First Big Ride After Pneumonia

I don’t normally write ride reports here anymore, because in many ways, one ride is so much like the next. There are good days and bad days, but it’s not that interesting reading about the slight variations of how this Saturday’s ride had 5,500 feet of climbing and last week’s had 5,350, and which hill made the difference.

Yesterday, however, was special. I haven’t ridden on the weekend in three weeks: Three Saturdays ago, I started getting that nasty chest cold that just really wiped me out, and then the following two weeks, pneumonia got me. Last Saturday I spent in the middle of my Harry Potter binge-watching. I think I got through Harry Potter movie numbers five and six last Saturday… or was it four and five? They do blend together after a while…

I went to work all week this week, and although I made it through my workdays and even rode my bike home (very gently), I did feel plenty tired at the end of every day. But I’d be darned if I missed another Saturday!

Unfortunately, I don’t have enough energy to join my friends on the Ramrod Training Series ride. They rode to Black Diamond, a route I enjoy, and not just because halfway there you get tasty baked treats! But I didn’t think it would be wise to try for 75 miles and 4,500 feet of climbing on my first ride back — especially a ride that didn’t have any easy way of going home partway if I started fading. I knew I’d try to keep up with my friends, and they’re riding way too fast for me to handle right now. (I’m sad; I want to see my friends, but I have to force myself to ride so darn slow.)

In any case, Dad’s recovering from the same cold, which for him turned into a sinus infection. Not fun, but much better than pneumonia! That means both of us have been wiped out for the last couple weeks, and we both have some significant building back up to do. We decided to do a basic Lake Washington loop, and extend it to Lake Sammamish if we felt okay. My goal was to ride 75 miles, not worrying about pace or climbing. Just see if I could do 75 at all.

The short answer is “yep.”


The long answer is that we did take it very gently, and we had unexpected help for some long portions of the ride. In Montlake, the bridge was up — I go across that bridge every day, and I was still quite surprised! A big crowd of cyclists waited on the sidewalk, comprising almost entirely guys from a team I’m familiar with.

To cut a long story short, we mooched off of those guys for a long ways. Then, when they were too slow — they really put the “conversational” back in “conversational pace” — we rode on and ended up catching up with another of the same team’s groups. I guess that was the fast group. We tagged onto the back of the fast group along Lake Washington Boulevard to Seward Park, and they were a good bit faster. I hit 26 on the flats with them at one point.

Under normal circumstances, I’d have really enjoyed trying to keep up. Under yesterday’s circumstances, after Seward Park, Dad and I let them go. I say “let them go,” but honestly I doubt I had the legs or lungs to keep up with them on the hills. Drafting on the flats behind a big group is like getting sucked along by a big vacuum cleaner. Keeping up on hills requires your own fitness. There’s no fudging that.

In fact, we let both of the team’s groups go, because we were trying not to get all mixed in with them. But after we rounded the bottom of the lake, who should we encounter again but the same slow group? We decided to stay with them for a while, because going north wasn’t trivial. There was a good strong breeze from the north, very common around here on warm days; this generally turns into a west/northwest wind by afternoon, often accompanied by light cloud cover (the “marine push”).

Back to the bike ride… We mooched off of those guys up to Mercer Slough, and then we felt energetic enough to ride up East Lake Sammamish. This wasn’t super easy, thanks to the “breeze,” but we got up to Marymoor and our second rest stop just fine. Dad wanted to head straight home, so we got to his neighborhood with about 65 miles done. I decided to add just a few more miles and see if I could get to 70… and then once I’d done that I figured I might as well go for 75…

So, long story short, I got in my 75 miles, and at the end of the ride even did a couple of hills. Hills are tough because I want to push them hard, but I really can’t breathe that hard right now. When I did catch myself in a harder effort–like keeping up with that faster group going 26 mph–I felt like there was an obstruction in my chest. It feels like a tennis ball lodged in my chest, although I’m sure it’s nothing like that in reality. And on Friday, when I had to sprint to catch my bus and I was breathing super hard, my bronchial tubes and lungs(?)–in my chest, anyway–felt like I’d rubbed everything with sandpaper. It was super unpleasant.

Needless to say, it reminded me keenly to keep my effort level moderate. Which we did successfully: It was an almost-five hour ride for only 75 miles. But I got home cheerful and thankful to be able to do that long of a ride. I expect I’ll have to do a similar thing for all my rides through the end of the month, as the doctor said it often takes four to six weeks to recover fully from pneumonia. I’m going to just focus one enjoying my rides and not worry about how fast or hard they are.

