Probably my favorite activity in the world is hiking. Hiking anywhere in the world—from Bhutan, to Chilean Patagonia, to Big Sur. And my very favorite is any hike that leads to a waterfall. What a treat.
I learned from Steve Harper, a hiking leader at Esalen, that before you take a first step on a hike to pause and bow and clap your hands together. The bow is to pay reverence that with that first step you’re leaving civilization behind, the clap is to call yourself to attention to the moment.
On any trip the first thing I packed were my hiking boots and hiking poles.
Whether it was a local hike in our backyard in the Santa Monica Mountains, or a meditation hike with Thich Nhat Hanh in northern VietNam, at some moment during a hike, probably when I was happiest and enjoying myself the most, I would say: you are so lucky to be able to do this today, you might not always be able to do this.
I wasn’t being morbid, but fully appreciating the moment—that I could walk and hike and was enjoying and appreciating each and every step.
On November 29 everything changed. A friend was ringing our doorbell, and it was a rare rainy day in LA. Since I didn’t want her to get soaking wet out there, I ran downstairs, missed the bottom two steps, and went—-flying!
I have not walked since. I tore my left Achilles’ tendon, had it surgically reattached, but even though I conscientiously followed doctor’s orders and elevated and iced the leg, the wound was not healing. The skin was black, dead, necrotic. So now we’re not even concerned about the Achilles; we have to heal the wound first.
My days consisted of visiting the wound doctor, whom I didn’t like or respect, enduring dreadful 90 minute sessions in the UCLA hyperbaric oxygen chamber—think tiny claustrophobic 8 person submarine—and consulting with other doctors about how I might walk again.
Meanwhile, since I could not do weight-bearing, and I didn’t like crutches, I get around on a knee scooter. I attached a bicycle bell to the handlebars to inject some fun into this decidedly non-fun medical journey.
Last week there was a second surgery where another surgeon, a trauma wound plastic surgeon, started to surgically clean and debreed the wound. The surgery was supposed to last 5 hours with a skin graft or skin flap covering the wound. But when he discovered that the Achilles’ tendon had not reattached he stopped the surgery after the first hour.
A wound vac, a weird device that 24/7 is supposed to suck bacteria from the wound into a cylinder, was attached to the wound, and plugged into a electrical outlet.
As I write this I haven’t walked or even taken one step for 53 days, and I haven’t taken a bath or shower for 53 days. A third surgery—to reattach the Achilles’ tendon, and to close the wound with a live skin flap or graft—is scheduled for next week.
I never took hiking and walking for granted. I appreciated and savored every hike, and every morning walk with Roya, a neighbor. If the surgery next week is finally successful, I’ve been told that it will still be months and months of physical therapy before I’m walking again. I will not be able to run or jump, but I was never that big on jumping anyway.
I’m so glad I never took my hiking and walking adventures for granted.