normality

 

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taking a little time out to enjoy the beauty of Lingshan

Injuries have a way of taking me by surprise. I lost some skin on my knees when I fell off my bike after skidding on large gravel about six weeks ago. As I didn’t suffer any muscle aches from the fall, I continued doing bike rides in the mountains, and training for a half-marathon. Because of the large and painful scab that formed on my right knee, I couldn’t do much stretching during this time. That’s when my left knee pain began.

Initially I was in denial, thinking the pain would go away eventually. I’d generally feel fine at the start of a run and bike ride, then I’d hit a threshold when my left knee would start ‘complaining’. This wasn’t such a big problem on a run as I could just stop and walk home. But it’s a real pain (literally and figuratively) when I’d cycled 40-50km away from home and needed to ride the same distance back.

After suffering for the return leg of a 100-km bike ride, I went to see my physio at Oasis Hospital.

Before I entered his consultation room, Dr Tam noticed the scar on my right knee. I told him I’d skidded off my bike and that wasn’t the knee that I was seeing him about, and pointed to my left knee. I proceeded to tell him about the pain and the sports I’d been doing. He shook his head and said I’d been doing too much, and proceeded to examine my left knee. After prodding and poking all over my left knee, he declared I had an irritated medial collateral ligament (an overuse injury), and I was to rest and do things normal people do for the next ten days.

I then asked him, “What do normal people do?” He gave me a look best described as a mixture of amusement and disapproval and replied, “Shopping, eating and moderate exercise”. He advised me to rest, and prescribed foam rolling, stretching and strengthening exercises. Running a half-marathon and long-distance cycling were both out of the question for the next ten days.

I left Dr Tam’s office feeling relieved that my diagnosis wasn’t as serious as I imagined, but frustrated that I’d have to shelve my weekend plans and find other activities to occupy my time for the next ten days. I’d work on my swimming, meet my ‘normal’ friends I haven’t seen in a while, go shopping and catch up on all the DVDs gathering dust at home. Ten days would pass like a breeze. Or so I thought.

 

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counting down the days of normality was the only way for me to stay sane

By day 5, I was already suffering from a combination of cabin fever and boredom. While my friends were out cycling in the countryside, I went swimming (which made me happy), shopping (for essentials) then got a pedicure (to cover up my black toenails). The manicurist took one look at my toenails and worked out that I won’t be coming back for another three months. I spent the rest of the day feeling a little anxious as I wondered how I was going to get through the remaining five days.

On day 6, I gave myself a flimsy excuse (S’s birthday) to ignore my physio’s advice and cycled 40km. The ride was nothing special, but I felt like I was set free from prison. I got my shot of endorphins and my left leg felt fine. I was careful not to take this as a sign that I was completely well, and took it easy for the next four days.

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The prize I’d set for being good for ten days was a 21-km trail run in beautiful Lingshan. Dr Tam said I’d be allowed to do this as long as I didn’t push myself too hard. I took it very easy, not looking much at my watch and savouring and appreciating the beauty of my surroundings. Thankfully my left MCL didn’t give me any trouble during the run.

During the ten days of normality, I had plenty of spare time to reflect on all the possible ways I could’ve irritated my MCL. Running 15 km the day before a 90-km bike ride was definitely a bad idea. I haven’t been stretching and foam rolling as diligently as I should. I was also stressed about my work situation, which didn’t help. Then there’s the fact that I’m physically aging and need more time to recover between workouts. I read an article about overtraining and realised I had half of the symptoms. In other words, I’ve been a bad, bad girl.

Even though I was bored and incredibly frustrated with myself over the ten days, in hindsight it was good that I discovered the problem before it got worse, especially as I plan to start training in earnest for my first Ironman 70.3 in Xiamen next month. There’s always a silver lining in every cloud.

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my forearm fracture adventure in Beijing – day 3 – the path to recovery

Click here for Day 1 and Day 2.

post-op

My first sleep post-surgery was interrupted every two hours by hazy trips to the bathroom. The nurse heard me go the first time and rushed into my ward to see if I needed help. I was already halfway to the bathroom, so she insisted I keep the toilet door slightly ajar just in case. Her request made me feel like I was a four-year-old all over again, but I obeyed nevertheless.

I woke up at around 7 am and couldn’t go back to sleep. I ate a banana that the church couple brought the night before while watching CNN and waiting for breakfast to be served.

Dr Miia came into my ward a little after 9 am. A Finnish lady of few words, she told me in as many words that as the operation went ahead at 4 pm instead of 12 noon, my left arm had swollen so much it was impossible to sew up the incisions on my arm after she put in the titanium plates. In order to reduce the swelling in my left arm, she told me to open and close my left palm by moving each and every finger one at a time, using my right hand to help whenever I had difficulty moving my fingers.  This was easily one of the hardest things I had to do in my life, as my hand had swollen to three times its normal size and each finger felt like it was made of hard, inflexible rubber. She then informed me that the physio would be visiting me later in the day to prescribe me with more exercises to help me recover the use of my left hand, and she’d be back the next morning to see if the swelling had reduced enough for her to sew me up. She wasn’t optimistic about the swelling reducing that quickly though and she was not going to discharge me with an open wound. That meant I was staying in the hospital for at least a couple more days.

I spent the rest of the day doing exercises with my left hand, mobilising my left elbow and shoulder, taking frequent naps, watching TV and fielding calls and messages. As I don’t subscribe to cable TV at home, it felt like a treat being able to watch CNN and flip to other foreign channels initially but the excitement quickly wore off. I began checking and replying to work emails. When my colleagues informed me they were coming to visit me in the evening, I asked that they bring my work laptop so I could do some work while at the hospital. I never felt work was so essential to my sanity and overall sense of well-being until that day.

I was being drip-fed a small dose of painkillers and a healthy dose of antibiotics, so even going to the bathroom required advanced planning as I had to unplug the machine from the power socket, tidy up the cables and push the tree trolley with a machine and bags of medication with my hand in the right position so I wouldn’t set off the alarm warning the nurses my drip wasn’t working.

The physio, Jason, came by at 4 pm. I showed him what my left hand was capable of after eight hours of doing Dr Miia’s exercises. Then he showed me how much more I could do with my left hand, pushing my fingers out and backwards when I opened my left palm and pushing them all the way in when I curled them into a fist. I felt the first bout of pain post-surgery and he encouraged me to up my dosage of painkillers if I needed to. I didn’t know what I was trying to prove but I decided not to do so, preferring to grin and bear it. He told me to do ten repetitions of the exercise as often as I could manage.

After dinner, I received a stream of visitors, with the last one leaving at about 10:30 pm. After seeing him off at the lift, I dragged myself back to my ward and promptly collapsed into bed, dozing off almost immediately. I hadn’t felt so exhausted in a very long time.