Suddenly I felt terrible pain in my legs. I had pulled muscles before, but this was pretty intense. I tried to walk it out, but it was only getting worse. The pain was located between my left knee and my hip. I was probably a mile and a half from home and I finally had to slow to a hobble. I eventually stopped and looked around me. Was I going to be able to make it home? I never carried my phone, but this time I wished I had it.
I had my first child by Lamaze and I thought back to the breathing techniques we used – Hee Hee Hoo, Hee Hee Hoo. Slowly I was able to get moving again by using the breathing pattern. I finally made it back to the house. When I told my husband about it , he told me to just shake it off. He helped me to map out a shorter route for the following morning. He said I should try this, and eventually I could start back on the longer route again. Since he is a runner, and has many times pulled ham strings and has been out of commission for a few days, I believed him and went to work.
In my job at the women’s prison, I walk about 2 miles per day from yard to yard. I usually go as fast as I can and use it for training purposes. This day I could barely walk, and everyone was asking what was wrong with me. I am usually the fastest person at the prison. During the day, in my office, I had trouble getting up out of my seat to open the office when clients came in for one-on-ones. I am a substance abuse counselor and I usually see about 4-5 clients per day, plus I run a 3.5 hour group. My office door has to always be locked for security purposes. It was a tough day, but I kept telling people I had “just pulled a muscle on my walk.” At that point, I thought it was true. It never entered my mind that something more serious was happening.
The next morning, I got up to do my abbreviated walking route. I started off fine, but 3 blocks into it AGAIN I felt that horrible pain in my left leg. This time I had remembered my cellphone, but I really didn’t want to call home. Instead, I abbreviated my new abbreviated walk and struggled to get home. I started to think about calling the doctor, but instead I emailed her and asked her if I should take some of the muscle relaxants that she had given me for horrible neck and shoulder pain I had a month ago. She said to go ahead, and I made an appointment to see her in 3 weeks.
I worked with my pain as best I could, abbreviating my morning walk a little more each day. For the first time I started calling for electric carts at the prison to transport me in and out each day. I occasionally had a really good day and I walked as fast as I could, instead of taking the cart. But more and more, I found myself in increasing pain.
“Fix me!” I wailed at the doctor’s office 3 weeks later. I wanted to get back to who I was. She ordered me to go in for exrays and a few days later the diagnosis was osteoarthritis in both hips – moderate in the left and severe in the right., “How long will this last?” I asked, and was told “It’s a progressive disease. All we can do is manage it. It won’t go away.” So, she wrote me a prescription for physical therapy two days per week. It might as well have been a prescription for the death of my life as a long distance racer, a backpacker, a rock climber. “Who am I now?” I asked myself as I looked in the mirror of the restroom. In my mind I told myself, “I’m going to work so hard in physical therapy that this lousy arthritis will go away.” That was always my answer to everything. Work harder and you can solve it. But Artie was smirking outside the doctor’s door…
I am a speed-walker. I have never liked running because it hurts my knees and ankles. Never needing to run, I can out-walk many of the runners in a race. Since I only race against myself, it doesn’t matter that the faster runners beat me by a mile. My main goal has always been to place in the top 50% of the women my age in every race. Most of the time that’s not very hard, and I like it that way. I race for the exhilaration and the energy that it brings me. Almost everyone in my family races, and race days are special events. Up early in the morning, activities involve snacking on bananas to supplement the carb-loading pasta the night before, encouraging each other at the starting line, and cheering for each other at the finish line.
Because I love to race, I started doing training walks every morning – 2-3 miles before work, getting up at 4:30 a.m., before most of the world is up. I love the cool crisp air, the porch lights, the sleepy people shuffling out to get their newspapers. Where I work at the prison, the women always caution me to be on the look-out for danger. “Not all of the crazy people are locked up,” they warn me. But, I have never taken a weapon, mace or even my phone. I was never afraid until the morning I met Artie.
“Climb the mountains and get their good tidings. Nature’s peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees. The winds will blow their own freshness into you, and the storms their energy, while cares will drop off like Autumn leaves.” John Muir
Nothing could do that… but Artie