Photo by Jason DeVarennes

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

There is no such thing as fate, so stop tempting it

I often talk about superstitions  - the ones that you can't say out loud what you fear... or it will happen. But let me just state that I firmly believe in science. (It's sad that one actually has to state that these days!) I don't believe in fate and I know that I can't tempt fate by saying something out loud - or typing it - or even thinking it.

Despite all that, I have threatened to ban people from my rides because they insist saying something silly like, "At least it's not raining." Despite all scientific evidence that this cannot possibly cause us to suddenly get soaked, it almost always does. As a result, I practically forbid ride companions from evening uttering the R-word. See what I did there: cause and effect. You talk about rain... it rains... causing me to not want to ride with you again.

So given my reputation for this weather superstition, readers must have noticed me tempting fate by vowing not to write about yet another injury/recovery. Well, here we go again... I do promise to post way more about rides and tours, but humor me now as I write about my latest adventure.

In January of 2017, I was out riding my new fat bike and let's just say that I found myself in conditions beyond my skill level.  I recognized this relatively quickly and turned back. I was inching my way back down the icy rutted track and almost within sight of the end of the dodgy part, I found myself on the ground with a busted collarbone. It wasn't too bad. I walked most of the rest of the way back to where we started. I saw a surgeon and had it repaired with a plate and was back riding within a month. Eleven months later, the plate was bothering me so much that I had it taken out. Then three weeks after that I was reaching overhead to adjust a heat vent and it re-broke in the same spot. The surgeon who took the plate out was adamant that it had healed properly and that we couldn't do anything else until the screw holes fully healed. A second opinion suggested otherwise and after more downtime than I'd prefer, I got it repaired again, this time with a bone graft from my hip. A rubbery fibrous joint had formed at the original fracture site. This was cleaned out and bone and barrow from the iliac crest were packed in to form a basis for healing. The new surgeon put in a plate across the full length of the collarbone, and now we just get to watch it heal.

I had hoped to go home the same day, but woke in so much pain that I agreed to stay the night at the hospital, just so they could give me strong pain meds. While the donor site, the iliac crest is not weight bearing, it was extremely painful and I could barely stand up. I'm sure the surgeon had warned me that it would hurt, but I didn't realize just quite how much.

In the last five years I have broken my left collarbone three times. I fractured 4 vertebrae and crushed a fifth. I also broke 6 ribs. I have been treated for breast cancer, complete with a year of infusions and a bilateral mastectomy. Then last spring the osteoarthritis in my right shoulder resulted in me having no cartilage left at all, so I had a total shoulder replacement. 

When I got the shoulder prognosis, I bought a recumbent trike to enable me to ride without any stress on the shoulder. The trike was handy because it allowed me to safely ride through my recovery. While it was fun like a go-cart, it was also very hard work and I was thrilled after a couple of months to get back on my regular bike so I could keep up with friends and ride my beloved dirt roads and trails.

Maybe it's superstition talking, but I'd just packed the trike away in the basement when I re-broke my collarbone.

Needless to say, there has a lot of pain in the last 5 years, and my pain scale has been adjusted accordingly. I've also become way too familiar with pain medication.

But the current climate is one that is unfavorable for prescription painkillers. So despite the fact that I have some amount of pain everyday, I am completely off all painkillers and anti-inflammatories. 

Shortly after my latest surgery, a friend, who is also an anesthesiologist, sent me a link to an article about the experience of American woman in Germany, who had just given birth, and was told to simply take OTC Tylenol. The thinking there is that pain should be a guide/limiter. You should rest and recover.

The problem I have is that a lot of my pain is a result of weakness and I need to do some strength training to rebuild muscle. But those activities are painful. So where is the point that I let pain stop me, versus pushing through. 

The big problem for me is guilt. I can't rest. I have to ride or walk or something, because otherwise I'm just being lazy. I'm also not a spring chicken and after so much trauma in the last 5 years, each recovery is harder and harder, and each comeback fails to bring me to the level I was before. Do I accept it or push harder?

I'm still trying to find that balance.