Trials to Trails (with Tails!)

Service dog with a mobility harness, standing on a rock outdoors

Welcome to my blog! This is Sam, my service dog. And this is one of my favorite trails. It’s been years since I’ve been able to hike to this spot due to physical disability caused by severe auto-immune disease. I’m an Osteopathic physician specializing in rehabilitation medicine, and I am one of my own patients. Yes, you read that right! Surely right now you are thinking about this proverb: “Physician, heal yourself”.

Doctors do things for us from the outside in to help us heal. Since you are reading my posts, you know you have to heal yourself from the inside out as well, and that is what this blog is all about. You’re in the right place. The very basis of osteopathic principles, training and practice is that the body has the inherent capacity to heal itself.

Where I’ve been:

5 years ago, I was training to hike the Rim to Rim trail down into the Grand Canyon and back up the other side. I could do 100 burpees. I was testing backpacking gear. I was working my plans to hike the Arizona Trail.

Fairly suddenly, everything changed. Over the course of about a month.

It was a slowly developing emergency.

I became so weak, could barely walk down the hallway. I couldn’t hold a piece of paper in my left hand, it kept falling to the floor. Lifting my coffee mug required my full concentration. I wasn’t quite strong enough to get myself up off the ground, out of a chair, or even off the toilet. I had to trade in my manual transmission two seater red convertible, because my left leg was no longer strong enough to push down the clutch. The dealer had to make arrangements to come to my house and get it. It was very low to the ground and I too weak to get in and out of it, and too weak to drive it.

There were times I’d need to examine a patient’s lower legs or feet. But, I had such a hard time getting off the floor that patients would feel compelled to ask if they could help me stand up. I couldn’t muster the energy to stop at the mailbox, get out of the Jeep, walk over to the mailbox and get back in. I went to bed at night exhausted. Despite having slept well, I woke feeling exactly the same the next morning. I’d eat breakfast, take a nap, then get ready for work. I would work for a couple hours, then take another nap.

Like a faulty battery on a cellphone, I couldn’t hold a charge despite having been plugged in all night long.

The truth was, I was “sicker” and more disabled than most of my patients.

Fortunately for me, I didn’t only have office hours, I saw patients at the hospital too.

And, the rehabilitation hospital is a very different world. Patients there were far worse off than me. There, I was the doctor, not a patient, still on my own two feet, and I was grateful.

There were other opportunities to be grateful, too. At both my office and the rehab hospital, I could park very near the door, and both are small buildings. There wasn’t much walking to do.

I could pass for normal.

Like a faulty battery on a cellphone, I couldn’t hold a charge despite having been plugged in all night long.

Where I am now:

Fast forward:

Now, 5 years later and 5 years older, on a good day, I can hike 5 miles. For long distances and varied terrain, I still use a trekking pole. I still use a brace on my leg and I need to plan on a “down day”, a day or two of rest, the day after.

For short distances, on flat ground, I no longer need a cane. I don’t need the brace on my leg. Sam, my service dog helps. Most days, I wake up before dawn, and don’t even need a nap during the day. I am building muscle, so much so that I’ve had to get new clothes!

Where I am going:

As far as I can. For as long as I can. To as many places as I can. It is only recently that I’ve come this far. I can only do a handful modified burpees, not the “real” ones, and I’ve got a long way to go before I can load up a backpack and hike out into the wilderness for days on end. But today, I hit 5 miles on the trail and for the first time in 5 years that actually seems attainable!

Come along with me on my blog. I’ll be telling you how this rehab doctor is rehabbing herself, and how you can help your body heal itself too.