I had to think for quite a while to come up with a suitable title for this article. I considered "Cycling with Asthma," "Recovering from post-viral fatigue," and a few others. As usual though, everything is connected. More than one illness was involved -- they affected each other -- and this is as much about recovery as it is about illness.
I was diagnosed with asthma in the fall of 2000 after months of bronchitis and fatigue. Looking back, it was clear that I had had asthma for years prior to that; it had just never been diagnosed. In this instance the bronchitis started a week and a half after buying a bike and starting to bike commute 4 miles each way every day when I hadn't ridden a bike in over 20 years.
Note that I am not saying that riding a bike gave me asthma. I already had asthma; I just didn't know it. I was also unaware that exercise was a common trigger of asthma attacks. This doesn't mean that asthmatics shouldn't exercise. Exercise makes a body strong and healthy. Some Olympic athletes have asthma. If you're going to heavily exert yourself though, you'll need to take some kind of medication to keep your bronchial passages from constricting if you have asthma.
Once I was diagnosed with asthma, I was prescribed two kinds of medication. One was Albuterol, a rescue inhaler to use if I was having an attack. The other was Advair, to be taken every day to prevent attacks. I had an allergic reaction to the Advair and had to stop taking it. Because it had taken so many months to be diagnosed (I had had to be referred to a specialist), my condition was gradually improving, so the doctor said my asthma was mild enough to try to get by with just the Albuterol.
I was healthy when I started riding again in the spring. I rode through the spring, through the summer, into the fall, exploring new routes to work, and then one morning in the fall it was about 35°F. The hill that I had ridden up with no problem the previous morning now left me coughing uncontrollably and gasping for breath.
It turns out that aside from exercise, one of the most common asthma triggers is being outside in cold air. So, as you might guess, exercising in cold air is a pretty sure way to trigger an asthmatic attack. So I did two things. I looked at a topographic map and found a flatter route to work. And on the advice of many cyclists on the Icebike list I started using my Albuterol before setting out for my ride if it was cold out.
That seemed to do the trick. Well enough, in fact, that for a couple of years I began to doubt myself and think, "Maybe I don't really have asthma?" But then I would have occasional reminders that I indeed did. Like when I forgot to use my inhaler before coming home from a bike advocacy meeting in the winter (it was part of my routine to use it before leaving work because I did that every day, but the meetings weren't a routine thing), and I was hacking up my lungs by the time I was half way home. Or the time I had to go to a public meeting in the summer so it never would have occurred to me to use my inhaler before going. It was in a location I was unfamiliar with. By the time I got there I was coughing, and I sat through the whole meeting wheezing, thinking, "Did you have to pick the school on the hilliest street in town? If I had known, I would have used my inhaler before coming." Incidents like these were few and far between, but they were enough to remind me that I really did have asthma.
At the beginning of 2005, I had to find a new place to live. I didn't have a long time to search as I had recently divorced. I just needed to find something fast. My criteria were it had to be within reasonable bike commuting distance of work, it had to allow pet rabbits, it had to allow a short term lease (I actually had no idea how long I intended to stay because of my upcoming move to Canada, so it needed to allow flexibility), and it needed to be affordable (this in a town with notoriously high rents). In other words, there weren't a lot of apartments that met those criteria, and I didn't have time to be picky.
I found a tiny apartment across the street from my dentist's office. I was used to riding to dentist appointments, and then riding from there to work, so I knew it was about 3 miles from there to work, and it was a pretty ride. I realized I might want to alter my route slightly since I was usually leaving the dentist's office around 9:30 or 10:00am, and at 7:30 there was bound to be more traffic on Main Street, and I didn't want to sit in stop and go traffic, but there were umpteen different ways I could go. They had no problem with pet rabbits, they said I could sign a 3-month lease and go month-to-month after that, and it was affordable. Ok, good enough.
