I’m sitting in the doctors’ office. It’s decorated coyly in 90’s pastels, an attempt at making sick people feel better-via pale, dull, non-threatening colors. I hate pastels and I always have; it looks like Easter threw-up all over the walls.
(I have nothing against Easter mind you, just the colors).
Like most waiting rooms it smells rich with sterility. How they get hospitals and waiting rooms to smell exactly the same, I’ll never know, but you could be blindfolded and the air would give it away. That is to say, you always know when you’re in a medical facility.
The walls are adorned with magazine racks absolutely brimming with magazines; things you would never subscribe to, like, “Outdoor Water Gnome’s Magazine,” and, “Women’s Foot Health.” (Are there indoor water gnomes? Do they have a magazine?) There’s the occasional “Sport’s Illustrated” mixed in but because everyone fights over the more popular magazines, they’re worn beyond readability.
I think to myself, Thank God I brought my book. Chances are I’ll be here for a while.
I’m not happy to be here. I haven’t climbed in weeks and the nagging pain in my shoulders won’t release me. Every time I try and climb, a searing pain takes me over. I grunted and screamed up a 5.8 at North Country Climbing Center the other day, bent on proving the doctors wrong; a big mistake, and one that brings me to this moment, waiting for the nurse to enter the room and call my name.
My body hates me for what I’ve done. I should have been resting, I muse.
After an eternity the nurse enters the waiting room and says my name. At least four people who checked in after me were called first; I swear it’s a game they play. I’m escorted to the nearest scale and weighed, then my blood oxygenation is measured and blood pressure’s taken. Everything looks well and good, as expected. That’s why I run, hike, climb, ski, eat-healthy, practice yoga, and cross-train at the gym.
The nurse says, “Everything looks good. The doctor will be in momentarily.”
God, why did I have to push it? I could’ve avoided this entire charade.
By the time the doctor enters the room I nearly forget why I’m here; that is if it weren’t for the burning sensation in my shoulders. When I explain my constant shoulder pain following training and climbing sessions the news turns quite dark. The doctor tells me, quote, “You’re suffering from a condition known as subluxation” (this means my shoulders literally dislocate while climbing). “Years of pressure from athletics has caused separation of the AC joint that has weakened connective tissue in your shoulders.”
This is very bad news for any climber, let alone one who makes a living at it. It’s hard knowing what comes next after an injury occurs, especially as an athlete. I’ve had to bounce back from injury so many times, it’s hard to recount them all.
When I first started trad-climbing some friends egged me on up my first hard mixed route. It was WAY too soon to be pushing that hard, but wanting to show off and being younger and full of testosterone, I went for it! 50 feet off the ground I took a whipper on a bad piece of gear. It pulled and sent me reeling to the ground with 40+ feet of momentum. When I decked out my right knee shattered and I needed serious medical attention. It took a year before I could mentally and physically get back in the game. People with similar experiences never return to the sport. It’s understandable. I easily could have died. The point is, I’ve fought my way back from near death experiences to climb better and harder than I had previously, and I’m no stranger to hard work. But I figured with all the training and cross-training I do (specifically geared towards climbing and skiing), it could be avoided. Turns out I was wrong, (but at least I’m alive).
“How long does it take to recover from something like this doctor? I make a living climbing. It’s my whole life. I need to climb not only for emotional needs, but financial.”
“It can take anywhere from 6 months to a year of intense physical therapy, and surgery is most likely imminent,” she said. “I wouldn’t plan on climbing hard anytime soon.”
Tears welled up in my eyes right there in the exam-room. I’m not the most sensitive man on the planet, but this is some heavy news. Thoughts cascaded into my mind:
How can I set routes/projects with bum shoulders? How can I fore run said projects and grade them without being able to climb? How can I do physical manual labor as a climber without my most valuable ascending muscles?
I left the doctors’ office with hope. She said if I take 6 months off of hard climbing the tissue may be able to heal itself. An intense physical therapy cycle in the weight room can help this process along also, but if I’m not patient, surgery may be the only option.
So my friends, it begins… The road to recovery… again.
Wish me luck!