Monday, April 18, 2016

Go Achilles Brooklyn, YEAH!

In May 2014 I walked into my doctor's office because I was tripping over too much stuff and starting to drop the dishes. She basically shoved me in a taxi to one of the best hospitals in New York City because she correctly diagnosed me with Guillain-BarrĂ© syndrome. In the ER they gave me a spinal tap and then admitted me into intensive care. That night I had a 90 minute MRI and by the next morning I couldn't walk it all. Every few hours someone would ask me if I could breathe and by the end of the week I couldn't hold a plastic spoon.  They transferred me to rehab when I stopped getting worse. There they told me I would start getting better and in a year I would be fine. Their definition of fine was a little different than mine, but I was okay with that. But I got worse when I was in rehab and they sent me back to the medical hospital for more "aggressive" treatments. I went through five rounds of plasmapheresis, where a small surgery team had to put a hole in the side of my neck so they can get blood in and out quickly. Then back to rehab and I had another relapse and I heard my doctor use the word chronic and back to the hospital again. This time I had chemotherapy. That appeared to stop the relapses and my slow recovery officially began.

I just needed to review all this because people often ask me if I was scared. No, at no time during this process was I scared. As I said to myself many times and into this blog a few times I can take all kinds of shit as long as I know it's not my kids it's happening to. I also went out of my way to find the positive in people. I even kept a little list of things people said or did that made me feel better. Or maybe I just found a way to numb myself. But, in any case I didn't allow myself to freak out.

I never imagined I was worthy of what people did for me. One of my friends organized a race as a fundraiser to help pay off some bills and another had a little talent show in their sneaker store. It was humbling to see what people would do for me.

Yeah, when I got sick I found out how good my friends were. But I also found out I had a lot of new friends. Back when I was in the hospital I just mentioned in some Facebook page that I still wanted to participate in the New York City Marathon. My friend Nicoletta showed up and said let's figure out how to make that happen. It turned out it was much more complicated than I imagined. I had already paid for the race but needed to change my status from runner to AWD (athlete with a disability). The roadrunners club wasn't really into me being pushed and it turned out that being pushed 26.2 miles in a wheelchair designed for indoor use would be a nightmare. So I took the medical deferral (and yes I skipped 2015 also, but warm up your TVs because this year I will complete that race under my own power. But that's not what today's blog is about.) Then Nicoletta asked me if I want to join the Achilles athletes for their workouts. "Sure, but getting to Manhattan would be an insurmountable hassle right now." So she created an Achilles chapter in Brooklyn.

The kickoff was a year ago. It coincided with the arrival of my new power wheelchair. One of the first trips I made outside by house by myself was to meet the new group. I got there a little early and other Achilles athletes and their guides began arriving. Suddenly, my head started to spin. 11 months after losing my ability to walk or hold a pencil I was having my first anxiety attack. I wanted to leave, I wanted to run away. I was totally freaking out inside because I did not want to be associated with these people. I was always a helper, not someone who needed help. And then a TV reporter showed up and asked for me. He started asking me all these stupid questions. It was obvious he didn't know anything about running, racing, training for people with disabilities. But he shoved the microphone and camera in my face. I was so happy when Nicoletta showed up. I don't think anyone knew how freaked out I was at that moment. It was worse than hearing the words chronic, or acute, or chemotherapy. I quickly figured out how to make myself happy. I was there in an electric wheelchair. I didn't need anybody's help. I had a 17 mile range at 4 miles an hour. So I was there to help people. I became an Achilles Guide, I chaperoned people around the park. I hung out and watched the guide dogs. I gave tours of the The Park and Park Slope. I was fine. But for a few minutes I was not.

I got to know these people and they got to know me.  One of the highlights of my road to recovery was captured in the photograph to the left. Many of my new friends only knew me in a wheelchair and I wanted to show them that that wasn't me. I stood up and walked in a little circle around the chair. I didn't tell anyone what I was gonna do I just stood up and showed off. Standing across from me in the circle was one of my new friends, Abby.(She is first of all a rock star because as I dictate this she is running the Boston Marathon. And way down on the lists of things that describe her is the fact that she is blind.) Now, whenever I need a happy thought I remember hearing Abby say. " Michael! Are you standing?" "Yeah, I can do that!"

Now it's a year later and the Brooklyn Achilles Chapter is celebrating its anniversary. Old and new friends have joined the group and we get to walk a short loop of Prospect Park together.

After the loop we went back to a local burger joint for little celebration. I knew I would want to toast my new friends and I also thought I would get too emotional to actually do it. But unlike in the winter when I didn't have to make a speech, I found the strength to make this one. Well, I found the strength to ask Nicoletta to read it.

And yeah, just having her read it got me a little choked up.... Below is what I asked Nicoletta to read...

Larry Sillen took all these pictures
Two years ago life handed me a lot of lemons, a lot.. I knew I needed to make a lot of lemonade. 

But besides lemons you need sugar to make lemonade.

This group has been the sugar, without it I couldn’t of made lemonade.

I don't know who Heather Quinn is but she made this meme.

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