Last week I was released from care by my neurosurgeon – exactly 12 weeks after my skydiving accident.
After the completion of my fifth set of radiographic imaging, the picture was finally clear. My spine was healed and I heard the doctor say the precious, longed-for words, “You are free to resume normal activities.”
“I felt compelled to “checklist” him. “You mean I can lift heavy weights, jump rope, run, kickbox?”
“Normal? Do you mean any activity?” was my immediate reply.
“Well, I’d stay away from hard landings,” he retorted wryly. Who doesn’t like a neurosurgeon with a sense of humor?
Of course I couldn’t leave well enough alone. I needed further clarification. Having no idea what this dude thought was “normal,” I felt compelled to “checklist” him. “You mean I can lift heavy weights, jump rope, run, kickbox?” I had come this far, after three long months of a sedentary, overly cautious lifestyle, and I wasn’t taking any chances.
“Yes, you are free to resume your normal life,” he assured me once again.
Given my lifetime proclivity for intense exercise, one might have expected me to beeline, do not pass go/do not collect $100, straight to my home gym. The red light on everything physical in my life was flipped off and in its place a bright green flashing “GO” momentarily blinded me.
I had heard the doctor’s words, understood their meaning. I had played by the rules and let my body heal. This was the reward — the return of my normal life. The checkered flag having dropped, one might think I would have left that office and run straight to the weight room. I didn’t.
I have a reputation in my inner circle of family and friends. It’s a reputation of impatience, an aversion for compliance, and an addiction to endorphins. So when I made the round of phone calls to those in my life, I repeatedly heard “Wow, so proud of you, we all thought you were going to [email protected] it up.” Beginning with my own son.
Yes, my son uses swear words with me. Judge my parenting all you want… people with truck-driver mouths raise, well… kids with truck-driver mouths.
But, I didn’t [email protected] it up. This time was different.
I understood, logically, what the diagnosis meant. I heard the word “normal,” loud and clear. It had been months since I felt normal. I spent over 84 days living gingerly. Calculating approximations of weights for various and sundry items in my house to determine “how smart” it was for me to pick them up versus ask a family member. Second guessing the wisdom of reaching above my head to grab something from a cabinet in the kitchen. Pondering a randomly dropped item on the floor, sizing up the best way to pick it up. I think you get it. It’s a strange space to live in, having to actively analyze body movements that for most of us don’t register at all.
The Lingering Phantom:
“In reality, it took me another entire week before I deemed it safe to return to exercise.”
I am reminded of an incident from when my son was about 14 months old. He had been slow to start walking. Shortly after taking his first few steps he fell. To say he was upset is an understatement. So much so that even breast feeding did not calm him down. So much so that we decided to take him to his pediatrician. The verdict: a toddler fracture. Yup, that’s a real thing. So real it has a name.
He ended up with a cast on his tiny 14-month-old leg. Given his age and rapid growth, the cast was only on for two weeks. Really no big deal, right? Well, as a percentage of lifetime for a toddler it was fairly significant. For over a month, after the cast removal, he behaved as if the cast was still in place. He believed the phantom cast was still there.
I can relate. For the next few days after the all-clear proclamation, I found myself still doing those quick mental calculations on how safe or smart my next move was. In reality, it took me another entire week before I deemed it safe to return to exercise.
No, I hadn’t had a toddler fracture — about 56 years too late for that. Call it a Past-Middle-Age-Lady-Does-Something-Maybe-Just-A-Tad-Reckless fracture? In any case, the “phantom cast” of extreme caution remained for some time, and is only now fading away. Some parts of this experience I hope will remain with me forever (if curious you can check out my previous Jack’s Smacks), but I’m looking forward to returning to my somewhat reckless ways. Cautiously reckless, anyway.