Earlier this month, I had a steroid shot in my lower back. The idea was to try and quiet the two bulging discs that my doctor believed not only have been giving me back pain on the lower left side, but have been causing all sorts of mischief in my left side. If one section of muscles isn’t angry, it’s something else – the IT band, the hip flexor and groin area, the lower back. Sometimes everyone’s irritated, and sometimes they’re quiet. It seems like it’s been one thing after another – an angry cacophony of muscles that won’t seem to shut up, and have stopped me in my tracks. Apparently, they’re fed up with me, and I’m fed up with them for not cooperating. I’m also getting fed up with the pool – if I spend much more time swimming, I swear I’ll grow gills! I don’t think that will be a good look for me.
Feeling old and achy is getting old, and the desire to be out on the trails as marathon training season starts up – and not feeling ready to do so – is frustrating. The seemingly unending rounds of physical therapy – first from my sports medicine doctor, then with the spinal specialist to whom I was referred – and the co-pays that go with them are mentally wearing, and just add more to my seemingly non-stop schedule. I just finished my second round of PT to go with the shot, and while there has been some improvement, I thought I would be feeling better than this. Monday, I’m consulting with a surgeon about possible surgery. I’m anxious to get things over with, but anxious about what he’ll say. Is surgery the answer, or is he just going to send me back for more shots and physical therapy?
During my last round of therapy, I started thinking about my journey to try and heal, to find the key that will literally unlock the angry muscles, is like a marathon in itself. It’s also like a game. I started thinking of Shoots and Ladders – the ladders where you make progress by finding the right doctor and the right treatment, and the shoots, where a relapse of pain or your insurance company saying you’ve reached your limit on the number of therapy visits they’ll pay for – sends you sliding back down. Some days, it’s a step forward, the next day, you feel like you’ve gone two steps back. Or you roll the dice and land on a space where you find out you’re getting a refund, or learn that you have a stress fracture and have to skip a turn. I’m wondering how many avenues I’m going to have to cross, on how many doors I’ll have to knock, to get an answer. And maybe there’s no one solution, and maybe the real solution is time, but the waiting game definitely does not appeal to me. Even with the 20 milers I’ve run, you always know the end is in sight when you’ve crossed back into Terry Hershey Park and are running the winding tree-lined trail back to the start. Who knows when this unwanted journey I’m on now will end.
For a long time, running was a way for me not only to exercise, but to blow off steam and center myself. I find myself now trying to de-stress and re-center myself in other ways. But nothing beats the running. At times, I think I used to take it for granted, but now, I would give anything for a bad running day – a humid day where I run low on fluids or have to make an emergency pit stop in the woods. I would embrace it all, even the blisters.
My mother – who still sends me home with coupons, newspaper clippings and articles with advice, and leftovers – gave me for my last birthday a copy of Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff. My mother, knowing that I’m being tested in a lot of areas of my life right now, thought it would help. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a great book with some great gems of wisdom. But what do you do if there’s just so much small stuff? And what if the best way to deal with the small stuff is by working up a good sweat? I’m still working on that answer as the waiting game goes on.