No, I am not growing a winter coat like all the elk, deer and mountain goats I have seen on my recent outdoor excursions. All the hair I lost after my final UC flare and surgery is finally growing back! I was never sure if the losses to my tresses were due to the myriad of drugs I took for the disease, the rigors of surgery, malnutrition, and protein loss due to the flare or just stress in general, but between 3 and 7 months post-op,my hair fell out in mass quantities. Everyday, innumerable strands would plug up the shower drain, make my fleece jacket look like a Chia Pet, fill my comb, and make me wonder how there could be anything left on my head.
One day this summer when I had my hair pulled back, I noticed a transformation. All over my head were tiny sprouts of hair coming up. In the ensuing weeks, it began to look like I had a second short hairdo hiding underneath my remaining long locks. Though I am sure it will take over a year for these strands to catch up to the rest of my mane, I am happy to know that some day I will be wandering the mountains with my thick braids again.
So, if you have lost some of your hair after surgery, fear not. It does return!
Last year at this time, I was just beginning my downward spiral into my final severe Ulcerative Colitis flare. Each day of the next few months will be an anniversary of something UC-related, and the flashbacks to those harder times will be abundant: there are the dates of my multiple ER visits, the admission for my 16-day hospital stay, my first Remicade infusion, the day I came to realize that surgery was my best option. It seems like reminders of my past illness are lurking around every corner. But then so are reminders of my amazing recovery.
Healing physically and regaining strength follows a fairly logical and direct path; recovering emotionally is a bit more circuitous. Sometimes it is hard for my brain to grasp all that has happened in the past 12 months. How in the world did I make it through the tough events of the year to get where I am now? It all seems to have gone by so fast, and I don’t believe my mind has fully processed everything yet.
One of the hardest things in recovering from surgery and getting back into outdoor activities is knowing how to pace yourself. There are times in the months after surgery when there are clear lifting restrictions and guidelines, which provide easy-to-understand parameters for your activities. However, once those restrictions are lifted and you are feeling ready to get back to your normal sport routines, the path isn’t as clear.
Though it may seem like I am doing a lot of outdoor activities since surgery, I have paced myself very slowly. I started out with many short walks. When those felt good, I moved on to longer and steeper excursions. On the hike to Mt. Elbert covered in this video, my legs got extremely tired on the hike out, and I thought perhaps I had overdone it. Still, within three days, my sore muscles had completely recovered–a sign to me that the hike, though strenuous, was not at a level that pushed me too hard. By the next weekend, my muscles were feeling great and ready for a new adventure.
The following is a list of additional things that I am doing to prevent injury:
I always wear my Nu Hope hernia prevention belt when I do any outdoor activity beyond a short, flat-terrain day hike when I am carrying no significant weight (say 10-15 pounds).
I have my husband, Doug, help me lift my heavy backpack on to my shoulders. Once it is resting on my hips, I am better able to handle the weight without straining my abdominal muscles.
I use hiking poles to help with my stability as I get stronger.
I leave for hikes extra early to allow myself the ability to hike at a slower pace with more frequent breaks.
I pay very close attention to my body. So far I haven’t witnessed anything more than normal post-workout muscle aches. However, if I feel something more significant, I will back off and give my body more time to adjust to the next level of activity.
I am working with a physical therapist to strengthen my core muscles using very mild and low-impact exercises that are safe for the level of healing I am at.
My goal for the fall is carrying out a week-long backpacking trip with a few peak ascents. Hopefully with my training regime, I will be ready for this challenge.