I used to spend every Tuesday and Thursday at a gym used exclusively by elderly, retired Olympic athletes (and me, the only young guy).
Okay, it’s actually a pulmonary rehab class at the local hospital. But most of my elderly gym buddies were definitely stronger than me. When I first started attending the class, the areas on my arms and legs where muscle would normally be were useless, wobbly flabs. In the words of a physical therapist I met during my time in San Francisco, my muscles were “totally wasted.” It’s also pretty difficult to breathe heavily through my Bane-esque anti-bacterial mask and my right shoulder has been killing me ever since the big surgery. (Now I’m just making excuses.)
So, anyway, all these elderly folk were whooping me at every exercise, forcing my insecure self to form this imaginary narrative about them being world-class athletes once upon a time.
They deserve to be thought of as superhuman — they’re extraordinarily kind people. While I’m probably one of their youngest buddies, I’m probably not the only deaf one. The moment they learned I couldn’t hear, they all took to smiling the most smiley smiles at me and using hand motions to communicate (lots of thumbs ups when I do well at an exercise). And they always show appreciation for my Star Wars and Marvel shirts — the only short-sleeved T-shirts I own. They also bring loads of sugary baked goods. The physical therapists chide them and say it’s bad for their health — one hand wagging a finger, the other hand holding one of the desserts. Who can resist treats from people who look like their grandparents? They’re great!
The reality is all these people have breathing troubles of some sort. As I’ve gotten stronger, I’ve come to realize that I’m no longer at a gym used by retired Olympic athletes. I’m at a gym for the sick. My belief that these were super-fit people was bred from my super-weak, recovering-from-major-surgery perspective. While I’m steadily getting stronger, stronger, stronger, most of them are getting physically weaker. Thanks to them attending rehab, it’s a “one step forward, two steps back” deal. If they didn’t attend, it might just be “two steps back, two steps back.” I’m nearly jogging on the treadmill, while the man next to me is grabbing for his oxygen mask every few seconds as he steps.. steps.. steps.. More a slow march than a walk. I’ve noticed his oxygen needs have increased since we first met… and that frightens me.
Frankly, many are as unhealthy as I was before transplant. And I now realize how bad it really was for me. I guess it was hard to be self-aware of my physical weakness before. I just walked several miles the other day with relative ease, and so it now seems so laughable that I once celebrated doing one mile in a single day.
I always try to be transparent on this blog: pre-transplant, I felt bitterness towards my fit peers. I hated that their athleticism emphasized my weakness. Another confession: I often feel self-pity for my past self, built upon hindsight. I view “Sick Brad” as this totally different person. And I pity him, and I sometimes pity my exercise buddies because I see Sick Brad when I look at them struggling. It makes me sometimes want to hold back from working hard, because I don’t want the others in the gym to feel the bitterness I once felt towards those who were stronger.
(Again, this is just me being transparent. I fully recognize that those feelings are totally un-cool.)
My exercise buddies are much wiser than I, though, and based on their genuine excitement about my rapidly improving health, I think they would want me to focus on gratitude of now rather than the self-pity and bitterness of then. Since I came to this conclusion, I’ve begun to push myself much harder than ever before. I’m adding weights, adding speed, adding different machines, adding miles, all that. I’m working myself into a puddle of sweat and seeing noticeable improvement between each rehab session. And the joy on the faces of my classmates hasn’t diminished. They’re all still cheering me on. I’m just relieved the rehab class is filled with people who are much more mature and selfless than Sick Brad. And I hope I’m wrong about them not getting healthier, ‘cause they deserve the best.
Anyway, I still have a whole summer of rehab left, so I’m going to update my blog every once in awhile to record my progress. I’m going on big trips to Arizona, New Mexico, and Colorado in August, so I want to be in tip-top shape by then.
Since I first began rehab in late March, I:
- Went from workload #1 on my Nu-Step machine to workload #6, also doubling the rate of leg pumps and tripling time spent on the machine (15 minutes).
- Went from 1.5 mph on the treadmill for 5 minutes to 4 mph for 15 minutes.
- Went from 1 lb. dumbbells to 5 lb. dumbbells.
- Went from 3 minutes on the elliptical to 15 minutes.
- Started stair machine for 5 minutes.
- Walked 7.6 miles on Monday and climbed 17 floors, walked 6.1 miles on Tuesday. I forget how much I could do in March, but 4 miles was a huge accomplishment in April.
My legs are getting much stronger, but there’s still a lot of work to be done. Unfortunately, I can only strain my arms a little since I still have my PICC line in. Once that’s out (hopefully in July) and my incision heals a little more, I’ll shift focus to working out my upper body.
Should be fun! Got the new lungs; let’s get a new body (preferably by working out instead of via transplant).