The Road to the 2010 U.S. Transplant Games:
Another True Transplant Tale
Because of my rare blood type, I was lucky and got the call to go to the hospital on Nov. 11, 2009. The wait could just as easily have been three times as long. My donor suffered brain death following a motorcycle accident. His identity will never be known to me. The liver they removed from me weighed 30 pounds and the one kidney, nine pounds. I left the hospital on Dec. 12, 40 pounds lighter, and I still carry the other enlarged kidney.
That Thanksgiving, in the hospital surrounded by family, was the best Thanksgiving ever! Because of excellent doctors and a lot of prayer and support from family, friends and neighbors, I was able to return to work as scheduled Jan 4, 2010. I have a lot of energy and only require limited accommodation. I am completing a book about the experience that will be used in fundraising, and I volunteer and do public presentations for Donate Life Tennessee.
Birmingham April 17, 2010
And so it was April 17 and time to go back to Birmingham to attend the annual Celebration of Life picnic hosted by UAB and various Alabama-based organizations that support organ transplant recipients and their families, living organ donors, their families and the families of deceased organ donors, friends, and medical professionals. Note the emphasis on “families”: with a number of us liver recipients around there wasn’t a beer to be found anywhere if you know what I mean. There was a barbecue lunch, ceremony, activities, and it was in every way a big happy reunion.
As Anne and I parked and hiked the block to the park you could see and hear the joyful noise of people happy to be alive and the people who love them. We would meet and make many new friends as there were about 1000 in attendance.
After checking in and paying for our t-shirts we stopped at the very first booth: the National Kidney Foundation was promoting the biannual U S. Transplant Games to be held in Madison Wisconsin July 30- August 4. We started to browse as I had just recently visited the Games’ website after having been told about the Games from another Donate Life TN volunteer. That volunteer had donated a kidney to a recipient in dire need whom he had never met. He also gives blood and will be donating bone marrow soon. I would meet a number of people like him and it would illustrate to me just one more reason why Tennessee is the Volunteer State.
But we were in ‘Bama now, home of the National Champions, and a proud state of compassionate doers in its own right. Back at the NKF booth I’m greeted by a guy half a head taller than me (I’m 6’3”…I lost at least a half-inch while ill and while weighed down by 50 extra lbs of excess fluid and massively enlarged liver and kidneys) and hobbling around on a cane. Jim was his name and he had the gregariousness of the born volunteer recruiter. I liked him immediately and knew something was up by the way he looked me up and down.
“You ever play any ball?”
“Some. Intramural, rec league, stuff like that. I was a late bloomer. The last serious ball I played we took first in our county in a California rec league (I neglected to mention it was 1984) and we used to do an annual tournament called the OMIT in Franklin. (OMIT stood for Old Men’s Invitational Tournament. When we hit our 40’s we started referring to it as the Very Old Men’s Invitational Tournament or VOMIT). Why?”
He checked me out again. At 195 lbs I LOOK like I’m in great shape now even only 5 months after my surgery. I can stand up straight again and have started doing light work outs. My legs are greatly relieved and tell me every morning when I get up just how much better they feel. Or is that gas?
“Ever thought of competing in the Transplant Games?”
“Well I’m just starting to learn about them. How do you get on a team?”
“Just sign up” he said “We don’t get a lot of tall transplant recipients.”
I looked at Anne who had been carefully observing this exchange.
“What do you think Honeybunch?”
“If you think you can do it I’m okay with that. Just take me along.”
That’s my girl. If she’s going to allow me to do something risky she’s also going to want to be there to pick up the pieces if necessary.
I turn back to Jim. “Okay, I’m in. But I’m going to be 55 by game time.”
“That’s okay” he said “I played up until then. It’s just a step above rec league.”
“Is it by age?” I said hoping it was at least tiered by over-40, 21-40, etc
“Nope. Not like the track and field is. The basketball is 3-on-3 half-court and everyone’s in the same boat and keep it under control. Except for a few of the youngest guys that have only had a kidney done. But there’s not too many of them.”
“So how do I register?”
“Go online to here” Jim says as he hands me a brochure “Register, pay the fee, and make sure you get the medical release. Give me your email address and let me know when you’re set.”
Oh yeah. Medical release. That’s why I’m here. I remember now…I almost died. Funny how when you’re flashing back to your personal b-ball highlight reel you can forget that you have no stomach muscles to speak of, just a concave and loose bunch of jelly skin. This would be interesting.
“Thanks. I’ll be in touch!”
It’s funny how we guys will only project the positive vision in our minds when presented with a physical or athletic challenge. What could go wrong? Right.
Anne and I then wandered the picnic for the next two hours. I’m pretty pumped up and mapping out my rehab plans in my mind. Anne’s probably silently praying.
We bump into each of my doctors: hug, reminisce, and take photos. The memorial ceremony is very moving. I’m holding back tears as the family members of deceased donors tell their stories. We meet other recipients and compare notes. We lunch with strangers with whom we have more in common with than some of our closest friends. We promise to return every year.
And then we head home. Monday is coming and I haven’t dribbled or shot a basketball in over five years. I merely had looked like I was smuggling one around under my shirt. My belly had been that pronounced: it looked like I was nine months pregnant. For five long years. I can relate a little with all you Moms. Just a little though. I realize I didn’t have to pass a bowling ball. It’s great to be a guy.
And it’s great to be alive!
“Honeybunch, its time again for another one of life’s great adventures!”
Anne gave me a squeeze, a kiss on the cheek, and walked me back to the car. For her Monday would come soon enough.
Chapter Two, Week One: The Gym
Week of Monday, April 19
I’ve always enjoyed getting up early in the morning. At 5:30 A.M. the sun is just coming up most of the year. The newspaper has been delivered, and the old Mr. Coffee clock reliably fires up the dark roast. Maybe it’s because I come from a long line of farmers and lumberjacks, or maybe it’s just a pre-programmed body clock, but I’m ready to meet the new day.
Before I learned better judgment in such things I used to even sing in the morning. A passable baritone can reach basso profundo on some mornings; the only mornings I can really do “Ol’ Man Liver.” I say before judgment improved because it seemed to correspond with Anne leaving enough subtle hints and executing elegant, negative body language that I learned to get out of the master bedroom and bath before unleashing the hounds. My honeybunch has always needed an hour or more sleep than me and my day will be even lovelier if I’m smart enough to enable that to happen. Catch my drift?
The night before I had pulled out the old but reliable Nike Air Force high tops I purchased new when I was last playing a lot. That would be, um, the early 90’s. They lace one notch higher to help support unsteady ankles and offer a steady base for a game with no need for speed, or possibility of speed for that matter.
Prior readers will recall past stories of athletic trials. My natural competitiveness and eye, arm, hand, and concentration skills were always anchored, literally I’m afraid, by flat feet and congenitally weak ankles that arrested any real leg development. Even at my very youthful best, I could only barely touch the rim while most other guys my height were at least close to throwing it down. It doesn’t help to have a decent first step if almost everyone else catches up by the third or, sometimes, even the second. So you adjust your game accordingly.
I wouldn’t need them for these early morning workouts but getting game-ready would include Ace elastic ankle braces and athletic tape. Going tape alone removed all hair from the lower ankles years ago and I still have grimacing memories of peeling it off after a tough loss.
But it’s not like I’m in the gym at 6, don’t misunderstand me. My early morning routine always starts with two cups of good coffee, one of my few real indulgences, exactly 80% of the morning paper, and a visit by my wonderfully reliable digestive system now back on the active and ready to play list after the hiatus caused by my illness. Massively enlarged polycystic liver and kidneys screwed up everything else around them for a few years and good digestion is just one of many blessings that have now returned.
I arrive at the Williamson County Recreation Center at ten ‘til seven and greet the smiling and pleasant receptionists on entry. Peggy and Carolyn are like two of your favorite aunts and are genetically morning people as well. Every gym visit would start with their smiles and this helps when your joints are still a little cranky.
The gym is empty and a little cool at this time of the morning but you can hear the treadmills and TV’s around the corner. The cardio and weight rooms are fairly well populated at this time of the morning with mostly Boomers and seniors doing the right thing but no one in their right mind is actually preparing for a competitive sport.
This will only happen once, the good Lord willing, this recovery from major surgery. The Transplant Games at the end of July are a truly blessed goal to get back into, not “shape” really, but to just try to get all the body systems, connections, and parts back into some semblance of unison.
You might think at my age that the legs would be the primary concern. You know: the legs go first, he’s on his last leg, and “Women weaken legs, Rock,” still echoes from Burgess Meredith. I never had great legs to begin with.
But really the legs feel pretty good. I’ve been walking to build back some strength and stamina and am now up to three miles regularly at a good pace finishing in forty-five minutes or less. The ankles, each sprained at least a dozen times (no exaggeration) haven’t been sprained since I rolled over the right one just stepping off a curb at a business meeting six years ago.
Since the legs just recently shed forty pounds of burden I figured just a little stretching and a couple of slow squats would be enough for the light routine I had planned.
No, the first reminder of age and mortality would probably be something else. I couldn’t wait.
I grabbed a newer ball off the rack because I figured we might be using new Wilsons at the Games so I wanted to duplicate that feel as closely as possible. Basketball is unlike some other sport in that a newer ball is not better. Unlike baseball, golf, and tennis, the feel of a basketball is critical, especially when shooting and dribbling. I tried to palm the ball but it was ‘close but no cigar’ as the ball was cold and my hands were one more area that would need to get back into shape. Palming the ball would be one measure of progress.
Looking up at the rim it occurred to me that one way my game would be different is that the rim will always seem higher; the cylinder might also look smaller. I could touch that at one time? Overall, it’s good to start the morning with a good humble laugh even if I wouldn’t really need it to stay grounded. Grounded ‘R Us.
Some of the easier old drills started to come back: dribbling with either hand to warm the ball and hands up, then dribble while looking straight ahead, then cross dribble back and forth alternating sides. Through the legs once? Yes! The other way? Crap! That would take some time.
Keep the knees and back a little bent. Keep the lower back in mind: the lower back is really where I’m most concerned.
Now, I’ve always been blessed with a sturdy lower back. Over all these years it’s never really been a problem. But I’m very aware of the fact that I’m lacking any strength or much flexibility in my stomach muscles. My core, always a strength, had been bisected by the surgery. The long, long scar is neat and precise: never problem one there. But a strip of numbness runs along it for two inches south and the skin is post-delivery loose. Even though the belly is finally flat again there’s a telltale jiggle that indicates the weakness beneath.
A weak front means a vulnerable back and I’d need to be careful here and add some easy strengthening exercises to the routine.
So I shoot a few starting close in with a plan to gradually work my way around the key before I try to add a few feet at a time. I could always shoot, at least since I got my glasses at age eight. Working on any shot is one of those pleasant and energizing activities you can do solo and I had spent hours as a kid working on ‘the shot.’ It was the least of my concerns.
That is, until I started shooting.
Right of the key: short. Try again: short. Okay, move three feet up the key: short. Again: short. Suddenly a voice started haunting me from the past: Lombardi, the boss from Hell. Only bad boss I’d ever had. We went through a racquetball phase in northern California in ’81 and I would always beat the guy. I had to: it was impossible to lose to the old fart. He’d have been more pissed if I threw one. But he took delight if one of my serves was ‘shawt.’ You know…heavy Boston accent…shawt.
