Ok, not yet, actually, but I have a plan, and that’s the next best thing to being back.
Everything is relative, and I’ve been amazed during this experience how the human mind can adapt to nearly anything. I first learned I would have to quit powerlifting, which felt like the end of the world, but at least I didn’t have to have surgery. Then I learned I would, in fact likely need surgery, and I wanted to fight to avoid it what I assumed would be a discectomy. Another week of pain and having virtually no life convinced me that surgery was the way to go so that I could recover within a matter of weeks, rather than drag on through physical therapy for months with no guarantee I’d fully recover. Then my doctor broke it to me that the surgery I’d likely need would actually be a spinal fusion. (yes, it’s as horrible as it sounds.)
For the two hours I waited to see the spinal surgeon I envisioned my life. Not being able to squat, not even the bar, was the least of it. All my travel dreams – trekking the Himalayas, riding horseback across Mongolia — forget about it with a fused spine and constant worry about the other vertebrae weakening. Having to read trip descriptions that say “Not suitable for people with back problems” and cross that one off the list is heartbreaking for someone with wanderlust and a spirit that craves adventure like mine.
Then the somewhat curmudgeonly old doctor (and I mean old, dude was out of medical school years before I was born) scoffed, truly scoffed at the notion of needing spinal fusion. “Why do you think my doctor said I’d need it?” I asked. I got to see a little physician ranking ego next. Spine surgeon trumps orthopedic doctor when it comes to matters of the back. “Why don’t we pretend I’m the doctor, and I say you don’t need it,” he said. OK. Don’t have to tell me twice not to graft bone from my hip and weld my vertebrae together in a five-hour surgery, stay in the hospital for days, and resume my regularly scheduled life who knows when. With the discectomy instead, I’m only looking at two weeks of being out of commission before I can get back to work and to low-impact activity. Within two months I should be back at a sport. “I suggest you choose a new sport,” spine doc said drily. I managed to not smart off, “no kidding, you think?” – he is my elder – and simply nodded.
He gained points when he told me I’m in spectacular shape compared to many of his patients, further boosting the glow of pride I’d taken when my other doctor, who treats college athletes, told me I’m among the strongest and fittest of all his patients. My view of myself as strong, fit, or athletic has taken a beating these last few weeks, so it was salve to that internal wound to hear that.
This afternoon I spoke with my physical therapist, who encouraged me to keep up my work with him this week while I await surgery next Monday. The stronger I am going in, the better my recovery will be, so I’m hitting my PT exercises with a vengeance.
And I spoke with my new trainer, who has been to hell and back with his own, far more serious — life-threatening — injuries, and rebuilt himself. We have a mutual friend and have great respect for each other based on that friend’s view of both of us, and he’s known me for a while, following my lifting progress on Facebook. I was totally honest with him, as we talked about my plan for regaining strength within my new limitations. “I hope to God I’ve learned my lesson, and won’t push myself too hard again,” I told him, “but I may need a reminder from time to time.” He understands that mentality and I think he’ll be very good for my recovery. Just because I’m no longer going to be a powelifter doesn’t mean I don’t want to be strong, and I trust him to guide me back — safely.
I’ve so appreciated the support I’ve had from comments on the blog, emails, facebook messages and texts and calls from readers, friends and folks I didn’t even know before now. I’ve especially been moved to discover that people reading have taken heed from my experience and are stopping to listen to their bodies (read: Hey Knucklehead and Walking a Fine Line). My biggest mistake was not understanding or heeding (a little of both, I think) my body’s warning signs beginning last fall that something wasn’t right.
I took my health and my body supremely for granted before, and unfortunately it took drastic consequences for me to realize that. (The psychological issues that result in my pushing myself so hard at everything I do are a whole other matter and I’m going to address that, too.) My body did everything I told it to, and fought as long as it could to keep going, so now I owe it some rest and restoration, and some tlc. And when I get back in the game — and I’m counting the days till I do — I will be smart, I will respect my body, and I will finally be a real, grown-up athlete.