I Knew This Day Was Coming, I Knew It Right From The Start

(song: Illusory Light/artist: Sarah Blasko) 

Well kids, I'm fucked. At least, that's how I feel right now.

If you've seen my recent Facebook posts you know that I just had surgery on my back. Lower back pain is not new to me -- I referenced my battle with lower back pain in this post from 2011. And then again in October of this year when I forfeited a half-marathon I spent the summer training for. I've known since 2003 that I have herniated discs in my back. I've known since 2003 that I was probably going to have to get surgery some day. What I didn't know was how quickly things could go from bad to worse when your body has had enough. 

Let me break down the events for you.

  • October 10 - I forfeit my spot in the Rock N Roll half-marathon after months of summer training. I'm just happy my ankle was strong enough to train and I think nothing of my back pain because I know it's temporary and I tell myself I'll roll and stretch and it will be fine, like always.
  • November 15 - I run my best 5K race. I feel great. The next day, my back is sore but that's nothing new...
  • Nov. 22 - Having just joined in October, I run my first Prospect Park Track Club group run despite my back being super sore after the previous day's 5-mile run. Little did I realize, my first run with PPTC would be my last run for a long time. 
Bad things start to happen:
  • Nov. 24 - I notice a weird pain in my glutes. It felt like they were in a vise grip and had been set on fire. Both cheeks. I notice that it goes away when I sit or lie down. Only standing and walking causes pain. This kind of pain was foreign to me.
  • Nov. 26 - Thanksgiving Day. My family and I fly to Georgia. I am struggling at JFK but I'm still able to walk to the gate. I tell myself it's stress and that once I'm back in my hometown,  all the pain will melt away. I'm running in a 5K race the next day and I can't wait to see if I can beat or meet my time from 10 days earlier.

Thanksgiving in GA. I remained sitting for most of my trip.
  • Nov. 27 - Upon my first step out of bed, my ass is engulfed in flames. It also feels as if my legs are super glued into the hip sockets and therefore unable to move back and forth. I burst into tears when I know I can't run the race that morning. I go to the local clinic and get a prescription for prednisone, a steroid that has worked in the past. Unfortunately this time was different and walking continues to become increasingly difficult.
  • Nov. 30 - I notice the tops of my feet and shins are very numb. I also cannot grip my toes to slide my feet into my shoes. I'm still taking the steroids but the numbness and glute pain persists. I call my physical therapist and tell him what's happening. We mutually agree it's time for medical attention. While still in Georgia, I call NYC's Hospital For Special Surgery and get the earliest appointment available - December 10 at 3:45. 11 days away. I'm worried now. I spent my trip helping to care for my sick father when ironically, I was having just as much trouble getting around as he was. My spirits are plummeting.

My dad and me in matching wheelchairs waiting for my car. I had to valet my car because I couldn't walk from the parking lot to my dad's doctor's office.

  • Dec. 1 - Fly back to New York. The short walk to the terminal at our outbound airport in Florida is so painful that I request a wheelchair at JFK because I know the walk to baggage claim will kill me. I feel defeated as I get wheeled through JFK.
  • Dec. 3 - I see my physical therapist. I sob as I hobble to the table where he checks my strength - I can barley lift my toes. It's as if I can't make my feet work with my brain. I am so depressed at this point. All I do is drive my son to and from school and stay on my sofa all day. I can't stand comfortably for more than 10 minutes at a time. I cry a lot. Later that evening, I fall on a staircase in a restaurant because my legs collapsed when I tried to ascend.
  • Dec. 5 & 6 - I forfeit my spot in the Jingle Bell Jog 4-miler - my favorite race of the year. The next day I miss the PPTC Pajama Run. At this point I know I can't run NYRR's Ted Corbitt 15K on Dec. 12. I'm angry and sad. I've reached a level of darkness I had not felt since the postpartum depression I experienced after the birth of my son. 
Shit got real scary, real fast:

December 10, Thursday 

My first appointment at Hospital For Special Surgery is with with physiatrist Dr. Alex Simotas. I had been instructed to go for x-rays before the appointment so I arrive with my x-ray disc in hand. As I walk into the exam room, he says, "How long have you been walking like that?" I was walking as if walking was new to me. My legs felt numb and weightless, as if I had just had casts removed. They were really wobbly. The firey pain in my glutes and hip-flexors was still present (when I stood or walked). I tell him it's been about two weeks - 17 days to be exact - and give him the rundown of the numbness and pain's progression. He seems shocked that this has been going on for over two weeks. He says, "Jesus, what have you been doing?' I answer honestly with, "Lying on my couch and crying." He checks my reflexes. They're not good, but they're not completely dead. He has me press my feet against his hand one-at-a-time. He is extremely concerned about the weakness and my inability to lift my feet and/or toes upward. He asks me if I have control of my bathroom functions. Why I didn't ask questions, I don't know, but I tell him I'm just fine in the potty department. I then ask him, ever-so-naivley, "So, have I graduated from steroids to a cortisone injection?" He replies with, "You're way past injections. You need surgery." I'm speechless. He tells me I have bilateral foot-drop. He wants to send me for an MRI right away so he has his secretary begin the process of getting an approval from the insurance company for an emergency MRI. He leads me to the sofa in his waiting room, and makes a point of telling me to sit down. He tells me not to walk or stand or do anything beyond what is absolutely necessary from this moment until I get surgery. Stunned and in tears, I call my husband and tell him what's going on and ask him to figure out when and where to get our son who is at a friend's house. My head is spinning. I ask the doctor what the urgency is and he explains that waiting could mean permanent nerve damage. I cry some more. Because I have a recorded history of back issues he is optimistic that it's spine-related but the foot-drop and numbness can also mean things like MS, which he wants to rule out. He actually speaks to a surgeon during our appointment. By 5:30, we have the approval and I am scheduled for an emergency MRI at 10PM.

Oh, my sweet spine, we used to be so good together.

I decide to go home and get a bite to eat since I had a few hours to kill before my MRI. As fortunate coincidence would have it, one of my friends is married to an orthopedic surgeon. I call her in hysterics and tell her what's going on. She calls her husband, Dr. Michael Gerling who schedules me for 8AM the following morning. I have my 2nd opinion scheduled before my 1st. 

I arrive at East River Medical Imaging for my MRI.  Minutes later I'm freezing my ass off in a giant, clanking metal tube. Half-way through the MRI, I get "contrast" injected into my arm. This ice cold injection makes things like tumors, abnormal growths, disease...all sorts of fun stuff, appear more clearly on the MRI. After it's over, the tech tells me that someone from HSS will call me in the morning with further instructions. I head home at 11PM, exhausted and terrified.

10PM MRI party for one

December 11, Friday

I see Dr. Gerling, my friend's husband, and after he tests my reflexes and foot strength and reviews the MRI results, he agrees that I need surgery right away. A badly herniated disc is pressing a nerve which is why my legs and feet are numb. He also asks me about my bathroom functions. He sees something on the MRI that he thinks could be a cyst but would need a radiology report to confirm. He explains how he would do the procedure and tells me to think about everything after I see the surgeon from HSS. I cry, and thank him, and hug him.

I have just left my appointment with Dr. Gerling when the secretary from Dr. Simotas' office calls and tells me the surgeon has reviewed my MRI and wants me to come to his office in an hour. I arrive on time and am seen immediately after I finish my paperwork. The surgeon, Dr. Bernard Rawlins sort of looks like James Earl Jones' more handsome younger brother, complete with dreamy British accent. He does the same battery of tests that Dr. Simotas and Dr. Gerling did. He also asks me about my bathroom functions. "Is that a real concern?", I say now that three doctors have asked me. "It's a very real concern," he says. As I understood it, the nerves being crushed by the wildly ruptured disc could also be the nerves that help me control my bathroom functions. He echoes both doctors' call for immediate surgery. He tells me he wants to do it Monday. I agree to the surgery, then I begin to cry. He tells me I am to do nothing over the weekend, except rest. He explains the procedure and outlines potential risk, as he is obliged to do. He also thinks he sees a cyst and tells me he will review it with the radiologist after he sees me. He takes me down the hall to an office shared by his surgical coordinator and office manger  then bids me farewell until Monday. These two incredible ladies are simultaneously badgering my insurance company to approve this emergency surgery by the end of the day, and also scheduling me for all of the tests I need before surgery. After a series of phone calls, they order a wheelchair to take me across the street to the main hospital where my afternoon of pre-op fun begins. 

