Little Steps (or why recovery is just like an expedition)

Last week was “ground zero day”. The first time my right foot touched the ground since my accident back in December. And while it was just a tiny small step (I still need crutches to take most of my weight) it was huge leap for my recovery – despite the long way still ahead. Just like climbing Everest – my goal of getting fully recovered is a series of small steps. One after the other. Couch-bound for most of my time, I have tried to distill the biggest take aways so far:

  • Surrounded yourself with a great team: No expedition is done completely solo – a reliable team is the most important foundation. Even free solo climber Alex Honnold needed a team to turn his pioneering El Capitan climb into an “Oscar”-winning reality. Being couch-bound, not being able to transport even a tea cup for two metres I had to make the important realisation that I will not make it back to the summits of this world all by myself. Thankfully i am surrounded by amazing people.
    I cannot be grateful enough to my wonderful wife Esther, who has been helping and supporting me day in/day out, my daughter who has been a sunshine (almost) every day, my parents who have been helping me with tips and my friends who made sure that even with a handicapping injury one can have (some) social life.
  • An Optimistic Mindset: Stuck in a challenging situation it’s sometimes hard to see the end of the tunnel. Sitting in a tent, freezing in a snow storm, eating miserable food it can feel so far away from home – the obvious question comes up: What am I doing here?
    Taking one super painful tiny little step after the other (and being totally exhausted after just ten) the sheer idea of ever running the trails of Hong Kong seemed to be (and still is) a moonshot. But I forced myself to stay optimistic.
    “The glass is half full”! I decided early on that being negative, depressed, sad etc about what happened will not make me recover faster. This is my situation, I have to accept it. There are tons of people that have it worse, I have great loving people around me, I will get through with this and I will be stronger afterwards!
  • Constant Learning: The few days I have been feeling vulnerable or sad about my situation I have used as  opportunity to look inward. Why? What is happening? I have written countless pages to get to the bottom on how I ended up in this position- why did the accident happen? Where was the flaw in my decision making progress? It’s too easy to look at things in hindsight – everything looks so clear and obvious (Why was I climbing there in the first place? Why did I not turn around)? But once I started to go deeper I realised that I had similar events in the past. They were merely close calls, so I just didn’t register them. Hence the conclusion to alter my decision making process.
    Can I say that it would never happen again: No – but do I feel better prepared, to not repeat the same decisions again. Absolutely!
  • The Discipline to do the hard thing: As I was lying in my bed, my foot swollen like an elephant a picture came to my mind, that had fascinated me as a boy. It was the one of Austria’s tennis hero Thomas Muster crying out in pain, tied to a wooden rack, training on the court while recovering from a knee injury. Its a cry of grit, a cry of doing the hard part necessary to get back. Right after my accident taped that picture to my bedside table. Next to it a calendar – ticking off one day after the other.
    At first it was the discipline to keep my foot totally free of any weight. What a difficult exercise, especially when one is used to move around daily. Once the healing process set it, it was the daily goal of exercising, of keeping the body moving. It’s too early to tell, but I am convinced that the pain and suffering will pay off. And on the days when I felt lazy (and there were quite a few) I look  at that photo – that cry of pain. Yes I can do that too!!
  • Challenge as an opportunity: “Paul, you must be so bored?” I have heard it countless times since my accident. To be honest, I have been a lot of things, but definitely not bored. On big expedition boredom in base camp can wear you down. I have seen top climbers being restless, barely being able to hold their energy while waiting to get acclimatised. Yes, I have watched my fair share of Netflix series and read quite a few books, while being stuck on the couch for my foot to heal. But I soon grasped that this new situation is also a unique opportunity to catch up on tasks that have been on my To Do List for years:
    • Sorting out my computer, old files and backups
    • Sifting through the photos of the last ten years and cataloguing them
    • Switching from Iphone to Android (oh man, I wanted to that for soo long)
    • There have been so many tasks that I didn’t even get close to “writing a book” (but thanks for suggestion dear friends!.)

Most importantly having more time to spend with my wonderful daughter, who has definitely learned more German words and the last few weeks than ever before.

So while I have been shedding tons of tears during my physio (no joke – I have more pain now then after my fall) and I have finally reached the next level of mobility I know I will do it. I will come back!

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