Discovering life beyond the barbell / by Dana McMahan

Is 90% enough?

Is it? I don’t think so. Should it be? I don’t know.

I’m stuck in a soul-crushing limbo these days, a déjà vu of medical tests, rotating prescription drugs, and waiting for answers, all with the specter of another surgery looming like that dark cloud threatening rain on your shiny happy picnic. My activity is severely curtailed, my plans for the rest of my year are all on hold, and I know I should be happy it’s not worse than it is — the pain only makes me wince, not scream, this time — but I’m not.

Dr. Spine Surgeon and Dr. Orthopaedic have both told me I may need surgery again. It seems that either it didn’t quite work the first time, or that the lifelong opening on the disc is like a barn door with a big blinking EXIT sign in it, inviting the “stuff” inside to just come on out. Either way, there it is again, pressing on the same nerve. I’ve got a month to wait before seeing Doctor Spine again, trying a steroidal anti-inflammatory now, since the heavy duty prescription NSAID isn’t doing the job, and what nobody can tell me is what precisely the hell I’m supposed to do in the meantime, besides my long list of things not to do (forget powerlifting – pushups and chinups are on the banned list now).

I was engaging in that patient past-time of complaining about the surgeon when I stopped at something I heard myself say while I was blathering.  “Maybe I should be grateful I can do 90% of what I want,” I was saying, “and maybe that’s success in his line of work, but that’s not enough for me and he doesn’t understand that.” I don’t mean to judge or presume to know about the lives of his other patients, but from what I’ve seen in his waiting room, telling them not to lift weights or exercise isn’t going to break any of their hearts.

I have been walking a line, tipping occasionally and tearily into an abyss of thinking I should give up trying to live a physically active life, thinking if I could accept going back to being a sloth I might be happier than I am trying to hang on white-knuckled to the fraying shreds of my life as an athlete.  I’ll never ever be as strong as I was, so why not just let it go?

Patara Elephant Farm After all, I have the 90%. I’m mobile, I can take care of all my own physical needs, I can live with the pain (I couldn’t say any of these things for several weeks this winter).  I can go for walks, I think I should be able to ride my new bike (a junk rescue 1976 Raleigh Sport I’m having restored), I can even bench press and do some work on  machines (thank goodness my trainer is back from vacation). My first archery lesson is in two weeks. But that other 10% — the exhilarating and difficult and scary things I want to do? That’s the magic addition that makes for a fulfilling, happy, interesting, varied life that I want to live. Living withing 90% is just plodding along. I wouldn’t want to go to Paris and Bangkok and spend the night under the stars in the Sahara and ride elephants if I was content with the 90%. I wouldn’t want to run a pop-up creperie on top of a full-time job and freelance work if 90% was sufficient. I wouldn’t be ME if I just took my 90% and said thank you, that’s fine.

I got a message from the single most unlikely source on earth today, completely out of the blue, just moments after I beat my punching bag (and my hands) to a bloody pulp after leaving the doctor’s office. It said

Be that stubborn woman that refused to quit and always wants to win.

I fell  apart at the seams at this for about five minutes, but some some needed peace and resolution came with that message. I blew my nose, sat up with my best Downton Abbey posture, and said — to whomever, the doctor, my spine, the universe — f*ck it. I’m not giving up. So thanks for the offer of 90%, but I think I’ll pass.

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2 responses

  1. Paul

    I have read this blog with interest for a while now. Having recently suffered a difficult training injury, I draw inspiration from your posts. Good luck Dana!

    April 18, 2012 at 5:52 pm

    • Thanks so much, and best of luck in your own recovery!

      April 19, 2012 at 10:15 am

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