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Taking It In Stride

September 11, 2015
Taking It In Stride

A recent journey to Salt Lake City shined a beacon on the power of mindfulness. I can’t imagine that most people would consider a whirlwind, nine hundred-mile road trip filled with doctor appointments and surgical consults a summer highlight and romantic getaway. But for me and my radiant bride of less than a year, this was the case.

The more I’ve lived, suffered and endured, the more I have learned to appreciate the art and mastery of where we put our focus. It was natural for our ancestors’ primal Neanderthal brains to recognize and focus on the rustling brush and potential encounter with a saber tooth tiger. This served them well. In twenty fifteen, we, however, aren’t likely to be recycled back into the food chain. This doesn’t mean we aren’t fraught with opportunities to feel anxiety or stress. But when we let our twenty first century brains obsess on that which could happen we cascade into a cyclone of worry, pain and fear.

When the brain train of obsessing over that which is lacking, less than ideal or down right shitty leaves the station, we become passengers on a dangerous locomotive that often leads to disconnect and discontent. It wasn’t until the drive home from Salt Lake City that I was fully able to grasp how pivotal my three my recent three day, two-night voyages from Bozeman, Montana, to Salt Lake City, Utah, had been.

A recent blood clot diagnosis in my calf, caused (in my doctors’ opinion) by dry needling treatments I had been receiving, led to a series of three ultrasounds over the course of a two-week period. The second of these scand revealed an abnormality that Bozeman’s finest diagnosed as an AV fistula that would most likely require a surgical procedure to fix. A third test confirmed the diagnosis. A trip to Salt Lake City and the University of Utah was in order.

In the past, the likelihood of catheters and angiograms to explore the abnormality in my leg would have caused me much anxiety, but throughout the days and weeks leading up to my Salt Lake City medical I remained unfazed. Fit, full of vitality and in my mid-thirties, it would have been easy to lament and focus on how messed up it was that my twenty-something wife and I were taking three days off work, leaving the playground that is Montana (in August no less), and journeying south for two days of intense doctor appointments and surgical consults.

Instead, amidst the angst and unknown, we managed to take it all in stride. My mission was to make this getaway romantic, meaningful and memorable. The only way to do so would be to remain intentional and in each moment. So I booked us two nights in Park City at the hotel where I took her to plan our wedding and where we spent the last night of our honeymoon-slash-book tour, rented us a pimped out Toyota Avalon and looked forward to enjoying meals supporting our paleo diet at Whole Foods.

After a banner first day, we awoke early to crisp air and blue skies in Park City and drove down the hill to the University of Utah Cardiovascular Center for a surgical consult. Pulling up to the state-of-art building (which looked like we’d jumped into twenty fifty), I got into airplane mode, choosing to believe I was in good hands and readying myself for the ride.

Based on the report from Bozeman, my doctor laid it all on the table for me, concluding that she’d develop a game-plan following a fourth ultrasound, this time with her team. Before leaving the office she asked me what my schedule the next day looked like and I knew a procedure was a real possibility. Through it all, I smiled, took deep breaths and took the possibility of surgery in stride.

At one point the doctor’s physician assistant–who had earlier said how unfair it was that I was dealing with so much at such a young age–commented on my attitude and positive outlook. My response: “It’s pretty simple. I can focus on that which is right or that which is wrong. I’m just staying in the moment and focusing on the good. “

The thing is, we can wither and crumble in the face of adversity or we can remain resilient. Resiliency isn’t something you can pick up by reading about it or listening to podcasts. You build up resiliency in one way and one way only. By going through hard shit.

I’ve become a pretty resilient dude.

They’d told me my ultrasound would take twenty minutes to look at the AV fistula. Ninety minutes later I remained on the table. Though it wasn’t re-checked, I’m guessing that my 100/58 blood pressure and 56 bpm resting heart rate shot up after hearing the skilled ultrasound technician say, “This is much more complex than a fistula. I’ve never seen anything like this.” But instead of getting on that negativity bias train and focusing on the “oh fuck,” “what if” part of my brain, I brought my attention back to the present and how much I was looking forward to locking eyes with my beautiful bride once the test was over.

Though I knew the likelihood of going under the following day increased with each minute I was in the ultrasound room, I trained my attention on the rest of the day, in between appointments and work, that I would share with my wife.

Whether my positive outlook and attitude made a difference in the outcome or not, I can’t say, but the doctor decided we would hold off on any additional tests or procedures, re-scan my leg in six months and go from there. It all sounded good to me.

My appointments with the blood specialist and hip surgeon began and ended with big hugs, laughs and smiles. We had developed strong bonds and while things were far from where I want them to be, they are what they are, and we focused the appointments on the next steps and what we can control.

In between appointments, my wife and I talked story, dreamed about our future, ate good food, walked hand-in-hand and shared lots of laughs. It was a beautiful three days. Romantic, meaningful and memorable.

This trip represented a transformation, catharsis, and metamorphosis for me. Before my focus would have been on the past, the future, and how shitty the cards I had been dealt were.

The transformation didn’t occur by osmosis. It happened with lots of hard work, heavy lifting, self-awareness, a willingness to explore my psyche and a commitment to being intentional, focusing on that which is good.

And when looking at the radiant smile, the tears of relief and love overflowing from my wife, knowing we were returning home to my little shadow and exceptional little girl, it’s easy to see why I was able to take it all in stride. One day at a time. Head up, eyes forward, feet moving. We’ve got this…

~Michael W. Leach

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