"Say what you have to say, and not what you ought."
~ Henry David Thoreau

Friday, October 17, 2014


The Chinese symbols for Impermanence
There are times lately that I hear a song that was on one of my running play lists and my urge to run is overwhelming. It's been a very long time since I've had that luxury. Sometimes I'm afraid I'll never be able to run again. 

Typically, I don't write posts about my health (actually ever), but here goes. 
In February I started having some lower back pain which I assumed was caused by a very minor slip on some ice while I was running. I figured I would take a few weeks, maybe even a month off, and I'd be back to normal. I took the month of March off and did some very short runs a few times in April without any pain. In early May I went for my traditional early spring hike up Waterfall Canyon. I was sore for several days after, which I chalked up to being out of shape. The soreness never went away and soon turned into severe Sciatic pain all the way down my right leg and into my foot. 

May was pretty much a blur of excruciating, debilitating pain for much of the time, but I still managed to keep up on most of my regular household and yard chores. Still in pain when June rolled around, I decided I might need more than the chiropractic and massage care I'd been getting. By that point part of my lower leg and foot had been numb for several weeks. I finally limped my way in to see a spine specialist who sent me for a MRI. The diagnosis? A bulging disc at the L5 S1 level. It also showed that I had a moderate case of Scoliosis. Who knows how long I've been walking around with a crooked spine? June was spent going to one doctor appointment after another and racking up huge bills. My pain had subsided a little, but the numbness continued. July brought a trip to the ER after stubbing my toe at home and barely tripping. The pain was excruciating! I'd trade childbirth without any painkillers 10 times over that kind of pain again. By that point I felt pretty hopeless, very fragile, discouraged, and vulnerable. I was ready for relief no matter the cost or method and decided I wanted surgery ASAP.

Picture of a traction table - my new best friend. 

Fortunately, before I took the drastic step of going under the knife I met with a doctor whom I'd made an appointment with weeks earlier. I left that first appointment with him feeling optimistic and hopeful for the first time in months. Finally I felt I'd found a knowledgeable doctor who really cared and wasn't just a health care provider, but a healer in the true sense of the word. Of course, he isn't covered by my insurance, but by that point I didn't care. I just wanted to be well again. Using a method called Positional Release Therapy, along with traction and some home exercises to strengthen my core, I'm happy to report that I'm finally seeing a light at the end of the tunnel. I'm even starting to feel some sensation in my toes and leg again! 

The last 5 1/2 months haven't been an easy journey for me. I was under strict orders to not do any lifting, bending, or anything else that would put strain on my back. I couldn't carry the laundry basket upstairs, pull weeds, mow the lawn, trim shrubs, vacuum, walk the dog, make the bed, scrub the bathtub--the list was endless. My poor yard, housekeeping and my pride suffered. I fought the urge to put a sign in my yard saying "I have a doctor's note" to excuse the dismal condition it was in. I'm not someone that's used to being dependent on others for the most basic of life's tasks. I'm a horrible invalid. Not being able to do hardly anything physical has taken a definite mental toll. I drive by people running outside and am jealous of their ability to run. Do they appreciate what a gift they have? Do they know how quickly life can change? My days of running 1/2 marathons seem like a lifetime ago. It's funny how much of an identity I built around being a 'runner'. I never realized it until I wasn't able to run. There were times all I could do was cry and wonder if I would ever regain full function. 

I'm trying to make peace with my new normal, which really means I'm trying to make peace with change. A few weeks ago during one of my treatment sessions I finally dared ask the question I was afraid to hear the answer to. "What are the chances I'll be able to run again?" I surprised myself by nearly breaking into tears when I asked. My doctor was honest and straightforward, telling me that in my current condition the likelihood is about 50/50 that I'll be able to run again without pain or aggravating my condition. That wasn't the answer I wanted to hear, but it's better than a definite no. 

Later we talked about life and the many curve balls it throws at us. We have some pretty deep, philosophical talks during my treatment sessions. I've decided that finding a doctor that has Tibetan prayer flags hung in their treatment room is a very good indicator of the kind of care given there. He reminded me of one of the essential doctrines of Buddhism, that of impermanence. Everything in our existence is inconstant and in a never-ending state of flux. It reminded me of the common platitude 'This too shall pass' that people are so fond of using when times are tough. As much as I bristle against the dismissive nature of platitudes in general and that one in particular, it's true. Things change. Life moves on. We can either fight it or accept it. When I look back on the last several years I'm reminded of this truth. There was a time when I doubted that I would be able to live with the heartbreak and crushing grief I felt after Julie died. I couldn't imagine a future where things would be better and I would laugh and be happy again. Four months ago I couldn't remember a time when I wasn't in near-constant pain with numbness in my leg and foot. I imagined living the rest of my life that way and felt despair. Now, here I sit several months later and my pain is gone. I can even sometimes feel some sensation in my leg and foot again. I'm healing. Things change. Not always for the better, but just like the really good times, the really bad times don't last. 

Letting go of control and accepting life as it comes is probably the thing I struggle most with in life. I fear losing control. Even when life has shown me time and again that I really have very little control, I still struggle to just let things be. I'm learning and trying to be more open to accepting the uncertain, ever-changing nature of life. I never could have predicted the twists and turns my life has taken. For better or for worse, the challenges I've faced have made me the person I am today. The one thing I know for certain is that I am strong. I am capable, and I will survive and thrive no matter what. 

"By letting it go it all gets done. The world is won by those who let it go. But when you try and try, the world is beyond the winning." ~ Lao Tzu


  1. I am so glad to hear you are pain free, or almost so. When I am in pain, everything else shrinks into the background, and it's all I can think of. You WILL survive and thrive, of that I have no doubt. :-)

  2. I'm so glad you found the person who could help you with your pain. XO

  3. Well, big yuck about the pain, discomfort and the emotional feelings that come along with the limitations. Even though we'd all probably rather not have to carry the laundry or do certain chores, we all want that restriction to be on our terms and not someone else's! But it does sound as though you have found the right person and technique to help you alleviate the pain and get things back in order. So I'm extremely grateful for that -- and I especially appreciate your sharing it with us. I think that could help people, at least think of a different approach for whatever issue they may have.


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