In My (Running) Shoes
It was 8:30 on a Thursday morning when my identity was stripped from me. I sat in the doctor’s office excited. I had been waiting for this appointment for weeks. This was my surgical consultation. I was getting ready to schedule my surgery to relieve my compartment syndrome pain and get me back to what I do. Because what I do is run….and I haven’t done that in any significant way in months.
The doctor walked in smiling and shook my hand. And then suddenly his demeanor changed. There was an audible sigh. A look of resignation crossed his face. And soon he started saying the things that matched his body language. He did not want to do the surgery. He was worried it wouldn’t be effective. He estimated a 30% chance of it not working. The doctor that did the pressure testing two weeks prior had a completely different opinion and I mentioned that to the white coat in front of me. His response was a terse, “How many surgeries has HE done? Zero.” This shocked me because I was referred to that doctor by him. Surely the doctor before me now had confidence in the testing doctor’s knowledge base.
As he kept talking, I felt the tears well up in my eyes. At first I tried to hide them. Then I didn’t care. I sat listening to the reasons why he didn’t want to do the surgery: he wasn’t sure it would be effective, I had REALLLY high pressure readings, the other doctor stopped my test because the readings where so high and that was unusual, mine was likely a complex case, the surgery is complicated and invasive. Then the reason that floored me: I was too emotionally invested in the outcome. What? It was at this point that he used the tears I had stopped trying to hide against me. He told me my reaction to the news made him even more convinced that surgery wasn’t a good idea right now. If I was this upset now and the surgery didn’t work, I’d be even more upset. Is that what oncologists tell cancer patients? “I’m sorry – I can see that having cancer upsets you and that you really, really want this surgery to work. If it doesn’t you’ll be more upset so we shouldn’t do it.”
Of course I realize that compartment syndrome is not life ending like cancer can be, and I don’t mean to trivialize that one bit. But compartment syndrome was threatening to end my life as I know it – a life filled with running and training and “racecations.”
My voice cracking, I tried to explain why I was upset. I told him my life revolved around running. I wanted to tell him that I work in a running store, my family is made of up runners and many of my friends are runners too. I wanted to say that I’d won my first race when I was 4 years old and that finishing my first marathon was one of my proudest accomplishments. Before I could get all that out, he interrupted me and said, “That’s not good. Your life shouldn’t revolve around running. Because if you are unable to do that, you’re going to be very upset.”
He went on to say, somewhat flippantly, “I like to run. But I don’t anymore. My knees won’t allow me to so I don’t.” While I’m sorry for him, I doubt running was a prominent fixture in his life like it has been in mine. I would guess his father didn’t read him to sleep as a baby from Track & Field News. I doubt his social life largely involves doing crazy, silly or weird races. I imagine he doesn’t have a marathon tattoo.
After a while, my mom, whom I’d ask to come along to presumably learn about my upcoming surgery, that now wasn’t to be, spoke up. She mentioned that I had a few health issues and that she just had a feeling that they were all connected and wondered if he thought this too could have something to do with my thyroid problems. She brought up Mayo Clinic and asked if the doctor thought that might be a good idea. He said it couldn’t hurt. So we discussed the process of trying to get seen there. While the doctor was helpful in trying to help us start that process, I’m 99% sure he wouldn’t have suggested it on his own.
I spent an hour with the doctor that morning. It was a pathetic example of someone who makes her living finding the right words, yet ironically unable to find the words to describe how just accepting this was my life now was not an option. I felt like I was unsuccessful getting him to walk a mile in my shoes to understand the importance of this decision.
I have nothing against this doctor. He’s a nice guy. In fact, our families know each other. His dad taught with my dad before they both retired years ago. I had seen him before when I had a stress fracture. In no way am I saying he’s a bad doctor. Maybe he was having a bad day. But it just seemed like on this particular day, in this particular instance, he was not advocating for me in the way I longed for him to be.
As we left the office, the tears came back. Now an hour late for work, I toyed with the idea of not going in at all. How much could I really concentrate anyway?
I did go to work. I walked into my office past a running poster signed by a local running legend and the congratulatory sign my coworkers presented me with after I’d completed the Dopey Challenge. I sat down at the computer where I typed in my running-related password. I checked my email and among the work items, also found messages from races luring me to enter. I pulled up the social media accounts I manage and when I logged in, saw promoted posts from stores trying to sell me running products.
The next day was the beginning of the Illinois Marathon Weekend. So many of my friends were doing at least one race during the weekend. It was at this race several years ago that I got my half marathon PR, besting my previous best mark by 7 minutes. The stream of social media posts featuring my friends smiling pre-and post-race continued well into the next week, every post reminding that this part of my life could conceivably be over.
Realistically, I do have lots of other things in my life besides running. I know that running is not the only thing in life. In fact, there are times when I don’t even like running all that much. But it’s something I always comes back to. It’s part of who I am. And to be told that it might not be possible is like destroying a little piece of me – my identity isn’t quite whole without it.
I’ve had a little time to process things and get over the initial shock of my situation. I’m still upset and disappointed. But I’m also preparing myself for the road ahead. Now the real work begins. I have to advocate for myself harder than possibly ever before.
After this, training for a marathon will seem easy by comparison.