I Identify as a Couch Potato

i identify asEx-NAACP leader Rachel Dolezal, once a white and freckle-faced young woman with blonde hair, in the midst of a media meltdown, said to the world, “I identify as black”. Former Olympic gold medalist and Wheaties spokesperson Bruce Jenner transitioned out of the closet and said to the world, “I identify as a woman” and formally changed her gender and name to Caitlyn Jenner. I myself have not encountered an identity crisis of this magnitude, but I have a problem. For the record, I identify as a couch potato, preferably a couch potato with a good book and a cup of tea at hand. While I am most certainly not an athlete in any way, shape, or form, I continue to be plagued with typically sports-related injuries.

Last week I was plagued with a sore shoulder. It started when I woke up on Monday and I wrote it off as having “slept wrong”. The pain continued all day, even after taking Advil. On Tuesday, the pain was somewhat worse, and more troubling, it was hurting on the outside of my shoulder, not just inside. The skin on the top of my shoulder was very sensitive and sore to the touch. Wednesday brought pain inching its way up the number chart and I tried the heating pad that evening when I came home. Thursday, even after Aleve, it still hurt, so much so that I couldn’t go to sleep for a while, trying to get in a position that didn’t pull on it. red crossOn Friday, while driving to school, I heard the report that Stephen Strasburg, the pitcher for the Washington Nationals, had had a non-cancerous tumor removed from his shoulder. Naturally, I freaked out and began to imagine all sorts of scenarios where I hadn’t “slept wrong” at all but had something really seriously wrong with my shoulder.

medical symbolBy lunchtime on Friday, I made the decision to make an appointment with my doctor for that same afternoon. She asked me a few questions and immediately said, “rotator cuff”. I could not believe what I was hearing. How in the world did I get a rotator cuff injury? Wasn’t this something that baseball players and tennis players get? Naturally I did some research on Google and found that it can happen to anyone, not just athletes, from a fall or repetitive heavy lifting, neither of which applies to me. The OrthoInfo site, sponsored by American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, also says that it is almost always the dominant arm, which again does not apply to me as I am left-handed and it is my right arm that is affected.

torn aclThis is not my first sports injury. In the fall of 2007, I fell while on a school field trip, landing flat on my back across a railroad tie, with my left leg twisted and under me. I was helped to a picnic table (we were out in the woods doing a low-ropes course with the 7th grade), where I sat with an ice pack on my knee until it was time to board the bus for the trip back to school. A colleague brought me to the emergency room when my principal saw that I was unable to walk unaided. Diagnosis: torn ACL. Seriously. Who gets a torn ACL while on a field trip? The orthopedic surgeon who examined me and my MRI said, “This is a basketball injury, you know.”

carried offThis same knee had seen its share of misery before. In 1980, just before Christmas, I walked over to my television set to change the channel (broken remote) and then turned to walk back to my couch. I heard a slight crackling sound and down I went. A friend carried me to the backseat of his car and drove me to the emergency room as I writhed in pain. Diagnosis: dislocated knee and torn cartilage. torn cartilageThe orthopedic who examined me that night, called back to the hospital from his squash game-poor thing, also informed me that this was usually an injury caused by running and twisting motions like in tennis or basketball, not usually from changing the channel on the TV.

disc problemsIn 1995 I leaned into the backseat of my car to check the seatbelts of my 3-year old and 5-year old daughters. When I straightened up I knew something was wrong, very wrong. I managed to get myself into the driver’s seat and drive the few blocks to their school. I “walked” them in to their classrooms and then somehow managed to get myself back home. My husband came home and took me to the doctor, who sent me straight to a clinic for a MRI. Diagnosis: ruptured disc, with pieces of it pinching my sciatic nerve in my left leg. golfIt was Labor Day weekend, so I had to wait until Tuesday for surgery. This is a classic golf injury, and while I took golf to fulfil my health requirements in college, I had not touched a set of clubs since then.

little girl eye patchI’ve worn an eye patch twice in my lifetime. The first time was when I was in first or second grade and happened to come between two quarreling boys in my classroom. A punch was thrown and it landed on my right eye instead of the intended victim. The doctor joked and said that it looked like I had taken up boxing. Uh, no, just trying to retrieve my box of crayons from my desk. The second time I took on the pirate’s disguise was in 1977 when I received roses from the fraternity I served as “little sister”. I leaned in to smell them, and my suitemate bumped my arm, causing the decorative ferns in the vase to jab me in the left eye. Cut on the cornea, infection, eye swollen shut, trip to the campus infirmary and an ophthalmologist resulted in the wearing of an eye patch for a few weeks and all sorts of drops and salves administered throughout the day and night.

lymeEven though I don’t identify as an outdoorsy type, I still managed to contract Lyme disease in the summer of 2007. Perfect bulls-eye target in not one but two spots was evidence enough, but the dermatologist also did the blood work to confirm it and asked if he could photograph the markings for a medical study. Had I gone hiking or camping? Uh, no, just on a college tour with my daughter the summer before her senior year.

stretchingSo, I now can add rotator cuff injury to my list of sports-type injuries. It would be nice to know how I managed to injure my rotator cuff so I could avoid it in the future. I’m sure it is not from teaching literature and English all day, or directing the school plays. The only repetitive motion I do during the school year is moving my red pen around middle school essays, tests, and quizzes, and as I said, the injury is to my non-dominant arm. During holiday breaks and summers off from school, I do quite a bit of knitting and crocheting while watching TV in the evenings. I guess even though I identify as a couch potato couch potatoI should start doing warm-ups and stretching exercises before I begin my needlework. I would hate to end up with tennis elbow!

