|Add another foot or so on top and you get the idea|
This is a post in my ongoing series where I am looking back at over my 40 years as a runner. I am not an elite runner – far from it. I am just a pretty average one ranging from slow runner to road racer. This series is a look back on those years and the difference running has made in my life.
In this series you will find my recollections and honest reflections about a part of my life that others only glimpse, as that “crazy guy” they see out running in all kinds of weather, after dark, during the day or even during N’oreasters.
January 2008 through May 2011 were the toughest years of my running life, I had many injuries that significantly reduced the number of days that I ran during these years. A quick run-down of the major ones:
- 1/4/08 – Fell off Garage Roof
- 2/4/09 – Massive Migrane initially thought to be a stroke or Bell’s Pallsy
- 2/10/10 – Injured Right Knee playing racquetball
- 5/17/11 – Arthroscopic Surgery Right Knee
Falling off Garage Roof
My running that year had gone really well pretty much all of 2007. We had had an unusual amount of snow in Dec/Jan that year and I knew that I had to shovel the snow off the garage roof. It was over 4 feet deep in some places on the roof with an ice layer about a foot from the roof that had to be busted up with a crowbar before I could shovel through it in some places.
I had spent all afternoon shoveling (so I was pretty damn tired) and the roof was all done but a small patch by the ladder, which I could get after I got down with the roof rake.
I stepped on the ladder and started to put all of my weight on the rung and the ladder started to move. I tried to hold on until it hit the other snow bank, but as it moved, it became unbalanced and flipped over. When it started to move, somehow my right leg slipped down between the rungs and then I was flung upside down like a rag doll and dislocated my right shoulder (I know because I have done that several times before) while I was trying to hang on while being flipped.
I am hanging there upside down with a dislocated shoulder 10 feet above the snow and ice that I had shoveled off the roof, when the ladder hit the other snow bank – I couldn’t hold on any longer. The last thing I remember as I was falling is “Oh Shit – This is gonna hurt”.
Yes time does slow down in those kind of situations and while the wild ride only took a few seconds, it seemed like an eternity.
Gravity worked perfectly and I landed – dropping that 10 feet – hurt…bad. So I am laying there – afraid to move to see what is broke or doesn’t work, while trying to breath and slow down my heart rate. I finally got up the courage to move – the shoulder hurt, but had gone back in place, my legs and hands wriggled and when moved they were all under my control (relief), my lower back felt like someone had a knife in it, the right knee hurt but not too bad and my right achilles area felt like someone had hit it with a sledge hammer. I lifted my head up to look around and there were no big red splotches in the white snow. You don’t know the relief I felt at that moment.
What did I do next? I got out the snow blower and cleaned up the mess that was one the ground for the very next painful 1/2 hour, otherwise the vehicles would have been stuck in the garage. Stubborn and stupid I am, but it needed to be done, if I waited I wouldn’t have been able to do it.
If TheWife had known that I had fallen off the roof, she would have had a hissy fit about me doing the cleanup. I won’t say that the clean up was perfect by any stretch of the imagination, but it was passible. I went in the house and told her what had happened and she was all worried, but I told her no big deal and I just needed to rest for a while. The rest of the night was painful, but I survived it pretty well – I thought I would be lucky and just be sore in the morning.
The next morning I got up or more accurate tried to get up, I could barely move and my lower back was in so much pain that I volunteered to go to the Emergency Room. I hate doctors and hospitals so for me to do that I was in a lot of pain. I called into work to let them know what happened and off we went to the ER.
At the ER they did a couple of X-Rays, gave me some medication for the pain and told me to go see my primary care physician in a week. They also told me to forget about going to work for the rest of the week. I was was barely able to walk until the following Sunday, so I couldn’t have gone in even if I wanted to. This is the only time in my life I have ever taken pain pills for more than a couple of days, the pain in my lower back was excruciating
When I saw my PCP, he setup a bunch of X-Rays and other tests, after which he told me that I crushed the soleus behind my right achilles tendon, bruised the hell out of the back of my knee and did something to the sciatic nerve in my lower back, in addition to separating my right shoulder and scaring the hell out of TheWife and me.
I was in physical therapy for quite a while and wasn’t able to really start running until the following October without a great deal of pain in my soleus. That September I even paid for a chiropractor out of pocket 75 miles away who used the a scraping technique to break up scar tissue and to help speed recovery – it helped, but got too pricey, time consuming and I had to stop.
By November I was running with some pain in the soleus, but other than nothing hurt and I was starting to increase my mileage again — slowly and doing it mostly on the treadmill, but doing it.
I was very, very lucky on that one. I know that I am a lot more careful when I shovel that damn garage roof off now.
Things were just getting back to normal again, I was running pretty consistently around 20-25 miles a week. I was also working in a different job, with a lot of stress and we had had a pretty tough last couple of months. About an hour after I got to work, while going over something with my boss, my eye started watering, then it felt as though someone had stuck an ice pick into my right temple and the side of my face felt like it was drooping, my speech was slurring and my right arm felt sort of tingly.
At that point, I told her that I couldn’t focus any longer and that I thought I needed to go to the ER immediately. She looked closely at me and agreed. I drove myself over there, which I caught all kinds of hell for later, but I wanted to get there ASAP.
