Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Lucky Break

“Are you hurt, or are you injured?”

A family friend who is also a fireman asked one of my sons this question after my son had whacked his nose at a birthday party a few years ago. Kneeling down in front of my boy, my friend inspected the bloody nose and said, “If you’re hurt, I can help you. If you’re injured, I can still help you, but we’ve got to get you to the doctor. Let’s see which it is.”

Fortunately, my son was only hurt. One ice pack and 10 minutes later, he was back in the fray of pizza, cupcakes, and bowling. But my friend’s words stuck with me. So when the skate guard glided up to me in Lake Placid last January and asked if I needed to see an EMT, I had to think about it.

“Hold on,” I said, sitting in the snow. “”Give me a sec.”

Sometimes it’s hard to tell if we are hurt or if we are injured. We can be dismissive of serious problems or too concerned with benign issues. When it comes to the body, we can be deceived. Moreso, too, when it comes to the heart.

In this case, it was my arm, not my heart, that took the blow. It was such a stupid fall. There I was, sailing around the Olympic oval on my skates under a starry winter sky. The ice was the smoothest I’d ever experienced, and I happily joined in skating with my younger son, his hockey teammates, and several parents as we enjoyed our last night of a hockey tournament in Lake Placid.

At the center of the oval there was a bonfire. A narrow, snowy path led from the rink to the fire, and I spontaneously decided to hop off the ice and walk down the path toward some toasty flames. In doing so, I underestimated how fast I had been going, and therefore I overestimated my stopping ability on the snow. There was nothing to grab in order to steady to myself, and there was no rubber mat to keep my skates from slipping. There was just ice and a hard, packed, snowy path. I slid off the ice, took one step onto the snow, lost my balance, tried to steady myself with another step, and then seemed to slip up into the air before landing--entirely on my left elbow.

It hurt, but it was also kind of numb. I sat in the snow, trying to steady my shaken nerves and assess the situation, when the skate guard showed up.

“Are you okay?” he asked.

“I fell on my elbow,” I said. I tried to move my arm. Something was wrong, though. My forearm wasn’t moving. It was just kind of hanging there.

The sweet, pimply-faced kid said, “We have EMTs. You should probably get that looked at. Can you move it?”

I instinctively held my arm close to my body. Although I was wearing layers of clothing and a puffy down jacket, I could tell something was definitely not right. My mind immediately flashed to visions of sitting in an ER in Lake Placid, effectively ruining the last night of an otherwise amazing tournament weekend.

Hurts can inconvenience us; injuries can change the game completely.  

I tried to move my arm and felt pain around the bicep while having no control of anything below the elbow. “Shit,” I said out loud, realizing that my elbow might have actually dislocated. Then, to the guard, “Sorry.” I straightened my arm as best as I could and then pulled hard on my elbow. Something popped. Eureka! I could move my arm again! “There!” I said before being overtaken by pain and nausea. “Oh,” I gasped. “It’s better, but it’s worse.”

I conceded defeat. “Maybe I should see the EMT,” I said.

“I think that’s a good idea,” the skate guard said, reaching out his hand and helping me onto the ice and into the arms of my husband, who could only shake his head at my awesomeness as he guided me toward the EMT. He rolls his eyes. A lot.

At me.

The EMT determined that my arm didn’t seem broken, but it was severely bruised. She gave me a bag full of Lake Placid snow to ice it. “Sorry,” she said. ‘It’s all we have here.” Then she told me to take some ibuprofen and get checked out when I got home. I followed her orders, and 36 hours later I was at the doctor with a black and blue arm that was frozen at a 90 degree angle and an elbow that had swelled to the size of a tennis ball. Two doctors and several x-rays later, the results were in: I was injured.

I had not only dislocated my elbow--and somehow managed to relocate it by myself--but I had chipped it in the process. Worse, though, was that the tendons and ligaments of my left arm were in rough shape after being rocked by the dislocation. Prognosis: I would heal, but the healing process required time, rest, physical therapy, and absolutely no weight bearing activity whatsoever until the orthopedist said otherwise. “You’re lucky,” said the orthopedist. “Injuries as severe as yours to the ligaments and tendons often require surgery. I’m hopeful we can avoid that, but we will see.” She added that my 18 years of yoga practice had likely kept my bones nice and strong, which is why I hadn’t suffered a compound fracture.

