No one can say she wasn't patient. But after eight years of asking the National Park Service to clear a densely overgrown part of the Mt. Vernon running trail -- where several women runners have been attacked -- Henley Gibble took matters (and a scythe) into her own hands last month.
Told that the Park Service was short of manpower and money, the Road Runners Club of America executive director sent out a flyer asking for volunteers. The Park Service, she said, would supply tools and lemonade if she could provide the man or woman power to clear an eighth of a mile area and also help raze a "room" left from an abandoned house. She also lined up a neighbor whose business, conveniently enough, is demolition.
"You can imagine my surprise," says Gibble, "when the day before we were going to clear the area, the Park Service came in with a tractor and mowed the area and knocked down the room."
She's not complaining, Gibble stresses, but she wonders if the right strings were finally pulled because a woman, Kitty Roberts, is now the National Park Service superintendent of George Washington Parkway.
"I'd been writing letters to a man for eight years. She came and looked at the area herself and the job was done."
With the most vision-blocking part of the running trail (near Morningside Drive, 4 1/2 miles south of Alexandria) now clear, Gibble and four women runners spent five hours hacking away more underbrush with their Park Service-provided scythes.
"We got another eighth of a mile cleared, so now the sight lines are good all along the trail."
Alexandrian Gibble, 46, who runs daily with her Rottweiler named Daisy, admits she is "thrilled" that after all these years that abandoned shelter is gone and the area is clear. "What a relief. Runners have to be protected; we get in such a reverie."
She hasn't forgotten how her own reverie was altered forever nine years ago when she was attacked near the hideaway. "I know he intended to drag me in there. I was lucky; I got away. And now we don't have to worry about that place for others."
Gibble also sends out regular alert bulletins to running clubs and stores. The dispatches, with "WARNING, Please Post" written in large print, announce any serious incidents reported by area runners and walkers. Included are time, date and place, descriptions of assailants and vehicles with license numbers, when possible.
It's not, obviously, your favorite way to spend a day. But if it -- surgery -- has to be done, there are ways of making the whole thing a bit more tolerable.
At least that's what I decided after some recent outpatient surgery. (Don't worry; you won't get all the details.)
The same procedure, done in a Washington hospital about five years ago, was memorably uncomfortable. I was determined this time, at the University of Wisconsin Hospital in Madison, to turn that experience around.
I opted for a local anesthetic both times. All I can remember hearing the first time was a lot of complaining from the people who were sewing me up. Evidently they weren't being paid for overtime -- which we were in -- and they weren't too happy about that. Without extra compensation for the job, I thought at one point they just might walk out and leave me there. I didn't think it was my place to slip them a fiver from under the sheet.
Anyway, this time I didn't want to hear about money problems. I have enough of my own. So at the advice of a friend who had gone through her surgery adrift on the voice of a relaxation therapist, I brought in my Sony Walkman and a couple of tapes, just in case things went on for awhile.
When the prep nurse started the I-don't-know-about-this pursing of lips, I stood my ground -- not easy in one of those gowns -- and insisted that this was the latest in patient rights. She finally called surgery and they said, sure, let her bring her tapes. Louis Armstrong and I rode that cart down long halls and on and off elevators and into the waiting area -- where people do just that, supine on their carts -- until that very busy operating room was free.
Anyway, when it was my turn under the bright lights I decided to go with pianist Steve Halpern's well-named "Cloud 9" tape. I jokingly told the blue-masked nurse at my head to, yes, pay attention to my vital signs, but more important, pay attention to my tape. If I raised my finger, it meant the tape had run out, and would she please switch it? Certainly, she said.
To make a long story a little shorter, the combination of Demerol in my veins and Halpern in my ears made that surgery almost, well, almost pleasant. Maybe it helped that the surgical team didn't complain once about being underpaid.
Anyway, I was on Cloud 10 by the time I arrived back in the room. And then I thought I was hallucinating. Kind of shimmering there on the table where they put things like spit trays and tissue was an elegant white box.
A little later when I opened it, I found about nine thick and chewy Brownies and a small engraved card: "The staff of the University of Wisconsin Hospital and Clinics wishes you a quick recovery."
I was flabbergasted. A get-well gift from a hospital? For my last outpatient surgery at another hospital, some crackers and tepid juice were shoved in my face. This time I was told that I could order whatever I wanted to eat -- granted, they're pretty safe there -- but a gift to boot?
I learned later that the present for outpatients is routine at UW Hospital. It could be a loaf of cranberry bread, or cookies or a basket of fruit. "Whatever the kitchen decides to send that day," said one nurse.
You can't wait to get well to eat it; it looks so good. And maybe that's the idea: a nod to the mind/body connection.
We rate movies and restaurants and motels. How about rating the ambience -- I don't think we're qualified to critique the cutting -- of the fast-growing outpatient surgery industry? How a hospital makes you feel? Our attitude, as we all know, can affect recovery.
I say four scalpels to the University of Wisconsin Hospital.
And another thing: Take, if the schedule allows, a long walk or run before surgery. It brings the fear factor way down, and besides, it makes your skin look terrific against all that white.
Last-minute vacation idea if you're in shape. There's still room on the plane for the Moscow Marathon or 10k on Aug. 11.
The $2,199 fee, based on double occupancy, includes the airline flight, six nights in Moscow, three meals a day, city tours and passport and visa expenses. Not included: the $45 entry fee for the marathon or the 10k run.
The event will be the first professional sporting event in the Soviet Union, with $150,000 in prize money, according to Marathon Tours owner and originator Thom Gilligan. Anyone can enter; qualifying is not necessary. The most unusual American entry so far: "one guy," says a spokeswoman, "who runs races backwards."
For further information on backward- or forward-running events around the world: Marathon Tours Inc., 108 Main St., Boston, Mass. 02129; (617) 242-7845.