I’ve been thinking a lot recently about signs — of improvement, or of decline. I mentioned a while back that it’s been frustrating to have no idea about whether my foot is progressing, beyond trying to make it hurt and seeing if it still does. No x-rays; no images; no reliable way to look inside at what’s bothering me (because maybe I still don’t even know exactly what is). Just pressing and resting and standing and jumping and thinking, “Is that still how it was last week?” Just waiting for something to be different.
“How did you know you were getting better?” That’s what I’ve asked everyone I’ve talked to who’s recovered from a similar injury. “How did you know it was working?” And I hear a variety of things — from “I never really did” to “one day, it was just better.” But there’s no clear path. If there were a path, I’d follow it; oh man, would I ever follow it. But there’s nothing there to follow.
I saw a new doctor last week. Actually, I saw two. One lost me in his waiting room, wanted to talk about my digestion, said the bone issue his colleague saw on the MRI was a “red herring,” and offered a cortisone shot. The other spent an hour with me, watched me walk, examined my shoes, said she thought it was a bone bruise, and rejected the idea of a cortisone shot. Two very different paths, one very confused person. I picked the second path, because I liked that doctor better. (Probably not the way one should make a medical decision, but it seemed as good as anything.)
Anyway. The whole time we talked, she kept saying, “This takes a long time.” She said it a couple of times offhand, then said it again, slowly, staring me down so I’d really get it — “this takes a long time.” And I kept saying, “I’m not in any rush.” I’ve already missed everything I wanted to do this summer and fall. There’s nothing on the calendar, nothing I’ve paid money for, nothing I need to hurry up and do. I’ve got forever.
But I don’t have forever — not really. I’m supposed to volunteer at Ironman Arizona in six weeks, and as of today, I’d be fairly useless on my feet at an aid station. I want to book a trip — I don’t even know when or where, but I want the option to dream one up. I want to do things — normal life things — like walk around at a music festival or be the one to pick up the takeout or not miss a train that I can almost reach out and touch because I can’t jog the two steps to the doors before they close. I’m not in a hurry to race, or even to run again. But I would like a sign that at some point the rest of my life will be OK. I never would have thought after that one run in June that I wouldn’t be able to dance at a friend’s wedding in October or that I’d be debating canceling a trip in November, but that’s where I am.
Is this it? Is this standard now? I haven’t seen many signs otherwise.
Or maybe I have. Last weekend, I had to drive somewhere, and driving requires two normal shoes. So, for the first time in a month, I put on my other sneaker. On the way home, I realized I needed to pop into the library. So I walked in. And back to the car. And down the block to my house from the parking space I found. Maybe a quarter-mile, total. Nothing special, except that it felt normal. When I told the new doctor about my accidental experiment, she said to do that again — not much, and maybe not outside the house again for a while (whoops), but up and down the hallway. Down to the basement. To the kitchen. Just see what happens. Hope that nothing happens.
And then there’s the itching feeling. Michaela told me about this — is your heel itching? like just under the skin, where you can’t actually scratch it? — and while I don’t think I would have called it that, I do feel something. Not always, not reliably, and maybe I only feel it because she told me to, but I swear, it happens. Maybe it’s nothing. But maybe it’s not.
But then there are the other signs: the two sore spots that feel the same as they’ve felt since June. The nuh-uh, no, no, nope reaction I still have to someone asking me to rock back on my heels or — god forbid — try to walk on them. The flip of a calendar to another month.
You can get used to anything, I guess.
If you’d asked me, back in June, I would have said I’d probably do an Ironman someday. It’s not something I said aloud very much, but I believed it. Not soon, but not never.
I thought I’d do another marathon, obviously. I never honestly thought I’d qualify for Boston as a younger woman, but I thought I’d be a lifelong runner who would maybe finally pull out a BQ at 55.
I’ve let go of a lot over these past three months.
I would be happy doing those things, of course — but I could be happy enough with something less. I could be happy enough being able to run for an hour. I could be happy enough never going beyond Olympic distance again. Hell, I could be happy enough as an aquabiker if I could at least walk transition without pain.
I can’t tell if those are signs of maturity or desperation, that my “happy enough“s keep getting smaller. Maybe it’s both.
“So which thing do I listen to?” I asked the new doctor. “The thing where walking feels OK? Or the thing where pressing on my foot doesn’t?”
“Both,” she said. “You have to listen to both.”
But what do I do when they’re different?
Do I listen to the person who treats a bone injury or the person who doesn’t?
This shot or that shot or the really expensive shot or no shot?
Ice or heat or both or neither?
Crutches for three weeks?
“We’ll get you running again” or “some people recover and some people don’t”?
Maybe I’m not lacking for signs at all. Maybe I actually have too many.