Tuesday, August 16, 2011

August lost

On Monday evening, I attempted a four-mile hike. Using an ACE bandage, I created an elastic sling for my arm to aid in stability and suspension against each jarring step. I set off walking, fighting back the initial sharp releases of pain until the impact settled. The sun cast golden light on the hillside and it felt so wonderful to just be outside, focusing on breathing and movement again. For the past four days, my thoughts have largely drifted to stillness and pain. The truth of the matter is my arm hurt a lot, and every time I moved, it hurt even worse. But in stillness I could almost be free, almost.

I held my arm away from my body and pressed my wrist deep into the sling until my shoulder burned from the effort, but by doing so I could almost achieve stillness while moving. The gray pall of pain lifted and I started jogging up hill, drinking in the saturated colors of the evening. I reached the crest of my route and surveyed the sunlit valley below. It was so incredible, so beautiful. I felt a literal, tangible tear of joy roll down my cheek. That's when I remembered that my moods were all jacked up from not having slept more than an hour at a time in four nights. Sleep had just become so difficult, because my arm constantly felt like somebody was holding a hot iron against the joint. I usually drifted fitfully to sleep only to be jolted awake in twenty minutes by sharp pain, probably spurred by movement. On Sunday night, I only slept about an hour, total. On Monday morning, I had to duck into the bathroom to quell some tears after the car dealership employee told me my three-hour wait for an oil change was probably going to extend to four. My humorously overdramatic reaction to that news only confirmed that I really needed to get some sleep, and get out.

On Monday night, I still had hope. Hope for participation in the Capitol Forest 100. Outside hope that I might even heal up enough to run a 50K for my birthday at the end of the week. These hopes were all but extinguished just a few hundred yards after I started downhill into a new barrage of burning pain. It was impossible to brace against so I just had to suck it up and deal with it. It was probably no different or worse than it has been for the past four days, but my reaction to the pain was amplified by the beautiful setting, some mounting frustration, the wild emotional roller coaster of sleep deprivation, and of course, disappointment. This injury isn't going to clear up in time for anything. Not without some sort of incredible turnaround.

I returned home to more stillness, and attempts at acceptance. This probably appears to be a humorously overdramatic reaction to road rash. The injury is actually a bit more complicated. When I hit the ground at 20 mph on Thursday, I landed directly on a sharp, quarter-sized rock that dug deep into my elbow. Then, with a puncture wound several millimeters deep, I slid a meter or so, ensuring that maximum debris was pushed deep into the wound. The plastic surgeon I consulted on Friday used terms like "bullet hole" and "shrapnel." He smiled as he said these things, and I assumed he was using hyperbole for humor's sake. But honestly, after four days of near constant pain even with the aid of Vicodin (which I was at first too proud to ingest, and am now rationing), I've become more convinced that this is what it might feel like to be shot in the elbow by a small caliber gun. I can honestly say that while this may not be the most serious, it is certainly the most painful injury I have ever sustained.

I have another appointment with the surgeon on Friday, and am really hoping for no further complications that might necessitate surgery (and maybe a renewed Vicodin prescription.) But I'm ready to accept that the rest of this month is probably going to be about a slow comeback in the form of easy hikes, jogs, upright spins on a trainer, and possibly several weeks before I have enough arm strength and stability to ride a bicycle again. That's OK, injury is part of life, and for now I'm grateful for simple things, short releases from the stillness, and a renewed appreciation for health and vitality.