not in our stars, but in ourselves
Remember how I was all warrior-mode, last time I wrote? Ha! All good things come to a forced stop, eventually.
On Thursday, I went to the gym as usual to lift. For the past few weeks, my lower back had been feeling pretty tender, so I hadn’t been doing deadlifts quite as often – because even though the majority of the movement/lift is supposed to originate in the glutes and hamstrings, I would often feel it intensely in my lower back. However, last Thursday, I thought, “Eh, good enough. I’m probably fine.”
I did some chin-ups, and then a few warm-up sets of deads, and felt okay. My back was a little bit tender, but not unduly so (or so I thought). I kept telling myself: keep it in your LEGS, in your LEGS, LEGS, LEGS. Here’s the thing about exercising at 6:30 a.m., though: your brain isn’t always relaying the correct information to the rest of your body, nor is the rest of your body necessarily expressing itself clearly to your brain. I did one set, and could feel that my form needed some work. LEGS, I told myself. I started doing a second set, and on my way down, my legs sort of gave up and forced my back to take over, and —
I felt a horrifically painful pull in the muscles of my lower back – almost a tear, it felt like. I crouched with my hands on the barbell for a few moments, helpless as the pain continued exploding, and then somehow or other managed to walk over to a bench and sit down. For all my hope that the pain would subside quickly, it was not so: I couldn’t bend at all, I couldn’t think, I couldn’t see, I couldn’t feel anything except agony. One of the 19-year-old brodudes on another squat rack saw that I didn’t look quite right, and asked if I was okay. I told him I didn’t know, really. He offered to help me walk, if I needed it, and I said I’d sit for a little while and see how I managed. Very kindly, he went back over to my abandoned squat rack and put away the plates on my barbell, replaced the bar on the rack, and brought me back my water bottle.
He resumed his squats, and I sort of drifted in and out of this plane of existence while propping myself up on the bench. (Good posture was the only think keeping me from screaming out loud.) Waves of nausea pummeled me, and the world went black and then it went white, and eventually I thought I could perhaps attempt to walk to the First Aid office.
A very sweet student, who’s probably bored out of her minds most days, saw that I looked like I’d been to hell and back. I asked if I could lie down, and she said of course: can I get you some ice? do you want to prop up your feet? She didn’t have any pain relievers, naturally enough, but I said, “Well, maybe I can walk across the street to CVS and get some Aleve or something….” When I attempted to make a movement to initiate standing up, and grimaced as if I were in Satan’s mouth, she said, “You know, I would feel like, if this were me, I’d probably want to go to the emergency room.” I hemmed and hawed for a few minutes, but then I considered: my macho hubris had gotten me into this mess, so I’d better actually listen to good advice if I wanted to get out of it.
And so, for the first time in my life, I was transported by ambulance. The EMTs were two very nice guys, who didn’t want to take any chances with me and my possibly destroyed back, and who therefore strapped me to a backboard. Neck brace and all. Being stretched out and stable helped take the pain down from a 9.5 to about a 7.5 on the pain scale, so even though I must have looked absurd – I was pretty grateful. After some tedious and lengthy confusion about in which locker my purse was located (not the EMTs’ fault at all, by the way – just due to the gym being staffed by a bunch of lazy undergrad students), we set off for Boston Medical Center.
Here’s some fun trivia for you all: I hate hospitals. Absolutely hate them. And emergency rooms especially. The presence of all that illness and trauma is extremely upsetting for me, and I hope I never have to see the inside of one ever again. Because I was brought in by ambulance, I was taken right to a bed – next to a victim of domestic violence, to my left, and across from a few drug overdoses, and diagonal from a prisoner with two Staties guarding him while he walked around hooked up to an IV. BMC is a “community” hospital, and they take anyone and everyone who comes in. I mean, that’s great, and important, and I’d never want to change that. Everyone should have access to the best possible medical care, especially in an emergency. I just find it upsetting to be near it all. Furthermore, I felt really fucking silly being there with nothing more than excruciating pain when there were surely more serious cases out in the waiting room. Then again, I also felt that I would have been incapable of managing to endure a taxi ride alone, and that I couldn’t manage to do anything until and unless someone gave me some serious pain medication.
