Saturday, March 07, 2009

Watching from afar

I finally had a chance to go in to see a doctor in Juneau this afternoon. I wasn't sure who exactly to see in town, so I just browsed the Yellow Pages and became more perplexed with the choices before finally just calling a foot and ankle specialist (with the reasoning that, well, toes are part of the foot.) I was lucky to find an older doctor who had dealt with frostbite before (much less common in Juneau than you would expect in an Alaska city. People here are more likely to get trench foot.) Anyway, he informed me that "at worst," I'd lose the tip of my big toe. Most likely, I'll just lose my toe nails. The worst-case scenario isn't ideal because it will involve an outpatient surgery and prolong my recovery, but all in all, the prognosis is looking good.

Every single employee in the clinic crowded around my chair to take a look at my foot - apparently frostbite is a major curiosity. One woman brought out the clinic's brand-new camera and asked me to rotate my foot in various positions, giddily snapping shots like a fashion photographer. "We need to track your progress," she told me. But I somehow suspect a picture of my disgusting, blistered toes may turn up on some hidden wall of fame in the supply room. (They look way worse now than they did in the emergency room picture I posted on this blog.)

As I explained to my audience how I happened to come down with a case of frostbite, a younger doctor interrupted to say, "Wait ... do you have a blog?" When I told her I did, she said "Oh, I think I've seen it! I moved up from California six months ago and everyone told me I wouldn't be able to ride a bike up here. I Googled "Juneau bike trails" and landed on the blog of this woman who does all this crazy biking in the snow. That's you?" I nodded. "I showed it to everyone on my floor," she continued, "so now most everyone at (this hospital in California whose name I've forgotten) has read your blog!"

They carved off the latest blisters, wrapped up my foot and sent me on my way with a new bag of antibiotic goop and bandages. It will probably be at least another week before I'm able to put any weight on my foot, and another chunk of time before I'm really walking. Having frostbite is not unlike sustaining a serious burn. The pain, treatment and recovery are very similar. Fire and ice.

In the meantime, I am continuing to watch the progress of the racers still in the Iditarod Trail Invitational, and am in awe of their progress in continually tough conditions. The leader, much to my amazement, is still a cyclist ... Jeff Oatley of Fairbanks. He's on the homestretch to McGrath, looking like he may finish in just under six days. The lead woman, Tracy Petervary, who is traveling with her husband, Jay, is not far behind, which also is incredible. Even more exciting are the two skiers hot on their trail, including Ed Plumb, who is one of the nicest guys I've ever had the pleasure of letting examine a set of frozen toes. If the trail is blown in by high winds as has been reported, will the skiers catch Jeff? Stay tuned!

Tracking this race on the Internet has been cathartic, and helped me stay upbeat over the course of this week, where disappointment and regret still loom. Even though there is nothing I can do to change what has happened, it's also been theraputic for me to imagine scenerios in which I could have saved my race and stayed on the trail, where I still wish I was and feel I belong. In my gear on my bike, I had one pair of extra Smart Wool socks, several foot warmers and a pair of down booties. I've imagined this scenerio where I stopped right on the lake, removed my boot and wet socks, placed both dry socks and some warmers on my right foot, pulled the bootie on and wrapped the whole thing in duct tape to keep the down bootie from shredding. I'm not sure this would have been enough to get me through seven hours of pushing and pedaling in what was likely a -40 degree windchill, but it surely would have been better than a wet boot, even with all the insulation I believed was helping me. Live and learn.

It's interesting because I still really believe that the tough conditions this year would have favored a person like myself, who is not fast but who has been working to master the art of the slog, and who really believed she was mentally prepared to handle it. Like I said, nothing I can do about it now. And it's not like I really even know what's going on out there. But, for therapy's sake, I'm going to let myself believe that I could have caught up to the main pack bottle-necked at the pass and kept pushing on toward McGrath.