~ Andrew Asch
I was confident that the worst part was over. So confident that I spread the news on Facebook.
“Sprung! I was in the hospital - it was a saga. Apologies if I missed birthdays, important meetings or just good times. I'll be back in the thick of things later this summer.”
I was fooling myself. I didn’t know how bad it was.
In April 2016, I checked into a hospital for a round of chemotherapy to knock out hairy cell leukemia. The most optimistic prognosis was that I could leave right after the treatment, maybe a week or so. Then, I would emerge with a new lease on life.
Maybe I was choosing to ignore the worst. Chemo kills all of your body’s defenses. You’re susceptible to any nasty bug out there. I developed something similar to TB; Mycobacterium kansasii. The only good thing about it was that wasn’t contagious. The doctors wouldn’t let me out of the hospital until June 1.
By the time I got the green light to leave the hospital, I could barely move. My muscles had atrophied. It made me feel like a frail, 90-year-old man. The way I engaged the world changed. What was previously a 10 minute walk could take an hour. It was impossible to make it through a crosswalk in 12 seconds. I had to walk with a cane. It got so bad that sometimes I would lose balance on a sidewalk. I was fragile.
Seem grim? It was better than the hospital.
I didn’t whine too much. I took things as they came. I took some basic physical therapy. It didn’t do much good. The muscles in my ankles were so frozen, I was walking like Frankenstein. I needed help. Willard Ford of Strong Sports Gym had been checking up on me. Here’s Willard’s take on the situation.
WILLARD FORD: When Andrew first came to the gym in 2012 it was under duress. Not sure if it was doctor's orders or Andrew just reached that age when people think they should exercise. From the first moment in the gym and for a couple of years Andrew couldn’t give a shit. He plodded along and barely took notice of the details, doing the bare minimum and checking off the exercise box once or twice a week. But I liked him, so didn't take it personally and pretty much left him alone. And then he vanished.
I reached out via Facebook only to learn he was sick and in the hospital. I offered to come say hello, bring him some beers, but he assured me it was no big deal and that he'd see me in the gym when he got out in a couple of days. Another few weeks passed and when I next reached out again, Andrew was in dire straits. Again, I said I'd come see him but he didn't want any visitors.
So I waited for him to come back. And waited. And waited. I finally convinced him to come to some one-on-one training to get him moving again. Little by little he improved. First mobility. Then stability and basic strength work. Then some basic conditioning.
Slowly but surely, Andrew returned to his former self. Something had changed in Andrew. He cared about every step. Every piece of instruction. He was stronger, faster, better. Today Andrew comes at least twice a week and is in perfect step with all the other students. He does conditioning work, stability work, strength work. Whatever I ask of him and he smiles and jokes. I win.
ANDREW ASCH : I win too. I remember the slow steps taken to make me move. It wasn’t hard. All the same, I got fatigued easily. I couldn’t do too much of it.
Months after the hospitalization, I still looked frail. My weight had dropped around 40 pounds. Instead of wearing size 32 waist pants, I was wearing a size 29. It probably was the only time in my life I had a flat stomach. A couple months into the SSG physical therapy, I was getting stronger.
By the time I was able to do light strength exercises; pulling 3-pound weights above my chest, it felt like a big deal. It was getting easier to move around.
The bi-weekly classes went on for a few months. Gradually, my frozen muscles seemed to thaw. I didn’t need a cane to walk.
Willard suggested that I try out a conditioning class. I felt ready for it. The fact that I was able to get through the class without coughing up a storm or collapsing on a mat felt like a milestone.
That was more than a year ago. The illness doesn't come up in conversation much. It’s great to be alive. My perspective doesn’t go deeper than that. And Willard is right. Strangely enough, I’m a better athlete.
Maybe I have better focus. Maybe the exercises have become muscle memory. I think that after going to scores of conditioning classes, I finally learned how to do the exercises. I don’t spend much time thinking about it really. I don’t want to. The only thing that matters is that the saga of the illness was over. I was back.