25 December 2013

All I Want For Christmas Is...

Yesterday’s Christmas Eve Mass, where my contemporary church band plays our annual pre-Mass concert, was a celebration of faith and music, joyful, uplifting, and a lot of fun to boot. Today, the gifts are all unwrapped, there is far too much chocolate in the house, our stomachs are uncomfortably full from a fine dinner, the brother-in-law and charming spouse have departed, and all are sated. Further, the ratty old Santa hat has absorbed its annual allocation of sweat over the last few days’ runs, usually to the delight of passing motorists, though today, oddly, on Christmas Day itself, they were mostly silent Grinches. No accounting for logic, but it’s all good.

But what’s excited me from a running standpoint is Chemistry. Tis the season to take advantage of all that modern medicine can provide. Yes, I know you won’t find that on a Hallmark card, but then again, most of the things that you find on a Hallmark card do little for me (with a few notable exceptions over the years, like Thing One and Thing Two, and “Please Disregard Stephanie”…but I digress). Yes, Chemistry is now gloriously re-accessible, and all I want for Christmas is my two front teeth eclipsing a few doses of some effective anti-inflammatories.

Good running stories have been few and far between since I haven’t raced since Boston, and good running itself has been hard to reach since ratcheting down the training over the summer, August’s Big Slice, September’s Clot City, and the aftermath. While I managed both last month and this one to bump up over a hundred miles, I’m still up a few pounds, still pedestrian in pace, still fighting plenty of pain in the Achilles that I’d hoped would be fixed by now, and worst of all, feeling stiff as a board. It’s times like this that I have to admit I’m halfway to a hundred years old, and the second half of my life probably won’t be as easy breezy as the first.

It’s also times like this that I realize the crutch that I, like many runners, rely on without giving much thought: the magic of anti-inflammatory medications. I frequently joke about my use of Vitamin I, our running code word for ibuprofen, and occasionally reach for something a little stronger, but I don’t really think about how well that stuff really works, quietly, unassumingly, in the background. I don’t want to sound like an addict or anything, but how does that song go? You’re gonna’ miss me when I’m gone…

Until yesterday, I hadn’t touched the stuff since mid-August. You have to lay off anything that stuff for a week or so before surgery for the simple reason that it’ll make you bleed worse when they slice you open, which is generally viewed as a bad thing. Then, based on the nature of the surgery, where the intent was to cause inflammation around the injured tendon to promote healing, you have to lay off the stuff afterward as well. And then, when you win the jackpot and land in the hospital with clots in your lungs, resulting in a three-month sentence of consuming Drāno to clear your pipes, anti-inflammatories are strictly verboten. Again, it’s highly frowned upon to bleed to death, so this is good advice. Except that four months later, especially when your training is seriously interrupted, this makes you feel, well, fifty. It makes you wonder how the rest of the fifty-year-olds who don’t do what you do feel like every day. No wonder they complain.

Lady Doc had told me that three months into the rat poison regimen, we’d run an ultrasound on my legs to be sure they weren’t growing any more unsightly clumps. Not that this would assure complete go-forward safety; nothing can do that, but this would, at least, lay to rest major concerns of a newly emerged clot-factory still at work now that the post-surgical laid-up lifestyle had passed into the past. So two weeks ago I trundled off to my oh-so-familiar local hospital where by now, after months of weekly blood tests, I’m on a first name basis with much of the central registration staff, to see what my lower veins looked like.

Spoiler alert: after two cardiac ultrasounds, which were probably some of the coolest images I’ve ever seen, this one was a bit of a let-down. Leg veins just aren’t that interesting. Mike the tech was great, showing off a few valves, making the machine make cool whiiisshing noises (who knew that curling your toes changes the pressure in your veins?), and showing me what was to be seen, which fortunately included no visible clots, but, well, they’re just veins, and even when enhanced with the pretty colors of Doppler blood flow imaging, not all that cool compared to the beating of a heart. But excitement or not, he delivered what I wanted to hear, which was a green light. As he put it, this was one of the few tests where he was authorized to give me that news, since had it been otherwise, I’d be staying for a while. Yeah, I know that game, having been there just three months earlier. Ebullient, Elvis left the building thinking he’d consumed his last dose of warfarin.

Not so fast. What Lady Doc patiently explained was that the three month guideline was based not so much on calendar time, but on cumulative time when those weekly blood tests indicated a propensity to bleed beyond a certain level – or in other words, cumulative clot dissolving time. Over the past three months, I’d had some time when that crucial number had dipped. She wanted me to run the Liquid Plumr till the end of the month, which meant, aw shoot, that much longer feeling stiff and sore. We negotiated a bit and settled on about halfway, time off for good behavior, that being my resumed running, so one more week, one more test, one more good reading, then freedom, followed by four days to let the red stuff thicken up again, then have at it. The theory was that I should be good to go by about Christmas.

So it is that amidst the true joy of the Christmas season, I’ve had the additional treat of being able to start beating back the cobwebs that have grown over the past four months. It’s only been two days now, and it might be purely placebo, but I’d like to think those charming little anti-inflammatory chemicals are starting to do their job. I actually felt a little faster yesterday. Could it be?

Combining this with the fine, if not somewhat painful efforts that Jon, my latest purveyor of what he likes to call Diabolical Physical Torture (apparently that’s what the “DPT” in his title means) has been applying over the last couple of weeks, there is, I am hoping, some light at the end of the tunnel during these short dark days. He’s worked out a lot of the issues with the rest of the ankle that have crept in while I’ve babied the Achilles. Unfortunately, no such luck yet on the Achilles itself. Both he and Dr. Foot Doctor just say patience. (Silly them, to think I could really be patient?) There’s still a big part of me that wonders if all this Achilles repair/recovery was worth it, since, after all, it still hurts. But at least, for Christmas, I can start to make the rest of me feel a little better.

Merry Christmas to All, and to All a Good White (Pill).

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