Ok, I’m trying to be clever with that title. The more usual meaning of that acronym is “Did Not Start”, which sums up my Brooklyn Half experience yesterday.
No need for this…
So no race report, but instead further developments in the life of an injured runner. I ended my last post on a suspenseful note, as I was about to receive the results on an MRI of the troublesome right knee that’s kept me from running since March.
And so I found myself back at the orthopedist a couple of weeks ago, sitting in a consultation room staring at a TV on the wall showing the results of my test.
Can you make sense of this? Nope, me either.
It must have been at least ten minutes before the doctor entered the room, giving me plenty of time to stare at the images, trying to make some sense of them. Somewhere on this screen must be an explanation for what’s been causing so much pain. Soon I had to give up, the only lesson learned being that an MRI is much more difficult to decipher than an x-ray.
Eventually the doctor arrived to give his interpretation of the MRI results. A little fluid on the knee, the calcified loose body that the x-ray had previously revealed, and something new: suprapatellar synovial plica syndrome. I’d never heard of a plica before; it’s since become part of my daily vocabulary. Although I’m the last person who should ever try to explain medical conditions, the plica is essentially a membrane that lives somewhere in or around the knee lining. If it becomes unusually inflamed, it can interfere with the normal flexing motion of the knee, resulting in sporadic but quite intense pain.
I was greatly relieved to have a diagnosis that seemed to make sense, something definite found in the precise area I was having trouble. So what do you do with a misbehaving plica? Whipping out the misfiring membrane with surgery is an option, but the standard first course of action is a cortisone shot to reduce the inflammation. Researching on the internet reveals all kinds of horror stories about steroid injections, on the other hand I found some positive accounts too. While I don’t want to get into a state of dependency on these injections, I wanted to give this treatment a fair chance to work: having put my trust in medical professionals, I have to let them use their skills and knowledge to try to help me.
I had the shot a few days later. Hobbling into work the next day was a little uncomfortable, but by the weekend I was ready for my first test run, with the blessings of the doctor. With two weeks before the next appointment, these would be important runs to determine whether the injection had worked, or if surgery would be necessary.
The first attempt to run was inauspicious. My running club, the Staten Island Athletic Club, has for years (decades?) organized a weekly 3 mile Fun Run in beautiful Clove Lakes Park. This seemed a perfect place to begin the comeback. See some friendly faces, run with others in case I break down, pace off others in case I don’t break down. Perfect. I signed in and did a little warmup, and OUCH. Pain radiated all the way across the top of my knee, and I had to stop after a quarter mile. Would I not even make it to the start line of a casual fun run? I walked a bit, then jogged a little more. Pain, but less than before. Ok, so it’s getting slightly better, I thought, let’s try this.
The first mile continued to hurt, OUCH OUCH OUCH.
I’ve been asked a few times how I’m handling not being able to run. It’s a valid question. Running is my way of coping with all the stresses and anxieties that life throws at me. I can zone out, or think my problems through, take out my frustrations… whether I need to be calm or aggressive to get to a resolution, running is an avenue to do it. It’s my lens on the world, the way I learn about stores opening, or restaurants closing. It’s allowed me to witness moments of sweetness as well as some truly bizarre human behaviour, often in the course of the same one hour run. If you take all that away, can I still be ok?
Surprisingly, the answer has been “yes”. And I’m not even sure that I understand why. I’ve put a little more energy into work. I’ve picked up my camera and been involved with running by doing event photography. I’ve stayed in contact with my running club. All positive developments, but combined they surely can’t compensate for the lost benefits of running.
During the first mile in the park, that frustration I’d been expecting belatedly reared its head. If it should turn out that I’ll never be fast again, I think I can be ok with that. But if I should never again be able to run without physical pain? Forget the relaxing zen run. Forget the “run ’til you’re numb” aggression run.
The knee pain did seem to get a little better over the course of the three miles, though this may have been more a consequence of my lack of stamina, giving me other things to worry about.
The next day – Mother’s Day – however, was an eye-opener. I woke up feeling like I’d had sledgehammers smashed into my thighs. After a three miler, at “easy” pace. Excuse me as I’m trying to keep up the quality of my writing, but WTF?! I then proceeded to throw my back out while lifting groceries out of the trunk of the car – more than likely because my thighs and knees didn’t want to bend. The comeback was on hold for a couple of days, and the next test run wasn’t encouraging. Half a mile, pain across the top of the knee again.
But then, a turnaround. A mile with less pain. Then 4.7 miles with still less pain. And then, a realization.
My loose body had become a lost body.
The little bump under my skin, trapped just above my kneecap, wasn’t there any more. Eventually I tracked it down, it had moved about an inch and a half to the anterior side of my knee. If I applied pressure to it, I could make it move almost back to its original position, or, alternately, end up losing it again. A very odd sensation!
But could this be the reason the pain was diminishing? Today (Sunday) I set out to test a new theory. After victimizing my plica for weeks, could it simply have been a secondary actor in this drama? Maybe the loose body above my kneecap was creating all the tightness in my knee, and the plica became inflamed as a knock-on effect.
I ran 7 miles this morning. I had no pain in the first mile. None. Sure, after that mile, my knee began to become numb on the medial side as a form of self-protection, just as it has in every test run I’ve done. But somehow things feel different. Runners have an innate sense of which pains are ok, and which are not, and I can’t help but feel optimistic. Did the cortisone shot free things up so that the calcified lump moved? Or did I do that by running? And now that this thing is floating around, can I safely run, or is it a ticking timebomb waiting to land in another bad spot, requiring surgery?
So many questions – but that’s how I like to end these posts, on a cliffhanger. I see the doctor on
Tuesday Thursday, hopefully he feels as positive as I do about my outlook.