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Archive for the ‘injuries’ Category

For at least the twentieth time, I am currently in the process of getting back into shape. As a regular exerciser, I find it an effort that consists equally of humiliation and patience.

I know that treatment for an injured knee should include staying off it. However, when you live alone, that’s not possible. There’s no one else to do the laundry or cook meals, and even ordering take out means dragging yourself to the door. Occasionally, too, I need groceries, and although neighbors and friends offer to help, it’s easier for me to get them myself than describe with precision the food I want.

As a result, the original injury is only the start. After a few days, collateral damage sets in on the other leg. If I’m especially unlucky, the collateral damage can cross back and forth several times between legs.

Being forced into as much inactivity as I can manage is a blow to my self-image, because for much of my life I’ve been on the high end of fitness. Suddenly, my muscles feel flaccid. Simple tasks like pulling on socks and shoes require all my ingenuity.

Even worse, as I hobble out with a cane, I am slower than everyone else – slower, sometimes, than even octogenarians. Instead of offering help, I am faced with the decision of whether to forget my pride and accept it. Instead of giving up my seat on the bus, I am offered one. Twenty times a day, I tell myself to cultivate patience, and sing Stan Roger’s “The Mary Ellen Carter” in my head to keep myself going. When I come home, I collapse on the bed, as often as not falling asleep before I can pull my shoes off.

Nor does the ordeal end with the last of the collateral damage. Having gone for days without the usual outlets for my excess energy, my first impulse is to throw myself back into my full exercise routine. But the sensible part of me knows that is the last thing I should do. Three or four days of full exercise will only make me an invalid again. I have to start slowly, if not from the beginning, then close enough to it that my pride takes another beating. Often, the first few days leave me feeling like my entire body is bruised, and the gradually increasing effort leaves me lightheaded for a week or more.

That’s where I am now, and, as always, I have some insight into why so many people who are new to working out quit after a few weeks. Every step of the way, I have to caution myself against impatience and the temptation to do too much too soon. One good day, and I can all too easily do a harder workout than I can manage. Physically, I have high expectations of myself, expectations unsuited to my current circumstances and increasingly out of sync with my age. Unless I am careful, I could easily find myself at the beginning of the process again – and I seem to be an appalling slow learner, reluctant to do as much as take a day of rest when I have missed so many.

Of course, unlike newcomers, I know that the effort will be worthwhile. But getting back into shape is not a process that improves with repetition. It’s simply preferable to any alternative.

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For much of the past week, I was on crutches because of a leg injury. It wasn’t the first time, and, unless I learn to regulate my exercise better, probably won’t be the last. But going from an active routine to a crippled one, even for a while, can be a major change in perspective.

To start with, your entire concept of the immediate space around you changes. The horizon that represents “far” diminishes – in my case for a day or two, to the front door of our townhouse (anything beyond the door briefly ceased to exist). Even a trip across the living room is undertaken only when absolutely necessary. If possible, you try to plan your movements so you can do two or three things at once, and save yourself effort. The effort, to say nothing of the pain, makes you want confine your movements only to the necessary ones. There’s no darting back for a book you forgot, either.

Your relation with those around you changes, too. When you are sufficiently injured to need crutches, you almost inevitably need some help, if only to help you carry some things – it is nearly impossible, for instance, to carry a cup of just-boiled tea when you’re on crutches without scalding yourself at some point. Some people might adjust quickly to be waiting on, and become imperious, flinging out orders at any point, but, for myself, I find myself resentful. I don’t like being dependent on anyone for little things, no matter how close I am to them emotionally. Being an active man, I’m used to doing for myself.

Anyway, there’s a psychological difference between asking someone to do you a favor, and asking them to do something because you either can’t or would have to go to go through considerable effort and discomfort. Or there is for me, anyway.
Standing up with crutches is always a minor crisis as you look for secure surfaces to help hoist you up. Then, once you’re on your feet, you have a moment of panic as you sway and start to position the crutches under your arms.

Once underway, your progress is like that of a sailing ship: slow and stately, and accompanied by lots of swaying and groans, sometimes from your crutches (if they’re wooden) and always from your body. The problem of navigation arises, too, with even the bent back corner of a throw rug or an object on the floor becoming a major obstacle.

Perhaps that’s why I always find myself singing sea chanteys when I’m on crutches – although “Blow the Man Down” can seem terribly prophetic at such times, particularly when someone wants past you in a hallway. You need more space than normally when on crutches, and most people don’t realize that even brushing past you can leave you scrambling to preserve your balance and your dignity.

When you finally reach your destination, the relief is immense. Should that destination be bed, the relief is even greater, since you know that you don’t have to worry about moving for another seven or eight hours.

How the permanently disabled endure, I don’t know. Just the effort of getting around is so great that work or any other daily activity becomes almost impossible. For me, the first sign of improvement is like the first week of spring, and throwing away the crutches and regaining the walking reflex (which you lose after a few day of advancing one step at a time) has something of the excitement of a first love. I have to restrain myself from throwing myself unrestrainedly into my usual routine, and only the thought of fishing out the crutches again restrains me.

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