The body renovation project

The road to success is always under constructionI watch home improvement shows. Not out of a desire or likelihood of doing any sort of renovations on my own home; no, I don’t have any plans for that. I am more like a voyeur, appreciating the niceties and waiting for the catastrophes, because, in the world of home improvements, there is inevitably some sort of misadventure. It takes a while to choose the right workers and then there are disagreements with the very people you tried to vet properly. Nothing seems to come in on budget because unforeseen problems that cost a lot of money almost always arise. Watching people fret over choosing gewgaws makes me realize I would rather have an outdated kitchen and ugly fixtures in my bathroom rather than undergo the process of modifications which seems to vex so many home owners.

Or, perhaps, my hesitation on remodeling has arisen because of another renovation project, myself. The past 13 months, I have undergone an overhaul of sorts, not unlike a home improvement project (of course, my body improvement project really started in 2009 after my bike accident, but I really consider the total overhaul to have begun in October, 2014).

Here is my body renovation timeline:

  • October 4, 2014: Surgery in La Crosse, WI at Gunderson Hospital for a xiphoidecotomy and insertion of two titanium plates in the rib cartilage to stabilize ribs 7-9 which were hypermobile due to ligament damage and a non-union in rib 8. A nerve bundle was buried under the rectus abdominus.
  • Starting in February 2015, the plates became problematic and led to an inability to breathe. Persistent intercostal neuralgia flared up to a new level of pain. A persistent spasm started in the upper right abdominal region that caused retching, nausea and vomiting.
  • May 25, 2015: Surgery for plate removal. Non-union in rib 8 healed and ribs are stable.
  • June 15, 2015: Two local cortisone injections to help with persistent intercostal nerve pain. One was near my navel and the other was in my side. Relief for 72 hours.
  • July 2, 2015: Diagnostic nerve block at ribs 8-12 with lidocaine only. Excellent relief for 8 hours.
  • July 22, 2015: Pulsed radiofrequency ablation at ribs 8-12. Relief felt in ribs 8-10, acute and debilitating pain still at ribs 11-12.
  • August 12, 2015: Chest MRI with and without contrast. Nothing interesting noted.
  • August 19, 2015: Nerve block levels 11-12 with lidocaine and cortisone. Physical exam noted hypermobility at rib 12 and extreme tenderness along rib 11. Mediocre relief for 2 weeks.
  • September 16, 2015: Surgery to remove fractured cartilage on the 12th rib (6 cm of this rib was excised). Additionally, 3 cm was removed from rib 11 to enable a better path to clean up scar tissue and free up entrapped nerves. A neuroma was observed and removed.
  • October 28, 2015: Two more cortisone injections to treat the persistent abdominal spasm.
  • November 10, 2015: Repeat cortisone injection for the abdominal spasm. As of this writing, the spasm has decreased, but is still not gone entirely.

Just writing all of this is a gentle reminder that this has been a very crappy body renovation where everything looks much worse than when I started, but, at least things are starting to feel better. Each procedure uncovered further issues that needed attention. As the general contractor, I had to source out and manage all of my sub-contractors (i.e. physicians), some of whom just could not do the job properly. The budget? Well, thank goodness I had sufficient health insurance, but it still put a dent in my wallet.

Yes, it has been a lengthy, frustrating renovation that rendered me incapacitated and unable to do so many of the activities that make me, me.

One of those activities is racing. Amid all of the body renovations this summer, I had to put racing on hold – I had to move out of the house while they popped the top, if you will. Indeed, I could barely train, so competitions were out of the question. Until now.

On Saturday, I raced the inaugural USA Half Marathon Invitational in San Diego. Using the Boston Marathon model, this unusual half marathon instilled a qualifying standard to gain entry to participate. This surprisingly hilly course had the most scenic finish line I’ve ever crossed.

Sometimes, a race is more than a race, where a best time is superfluous, and participation is the end goal.

I was not ready to perform anywhere near my best. My runs have been impeded by that pesky abdominal spasm, causing me to puke during the final miles of my long runs every single Sunday. It was only a few short weeks ago that I started stringing together consistent interval sessions, a necessity to run fast in a race. Hills have been my adversary, the extra exertion just tobig-goal-mountaino much for my delicate state.

In spite of these shortcomings, I still decided to race. Most athletes would choose to forgo racing in such a tenuous condition, where the probability of under-performing is a given. I put my pride aside, though, and swapped it for something better: the chance to do the very activity that would make me feel normal again.

I chose this particular race for one reason, I needed a carrot to chase. Something to keep me motivated to get healthy, to maintain hope during the crisis, a barometer to let me know I am on the right path.

The race gave me all that. Despite running one of my slowest half marathons in a decade (I stopped the clock at 1:23.30 which put me atop the Master’s podium), the palpable excitement of the race environment let me put away my body renovation and all the shit that went with it for a while.

As a competitor, it is hard not to place judgement on a performance. My initial reaction was one of disappointment, which, in hindsight, I realize is ridiculous. The mere fact that 8 short weeks after major surgery I even had the ability to race a half marathon is win in of itself, rendering the time I finished incidental. My mantra is always, “training doesn’t lie” and certainly, my training really did let me know that I was not ready to run any faster.

For now, I will carry on, continuing to improve my health, doing everything possible to get rid of the abdominal spasm. Along the way, I will probably find another race or two, and eventually, the faster times will come.

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