That voice started in now: Shawt! Shawt!
Damn, adjust! Use your legs…get a little lift…use some arch. And then: shawt! Work on the form…shawt! Try a jump shot…shawt!
It was shawt eleven freaking shots in a row. Shawt. Dammit! Shawt. Where are my arms? Oh, yeah. It came back to me: all the loss of muscle mass while the limbs deteriorated around the massively enlarged torso. You can’t use muscle memory if it’s all memory, no muscle. This would be exercise area number two.
Eleven shots shawt until I finally bounced one of the back of the rim. So it IS possible. Okay, keep working on the form…
And on it went for half an hour or so. I made a couple here, a few there, just enough to not be completely discouraged. I started moving a bit more and working up a sweat: not enough to get tired but enough to know I was working. Until the next discovery…
My arms were getting tired. Well, this is new! Shoot, I’d played ball with a lot of guys that if you told them my arms could ever get tired of shooting, would say, “Who? The Mad Baumer? Are you _ _ _ _ _ ing me?” Funny guys, I can hear their voices now. But this was real.
Time to wind it up. Finishing with ten straight free throws was out of the question; I’d be down here ‘til noon if my arms didn’t fall off first. Hydrate, stretch a little, tell Peggy and Carolyn a bit of my story, and head home.
At home I tried a couple of push ups and that’s when the weakness in the back entered the picture. No core, no form, few push ups. Recover, rest, and work at ten.
Work these days is a desk job at the Treasury Department trying to keep citizens and taxpayers out of trouble. What we do is called Advanced Accounts Management and we’re the people you talk to to try to keep out of any serious trouble with the IRS. Sorry, the rest is classified.
It’s a challenge for an energetic born entrepreneur to work at a desk but it was all I could do as things deteriorated physically before the transplants. It was impossible to do the job as a restaurant chain executive and I bailed on recruiting when I saw the recession coming on.
But luckily the work hours and pleasant people I work with allow for morning workouts and off time as needed for the myriad doctors’ appointments. The good working conditions offset the lower income and Anne and I adjusted accordingly.
The rest of the week was walking on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday with some light weight work on the upper body, and back to the gym on Wednesday and Friday as things got just a little better in the shooting department. Still: a long, long way to go.
Just ease into it, Baumer, or “Baby steps, Grandpop,” as Anne and the kids say. I would have over three months to get this, well, ravaged body strong enough to try to make sure I wouldn’t hurt myself or, maybe worse, embarrass myself.
Chapter Three, Week Two:
“The Center, the Meds, and the Wardrobe”
My week two, as with all my weeks, begins on Sunday. Sunday mornings are a re-energizing time for Anne and I traditionally. Making Sunday your mental beginning and not ending to the week sure makes Monday mornings a lot easier!
I mean think about it: the people who have been making calendars for centuries have been trying to guide us in this direction all along I’m pretty sure.
This Sunday would begin with a walk around our neighborhood which is normally a brisk 40 minutes at my stride when I’m feeling as well as I do these days. This particular Sunday I’ve got all cylinders going and add another mile including the adjoining neighborhood and this adds another hill as well. I complete the nearly four miles in less than an hour with no foot or leg pain just that nice burning/stretching feeling you get in the backs of your legs from hill street blues.
Some serious cooling off, shower, Sunday morning newspaper ritual, and off to 11 o’clock Mass. We have always attended the 11 AM Youth Mass going back to when our children Mike and Rachel were young enough to sing in it. Our friend Michael Alvey does a great job of directing it even going back to when he started as a volunteer lo these many 25 years now. One rehearsal a week and then they nail it during the service. Interesting: all our favorite Music Directors seem to be named Michael. Hmmm. Another story another time.
When you’ve attended the same church for 25 years or so you have been involved in many activities and events and made many life-long friends. In fact, the softball teams and adult basketball teams I have played on since 1986 all were centered around or sponsored by St Philip. If you have never played in a non-coed church softball league you are missing out on, not just a slice of Americana, but sometimes slices of skin scraped off as well. “Marauders for Mary!” or “Pound the Papists!” or “No instruments, no prisoners” are just a few of the cheers (although I exaggerate a little) and of course there’s my favorite from the synagogue “Cir-cum-cision! Cir-cum-cision!” Worst spiking I ever got was from a Baptist and I think he knew what he was doing, ya know what I mean?
Sunday winds down pleasantly and I pull out the gym clothes for the following morning before bed. Before the surgery to remove 40 pounds of, well, unwanted me I had to wear XXL t-shirts just to stretch over the belly and XL gym shorts which were worn somewhat south of the belly. With no XXL shoulders I looked a bit like a pregnant Christmas tree or at least had the shape for it. Now this stuff just hangs on me or worse can’t stay up so I pick up a couple of bargain shorts. Even some of the socks had to be replaced as a few of them had lost elasticity and either drooped like a cartoon characters or were so stiff they could stand up by themselves and, yes, they were clean.
If you have to buy new t-shirts why not advertise for the cause? So I have been accumulating assorted Donate Life and transplant education and event shirts. I figure if it raises a question or starts a conversation it may be one more donor signed. Couldn’t hurt.
And the shoes? Oh, yeah, we’ve got to keep the old shoes and make them work. Too much sentimental value. There’s a tournament win in those shoes, and a rec league championship, and there might still be a beer stain or two. These shoes predate the first Gulf War! And remember they had exactly zero use for a number of years. The soles could hold up, the uppers have lots of support and, besides, nothing looks less manly than some old guy shows up in an expensive pair of too flashy foot-billboards endorsed by this year’s all-star MVP. I mean, dude!
Up early Monday morning and into my AM routine.
One of the decisions to deal with is meds before or after the workout. And how much to eat and when? Believe it or not these are big decisions for us transplant recipients. The meds are our twice daily ritual that, just in case we didn’t need it, reminds us of our history and our vulnerability. Our meds are our lives.
Ah, yes, the meds. Pills. Prescriptions. Lung Life and Liver Savers. Heart Helpers and Kidney Kare. We have a love/hate relationship with our meds. With a meal? After a meal? Heck, they ARE a meal! Peas and grapes and some I swear are watermelons. We schedule our lives around our meds. I have my smartphone scheduled for church bells to go off at 8:30 AM and PM every day. Every blessed day. Our meds can cost as much as $27,000 annually for the uninsured or, with good insurance and generics, as little as a few hundred dollars a quarter.
Here are the dosages I am down to since my last clinic:
Prograf: 1 mg capsule, 5 in the morning and 5 in the evening. This immunosuppressant reduces our resistance to infection and viruses but causes our bodies to accept the new “foreign” organs
Cellcept: 250 mg, 4 and 4. Same purpose as Prograf but in a complementary chemical structure
Bactrim: 800 mg-160 mg tablet, one M-W-F mornings. This is a combo pill designed to assist in preventing infection but not in a way that compromises the immuno’s. We are still susceptible to viruses and we wash our hands constantly
Nexium: 40 mg, 1 and 1. Never thought my iron clad stomach would need this but I had a massive internal bleeding incident with an unexpected ulcer while in recovery in the hospital. Could have killed me.
Prednisone: 1 5 mg tablet each morning. A steroid for healing. The Transplant Games may be the only sanctioned athletic event where steroids are allowed let alone prescribed
Multivitamin: 1 over-45 men’s formula daily. Hate the label. Old guy
Calcium Citrate: 1 630 mg w/500 IU D. Along with loss of muscle mass while ill there was/is real danger of bone deterioration. Those massive cysts were sucking all the nutrients out of the rest of me.
Zinc: 1 50 mg daily. Always take this when I’m working out
Glucosamine: 2 2000 mg, taken 1 and 1. If you’re active and over 45 you comprende
Ginseng: No real reason. It was on sale and it’s a bit of a conceit I admit. No negative interactions
So there you have my personal pill packs: 16 in the morning, 11 at night. We also have a barely used bottle of Percocet that’s unnecessary because Tylenol works on those occasions I have pain from the leftover native kidney.
I decided to take my morning meds after my 7 AM workouts. I have light cranberry juice and wheat toast with fat free spread before the workout and a banana with an iced green tea with the meds when I return. Ah, potassium. Boy did my body miss potassium. I was a walking cramp there for a while. Just before work at 10 I have a power smoothie I’ve invented that’s only 250 calories. Here’s a change with age: when you’re 24 a power smoothie has a scoop of protein powder, at 54 a scoop of Metamucil instead. You got your power and I got mine.
The rest of the day I just try to eat sensibly and keep total calories at about 2000. A lot of homemade gorp and fiber bars as snacks and more fruit than I’ve ever eaten in my life. A side effect of the meds is that for the first time my body craves sweets and I consume a lot of sugar-free candy in the evening.
Back at the rec center the body is feeling just a little less cranky and the light upper-body workouts have my arms feeling a little better. I can shoot a little longer, if only a little better, and I feel I’m ready to move a bit more.
Wednesday, after one badly missed shot clanks off the rim, I run it down and instinctively decide to drive for a lay-up. The movie in my head, I’m sure, is moving faster than the actual action on the court. A dribble behind the back (!) three strides toward the basket and a leap, um no a jump, or really maybe just a lunge that clears a good 9, no, 6 inches and the lay-up misses. What goes, um, up must come down and its here I realize that its been so long since I actually, um, jumped that I’ve forgotten how to land and I thud with a bit of a jarring feeling in my spine and a twinge in the neck.
Oh, yeah, the neck. I had forgotten about that. A ruptured cervical disc caused a pinched nerve that felt like an abcessed-tooth-ache from the neck down to the tip of my finger. Athletic injury? No, just wear and tear and bad posture that culminated in waking up not able to lift my head after filling out FAFSA forms for Mike’s college plans in 1993. Only you parents understand how these may be related. Private school? Stress injury. Makes sense.
Luckily it was only a twinge this time but a reminder that it’s all connected and it’s all suffering from a general lack of use. I’ve added some back and stomach work on the Paramount machines at the rec center and even a little chest press work although those numbers are truly humbling. Well, the purpose is to aid function and not bulk so it will pay off. I realize I’ll never again have the arms I had at 35. One more small dose of middle-age reality.
The shooting is gradually improving and I keep the strength workouts light. Every long walk is a simple pleasure I wasn’t sure I was ever going to enjoy again. We count our blessings and move on to the next week which would have a complication from nature.
Chapter Four, Week Three:
“In the Wake of the Flood”
A funny thing happened on the way to the gym.
You couldn’t get there from here. Or there. Or from over there for that matter. Since most of you live outside Tennessee I thought we should share.
You see it had started raining Friday night. We knew rain was coming. It even looked like one of those really wet patterns when a low pressure system pumps water north from the Gulf. Predictions of two, three, four inches or more. The kind of rain that comes in waves: a front of clouds producing torrential downpours for a half hour, then a ten minute break where it is still and calm and even a brave bird or two chirps. Then, another wall of water of biblical proportions. In fact here in the Bible belt even the most devout were becoming worn out from the Old Testament analogies. Shoot, if this kept up for two days as predicted we might even match our all-time two-day record of 7 ¼ inches and wouldn’t that be a songwriter’s wet dream?
