It’s been a while since I have written a post. There are days when it seems like there is too much to write after so much time has passed and summoning the energy seems impossible. Today, though, it’s time to dig in and just do it.
On July first, I am joyfully teaching my group fitness class—Forever Fit, for anyone 50 years and older. I am prompting, singing, counting, jumping, squatting, grooving to the music, thinking of nothing other than being right where I am and doing my job. The room is filled with about 25 women and one man, all following my lead as we work through Cut Chemist’s “What’s The Altitude“. The song fills me with joy and energy. We all do what I refer to as “step-out step”, a modified jack step. I alter the step to include a raised knee every other beat, switch sides, switch to kicks on alternating sides, and move the step forward for four beats, then back. It’s one of my favorites. We all look like dancers in a Michael Jackson video. It’s a beautiful thing to look up and see a room full of people smiling and moving like that. Suddenly, I both feel and hear a loud pop in my left calf. I think I’m fine, yet find myself unable to touch even my left toe to the floor. I think I am going to finish teaching the class, yet when I look up, with the music still blasting, my class has stopped moving. “Are you okay?” and of course I answer yes. But I am not.
In what feels like seconds, one woman from my class has raided the freezer in the kitchen of the building and comes back with a bag of ice. The Counsel On Aging director has flown down the stairs from her office and is talking about calling an ambulance. Someone else is grabbing a chair for me to sit down and in all the panic, somehow everything feels like it is happening in slow motion. No. I do not want an ambulance. No, I do not want the chair. Hot tears prick behind my eyes. The tears are not from pain, although there is plenty of that. Fighting to hold those tears back, I recognize fear asserting itself and racing to the front of my emotional repertoire. Immediately, I am wondering if I will ever run again. I know in these moments I should be afraid of not being able to work, of a long, painful recovery, of the potential for a bad tear in a muscle that will require surgery. Yet all I can think about is never being able to run again.
As I finally settle into the chair and place the ice on my calf, I start to make decisions. I need to go home first. I obviously won’t be able to drive, so as people ask what I need, I send someone to go pick up my partner Bill so he can drive me home in my own car. I want to change out of my sweaty clothes and wash my face. I need to get to my car. Before I can think of anything else, Bill is standing over me, asking what I need. “Please. Just take me home.” Two women from class confer for a moment, and then they stand, one on either side of me. They cross their arms, hold each others’ hands in some Girl Scout carry configuration and slide their linked arms beneath me. I am lifted and carried out to my car by a woman in her seventies and a woman in her sixties. I am in awe of their strength and kindness. Even in such pain and fear, I pat myself on the back for doing a great job with this class. I can’t stop thanking them.
In clean clothes and with the sweat washed off (mostly), I reline on a gurney in the emergency room, I am given Valium and a manual examination. The handsome ER doc decides that I need to see an orthopedic specialist. I leave the hospital with a prescription for enough Valium to keep me for a month(!!!) as well as a comfy, handmade soft cast to wear until I see the specialist, and, of course, crutches. I whimper on the way home, clutching my prescription and wondering how bad this injury really is. And, of course, when I can run again.
The next day, I get an immediate appointment with a doctor at Sports Medicine North. After careful examination of my leg, he says I have a slightly torn gastrocnemius and a badly strained soleus, the two main calf muscles. It can take three to six months for this injury to heal. I feel sick. Bill takes me back to the drug store with prescriptions for two different pain killers.
I go home on the crutches, wearing a walking boot that comes up to my knee. I wear the boot for the whole month of July. Bill takes me to Pebble Beach, carries me over boulders to my beach chair, wipes my tears, suffers along as I attempt two and thee mile walks with the crutches. I find I am strong enough to pull myself up the stairs backwards two at a time using my triceps and my good leg. I manage to shower while balancing on one foot. It takes a little over a week before I am able to touch my left toe to the ground and not cry out. I don’t want to talk to or see anyone.
I cannot tolerate sitting or resting unless it’s bedtime. I am a mover. During the months of healing and rest, I color beautiful cards to mail to my youngest child in Arizona. I write poetry. I read books—some fiction, some fitness books, some cookbooks. I lose weight on the painkillers, (plus they made me cry all the time), so I ditch them during the first week. I eliminate all sugar to reduce inflammation. I eat lots of greens and naturally anti inflammatory foods. I do everything I can to heal quickly. I also sit on our deck or sun porch and watch with envy as runners pass my house all day long. I hear their footsteps through the open windows of summer as I lay in bed, trying to bring my focus back to what I have instead of what I am missing.
The follow-up appointment on July 30 brings good news. I can ditch the boot and start physical therapy. I have already been working on range of motion, stretching, massage and strength. Despite being told to wait, I have been listening to my body and it feels right to gently start the active part of recovery. I rotate my ankle, practice inversion and eversion. I flex and extend my ankle. I gently massage the painful areas in my calf. I go easy, but I keep it up for a bit every single day. I wear the boot unless I am in bed.
My physical therapist is incredibly good at her job. Each visit shows improvement. Because the boot changed my gait, I am also struggling with hip and back pain on the right side. For a couple of months, I am in pt four times each week. Some weeks I see four different therapists. Each one is kind, honest, good at her job and adamant that I take it slow. I use the foam roller. I stretch. I strengthen. I ice. Some nights after an hour or more of exercises and pt homework, I find myself on the couch with four ice packs strategically placed to reduce pain and inflammation. I am so cold that even in August, I huddle beneath a down comforter.
Friends come and take me for walks. My friend Krissie walks so fast I can barely keep up. I keep going, though, pushing through the discomfort. Soon I start easy running—walk a few yards, jog a few. My friend Amy patiently jog-walks with me. I am grateful. My friend Charlene brings us a delicious vegan dinner. My class sends lots of sweet emails, telling me they miss me, hoping I am healing well so I can come back to work soon. I even get a couple of cards in the mail. It is nice to be missed and to be loved. I am grateful.
On August 31, one day ahead of my self-imposed deadline, I run three miles. The next day, I run five. I am not allowed to run uphill, so I walk the hills, giving my attention to the beautiful ocean views in my neighborhood. I note the fishing boats in the harbor, the soft sand on the Front Beach, the rolling waves lapping against the shore of Back Beach. The slow hills are okay, so I run those. By mid-September, I run up all the hills. Once again, I am grateful.
I return to work September 9. My class is thrilled to have me back. I tell them I am going to go easy for the first couple of weeks and I do, mostly. By the third week back, I am hopping, jumping and singing as I lead them through our workout. We stretch at the end, and I go home and stretch again. I still ice at night and have a fresh awareness of my left calf that I will probably hold onto for longer than need be. I am back. I am strong. And I can still run.
What did I learn? Too much to put it all down here. A couple of biggies, though. I am a runner and much more than that. I can heal my body. I can wait when I have to wait. And I can be still. For a while. As long as I have crayons, books and lots of love.