Dead legs rolling!

I see internist Dr. Joseph Markenson for my medical consult, then I go for blood tests, chest xrays and an EKG. I finish my pre-op at 4:30PM and head home in a state of complete disbelief that what I thought would be taken care of with a injection has escalated to emergency surgery. On the ride home I receive a call from a coordinator at Hospital for Special Surgery. I am officially confirmed for surgery on Monday at 4PM.

Holy shit. 

But I just thought I needed a shot...

The Pavement Is My Friend

(Artist: Ed Sheeran/song: The City)

Well,  I didn't run the half-marathon that I mentioned in my last post. I trained and I was ready until my back decided that it wasn't. I have three herniated discs that mostly give me no trouble, but for whatever reason, they chose the week of my race to make a comeback. I decided my long-term health was more important than one race.  I was bummed, but very proud that I successfully trained for a half-marathon after almost two years of being side-lined with an injury. The back pain only lasted for a week. What's really important here is that I can run.

Down, but not out.

My relationship with running started late in my life (age 35) and progressed slowly (because I mostly hated it). In 2010, after I lost what I now call the "Turbo Jam 40", I wanted to challenge myself and run in a race. I signed up for a 4-mile race in December of 2010. I had never run in my life, so my only goal was to not walk (and, you know, finish). I finished in 43:27, and I jogged (slowly) the whole time. At the time, that was a huge accomplishment for me. The New York Road Runners Jingle Bell Jog remains my favorite race. You never forget your first...

Before I was Formerly Fat Mom, I was just a dork in a running skort. (I'm still a dork.)

After the test group ended, I was another 20 pounds lighter and ready for more challenges. I trained for my first (and only) half-marathon. Though I didn't realize it at the time, it was during this training period that I became a runner. I knew I had fallen in love with running when I had to quit because a freak - not related to running - accident injured my left ankle in 2013. I became so depressed during the recovery process. Every cancelled race crushed my spirits. Every runner that whizzed past me as I walked my son to school, mocked me. I wanted to be back in the club. Nearly two years and a lot of physical therapy later, I'm back! (I still have limited strength and stamina but that's only because I'm a lousy patient. The secret weakness of physical therapy is that it doesn't work if you don't do it. I've always been a slow learner.)

Recently someone asked me what I like about running. My knee-jerk response was, "Nothing. It sucks." And let's face it, it does suck. It's hard. It hurts sometimes. You get blisters. Toenails fall off. Your sports bra chafes your boobs. Your arms go numb if you clench your fists. It's hard to breathe if it's too cold outside. It's hard to breathe if it's too hot outside. I mean, why would anyone want to run? But here's the thing, I love all of those things I just listed. You know why? Because I'm a bat-shit crazy runner! 

My first lost toenail was a rite-of-passage (middle toe, left foot). Those blisters meant I was going the distance (and that my shoes were too small). The chafing from my sports bra was like a runner's brand (and thankfully, not permanent like my stupid tramp stamp). When my forearms go numb, it's like my upper-body's way of saying, "We're doing it!" (Or, "Please loosen your grip".) When I run in the cold weather, I feel like a total bad ass. When I run in the hot weather, I feel like a total dumb ass. BUT I DO IT ANYWAY, because I love running. I love talking about it with fellow runners, I love social media running apps that allow me to congratulate and be be congratulated by fellow runners, I love training for a race and working towards a goal, I especially love RACE DAY. Whether it's 3 miles or 13, there is no greater reward than crossing the finish line.

I love pushing myself.  I love being outside. I love seeing other runners. I love being part of the tapestry of the city or town I'm running. I love being alone - just my thoughts, my music and my drive. It's free therapy. I laugh, I cry, I sing, I moan, I holler, "wooooo!" when I need to push myself a little harder.  I am an experience seeker.  Every run is an experience for me. The thoughts in my head, the way my body feels, everything and everyone around me...it's all part the experience. 

It's so good to be back!