And so the waves kept coming through lined up like the Charge of the Lightning Brigade and splitting open over our heads. Constantly. Continuously. Repeatedly and relentlessly in other words. Like what we called “gully washers” in Colorado except those were done in an hour unless you were caught up in Big Thompson Canyon in the worst gully washer ever. This was 48 straight hours.
We “get” rain here in the mid-South. We have TVA and a system of dams and locks and neighborhoods engineered to drain. Except then it has to go somewhere especially if the waves of rainfall and groundwater don’t stop. And what happens if you top the all-time two-day record in only half of that all-time time and still the atmosphere pumps the water north and over you. When was it going to stop? It stopped only after it doubled the all-time two-day record and depending on where you were in Middle Tennessee you soaked up 13-15 inches or until the ground was saturated and the streams became rivers and the rivers lakes.
And then tricycles and trash cans and even cars disappeared. Basements and crawl spaces filled until the flow slipped through the front doors and even started up some stairs. Houses were lifted off foundations and one small building floated down the interstate. And 25 people died: some right in front of neighbors and others weren’t found until they washed up near Kentucky.
And then the damnedest thing happened: when it finally stopped and with God’s great irony gave us a beautiful, calm, clear day with the birds and the breeze that would mean a nap for many in another place and time, the ground activity started. Or rather burst.
It was as if fields of ant hills were all kicked at once and the cutting and cleaning and carrying and cooperation began. It was really a sight to see except that nobody came to see it. And the people on the ground made very little sound because there is no sound in sweat.
“If you live outside of Nashville, you may not be aware, but our city was hit by a 500-year flood over the last few days. The national news coverage gave us 15 minutes, but went back to focusing on a failed car bomb and an oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. While both are clearly important stories, was that any reason to ignore our story? It may not be as terror-sexy as a failed car bomb or as eco-sexy as an oil spill, but that’s no reason to be ignored.
The Cumberland River crested at its highest level in over 80 years. Nashville had its highest rainfall totals since records began. People drowned. Billions of dollars in damage occurred. It is the single largest disaster to hit Middle Tennessee since the Civil War. And yet…no one knows about it.
Does it really matter? Eventually, it will…as I mentioned, there are billions of dollars in damage. It seems bizarre that no one seems to be aware that we just experienced what is quite possibly the costliest non-hurricane disaster in American history. The funds to rebuild will have to come from somewhere, which is why people need to know. It’s hard to believe that we will receive much relief if there isn’t a perception that we need it.
But let’s look at the other side of the coin for a moment. A large part of the reason that we are being ignored is because of who we are. Think about that for just a second. Did you hear about looting? Did you hear about crime sprees? No…you didn’t. You heard about people pulling their neighbors off of rooftops. You saw a group of people trying to move two horses to higher ground. No…we didn’t loot. Our biggest warning was, “Don’t play in the floodwater.” When you think about it…that speaks a lot for our city. A large portion of why we were being ignored was that we weren’t doing anything to draw attention to ourselves. We were handling it on our own.
Some will be quick to find fault in the way rescue operations were handled, but the fact of the matter is that the catastrophe could not have been prevented and it is simply ignorant beyond all reason to suggest otherwise. It is a flood. It was caused by rain. You can try to find a face to stick this tragedy to, but you’ll be wrong.
Parts of Nashville that could never even conceivably be underwater were underwater. Some of them still are. Opry Mills and the Opryland Hotel are, for all intents and purposes, destroyed.
People died sitting in standstill traffic on the Interstate. We saw boats going down West End. And, of course, we all saw the surreal image of the portable building from Lighthouse Christian floating into traffic and being destroyed when cars were knocked into it. I’m still having trouble comprehending all of it.
And yet…life will go on. We’ll go back to work, to school, to our lives…and we’ll carry on. In a little over a month, I’ll be on this website talking about the draft. In October, we’ll be discussing the new Predators’ season with nary a thought of these past few days. But in a way, they changed everyone in this town. We now know that that it can happen to us…but also know that we can handle it.”
“Because we are Nashville.” by Patten Fuqua May 4, 2010
With this as the background it made for a bit of a lost week in my puny quest to pull myself back together physically beyond simple daily functions. Even the Williamson County Rec Center was unreachable for a couple of days unless they had had a dock to moor your boat. Since I couldn’t get there I tried to swing by our old neighborhood, Cottonwood which, like the Rec Center, sets hard by the Harpeth River.
One hundred and fifty homes sustained flood related damage in this, our old neighborhood. And this old neighborhood was just one of dozens that were hit this severely. And this is where I first saw the “ants.” And this is where I almost cried for both the brutal scene of Nature’s power and the beautiful symphony of neighbors helping neighbors like our country is used to doing.
And we’ll get back to our regular business about that 54-year-old L/K 2x Xplant guy’s story next week.
Chapter Five: Getting Up To Date If Not Exactly Up To Speed
We’ve jumped ahead to the final two week countdown where I will be starting a daily diary Monday, July 19. You probably want to know how we got here following the Flood and our city’s recovery…
I settled into a routine of six days working out most weeks: M-W-F in the gym shooting, dribbling, and trying to get some coordination back followed by 30 minutes or so of light exercise on the Paramount machines trying to get some strength back. On three of the other four days I walk in and around our neighborhood here in Forrest Crossing followed by some light barbell work.
Yes, I was very sick for a few years but I still can’t believe how weak I’d become. Now I was never a weight lifter: the times I focused on getting in shape as an adult always involved the line-ups of resistance based machines such as Nautilus (am I dating myself again?) and Paramount. The reduced chance of injury coupled with the potential for a faster, more cardio-based work-out helped with time management and getting the exercise worked into otherwise busy schedules.
So take a weakened 54-year-old guy who had recently had 40 pounds of stuff pulled out of his midsection and had been sedentary to the point of nearly being bedridden and you can see it was nice to be able to be a little philosophical and subscribe to old warhorses such as “A journey of a thousand miles begins with but a single step” and “If I’d have known I was going to live this long I would have taken better care of myself.”
But, hey, I’m just really happy to be here! It took the efforts, thoughts and prayers of many! As Yogi Berra said “I just want to thank everyone who made this day necessary.” Amen.
So with the age/recovery continuum dominating my daily reality I kept the work safe and yes, my friends, moderate. But testosterone and prednisone are in direct conflict with a comfort zone so injuries were never far from my mind.
In spite of my best efforts here are a few of the nagging little detours along the way:
Plantar fasciitis As a flat-footed kid this popped up occasionally playing soccer but out of the blue one morning I thought I had stepped on a scorpion. This was less in the heel and more along the arch, or lack of same, of my left foot. A few days of Tylenol and stretching the foot on one of the stairs and this turned out to be a one time shot.
Pulled hamstring This is as predictable for a middle-aged “athlete” as the need for more elastic in our shorts. We just don’t stretch enough, ever, any of us, so it’s a matter of when not if. Fortunately this was just a tweak below the cheek but I considered it a warning shot over my bow.
Ankles Baumitosis Just as de foot bone’s connected to de ankle bone sprained, sore, and swollen ankles go with the aforementioned flat feet. Nothing serious here to date (sound of knuckles knocking on wood) but a lot of little tweaks requiring the occasional icing or brace. During the Games week they will be taped and in high tops…which is to say if I just tip over like sapling in a strong breeze you won’t be entirely surprised.
Left Behind No, this does not refer to a glute but to the native kidney left behind after the liberation and transplantation of the polycystic liver and larger polycystic kidney. The native is restless, and oversized, and covered with cysts and can be the only lingering pain left over from the whole ordeal. My midsection needs to be strengthened most of all but many times after starting some work the kidney will remind me of why I’m here. Does the incision or scar ever give me any trouble? Nope.
Life goes on outside the gym and work went well and Anne and I planned my first travel of any length for a few years. We were to fly to Denver for ten days and have a mini-reunion with a number of high school friends and teachers to celebrate the recoveries of yours truly and our friend Greg who has been responding very favorably to treatment for advanced Parkinson’s Disease and is out of his wheelchair. We held it in a wine tasting room, served hors d’hoeuvres, and about thirty turned out on a stormy Friday night. It was a “Celebration of Life” and so we did. My father-in-law and I attended a day Rockies Game, we broke bread with a lot of old friends, and then Anne and I headed off alone to three days in Taos and Santa Fe staying one night with our friends Brian and Joni outside of Albuquerque.
But first, before we left, Anne planned a 55th birthday party open house for me, on June 5th, and we received the well wishes from a lot of our Tennessee friends. Born in ’55 and celebrating age 55 Anne called it our “Double Nickel Thanksgiving in June” and it certainly was.
Parties and travel can mess with a training schedule, as well as the training table, and there was some making up to do in the gym. Fortunately my friend Marty showed up to help me two mornings a week when we returned and this helped me pick up the pace and be motivated by the jovial ribbing of a former teammate.
Marty’s a couple inches taller and thirty (or so) pounds heavier and we’ve played with and against each other many times. Of course this was all more than ten years ago but we are both guys who have kept our delicate senses of humor. Marty being there has helped me get in more shooting, and work on posting up and some “D.” We’ve also started some “volleyballing” and are throwing the softball to prepare for those events as well.
July 10 brought the first meeting for Team Alabama and we made the drive south to meet teammates, our team managers, and get our schedules and share stories. Oh, yes, my recruiter Jim was there. I thanked him for the invitation and the focusing mission it has given me. Just one more blessing in a journey of many.
The Games are as much for our Living Donors and families of deceased Donors as they are for us recipients and these stories are always very moving. We picked up our pins and learned when our uniforms will be shipped. We’re all staying together in Madison at the Doubletree and Anne and I have decided to stay with the Team due to the changes in schedules and to get the full Team experience. We’re looking forward to seeing our son-in-law Aaron’s parents while we are in WI. Fundraising went well considering my late start and our friends and family were very generous. Thank you all!
So tomorrow we’re back at it in the final two week stretch of training and preparation. “Just another one of life’s great adventures!”
Chapter Six: Two Week Countdown
Monday July 19
After finishing Chapter Five I hit the sack. It had been a really nice weekend: My Mom and husband Ted were with us for two days on their way to Minnesota, we celebrated Anne’s _ _-th birthday, we saw closing night of Mike’s current play (quite good by the way) and everyone got quality time with granddaughter Lily. Oh, yes, and Rachel and Aaron, too! I think they’re getting used to this.
So up this morning at 5:30, cup of good coffee with wheat toast, 80% of the paper, all systems go. I drove over to the rec center where Marty was already waiting. He had greased up the old glove he had borrowed (it had really needed it) and we had a good laugh over just how effective a too-slick softball glove might be. We started off with the stretching and dribbling, and then went into the shooting routine.
Some Mondays are tougher than others and, while I started out hot, I ran out of steam rather easily. Weekend lay-off? Great Italian dinner Saturday night? Law of averages? Who knows? After some too-streaky shooting we threw the softball and that went a bit better than last week. Marty was off to get his daughter’s car inspected with fingers crossed and I took a quick breather before a few chest presses.
Home to a banana, iced green tea, and a shower after the meds. This week at work is a short week in my flexible schedule with Wednesday off so I’ll take advantage of that when it comes. Off to work…will write again tomorrow.
