Sometimes, my life is like a roller coaster. Other times, its trajectory would look more like an EKG read out. That’s the underpinning of last week. But only the part that nose dives toward the bottom of the page. That underpinning was laid over by a lot of really good stuff in Park City: I built up a bit of a routine, got on the mountain to work half days, saw friends, caught up. I loved being home for an extended (read: two weeks and three days) period of time. Until it didn’t love me.
My ability to breathe has plummeted. Even walking up the stairs from my garage to my condo forced five gasping minutes on the couch before I could truly say hi to Linus and Lucy. I got an oximeter from Amazon, and my blood oxygen only goes over 90 when I’m ON oxygen, which I sleep with and use most times when I’m home (and not cooking on my gas stove or standing near the fireplace). As much as I love working at Deer Valley, somewhere along the line in the last two weeks, I realized that the 9000 feet that deprived me of Oxygen in Quito is the same 9000 feet at my workplace, just without the ceviche. That has led to Pulse-ox readings of 66. That doesn’t feel good. In fact, it feels like you’re suffocating, which I have learned, makes you cough, which makes breathing worse. It’s a pulmonary Catch 22.
It was bad en0ugh that when I went to Huntsman Cancer Center in Salt Lake to have a nurse flush my port line, my doctor wanted to see me. An x-ray showed no additional fluid buildup in my lungs, which was a possible cause of all this breathlessness. I mentioned my 66 pulse ox reading at Deer Valley, and Dr Akerley’s eyes almost popped out of his head. Apparently, consistent low oxygen can make your healthy organs shut down. He asked, didn’t it make me feel badly? I said yes, but manageably. Sometimes I think my ability to suffer, honed to fine art during my Ironman days, may get me killed. In any case, they tried to get me into an acute CT scan appointment, but couldn’t. So I told my team I’d take myself out of at least one dangerous situation and had myself taken off the schedule at Deer Valley. I was sooooo close to finishing the season. 7 half-days. I don’t feel good about bailing before my team. But articulating how ridiculously hard it was (and how long it took) to get my gear and get to my first post of the day was…. I can’t even do it. I will say it was the hardest thing I did all day. I love my mountain host job, but it’s mostly a job for fun, and the fun to suffering ratio was growing. That was the beginning of my week.
Then, I walked DOWN the stairs from my nest to my garage and couldn’t get a breath. You guessed it. Another 66 reading. Now, I get that oxygen goes away up at the ski resort…. but now I’m a good thousand feet or more lower. Because I’m blessed to be able to mitigate (a lot of) suffering (and protect my healthy organs), I made emergency plans to go to Santa Monica, where the elevation is zero. Zed. Nada. And the temperature is 80. Although it could be 90 today. And it’s sunny and I found the cutest VRBO guest house downtown for not much money. And my nieces, Jen and Amanda, and my friends, Bill and Mona, live here.
This is my experiment. I believe it’s elevation and dry air and cold that are exacerbating my inability to breathe (which is meds-related, by the way). I wanted to prove it, but not stay down here too long, in case I was wrong. If I was wrong, then I’m a plane flight away from home without supplemental oxygen, which could be a bad thing. But I’m not wrong. To our great delight last night at Tumbi, Jen and Amanda and I saw my blood oxygen level at 95, just with regular California air. I went to hot yoga and Orange Theory today and didn’t have to stop doing anything to catch my breath. So now, if my CT scan shows that the drug is working on March 28, but it continues to suck away my ability to breathe, I may have to work a couple of weeks here (California) into every month. 10 days til I find out. That was the middle of my week.
I closed my Park City week at a heartbreaking, sorrowful, painful, hopeful, unforgettable memorial service for a little girl with whom I’ve volunteered in adaptive ski and horseback riding lessons for, gosh, it could be close to ten years. Her name is Bridget, but we all called her Bridgey. She had a condition where she was non-verbal and mostly in a wheelchair. but that girl absolutely let you know when she was loving hurtling down the mountain in a sit ski. And she loved the National Ability Center horses. The priest at the service said doctors told her family she wasn’t supposed to live past two years old, and would probably be blind and unable to walk. But love and hope and faith are powerful things. Bridgey lived to 16 and thanks to her incredible parents and sister (and the National Ability Center), not only did she walk, she skied and rode horses, and went on vacation, and engaged everyone who was lucky enough to be in her life with pure, unconditional, whole love. Before the service, her mom told me the ski days with me were Bridgey’s best ski days (at which point I just about lost it). But that was her talent: Making you give the best of yourself to her. She didn’t ask; she expected. So you did it. Her dad was quoted as saying, when the end was nearing, that the family had stopped praying for a miracle. They already had the miracle. For 16 years. Now, I pray that that big chunk of truth mitigates the suffering of the people Bridgey left behind. I know it does for me.
I don’t believe the lesson in all of this is that forced resilience in the face of challenges and loss powers you forward. There’s something to be said for that, and there have been many times in my life when that’s how i would attack a week like the last one. Now, what I see is a bit less Type A and much less work. I see strength and peace coming from accepting potentially terrible and flat-out terrible life circumstances and not fight fight fighting all the time. I see that shifting your approach to or interpretation of a less-than-awesome situation can make it so it doesn’t take your breath away, allowing good choices and bringing ease. I see that you can often make positive outcomes from entirely negative situations. Not always, but often enough that you should try.
Rest in peace, sweet Bridgey, my heroine. You #defied all your life.