I am a Runner:
The Memoirs of a Sepsis Survivor
by Maria Papalia-Meier & Pamela Ackerson
Genre: Inspirational Memoir
From running half marathons to being the sickest person in the hospital, Maria Papalia-Meier fought the river of death, and won.
Life changing moments, amputations, and negative thoughts refused to keep her down. With her rock-hard stubbornness, positive self-empowerment and persistence, she grabbed hope and unflinching faith to face the life handed to her. Her story offers an honest, tough-love approach to defeating pre-determined opinions, and self-imposed limitations. She refused to give up or give in.
Maria Papalia-Meier is a runner. She has awoken stronger…better.
This is her story.
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I went from being the sickest person to running a half-marathon. I turned my back on the Angel of Death. It wasn’t my time. I have fought the reaper, and fought the river of death. I accepted the compelling and intimidating challenges that kept pummeling me in the face.
I merely punched back.
People are the most complex living beings in our world. I was one of those people who always exaggerated how bad I felt.
Never again. I know and understand too much. Like an inexperienced boxer in the ring, I was struck down and knocked out. But I wouldn’t let the beast keep me down. I refused to succumb to my own wallowing tears of woe.
I was no longer the same person I was before my surgeries. I wasn’t about to obsess over the negative. Reality was a kicker.
I was being realistic.
Toes don’t grow back.
I’ve accepted what has happened. I didn’t want to, but honestly, was there another option? I came to terms with what I had to do, and had every intention of controlling what I could in my life.
Here are the brutal facts:
I was in excruciating pain, with what seemed like never-ending twists of random setbacks. The beast tried to break me, make me bend in places I never thought I’d go. I refused to die. I wouldn’t give in to the weakness of surrender.
I was repulsed by my feebleness.
I shook my fist at my mortality.
I was angry.
I was terrified.
I was happy to be alive.
I was loved.
Because of all of those and many more, because of who I was, it only made me stronger. It fastened and deepened the conviction of survival in my heart.
I almost lost my life. It would’ve been a pretty hefty price to pay for a neglected strep infection.
Who knew such a minor thing could become so fatal?
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The recovery process takes time.
One of the first downs I had was when I got to practice running after several months of PT. I was happy when my stride hadn’t changed. I was told it would. When I tried little by little to do it on my own, my feet would hurt. The nerve pain was associated with the weather. When it was hot and humid, my feet swelled.
My left ankle would hurt and my foot even with the Orthodics would continue to roll. My 1/2 toe in the left foot would dig into the orthodic. I made multiple trips back to the doctor and PT. The gentleman at Rogerson Orthodics was able to look at my sneaker and my Orthodics and came up with a plan to help.
Even with all this, it wasn’t working. Surgery was on the table, but at the time, I didn’t or wasn’t ready. I was going to be laid up for six weeks. I signed up for the lottery to run the Peachtree in Atlanta. I decided to do it because I thought it’d help keep me motivated.
I think, at one point, I decided I wanted to pull out. But I didn’t. I took it slow. My friend who did it with me was amazing.
When I returned from Georgia, I had an appointment with my surgeon. I was supposed to run as much as I could and have my ankle hurt. That way when I had my cortisone shot we would know if it worked. The day before my appointment, I set out for a run.
Confident and excited, it ended with me falling and cutting my hand and my knees. I walked in the door and cried, “That is it. I am done. I can’t do this anymore.”
My husband Myatt let me cry and vent. Once he believed I’d cried it out, he brought me back to reality and focus.
He is good like that. When I can’t do it on my own, he has a way of helping me through it.
When I received my shot the next day, I left out the part that I fell. Some things are better kept a secret especially when your goal is running and saying you fell while doing it wouldn’t be good.
I had the shot and it helped the pain. It didn’t last long. Later in the day, I was in tears. We were at my son’s baseball game and the tears began to fall. Thank goodness for icepacks. I think I used them all. At dinner after the game, I kept ice on my ankle to keep it as numb ad possible
I remember telling Myatt if the shot is the only way I can run I was done! That kind of pain was too much.
There are other avenues I tried, and they ended up at dead ends. One was a prosthetic and another was a group that helped individuals like me get back to activity. This also failed. They didn’t have anyone close to my area.
Deciding to have the last surgery was hard. It meant being in active for six weeks. Even though the doctor felt it would work, there was no guarantee. I had the surgery. I had to stop my workouts until the pin was removed.
After healing my last opportunity was the running clinic at Spaulding Cambridge. It took months to get in for an appointment. I knew the evaluation wasn’t going to be easy. Since I’d had my surgery a few months prior, I needed to get my doctor’s approval. I managed to convince the doctor the nerve pain was okay.
If they didn’t let me in to do the evaluation, I didn’t know what I would do. I was nervous and anxious. I talked with my trainer about what I needed and he helped make sure I was prepared.
When the day finally came, I felt so much pressure. I was so stressed. Myatt took me. Driving to and in Boston scares me. I wasn’t sure how my feet would feel after the intense evaluation.
I was accepted! I was told there was no room on the schedule for a while which was kind of a bummer. I was anxious to start. Things ended up working for me and I started sooner than expected.
The next part was tough. I needed to be in Boston for PT 2-3 days a week. I knew Myatt wasn’t going to be able to drive me. It was time once again to do what I needed. I was scared. I’m not a native of Massachusetts, and their drivers are very aggressive.
No offense to anyone. But, if you don’t know where you’re going, the anxiety of having people speed up and cut you off is intimidating. I surprised even myself. I did it.
Little to my dismay, I didn’t start running day one. A few minutes on the treadmill didn’t count. I wasn’t allowed to run on my own until I was given the green light.
There were lots of exercises I had to do, mainly to help with balance and core. I made sure to let my trainer and PT know what exercises I was doing with each one. This helped to build my strength.
Some days I would go into PT and do great. There were days when I didn’t understand what she wanted. One day, she wanted me to grip the floor with my foot. I tried and repeatedly worked at it. It took months before I finally did it.
It clicked. This was very important. I needed to have my feet grip the floor to help me keep my ankle straight.
There are phases and there are experts. The Orthodics were necessary when I first lost my toes. I saw one of the top foot and ankle doctors. The doctor who oversees the running clinic had a different school of thought and did away with my Orthodics and I bought regular sneakers in my new size.
Part of my stubbornness to succeed was because I told myself what I went through sucked. It changed my life. I needed to complete one goal and see it through to the end; not just for me but for my cheerleaders. I wanted them to continue to believe in me and my ability to move forward… to come back from being dead to being me.
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