Tuesday July 20
“Good day sunshine…badum badum…good day sunshine…badum…g-o-o-o-d day sunshine…” Apologies to the Fab Four.
But, man!, Tuesday mornings are better than Monday mornings! Unless you think I’m overstating the obvious remember I consider Sunday the beginning of the week so Mondays can be just another day for me. But it had been a very busy weekend so yesterday was a little rough. This Tuesday was to be very hot and muggy which would require being done walking by 7:30. Three miles carrying some bottled water and listening to KUNC in Greeley, CO on the public radio app on the iPhone put a lift in my step and let me walk off some kinks in the legs. I worked at KUNC in college many years ago and still have a soft spot for it. The fact I can get it while mobile, in Franklin, TN is just one more small blessing in my book.
On returning home I did some isometrics and a few barbell curls and then gave Anne a big sweaty kiss as she sat on the sofa. Ahhh! Doesn’t get any better than this.
The kinks in the legs were mostly from old age but I do have this bone bruise on my right shin that thinks it’s in charge these days. You see along with throwing the softball is, yes, catching a softball and I missed a short-hop throw from Marty last Friday that skipped off the hard gym floor and could not have hit me more squarely. I decided years ago it’s not really cussing if its under your breath so my innermost thoughts were silent while I hopped on one foot like a grade schooler on field day. Or similarly anyway. I iced it all day at work and that shrank the knob from a tennis ball to a racketball. By today it’s only a golf ball but it’s an angry one still.
We received an email last night that a former Team Alabama member had lost the good fight and passed on. This is one of our realities in our transplant community: this gift of renewed life is not a promise of permanence but a ticket to a longer ride that will vary by the passenger. There is only so much under our control and faith is even more powerful than medicine in how your ride might go.
We’ll pray for the family and rejoice for our ex-teammate who isn’t constrained by a few broken body parts any more.
The day started with a voicemail from Tiffany from UAB Hospital reminding me to head over to Williamson Medical Center to have a full slate of blood drawn including Prograf and creatinine levels. So I headed over at 7 AM before I ate and planned out my workout. It’s not really giving blood but more about having blood taken. When I went in for my transplant evaluation at UAB they took 13 (thirteen) vials of blood for tests and evaluation. I was pretty impressed (with myself) until I asked the nurse what the record was: 30. Thirty! You have to drink fruit juice and take a nap after 30 vials vials of blood! This is like giving well over a pint of blood if you are a regular donor! 30 for crying out loud! How long did it take the bruise in her arm to go away?
When I got to the gym the “gym” was closed as the summer rec program was having a “graduation.” There was a screen divider splitting the middle and on the right you could hear dance music and the lights were turned down low. LOL!
The Summer Campers require that much space? Keep in mind they’re only using half the gym but because it’s an “event” the entire gym is closed. Great. About 50 twerps get to dance boy-with-boy and girl-with-girl. I’ll never understand this: Its right up there with a 1st place trophy for all participants. Hey, guys, ask those girls to dance! Smile! Pay attention to them! Ask them questions about themselves! DANCE WITH THE GIRLS, DUDES!
But I digress…
I spent some time on a stationary bike, walked, and spent extra time on the machines instead.
The rest of the morning was all about the blood, breakfast, early voting,a shower, then a few groceries…and a lot of coupons and store discounts. Paying lots of medical bills? There is no shame in managing your other expenses extra tightly. It’s just being real. I became seriously ill about five years ago and working in a high-travel job was impossible. I now make only about 1/3 of what I made compared to then but it’s a good, secure position and Anne and I simply adjusted again. Since marrying at age 19 we’ve had to scramble more than once but never had to touch the longer-term retirement investments. We consider ourselves very fortunate in that sense as well.
But that doesn’t mean we can’t have just a few affordable luxuries. In fact I had the second pedicure of my life today. What, you may ask? For some reason known only to my subconscious I have taken really good care of my cursed feet since the surgery. It started, I think, with daily reflexology by my Mother-in-law Kathy while I was in the early stages of recovery and has carried over to foot massages in some evenings by Anne to help keep the work-out plan on track in spite of my foot issues.
Or maybe it’s because I can finally see my feet again? I dunno…
The rest of my afternoon was about reading, a load of wash, and waiting for my Honeybunch to get home from babysitting granddaughter Lily as my daughter Rachel’s church madrigal choir was on the local public radio.
All in all a nice day off.
Thursday July 22
“Hot town summer in the city…backa my neck gettin’ dirty ‘n ‘gritty…”
How hot is it? It’s so hot I just saw a squirrel down by the golf course rubbing a snow cone on his nuts.
And so on…
I grew up loving the heat of summer but it was California heat and Colorado heat. We’ve lived in the Southeast since 1985 and I still can’t handle extreme humidity. You know: the kind of air that sticks to your skin when you walk outside. So this morning’s walk was in the 85’s: 85 degrees in 85% humidity and I finished at 8:05 dripping wet with the bottle of water I left with dry on the inside but as sweaty as me on the outside. By afternoon it would be high 90’s and heaven knows how sticky.
So on this morning I would be beat on arrival at home with no motivation to do any barbell work. After some chillin’ and sippin’ I dragged myself through a shower very much looking forward to the morning smoothie.
My smoothies aren’t just a beverage but a bit of pharma-food in their own right. Just 250 calories with next to no fat it helps all systems:
- 1 cup fat-free fruit yogurt made with aspartame, any flavor
- 5 frozen strawberries or 3 strawberries and half a frozen banana. Recently raspberries and blackberries have been in season and we eat about half the carton fresh and freeze the other half.
- 1 level tablespoon sugar-free Metamucil. When I was in my 30’s a “power” smoothie had protein powder. In my 50’s? Well, you see what I mean.
- 8 ounces “Light” fruit juice such as Cranberry/Raspberry.
Blend for about 15 seconds. Refreshing, nutritious, darn near a meal
The email has started buzzing confirming Team travel reservations,checking on shirt delivery, coaching about shirt laundering, and so forth.
Very sad news came that one of our teammates was experiencing chronic rejection of a transplanted lung and is in UAB hospital. She is a double lung recipient and won’t be able to make the trip.
We are a fragile group aren’t we? Just when you think you’re Rocky dancing on the steps of the museum you or someone close to you is shown a cold dose of reality. It just might be mortality behind door number three. We are so, so lucky to have this opportunity!
Friday July 23
One week until we arrive in Madison for the Games. This is both an exciting thought and a sobering contemplation as a countdown makes you consider what’s left to be done, where you need to accelerate, and where you need to wind down and fine tune.
Overall I feel pretty good: steady but conservative work on the upper body muscles has made my appearance more normal and I may have been premature when I stated I’d “never have the arms I had at 35 again.” No, they’re not guns but at least I can make Anne’s head bounce when she’s resting on one of them. She likes that.
The mid-section will never be toned let alone a six-pack. After all I didn’t deliver something 8 or 9 pounds or a good sized baby. Nope, the liver alone was every bit of 30 pounds so I delivered a toddler by caesarian, if you will, and have the loose skin left over to prove it. Fortunately the hairy Baum (Harry Baum?) torso helps conceal that to a degree along with that 20” scar. Anne likes that the hairy chest is back, too. Thank goodness she’s easy to please!
The 55-year-old legs are holding up as well as can be expected especially since they were so under-utilized for several years. The knot from the bone bruise is half way gone and the hip joints get stiff but loosen again with no problem.
My feet? And ankles? I’m conscious of them all the time. Always substandard they now get extra thought and attention. I keep my fingers crossed.
This morning in the gym I’m alone as Fridays are a little slow and Marty needs extra time at work for his HVAC company to bid the Nashville Convention Center job. Go get ‘em big guy! The extra time I’ll make up from Wednesday’s gym closure will be helpful.
Shooting a basketball is one of America’s great activities you can do alone. If more kids shot hoops and spent less time on video games…well, you know what I mean. When Dr Naismith added a backboard to that peach basket he created the rebound and made it possible to go it alone when called for. Since I wasn’t (and aren’t) a great natural athlete things like hours shooting hoops and throwing against the Larry Sherry Pitchback helped a kid hone the few skills in which he had some natural ability. Better to be able to compete.
Ah, yes, competition! I always loved competition. Win or lose (there were never draws: never) Competition in sports, in the classroom, at work. I won’t get trite about its benefits and pleasures. You either love it or you don’t.
Back to shooting. I loved to shoot. Playing I was a decent scorer but make no mistake: if I was the top scorer on a team it was not a very good team. Probably mediocre at best. I’m not a good enough athlete to consistently be the top scorer because of my limitations. On a well balanced team that has a chance to win anything my role is to be around the number 2 or 3 in points and probable 2nd in rebounds. I love passing and pick up my share of assists but any steals are not out on the open floor but in the key where quick hands can work with slow feet. Anne always liked the quick hands, too. Helped get me married. Come to think of it: the slow feet contributed as well!
After 45 minutes of shooting and dribbling I hit the machines for 20 minutes
And at least I’ll still be able to exercise on them when the gyms are closed for the Tennessee Senior Olympics next week. Oh, yeah, did I mention them? Poor timing for yours truly but it planted a thought: Dude, you’re 55, you might try that next year! Well, we’ll see.
Home and off to work. At this time of year the financial issues we deal with at Treasury are a bit more complex and help the day go by quickly and the people we help, for the most part, really need it and are very grateful.
Hot as heck is forecast for the weekend so it’s best I walk indoors on the treadmill tomorrow and hydrate, hydrate, hydrate. The word back from Dr Bynon after the labs was even more water as the creatnine is high again.
Oh, yeah, I had two organs transplanted. You know some days I forget?
Saturday July 24
“Summertime and the livin’ is easy…”
“…One of these mornings
You’re going to rise up singing
Then you’ll spread your wings
And you’ll take to the sky.”
Woke up to a hot and lazy summer Saturday and was completely unmotivated to exercise in any way, shape, or form. I came back to bed and snuggled for a bit with my lovely bride of 35 ½ years and finally decided I should get going enough to investigate, I mean to at least consider the possibility, I guess to maybe just even ponder whether working out was going to be on today’s agenda.
And answer was quickly “no.”
So after some wake-up coffee I wrote Friday’s diary post and chilled with the morning paper. I was feeling mellow, in a reflective mood, and so therefore proceeded to reflect.
My friends and family have teased me over the years, mostly playfully, about the amount of good luck I seem to have. It’s a good way to keep a guy grounded, which is their intention I’m certain, and sometimes I hear the subtle subtext of jealousy in some comments. Fair enough. I AM very fortunate and if people use the word luck then who am I to disagree?
It is because of a great deal of good fortune, and yes luck, that I’m here in my comfortable home, with a woman I’ve loved for decades, with my children and grandchild nearby, with no major financial worries despite a couple of critical emergencies, and just plain alive enough to be working toward goals, and writing, and exercising and just plain breathing. Every now and then it is right and good to just ask “Why me?”
And the answer, as our parents told us endlessly as children is: because. Just because. Now go on out there and do something with it before it’s gone. Right now.
So that’s a part of the mission: with more gifts than I ever thought the good Lord was ever going to give me I’ve started trying to pay it forward this time in a very specific way. I’ve been through a harrowing year, few years really, and that has had the effect of focusing this sense of mission to multiply my good fortune.