I should have taken time off to rest for a while after I moved in instead of going back to work the next Monday. I was exhausted. I had been pushing myself non-stop for months, the divorce had been stressful, I had fallen and twisted my ankle while moving in -- I really needed some time to just rest. But I didn't.
What I hadn't considered when choosing that location was that my dentist appointments were usually in Spring and Fall. I very rarely made the hilly trip from there to work in the winter. When I had, it was late enough in the day that it was above 40°F. Now I was riding up and down hills, up and down, steep hills, in cold air. The Albuterol wasn't enough. Even though I was using it before riding, I was still coughing uncontrollably by the time I got to work and actually had to use it as a rescue inhaler. And still it was hours before I could breathe normally.
It was pretty clear that I needed additional medication. A week after moving, I was at my doctor's office. She prescribed another inhaler to use in addition to the Albuterol: Aerobid, which I would use every day to help prevent asthma attacks. It would be two weeks before enough of it was in my system to fully take effect though.
Looking back, I suppose it would have been a good idea to take the bus to work for the next week or so.
I've come to realize over the years that I have Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder. Little things like needing to check three or four times before going to bed to make sure the alarm clock is set for the right time -- that was kind of a tipoff. It's not surprising then that my OCD has manifested itself in my cycling. Sometimes that's a good thing.
I've always thought of the Turtle as my totem animal; turtles persevere. They may not be the fastest animal around, but if a turtle has a destination, she'll get there. Put an obstacle in her path and she'll go around it. She will reach her goal. Turtles were here before the dinosaurs. Turtles persevere.
So like the turtle, I just keep on going. I may not be the fastest cyclist, but I'll get there. Sometimes it feels like the bike is an extension of my body; that's just how I get from Point A to Point B. Sometimes I walk, of course, but for a trip of 3 miles, I couldn't see any possibility other than riding my bike.
Alas, the OCD is sometimes a bad thing. I really couldn't see any possibility other than riding my bike. There was a bus stop right at the corner near my apartment. There was a bus stop a block from work. I could ride the bus for free by showing my University of Michigan ID. Did it occur to me to take the bus to work until my lungs healed? No. Why not? I recognized that it was possible to take the bus to work from my apartment, and I thought that was great, but I thought of that as something to do if we had a heavy snowfall or an icestorm. The roads were fine, so it was cycling weather. I never saw any other possibility.
By this time my immune system, instead of being a fortress to protect me, was a little pile of rubble in the dust. I was waiting for the Aerobid to start taking effect, but I found myself getting worse instead of better. After taking it for five days, I could still hardly breathe 3 hours after arriving at work and using the rescue inhaler. I called my doctor's office and got an appointment for the next afternoon.
Sitting at my desk barely able to breathe, I had to face the possibility that my OCD might be partly responsible for my present condition. As I thought back, I recalled several coworkers, upon hearing me cough, wheeze or struggle to catch my breath, asking with concern, "Have you thought about taking the bus until you're better?" I had blithely answered, "Oh no, I'll be fine," thinking to myself, "They don't understand, I'm a cyclist. Exercise makes a body strong and healthy." Now I was thinking, "If 'whatever doesn't kill me makes me stronger,' what if it doesn't make me stronger?" I felt like my brain was trying to kill me.
Once I was finally able to breathe I rode home, at about 6 mph, and went to bed. For the next two and a half weeks I stayed home from work doing little more than sleeping. I went to a couple of doctor's appointments, by bus, where after several tests, she concluded I had a virus in addition to the asthma. She said a lot of people had the virus, and in non-asthmatics, it was giving them asthma-like symptoms. So for people with asthma, it was just making their asthma that much worse. The reason I was so tired, she explained, was that I just wasn't getting enough oxygen. It was like running a mile and then trying to breathe through a soda straw.
