Another one of those stories…Monday, October 14, 2013

Sorry for my lengthy hiatus (longest one ever?) but I do have a note from my doctor to explain my absence. Yep, another one of THOSE stories. They seem to never end, although we're doing all we can to try to make sure they do.

So here's the short version of the story: We raced in Reading for three days and the weather was just about perfect. I think that might be a sentence I have never before written. Seriously, the weather was terrific, and with that the crowds were enormous. Three days of packed grandstands, wall-to-wall humanity in the pits, and spectators stacked up at the fence for the length of the track. It was something to see, and coming right on the heels of a St. Louis race which also needed a shoe horn to squeeze in any additional fans, it was a great sign of the rebound I see us going through now, after a tough period we had for a couple of years after the economy fell off a cliff in September of 2008. When they're buying tickets and pouring in at a clip like what we've seen lately, you have to be pretty impressed.

On Sunday, things did start off a little foggy, but the sun soon burned through and we had another great day, except on the track where our day ended early with a "double-whammy" that included a red-light start in round one followed by a brief encounter with one of the orange timing blocks. No real damage to the body (although some foam "guts" were stuck in the wheel well) but our day was over in such a strange way, and it was over way too early.

Barb's brother Tim came over from Pittsburgh on Sunday, and he brought along his son Colin, who you may remember as my intern from last year when Colin came along to learn the ropes at both the St. Louis and Reading races. It was great to see them both, but a little disheartening to have our day end so prematurely.

Once I got my PR work done, we headed out to our cars and got out of Maple Grove just as the final round was going off. Colin rode with me, while Barb rode with Tim, and upon departure everything seemed pretty copacetic. I was still feeling the after-effects of the cold or bug I brought with me to Reading, but other than that I felt pretty good. Colin and I made it back to Pittsburgh in around four hours, and when we walked inside the house I recall being a little stiff and sore, especially around my right knee, but it wasn't anything alarming.

We had a great dinner, and after that Barb and I took our stuff down to a spare bedroom in the corner of the basement. We've stayed down there before, and although it's cramped and dark, it's a fine (and quiet) place to spend a night or two. That was the plan, to spend two nights there and then fly home to Spokane on Tuesday. That was the plan, he said… I came home on Friday instead, and the extra days seemed like weeks.

Sometime during the middle of the night on Sunday, I recall waking up to a sore and swollen right knee. By the time sunrise rolled around, it was really hurting. I hobbled around after we got up, and it was getting more sore (and bigger) by the hour. The original plan for Monday was for Tim, Barb, and me to head to downtown Pittsburgh in the early afternoon, to see the Pirates - Cardinals playoff game at beautiful PNC Park. We found some great seats on StubHub, and were all amped up to go there. My problem was evident before I even got out of bed, though. With my knee that sore and blown up, there was no way I could go to the game…

I did a lot of icing, kept it elevated, and tried to relax and rest all day, allowing Barb and her brother to venture down to the ballgame by themselves (they were easily able to sell the third ticket on the street.) I watched on TV, and with each passing hour it was getting more and more obvious that this was no little "sore knee" deal, but a lot more like the big "blown-up knee" episode from a couple of years ago, when I went from "Hey, my knee hurts" to the Emergency Room in Woodbury, to being admitted immediately, to arthroscopic surgery six hours later. I wasn't looking forward to a replay of that escapade, but I also wasn't looking forward to any more of the pain and stiffness, both of which were ramping up by the hour.

Fortunately, Barb's brother Tim is in the medical device business, so he knows reputable doctors all around Pittsburgh, and he was able to point us in the right direction on Tuesday morning. We got a "standby" appointment with an orthopedic guy, and with Barb driving we headed over there with yours truly in a lot of pain. Just getting into and out of the car was no fun whatsoever.

Also fortunately, we had the track record of the left knee episode to start with, so this new doctor didn't have to speculate or start from scratch after we filled him in on the backstory. Had that not been the case, I think he would've admitted me to a local hospital at once, because the swelling was so fierce. Instead, he prescribed some stuff, gave me some crutches, and sent us home with the stern word that if my fever went up at all (I was at around 101 at the time) we were to immediately head to an ER and get admitted. Fever means infection, and you don't mess around with that.

He also drained the knee, and let's just say he had no problem getting close to 100 cc of fluid out of it. As for me, it was a long dreary day and very painful. No fun whatsoever.

I had already been on the phone with Delta and Hertz, to arrange new travel plans (the doc had allowed us to go back to Tim's house, but he ruled out travel for the next 36 to 48 hours.) The "no fun" factor was rising by the minute, and I was beginning to wonder when I might ever get home, back here in Liberty Lake.