The Eyes Have It

I had a bit ocropped eyesf a scare this past week. The week in general was not great. My husband was away visiting his brother who had had open heart surgery. The DC area experienced one of its “wintry mixes” which means complete and utter chaos on the highways, multiple car pileups in multiple locations, and either a two-hour delay at school or no school at all. I woke up on Monday with a stomach virus and a fever which meant no school for me, two-hour delay or not. I returned to school on Wednesday, feeling poorly still, to give mid-term exams to 8th graders. On Thursday, my “bad” knee was acting up, and to make matters worse, I kept thinking I could see a dark spot on my nose, as though I had dry erase marker on there. On Friday morning, things escalated. I called the eye doctor at my earliest chance.

Friday morning things seemed somewhat blurry in my right eye. I kept cleaning my glasses and rubbing my eye, to no avail. Then I began to see things floating in and out of my peripheral vision in my right eye. Dark, black, feathery things. The eye doctor’s tech said I needed to come in right away, that my eye doctor was leaving at 2:30, and put me on hold for the doctor. This can’t be good was all I could think. The doctor came on and asked what time I could get there. I explained that I was a teacher and that the school day ended at 3:00 pm. I told him I could leave right at 3:00. He said he would wait for me. While nice of him to wait, I took that as a sign that it was some kind of serious problem. A co-worker assured me that she has those “floaters” all the time and that it was nothing serious. I still wasn’t sure, and steadfastly refused to “google” it for fear of seeing something horrifying on the internet.

Long story short, it was not horrifyingly bad news but it would need to be monitored for five to six weeks to ensure that something really bad did not develop. So, I let out a big sigh and tried to calm down. It did make me think about my eyes and their history, however.

My eyes have an interesting history to say the least. When I was six years old, a boy punched me in the left eye by accident, or so my “baby book” recounts. I believe he and another boy were fighting over crayons and I got in the way. Wham! I had to wear an eye patch for several weeks and see an eye specialist in New Orleans until the injury healed.

In high school, I was having trouble reading the board and sometimes my left eye would cross when I was tired or had been reading too long. The eye doctor attributed this to repeated kidney infections with accompanying high fever I had had as a young child and prescribed my first pair of eyeglasses.

During junior year of college the fraternity I served as “little sister” sent me a vase of roses. One of my suitemates bumped my arm holding the vase while I was leaning over to smell them and a piece of the fern in the vase went up under my eye lid and scratched my cornea. The next morning my eye was so swollen I couldn’t open it. My suitemate took me to the health clinic on campus who called my parents immediately to come and take me to the eye doctor. The scratch on my cornea was infected, so along with ointments, eye drops, and antibiotics, another patch! Argh, ship ahoy, mate!

Eventually I migrated to contact lenses and boy, did I love them. My vision was so much better and of course, I felt that I looked better without the glasses. I took great care in cleaning them and monitored my wearing times closely. But, my eye problems did not stop there. While on my very first visit to New York City, I had an interesting encounter with the steel tip of an umbrella. Not just any umbrella, mind you, but the umbrella of Maria Shriver. My friend, Ann, and I were walking down the streets of New York in the rain after a full day of sightseeing, heading back to the apartment we were staying at to change for dinner. It was rush hour and the sidewalks were jammed with people bustling about. Visibility was poor due to the rain and dark skies. The clump of people in front of me stopped short and I didn’t. And, that’s when Maria Shriver’s umbrella poked me in the eye. I screamed and she turned around and when I saw it was her, I screamed again. I had my hand over my eye and she grabbed at it to see if I was bleeding or if maybe my eyeball was missing or something. I assured her I was fine and we parted ways. It was a bit “bloodshot” the next morning but otherwise okay. Later the next day Ann and I were walking up the steps of the Waldorf Astoria Hotel to take a look at the lobby and down the steps came Maria Shriver. She actually recognized me and stopped to ask how my eye was.

Marriage, two children, and a very demanding job all followed, and with that, a bit of carelessness in the care and wearing of the contact lenses. One day, I just couldn’t get them in, it simply hurt too much. The eye doctor said that repeatedly wearing contacts too long each day had left little scars on my cornea under my upper eye lids. No more contact lenses for you, he said. I was devastated. It’s my own fault, of course, but I hate wearing glasses, and now there is nothing I can do about it.

Since then the little scars on my cornea have been diagnosed as something slightly different, nodules that will eventually have to be removed. The bottom line is that those nodules and their location eliminate my chance at vision correction via laser surgery. I’m not sure if I would be brave enough for laser surgery, but I don’t like having the option stripped away from me.

Naturally you can imagine my distress this week when I have yet another eye condition to add to my list. No one wants to lose their eyesight, but for someone who reads as much as I do, and who teaches language arts with all those papers to grade, I am thankful this episode wasn’t more serious. My eyeglasses are dreadfully expensive with my three different prescriptions to correct my vision, and they are uncomfortable to wear 24/7, but I am counting my blessings this weekend nonetheless.