In January of 2015, for reasons that escape me now, I pulled on my old running shoes, walked to the end of our one-hundred-foot long drive, turned left, and jogged away. Like most memories that I have these days, this one is fuzzy. It was cold. I didn’t feel well. My liver disease was progressing rapidly, and I had ascites. Maybe ten to fifteen pounds of fluid retention, which the doctors repeatedly remind me isn’t very much. I don’t think the doctors have ever tried to run with ten pounds of fluid sloshing around in their abdominal cavity. I do think that the definition of “very much” would likely change if they did try it.
Regardless of the temperature, or the sloshing, I jogged off into the early morning air, feeling the pavement beneath my feet, listening to the sounds around me, watching the sun track its way across the land adjacent to the Chesapeake Bay. I didn’t run far. The evening before, I had driven past our drive and measured out a half mile. That was my target. A half mile.
I didn’t make it. My stamina sucked, my will power was weak, and the pain was more than I had bargained for. I stood still for a little while just shy of the half mile mark, feeling my knees shake and my head spin. I walked slowly back home, hoping no one was watching, but hardly caring. I wasn’t exhilarated, or particularly proud of what I had just done. I was just tired.
The next day, I did it again. Then again the following day. I ran in the cold. I ran in Florida, where we went to vacation for a few weeks. Hepatic Encephalopathy kicked in one day while I was running on the beach and I forgot where I was. I ran all over the small island, panic stricken by the end, trying to remember where our campsite was, repeating my own name in my head as my bare feet bruised and bled when I abandoned the beach for the roads to try and find my way back. I did.
I ran in the early spring, sticking to the same half mile beginning, expanding it to three miles, running alongside my wife on occasion. My blood tests continued to be the same, no improvement. An MRI, CT scan, and other associated tests confirmed the same thing, my liver was not really functioning. I was once again given six months, maybe a year, to live.
During a rain storm in June, I discovered that I was no longer just slogging along. There was a spring in my step that I had not noticed, a joy rediscovered in moving along under my own power, in charge for once of my own body. I stood in the rain as it steamed on the pavement around me and cried with joy, with sadness for the years lost to addiction, and for the person I would never become. I wept for the could-have-been me image locked forever in my mind.
I drove to a local running store that afternoon and bought a new pair of shoes. The store employee watched me run on the treadmill and pointed out how badly my over pronation was. She asked if I had ever run before. I thought of the countless miles in my early twenties, when I was young and proud and healthy and arrogant and believed I would live forever. I thought of the drunken car crashes, bar brawls, broken bones not properly set and surgeries to attempt to remedy the damage done. I didn’t answer her question.
I took the shoes home and took a picture of them. The next day I ran five miles instead of three, marveling at how light they seemed and how easy they were to run in. I thought of how I had almost died from alcohol abuse as I ran, and it seemed so long ago, as if it had happened to another person.
A friend of mine urged me to sign up for a race, and I did. I ran a 10k in November and it seemed magical. In a moment of maniacal glee, I signed up for two half marathons the next day. The dates were over six months away, an eternity to me.
The year passed as miles poured out the soles of my feet. My mileage increased along with my stamina and overall sense of well-being. The more I ran, the better I felt. The better I felt, the more carefully I ate. The circular loop of health closed and became more defined. I added yoga, getting over my fear of looking stupid in front of a room of females. After a few weeks, I even enjoyed that, and ran more as my soreness subsided faster after stretching and I slept better.
For the first time in years, I was sleeping most of the night without aides. No booze, sleeping pills, or drugs. I started feeling better, so I ran more.
So it goes, into 2016. I may or may not get a transplant. I’m mostly ok with that. I try not to think of it, as I think I’m a pretty lucky guy. I got to see my son turn three last year. More importantly, I remember it. I no longer get lost running on the beach, although I may again soon. None of us have any promise of tomorrow, but I am blessed in that I get to realize this fact more than most.
Someday, I’d like to surf a big wave. One named Jaws, or Mavericks, or some unnamed monster lurking in the Pacific Ocean somewhere. I know better than to think I’d do anything but survive, but I’d like to grin a lopsided grin at someone special as I drug my board ashore. I’d like to ride the TT on the Isle of Man. I know better than to think I’d win, but I’d like to pull my helmet off and wipe the sweat of my face, grinning an old man’s grin at the young man’s winner’s circle. I’d like to be a kitchen Chef again someday. All that would be ok, I guess.
But I’m pretty stoked to go running tomorrow.