Recovering from an injury and/or surgery tests one’s patience. As runners, we’re eager to get back to running. We also tend to think we’re tougher and more resilient than most. And that our recovery should be way ahead of the curve. We count the days, maybe weeks, but certainly not months. At least this has been my mindset. The truth is we don’t know and can’t know how things will progress. Assuming we listen, our bodies tell us the real story as it plays out.
It was eight weeks ago today I broke my ribs. It seems closer when I walk down the stairs and see the dent in the wall my suitcase made as the other side drove through my ribs. I started PT after five weeks and of course felt what they gave me was elementary – I kept asking for harder exercises. After all, I’m a tough, resilient runner! But I learned they knew their stuff. I go weekly and each time they add new exercises I do daily. These often leave me a bit sore, which actually feels good.
The symptoms have moderated considerably. The ambient pain is largely gone, though I trigger a reaction when I twist or lift much. Things are generally a bit stiff. I picture the four 4-inch plates screwed into my ribs and wonder if it’s OK to roll on them when doing exercises or turning in bed. Gratefully, I’m sleeping well and the anxiety I felt early on has subsided. I’m able to work full days (no more excuses for cutting out early!) though I do tend to tire by mid evening.
As to patience, mine is wearing a bit thin. Runners love feedback loops. An eight-minute mile pace tells me I’m at a decent clip (should I really need a GPS watch to know that!) and 7:00 to 7:30 suggests a material training benefit. Deep water running and StairMaster, running equivalents I have used regularly to bridge the gap between running days, don’t lend themselves to such satisfying or informative feedback loops. Walking has been my other aerobic activity. I recently started checking my pace. I’ve yet to break 14 minutes for a mile and even this is truly pedestrian. In short, I’m champing at the bit!
My impatience led me to call the surgeon’s office to move up my appointment from May 31 to early May. I am healing well and couldn’t see waiting 15 weeks after surgery to get clearance to run. I was delighted to learn they made a scheduling mistake — the notes suggested I come in six weeks after my last appointment, or about 10 weeks post surgery. I jumped on it and now have an appointment for April 19th. I may be running again in two weeks though perhaps I should not get my hopes up as the x-rays will indicate whether there is sufficient healing.
Throughout this process, I’ve sought to see the bright side. It was dumb to fall, but it would also be dumb not to learn from it. It’s honestly been a stretch at times to stay positive. But in wiser moments, I’ve considered the following:
- I don’t have forever to live my dreams. While I had already planned to retire from a full-time job in finance, this has given me further motivation to get on with it.
- I dodged some bullets: I could have hit my head and had complications from that and there was no organ damage – the jagged ribs could have punctured my lungs or liver.
- I benefited from being treated at a first-class hospital by a surgeon with significant experience in rib plating, a technique that has only been around for 10 years.
- I better understand what trauma feels like and have newfound empathy for trauma victims. This minor brush with PTSD provided me a small window into the devastating effects impacting those serving in battle or suffering repeated violence in their homes.
- I am reminded Boston is a great home because of the many friends here. They helped me prepare for and come out of surgery, visited the hospital, called, emailed, texted, sent cards and fruit bouquets, and then after coming home took me to the grocery store and helped in various ways. I had been considering moving back to Vermont largely full-time. Now I am looking at how to split the time more evenly.
- I appreciate everything around me a bit, if not a lot more. I see friends in a new light, with more tolerance, and a renewed interest in learning from and sharing life with them. As I walk down the street I notice places I seemed to have missed before, while rushing from here to there.
So on it goes. It’s an unfinished journey. And assuming I’m back running soon, the next challenge will be working back into shape in a progressive way. It would be a real shame to have gone through all of this and then develop an injury from ramping up too quickly.
Meanwhile, for all you healthy runners, this is prime time for everything running: races galore, longer and warming days to run, and flowers en route. I look to join you soon!