Thursday, July 12, 2018

freakin' hernia

Depending on what bio you've been subjected to or how long you've known me, you may know that I started working with metal pretty early in life.  My dad taught me how to weld with a stick welder when I was 7.  I was helping him in his metal shop before this, but because I was so small at age 7, dad realized I would be much more helpful as a welder rather than a holder.  Steel is typically heavy and with my new skill, my bigger, stronger dad could hold up the end of a 20' piece of 3" channel and I could weld the other end.  There were hoists and things you could buy to help lift heavy stuff and hold it still, but it was cheaper to just pick it up and hold it.  This is the way I learned.  And this way has served me well into midlife as a metal sculptor.  I work alone in the studio and it bugs me to have to get someone to help me do something.  As a result, I've been lifting things much heavier than me for several decades.  You'd be surprised what you can lift when you're the only one there and there's no other way.  You get smart, clever or just strong.  And it gets done.

I suppose you could get a hernia lifting something too heavy.  I heard about them.  But for most of my life a hernia was just something they had to check for when you got a physical to play football each year.  It was not something anyone took very seriously.  

Early in this last spring semester, I looked down and there was a small bulge of skin that wasn't there before.  Almost instinctively I knew what it was.  But why?  What did I do?  In a full on panic I tried to think back through the last few days.  What did I lift?  Nothing.  At least nothing out of the ordinary.  When G got home I showed her and asked "Is this a hernia?".  Yeah.  Google agreed.  WebMD agreed.  The Mayo Clinic website agreed.  The other thing they all agreed on was that the only way to fix a hernia was through surgical repair.

You know those people who have a primary care doctor and a couple of specialists they see routinely each year?  The ones who have prescriptions for things and have common ailments that require hospital stays and doctors' care?  I'm not those people.  The last doctor I had was a pediatrician and he's been retired for many years now.  I may have broken a finger or toe in my years of mischief and I definitely dislocated my shoulder playing backyard football in high school but I never saw anyone about any of it.  My aunt LJ was an ER nurse when I was a kid and as an adult, my wife is a nurse.  They could look at me and tell me if I was dying.  If not, it was back to play or work as soon as possible.  I think maybe I had blood drawn once when I was about 8 but other than that, I've never had anything more than a shot.  "Surgical repair" was not in my personal vocabulary.

It took a little convincing from both of the aforementioned nurses to get me to go have it checked.  I made an appointment with a surgeon who had operated on my mom and my wife and he checked me out.  Seconds after he walked in the room he said, "Yep, you have a hernia."  Well crap.  But the good news...if it's not hurting you or causing you any trouble, you don't have to do anything about it.  Some people, he said, live for many years with one and it doesn't bother them.  That's what I needed to hear.  I thanked him and shook his hand and headed for the door.  I'll be one of those people.  

Dread started creeping up on me pretty fast.  There would be general aching on some days.  Some days were just painful.  As the semester moved on, the pain grew and worse yet, I had to stop lifting things.  A sculpture professor has a lot of heavy lifting to do in the course of a normal week.  

And then there was running.  I have a bit of a running habit and while running in the mornings was fine, when I ran later in the day with other people and had to talk while running, it was a bit more uncomfortable.  The dread increased.  I knew where this was going.  But of course I was still full on denying it.

The week of the sand sculpture trip, I had a lot more pain.  Even as I eased up a little, which is not easy for me to do, the pain didn't do the same.  By the time I returned home I was hurting bad enough to stop denying.  I knew I was going to have to have surgery.

I can't properly describe the sheer terror this created in me.  Everything I hate was involved:  losing control, not being able to do everything I wanted, not being able to run.  And what about all the podcasts I listened to last year?  The one about people being paralyzed but fully conscious during surgeries.  The one about people dying from general anesthesia.  The one about the history of surgery that detailed how they basically just hack you open and poke around.  The risks, the side effects........ugh.  

I made another appointment.  The surgeon guy was very cool.  He walked in with that knowing look on his face.  He said he knew he'd see me again eventually but he didn't expect it so soon.  I explained why I was back and he didn't even need to check anything.  He explained the surgery like it was just what you do on a Wednesday morning between coffees.  He told me I wouldn't be able to exert myself for 6 weeks.  I asked him if I could run.  He laughed.  Then he saw I was serious and he said, "No".  I explained that I hadn't missed a day of running in over 6 years.  He calmly told me that I was about to miss a day.  6 weeks of days.  He said that for a person like me, the hardest part of the surgery would be that after a few days I would want to start running again but he wouldn't let me.  

With my cutting day scheduled, I still had to manage a couple of vacations and a studio sale.  I ran every morning, sometimes with a bit of pain.  I know how stupid that sounds to you but I knew that the streak was coming to an end.  I had a definite date and I really wanted to make it to that date.  I started to find a new appreciation for every run.  Every day I was grateful to get my miles.  In Tampa I had a few really slow runs.  One was particularly bad.  I thought the streak was going to end that day.  I took breaks but I got it done.  

The afternoons were the worst.  The longer I was out of bed and upright, the more it hurt.  Knowing that this was also going to affect my sculpture production for the summer, I busted my butt getting 3 new sculptures finished before vacation.  Each one took more effort than the last.  I would have to take breaks through the day just to lay down flat on the floor to rest.  

And that studio sale.  Oh my goodness that was tough.  There's so much to do to get ready for the sale and particularly the week of the sale is rough.  We turn the house upside down to display everything.  Blue and G had to do some heavy lifting for me.  Everyone had to chip in.  The day of the sale, it was all I could do to stay upright.  I snuck upstairs twice during the sale to lay on my back in the hallway.  But the family helped get everything put away afterwards mostly while I laid in the floor.

Did I get up at 6:00am to run the morning of my surgery?  Of course I did.  The surgeon found this really funny.  But it was really beautiful out.  The sun was coming up splashing a red color on the high clouds.  There was a summer fog floating over the front yard making the tractor and hay bales look like an impressionist put them there.  

Today is the first day in 2,247 days that I do not plan to run.  Even without the threats on my life, I know I couldn't run today if I wanted to.  Last week a runner friend was talking about what defines us.  We are not just a runner or a mom or a nurse or a teacher.  We are a complex and interesting mix of all the things we do and love.  I will not run today or tomorrow.  I will not run for 6 weeks.  But that doesn't change who I am.  I'm still ridiculous, I'll just have to find other outlets for my ridiculousness for the next few weeks.

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