Good news: my broken heel is no longer broken. I’ve been walking now for about three weeks, hiking and biking for two, and I ought to be back to powerful lowballs and sport climbing now. I should have cranked out a storm of vengeful conquest on Saigon Direct.
But I can’t. I have another injury, and it’s my fault.
This whole road trip has been a façade for me, a thin patina of improvement protecting a fragile, rotten, slowly deteriorating core. Even before the trip, I maintained an uneasy truce with that infamous and ubiquitous demon from the first circle of climbing hell, medial epicondoylitis (or climber’s elbow or golfer’s elbow or “why does it hurt when I do deep lockoffs?”). I paid lip service to antagonistic exercises, to an icing ritual, to stretching, to rest, but it never got so bad that I couldn’t just climb through it, try a little harder, and feel hardcore for wearing my throbbing badge of overtraining like so much finger tape.
I come to you now bearing the gift of
wisdom hindsight. Had I dealt with my tendinitis aggressively long ago, or maybe just not tried to climb at my limit 3-5 days a week, I would likely not be in the situation I am in now. With the first niggles following a few too many lockoffs, I should have banished the demon once and for all. I should have developed the good habit of doing those boring exercises in the last 10 minutes of the session, rather than using that time to dyno and bullshit with my friends. But I didn’t, and then we went bouldering across the USA for a year.
We tried hard to adhere to a day on/day off rest cycle, but frankly, it’s very hard to rest when you’re so psyched to get to a new playground; you’ve been reading the guidebook for the last week; the weather’s perfect and might change. And after trashing ourselves, it’s hard to get back to camp and cook and clean and try to stay warm, and still have energy left for stretches and eccentric loading exercises.
Over the course of the past 12 months, a distinctively crunchy noise has developed in my right elbow, and it’s not pretty. It sounds a bit like I would imagine a rock tumbler to sound. It’s crepitus, the term also given to the noise that broken bones make when they rub their fragments against each other. Pleasant, no?
Still, there was little pain, and I was managing to climb harder and harder things. I thought, “maybe it’s just part of my anatomy now, and it’s fine to keep trying hard.” I pitted this pittance of wishful thinking against the constant fact that my right arm was sore, weaker than my left despite my right-handedness, and perpetually tight.
I was forced to take the rest I needed when I broke my heel, and I thought that 6 weeks of inactivity would help. It didn’t. I went to see Dr. Karch, the orthopedist who has put many of my friends back together after their various gravity-induced injuries. I explained that I had a demon that I wanted to banish. The nature of the beast is first-world: it only prevented me from recreationally grabbing small geological irregularities and pulling them to my chest, but it didn’t prevent me from typing or cleaning the dishes or picking up the child I don’t have and bouncing him on my knee. My injury does not prevent me from living, only from schralping the glacial erratic gnar.
In other words, this is the problem of the spoiled person. I get that. And if you’re smart, you’ll take my advice and make sure this doesn’t become a problem for you.
I am now in the health purgatory known as physical therapy, sort of a halfway house for unfortunate and/or hubristic athletes, as well as predictably injured people in repetitive motion situations. My therapist is Jen. She scrapes my tendons, which also makes a gross noise, in order to break up scar tissue. She uses ultra-sound. She gives me homework, like 30-second stretches 4 times per day and eccentric dumbbell exercises which are tremendously boring and feel useless. I don’t hold any of it against her. I need this.
For once I am trusting the process, I am being diligent, and I am going to vanquish my foe. And I’m here, now, in this crappy non-climbing non-training non-grabbing-things-with-my-right-hand situation to tell you that it wasn’t worth it. Do I remember those tired burns at the end of the session that I did instead of calling it a day and stretching and cooling down properly? Hell no. And I don’t feel cool for being able to say that I tried so hard that I very slowly injured myself over the course of 24 months. But I will always remember the start of 2013, the year that began on crutches and transitioned into elbow convalescence. And I will always remember that putting all the micro-trauma and chronic soreness on the body’s credit card is not worth the interest.
In the next post, I’ll detail all the things I do (which, if you don’t already, you might consider doing yourself). As a preview: PT takes me about an hour each day. The good part is that all exercises can be performed with whiskey in hand.