I didn’t feel all that lucky. I was actually annoyed. I couldn’t believe I had been stupid enough to get hurt--wait, injured--like that. I should have known better than try to skate off the ice too fast. Now I was stuck in a cuff and collar, perhaps one of the ugliest slings ever made, and I couldn’t hook or unhook my bra every day without excruciating pain. But of course, I never asked for help. I’m too stubborn. My body was injured, and my pride was hurt. And I damn sure didn’t want surgery.

I wasn’t feeling particularly good in my own skin, and the injury had left me feeling vulnerable and weak. Most arm-oriented yoga poses were ruled out for several weeks, which was a serious bummer for this downdog girl. It was winter, dark, and cold, and I couldn’t even ice skate. Faced with limited options, I made a decision: I was going to get back into my running routine. My orthopedist gave it the green light after two weeks in the sling, and I was off. I began new, more mindful eating habits, too. By April, I had dropped several pounds, gained a ton of strength, and felt better than I had in months. Even better, my arm had mostly healed, thanks to my persistence with at-home physical therapy and the guidance of my PT at Yale.  

I kept running, reminding myself to keep my body loose and my breath steady, and on a very hot day in June this 43-year-old ran her first-ever five-miler in under 56 minutes. My goal is to do a 10k next spring, and a half by next fall. But, as with everything, we will see how it plays out. I’m not married to that schedule of progression. As long as I keep running and challenging myself, I think I’ll be in a good, healthy place, regardless of when I make it to that half.

My injury may have healed, but I can still feel its ghost. When I move my arm a certain way or slightly overextend it, my bicep winces. My elbow no longer feels wonky and wobbly, but the arm is still recovering. It’s not as strong as my right arm, although one day it will be. And I will skate again this winter, but with some hockey padding on my left elbow from now on.

That’s how it goes with injuries, I guess. Healing is a long process, and sometimes we have to adapt and modify our ways if we want the payoff to last. If we don’t learn how to heal and how to stay healed, we will open ourselves up to injury again and again. But sometimes, if we are really good to ourselves, we can turn our injuries into new beginnings.

Tomorrow I will teach my regular Wednesday night beach yoga class, one of my two summer jobs that I have come to love. I will guide my students into downdog and show them how to care for themselves and their joints in the pose in order to avoid injury--especially on the sand, which can seem deceptively safe. As usual, I will also remind them of the importance of caring for small hurts and pains on and off the mat, in the body, and in the heart. It is just as important to care for the little hurts lest they turn into injuries. Healing takes work, and not everyone is up to that task.

Saturday, July 16, 2016


I keep my cellphone far away from me at night these days. For the past several months I have elected to drop technology completely from my bedroom in an attempt to create a more relaxing and restful environment. I use a Moonbeam alarm clock to wake up instead of my cellphone alarm, and I do not miss my phone one bit. Not when I’m reading. Not when I’m falling asleep. And especially not in those precious early morning moments when I’m waking up to greet a new day. Instead of reaching for my phone to check emails and social media updates, I stretch, say a few prayers of gratitude, read some meditations, rock a few yoga poses, and start off my day right.

So it was strange this week to have the cellphone back on the nightstand. My oldest son was away at camp, which means that I needed my phone by my bedside—not because he was homesick. He definitely wasn’t. But because, you know, I’m his mother. That’s what mothers do.

It was the best and worst possible time for me to have my phone at an arm’s length first thing in the morning. The current racial climate in our country has had me engaged in some Facebook discussions in which I restated my support for the Black Lives Movement, which resulted in disappointing yet unsurprising backlash from some people. It was a reminder of why I try to avoid Facebook on a general basis, and it was a good reason to get away from it again.

I’ve gone long stretches with a break from Facebook, having deleted the app from my phone. For the first five months of this year I only checked my account once or twice a week on my computer, with my posts being mostly Instagram photos that I shared to the site without ever logging in. Only since roughly the end of the school year have I become again more entrenched in Facebookland—through the browser on my phone, because I refuse to reinstall the app--mostly because I’ve got a little more free time. I also have a lot to say about the status quo of American society, and I’m brave enough—and stupid enough—to share my thoughts about it in that space.