Tuesday night was no fun at all, and when you're in pain like that one of the first things to go is your appetite. You need fuel to fight whatever it is that's ailing you, but absolutely nothing tastes good and most everything actually tastes awful. On Wednesday morning, it was clear I needed to get back to the doctor's office ASAP, but the best they could do was get us another "standby" deal. We ended up spending about two hours in the waiting room, and that long period of time was made even much more merry by the fact my knee really hurt. Like, a lot!

We saw a different doctor that day, and he drained another 25 cc or so out of it, sending me back to Tim's house with a new prescription and some additional advice. Again, the thought of getting back here to Spokane seemed more remote than ever. If riding in the car was that difficult, riding on two different planes and making a connection at MSP seemed impossible.

One more set of phone calls to Delta and Hertz gave me some much-needed flexibility, with both companies waiving all fees and allowing me to shift my plane and car into "open ended" status. All I had to do was return the car whenever I could, and call Delta as soon as I was cleared to fly. Stellar customer service, to be honest, with some genuinely kind people on the other end of the phone.

By Thursday it felt as if I'd been stuck there for months. The fact it was still just two additional days since I was originally supposed to fly home seemed inconceivable. Fortunately, I had the enormous hospitality of Tim Doyle, his wife Kelly, and their boys Sean and Colin to make it all more bearable. Imagine if I'd originally planned on being in Pittsburgh for one night, by myself and not knowing anyone, when this happened? It was easy to think of this whole thing as being unlucky, but if it was going to happen at all I guess I have to consider myself enormously fortunate to have had it happen this way.

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Absolutely HUGE crowds all weekend, at Maple Grove. How's this for a Friday gathering!
We went back to the original doctor on Thursday afternoon, and by then I was walking with crutches instead of being wheeled around in a chair by my wonderful wife. When I came into the waiting room, upright with the aluminum crutches under my arms, almost the entire staff smiled and gave me a thumbs-up. They'd been so concerned and so helpful for days, and you could tell they really cared about this stranger from Washington who fell into their laps out of nowhere.

I was feeling good enough to get my flight rebooked, so on Friday morning we headed for the airport at the crack of pre-dawn, rolling out of Tim's house at around 5:45 to beat the traffic through downtown Pittsburgh in order to make it to PIT in time for my 9:15 flight. We had wheelchairs requested all along the way, and I was pushed through the congested TSA area in pretty short order, but that was the first of many things that irritated me. I don't like being wheeled around, and I absolutely didn't like going to the front of the line. I was embarrassed to do that, and felt that sort of thing should be reserved for folks who really are in bad shape. Once the "pusher" got us to the gate, I gave her a tip and let her go. From that point forward, I was walking…

The flight up to MSP wasn't too bad, and although I had stiffened up a bit when we were in the air, I grabbed my crutches and walked right past the wheelchair on the jet bridge. No more of that, if I could help it…

Barb needed to stay in the Twin Cities for a few days, so I made my connection and got out to Spokane around 1:30 on Friday afternoon, once again eschewing the wheelchair for the slow walk with crutches. The only hard part was getting my bag, by backpack, my crutches, and myself out to the car in the parking garage at GEG. I either had one too many sets of crutches or one too few sets of arms, but I managed to get it done.

I've been here since, spending the weekend with Boofus and Buster (who can always sense when you're not feeling well, and who then typically ramp up the snuggling to peak levels) and Barb is due back here in just a few hours. It will be nice to all be together at home, in our own bed on the main floor.

So… I now have an appointment with my specialist here tomorrow (amazed they got me in that fast) and we'll see where we go from here. Obviously, the chronic problems I have with my knees and ankles are something we have to fix. Can't go on like this, not knowing when you're going to go from fine to laid-up without any notice. Plus, when it's not good, it's really not good. Wednesday was about as painful a day as I've ever experienced. I'd like no more of that please. Count me out...

Like I said, it was tough to have a knee problem flare up when I was on the road, but the Pittsburgh Doyle family did all they could for me, and I can't ever repay them enough for that. I felt like Gilligan. I came there for two quick nights (a three hour tour) and ended up staying there for what seemed like forever, stranded in a basement bedroom. I owe Tim, Kelly, Sean, and Colin a lot, and I'm looking forward to paying them back for their unselfish hospitality, hopefully arranging something for them that makes them all smile. As for my lovely wife, I wish I could repay her a hundred-fold. It couldn't have been any fun having me around, pushing me around, and getting me out to the doctors every day. Thank you, Sweetie!

Now, we'll just continue to rest it and try to get better. Having a second week off in a row surely helps (yes it does, and don't call me Shirley) so I have another week to get ready for Vegas. I'll be there, and I'll be ready to rock…

Again, sorry for the absence and sorry for the lack of hilarity here, but "it is what it is" and all that. There's also no tomorrow, our backs are to the wall, and we have to play them one game at a time. I love clichés…

Back soon, and it won't be so long that I need another doctor's note to explain my absence…

Wilber, out!