I’ve always functioned best with goals in mind and here is number one:
I’ve learned that only about five percent of registered organ donors will actually “pass on” in the position and circumstances to provide what they have intended: saving others with the Gift of Life. It’s circumstances…just circumstances. And if things go well they will be able to provide additional life to about five people on average. Oh it can be more and I’m not even counting the many, many people who can be helped immeasurably in their quality of life in tissue donation such as skin, corneas, muscle tendons, and on and on. Think of how one child burn victim can be helped and then try not to cry.
I want to help save the lives of at least 250 people. This means 1000 new donors of whom 5% will be in the right place in the right time and in the right circumstances such that their Gift of Life will make the difference for about 5 people each. While it’s seemingly a random goal and each situation itself will be random the science of medicine and also mathematics give me enough comfort that the goal can and will be reached if I can get to that 1000.
And then add in the most important factor of all: faith.
How will I know when I have reached that goal? Well, even though I have begun to keep track it will largely be, as Edward Deming put it “The unknown and unknowable.” So just like his quality of engineering methods if one takes all the right steps and can track what it is that you can know the rest will take care of itself.
So…have you registered yet? If not, here is link:
And let me know, in a comment or privately, if you do. Thanks!
Sunday July 25
Yes “It just might be mortality hiding behind door number three.”
Thank you to those of you who thought this was a John Prine lyric but I think this was original. Anyway, if John didn’t have such a good sense of humor he might be a little offended, but thanks anyway.
When you are really sick: chronic, degenerative, feeling worse every week sick you have a lot of time to think and naturally thoughts of your own mortality come around every now and then. How people deal with this is personal, individual, and cultural of course and no one can tell another anything that is sure to be relevant other than just that: it will be deeply personal and individual. It will be the deepest we ever go. By definition this life has passed and it’s on to what lies beyond.
People prone to depression will need help, extra love, positive thinking when it may not be possible for the person to generate positivity on their own. I’m not just talking about the terminally ill but even those reasonably certain of a solution or cure. Hopefully a person has faith and has grown into their own sense of spirituality: often times this is not the case.
I went through all the emotions, the stages of grieving, the ups and downs. I cannot imagine having gone through that alone. I mean it was challenging enough with loved ones home and nearby and a very supportive medical team. Regardless of one’s religion or intentional refute of religion there develops a clear picture in your mind of the path ahead even though that may evolve over time and reflection.
Once again I am fortunate beyond what I have really earned. All the small good works one’s tried to do, even the big ones, don’t add up to what you have received when you have received that second Gift of Life. Many in the transplant community refer to it as your “second birthday” and I can see why.
What developed for me over the course of my illness was this: I do not fear death. Nor do I feel a fear of dying which, by the way, are very different things.
I thought that I might be dying and without the love, faith, and medical care I received I actually was. In another time under other circumstances the outcome would have been more final rather than the reprieve that I have received.
No fear? Really? Are you _ _ _ _ _ ing us again, Baum?
No. None. I guess you just had to be there. It helps, it makes all the difference, really, when you know that death is not a final curtain on the journey of life. Not only can there be a curtain call but we exist beyond it and that existence is nothing to fear. If you are open to it you will sense it and know it the closer you get.
A close friend asked me to share this and I thought on this Sunday, the beginning of my week, might be a good time. I would be more than happy to discuss this individually with any of you who wish.
So “don’t worry, be happy!” Uh, no, that’s not original! (Smile)
Monday July 26
Monday was to be a busy day: catching up on the bills early, off to the rec center to meet with Marty, and sure to be a busy day at work. Even though the gym was closed because of the badminton competition in the TN Senior Olympics it was still a good place to meet to throw outside and then do some light work on the machines afterwards.
Marty had a great idea to throw on the unoccupied tennis courts because, well, sometimes the throws get a little wild out there. Not super wild mind you but we don’t exactly “go get ‘em” as well as we used to. This, of course, is an understatement. True to form the fencing came in handy.
Back at home I started the process of stretching more seriously than I had up to this point. Getting ready this final preparation week I need to manage the age-related physical issues more so than illness. The work will be light to remain injury-free and the recovery closely managed and done in a leisurely fashion.
This is the best time for easy does it and to envision what the physical demands will be:
- A 5K walk/run Saturday morning followed by a late breakfast, meeting with my basketball teammates (for the first time all together mind you) for a couple hours of practice and get-to-know-you, a Team tailgate, and then Opening Ceremonies which will involve a lot of standing.
When I started my recovery after surgery simply standing in one place was hardest of all. No core, no stomach muscles to speak of, and a back in danger of being over-stressed. That and I was weak as hell. I leaned on my walker a lot. Did I mention I was on a walker for nearly two months?
- Sunday will be a leisurely morning hopefully with our in-laws the Seftons, practice for the field events, and Rounds One and Two of the 3-on-3 basketball tournament.
- Monday includes the field events I have chosen (softball throw for distance and accuracy and, if the legs feel good, long jump) Then more basketball if we are successful. Going all the way in hoops is five 30-minute games played by of bunch of guys with replacements parts and maybe too much mileage.
In fact the car analogy works pretty well…I’ll let you all have some fun with that.
- Tuesday, if we are in the running for a Team award will be volleyball. Otherwise we’ll start driving back.
Phew! Not a lot if you’re 25 or even 35 but…
So that is why we are easing into this final week. Old Stretch will be doing a lot of stretching and hoping to glide in and not limp in.
Tuesday July 27
“Every little thing she does is magic
Everything she do just turns me on
Even though my life before was tragic
Now I know my love for her goes on…”
Now before you accuse me a being a sentimental and romantic old mushpot let me just say this: I am a sentimental and romantic old mushpot. Just don’t tell anybody, OK?
One person has been there every day and every night through this ordeal of the past few years, and has hung in there since our first date over 37 years ago, and has put up with my act all that time. When they ask “In sickness and in health?” do the starry-eyed young lovers picture the whole transplant illness pattern of long slow physical decline and the myriad effects that go with it? Nope.
Through it all Anne has done it with love, patience, and perseverance, a positive attitude and a nearly perpetual smile on her face. She has had to be strong for everybody and at the end of the day for herself as well. I knew I was marrying the best girl I just didn’t yet know the breadth and depth of the best.
There are many layers to Anne’s character but none more apparent than her full embodiment of love and the things that come from being the oldest in a large family. Traits from responsibility and accountability to natural nurturing and her own style of leadership emerged more and more over the years. Her leadership style is gentle persuasion but she does it with backbone. People are naturally drawn to her and we joke that in airports, restaurants, and other public places people seem to want to walk up to her and tell her their life stories. Anne was born to be a wife, a Mother, a teacher. So that’s what she does.
Through the course of my illness the most perceptive and relating friends and family knew it was as hard or harder on her than it was on me.
I’m simply not complete without her. I tell her every day that I love her.
Today’s workout was 45 minutes on the treadmill mostly speed walking but with some running intervals mixed in. Notice I did not say sprinting. The Baum’s were not born to run. I did some light barbell work and isometrics and then spent 15 minutes stretching and hydrating. The operative words this week continue to be caution and preparation as I seem to be doing about all I can to try to be in shape but to avoid injury.
Seem to be. My fingers remain crossed.
Wednesday July 28
“O-o-oh I get by with a little help from my friends…”
This morning is the last morning at Williamson Rec Center before we take off Thursday evening for Madison. The TN Senior Olympics is still in town so the gym is still off limits but Marty and I meet outside on the tennis courts again to throw the softball and, of course, chat. Working out with a friend of 24 years has a lot of benefits including you can speak in short-hand and it’s pretty much impossible to offend each other. He and his wife Jane (my nickname for big Marty is, of course, Tarzan) had been to the Paul McCartney show Monday night and it had been by all accounts a killer show. Marty had some good stories about some other Boomers in the audience and how silly we can all be.
When we wrapped it up I sincerely thanked him and he offered his final sage advice. True to form it was funny, personal, and had more to do with managing age and heat and left the transplant stuff up to others.
Another one of my blessings has been having accumulating so many good friends many of the male ones tied to sports in some way. Teammates in basketball and softball help keep you humble and offer a lot of light and memorable moments especially the softball players that tend to be a notch lower in athletic talent and a lot funnier as a result. And, of course, the bantering around a golf course can be legendary.
One of my very best friends growing up was Rick “The Stick” my 6’7”170 lb Best Man who also challenged me a lot on the court. Stick was a strong defender schooled on the Bear Creek HS team who altered many shots, forced a lot of adjustments, and added serious arch to any shots inside. Like almost all of my lifelong friends he married a great woman much too good for him and leads a really nice family life in his own private Idaho these days.
Another lifer, Paul, lives in Alabama with, you guessed it, a woman far superior to what he deserves. Paul and I were in a lot of shows together in school, Paul was the far superior singer, and we’ve had many chances to see each other in the ensuing years including a stint when he and his family lived here in Nashville and Paul came to see me a couple of times when I was in UAB recovering. We still make each other laugh so hard it hurts and his first visit at the hospital nearly killed me. Well you know what I mean.
Incidentally Paul is on the list waiting for a kidney and will also have his transplant at UAB.
Our recent trip to Denver allowed me to see Dave, Burgey, John P, and others. These three amigos were involved in some of my adolescent ventures and most of the riskier teen adventures creating some great memories many of which I have detailed elsewhere. Once again they’ve been very fortunate in love, life, or both.
Leaving the rec center this morning I say goodbye to Peggy and Carolyn and they wish me luck. I had also received a good send off from well-wishers in the exercise room: some also longtime friends others nodding acquaintances that had learned my story.
Thursday is a light workout, packing, a short day at Treasury and a leg of the trip as far as Louisville as Anne and I head off on to another one of life’s great adventures!
Thursday July 29
“On the road again
Goin’ places that I’ve never been.
Seein’ things that I may never see again…
…and I can’t wait to get on the road again.”
We’ll catch up more tomorrow when we arrive in Madison.
Friday July 30
“…Woke up, got out of bed
Dragged a comb across my head.
On the way downstairs I drank a cup
And looking up I noticed I was late…”
We were in to the hotel in Louisville (Lou’-a-vull to you folks west of the Mi-issippi) at midnight and out the door at seven screaming up I-65 and looking for good coffee.
We made good time despite limping through Chicago. The alternative was to limp around Chicago. On the way home we’ll avoid it altogether which is too bad because I’ve always liked the town.
Today’s drive was the longer drive and I couldn’t help but think of our “kids”, Mike and Rachel, and how very supportive they have been but also wondering what all has gone through their minds since October. As the patient you get pretty wrapped-up in your own deal. It is socially permissible to be self-centered know what I mean? I couldn’t really gage their reactions and I knew they sometimes were at a loss for words. Baum’s? Go figure.
The other side of the coin is, of course, that Polycystic diseases are genetic and therefore hereditary with a 50/50 chance per child. While my case, with the massive enlargement, is rare you can almost assume one of your children and grandchildren will have the basic form of the disease. In our case its Rachel. Which leaves open the possibility of Lily. And so on. You can see why it can sometimes weigh on their minds. And you can see why transplant recipients buy in to the Serenity Prayer so quickly if they hadn’t already.
