Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Incremental Improvement

A long time ago I posted a story about my old job's annual employee retreat wherein an old Vietnam POW (whose name I forget so I call him The General) gave the keynote "speech" which essentially involved him telling us to cowboy the hell up, quit our bitchin' and ask ourselves when we feel down, "Am I getting my fingernails pulled out? No. Am I being left out in the blistering sun for 18 hours a day till I have third degree burns? No. Am I eating cockroaches to save myself from starvation? No. Then STFU and git 'er done!" In review I thought it was an excellent attitude adjuster; it was simply ill-timed, since we came to the speech from a Friday night happy hour where we'd been posing for photos and drankin' like it were goin' outta style. So to walk into the auditorium all festive and buzzing only to be met with, "You think YOU had a bad day, punk?!!," was a little mentally jarring.

The one thing The General did touch on was the practice (which I also mentioned in that post) of Incremental Improvement. It is the practice of doing something better every day, doing a little more every day, doing something more every day. For him in POW camp, that thing was pushups. All of his men had to do pushups every day to keep their morale and physical condition up, even when they were starving. He detailed how he determined that every day he would do just one more pushup than he'd done the day before. Some days it didn't work out, but he tried every day to do Just One More. He says this practice saved his sanity throughout his many years at the Hanoi Hilton.

Well, friends. I have not had my fingernails pulled out with pliers. I have not eaten cockroaches three times a day. I have not served my country in any sense, and certainly not with the honor and commitment of the men in the Hanoi Hilton. Let's get that out of the way. But I have had a pretty sh*tty couple of months wherein my body has become something not instantly recognizable to me, a woman who took great pride in her biceps and shoulders and her ability to do 30 pushups (and not the girly kind on the knees) in one minute. I'm now thin (and not the kind I always wanted to be). I have lackluster muscle tone. Where I'm not thin, I'm random flab. And The General was right: when your body atrophies so do your morale and your spirit.

So last week I began the SSHaggis Incremental Improvement Initiative. I did one slow, poorly-formed push up. My arms ached afterward. From ONE pushup, y'all! Bambina laughed at the sight of me doing it: "What you doing, Mama?! That so silly!" I said, "It's a pushup!" And she instantly dropped and did 4 really good ones, just to show me how they're done. I panted, "Mama will do four next week."

Y'all. Today I am on 6. Tomorrow I'll do 7. What does any of this have to do with my bone marrow, you ask? Not a damn thing. But it makes me feel better that I'm taking a little bit of myself back from all the post-chemo/massive pill-taking fallout. So much of this process is out of one's control. My eyebrows are growing in curly (gross!), my skin is itchy and weird all the time, my ability to be in the sun is literally zero at the moment, I can't see my friends till next summer, my risk of GVHD starts at Day 100 and ends in about three years, I can't do any real cardio for a while, and stuff in general just doesn't feel like it used to. All I can do to feel like I'm still steering some small section of the Good Ship Haggis is to take care of the parts of me that will comply with my authority. Namely, my muscles and my mind.

So I'm doing it. And that sound you hear is the Bambina blowing by me in the pushup contest... :)

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I remember the General's speech well - thanks for the, ah, memory :-)