Tag Archives: chronic pain

on writing and walking

The week before Memorial Day Weekend, I went to my doctor to see about an ongoing sharp pain in my left foot. She sent me for X-rays, told me I had a fracture and sent me to an orthopedic specialist. I was told I had a “Jones” fracture in the fifth metatarsal of my left foot. I don’t know how or when or where this happened but I’d been walking on it “for a while.” The X-ray showed some “self-healing,” I was fitted with a massive orthopedic boot and told I should not walk distances and could not run, bike, or swim in the ocean for the next two weeks.

That weekend I spent in Cape May at a beachfront Victorian. I hobbled around, sat on our deck drinking beer, listening to metal and staring at the ocean. We went out onto the sand twice. Both times, I sat in a chair under an umbrella and stared at the water while my friend swam. I’m not someone who goes to the beach to sit in chairs under umbrellas. I go to the beach with an old Mexican blanket, a towel and a paperback. I like to swim out past the break and stare at the sky. I’m a strong swimmer and I usually let the waves take me where they will. And then I swim back in and read and bake in the sun and listen to Black Angels for a while and and repeat it all many times.  But this trip, I sat in the hot sun and watched the waves and tried to read but could not. We packed up soon enough and went for drinks.

When I got back to NYC, I got used to hauling myself up the five flights to my apartment. I got used to taking taxis everywhere. I knew it would be over in two weeks so it was okay. I couldn’t go out much so I tried to write. I failed. I felt like my brain was somewhere else, I felt like my skin was too small for my body.

Two weeks passed. New X-rays showed my foot had not healed. The orthopedist sent me to a surgeon. He showed me the gap between my bones and explained the surgical procedure.   I spent the next few days readying my apartment and my life for the post-op two week period when I would be unable to leave my apartment. I selected a stack of books t0 read and two blank journals for writing and put them near my favorite chair. If I had to be stuck in a chair for two weeks, at least I could get some reading/writing done.

The surgery was on June 16th. I won’t write the details here. In post-op, I was told to keep my weight off my foot completely and given a pair of crutches. The nurses told me I’d have to go upstairs “on my butt.”  I got myself up into my apartment through sheer force of will, and strong arms & shoulders. I crawled on my belly to my armchair.  A good friend helped me get situated and then I was alone in my apartment, too full of drugs to care.

The next two weeks I could barely eat much less read or write. The litany of stories that often fills my brain was silent. The TV was on, of course, but I rarely followed one show from beginning to end. Friends came and went, ran errands, kept me company.  I lived in a world full of fog and few words.

Before I knew I’d be spending my summer with a broken foot, I’d signed up for an online non-fiction writing class (I work at a University and can take classes for free). I was also taking French 2 and an undergrad class on the mystery novel. Two weeks into my recovery, I spent one day catching up on all of my homework: I read, I wrote, I conjugated French verbs. It was exhausting but also made me feel like I might still have a functioning intellect.

After the two weeks past, I got myself downstairs and to my surgeon’s office. X-rays showed healing and I was fitted with another boot. Crutches were traded in for a cane. I made plans to go back to work and I ignored the 4th of July.

I spent the next two weeks in the boot: the first week I had to sleep in it.  My walking was awkward and for very short distances. Every day started with the challenges of a shower, getting dressed, and making it down five flights of stairs. I made myself walk the single block from work to CVS or the block and half to Rite Aid. It was exhausting.

My writing consisted only of the single essay I had to write each week for class. The teacher’s comments were less than helpful and the assigned readings rarely inspiring. I’d taken the class because I wanted to spend more time working on creative non-fiction.  I’m comfortable with my fiction writing skills and my ability to churn out an excellent academic paper but felt a bit wobbly about my creative non-fiction.

This past Friday I met with my surgeon again and he said it was time for “next steps.” The boot came off and I’m starting PT today. On Saturday, I put on my left running shoe for the first time since that week before Memorial Day.  With a friend, I walked (slowly) through the Cutter Arboretum on Long Island but my left leg muscles have atrophied and walking is difficult.

My surgeon gave me clearance to swim, do recumbent bike, and to walk. “But don’t swim in the ocean.” Although this last instruction seems particularly cruel as we head into August and prime beach weather, he did say I can expect to start running again “in about three months.” I’d thought maybe next spring, if at all.

So far this summer has been one of immobility. In the past, when I walked, I’d listen to music and tell myself stories in my head. Stories I’d later write down. It’s something a lot of writers do. Immobility hasn’t silenced me completely. I’ve written three passable essays in my summer class, maybe one powerful one. I don’t think I’ve learned more about creative non-fiction in this class except that I don’t think it’s what this particular writing teacher thinks it is. I do think I’ve learned something essential about myself: I need to move to write, I need to move to be who I am, and when I can’t walk, when I can’t move every day, my voice becomes strained, less easily accessible. It’s still there but like my leg muscles, it needs motion to be healthy, it needs movement to be strong.

