Altitude Sickness
February 22, 2017

Of powder days and a broken spine

What a week of skiing, and what a terrible time to be out with a back injury! Fresh powder every day for a week! I would never, ever be the kind of guy who would ski injured. But to get first tracks in Growler, Devils Den, Pins, Low Rider, Outer Limits, Devil’s Fiddle, or the lift line under the Skye Peak Express! To drop Enema Rock for my first time since they put that lift in! To ski trees with wild abandon, alone, shredding like a Berseaker (cue Ozzy Osbourne here), dropping all of the rocks I have ever wanted to drop in the Den, leaving my fate to the gods of speed and snow. To gliding my way through deep fluff snow on my massive wide powder boards, cutting deep beautiful sinusoidal tracks, going too fast, yodeling like an Austrian shepherd! To engage this state of grace, grab the tail of this particular dragon when in a condition of physical impairment. I would never, ever, never-never, not ever do any of those things.
Now that we have discussed all the horrible, terrible, no-good, very bad things that I would never ever do when in this physical state, I return to reality: The spinal saga of Brady, my adventures in PT), and the healing of Pip (“the impaler”).
My last article was written in a panic after viewing my newly minted lumbar x-rays, showing a fun-house mirror version of a spine, minus alignment and a disk. It was so disconcerting that I spent the weekend researching disc replacement surgery (unlike joint replacement, it looks like there has never been a failure of a replacement disc in a living patient … so hopefully if I get a disc replacement, I won’t die, because that seems to be when the discs fail. Or something.).
On Monday, I went to see my chiropractor, the knowledgeable and eminently competent Jennifer Brandon, who looked at my back films, and pretty quickly diagnosed me with disc rupture, mild calcification associated with bone to bone contact, and pretty severe displacement at both the sacrum and the obviously displaced vertebra. I also discovered that one leg that is shorter than the other (we know the floor I stood on for the x-ray is level), that I had nerve impingement associated with the compressed disc, and more speculatively, a previously broken vertebra. This vertebra might have broken during my motorcycle accident in 2000, or in my cycling accident last July, or both.
In any case, I am a mess. I have spent lots of time on the phone with my insurance company, my chiropractor, and my primary care provider office, trying to arrange specialist referrals and an MRI, and none of them are coming as fast as I would like. I feel like I’m living in Canada, for Pete’s sake, except, oh yeah, I have to pay through the nose for all of this stuff that I’m waiting for.
Anyway, the further prognosis and potential surgical strategy is going to take months instead of weeks, so I got a membership to the Spa at the Woods so that I could make use of the sauna, hot tub, and pool. As many of you have read about in Brady’s previous adventures in PT, I have found walking in a pool to be a highly effective method of gaining strength, flexibility, and painlessness after injuries. It’s chiropractor-approved because of its shock-free inspiration of motion of the spine, so I figured that it would also be useful to strengthen my hips, knees, ankles, and even my rotator cuffs, since I am bound to be favoring my back, even if only out of fear, which will put more stress on my other joints.
My starting point is that standing for more than a minute causes me distinct discomfort. I am able to avoid this discomfort if, like when skiing (which is, actually, a completely pain free activity), I keep my knees slightly bent, and roll back and forth from weighting one big toe to the other.  This is interesting academically, but I don’t find it a compelling way of living.
I ride my road bike on a stationary trainer for 30-60 minutes every morning and then stretch a lot, which brings me quite a bit of relief, but it is maintenance more than progress (though it is nice to finally be getting my forehead down to my knee during my floor hamstring stretches—I haven’t been this flexible since a few years after I stopped fighting).
My first day in the pool I knocked out 750 yards of walking laps (forward, backward and grapevines) and 500 yards of swimming (varying strokes.) I was tuckered out by the end, but I did better with swimming than I expected given that I haven’t swum a lap in two years and eight months.
The next day I knocked out 2,000 yards of walking (surprisingly aerobic), and 600 yards of swimming. I would have swum more, but I forgot to drink a bunch of water before I engaged the exercise, and pools make me cramp up.
After a rest day, I was starting to get blisters on the balls of my feet, I hit the pool again and walked 2,500 yards (almost a mile and a half), and swam 1,000 yards. I brought a metallic thermos with water to avoid cramps, and nearly succeeded. Next time I will try a couple of handfuls of walnuts and some pickle juice before hand, and see if that helps.
I came walked out of the spa into a day so fine that I didn’t even mind that slushy water slopped up over my flip-flopped feet. It actual felt kind of good on the hotspots on my feet.
With regards to the healing of Pip (“the Impaler”) my efforts have been succeeding. After two kinds of antibiotics, a few different shots, a lot of vitamin C, and a pure hay and water diet (he is really steamed about that), he has solid, perfectly shaped little poops, and I have considered changing his name from Pip (“the Impaler”) to Poop (the “Impooper”). We will see if it will stick. The name, not the poop. I am eager to be able to start handing him again, and working on his socialization.

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