikes and all our gear, down there. We checked in pretty quickly and got our bikes set in transition. We had to leave all our gear there and wouldn’t see our bikes in the morning. I left my nutrition all in a bag and all my other gear stacked in a bag and ready to go. While we were setting up, someone who had checked their bike earlier had a tire blow. That didn’t make us feel very good about leaving our bikes there and not seeing them until we were ready to ride. But that’s what they told us to do, so we hoped for the best.

We went to the athlete meeting and found only a handful of people there and honestly there was nothing discussed that I didn’t already know. I was feeling super hot and kind of drained. I was ready to go home, eat and relax.

We took the shuttle back up to our car and headed out. We got back to the house, ate dinner (scrambled eggs, kale, potatoes and bread) that I had cooked before we left that afternoon (thanks Marni for that tip!!)

We went to bed around 8:30 and I was so excited to get so much sleep. Our alarm was set for 4:55 (we planned to leave around 5:50). I barely slept at all. I tossed and turned feeling super anxious about the next day and I couldn’t seem to calm myself down.

We got up at 5am, I had some coffee. My tummy didn’t feel so good, so I waited as long as I could to eat.  I had my wasa, nut butter and honey right before we left at 6am. My wave didn’t start until 9, Trevor at 8:40. We had a 6:30 shuttle to the start. I wasn’t super happy about all the waiting around we would be doing. Too much time to think. I like to get there and go. Once the race starts I always calm down but ahead of time I am a nervous wreck.

We got to the park and found a parking spot with no issues. Got on the shuttle with no issues. We saw LOTS of people coming to check their bikes in which was a little annoying because they had said NOT to do that. Oh well, nothing we could do about it now.

We got to the swim start around 6:45 and proceeded to wait. We used the bathroom twice, spent some time applying sunscreen. Sat and relaxed for a while. I sipped on a flask of napalm and water. I felt a little tired and fatigued but didn’t focus too much on that.

Finally the time came. Trevor went down to his start and I got my gear all ready to go. Soon it was my turn. I put on my wetsuit, ear plugs and pink cap. Between swim waves we got a couple minutes to do a warm up if we wanted.  I got in to adjust my wetsuit and check my goggles. I was glad I did – the water was pitch black from all the silt being stirred up. I tried to mentally prepare for it being like that the entire swim. It was erie. I wasn’t too stressed about the swim at this point. I was calming down.

The truth is, I don’t know why I stress at all about the swim. I had an issue with anxiety during my first triathlon ever – 6 years ago. Other than that, I had never had a time where I didn’t think I could finish a swim, where I couldn’t keep going, had to turn on my back, grab a kayak or ask for help. Not ever. Once the horn went off, I waited a minute and then got in and swam. Before too long, the water cleared up. It wasn’t clean, but it wasn’t black and that was good.

I was around some other people for a while, got pushed a little, but not too bad. There were 7 buoys and I decided to just swim one at a time and not worry about anything else. Every now and then, faster swimmers from the waves behind me would pass and the water would get choppy. I swallowed some water a few times and really focused on not doing that. The water was so gross I didn’t want that in my belly!

At the Rev3 races I work, I never see the swim. I was paying attention to the boats and the kayaks and thinking about all my coworkers who are usually out on the water. Soon, I made the turn at the half way point and turned towards home. When I was just about to the end of the swim, the water got very shallow – less than a foot I bet, my hand touched the slimy silt. Yuck. From the practice swim I knew the water got deeper by the dock and so I just adjusted and kept going.

I got to the swim exit, stepped out of the water and looked at my watch. 46 mins! That is 3 minutes faster than my previous swim time. I was sure the swim was short, couldn’t be all my time in the pool paying off ;)

I made my way up the boat ramp and looked for my shoes and bags. I could not believe how far up I had to go! Some people were running and that just didn’t make any sense to me, so I walked. It was really steep and I didn’t want any accidents. I found my stuff, got my wetsuit off, put on my running shoes, grabbed my flask of napalm and walked to the top of the transition area.

Once I got off the boat ramp, I started to run. There was one little hill before the long downhill turned to flat. We had 2.2 miles to go to get to where our bikes were. We ran along the lake bed – it was very sandy and rocky. I stuck with my plan, which was a steady warm up pace. Some people passed me and I didn’t worry about them – they were faster athletes from the waves behind me. No worries.

I finally made it to the bike transition area where we had to go up another boat ramp! I arrived at my bike and immediately checked my tires. No flats. That was great news! Everything was just as I had left it.

I put my bottles on my bike, sprayed with sunscreen, changed into bike gear and headed out on the bike. I heard the announcer, Sean, who we know say that Trevor was about an hour ahead of me – which sounded just right.

The bike starts out on some winding roads and then goes right into the first big climb. I wasn’t feeling great – a little fatigued and already hot. I took it easy the first 20 mins or so, just to settle in.  My plan was to push for 25-30 mins and then take it easy for 3-5.