Some extraordinarily overtaxed – but super-sharp, and smart, and observant – doctors took a look at me and said it sounded like it was just a muscle strain. They ordered some x-rays to be sure, but I was relieved that their initial diagnosis matched up with mine. I hobbled to the Radiology department (I guess I could have asked for a wheelchair, but I would have felt like a jerk), where I did my best not to fall over when asked to stand for the x-rays; and, apparently, my best was not good enough, because then the technician told me to lie down instead. WHY WAS THAT NOT AN OPTION BEFORE. Ugh.
I put my sneakers back on (how, I do not know; it was a hellish process) and hobbled back to the ER and my bed. At that point, I was really feeling like an unnecessary presence: doctors and nurses were racing all over the place, trying to take care of patients to the fullest of their abilities while also trying to figure out how to make room for a medflight that was coming in. They had to wait for my x-rays to come in before they could do anything with or to me – just to rule out a serious problem with the spine itself – so I had to sit tight. I would have been writhing, if I could have moved, because the pain was at about an 8 out of 10 by then.
Finally, the x-ray results were in: no spine damage, so it was probably just a muscle strain. The doctor told me he’d give me a Percoset, because he could see that I was extremely uncomfortable, but asked how I would get home: I wouldn’t be in any condition to get into a cab, let alone get on the T, with a Perc in my system. Fortunately, my boyfriend is the best in the universe, and he left work, rented a Zipcar, picked me up, brought me back to the gym so I could get the rest of my things, and made sure I had everything I needed in his apartment.
That first day was pretty rough, especially once the Percoset wore off, but I am – despite appearances – a tough old broad. I took another heavy-duty prescribed painkiller just before bed, and I do think it helped. For one thing, it knocked me out almost immediately; and for another thing, I could feel the pain receding right away.
When I woke up on Friday, however, I felt sort of okay. My back was tender, and I still couldn’t really move as I usually do, but it was manageable. It was just an ache. Ibuprofen was enough – no need for the big guns. It’s kept getting less and less acute, in terms of pain, unless I bend or turn a certain way (which I’m getting better at avoiding).
Anyway, what have I learned from this ordeal?
1) Good form and proper concentration are important. No one has taught me how to do any of this weightlifting stuff; I’ve just sort of taught myself by reading and watching and creeping on others at the gym. Considering that, I think I’ve done pretty well for myself – but I haven’t learned much about good form, and it’s come back to bite me in the ass. Once I’m well enough to do real weightlifting again, I’ll focus much more on proper technique. The EMTs and the doctors all asked if I’d been doing Crossfit – because most of the exercise-related injuries they see are from Crossfit. Let me tell you: you do NOT want Crossfit injuries. Form, form, form – the most important thing for anyone to master in weightlifting. And listening to your body when it tells you, “hey, maybe don’t??? did you consider that????????”
2) As someone who usually just pushes through whatever pain/discomfort, I have been amazed by how it feels to be so fragile. I don’t like it. It’s given me a new level of empathy, but I really and truly hope it never happens again.
3) My mind was wandering when I felt my back give way, and let me tell you where it was wandering: recently, someone from my past reached out to me to let me know I’d really hurt him. It was something I knew, but it was so many years ago that I’d hoped he had moved on and mostly forgotten about it. I apologized, and wished him well, but it occurred to me that even though I’ve endured a fair amount of (emotional) pain in my time, I’ve also inflicted quite a bit. I think I’ve paid for some of that, but not all. And I was lowering the bar, and wondering vaguely when the other shoe would drop, and – well, you know. Ow. The really interesting thing is that, while I was convalescing on Thursday, the person who’d let me know how I’d hurt him, and to whom I’d apologized, wrote back to me to thank me and to let me know he forgave me. Maybe it was the Percoset thinking – but it felt like that was all what needed to happen, in order to wipe the slate clean. I hope all my other karmic debts are paid, but I am glad that that’s finally settled.