I am nursing a winter’s cold and a calf muscle injury. I am not a very good patient. I don’t like being sick (who does?) and I am impatient with the recovery process, wanting to get back to optimum health as quickly as possible. I have been sleeping as much as possible and am flushing my body with herbal tea blends to alleviate cold symptoms from this virus that has attacked my body. My desire to expedite the healing process of my calf muscle injury culminated in a very expensive visit to the ER, something I have had to embrace as an “urban adventure” akin to the cost of a nice one week vacation to Hawaii. My urban adventure is a cautionary tale.
Before I share the details of that tale, I will share how I injured my calf muscle. I didn’t do anything, really. There was no event. I have been active for years. I played tennis in high school and college, I have hiked regularly my entire adult life, I have biked to work up to five days a week for over three years, and I have had a regular yoga practice for a year and a half. In that time, I have never injured a muscle. I use my legs a lot. I have strong legs and have the muscle mass, the “bulk,” that is a testament of that strength.
Here is what I recollect. I remember that my lower inner right calf muscle felt tight on a hike in early November. During my yoga practice in those weeks that followed, I remember thinking during my downward dog, “hmm, my calf muscle feels tight” and I noticed that my inner right heal was tilted up, when both heals should be level. I then started to notice the tightness and discomfort when I was walking. Curious and perplexed, I started to feel around in my muscle with my thumb. During leg balancing poses (tree pose and half moon pose) in my yoga practice the Sunday before Thanksgiving, there was noticeable discomfort in my muscle. I think the muscle actually kind of hurt, but I didn’t listen, I didn’t back off. I continued with the poses because somewhere in my brain the message, “I have strong legs” overpowered the message, “that hurts!” Having never injured a muscle before, I was unable to distinguish between the sensations of tightness and pain.
The next day I suffered. My muscle was very achy and walking was so uncomfortable that I could not put my full weight on my right leg and instead limped around. Then something scary happened. I was walking gingerly in the grocery store and I felt a sudden jolt in my calf muscle. The muscle contracted and in that split second it felt like the muscle had come undone. The word “rupture” flashed in my mind. I was really scared. Had my muscle just exploded? As soon as I got home, I felt around in the muscle. It was still intact and I saw no bulging; the muscle had not exploded, but it was sinking in that I had hurt myself. I needed to rehabilitate as quickly as possible. In five weeks I was going to Costa Rica for a week long yoga retreat and other fun activities, like hiking to the top of a dormant volcano, and I needed my leg. I immediately started icing the muscle and backed off in my yoga practice.
Late Thanksgiving night, I pulled the ice pack out of the freezer, noted it was frostier than usual, and put it on my leg. I’m not experienced with muscle injuries and therefore, I’m not experienced with ice packs. Without much thought, I followed the instructions on the ice pack: “place this side to desired area.” I must have been getting some sensory signals that it was too cold, because I checked the pack and noticed it was sticking to my skin, so I put a thin cloth between the pack and my leg. My younger sister and seven year old nephew were visiting. I was a bit distracted and not paying much attention to the ice pack on my leg. I don’t know how long I left it on. Twenty minutes? More? Sure it felt cold, but I was icing my leg and it was supposed to feel cold, right?
Even with the cloth, the ice pack stuck to my leg. When I pulled the ice pack away, I saw, to my alarm, that my skin and the fat layer under my skin were frozen solid. I commented to my sister and naively said, “it’ll thaw.” Umm, live flesh should not be frozen! When my skin started to come back to life, it was hot and started to burn. My little sister had made a comment about frostbite and it stuck in my mind. As the burning sensations intensified and the skin grew bright red, I got online to see if a person could get frostbite from an ice pack. They can. Had I just damaged my skin? Was I going to lose a chunk of my leg? What was I supposed to do? What could I do to remedy this situation as quickly as possible? I was going to Costa Rica in less than five weeks. My skin was burning and it looked like it was going to blister. It was 11:30 at night on Thanksgiving. Who could I call for help? I panicked. I grabbed my jacket and purse and told my sister, “I’m going to the emergency room.”
By the time I got the ER, the burning sensations were not as intense, but I was still shaken up and wanted reassurance that everything would be ok and direction for what to do to make things better. Once I was checked in and was met with little concern over my frozen leg, I started to wonder, “how much is this going to cost me?” The physician’s assistant was more concerned with why I was icing my leg and not with my frozen skin. She wanted to check for blood clots. The nurse lady said of me, “she’s young and healthy and does not smoke.” PA lady persisted. In my frightened state, I said ok. That muscle contraction was pretty scary. It would be good to confirm I did not have blood clots and I had insurance, right?
The longer I waited, the more tired I became and I just wanted to go home. I felt trapped. I should have bolted. In hindsight, I wish they had presented me with a rate sheet and said, “This is what we bill per minute for this bed and this is how much a vascular ultrasound costs.” Or even better, “This is not life threatening. Go see your doctor on Monday.” I didn’t have blood clots, of course, but I still cried during the ultrasound – big tears rolled down my cheeks. Body stuff scares me. Getting that intimate with how the body functions . . . it taps into my fears. And there was no one there with me holding my hand and comforting me. I was alone.
I have shared my cautionary tale with many folks, I guess for the much needed reassurance that my moment of panic was and is completely understandable. I’d never frozen my flesh before. I didn’t know what to do. Unfortunately my moment of panic carries quite a sizeable price, even with insurance. I am doing my best to keep a positive attitude and glean the life lessons and find the value in this experience. I now have my doctor’s number at the ready and next time will call first before rushing off to the ER. I have learned and will learn for the next year that I chose the less desirable insurance plan which will cost me more to get benefits, than if I had just signed on to pay more per month for the better plan. From this painful life lesson I have learned how important it is to educate oneself and read the fine print before making important decisions. And the most valuable lesson I have learned is to listen to my body and not take it for granted. I will inhabit this body for many years to come and if I want to have a happy, healthy body and feel good inhabiting this body, I need to take care of it.
Saturday night I attended a holiday party. I didn’t stay as long as I would have in normal party mode and no party drinks for me while I am nursing this cold. I shared my cautionary tale with a friend and yoga teacher and she said of my muscle injury, “it’s part of the journey.” She is absolutely right. This is a body lesson, part of my yoga journey, a journey of becoming more intimate with my body so I am able to read my body, to communicate with my body and to hear its messages.
My muscle and my frost nipped skin are still healing. I’m sad that because of my injury I won’t be able to immerse myself as deeply into the physical part of my yoga practice during my Costa Rica retreat than if I were injury free, but I know there will be many other rich experiences to be had and many gifts to discover and bring home with me. And…there is the healing waters of the ocean to look forward to, nature’s neti pot and much more.
“In these bodies we will live, in these bodies we will die
Where you invest your love, you invest your life”
Mumford & Sons, “Awake My Soul”