I was able to stick to my plan until about mile 50. It was a great course, some hills, some flats. It was my kind of course, just what I had trained on during my long rides and I was confident in that. I wasn’t get passed by very many people, I was the one doing the passing. I was strong on the hills and relaxed on the downhills.

My hip flexor started to ache pretty early in the ride and I wasn’t feeling super comfortable on the bike. It is amazing how many emotions you can feel during a 56 mile bike ride. One minute I was feeling like “how will I ever make it”, then literally a minute later I felt fabulous. I remember Marni, my coach, told me to remember that this happens and to just keep moving forward and being positive. It’s supposed to be hard!

I took water at every aid station and poured it on my head to stay in front of the heat. It was a huge help!
The course was a little more challenging than I had expected. The flat road was really rough and that was hard on my body – especially my elbow so I really wanted that to be over.

We made a turn onto a road and I knew we had reached the last big climb called “Nasty Grade”. I settled in for slow and steady, I didn’t know exactly how it would be. I just heard that when you think it is over, you turn the corner and there is more. So I held back a little so that I could keep going. I passed some people. Many were really struggling. Some were walking. I made it to the top and turned onto the last road back to the park. We had driven this road several times and so I knew about the little hill and what followed.

I powered up the little hill and felt spent. I knew I had about 8 miles left and I was SO ready to be off my bike. For a moment I thought “ugh. I don’t even want to run.” But that was a ridiculous thought because we don’t quit. That’s our rule. We. Don’t. Quit. So, not running wasn’t an option.

I tried to just make the mileage, I didn’t push too hard. I rode the downhills a little slower because I didn’t trust myself to make any quick decisions. I tried to get my mind right for the run. I told myself that once I got to the transition area I needed to just get my shoes on and start moving, even if it was just walking – progress.  I needed to make progress.

I came back into the park, down the big hill to transition, where I saw people finishing as I came into the rack my bike. I pulled out my flasks of gel and they were boiling hot. Yuck!! I got my run gear on and walked out of the transition area. Everyone around me was walking. I had a plan…my plan coming into the race was to run a mile and then walk 30 secs and repeat. There was a set of stairs ahead of me. I decided I would walk those stairs and then I would run because that was my plan.

I started running and didn’t feel so bad. Again, everyone was walking and I thought “maybe I should walk too”, but I remembered that I have been running really strong off the bike in training and so I needed to just run.

It was really hot and none of the aid stations had ice so my gels stayed hot. The water was tepid and that wasn’t helping me cool down! Again…I just stuck to my plan.

I took longer walk breaks at each mile, but I felt like I needed those. I would walk, tell myself “good job” on the last mile and think about being strong on the next. There were some hills and every time I saw someone walking, I would want to walk. I would think “if I were out here alone would I run” and if the answer was yes, then I ran.

There were many places along the course where the hills were pretty steep. Almost all of the run was on trails and some of them had lots of rocks and the footing wasn’t the best. On these places I would walk. Then when it flattened out or got smoother, I would run.

There was about a mile where it was really rough terrain and I walked most of that mile. I ran the majority of the other miles. I am most proud about that because it is typically my style to start walking and then I don’t run anymore. I give up. I didn’t give up this time. I wanted to run a 10:30 pace and ended up running just under a 13 minute pace. It was 88 degrees and the last time I saw anything over 70 was Florida in November. My body did not understand this heat!

I stuck to my plan as best I could and modified it for how I felt and for the conditions of the day. It was hot, I was fatigued and I did what I could do. My favorite part of the day was the spectators. We ran through the campgrounds and people were sitting out in their chairs cheering us on. That always made me smile and I was told at least 5 times “great smile”.

There were moments when I thought “why do I do this?” “what am I getting out of this” “do I even still want to do these things”. Same as on the bike, one minute I felt great, one minute I wanted to stop.

I made it to mile 12. Mile 11 was tough. Once I got to mile 12, I knew I would turn the corner and then it was one mile downhill to the finish. At that point I started to cry. This was the hardest thing I had ever done and I wanted to quit at least 10 times. But I didn’t. I was going to finish.

I ran the entire last mile, down the hill, passing people who were walking. My body was on fire, I was so hot and tired. I came around the corner and there was the finish line. I ran down it. Happy to be finished and so very proud that I had made it there. 7 hours and 37 minutes after I put my feet in the water.

I have never been more prepared for a race. I had fabulous coaches (Marni and Karel from TriMarni coaching). Without them, this race would have been a disaster. I LOVED being their athlete and am excited to work with them more.

I found Trevor, headed to the medical tent to get some ice. I felt really sick to my stomach. We sat for a while and talked about our race. Then we loaded up our gear and got in line for the shuttle back to our car. That was a long, torturous process where we saw someone totally pass out. Trevor just about threw up and had to sit down.

We made it back to the car, got back to the house, ate dinner, showered and went to bed at 8:30. The next morning we got up at 5am and started the long drive home.

It is funny how in the midst of an experience like this, you say “never again” and the more time passes, the more you realize that these are things that make you stronger. When you do something you aren’t sure you can do, you change, you become better. Anyone can do something easy. This day, we did something hard and I can’t wait to decide what to do next….