Since I had so little energy I had to ration it and prioritize. I learned that if I took a shower I would be absolutely and completely exhausted. I wouldn't have the energy to get dressed after that. And getting dressed was also exhausting. So I only showered every third day, trying to shower the day before I had to go anywhere. Then I'd allow a lot of time to get dressed before I had to leave for an appointment because I simply wasn't capable of moving fast. I built in time to stop and rest. If I didn't have to go anywhere, I just lived in my bathrobe. Feeding myself was enough effort for the day. I had to find different things to eat, as well, since I didn't have the energy to cook. I found some easy to prepare things with lots of vegetables and started taking a multi-vitamin.
Eventually I went back to work for half days. I took showers in the evening, every other night, so I wouldn't have the exhaustion brought on by showering and getting dressed in immediate succession. I took the bus to work, having decided it was ok for me to take the bus when I had the energy of a sponge. The non-living kind.
I didn't have a great deal of energy so I wasn't my most productive, but I was able to get some things done that really needed to be done. After three hours though, I was really losing energy. After another hour, I was really glad it was time to go home. I took the bus home and took a three hour nap before I had lunch.
My days continued like that for the next two weeks. Then I returned to work full time as scheduled. The first day back, I dragged through the day. I was just as exhausted after four hours as I had been during the previous two weeks. I don't even know how I made it through the rest of the day. The second day, I dragged through the first four hours and then I just broke down crying tears of exhaustion. I just couldn't do it. I went home and went to bed.
My doctor put me back on half days for another month. Over that time I very gradually got more energy. At first I needed a nap every day when I came home. Then, on some days, I was able to eat lunch first when I got home and then take a nap. Then I was able to occasionally come home, eat lunch, spend a few hours writing, and then take a nap. I was making progress. There were a few days I was actually able to go without a nap at all.
Back in the Saddle
All this time I'd been riding the bus to work, watching cyclists wistfully through the bus window. I missed cycling so much. Eventually as my energy increased, I began to feel like I might have enough energy to try just a short ride. I wasn't about to attempt riding to work yet. I knew I would have to start slowly and build up my endurance, and I knew I would probably be very tired at first. I was prepared for that, and I wasn't going to let it discourage me.
There was just one problem. While I thought I might have enough energy to go for a short ride, I didn't feel like I had enough energy to change my tires. Since the last time I had ridden was the middle of winter, I still had the studded tires on. Now it was the end of March and the snow was all gone. I definitely didn't want more rolling resistance than necessary, so I wanted to put the summer tires on before riding. But since I had gotten sick before I had really finished unpacking everything after I moved in, the box with the tires was under several other boxes, and the thought of getting to the tires and then changing the tires was just overwhelming. It made me tired just thinking about it.
Finally, after much encouragement from my partner John ("Did you change your tires yet?" "Um..." "Did you change your tires yet?" "Well..." "Did you change your tires yet?" "Er..."), I decided that the best way for me to proceed was to break the task down into steps: put the other boxes away, open the box labeled "bike stuff and yarn" (hey, I've got a lot of yarn. It's squishy. It makes good packing material), get out the tires, move the bike into position to change the tires, change one tire, change the other tire, put the studded tires away, close up the box (and yeah, it stays in the living room until I move again, because there's nowhere else to put it). I decided that I could do as few or as many of the steps as I had the energy to do in one session, taking the pressure off myself so it wasn't one huge overwhelming task. I figured I wouldn't actually have enough energy to do it all in one day. I surprised myself though. I actually did. I think taking the pressure off really helped. Of course, by the time I was finished with all that, I needed a nap.
But the next time I felt energetic, I had the good fortune to have a beautiful sunny day. I put on a t-shirt and shorts, put on my sunglasses, my helmet, my cycling gloves, filled my water bottle (didn't think I was going very far, but I like to be prepared), used my inhaler, told the rabbits I'd be back in a little while, and maneuvered the bike out the door, locking it behind me. I carried it up the stairs and out into the fresh air. Wow. Fresh air. It felt nice just to be outside in a t-shirt and shorts, feeling the air on my skin.
I wheeled my bike down the sidewalk and onto the parking lot, flipped my leg over the saddle and slid my foot into the toeclip, parked my butt on the saddle and pushed off. Ah...my old friend...
