Running Into Midnight
"Well, we can start you on some physical therapy. If that doesn't work, we can do an MRI and perhaps some surgery if there's a problem that can be corrected. But you'll have to stop running for a while. Does that sound good? LT?"
Breath. Breath and feet hitting concrete and cars wooshing blindly by.
Deep, dark, damp nighttime, dew on the grass, dimly displayed by the dimpled moon's gentle light. And quiet--a sweet, silent reprieve from the pounding pace of daylight.
A midnight run in Metro DC--one of those famous cities that never sleeps. Traffic runs quieter at night, but it still runs. And so do I.
A night off work affords me the chance to run through familiar, now-deserted sidewalks and streets and under the warm yellow light of streetlamps.
I find my pace and stick with it; movement is an effortless glide. Energy surges through me; the night owl takes over and I push on, asking for another mile, and perhaps yet another, like a child at a candy bowl. Darkened windows and the silent, looming facades of historic households watch the night pass by. I observe a sight that they've seen for centuries, and they share it with me as I run under the looming trees, lining the street, steadfast sentries of the city.
My mind wanders and the problems of the day seem to drift in the dust behind me, the distance increasing with each stride.
And then, that familiar twinge. How many miles am I from home? Slow the pace. Control the respiratory rate. My right leg steps up to taking more of the weight, more of the force. But how much longer? Will I be able to finish the run? Will it go away, or will this be the time it doesn't stop?
"It's tough, you know." Mr. W says, looking at me with quietly discouraged eyes. The prongs of a nasal cannula sit comfortably in his nose.
I returned his gaze with empathetic, understanding eyes.
"I used to be the hottest thing on wheels." He chuckled, and while he was physically seated before me, it was obvious that his mind was far away. "Used to be, I was the last one you messed with. I kept the world in line back in my prime, LT." He said, the retired sergeant sending me a look of knowing.
"You sergeants always do. I'd hate to see this place try to run without you guys." I agreed genuinely. He smiled at the compliment.
He exhaled. "I know I shouldn't be out there trying to care for the house and the yard and the property, but it's hard to give that up. It's hard to see my wife trying to do my chores. I used to be able to do it all, LT." He shook his head in spite of himself. "I know y'all are trying to help me take things in manageable bits, but I got that itch that makes me just wanna go out there and get the job done. I can't stand that I there are so many things I just can't do anymore."
And we let silence pervade the conversation, because we both know that talk will solve nothing, but in that silence, he can be who he was again for a few minutes more.
At home, I sat on the couch absorbed in the TV. My medical advisors--my two cats--were on guard and paying rapt attention. My 13-year-old circled below, his eyes concerned. The kitten sat on my lap, playing with the ice pack and pouncing each time I moved my other leg.
"You're going to have to stop running." Dr. Young's empathetic prognosis stung. No more running? No more evenings on the sidewalk? No more freedom in the dim remnants of daylight? How?
I had rested for three months and begun to return to my normal pace slowly. But sure enough, the pain was returning with the running.
One day, you're not going to be able to do this anymore. The realization was sobering and disquieting. Perhaps next week at my required check-up, I'll mention it again. Maybe there's something else they can do.
"Does that sound good? LT?"
I returned to the present moment and met Dr. Shang's compassionate eyes. The Army Captain who I had just met had listened so well to my hesitant confession that I was no longer able to run at pace, despite months of trying. There was too much pain to ignore, and it was becoming more constant by the moment.
My pride demanded I push through it, push it aside, and drive on. It was, perhaps, a residual part of my training that insisted that I deny the presence of a very persistent problem, a problem that threatened not only my career as a nurse on her feet, but the rest of my life as even walking occasionally gave way to cascades of achy, pressure-like pain.
My fiance was concerned--he even went as far as to remind me of the children we don't have and aren't looking to have for many years. "Don't you want to be able to play with them someday? Don't lose your leg to the APFT."
He was right. If I didn't catch it now, I'd pay for it later. It was a story I'd seen played out with too many patients. Their pride caused them to ignore a growing problem, and by the time they acknowledged it, it was already out of control.
Dr. Shang had done a quick assessment, but even in that quick once-over, my knee popped, unstable when pressured from the sides. He looked up at me at the movement and the sound, confirming my suspicion: we had moved beyond subjective symptoms into objective signs. It was getting worse.
But there was hope--he hadn't said I had to stop running forever. Just long enough for some physical therapy in an effort to restore the function of the leg. Just a few months away from the city sidewalks and the streetlights. And it was possible it could...resolve? After years of chronic, intermittent pain, the news was too good to be fully accepted as possible. It was a daring, defiant concept.
"Yes... yes, sir, it does sound good. I'd rather stay with the least invasive measures as long as possible."
He nodded. "I'll put in a consult and after a few months, we'll follow up and see how it's doing. Give it a rest, LT. Don't push it and you may not lose it."
I nodded. A profile, I thought with a loathing that only another service member could fully understand. I never thought I'd see the day. But this doesn't have to be the end. Not necessarily. I've got to run again. I've got to do this so I can run again...
Night was setting in, the dusky, slender fingers of evening spreading themselves over the landscape. Powdery darkness was creeping in from the east, settling over the hushed neighborhood. Streetlights woke up in illumination, traffic died down, and the gentle, rhythmic hum of the twilight ushering in the night tide soon provoked that familiar urge.
Run. It's a perfect night for a run.
I resisted the desire, instead heading for my bedroom after completing my core and upper body workout.
But before I went into my room where the drawn shades eclipsed the view, I snuck a glance out the living room window at the encroaching, enticing night.
Soon. Very soon.Last edit by Joe V on Sep 13, '13
I am an Army nurse on active duty.
Joined Mar '10; Posts: 2,233; Likes: 7,054.Sep 13, '13Beautiful. You are an incredible writer. And I wish you the very best of care, so that one day you might run free and strong once again.Sep 13, '13I always look forward to reading the stories that you share with us. You are an incredible writer, and I always find myself getting immersed in your narrative. Thank you for sharing this!