Nothing gets you mulling over the vagaries of advancing geezerdom quite so effectively as taking a tumble on an icy sidewalk. One minute you’re shuffling happily along on a wintery carpet of snow, marveling at the picturesque landscape, and the next you’re colliding with a patch of cement. I can testify to the wonderment of it all, having crashed to earth yesterday morning on my way to the office.
It was my first fall of the winter, which I suppose is something to be proud of, given the number of miles I’ve logged on that sidewalk since the first snowfall back in November. But it still gives one pause. I’m a big fan of workouts that improve your proprioception and balance, and I like to think that I’m in pretty good shape in those areas, but all it took for me to tumble yesterday was an ill-timed stride onto a hidden patch of ice.
So now I’m nursing a sore left shoulder and a creaky hip and knee, and feeling like a senior citizen. I had to skip yoga yesterday, because I couldn’t raise my left arm without feeling a jolt of pain, and I was in no mood for a workout this morning. I turned down a Sunday tennis match with The Baseline Machine and Monday night hoops seems out the question at this point, as well. I can see why the elderly worry so much about falling. Even if the resulting injury doesn’t send you to the hospital, it can force you to back off from the kind of physical activities that might help keep you vertical down the road (or sidewalk).
Still, as we like to say here in Minnesota, it coulda been worse. It’s not like I broke a hip or something. So I’m thinking a little stretching and lower-body work tomorrow might get me back on track while the old wing is healing. Meanwhile, the forecast is calling for more snow by Monday, and I want to be ready. Bring it on, I say.
My hometown newspaper is publishing a series on football and pain, exploring the brutality of the pro game and various pharmaceutical strategies employed by players to maintain their livelihood in the face of often debilitating pain. It’s a pretty compelling dissection of a sub-culture that thrives on a particularly American form of machismo and celebrates players who do whatever it takes to stay in the game — even at the expense of their long-term health.
They’re partly motivated by the money, of course; even a backup lineman can earn hundreds of thousands of dollars a year playing at this level. And because the average NFL player lasts for only three or four years in the league, there’s plenty of incentive for them to get it while they can. But there’s also the notion — established as early as grade school, as I recall — that you’re letting your teammates down if you refuse to play through injuries.
I’ll admit that I have subscribed to the same set of principles (at somewhat lower levels of competition, obviously). I’ve played on sprained ankles and malfunctioning knees, and more than occasionally returned home from a game proudly wearing a blood-smeared T-shirt. It’s kind of a guy thing.
Or, I should say, a young guy thing.
Last Wednesday, I was back on the tennis courts after an absence of several weeks facing my not-so-old nemesis, The Baseline Machine. The temperature was hovering in the mid-80s and the air was heavy. But TBM was swinging with authority and moving with her usual agility, and I soon found myself scrambling all over the court to reach her volleys. This helped me work up quite a lather in no time at all, while I dropped the first two games — also in no time at all.
TBM was flagging in the heat, though, wondering aloud whether she had brought enough water as she poured a few cupfuls over her head between games. I was plenty sweaty, but felt like I was just getting warmed up. And sure enough, I began to rally, winning the next two games.
“Let’s make this one the tie-breaker,” she offered, cheeks flushed. “I don’t do well in the heat.”
I agreed. I felt like I could go a full set, but at a certain age prudence occasionally trumps bravado. So we proceeded to whack it back and forth for a while until a series of unforced errors by the obviously drained TBM gave me the game and the abbreviated set — 3 for me, 2 for her, 0 for heat stroke (which, coincidentally, killed Vikings lineman Korey Stringer during a training camp practice 11 years ago this month). A win-win situation by any tally, it seems to me.
Not coincidentally, the next morning I awoke to find that I could barely move my right arm without a sharp pain jolting into my shoulder. A trip to my acupuncturist brought little relief, and the teenager in my brain began questioning my competitive fire. “Suck it up,” he said. “Be a man!”
A colleague suggested some over-the-counter pain reliever the next day, which I never got around to buying (I did take a little homeopathic arnica). By Saturday, it had noticeably improved, and the pain had completely disappeared by the time I headed to work this morning.
The miracle remedy? Rest. I ignored my normal exercise routine (aside from a long bicycle ride on Friday) and even skipped yoga on Thursday. I’m not so naïve to imagine that the NFL — or any professional sports culture — is likely to embrace such an approach, but nothing gets me back in the game more effectively than listening to what my body needs. It’s a shame that’s not an option for so many pro athletes.
The past few days have been pretty eventful: I wrenched my back while channeling Marty Gallagher
in The Pit last Thursday – barbell squats with 120 lbs resting behind my neck
(what was I thinking?). And then, on Monday, back in The Pit (I know what
you’re thinking, but no, I skipped the barbells), I did something to my left
shoulder while doing tricep extensions with 40 lbs worth of dumbell. I don’t
think it’s serious, but something popped right on top of the shoulder.
A brief digression: That’s where
the shoulder was slightly dislocated about 10 years ago after this woman opened
her door on me and my bicycle as I was speeding to work. I went right over the
handlebars and executed a nifty somersault, landing on my left shoulder and
thus allowing my unhelmeted (yeah, yeah, I know . . .) head to avoid a
collision with the pavement. I heard a distinctive “pop” when my shoulder made
contact with the road and as I collected myself on the curb, I tested its range
of motion, telling the distraught woman who precipitated the acrobatics that I
was fine. No, no need to call an ambulance, I said as I got to my feet – a
little too soon, it turned out, as I promptly passed out and cracked my
unhelmeted head on the now-satisfied pavement. When I came to, the distraught
woman was still there, more distraught now than ever, given that my head was
sitting in a pretty impressive pool of blood. The ambulance arrived and the EMT
guys transported me to a nearby emergency room, where some doctor cleaned me up
and closed my wound with a few staples (!?!?!). My shoulder was still sore, and
I told him that I thought maybe I had dislocated it. He took a look and said
something about how if it really was dislocated, I’d know it. I told him I was
pretty sure something was wrong, and maybe it should be x-rayed or something.