Well, that didn't feel quite right. Ah, I was in the totally wrong gear. I'd forgotten to put it back after changing the rear tire. Right. Fortunately I was going down a gentle slope as I was headed toward the exit of the parking lot, so it was very easy to shift to where I wanted to be. There, that felt right.
I took a right out of the parking lot and rode around the neighborhood for a while. That felt good. I had chosen a relatively flat route after studying a topographic map for a long time. If I had just ridden at random in my neighborhood, I very likely would have encountered a monster hill. Not what I needed. The way I went wasn't perfectly flat, but it was fine. It felt so good just to be moving again, passing through the world at a sane pace, feeling the sun and wind on me, moving under my own power, feeling free.
By the time I started heading for home my legs were feeling a little wobbly, so it's probably good I didn't go further than I did. When I reached my apartment and got off, I was wobbling a little, but I felt pretty good. I looked at the computer. 2.38 miles. Ok. Yeah, it's nothing by my old standards, but considering that for nearly two months I couldn't ride at all, it's a start. It's progress.
I brought my bike back inside, looked at it, and a feeling of joy washed over me. "That was fun, wasn't it?!," I asked the bike. "We're going to do that again soon, I promise! Oh, you're a good bike! I've missed you so much!" I confess I hugged my bike and gave it several kisses on the handlebars.
Full of energy, I emailed John every last detail of my ride. Then the energy was gone and I concluded with "I need to go take a nap now," and slept for three hours.
A few days later I rode the same route again. Still a little wobbly at the end, especially since I had a headwind on the way back, but I was ok. I figured I probably wouldn't try to ride again until the following weekend since the next day was my first full day back at work. I actually felt ready for it this time. It did seem like someone's idea of a cruel joke however to have the beginning of daylight savings time coincide with my return to full time. I had been working 9:30-1:30 so I could wake up at a time that my natural body clock agreed was a time to be getting up. Now I was returning to an 8-5 schedule, except my body was sure that I was trying to get it to work by 7am. I don't think I was able to make my eyes focus before noon that first day back.
The second full day I felt like a real live human being though. I was tired by the end of the day, but I made it through the whole day, and I didn't feel like I needed to sleep for 80 years. This was progress. As the week went on I continued to feel a little more energetic each day, though I was still tired in the evenings.
When Saturday came I decided to scope out a new route to work. I knew I wasn't ready to ride all the way to work and back in a single day yet, but I had been studying the topo map, and it looked like I had figured out a new way to go once I did actually have enough energy that would avoid some of the hills that had been problematic on my previous route. Before I had taken a more or less direct way to work, and it was up and down, up and down, all the way. The new route was due east, and then due north, and then due east a little bit more, avoiding some of the rolling hills to the northwest. The new route wasn't flat -- that simply wasn't possible -- but it looked like the new route to work would be mostly flat with only two steep uphills, and the route home would have one steep uphill. I decided that since I didn't have the energy to ride all the way to work and back, I would simply ride about halfway to work, and then ride home.
Going east was very easy as it was actually slightly downhill all the way. When I turned north, it was completely flat. I saw the first monster hill up ahead, and that was my cue to turn west. Yeah, I'd be able to tackle it later, but it wasn't on the plan for today. Heading west, it was flat for awhile, and then...well, you can see what's coming. I've always wished M.C.Escher had been a landscape architect, but alas, it just wasn't so. So uphill it was. Oh sure, it looked flat. But in reality, it was a long, slow incline that just went on and on and on. The kind that wears me out. At the predetermined point I turned south. More of the same, or maybe a little steeper. Whimper. Finally I turned west again, and the road was mercifully more or less flat the rest of the way back to my apartment, for which I was thankful. I was exhausted.
I made it back to my apartment and dismounted, jello-legged and gasping. I looked at the computer. 3.74 miles. Pant, pant...yeah, 3.74 is definitely more than 2.38. But that hill...ok, that wasn't flat. But now I knew what I was up against. That was the flattest way home.
