I dropped a bomb in my last two blog posts, and I am more than ready to write about more positive things. I've had the funeral, and I am ready for the resurrection.
I had to get creative beyond standard cross training while I was injured. Can you think of a single activity that doesn't use your lower body? One of my friends asked me if I was using the arm bike. I never got that desperate, but I was coping with my unrelenting desire to be outside. The summer we moved to Phoenix I was marathon training in the heat. I did one long run on a treadmill at the peak of the summer when the thermostat hit 125F. It takes extreme circumstances to keep me from lacing up my running shoes, and that day was barely worth it. Since retiring from wildlife biology, I was also adjusting to the culture of city life, civilization, and the business casual dress code cast over my school campus. Removing nature from my life was like plucking a wild animal from the rain forest and throwing it into a zoo. I was forced to adjust my perspective so I could invest in my future, the same way I did with my injury.
Phoenix has never been my forte for a few reasons - high levels of air pollution with regular advisories, polluted water with unnerving levels of carcinogens, nauseating traffic, aggressive drivers, and a serious lack of trees. But I have to give credit where credit is due, because this God-forsaken city saved my sanity last year. Where else in the country can you swim year-round in an outdoor pool in the middle of a green belt? Nowhere. Not even Los Angeles. It sounds pathetic in parallel to my wildlife days, but the greenery around the public pool was enough to attract hummingbirds and herons. So I became a regular, and envisioned myself in the crystal clear cenotes of the Yucatan peninsula. I became a master at upper body workouts, by using a buoy under my legs and pulling only with my arms and biking with my left leg.
When I finally reached a manageable pain level in January from my last steroid injection, I was able to walk without a limp. Around the same time, I was sitting in class listening to a panel of therapists pitching ideas in Occupational Therapy. One of these practitioners casually spoke about the integration of yoga into Western medicine, and she caught my attention. The idea of using meditative practice with movement called to me. I had turned my head from this idea previously because it involved the whole body; something I didn't have to offer. But the foundation of occupational therapy speaks to inclusion for those with disabilities.
I have met fellow yogis who claim yoga healed their ailments. I can't say the same, but it sure helped me cope with the physical pain and heartache. I found peace through mindfulness, slowing down, and focusing on my breath. A simple concept, yet difficult to practice. We all love the idea of slowing down and enjoying the moment, but society doesn't facilitate this. Without a strong intention, it won't happen.
In the last four months I have submerged myself in the practice of yoga while fervently reading the literature behind pain management, PTSD, anxiety, depression, and quality of life. The Western world of medicine has slowly been accepting yoga as a component to treatment, in part because of the associated literature. It is exciting being at the beginning of the book, with a deep sense of wonder and a thirst for knowledge. I went to my first yoga festival in Sedona, and shortly after attended my first yoga practitioner workshop with local health professionals. The last four months have led me to incorporate yoga into my final capstone project next spring for my doctorate degree. In the depth of my struggles with my injury, there has been a bold silver lining, which will be even brighter when I get to meld it with my love for running.
You'll notice in my pictures I am either inverted or using my unaffected leg as my base. Call it an imbalance, but for me, it's an opportunity to move my body while healing.
It’s been 16 months. And those last 16 months have broken my spirit. The best coping strategy I could manage was to stop talking about it and pretend like nothing was there. I had developed an identity around my injury, no matter how much I resisted, because it was the first question many people asked, and prodded at times. I lost my identity as a runner; one that I had for over 20 years. Changing my personal reflection space – this blog – felt like letting the person go that I once was. It was time to move on, and time to re-build. Right now, I look back and think, did I put myself through more hell than I should have? Was there an easier way to reach the summit?
The bottom line of my story is that I knew my symptoms from day one. It’s easy to get multiple opinions when you are attending a biomedical campus with a myriad of practitioners traversing the halls. Not everyone agreed with my personal synopsis of a fat pad pathology, and I let myself be swayed for a long time because I suspended my trust to those who were treating me. Most of the practitioners I saw were rooting for me, and held every intention to help me, but simply did not know the root of my injury. But there were also practitioners who were short on time and wanted nothing but to stop wasting their afternoon on a complex case like mine. A doctor at the Mayo clinic was a bully if I ever met one, and told me “I must be making up the pain in my head.” Later that fall a practitioner joked about getting me a head scan, because something psychological must be playing into my injury. I reckon those two practitioners made those remarks because they too did not understand my pathology, but hell, it was the biggest lesson of what I will never say to a patient once I’m in the field. Those instances almost left me dead in the water. Somehow, I picked up the pieces, and kept pressing the case for an injured fat pad. If I hadn’t continued my uphill battle, I wouldn’t be here today to tell you I no longer have that injury.
I was lucky to find a doctor ten months into my injury who leveled with my idea and was familiar with the literature. He did a series of steroid injections to my leg and narrowed in on the fat pad in early January. That moment was anti-climactic, because I already knew the diagnosis would be positive, but protocols are protocols and I commend the doctor for being detail-oriented. He recommended surgery with a strong likelihood of a positive outcome (hallelujah!), but little did I know, there was another battle on its way. My insurance plan was no longer available come January, and I was forced to switch. The doctor who was treating me wasn’t covered under any of my options from the healthcare marketplace. He referred me out, and thus, started another three month process of diagnostic procedures and scheduling for surgery.
Let us not dwell on the heartache of dragging on my injury. It is what it is. I had surgery three months later, and the surgeon found my pathology within the first minute of probing my knee. Torn fat pad with multiple impingements – so enlarged from chronic inflammation that he kept repeating to me ‘I was so surprised, I’ve never seen this before!’ Thanks doc, not surprised in the least, but I appreciate you fixing me. Onward and upward to recovery.
This injury isolated me in many ways, since I wasn’t able to participate in most activities a normal 30-year old does, let alone go running. It was a vulnerable experience that shed light on those around me who truly cared for our friendship. I felt the deep empathy of those who were close to me and the bewilderment of many compassionate practitioners. So many times, I wanted to hand in my jersey and call it quits, but I had to keep fighting for myself. The relentless love and support from Justin and our closest friends gave me strength to continue. On the lining of the darkest period of my life, there was growth. Coincidentally while navigating graduate school and learning how to treat patients for their ailments, I experienced my very own struggles with the healthcare system. I gained a perspective of the patient experience to a degree I never imagined, but for that, I will be a better therapist.
The journey is far from over. I am still climbing the mountain beyond the clouds, but my backpack is lighter, and I’m moving faster. I can see the summit, and I can feel the relief of coming back down. I can feel the break in the storm, and the reprieve of knowing I am returning to a place of comfort. The trail is closing, and by God, I am ready to breathe easy.
I am an outdoor and travel junkie who is currently completing my doctorate in occupational therapy overseas in rural Fiji. On Sweet World Travels you will find stories of my life with my husband, the communities we serve, and the many adventures we take.