Saturday, July 31, 2010

Breaking The Cycle of Pain

I grew up riding horses competitively. So naturally, as pre-teens, when we weren’t riding horses we were acting like horses. We’d have slumber parties and set up furniture jumping courses in our parents’ houses. We perfected a four-legged galloping pace (not unlike this family ) and jumped over chairs and tables, up and down staircases, just like horses: ‘front legs’ first, back legs next. Pain and intuition pretty quickly kicked in though, to tell us the jarring of repetitively landing on our arms was probably not good for our shoulders, elbows and wrists. Thus, we returned to galloping and jumping with two legs (like these guys , except that we kept our shirts on) and didn’t think much more about it.
Fast-forward almost twenty years to this past spring, and my left forearm tendonitis flare up. I was in my third of twelve bimonthly sessions o
f structural integration therapy , and on full rest from climbing.
“My friends who are doctors or med students think I should just get a cortisone injection in my
elbow, can you believe that?” I said incredulously as my therapist friend worked on my arm.
Cortisone, after all, was what the aging horses’ hocks were injected with to get them through just one more competition season when I was growing up.
“Ugh, you don’t need that,” she said. “It’s just a band-aid. Just give it some more time and rest and you will completely recover from this.”
Three full months of rest from climbing wore on me though. I missed my evenings at the cliff with friends. I wanted to get back to my projects. I was sick of the frowns and empathy when people learned I was injured, again. I just wanted my ‘normal’ life back.
So yesterday I visited the orthopedist. I needed to know that I was doing things right, that I wasn’t missing something.
“Well, it started in early May,” I explained to him, sitting on the exam table. I’d taken two weeks off and then tried to climb (it hurt), then three more weeks off and tried to climb again (it still hurt), but had not touched rock since early June. I’d been good about ice, ibuprofen, all the requisite tendonitis exercises and stretches, the various massage therapies...I’d even done a colon cleanse to try to oust whatever was lingering.
He poked and prodded until I pulled away wincing, and he immediately confirmed the diagnosis as medial epicondylitis, golfer’s elbow.
“Has it gotten worse?” he asked.
“Has it gotten better?”
Not really.
A long pause.
“Well, it seems to me you have done everything right the past three months, without the results you want. So I recommend that we try an injection of cortisone.”
I shot a disgusted look at him before I could even think to stop myself. He paused again.
“It is time to break the cycle of pain,” he said simply, looking me straight in the eye, a slight frown on his face.
That was all it took.
I walked out fifteen minutes later with a band-aid on my elbow and tingling fingers from the lidocaine. I drove home imagining the moves of my favorite Cathedral Ledge climbs, and made weekend cragging plans to try out my new fix.
But in the back of my head was another voice: Had my intuition that told me to stop jumping jumps on all fours as a pre-teen disappeared completely? Am I really going to pretend that I am back to normal now?
My massage therapist friend, after stifling a ‘NO!’ and pushing her lower jaw back up when she learned I’d gotten the shot, immediately encouraged me, saying this is my opportunity to take control of the healing process. What she meant is that I can’t just head out and climb tomorrow, sending my project like the aging gray mare, all dosed up to be able to finish her last jumping course.
A moment of hope was illuminated by the promise of breaking the cycle of pain. But I will be good and see all my friends off on their summer climbing expeditions now. And I will walk around here on just two feet for a little longer in hopes of permanently ending that cycle instead of taking a break from it.

Dedicated to Brinah, Whitney, Bobbi, Amie and the rest of the horsey girls from those Turning Point Stables days.