I brought the bike inside, feeling really tired but still euphoric. As the euphoria wore off I began to feel like I needed a nap, but then I realized that what I felt more than fatigue was hunger! I wanted to eat! So I had some food...and then took a nap.
The next time I actually felt energetic enough to go for a ride was the following Thursday. Since I needed groceries, I figured it was a good time to put the panniers on and ride over to the grocery store after work. I had walked home from the store a few times after taking the bus there after work (it was faster to walk home than to wait for the next bus, and I wanted to get some exercise), and it looked like the store was about a mile from my apartment on the map, but I'd be taking a different route by bike that was a little bit longer but more pleasant to cycle. Oh, and there was the small detail of construction taking place on the shorter route so it wasn't actually possible to come home that way. Right.
The round trip ended up being 3.13 miles. I was tired, but not too tired. I think stopping in the middle (to do my grocery shopping) helped. After eating dinner I was still tired, but not really really tired. So I began to think, well, I'd see how I felt. If I didn't feel too tired that evening, and I felt ok in the morning, maybe I could try riding to work in the morning. It didn't mean I had to start riding every day. I could just ride once and see how it went.
I was pleased to make it through the evening without needing a nap. I was tired, but I didn't feel like I was dragging. I went to bed thinking "Yeah, maybe I can ride my bike to work tomorrow." I woke up thinking "Mmmblph...I don't wanna get outta bed...mmeh..." But I think that every morning, so I knew I wouldn't be able to gauge my energy level until I'd actually been up for a while. I got up and started getting ready for work; eventually it was time to make the decision: bus or bike? Sigh. I had to be honest. I barely had the energy to walk to the bus stop. There was no way I could ride to work. So bus it was.
That whole day I was completely exhausted. I was totally wiped out. But I decided I wouldn't be discouraged. I decided that fact that I had finally ridden over 3 miles and hadn't needed a nap that day was progress. I shouldn't be that surprised by the fact that I was really tired the next day. To be realistic, trying to go from riding 3 miles one day without needing a nap for the first time to riding 3 miles twice in one day the next day really was asking too much. I decided instead I would try to ride 3 miles every other day until I could do that without feeling tired, then ride 3 miles every day until I didn't feel tired, and then try riding to work. But the next day came and I was still way too tired to go anywhere. I had no energy at all. The next day I felt the same. So much for that plan. I decided to just ride to the grocery store when I needed groceries.
For the next few weeks, that's what I did. Whenever I needed groceries I rode to the store. I was still always tired the next day, but I began to think I might have enough energy to ride over to Ann Arbor Cyclery to schedule a tune up. I had been meaning to stop by for months because the cables had stretched (I bought the bike at the end of October so some stretching was to be expected) and the rear disc brake needed to be adjusted, but my life had been way too hectic for me to get back to the shop for months, and then of course I had been too sick to ride. They were kind of surprised to see me. They knew of my plans to move to Nova Scotia, and since they hadn't seen me in so long, figured I might have already moved. I explained that I'd been really sick for months, too sick to cycle even, and that had delayed things.
They said I could leave the bike and pick it up Thursday. I picked out some narrower tires with less rolling resistance for them to put on when they worked on the bike, as well as a new helmet since mine was getting old and brittle and it was time to replace it. Then I left to catch the bus home, looking forward to Thursday. I was hoping that with the tune up and the narrower tires I would be able to ride farther before getting tired. Maybe I would be able to ride to work...
The ride home Thursday was a little bit awkward since I was wearing my old tires around my body. They and I had differing opinions over just where they should be, so it was hard to actually focus on my bike's performance. I thought I would go for another ride over the weekend, and then if I felt ok, I would try riding to work the following Monday. The only reason I wasn't planning on riding to work the next day was that I had an appointment in the morning before work, and it was on the far side of town; I knew that extra distance was definitely beyond my capability in my current condition. Still, when I woke up that Friday with a sore throat and both ears aching, it did not bode well.