From my old business friend Rich who, by the way, made a very generous contribution to the Games this: The Senility Prayer: “Grant me the senility to forget the people I never liked anyway, the good fortune to run into the ones I do, and the eyesight to tell the difference.” Ha!
We’ve never been to Madison so we relied on Anne doing navigation by satellite on the iPhone and she got a kick out of doing it. It did a great job except it can’t sense road closures. Just wait until it does!
The Doubletree meets all their standards. The Team did a great job and got a good rate with free parking. Nice Wisconsin staff. Incidentally we took the toll roads through Chi-town and the booth attendants were terrible. No words, no eye contact, no thanks, all grumpy on a good weather day. Not what we’re used to in the South. Until, that is until the last one on I-90 at the Wisconsin border: smile, eye contact, thank you. I’m sure the city folk consider them mere bumpkins. Well, I’m a Baumkin and I require a little friendly.
Great room, amenities, flat screen. Refer, micro, good coffee. Our home for five days would be more than fine. We learned our friend Donna, with whom we went to high school and who was at the Celebration in Denver, is in the same hotel! We’ll hook up later. We stretched, rested up, and waited to visit the hospitality suite (Ever seen a hospitality suite without a drop of alcohol?) before grabbing the shuttle to the Monona Terrace center on the lake for check-in, Team photo, and a first pass through the exhibit area (more on that later) It was wonderfully chaotic there at the Terrace. Reconnecting with our new Teammates was nice. Bumping into other athletes and families just as nice. Supper was salads at a Cosi.
Just think: Several thousand people all just happy to be here!
Our first full day including the walk, b’ball practice, and opening ceremony detailed on my next post. We made it this far Honeybunch!
Chapter Seven: We Made It!
Saturday July 31
“First gear (honda honda) its alright (faster faster)
Second gear (little honda honda) I lean right (faster faster)
Third gear (honda honda) hang on tight (faster faster)
Faster its alright…”
It’s 9:15 on a gratefully overcast Saturday morning with little chance of rain, temps in the high 60’s. This is a real blessing as some of the 3,000+ runners and walkers in this Walk/Run are kidney recipients twenty years out and some of us are more like your’s truly: a double transplantee just nine months from the whole experience. Ages are 8 to 85. There are several wheelchairs and, in the back, a number of strollers including a couple of doubles. And, really, isn’t pushing a double stroller in a race, even just walking, just showing off a bit? I can tell from the noise the children don’t want to be there but Mom and Dad lugged the stroller and kids from Minneapolis in the Prius and I guess they feel they have a point to make. Or several in their minds.
I signed up to be a strictly recreational walker to preserve what little leg stamina I have for hoops and such. So I am walking along at my 4 MPH gait with a Team AL recipient’s Dad about my height in his mid-40’s. It would be a pleasant stroll along Lake Monona to the Alliant Center where busses would take us back to Team meetings at the hotels. Nice morning, good company, great scenery.
So I’m strictly-recreationally-walking about a mile into the 5K-3.2 mileMeander in Madison when a thin, spry old coot of about 70 bumps past as if I’m in his way on this wide path and glances back over his shoulder like I’m impeding his run for the roses. I think you know what’s coming up next: the walking has become somewhat more, er, competitive…
People with flat feet try harder to walk as you don’t get a lot of help from the ground up. But since I’m taller than average that is offset for the most part. So I may look funny, and I do, but I’m at a par with most folks. So I plug in the headphones into the iPhone on my arm, pull up Pandora, and think: this is no Neil Young walk: no, this calls for more tempo and I pull up the Beach Boys. Now I lived in SoCal until I was 13 so this is more than music, this is a lifestyle flashback. So first gear, second gear, third gear. Um, third gear? Attention legs: please download third gear. So after a sputter or two and a brief complaint from the hips, we’re off looking like a whooping crane who has to take a leak. Which is not far from the truth.
I keep Old Coot in sight as we head up a hill. I just want to keep him about 20 feet ahead and settle in to my stride. At this point we’re passing game souls that signed up to run but are not necessarily runners just brave recipients who set a goal and gave it their best shot. Most of them would catch a second wind (some are heart and lung recipients for crying out loud) and eventually catch up or pass. And: Bravo! …when they do!
We pass a water table and gulp half a cup. Crowds cheer at the drink station and call out: two miles! One to go! I can hear this over “Barbara Ann” and try to reach fourth gear as “409” comes on. Fourth gear? Calling fourth gear? Come in?
Well maybe not today. So, let’s make it a good steady third gear and let the chips fall where they may.
And that is how recreation went from relaxation to seeing the destination as we hit the parking lot of the Alliance Center. I’m cruising because that’s all I’ve got, Coot is next to me and we hit the last 200 meters. And then…and then…
A whoosh, such as it was, and the “Little Old Lady From Pasadena” (I know: Jan and Dean. But I’m writing this, OK?) pulls up alongside: an organ transplant recipient old enough to be my Mother, and Coot’s much older sister, is even and pulling slowly ahead and has more momentum than either of us. Coot’s so surprised he gets out of stride and drops a few feet behind. I’m trying not to laugh as irony is my favorite form of humor and the situation is just so damn funny. Pasadena is now ahead of me and I’m stuck in third gear counting the varicose veins on the backs of her legs. And that’s how we crossed the finish line: Pasadena, then Baumer, and trailing is Coot.
Somewhere is a photo montage of the spirit of the 2010 Transplant Games with the three of us. It will be funny even if you don’t know the back story:
“Middle Aged Man Sandwiched By Geriatric Dynamos” or something to that effect. And with a cold water and half a banana in my hand I finally have my laugh. Life is beautiful…and ironic.
My friend James from Team AL had been 50 yards ahead of me the entire event and is in my age bracket and I believe he has a good chance of medaling so I want to see he and a few other Teammates get on the stand. But awards ceremonies are almost always a…w…a…r…d…s ceremonies with delays, local DJ’s who talk too long, and a lot of categories to award. We’re supposed to be back at the hotel for a Team meeting and brunch at around 11 and it drags on too long. We head over to the bus loading area at 11:30 (As of this writing we still don’t know if James medaled) and there is no bus. We missed the 30-minute-cycle bus to our hotel by 5 minutes. We get on another bus that takes us to the convention center, call for the hotel shuttle (I’m developing a blister on the sole of my right foot and don’t want to walk the mile to the hotel) and join the brunch about an hour late. We sneak in the back door and wolf down some really good brunch food, and get seated just in time to introduce ourselves to the assembled Teams AL and GA.
Folks are impressed I’m there after a double only nine months ago. I have no idea if this is impressive or not. As we get around the room Team Georgia begins introductions and proceeds to reach a table in the back and then the man…I mean The Man, Quincy, all 6’8” of 32-year-old chiseled granite stands and introduces himself as there to play hoops for Team GA and, oh by the way, this is his fourth Games and Team Georgia got the gold in two out of the last three.
Holy Shaq, Batman! I have just been demoted to Robin status. What else can you do but chuckle, stand, and bow in Quincy’s direction to a good laugh from the assembled Teams? It appears my budding Transplant hoops career may have also become just recreational. It’s good to have proper perspective before you ever hit the courts I guess. I mean how many Quincy’s are out there anyway?
The afternoon is set for practice in a multitude of sports and the guy who usually coaches Team AL in basketball is delayed by a death in the family. There is a conflict with the bowling practice and my teammates believe, or probably know, that they have a better chance of medaling in bowling, and who can blame them since they too have just met Quincy, and they decide to go bowl. Well, fair enough.
Anne and I go upstairs to rest for a bit and then I begin the ritual of assembling for basketball. This involves about ten minutes of elastic ankle braces, tape over those, and settling into my vintage Nike Airs with new cushion socks.
We decide to forego busses for the rest of the Games as even on the bus ride to the race earlier the driver tried to take us to the wrong place, and head to the Natatorium on the UW campus. Our Team manager had recommended I just go practice with another Team and I would learn that this, too, is the spirit of the Games.
When we arrive there are four double basketball gyms and I find Team GA.
Mrs Baum didn’t raise any fools: I’m going to go size up and, more importantly, make friends with everyone on Team GA if you know what I mean. And, as you might expect, Quincy is a great guy who is well aware of and still humble about his talents which is good because he is really, really, NCAA good. There is twenty minutes of shooting, feeding, and getting to know you and then four of us assemble and play some spirited “21.” We’re joined by Greg, a recipient family member from Team AL and have a good time. Quincy at one point fakes Greg and comes thundering (I’m not exaggerating) down the key and I make a half-hearted effort at defending. He turns with a smile and says “I thought you were going to take the charge?”
“Just waiting till the real game, big guy!” And we both laugh.
Back to the hotel, rested my now very sore feet, showered, and we head over to the Tailgate Party before the Opening Ceremony. Ever experienced a tailgate party without alcohol? Welcome to the Transplant Games! And that is how it needs to be here.
This is where Anne and I meet up with Donna, a new member of the kidney transplant list with whom we went to Bear Creek HS in Colorado and had already planned to volunteer before learning we’d be there. Donna is a delightful person who also successfully battled Lupus in her twenties and has just come to grips with the transplant. Being around these Games is good for her and good for the games as she is just one of those people you want around to help.
When in Wisconsin do as the Cheeseheads do and I had a couple of excellent brats with sauerkraut and killer side dishes. Polka Soul Food.
We do some catching up at the table and then Anne and Donna head for the arena as the athletes assemble for the entrance to the ceremony. We had to stand for about an hour before the entrance and this is my only beef of the entire well-run Games: we were all tired and got a little rubber-legged while waiting but that soon went away upon entrance.
The Opening Ceremony
“WHOA, WE’RE HALFWAY THERE
OH, LIVIN’ ON A PRAYER
TAKE MY HAND AND WE’LL MAKE IT – I SWEAR
OH, LIVIN’ ON A PRAYER..”
So we’re lined up, Team Alabama first alphabetically, and are told to relax for now, make a good entrance, and prepare for the normal three-hour ceremony. The live band is playing some Bon Jovi that seems to fit the occasion.
Three hours? On a three-hour-tour you can end up on a deserted island in the Pacific, okay? What can take three hours? And then I began to learn…
While this is the twentieth anniversary of the first Transplant Games there are already very meaningful traditions. A number of these traditions are based on the incredible emotion and impact of the transplant process and the passion and compassion of it all. More on that later.
A huge part of the draw and appeal of their traditions is the extremely strong sense of gratitude-humility-activism that all recipients feel. There are the senses of pride and love that living donors feel. And perhaps the strongest, most passionate feelings are for and from the families of those donors for whom donation was their final act of this lifetime: the punctuation mark to a most unselfish act. Coming to these games adds a sense of critical mass to the individual acts of the departed. Some donor families make plans to meet for the first time the recipient(s) of their loved one’s choice. They see our joy and gratitude as recipients and learn the stories of many, many lives now living and saved.
Another demonstration of the gratitude and activism that recipients feel is the almost universal level of participation of celebrities and the famous who come back to give. This year transplant recipient actors Larry Hagman and Ken Howard are here and not just for the first time: this is Larry’s seventh Games and Ken is Chancellor of the National Kidney Foundation. Olympic bronze medalist Chris Klug was here pressing the flesh and posing for uncountable photos. In the past NBA players Sean Eliot and Alonzo Mourning have come to give clinics and be available to the athletes.