Those Lazy Days of Summer Are Here

(song: Dry County/artist: The B-52s)

Hey y'all! Greetings from hot and humid Brooklyn, NY. I've just returned home after six weeks in my even hotter and more humid hometown of St. Simons Island, GA. As most of you know from my last post, I've been having a tough time figuring out who I am and what I want as I move forward in this new decade of my life. Being home with family and friends, and connecting with those who've known me most of my life was good for my soul. I'm still feeling lost, but not as afraid. Baby steps.

In addition to taking in some southern love, I took in a lot of southern food...

Country buffet, anyone?

and quite a few cocktails.

I arrived in Georgia with all of my healthy staples - almond butter, Vega protein smoothie mix for post-workout fuel, coconut milk, supplements etc. I left Georgia with a whole bunch of unopened almond butter, Vega protein smoothie mix for post-workout fuel, coconut milk, supplements etc. Seriously, I ditched all of my healthy eating habits and I ate with reckless abandon.  I could not get enough fried, sweet, or processed food into my body. And if I'm being completely honest, I didn't give a damn. Let's just add it to the "mid-life crisis" column. But now I'm home and so are my good habits. Almost 5 years into this lifestyle, I find it so much easier to get right back on the wagon. My experience with Whole30 helped tremendously. I don't make excuses anymore, I just do it.

The one good thing I did for my body (and my mind) in Georgia was run. 16 runs in 6 weeks. And I needed every damn one of them. Not just to off-set the garbage I shoveled into my mouth every day, but to help  clear my mind. Such great therapy. In fact, I registered for a half-marathon in October. I signed up ages ago but never announced it because I had already told myself I probably wouldn't do it. Fuck that. I'm not quitting. My ankle isn't as strong as it once was, and I'm not as fast as I was in 2013 but I'm not in any pain and even if I have to walk most of it, I WILL FINISH THE RACE. (And now it's on the Internet so I can't back out.)

Sure I felt like I was going to die, but I looked good.

I'm Beginning To Feel the Years (But I'm Going To Be Okay)

(song: Beginning to Feel the Years/artist: Brandi Carlile)

This month marks four years since I graduated from Booty School, A.K.A the Beachbody test group for the Brazil Butt Lift infomercial.  Four years of being fit, working out, running races and maintaining an overall weight loss of 60 pounds. Four years of being Formerly Fat Mom. Great, what now? That is the question.

I turned 40 in March. On my 40th birthday I was in Paris - a bucket list trip my husband and I started planning on my 39th birthday. The morning of my birthday, I bundled up for a run through the streets of the 7th arrondissement. It was misting and cold and I was running alone in Paris and it was glorious. Just as the lady on my running app said, "Distance: 1 mile...", I stopped, rested my hands on my knees, and quietly cried. I was so happy to be in Paris with my family on a monumental birthday, but in that moment I was overwhelmingly struck with the thought, "What's next for me?" Last week my 7-year-old son asked me if I have a job. I felt a stab in my gut as I answered that I work at home but I "don't have the kind of job that makes money like daddy".  It's not that I don't value what I do as a housewife, it's just that...I don't value myself in general.  There, I said it.

Weepy 40-year-old American mom runs Paris.
Turning over the decade inspired some introspection about my choices. I keep saying, "I need something that's mine," but I don't actually do anything. Yeah sure, I run and I workout, but I'm ready to be defined by more than my ability to do a perfect squat. I've been very honest about my struggles to love my body, and now it's time for me to love my mind. I've always doubted myself -- I think I'm not smart enough, not learned enough, not outgoing enough...I never think I'm good enough for anything (or anyone). I've allowed that constant stream of fear and self-doubt to prevent me from discovering my potential. I'm ready to conquer that fear.

That moment in Paris was a turning-point of sorts. I want to believe there's more for me and that I not only deserve it, but that I'm capable of achieving it. I'm not sure what "it" is yet but I just enlisted a great therapist (yeah, I'm totally into that) to help me stay focused on my possibilities and eliminate self-doubt and fear as I trudge through my mid-life crisis. I realize that what I'm going through isn't all that uncommon for gals my age, but for years now I've generally felt that I suck. I have to get out of that mindset in order to progress. Certainly my fitness transformation in 2011 had a hugely positive impact on my low self-esteem, but there's more work to be done. I'm starting to think I may have something to offer this world. I intend to figure out what that is and make my mark. Stay tuned...

This Is 40.