As Friday wore on I grew more fatigued. I woke up Saturday coughing, coughing, coughing. My lungs were congested. Oh, man...not again. I got up and had breakfast, but after a while I had to go to bed again, exhausted from coughing. No bike ride this weekend.
I slept most of the weekend away, figuring my body needed the rest. Not that I had much choice. I stayed home from work Monday, no better at all. My eyeballs ached from coughing so hard. I remembered my friend Xianping talking about the over the counter cold remedy she takes whenever she gets sick; she always seems to be better in a day. Rest alone wasn't doing the trick, so I dragged myself to the store and came home with two kinds of cough medicine, one for daytime, one for night. "Suppresses cough," they said. "Helps you to sleep," said the nighttime use one. Well, they didn't. I could almost hear the germs in my body laughing, "Bwa ha ha! We scoff at your puny efforts to be rid of us!"
I was hacking my lungs out and waking up every hour during the night. I couldn't make it through the day without two naps. I had no energy at all. I called my doctor's office to make an appointment. My voice was so weak that the appointment clerk could barely hear me. I simply couldn't talk any louder. While I was on the phone with her I had a really bad coughing spell, and she kept saying, "Are you alright? Are you alright?" She realized then it was going to take me a minute to catch my breath. When I did say I was ok, she couldn't hear me. Finally I managed to say it loudly enough for her to hear me and confirm that the appointment time she offered was ok.
My regular doctor wasn't in that day. The only opening left for that day was with a nurse practitioner at 6pm. She prescribed some cough medicine with codeine so I'd be able to sleep at night and a stronger decongestant than what was in the cough medicine I'd been using. Unfortunately I was far too exhausted to think to mention that some of what I had been coughing up was yellow. She didn't ask.
I was looking forwarding to finally getting a full night's sleep. Alas, it was not to be. I tend to get a cough that stops traffic even when I'm just a little bit sick, so when I'm really sick, I get a cough that can wake the dead. Even with the codeine, I couldn't sleep more than an hour before I would wake up coughing, and then spend the next 15-20 minutes hacking my lungs out. Finally I would be able to breathe clearly and go back to sleep...for another hour.
The next day I was completely worn out, and I was terribly depressed. I felt like all the months of progress I had made slowly recovering had just come undone. I felt like I had just been transported via time machine back to February. Was I going to have to go through all that again? The thought was just overwhelming.
I thought to myself, I would be really pissed off if I had the energy. I didn't even have the energy for that though. I was just sad. I felt like I was never going to be healthy again. I felt doomed. I felt like my lungs were cursed.
By Monday I wasn't any better at all. I was still so tired I was taking two naps a day. I called again to make an appointment with my doctor, and this time, I didn't want to see anyone else. I got an appointment for the following day.
She said it was a respiratory infection and they're going around. I was concerned though because it had taken me so long to recover (mostly) before, and then all my progress had been undone -- was it going to take that long again? She said "Don't worry, you'll get better..." I was still worried though. I had been getting better before. Then I just woke up one morning and I was sick again. She reminded me that she had said there might be setbacks. I just hadn't imagined they would be such big setbacks. How did I know I wouldn't get better and then just wake up sick again and feel like I was right back in February again? I felt doomed. She said "you have to think positive..." I said "But..." She said "Listen! They've done studies. Cancer patients who believe they're going to recover do. Patients who think they're doomed are." Oh. That got my attention. She went on. "They've done brain scans and found positive thinking changes what's going on in the brain. You have to think positive. Say to yourself at least 5 times a day 'I am getting healthy and strong' even if you have to tape it up on your bathroom mirror." I looked at her and nodded. I knew she was right. I'd read about those studies. I said, "Ok. Just tell me, when can I ride my bike again?" She said, "I'd say next week, if you take it slow." Then I knew I really was getting healthy and strong.