So Wednesday morning I woke up, did my standard morning routine, and then fired up the phone. As expected, there were no texts from my boy—he was too busy being 14 and away from home. But there were some distressing comments to a recent Facebook post of mine, a post that was centered more on looking at a situation from a black man’s point of view than it was of anything else. After rolling my eyes and feeling a knot well up in my chest, I sleepily typed out what I hoped was a coherent response. Then I posted that Facebook needed to fix its face because its ugly is showing. “Peace out,” I said. And I meant it.

I was barely awake, but the “peace out” was genuine. I just knew that if I want to keep my own peace of mind, which I need if I want to be able to think clearly about the big issues of our time and the work that must be done to fix them, then I can’t have my brain muddled by the cacophony of thinly-veiled racism on social media. I need a break from the ugliness. For the record, there’s a lot more that makes Facebook ugly than just the current conversations on race, gun control, and our upcoming presidential election. I need a big break from all of it.

I decided to go for a run. I’ve gotten back into my running groove, and it feels fantastic. Summer heat mandates that my delicate constitution run earlier in the day, however, since late day temperatures make it tough to muddle through three or four turtle miles. So at 6:30, I wrestled myself into a sports bra, popped in my earbuds, and took off for pre-breakfast 5k.

Anyone who runs knows the first mile is a liar, especially early in the morning when you’re still rubbing sleep from your eyes. With “The Cool Out” from the Clash helping me lumber toward the one-mile mark, I began to look forward to the second hill of my route, since I was finally picking up some speed and momentum. I rounded the corner to take the hill, setting my sights at the top of it.

And there was a deer.

This beautiful young deer was just standing on the sidewalk about 20 feet in front of me. It was so unexpected and peaceful, I gasped. It stared at me, and I stared back. I was afraid to move. Morning traffic was increasing on the main road at the top of the hill, and I didn’t want to scare the poor thing right into it. I raised my phone to take a photo of the gorgeous creature, but then I stopped. I decided I wanted to just experience that moment rather than document it. I wanted that moment to be between only me and the deer. I’m tired of sharing so much of my life with the Internet.

The deer gracefully strutted across the Upson Terrace, becoming more skittish as it neared the main road. It crossed back toward my side but then stood in the road for a moment as I signaled to an oncoming car to slow down. The old man driving the equally old station wagon yelled out his window to me, “What’s he doing around here? He looks lost.” Then he coughed a smoky laugh and drove on.

I slowly trailed the deer to the intersection, where my obnoxious, blaze-orange running shorts helped get a few drivers to slow down and even stop as the deer decided to bolt across the main thoroughfare. So there we were, me on the even side of Townsend Avenue and the deer on the odd side. I felt like if I could just make sure that he made it to the big chunk of open land at the Townsend estate just a couple of blocks away, then I could relax. I didn’t trust most of the speeding drivers on Townsend to stop in time if the deer bolted again. Getting him to that wide open space would be an assurance that he was safe for at least a little while.

The deer sniffed around the corner property to which he had crossed, and then he gingerly poked around the grass of the neighboring lawn. I began to run again, much slower than usual, keeping an eye on him. As I ran, he began to pick up speed, so I sped up. He kept going faster, and so did I. I can’t explain why I felt it was so important to keep up with this deer, but it did. He gracefully leapt over a hedgerow. I laughed. He glanced my way and kept going, with me mirroring him far less gracefully across the road. For a block we ran together. His scamper was my all-out-haul.

He slowed at a side-street corner and seemed to actually look both ways before he crossed and made his way toward the tall grass of the Townsend estate. I stopped for a moment as he lingered by a driveway at the edge of the property. “Go, go,” I whispered, as if he could hear me. “Go, be safe.” And just like that, he scampered behind a high row of boxwood and was gone.

I turned back to the sidewalk before me. I smiled. What had just happened? Everything, and nothing. I picked up my pace again.

A block later I passed an older gentleman who teaches at another high school in New Haven. I was beaming, “I just saw a deer!” I exclaimed with the giddiness of a little kid.

“Beautiful,” he said as he passed me. “But watch out for the black bears. I saw one on Kneeland on my run a few days ago.”

I turned my head over my shoulder to reply, “They’re more afraid of us than we should be of them.”

“Maybe, but you never know,” he called back. I didn’t turn around.

My strides were lighter and freer, and I wanted to run forever—toward a place where deer, and bears, and even people can share space without fear. Instead, I ran home and shared my story with my husband and younger son. And I was proud of myself for having no pictures to prove any of it.