And when June comes, it’s time to start seriously training for the Levi’s Gran Fondo I signed up for. More on that later.

Two Weeks of Pneumonia

All I have to say is…let’s not make it three weeks.

The last two weeks have been downright heartbreaking. On Monday, April 23, I was diagnosed with pneumonia in one lung and went on a five-day course of antibiotics. Thursday and Friday that week I felt a lot better, and hoped to get to work on Monday. Then I spent Saturday vomiting and Sunday nauseous. Monday and Tuesday I started getting low-grade fevers intermittently, but they were so low and infrequent I couldn’t be sure what was going on.

I finally went back to work on Wednesday, May 2, but not because I felt better. I felt the same: Exhausted, coughing constantly, and occasionally spiking a low-grade fever. Wednesday afternoon I took the first bus home, went to bed, and took my temperature. Fever of just exactly 100.0.

I called the doctor and they said they wanted to see me that night. They said that not only was my original pneumonia not gone, but it was now in both lungs, and my cough was (as I knew) much worse. I got a stronger seven-day course of antibiotics, two cough suppressants (one pill and one inhaler), and strict orders to do NOTHING for the next few days.

I can go back to work “when I have enough energy.” I hope that’s tomorrow. The doctor left it to my discretion and said that I was young and fit, so that should help, but also reiterated what I already knew: Full recovery from Pneumonia usually takes a month or more. A month from May 2nd is June 2nd.

June 2nd is after Memorial Day, when I always participate in the 7 Hills Century as my first organized ride of the year. The next Saturday is Flying Wheels Summer Century, when I’ve traditionally tried to achieve a sub-five-hour century.

This breaks my heart. I had such high hopes for the year: I had, before getting sick, finally almost clawed my way back to fitness after the December 2016 pneumonia. I wanted to ride 500,000 feet of climbing for the year and was actually on track to do so. I had a bunch of big bucket climbs on my list: Mt. Baker, Hurricane Ridge twice, Mt. St. Helens. I wanted to try to finally get back some of the speed I’d lost in the last illness.

Over the last two weeks, and even now, I’m going through a process of mourning the loss of my bike season. I’m having to let go of my hopes and expectations for Bike Everywhere month (riding 800 miles, doing my usual two big first rides of the season, that stuff), of my expectations for how fast and how I’ll be able to ride when I get back on the bike, of the hope of riding with my usual group at our usual pace.

I know; the mountains will be there, my bike will be there. Granted, my friends will be stronger and faster. Rest, recover, you can get it back. But I can’t get this season back. It’s already gone before it’s started.

On top of this, I’ve had to cede almost all my mommying duties to Ian, who’s kept everything from falling apart quite admirably. He’s bought me lots and lots of time to just lay around and rest, which is exactly what I need. I’ve missed two Saturday Bridle Trails hikes and other regular family activities. The grass and weeds are delighted at my complete hiatus from the outdoors, although the ladies from our church group came over and helped beat back some of the weeds in the front yard.

I have no idea what’s going on at work these days. Earlier in the week I was able to call in, but the last couple days of the week, I just laid on the couch and watched movies. (I watched all seven of the Harry Potter movies. They actually aren’t bad, watched back to back like that.)

Throughout all this, I’ve struggled with feeling guilty about missing parenting duties and work responsibilities and helpless, desperate frustration about the biking situation. I feel such sorrow and impotent anger and disappointment and grief and guilt; and all these kinds of feelings trigger anorexia brain. Plus I’m not hungry anyway, because of being sick. I’ve lost weight because of the sickness, and I know in my head I don’t have a lot of extra to lose. But at the same time, deep inside, my anorexia brain is happy that I might be losing weight. That I deserve it, to assuage the guilt and shame and all that nastiness. It’s a battle to overcome the lack of appetite and the secret sense that I don’t deserve to eat anyway. Oh, I’m eating, because I want to recover and I want to lose as little muscle as possible (a fruitless and useless cause; I doubt I’ve got any of the fitness I earned left); but every meal, every food choice, is once again a battle.

I’m so tired of everything. So many times in the last few weeks I’ve just wished I could just… stop. But that’s not how life goes. Just keep going.

Mommying

Here’s what being Mommy looks like.