An interesting story this year is Catherine Herridge, FOX news correspondent, is emcee-ing the Opening Ceremony and later will help present medals and awards. Whether you love or hate FOX News she is a darn fine correspondent. Catherine is a living donor having given a piece of her liver to her son, Peter, who is now 4 and will participate in the “Diaper Dash.”
I won’t do a blow-by-blow of the ceremony but I do need to say this: it was one of my life’s proudest moments walking in with my Team but that emotion paled in comparison to what I, and every other recipient athlete felt, when first the living donors entered and then, I swear, it was like an earthquake when the donor families marched in. And marched in. And marched in. One of our Teammates had distributed Kleenex to us as we waited to walk in and now I know why. It was an Arena full of people with hearts in throats and tears in their eyes and I was no exception. Anne and Donna were also deeply moved by the power of the moment.
There really is nothing else I can add.
Sunday August 1
Today’s post going up a little late and I’ll fill you in on why in a bit..
Sunday mornings are the best mornings and the beginning of my week. Here in Madison it started with the Sunday paper that was left under the door, some good coffee, and a trip down to our hospitality suite for some continental breakfast items to take back to the room.
Anne has found a local Mass but I pass and bump into some Teammates who are excited about the day and ask me if I’m ready for some basketball. But more than one mentions coed basketball to which I politely let them know that, no, I signed up for Men’s only just a few months ago. To which there was more than one “You sure? Heard you were playing coed.” Well I just let that nonsense pass. This whole trip was planned to get my ravaged body back into shape and mix it up in a joyful expression of my favorite sport. Adding coed may be more than my body’s ready to handle.
Our in-laws, Aaron’s parents Bill and Donna Sefton, pick us up at the hotel to go out to brunch and sister Laura comes along. We love Laura, too, and she’s always welcome. I ask her if her parents were surprised by her joke fb post that she was engaged and poor Bill says “Wha-a-t?” in genuine surprise and dropped back for a few words with young Laura. Oops! Didn’t mean to rat her out! It was good company and a good meal and we all agree on what a perfect granddaughter Lily is (oh, and what a good job Rachel and Aaron are doing as parents) The Sefton’s would be great cheerleaders at the games.
They drop us off back at the hotel and I change to go over to the track and field venue with Anne for scheduled practice time. After all I’m excited about the long jump and softball throw, too, and they are probably my best chances to medal. It’s a beautiful afternoon and there aren’t a lot of athletes there which gets me just that much more pumped about a possible medal. I stretch considerably…muscle pulls are the bane of the older athlete…and I just work on my steps and visualization of long jumping success to save my legs and avoid injury. We then head back to the room where we order out for sandwiches for an early supper before girding my loins for the approaching battle in Men’s hoops. Months of work and this is what I came for! We stop in at the hospitality suite where I’m again wished luck in the coed games. No, I’m sorry, but I’m not sure I can handle that as well.
Once we get to the Center there is electricity in the air as all returning athletes and families know that basketball is the most exciting event at the Games.
Team Alabama has gathered at Court 12 for our kids team and I head over to Court 1 as the kids finish warming up.
Once at the court I heartily greet my hoops teammates, with whom I have yet to have even one practice session if you’ll recall, and talk about the Men’s Team’s first game against Philadelphia at 7:15. Are…you…ready?
Well, no, they’re not. There must be some misunderstanding. You see due to some confusion between parties the Men’s Team and Coed Team had overlapping players and the manager had to choose one. So…no Men’s team but the Coed game is coming up next! We didn’t have enough total players. Aren’t I excited?
Pause. I’m sorry…what? Yep, that’s the way it will be tonight, Steve…Coed only. We play Florida in 15 minutes.
I didn’t know whether to grab a ball and go start shooting in order to process this or just cry. I look over and Anne and Donna Nakayama from CO have arrived. I greet them, don’t let on what might be happening, and then decide to go look up our Team manager. This just can’t be right. This isn’t what I signed up for: worked for, raised funds for, made sacrifices for. I’m still knocked a bit for a loop. I see the Sefton’s and point out our court. I find Greg: a good guy who had volunteered to help coach.
So, Greg, is what I’m hearing true? Yes, I’m afraid so, Steve. Didn’t anybody tell you?
Well…so that’s confirmed. I have a long walk back to the other side of the Center. You might think I was deciding what to do but truth be told my mind was just blank. I think I was stunned.
One of the many things you learn, relearn, or realize when you are very sick is just how much of this life really is out of your control. I don’t mean decisions made by others for you that you have to live with but just fate. Circumstances. Karma. That some things really, really are out of your ability to even influence events. If I hadn’t learned how to roll with the punches then and cope I never would. And to this point I had been able to live with any circumstances because of the love and support of Anne, our kids, and friends, and family, and even perfect strangers we had heard from. I had been fortunate to be able to give things a positive turn. Lemonade out of lemons and so forth.
When I got back to the court the pregame shootaround had started and my Teammates were warming up. The two girls we would play with were excited and a little nervous. Greg looked up expectantly.
“Here,” I said grabbing a rebound “go for a lay-up.” And so we got ready.
As it turned out Florida was a person short. Funny, it was a big team from a big state. We weren’t the only Team with communications issues. We told the ref we could wait longer, don’t rush them.
But Florida had to forfeit to us. If I was a little disappointed I knew two people who were even more so. We added one of their supporters to their team, I changed jerseys, and we scrimmage. I could tell some of my other teammates were a little relieved…only three of us were what you might call serious players and we ended up making friends with those Gator-lovers and having a good time.
Our next game was coming up at 8 against Ohio who had won their 6:30 game handily. We mixed socially before the game a typical conversation being “Hi, I’m James. Kidney 04.” “Living donor or cadaver?” “Living. My cousin. Great gal. Where’re you from in Ohio?” And so on.
The game started with Jason and I on the court with one of the girls. There must be one female on the court for a team at all times and as the game got spirited you sometimes lost defensive position so as to not run over one of them.
I start with a rebound, assist, steal, and 3-pointer but later it becomes clear they had two distinct advantages:
1) A very quick young guard I nicknamed Speed Racer who could also shoot the lights out and that we could not keep up with and
2) They had…you know…practiced.
We were down 8 at the half and Greg changed a few alignments. Brooke made a garbage basket (we cheered her like it was a buzzer beater) and Jason started hitting. I made one more basket and then found myself guarding Speed Racer. Well, if he had the ball his teammates were not necessarily getting open and he dribbled a bit with a 55-year-old Baumer trying to stay with him.
Suddenly he broke left and because I was leaning that way I was able to keep up for a few steps. Then he was around me and driving for a lay-up, I lunged to try to block the shot, and then I felt a…
Remember way back when I mentioned that aged athletes’ greatest concern actually had to do with flexibility and the risk of frequent pulls? Well, in spite of my extra stretching, including stretching earlier that day and before the game I had asked my body to do something it hadn’t done in ten years or done well in twenty. My legs gave me all they had and then when stretched too far the hamstring popped.
I don’t know if you remember watching, say, a kick returner suddenly pull up, grab the back of his thigh, and just wait with a shooting pain until help arrived but that was where I was now. Everything got very quiet except for the sound of my blood running through my temples like the angry Irish Sea. And I knew that called it a day and probably a week. Well, there you go. Nothing had gone as planned since about 6 that evening. Add this to the list, sit, and ice it.
On the court Ohio jumped ahead by 12 but our Team rallied back to within 5 at the horn. They were heroic and exhausted. Ohio was gracious, very good sports really, and checked on me out of concern. I’m sure for a couple of the older guys it was “there but or the grace of God go I.” I was slowly escorted to the curtained first aid area where I had company and good treatment by a sports medicine nurse. Several Teammates came in to check on me, I was issued some crutches and a spare ice pack, and Anne went to go get the car. She picked me up in the bus line and we headed home.
So: no Men’s game, no communications, no practices, a loss, and a pulled hammy. Now injured doing something I had not even registered to do and there was no realistic chance for a medal. I wasn’t so much feeling sorry for myself as just taking inventory and wondering, still, if I was going to be able to throw the softball Monday. I mean…long jump? Now that was good for a strong cleansing laugh.
And that is when Anne said “That was still a good game, Honeybunch. Donna Sefton had said ‘Steve is playing so nice! Look he’s passing making sure everyone gets a shot and that everyone touches the ball.” Um, really?
“Yes, honey, everybody noticed it. You were giving the girls advice, you could have run over them a couple of times. I know they appreciated it.”
Now this is something you’re not really conscious of when you’re playing. I remember thinking at the start the big prize was gone so just enjoy this, but…
And “No really, Steve. You looked good. I know they were happy to have you,” Donna from Colorado would tell me the following day.
I had been feeling the loss and the injury but maybe there was more good that came out of this than I thought. More spirit of the Games I suppose?
And so we drove back to the hotel where I borrowed some Percocet and Anne and I went s-l-o-w-l-y up to the room where I didn’t feel like writing and we went to bed.
For tomorrow is another day.
Monday August 2
“They can’t take that away from me
Oh no they can’t take that away from m-e-e”
It was either this lyric or “Couldn’t get to sleep last night…” but I went with the positive as is my wont. And I wanted to go back in time and stop the action just before the hamstring pull but this isn’t The Twilight Zone and, besides, Rod Serling is dead God-rest-his-soul. But sleep wasn’t easy as not even the painkiller could stop the twinges every time I moved. We recipients have been through a lot of big pain and the big ones we have learned to deal with. It’s the little things that get ya.
Up early, good coffee, fruit-n-nut bar. And now: how to get to the bathroom quickly? Answer: not applicable. Just get in there slowly. Anne would go down to get continental breakfast from the hospitality suite. BTW: thanks, Pops, you did a great job with the suite.
Last evening’s memories of the basketball games are still pretty vivid and I smile to think of the fact that at least I didn’t embarrass myself and the Team did its best: let the chips fall where they may.
Repeat after me: it’s not about the medals. There’s no place like home. Whopper beat the Big Mac. All are true but I can do something about the first if I just think hard enough…
And then I have it: How many 50-59 year olds are still feeling well enough to do the long jump at this stage of the Games? I mean I’m certainly not but as Woody Allen (among others) once said “90% of success is just showing up” and so I will. Let’s say only three old guys like me sign in? Hmmm…
Anne understands and we limp off to the track and field venue where just yesterday I believed I had stretched sufficiently and visualized success. Well, time for a new vision.
Today I enter on crutches or more accurately with crutches as I can walk slowly with small steps pain-free but any change of direction, especially up or down, needs support and a bit lip. The crutches are also needed to stand for any period of time. I register at the pit at the earliest opportunity and wait.
Competitors trickle in and I try to guess their ages. Eventually there are about 20 athletes from 41 to 81 and the official starts the instructions. I learn there are 7 in the 50-59 age group registered and all show up.
Crap! I can barely walk:I can’t even consider any jump.
One of the things that makes the Transplant Games so, well, righteous is that we’re all in the same boat. Scarred physically, optimistic mentally, enlightened spiritually. We understand each other before we ever meet and no one, certainly in our age group, can be anything but humble and thankful just to be there. We’ve all already chatted and no one is a stranger even after only 15 minutes.
