The human body is not meant to lay flat for long periods of time.
This is knowledge that I have recently come to learn in a very hard way. I’ve just come off a five-day stint of being flat on my back, feet elevated, and staring at the ceiling. When your doctor has mandated “toes over nose”, it’s hard to do anything. The television can’t be seen. Reading is difficult when your arms start tingling from being held straight up. The plus side is that I was so miserable that sleeping is all I really wanted to do.
This whole mess started with what seemed to be a nasty fungal infection of the feet. The family had run a muddy trail 5K in the rain. In my zeal to document the good time we had for social media, I left my feet in those sopping wet socks that were trapped in non-draining shoes for a little too long. Didn’t think a thing of it, until the itching started the next day. Thought it was a run-of-the-mill case of athlete’s foot and started treating it with basic OTC cream. Also, because I’m no dummy and know not to scratch at athlete’s foot (it tears the skin and makes things worse), I was lessening the itching by scalding the area with really hot water from the bathtub faucet. (Now, listen – I know that y’all are shaking your heads and asking, “Could he really be that stupid?” The answer is ‘yes’, but every one of y’all have done your own dumb things – the only difference is that I’m telling about mine in a public forum!) So, a day or two later, when my ankles started to swell, I thought it was just the result of minor skin burns. When my ankles got so swollen that the skin started to crack and ooze fluid, I was still clinging to my belief that this was just a (really) nasty fungal infection. My wife was beginning to suggest that I visit the doctor but, as usual, I thought I could fix this thing.
I went off to work as usual the next morning. Was just going to continue to treat this nasty ‘fungal infection’ and power on through my day. Within an hour, I found that I could barely walk. My feet were so swollen that every step caused skin to crack and intense pain. I got an appointment with my doc (“my” doctor – seems kinda weird to claim a doctor as my own when I’ve only been in for three visits in the last ten years) and told my boss I’d be back in an hour or so. Go through the standard screening stuff at the start of my visit, finally end up with the MD. She notices that the swelling has started to include my calves. She indicates that she’d like to bring in another doctor so that he can take a look. Doctor number two comes in, takes a quick look, and tells me to head to the Emergency Room. This guy’s been in the room less than ten seconds and is telling me to go to the ER. Hmmm, might be time to start worrying a little bit. I’m still not overly concerned at this point – I have no fever, feel alert, and they’re letting me drive myself the twelve miles to the hospital.
I’m pretty sure that it’s the same with every Emergency Room at every hospital; there are far too many people visiting the ER than there are rooms to treat them in. I got checked in, went through Triage, and sat down to wait. Waiting is something that I’m good at. Put me in line at a busy restaurant, leave me at a deer stand, drop me in a vinyl chair surrounded by a sea of vaguely geometric carpet tiles with waves of ailing humans rolling by – I can wait with the best of them. Since there was a need to save the battery in my phone, I chose to sit quietly with my eyes shut (excellent first line of defense for an introvert: people don’t tend to strike up conversations with strangers who have their eyes closed!). In the ER waiting room, still alert, but without vision, you can hear just about every facet of human nature. There was the cranky old alcoholic grumbling to his friend about the wait. To my left, a jittery young man seemed to be on the verge of a seizure. A mother in labor screamed past. An angry woman who claimed to be in excruciating pain kept bitching at the staff about having to wait – and kept threatening to leave and go somewhere else. Every few minutes, some soft footsteps padded along just behind the squeaky wheelchairs they pushed. Incongruously, there was raucous laughter bursting from a point just past the closed doors to the treatment rooms; it seemed as if one patient’s family was easing her pain by telling of happier times. About an hour in, one of the wheelchairs stopped close to me. Too close. I had to open my eyes and take a look around. Started matching voices with people, sorting out the room – and that’s when big thoughts began to fill my mind.
Maybe they weren’t exactly big thoughts, but rather a series of observations and ideas rolling through my gray matter:
– By definition, people are not at their best in the Emergency Room. They are there because something has gone wrong. When things that involve the human body go wrong, it creates fear, and that fear can make people do some strange things.
– Based on casual observation and overheard snippets of conversation, the dietary habits and lack of physical activity of about 75% of the patients in the waiting room directly contributed to their ailments/reasons for being there.
– People avoid people that don’t seem normal. The kid rocking and jerking in uncontrollable fits was being avoided like the plague. Outwardly, he was being weird. Being at the edge of his orbit, I could hear the conversation he was having with his mother. It was a normal, everyday discussion of their lives. He wasn’t letting the fact that his body was motoring around against his will bother him at all. It was a good reminder of the old saying about not judging books by their covers.
– A person could be an instant hero if they were to bring a little Black Lab puppy to visit the people in the ER. Screw the health regulations, red tape, and the possibility of pet stains on the carpet – a cute, wiggly furball would help draw people up out of the well of worry and despair and help them forget their pains and fears for a few moments. Somebody needs to do it!
Eventually, I was put on a bed in a back hall of the ER. A whole bunch of really nice people did their poking and prodding and diagnosed me with cellulitis. Patched in an IV for a round of antibiotics and sent me home to elevate my swollen, infected legs while gulping more antibiotics.
Throughout the time spent in the ER waiting room, the back hall, and the next five days of being flat on my back, one thought kept coming back to me.
We generally take our health for granted. Lift Heavy Run Long is what we do. There might be a seasonal cold or a broken finger or nagging aches and pains, but we soldier on – pushing through these minor inconveniences because we can. When we feel good and our bodies are moving well, it’s entirely too easy to assume that we’ll always be like that. Even if you have a chronic condition, it’s possible to “work around” it and motor on through a busy schedule. When life lays you flat out on your back, making it so that you just want to be able to move again – forget those things you strive for: increasing your deadlift or bench, running a faster loop through the forest, plans for a nicer vehicle or house… forget all of that. You just want to get back to those basic things that you’ve always taken for granted – walking across the living room without pain, heading off every day to that same old job, being an active member of your family. We’ve all heard the saying, “You don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone.” Unfortunately, there is truth in those words. The good news is that it doesn’t require a medical emergency for you to take a moment and be grateful for the things you are able to do. So, do it: take a quick inventory of all the things that are there for you every day. Be thankful for them. Develop a daily appreciation for them. Cherish them.
Cherish the ability to move, to be active, to Lift Heavy Run Long.