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of endless heat waves, dolphins, and some thoughts on NYC

As I prepare to drag myself from the Day Job campus to the Grad School campus in the midst of a Heat Wave, I’m once again questioning the wisdom of my continued residency in this monstrosity known as New York City. Granted, I live two blocks from one of the best art house cinemas in the country, within limping distance of several “vegan friendly” restaurants and am surrounded by politically like-minded people. However…as summer slides into fall with no apparent signs of abating and I continue to struggle with various strained ligaments, fused vertebrae, and a twice daily walking commute that not only destroys most footwear but also looks to be destroying my ankles, knees and peace-of-mind, I wonder just what it is that makes New York City so great? A recent long weekend (my “summer vacation”) spent in Cape May, NJ made a close friend ask me this question I often ask myself: why do I stay? As I stared out at the waves I’d just spent the day floating/swimming/being pummeled by, another glorious sunset, and the spray of leaping dolphins (yes, dolphins…), I could only say, “because I don’t know where else I could live.” It’s not just about being able to get a decent meal delivered at 4am but it’s about intellect, transport, access and an odd kind of freedom.  I no longer really care about the music scene in NYC and most of the clubs in my neighborhood are closed now or too filled with kids for me to like being there. After all, I’m not in my twenties any more but that’s okay. What I mean by access & transport is this: I live near four (or more) amazing bookstores (not to mention those guys who sell good books on the tables outside the NYU library). I can walk to 3 different Farmer’s Markets. I live near two of the best libraries in the country, if not the Western world. I can see pretty much any kind of music I might want to pretty much any night of the week. I can also see the best the literary world has to offer – often for free. I can take a train and in an hour I’ll be at a beautiful beach or a really stunning hiking trail in the woods. I work with people who not only read the books most white liberals read but some of the people who wrote those books. In fact, I’m surrounded by white liberals, radical, intellectuals – most of whom are successful professors, writers, artists, or filmmakers. So why ever leave? Because I live in a 5th floor walk-up in an apartment that has no kitchen cabinets or counters. I can’t have furniture with wheels because the entire building is listing to one side. I’ve never had a yard or a garden. I’ve never owned a car and couldn’t afford to park one or put gas in it even if I did. Everything I own has to fit inside a 400 square foot space. Unless I go running (which I can’t do right now) early in the morning several blocks away from my apartment, I never see the sun rise. And I only see it set if I stand on a roof somewhere or hang out in New Jersey. I live completely surrounded by water but only get to swim when I take a train for an hour to the beach.  There are 5 separate construction projects one block from my apartment that show no signs of ever ending. And then there are the white people. As a white person myself this may sound hypocritical but really, I moved to NYC for the music scene and for lack of a better word, it’s “diversity.” I grew up in a place completely surrounded by white people. Granted, every time I leave NYC I feel like I’m completely surrounded by white people (not to mention Republicans and Fundamentalist Christians) but the longer I live in my neighborhood, the more it seems to have lost any diversity it once had. But really, where would I go? None of the outer boroughs appeal and although moving back to the PNW holds its particular appeal, wouldn’t that just be a whole lot more white people? I don’t know the answer but meanwhile, it’s 90+ outside, smells like fungal rot and another semester has started where I’ll be doing my best to find ways around the white male narrative so prevalent in grad school and I’ll be trying to teach my muscles how to run and climb again but most likely I won’t be seeing any sunrises or sunsets for a good long time. Not to mention dolphins.


of shifted sacrums and writing residencies

epiduralImagine your sacrum. Now, imagine you’re a walker/hiker/runner taking your sacrum for granted (as most of us do). Now, imagine your sacrum shifts and suddenly: you can’t walk any distance without pain, you can’t run at all, and hiking is a struggle at best. This past January, I was having severe lower leg pain (anterior tibialis) and stretching and rest didn’t help. I tried for two months to fix the pain on my own. Then I went to my doctor. My doctor sent me to a specialist who sent me to get an MRI. The MRI showed “major issues” including a narrowing of the opening where all the “big nerves” go from the spine down the legs. This narrowing along with a fused vertebrae and a shift in alignment of my sacrum was squeezing my nerves – not dissimilar to sciatica. All my life I’ve lived without back pain or only minor pain easily relieved through stretching and an Advil or two.  I was prescribed a short course of steroids and weekly P.T. Now, five months later, I often can manage my chronic pain and although I walk to & from work every weekday (20 mins across town), sometimes I have to stop and wait for the nerve/muscle pain to subside enough to continue. I still can’t run (doctor’s orders) and this fall’s hiking season may well pass me by. One of the suggested solutions: an epidural injection into the pocket where the nerves are held. I haven’t yet made the decision to do this but I have mountains yet to climb and miles of cities to walk so it’s likely I’ll have no choice. Meanwhile, the time I would love to be spending running and climbing and walking I’ve instead been spending reading, writing, and working toward my Ph.D. Given my work/school/work schedule, I don’t always have the time for my writing that I’d like to have. This summer in addition to taking French 1&2 and two graduate classes, I’ve been writing, editing, and prepping work to be sent out into the world. During this process I saw a notice for a writing & fine arts residency in a “dream” location: Orcas Island (WA State). I pulled some writing together, wrote an application essay and submitted everything right before the final deadline.  Some weeks later, I got the AWESOME news that I was accepted and will be traveling to one of the most beautiful places on the planet this January to do nothing but write and sleep and look at the water. Sometimes good things do happen. Despite or because of wobbly sacrums.