So the guys understand when I ask to go first in the 50-59 age group even as they are mightily amused I’m even there hobbling around with a large wrap around my thigh walking with baby steps (Grandpop!)
So…I take my place on the runway only six small steps back from the launch board, show the official and judge my number, and get the go-ahead.
I break into a full, um, sprint such as it is and hit the board with the good foot on the good leg and take off.
Remember: it’s all about the elevation! Focus on a spot above the horizon! Remember to fall forwards when you finally land in the pit! And…
Nineteen inches! Just a smidgen over eighteen and a hair short of twenty!
And why did I do this? What would possess a guy to risk both embarrassment and injury for such a pitiful, paltry performance?
Because, dear readers, I was now THE LEADER IN THE 50-59 AGE GROUP IN THE LONG JUMP AT THE 2010 US TRANSPLANT GAMES!
And maybe it lasted for only 90 seconds or so but they can’t take that away from me.
I watched and cheered on the rest of the competitors as is polite and even congratulated the guy who immediately followed me for shattering my record by 9 feet! Nine feet!
Then I hobble across to where Anne and Donna are sitting and tell them what I did and why. I then get two doses of that look that says “others may have thought of this but only the Baumer would actually do it.” And of course I love it.
We sit for a while and watch some sprints and then Donna heads over to watch some other events. I remember I’m supposed to have the hamstring examined at the first aid canopy and so we mosey on over. We meet and chat with a couple from Team Tennessee and tell them our story. I bump into the biggest guy from Team Ohio from last night and we share a good laugh over the sight of me trying to keep up with Speed Racer. Team Ohio lost their next game as three games in one night took their toll and their opponent had one bye previously.
I get unwrapped, treated, iced, and re-wrapped and I’m feeling very tired at this point and the hammy hurts. The thought of the softball throw and having to push off the bad leg after another hour or so in this heat is too much even for this self-appointed macho man and Anne and I go back to the hotel. We stop by hospitality and head upstairs and, well, here we are.
We’ll pick up again tomorrow.
Tuesday August 4, 2010
Yeah, ob-la-di ob-la-da life goes on bra
La-la how the life goes on
Yeah, ob-la-di ob-la-da life goes on bra
La-la how the life goes on
And if you want some fun
Take ob-la-di ob-la-da
Anne and I had a quiet evening as I was “heat-tired” and still hydrating. We ordered out for salads and a small pizza from a place the front desk host recommended (Ian’s) Very good, very fresh, and in keeping with the Wisconsin generalizations there was plenty of cheese. The Sefton’s and Baum’s have a tradition of shuttling unique foods back and forth between the states and this time they again exceeded expectations with bratwurst from a country butcher shop, hand-crafted cheese, and some veggies from their garden. We on the other hand delivered two large bottles of imported soy sauce that manages to make it into TN but not WI.
I wrote about the previous day and how it all was a great experience even though it was very different from expectations. That’s not all bad and it allows me to strategize on how to do things a little differently next time because, yes, there will be a next time.
Training will be a little different as now that I’ve been through the competition I’ll consider more field events. While I was not a natural at these as a young man unless they had to do with throwing I seem to be in better shape, not just aerobically than my age peers who have had transplants but it seems I have been blessed with good genes that have to do with aging (other than the polycystic organs) Might as well try to take advantage as I’m not getting any younger yadda-yadda-yadda. I might even consider some Senior Olympics and OVER-FORTY basketball (another lesson learned)
I’ll definitely want to give men’s basketball a try at the next Transplant Games and hopefully it will be with Team Alabama. But, if I sense a lack of commitment to a men’s team I can still try to play with Team Tennessee. Fundraising will start earlier and I know myself well enough to know that if I don’t get involved in leadership in some way it will be frustrating again.
And now that I have a huge investment in time, money, and commitment to my body I’ll try to stay in and improve on my state of conditioning and do some more leg sports like cycling and tennis. What I eat, how I sleep, what I do and don’t do will all matter.
Jesus what a mess I was a year ago. I marvel at the incredible good luck in the sequence of critical events. It convinces you it can’t just be random.
These were just a few thoughts on the drive home as there are some things you need to consider, work them through your system, and then put in the proper sequence of where they belong.
The real lessons learned of course have nothing to do with money, or athletics, or narcissism.
Driving home Anne had taken the wheel all the way as my right leg couldn’t be extended and contracted easily even though it feels better already. Since I’m not used to being a placid passenger for 11 hours I had no choice but to continue to reflect. Oh and I might have snuck in a nap or two.
As an adult you learn that it’s the things you learn after you know it all that make the difference. Not that most middle-aged Boomers are know-it-alls over all but admit it: we have our subjects in which we have pride of ownership.
This whole journey was/is personal and meant to focus on the self to get started because that’s what it needed to be. No one else could do it for me and, candidly, the level of focus and commitment it takes necessitates blocking out other distractions which almost always involve other people. It’s been hard for my closest loved ones to know how to respond so often they just went with their strength which is unconditional love. Fortunately my family and friends have been more than understanding and they have had to sometimes be, well, tolerant.
Thank you. Thank you all!
But even though it is a personal quest it has involved touching many others: sometimes intentionally as through “Chuck Basement”, this blog, and Facebook but more and more, I came to realize, when I didn’t know it or least expected it
I have had the honor and sometimes intimidating responsibility of answering questions and requests for advice about organ transplants and recovery from a wide variety of people. There have been requests for guidance from people I have known for decades, from people here locally, and from around the world that I have never met. I have shared these things as only personal learning, and shared that anything I’ve learned is still only a work in progress, and I always positioned it in only those ways. I have no universal answers except it required equal doses of faith, love, and medicine. I’m certain success requires all three.
My leadership and management styles have been described as “inspirational” in nature but I have never considered myself personally to be an inspiration. Probably no one ought to unless they are assessing their responsibility to others and trying to be a positive inspiration if inspirational at all. It both humbles and cautions you because it can be, again, unexpected in its place and timing. I’ve done enough stupid things to know how easily it goes the other way, too.
I’m not a special case or even as courageous as the youngster who struggles through worse health situations than mine on just instinct and grit. But maybe it’s because I’m accessible and “just like them” that people tell me I have made some small bit of difference. It seems it will be a part of the mission of the last third of my life: this message of the miracle of transplantation. Which, by the way, beats the hell out of it being only the last sixth or so of my life. No Baum man has made it to 70 and I’ll be seriously pissed at myself if I don’t at least make it well into my eighties. Another goal in the next set I will develop and pursue.
The drive home was as smooth as could be expected, Anne was tired as expected, and it felt great to walk in the door. Home was comfortable and cool as we caught up on mail and newspapers and neighbors called and dropped by. Arriving felt like closure in some ways but then also as just a rest stop before the next step of what will follow.
Chapter Eight: Home Again, Reflecting
“He said life is made for you to live
The best love is the love that you give
There’ll be times when you wanna hold on but you gotta let go
And I live by those words ’cause Grandpa told me so…”
How do you summarize and try to explain both the Transplant Games and everything Anne and I have gone through in the past nine months let alone the past five years or so? Grandpop here can’t complain about the cards we’ve been dealt because on the whole we’ve received better cards than most. More importantly it is very, very difficult to describe the trials and the joy of the recovery process: the faith and the frustration, the progress and pain, the love and support of so many, and the new closeness with God and family. I mean I thought we were very close before, don’t get me wrong, but just as you don’t know how sick you are until you become well you don’t understand how much closer you and all your loved ones can be until you’ve been through a crisis or two.
The Games are so much more than some working out and then showing up to play. Oh, believe me, I wanted to play and to win some hardware but that was not to be: not this time. One of the benefits of coming up short is how it tests you and causes you to decide whether to prepare and show up again. There’s no doubt I’ll give it another shot.
Team Alabama did well:
- 18 total medals…not bad for a “small state”
- Vivian Herren was awarded the Astellas Courage award. This award recognizes “a kidney, liver, or heart transplant athlete who has overcome the greatest challenges to participate in the Transplant Games.” Vivian’s story is worthy of its own book. Vivian competed for two Games, suffered a freak leg injury which required amputation, and then came back to compete on an artificial leg the very next go ‘round. I’m humbled by her guts and character as are all those who meet her.
- Brooke Miley, a teen transplant recipient, won the Wendy Marx Award for Organ Donor Awareness. This is “presented to one youth and one adult who have taken their personal experience with transplantation and used it to increase public awareness of the desperate need for organ and tissue donation.” Brooke is a wonderful young lady who has and will impact and influence many lives.
You can read more about Vivian and Brooke under “What’s News” on this blog.
Of the four major awards that recognize commitment, compassion, and courage these young women from ‘Bama took two. They are both remarkable.
You can view all of the medals awarded along with video and photos of the Games at: http://www.kidney.org/news/tgames2010/index.cfm
Being the mushy old family guy that I am I decided some time ago that the best way to try to present, or explain as the case may be, your life is to try to describe it in a way your grandchildren would understand and appreciate. Why grandchildren? Your children have been close witnesses to everything in, as in my case at least, the last thirty years. There are no surprises and few secrets from your kids at this point. They’ve seen it, questioned it, accepted it and, hopefully, approved of most of it. Your spouse? Suffice it to say you can add to the previous description intimacy, knowledge of your greatest hopes and fears, and the unconditional love of the committed mate. If your life is your greatest gift from God then your family is a very, very close second. Can I hear an “Amen!” ?
So, Lily, how can I describe to you what has gone on in my life during the first year of your life?
Lily, the day you were born was one of the very most exciting days of my life! Any illness was forgotten that day as I was blessed to be present almost the whole first day of your life and had the chance to support your Mom and Dad, too. I still didn’t know if I was going to get better but I knew I had another wonderful reason to be around. Your birth was remarkable and you are still a remarkable girl!
I’ll bet I look pretty funny in those old pictures holding you before November and I remember that when you sat on my lap you liked to rest your head on that big old belly and just sit with me for a while. What a gift you were giving and you didn’t even know it!
Grandma and I disappeared for a while but you came to visit me just before the doctors operated and then again afterward. I looked so different but you knew me right away and brought your joy of life with you at a time I needed it the most! Even today any time we see you our day is brighter because of you!
What did you think when I was in the hospital? Or sitting around trying to get stronger? Or when I tried to walk with that big old metal thing? Do you remember it had your picture on it? Do you know it made me stronger every time I looked at it?
Lily I am here today to love you and play with you and make you laugh because someone I didn’t even know wanted to help people even after they died! Yes, it’s true, you can do that! Yes, it IS a miracle! The gift of life is the greatest gift of all and we get to give it when we are here and can give it when we are in heaven, too!
Can you love someone you have never met? Of course you can!
Lily this is why we are here: the purpose of life is to love and to be loved in return!
Enjoy reading this story my love. This is what I did, and was thinking, and was struggling with sometimes while you were brand new and so full of wonder. You were a very important part of my journey even though you didn’t know it. You were just there, and you were just being Lily, and you mean so, so much.
Don’t you ever forget how important you are, and how many people love you, because sometimes you don’t even know how much love you bring to their lives!
Why? Because, Lily. Just because.
Love, your Grandpop