I left still feeling tired and coughing, coughing, coughing, but my depression had lifted. I headed for the pharmacy to get the four prescriptions she'd given me filled, and then home, thinking "I am getting healthy and strong." I was looking forward to riding my bike the next week. I took my medicine and went to bed for a nap.
For the next few days I was still very tired. I now had a much stronger cough medicine, also with codeine, but now I could sleep two hours before waking up, and I could tell it was a deeper sleep. I was still taking two naps a day. But I figured my body knows what it needs. It's doing what it needs to do to make me healthy and strong.
As a public service to other people who have a hard time swallowing pills, I'll share the secret I finally figured out to dealing with antibiotics. Oatmeal raisin cookies. Most of the time if I need an antibiotic I try to remember to mention that I can't swallow pills and ask for a liquid. The problem is, if I'm in bad enough shape that I need an antibiotic, my brain is too shot to remember anything. Sometimes I remember by the time I get to the pharmacy, and then if there's a liquid form of the same drug, the pharmacist can substitute. If there isn't, the pharmacist will page the doctor and get another drug prescribed. But sometimes I just don't think of it until I get home, take it out of the bag, look at it, and say, "Oh. Oh, yeah. Crap."
Now, people have suggested every strategy imaginable to help me swallow pills. I can swallow small pills. But large pills? No, it's just not possible. So with most pills, I just chew them up. The problem is antibiotics taste really, really bad. I've tried mixing them with food, but their taste is just overpowering. I tried mixing one into a milkshake once, thinking the ice cream would cover up the taste of the antibiotic. Instead I had one very bad milkshake.
This time I happened to have a bag of oatmeal raisin cookies on my desk. When I got sick earlier my doctor recommended eating oatmeal; I said I really didn't like oatmeal except in oatmeal raisin cookies, and she said go ahead and eat those then. The raisins were good for me too. So I've become quite fond of them. So I took an oatmeal raisin cookie, opened the antibiotic capsule and sprinkled the powder onto one end of the cookie, getting as much into the nooks and crannies as possible. Then I took a very large bite, getting all of the powder and a whole lot of cookie into my mouth. I chewed it up and swallowed, drank a lot of water (as per the instructions that came with the prescription), then ate the rest of the cookie. To my delight, I didn't taste the antibiotic at all. At first I figured the cookie just overpowered the taste of the drug. But then I realized that while that was part of it, by putting it in my mouth the way I was, with antibiotic on top of cookie, only the cookie was coming in contact with my taste buds, at least until the cookie was well chewed. Since it was a soft, chewy cookie, I didn't need to chew it very much before swallowing, so very little if any of the antibiotic ever did come in contact with my taste buds. Cookies as medicinal aids. I like this concept.
Thursday I finally started feeling better. I finally had enough energy to take a shower, which was really good because I hadn't had one since Saturday and I couldn't stand myself anymore. It felt so good to be clean again. In the afternoon I managed to do some laundry for the first time in nearly three weeks. I'd been mostly living in my bathrobe for nearly two weeks so I hadn't generated a lot of dirty clothes during that time, but I'd had to get dressed to go to the doctor and whenever I had to drag myself to the grocery store, of course, and the clean clothes had run out. Other than doing laundry, I just took it easy. Friday I just took it easy as well. My doctor had told me to stay home from work the rest of the week and said I should be ready to return to work on Monday.
Saturday I needed groceries. I introspected and decided I probably had enough energy to ride to the store and back if I just took it easy. So I made the trip and returned home a bit out of breath, but not feeling too bad. I called my friend Lisa and talked to her for a little while, telling her about my progress, but then I had an overwhelming urge to go take a nap. I ended up not actually sleeping though. After just lying there for about 15-20 minutes I felt better. So I got up for a while, did some writing...then really needed to lie down again. But I figured instead of lying down in bed, I would just lie down on the floor and pet the rabbits. Mmm...fuzz therapy. Um, I mean it is my duty to make rabbits happy. Clearly that is my reason for existing. I guess it's a symbiotic relationship. Anyway, it was relaxing.