It looks like waking up at 3 am and staying up the rest of the night to hold and comfort your child as he repeatedly vomits. While he’s sitting in your lap, leaning over the toilet, you’re holding his head. Between bouts of vomiting, he murmurs, “I’m glad you’re here, Mommy.”
(No picture.)

It looks like playing the Hero Kids RPG at 6:30 am on Saturday, with Daddy GMing and Benji and I as characters. You work together to defeat a were-wolf, avoiding spiders and killing lots of wolves. During the game, your child takes a whole turn to bring your character up to full health, because he’s very worried that your character is injured.
Hero Kids: Adventure 2

It looks like going for walks in the woods together every week, rain or shine. You find a surprise patch of daffodils blooming in the woods, see innumerable trilliums and other native flowers, and avoid lots of horse droppings. But most fun of all is playing in the creek that’s really 6″ of mud with 1″ of water on top, poking it with sticks, building dams, and dropping big rocks in to make craters that fill in. On your walks, he wants to hold your hand no matter how narrow the trail.
Bridle Trails Walk: Daffodils

Bridle Trails Walk: Muddy Creek

It looks like staying home with your sick child when he has a cold, then getting the cold yourself — and then having the cold turn into the second round of pneumonia you’ve gotten in two years.
3 Generations of Face Masks

And this happens on the first week of the year it’s truly lovely — in the 70s and sunny — right when you’re about to start ramping up riding for Bike Everywhere month and the longer summer ride season. The pneumonia means you’ll miss at least a week of work and you won’t be able to help much with the child, which is real unfortunate, because this is the week all the grandparents and the regular after-school childcare are all unavailable.

Being Daddy, meanwhile, looks like trying to work as much as possible while also taking on Mommy’s jobs and all the after-school childcare.

Nobody promised parenting would be easy. It’s just the mixed-in moments of joy that make all the other moments worth it.

But I really am tired of pneumonia. Honestly.

Based on the recovery time last go-round, it’s probably ended my biking season plans before I even got to start them. I’ll spend the summer just trying to build back up to where I was last week, without any real hope of getting faster, doing the long rides I love, or keeping up with my biking buddies. I have to accept this reality and kiss goodbye the hopes and expectations I had for the season.

And that’s just biking! I have deadlines at work that I should be moving towards, projects and release-related stuff to write. It’s not going to be pretty.

It’s hard.

Feeling Better

My blog posting tapered off this week because after about Monday, it seemed like the antibiotics really kicked in and I started feeling better. I still haven’t ridden my bike (I missed at least two days it was dry and above freezing — darn it!), but I’m hoping to try it on Saturday and see how much I’ve lost.

Fortunately or unfortunately, this recovery has coincided with my last full week at work, in which I’ve been trying hard to wrap things up as much as possible. I also spent a good amount of time documenting specific job duties and how to do them, hopefully to help the next person in my position.

And definitely fortunately, I am feeling better in time for a job interview tomorrow and then Christmas after that. Good thing I didn’t get sick a week later! After this week things are going to change substantially, one way or another… and with being so sick and then Christmas plus working so much I’ve not even had time to worry about it. Probably for the best, really.

I am looking forward to feeling back to 100% normal, although my doctor said it can be one to two months of recovery from pneumonia. That sounds like such a long time. In any case, I’m looking forward to being active again — a good sign that I am indeed recovering. I can tell that it’s going to be a long, hard recovery to get back to where I was. Yippie.

Grateful for My Immune System

Mountain Sketch 2
I often come back to mountains and sunrises — around here, mountains almost always frame the rising sun. New days, new hopes, new beginnings; grace, hope, renewal; all these come together when I see mountains lit afresh by the sun. Wintertime can bring some of the most staggeringly beautiful days, with snow in the mountains and skies washed clean.

Okay, so my skills as a digital artist don’t exactly reflect the glory I’m describing. Don’t worry, I don’t plan on making it my day job… But it does mean I’m able to stay vertical and semi-thinking long enough to do something. Which is progress! Also probably signs of improvement are my noticing and starting to feel alarmed about the fact that suddenly we’re barely a week from Christmas, and I have a ton left to do. I guess I had planned on doing it the last couple weeks, when instead I just subsisted.

I’m also noticing and caring about the state of my house, which reflects the fact that we’ve shifted into mere survival mode the last couple weeks.

And, finally, I feel sad that I can’t go for a bike ride today. Still no expectation that I would, or should, because I can’t go outside and breathe without severe, relentless coughing, and Benji is still stronger and faster than me. Plus I can’t imagine that long exposure to 30-degree temperatures and vigorous physical demands will help with recovering.