He said if it really was dislocated, I’d know it. And so on. I went home and
looked at it in the mirror and noticed that it was clearly sitting lower on my
body than my right shoulder was. You could plainly see where the collarbone
should be connected to the top of the shoulder, except that it wasn’t. (Check out this illustration.)
Anyway, I never went back
for a second opinion and, while the shoulder still looks a little funky, it
seems to be in perfect working order. Until Monday and my 30 reps with 40 lbs.
It’s still a bit sore, so I’ll just take it easy – and watch for car doors. My
back is fine today. Thanks for asking.
All of this has nothing at
all to do with my first-ever visit to an acupuncturist yesterday – though I
have no doubt that the folks at Three Treasures Community Acupuncture could
take care of my shoulder and back with a few well-placed needles. The whole
community acupuncture deal is pretty cool; it makes
acupuncture accessible to a much broader range of the population than more
conventional practices. At Three Treasures, you schedule your own appointments,
pay what you can afford, and sidestep the whole health insurance morass. It’s
all right up my old anarchist alley.
Still, I’m a little squeamish
around needles – and healthcare personnel in general — so it took some
convincing by My Lovely Wife for me to even check the place out. She’d had a
session many years ago with a very nice needle-wielder when she was fighting a
nasty and prolonged respiratory illness, and it seemed to work out pretty well
for her. So, I really had no excuse but to give it a try.
Besides, this constant
ringing in my ears (tinnitus) is starting to bug me. For the past couple of
years or so, I’ve been putting up with it, just figuring that, at some point,
it would disappear as mysteriously as it arrived. But it’s still in my head,
like a swarm of cicadas on a sweltering August afternoon, and I’m beginning to
wonder if it’s going to start messing with my already faulty hearing (isn’t
aging great!). Western medicine doesn’t seem to have many answers, but I’ve
read that acupuncture can be effective.
So, I hopped on my bike
yesterday afternoon and pedaled across the river to Three Treasures, where a
nice young woman named Katherine listened to my woeful tale of the trapped cicadas in my skull.
Then she stuck a bunch of needles into my hands, arms, legs and feet while I reclined
in a comfy Lazy-Boy and looked at the ceiling. (Frankly, the idea of a Lazy-Boy without TV and a beer takes some getting used to.) Pleasant New-Agey music wafted
through the room, which contained several other Lazy-Boys – each containing a
sedate person with needles sticking out of various appendages.
The idea, Katherine explained,
is to simply lay there for an hour and relax while my qi is quietly rearranged
in a helpful way. It seemed like a tall order to me, and I began counting the
various New Agey tunes as a way to keep track of the time, figuring maybe 20 of
these would take about 60 minutes. Pretty soon, though, I noticed I was
becoming one with my Lazy-Boy, and sinking happily into a nice little
meditative state. A little itch arose on my cheek, which I observed until it
faded away. The insides of my elbows started to feel a bit achy, but that too
passed. The needle sticking somewhere near the pinky on my right hand was
pulsing. A while later, I noticed it had stopped.
It went on like that for a
time: small things creeping into my consciousness then fading away. I might
have dozed. Then, at some point, I distinctly felt my chest opening, like
something heavy had been removed. This was intriguing.
Meanwhile, the cicadas were
still singing, but the noise, which tends to be centered between my ears, had
moved noticeably upward – more toward the top of my head. I took this to be a
good sign, and mentioned it to Katherine when she pulled the needles out of my
skin. She agreed, noting that any such activity is encouraging.
She suggested I return a
couple of times next week and the week after, so I made the appointments before
pedaling home (into a nasty gale from the south). My ears were still ringing on
the way home – though it tends to be less noticeable in a gale — and today the
cicadas are having a real party, but I have no allusions that this is going
away after a single treatment. I’ll get needled again next week and see what
happens. It can’t hurt.
It’s a muggy day for a bicycle commute, even one that lasts only 15 minutes, and this morning it’s made more challenging by the soreness in my left shoulder. I must have strained a muscle there while lifting last night. In fact, my upper body is pretty sore all over, which I didn’t expect after what I thought was a relatively brisk and effective 60-minute workout.
I’ve been trying to strengthen those shoulder muscles ever since I started this new regimen. The right one was especially problematic three or four years ago, when I think I messed up my rotator cuff somehow. I was at my in-laws house and one of my nephews invited me outside to throw the football around. But when I tried to launch a pass, I had no strength in my shoulder at all. The more I tried, the worse it got.
Since then, I’ve been to a massage therapist, who worked me over pretty good once a week for two or three months. I think that helped, but mostly I just rested the shoulder and allowed it to heal. I haven’t had any trouble with either of them until this morning, and I’m pretty sure I just strained the muscle a little.
Anyway, I did the interval thing again last night — six 30-second bursts of speed followed by a minute of rest — during my 20 minutes on the bike. It feels pretty good (until that sixth interval) and it will give me something to measure my progress against down the road. Maybe I can do seven next time? No one cares if I sweat at the gym.