Of Elbows and Umbrage

Midlife Sentence | Of Elbows and Umbrage

Here we are, not even a month after I was feeling all puffed up about picking up a new sport, and now I’m grounded from it for at least a couple more weeks.

Or, I might be. It depends upon the Olympics.

This is where I introduce you to my friend David. Sometimes I wonder if all of David’s friends are tempted, like I am, to ask him for free physical therapy advice in social situations. I’ve refrained from this, since it doesn’t feel polite. And until last spring, when my knee started hurting enough to be hard to ignore, I’d never been worked up enough about anything to make an actual appointment.

I can’t imagine having that kind of conversation in a bar somewhere, yelling over happy hour cocktails

When you do make an appointment with David, you get a very thorough evaluation and have a conversation about things like tendons and muscles and nerves and maybe a little side eye when you tell him about your Google-based self-diagnosis efforts. There might be all kinds of science-y words thrown about for syndromes and conditions that David will patiently explain and better people than I will probably remember.

Now that I’ve seen him professionally, I can’t imagine having that kind of conversation in a bar somewhere, yelling over happy hour cocktails, so it’s probably good I’ve resisted the temptation to solicit free advice.

The specific problem with my knee is another reason it’s good I made an appointment instead of asking for advice over cocktails. Since the pandemic set in, I’ve been doing a lot less running. Without anything to train for, it would seem I’ve settled into the couch life with a little more gusto than I realized. If I understand Dave correctly, the crick in my knee might be my body’s response to an abrupt change in activity level.

Yeah, turns out that’s a thing. A couch injury.

Anyway, after that humiliating diagnosis, you’d think I’d be reluctant to seek David’s professional opinion again, but after a couple months of climbing, my elbow was really bothering me.

At first, it hurt only while I was actively hanging from a wall, which it seems like a perfectly reasonable way for an elbow to behave. In fact, most of my body has complained about my hanging from a wall at one point or another these past few weeks.

But it got worse. I started feeling shooting pain when I lifted anything heavier than a cup of coffee. I Googled “elbow pain from climbing” to find out whether I should take a break or amputate or something. The answers were mostly “yes” to a break, but the time frame varied pretty substantially from one source to another. Google didn’t mention amputation, which I took as a good sign, but since I really wanted to keep climbing without risking additional injury, I felt like I needed to consult with a professional about the length of the break needed.

So, I called David again.

And again, most of what he patiently described to me went over my head, so he wrote down the term lateral epicondylitis, which is what the rest of us call tennis elbow. And even though it felt somewhat like someone was trying to pull my arm off at times, David said the damage was minor. Still, a break from climbing was a good idea, since I wasn’t training for some sort of competition. If I were, he said, we would work out a plan for recovery while I kept climbing. In the meantime, I should come in for some work a couple times a week and stop hanging from my fingertips until I can lift my arm again without the shooting pain.

How would Dave know I’m not currently being scouted for the next Olympic bouldering team? 

I left the appointment wondering how tennis and bouldering could result in the same sort of injury, and also how much umbrage I should take at Dave’s assumption I wasn’t in training for anything in particular.

“That was rather presumptuous of David,” Mike agreed when I asked him (which is a perfect example of why I’m married to this man, by the way).

How would Dave know I’m not currently being scouted for the next Olympic bouldering team? I mean, other than the fact I just picked up the sport two months ago, still hyperventilate about being more than six feet off the ground, and up until right this second wasn’t sure there even was such a thing as an Olympic bouldering team?

The nerve of that guy.

The next time I went in, I asked him this straight out: “How do you freaking know I’m not being scouted right now for the Olympic bouldering team, David?”

Now, if David and I were harassing each other over happy hour drinks or something, he would find my righteous indignation appropriately hilarious. As it was, I got professional David. With a completely straight face, he said if I was indeed in training for something serious, we could change tactics, and asked if that was what I would like to do.

So, yeah, David called my bluff. There have been, to my knowledge, no Olympic scouts at my climbing gym awed at the abilities of a middle aged acrophobic and planning on saving me a seat on their flight to Tokyo.

So, now I’m wondering how long of a grounding it’ll take for my new finger callouses to wear off? When I start up again, will I have completely lost my mojo? Will hanging six feet off the ground still make me hyperventilate? These are the questions that keep me up at night.

If there’s an upside to all of this, it’s that physical therapy isn’t all that comfortable. In fact, if I was more of a baby (which I am most certainly not), I’d say it’s downright painful at times. I’d suspect David would say that’s how we know it’s working, but I also suspect our sessions are a clever way for him to get back at me for questioning his assumptions about my Olympic prospects.

So what’s the upside to that? I get to share this whole experience with my kid, the one who got me into this, and say “see what you’ve done to your poor mother? As if labor and delivery all those years ago weren’t enough?”

Okay, it’s a little thing, but I’m going to take it. You know, making lemonade out of tennis elbow … or something like that.

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