Speaking of recovery, I cannot believe how Kryptonite-y phenumonia is. It really does suck all my strength. I’ve lost almost 10 lbs in the last 10 days, and let me tell you, it isn’t mostly fat (darn it! I worked hard!…and I guess I will work hard some more). I’m starting to understand that there won’t be some day when I bounce back and feel normal, and everything will go back to how it was. No; I’m going to actually spend time recovering.

I haven’t had a disease that required actual recovery in a long time. Again, I feel so grateful that my regular life doesn’t involve that kind of deep, debilitating illness that trashes all my plans, strains my relationships, and throws “normal” out the window. These last couple weeks (and the next few weeks of recovery, too, I imagine) have helped me remember and appreciate the most basic blessing of all: health. The expectation of waking up in the morning able to function, participate in life, and contribute to my family and coworkers is a blessing I take for granted every day. But for now, at least for a while, I’ll remember to stay grateful for even that simple, fundamental thing.

I’ll leave you with a sunrise photo I took, which may do a little better than my doodle at expressing why I love sunrise over the Cascade mountains.
Sunrise and Mt. Baker from San Juan Island

Pneumonia Gets Old

A couple Mondays ago, I started getting a cold. It was a weird one — all coughing and headache, not really any runny nose. The coughing got worse over the next few days, and finally on Friday I started developing typical cold symptoms: Stuffy nose, burning eyes, low fever, exhaustion.

All weekend, I rested. Ian took care of everything while I spent Saturday and Sunday in bed. Unlike with most colds, I didn’t even think of going for a bike ride. I was too tired to get out of bed, let alone do anything physical (especially in the 36-degree rain falling that day). In fact, I was too tired for anything at all. Watching Netflix on my Surface was exactly the level of activity I could sustain. That was with taking Dayquil every 6 hours, which normally makes me a bit hyper.

By Tuesday night, I had not only not gotten any better; I had started spiking a fever of over 100 in the evenings, as well as feeling even more exhausted, which I honestly didn’t think possible. Ian, Mom, and Deborah did a lot of the hard work with Benji, because I literally didn’t have it in me to do more than just say, “OK… whatever…” Tuesday night I finally gave in and called my doctor. She said she wanted to see me, so I scheduled an appointment for Wednesday afternoon.

I expected her to just tell me I had a bad cold and go home and rest, even though it had been 10 full days and I was worse than ever. But instead she listened to my lungs and said that in addition to having some good wheezing, it sounded like I had some pneumonia in one of my lungs.

Well, NO WONDER I felt so crappy. If I had any energy, I would absolutely have felt something about it.

She prescribed a high-dose 5-day course of antibiotics, plus an inhaler to help with the coughing. Fortunately, coughing hasn’t kept me awake at night (at least, nothing Nyquil couldn’t suppress). I took the first dose, a doubled-up one, on Wednesday evening.

And felt yet more exhausted Thursday morning. Alas, evidently chest infections don’t respond to antibiotics as quickly as UTIs or mastitis. Fortunately for me, Benji went to school and then my in-laws took him overnight! Unfortunately, we had planned that so that Ian and I had intended to go see Rogue One with a theater full of friends, and I still felt too sick and tired to go. Ian took our friend Travis instead. Lucky guy. I took my next dose of antibiotics and watched some more Netflix.

I am so grateful to live in an era where antibiotics still work; and grateful that my immune system can fight this disease off. Getting sick really helps me remember to be thankful for my overall good health, something it’s easy to take for granted when you have it.

About My Job

Meanwhile I have also put in 21 hours of work for the week, slightly higher than average, even while sick. I’ve had a lot to do, and it helps to be able to do it at home in my pajamas. I started writing down directions for the tasks I do, but it’s gotten to be such a long list, I don’t think I’ll finish before the end of the year.

That may be changing, however. I’m doing a new job interview next week, and I’m already excited/anxious about it. If this job happens, we’re looking at enormous changes to our life from how it has been the last four years. Really, after December 31 everything will change one way or another, since I’m leaving my current job for something new then anyway.

Overall, I’m excited for this new phase in my life, if also concerned about how it might all work out. But I’m going to take a leap of faith and trust that, whatever happens, God is in charge.

Meanwhile, I will probably spend most of the day in bed with Netflix and my Kindle again, letting my body get better. I’m ready to move on!