Sunday I wasn't too tired from my ride to the store, which was good. I just took it easy, not taking any naps, but spending a restful day writing. I had to return to work on Monday, and I felt ready, but I felt like I had to suck up as much rest and enjoyment as I could while it was possible.
Monday came, and back to work I went. I did get a little bit tired as the day went on, but not overwhelmingly so. I was still coughing, but it was just a "normal person cough" which was mild for me. I made it through the day. Tuesday I was more tired. I seemed to be dragging, like my feet were extra heavy. And I was coughing a bit more. I was really looking forward to going home and resting. Wednesday morning I felt tired, though not as tired as the day before. And then Wednesday afternoon, I had energy.
It was as if something in my body had shifted or a switch had finally flipped. I was full of energy. Instead of dragging, I was zooming around like my old self.
I felt ready to start riding to work again. I had an appointment after work the next day though on the other side of town. I wasn't sure I had enough energy to ride that far. So I took the bus one more day, but on Friday, I rode my bike. It felt so good! I finally felt like me again! I felt alive and healthy! And I felt like I had my identity back -- when I had ridden the bus, I had been grateful that Ann Arbor has good enough bus service for me to get everywhere I need to go and that UM pays for me to ride so it didn't cost me anything, but I kept seeing cyclists through the bus windows and watching them longingly. I kept thinking "I'm really one of you... I'm really a cyclist."
Commuting to work by bike is just what I'm supposed to do. It's who I am. It feels right. So it felt like I was back in my own skin to finally be doing it again. When I got to work, I still felt energetic, which pleased me greatly. I wondered how I would feel after riding home, if I would need to lie down or take a nap. To my delight though, I didn't. I was sweaty and thirsty when I got home, but that was it. In other words, I felt the same as I always used to feel when I got home.
I was happy to find I wasn't tired the next day. I rode to the grocery store, and on the way home I got up up to 27.3 mph, faster than I'd ever ridden before. Of course, later it occurred to me that I hadn't reset my cycle computer after I'd had my new tires but on, so I really hadn't ridden that fast, but still, I was flying and it felt good!
The next day I had to ride to the store again to pick up a prescription, and on the way home I rode even faster than the day before. I was having fun! So much so that the next day, Memorial Day, I decided to go for a ride even though I didn't have anywhere to go. Usually I ride just for transportation. That's not to say I don't enjoy it. I enjoy it very much. But riding for recreation usually just doesn't occur to me. Especially when I don't have enough time to do all the other things I like to do for recreation, and I manage to make time for cycling by just riding everywhere I go. But I realized I suddenly really wanted to go for a bike ride, and I didn't have to go to work, and I didn't have to get anything from the store, and I didn't have any meetings or appointments to go to...so I would have to actually pick somewhere to go. I suppose some people would just head off in some random direction and see where they end up, but I'd encounter lots of monster hills for sure if I did that. That would be bad.
After poring over the topo map for a while, I found a route that had a few monster hills (it seems it's impossible to go anywhere from this starting point without encountering some), but at least there weren't lots. I rode north along a hillier-than-I-expected road, full of potholes, and then along the Huron River's meandering banks on beautiful, shady and flat Huron River Drive, a favorite of many local cyclists.
I ended up riding over 12 miles, a little further than I expected, but I missed a turn. I ended up by some road I didn't remember from the map, and at that point the road had veered away from the river, so I turned around and came back. Then I passed a road with no street sign and figured that was probably where I was supposed to turn, but since I wasn't sure, I just continued along the river and came home along the same route I had gone out. Of course, that meant once I turned away from the river to head south, I had a monster hill to climb. I ended up in the very lowest gear and went very slow, but I managed it. I was breathing pretty hard, but I didn't end up coughing very much.
After riding that far, I truly felt healthy and strong. I'm back to riding my bike everywhere I go now -- to work, to appointments, for groceries -- and it's making me healthier and stronger with every ride.