Kneed to run
Mortality isn’t for wimps...
Posted Tuesday, 10 August, 2004
Here I sit, X-rays in hand, waiting for the orthopedic surgeon to see me. I haven’t run in two weeks, (actually 11 days, 2 hours and 33 minutes, but who’s counting?)
It’s frustrating. Sitting and waiting. I can feel the 5-10 extra pounds growing around my waist from the inactivity. I don’t know about you, but for me not running, not doing something you love, brings on a diabolic combination of indolence, boredom and a creeping depression.
Here I am, again, at the doctor’s office.
After a few decades of running, I’ve got the doctor thing figured out. I can cut right to the chase and skip the first five steps of the running injury ‘doctor dance’. I was not always as savvy, and wasted many good months of running time patiently being a patient.
The way it used to work for me was as follows:
Step 1: Call your primary care physician or general practitioner and say, for example, ‘my heel hurts’.
Step 2: Visit to the GP’s office for a nice read of some old National Geographics and a check up where you were told a) stop running if it hurts and b) take these pain killers.
Which, of course, is nearly useless, (except for the National Geographic, which is a great magazine), because, a) you’re not going to stop running and b) you’re probably already an ibuprofen addict. Therefore you progress to:
Step 3: It still hurts so you get referred to a ‘specialist’, for example; a podiatrist for your heel problem.
Step 4: You go see the ‘specialist’ who is used to treating the over-70 crowd, (read a few more pages of that great article on the discovery of Ramses II’s tomb), and although the specialist is more specific in telling you what’s wrong, (i.e. “you’ve got an inflamed Achilles’ tendon”), you’re inevitably banished to more painkillers and a dozen sessions with the physical therapist.
Now you’re on to…
Step 5: a few visits with the therapist, which can be quite helpful, depending on if you hook up with a good therapist. At best they teach you all about your stretching shortcomings and you learn to heal yourself. At worst, it’s 45 minutes with some rubber bands and therapy balls, like something on a Sunday Morning infomercial.
The therapy may help, but by this time it’s been a couple of months so your heel might have gotten better on its own… or you’re on to the glorious crescendo of:
Step 6: You check with your running pals and find a good sports doctor.
I skip right to step 6 now.
Don’t waste your time and money on the preliminary doctor dance. (Don’t worry; you can use the money you save to subscribe to National Geographic) Find someone who treats athletes. They are the only people who are going to empathize with you and will have seen your injury before. Best of all, when they tell you to stop running, you can be sure it’s necessary and not a placebo whim.
Go to the doctors who work on the pros. It makes a huge difference in the quality of care and your piece of mind.
So I sit. I can feel the conditioning, so hard fought for, daily seeping away. I know from experience it leaves twice as fast as it comes back. It’s like watching a train you have missed recede into the distance and you’re left standing on the platform holding a heavy bag, not able to do anything about it.
And there is fear. What are the scenarios to be played out here today? The doctor could say, “It’s just a bruise; take it easy for a couple weeks.” Then we do some stretching, some wiggly strange exercises, and the miles build back slowly on soft surfaces. This scenario, let’s call it ‘Scenario A’, isn’t a bad one. I know how it works and at least it gives me something to do.
‘Scenario B’ might involve a cast of some sort and some therapy that would knock me out for a couple months. Maybe even some minor surgery (yikes!); still, it contains an end point. It’s ok.
The fear comes from ‘Scenario C’. In this scenario the doctor looks very unhappy and says something like “fractured patella”. This would be followed by some comforting advice to find another sport that doesn’t involve use of the right leg or “risk dire consequences”. That’s the dark scenario. That’s the morbid fiend that threatens to steal my soul.
Mortality stinks. A couple months ago I was in ‘marathon shape’. Now I’m pin wheeling into a couch potato with overwhelming entropy.
In the end these results were indeterminate. The doctor said things like, “no sign of bone damage” and “no arthritis” and “good joint separation”.
Most importantly, he answered the only real question that I had; the $64,000 question; “Can I run?” He said “Sure, just take it easy”.
There is still something messed up in the knee. He sent me for an MRI ‘to see if there is any soft tissue damage’. It hurts to run.
The MRI machine whirs and clicks away secret pictures of my soft tissue as I shiver in my back-less Johnny on the slab. A nice nurse/technician apologizes and promises ‘almost over’. I don’t mind, I don’t often get to take naps during working hours.
I pick up the slides after they are developed. The doctor is on vacation and it will be another week before he will have a time to see me and look at them.
Curious, my wife and I pull the slides out and hold them up to a light. It all looks like a smudge to me. I can’t tell what it is I’m looking at. (“Look dear, there’s its little head…”)
One interesting thing is that certain images are circled with a red pen and little red exclamation points are next to the circles. That can’t be good news, can it? I’m sure the technician wasn’t just highlighting my excellent bone structure. We’ll have to wait and see what the Doc says.
I tried Chi-running to see if I could exercise mind over matter, but as I was attempting to keep my head in the proper position, I stepped in a gopher hole. I rolled my ankle, tried instinctively to catch myself with the bad knee and ended up laying on my back with my entire Chi running into the ground.
Once again I’m convinced that God has a strange sense of humor.
If you’re a mid-packer with any history, you’ve been to the doctor with an injury, or will eventually. Take my advice, don’t waste your time, and find a good one.
As runners we tend to be our own doctors. No other person will ever know more about your body than you do, but don’t be afraid to ask for help. Eventually you will get back on your feet. We all get slower and more brittle with age. Mortality stinks, but it’s better to run from it than to sit and wait.