Initially, the ER responded as though it was a stroke – it sure had all of the symptoms of a stroke, but all the tests came back negative, no one seemed to know what was going on. They got me into see a neurologist in a couple of days and he diagnosed me with a certain kind of migraine and prescribed some pills to control the pain.
Strangest thing was the pain and slurring of my speech continued for almost 2 weeks and I missed a lot of work during that time. I stopped taking the meds because they were screwing me up worse than the pain in the head was. During this time I didn’t run and the neurologist said just in case it was something beyond the migraine to not run for a couple of months.
During this time I walked a lot, talked a lot with TheWife, thought a lot about life and what I wanted to really do with it. This episode and falling off the roof had really, really had scared me and made me realize how quickly life could change and not for the better.
I finally got back to running regularly that May and was starting to feel good about it and that October, I actually went back to teaching, which was something I had always loved. From that May until snow fell I was doing between 15-20 miles a week. Once the snow was on the ground I started to use the gym’s treadmill after work 3 or 4 days a week.
I was running fairly pain-free and going to the gym as much as a Special Education teacher is able to with all the meetings and paperwork that is necessary, in addition to teaching 3 blocks of 8th Grade level English in the Resource Room. I started playing racquetball again. I had been a pretty good player back in the early 80’s in Michigan and thought it would be a nice complement to running.
While I was playing a game in February, I stepped wrong while going for the ball and crashed into the wall. I felt the knee immediately flare to new levels of pain I had never experienced before and I didn’t try to finish the game or anything. I gimped to the font desk and asked for some ice and sat there for a while to get the pain under control, so I could go home. Surprisingly, there was not a lot of swelling.
I figured that I had twisted it bad and gimped around on it for about a month, before finally giving in and going to see the doctor. He bent twisted and tugged on the damn thing and almost lost some teeth when I told him to stop and he didn’t. He told me he didn’t think it was ligament damage, but that he wanted me to go see an orthopedic surgeon.
The initial consult with the ortho was in May, so I hadn’t been able to run since early in February (I had tried almost every week, but it just hurt too much). He told me to do this and that and made another appointment for June to see how it worked out. I hadn’t improved at all and he ordered a bunch of tests and made an appointment to see me in September.
In September, the ortho diagnosed me with a degenerative knee (there is a fancy name, but don’t want to use it here) and discussed various options up to and including replacement. We talked for a while and discussed what would happen if we did nothing for a while, school had just started, I was a probationary teacher and didn’t want to miss a lot of school with surgery and jeopardize my job.
He told me probably nothing, but that sooner or later (probably sooner) I would be back for the surgery. We elected to wait until it got so bad that I couldn’t wait any longer. Hoping to last until after the school year ended.
By April the knee had reached the point where I was willing to undergo surgery – the ortho had been correct.
I was having significant issues just walking up the steps to the house, couldn’t walk any distance without difficulty (I still walked Bennie a mile almost every morning though – sucked it up and did it). When I had to start walking with a cane and it seemed every week the knee was getting worse, we decided it was time for surgery.
We went back to the ortho, confirmed the diagnosis and setup a date in May for the surgery.
We went with the idea that it was an exploratory surgery to see what was actually wrong in there and if the knee needed to be replaced to do it and get it over with. I was pretty sure at this point my running career was over.
I had had a piece of cartilage about the size of a dime floating around inside my knee, which he took care of! He did some cleaning up of some old frayed ends and general 50 year housekeeping while he was in there. See my Recovery Mode post
No knee replacement surgery, which would have ended my running career completely according to the Doc.
The recovery from the arthroscopic surgery was easier than I ever expected, no it wasn’t painless, but not nearly as bad as some had told me. By June 15th I had run a mile (against doctor’s orders) and was plugging along nicely. By the end of June I had been discharged from Physical Therapy – RunLog 6/30/11 – Last Day of Physical Therapy and was running a couple miles a day.
The first question that I have always asked all of the doctors after the medical questions have been sort of answered was “When can I run again?” A couple said “it would be better if you didn’t or I don’t recommend you running ever again”. I would respond with the refrain “When can I start to run again?” I know that I wasn’t the best patient and don’t always follow doctor’s orders, but it is my body and like my primary care provider stated when I refused the wheelchair “You’re gonna wear it out aren’t you?” I looked back at him – smiled (grimaced) and said “Yep” and gimped off to get my X-Rays.
Through all of these difficulties I have always wanted to run.
The Reality is
that these past almost four years have been very difficult for me – all the injuries had forced me to not run nearly as much as I wanted to. There were even questions if coming back to running was even an option at times. Coming back to the point where I am today has not been easy, there has been a lot of pain and suffering just to get back to here.
Running is an important part of my life. It is a part of who I am, was and will be. As long as I am able to get out the door and run relatively pain-free – I will.
I may no longer be as fast as I was or be able to run a far as I used to, but damnit I am still running.
I wonder how different the past few years would have been, if I had been able to run and release some of the frustrations and worries that were part of my teaching job, which really wore on me while I couldn’t run.
I’ll never know, but now that I have retired, I do know that I am enjoying running and every week it gets a little bit better. Will there be some setbacks? Probably – although I hope not, but even if there are I will get through them and keep running.
I just hope that the running muses feel that I have paid my dues and allow me to run injury free for many years, after the past four years of shall we say “interesting” times.
I hope you enjoy reading these recollections, I know that I am enjoying going through the pictures, diaries and reflecting back on these parts of my life.