Category Archives: milestone

The Second Falliversary

 The two year anniversary (falliversary) just passed. It was... less emotional than last year. It was a week to think carefully about goals and expectations. Due to my habit of journaling and taking photos I was able to remember last year. And last year I was just starting to see my right leg move. But I was also so much less mobile, so much less balanced. Last year I started the tradition of recreating the last photo I took before my fall. From my wheelchair I positioned my legs on the back of a twirly chair and felt hugely accomplished because my right leg was strong enough to stay in position crossed over the left and the left was strong enough to hold both up. This year I got closer: I was able to hoist myself to the edge of my desk and sit on that with my legs up. This was unthinkable a year ago. So in making the comparison, I was happy to identify this progress. I captured the subtle changes that happen so slowly I had forgotten how difficult it used to be to leave the chair. But my right quad, the more obvious and more essential piece, has made remarkably little progress. I am still unable to put my weight on it. I can only do the same tiny kicks from January last year. Maybe an inch higher. Maybe two. 

A year ago, when my quad first started showing contractions, I celebrated and envisioned walking with just two ankle braces in a year. I never excepted so little change. This muscle has been the most unresponsive to everything I do. And there's no functional walking without quads. On my right side my hip flexor, my glute, and my ham string have progressed noticeably. But gaining just an inch of kick height? What does that mean for future walking? How long will I have to wait until it can hold my weight without the knee buckling? Maybe forever. Maybe the data points make a line that never crosses the required strength threshold. 

I got through many of the early days of my injury by imagining my recovered body. By focusing on my progress and on the temporary nature of my weakness. How do I deal with the reality, now that I can see I was too optimistic? I guess, in one way, the optimism has served its purpose. It got me through those first months, the first year... and now I have many more tools, other than wishful thinking, to keep me going. I learned this new body and changed tremendously. And now my new body and my new mind can keep going, progress in recovery or not.  

Anniversaries now serve as a reminder of the old goals I haven't reached.  A conversation with the old optimism. They should be good for something other than that. I don't want Halloween to feel so hopeless. Hopeless but resilient, I guess. I am more durable than I imaged two years ago. Right after my fall it felt impossibly hard to be injured for this long. It felt brutally unbearable to use a wheelchair for two years. But. Here I am. Relatively happy, every day. Still missing some of the highs I used to feel, more routinely. But, overall, myself. 

So, what's the lesson? Be as ambitious as you need. You can't accurately imagine where you will end up with recovery. So use your optimism and your imagination to see yourself as you want, in a year. In two years. Because you need that vision to keep going during the dark times. In the beginning, in the hardest moments, you also can't accurately imagine how tough you are. How you will endure. Exactly how you will get better is unclear. But healing is so subtle and so complicated. You can't understand it. Put it in the simple terms that make sense for you now, and keep going.

The Symbolic End

 I’ve been elated. Somehow the stress and the last-minute bustle and the long grind leading up to the event: prioritizing, at the same time, publishing the paper and writing the thesis and working on the presentation. (I don’t multi-task well and would have liked to knock those off in series, not in parallel.) I think all this combined to create a dramatic finish, in which despite low odds I pulled off a solid talk, and an oral exam afterward that almost felt like an interesting discussion with colleagues. I expected grilling and my committee to quickly hone in on my gaps in knowledge. I expected to lose my way and stumble through the talk. Instead, I felt really good. The funny thing about the PhD defense is that, once your cabal decides that you are ready, it is just a matter of jumping through the hoops. I knew I couldn’t have failed — the odds are really low — but I wasn’t sure I would be able to do it well. And I proved myself wrong.


So, I am a little in love with academia right now. I guess that’s how you know you should apply for post-docs and stay. During my post-defense party, I said out loud: I would do all this again. I would go and get a second PhD. People laughed. My advisor threatened to quote me on the lab website.

I’m now looking forward to a productive summer. There’s the excitement of reading about other labs and imagining yourself there. It’s time to look for jobs and wait for reviewers to get back to us with improbable suggestions for additional experiments.

But first, this weekend I’ll be driving down to the little California surf town of San Clemente. High Fives invited me to a week-long surf camp, and I’m very excited to go.