I’ve been having some minor physical problems the last year or two. Until then, I had been a fairly avid (and not half-bad, I think) tennis player. But I began to have pain in my legs, and the pain became more frequent, until I finally just had to leave the court. I saw a few doctors and it turns out that I have chronic exertional compartment syndrome, and though PT helped a few years ago, when I tried that again earlier this year, the pain actually became worse.
At first, the doctor (let’s call him Dr. Paul) told me that there was a surgery that could be performed, but he added that this was an option usually reserved for runners, “…and you’re not a runner.” he said. Seriously, he actually said that, and it reminded me of this bit from Louis C.K.:
But the thing was, maybe I could be a runner, if I didn’t have debilitating pain in my leg every time I run. And when I look back on my past experiences with trying to be a runner, like that time I tried Couch to 5k, it sure seems like perhaps I may have had this problem for a lot longer than I’ve had the actual diagnosis. What I had once assumed were just shin splints were probably the early onset of the chronic compartment syndrome.
But any way, I ended up seeing another doctor, Dr. Jim, because Dr. Paul didn’t actually perform the surgery, and Dr. Jim is the only one in their practice who does. Dr. Jim sent me to another doctor in a different practice, Dr. Brad, who is the only doctor in my area who actually performs the test for chronic compartment syndrome. And that was really fun, because Dr. Brad stuck a needle into my shins and calves in like eight different places to test the muscle pressure on a little calculator he held in his hand. Then (without the needle) he sent me upstairs to run on a treadmill for as long as I could before the pain made me stop. This turned out to be a little longer than six minutes. At that point, the nurse rushed me back down to Dr. Brad’s exam room, where he stuck the needle in again (in as quick a sequence as he could) to measure the pressure after exercise. It turned out that there was a significant increase, so the diagnosis was (I guess) confirmed.
Dr. Jim was very eager to do the surgery, despite whatever running I may or may not plan to do in the future. But I didn’t really have a great rapport with Dr. Jim, (who basically told me only that they do it in a surgery center, not a hospital; I would have some bruising, two-inch scars on both legs, and I wouldn’t be able to drive for two weeks) so I decided to try a sports medicine guy at a much more respected health institution (Dr. Cool) for a second (or third, I guess) opinion and also to see how he did his surgeries. Dr. Cool confirmed the diagnosis, BUT he explained that the surgery doesn’t always work, nor is it any kind of quick-fix for the problem. In fact, his own college-age daughter had had the surgery, but it took FIVE YEARS before she was able to run another 5K, and that’s a long time to be on the couch.
Plus, he said, “I’m not going to tell you not to walk or drive for two weeks after the surgery, but I will say realistically that when you get up from your bed to go to the bathroom, the pain will be so bad you will feel like you’ll pass out.”
So, as you can imagine, I wasn’t exactly chomping at the bit to sign up for all that.
Instead I turned to alternative therapy, after someone suggested myofascial release. I went looking for someone who does it, which wasn’t easy to find, though a chiropractor friend said she did have someone in her office who practiced it, and offered to speak to her about it on my behalf. About a week later, she said that her colleague didn’t think I was a candidate for therapy because it would be too intense, and might then cause more damage than was already there. She did, however, recommend kinesio tape to help loosen things up, and that’s been really helpful. Whenever I feel like the muscle is tight, I just put on a few strips of the tape, usually for the day, go about my business, and then it feels better. Overall there’s less soreness and more mobility.
Which brings me to the yoga (long story short — too late!)
I signed up for a Brand New Beginner course at a local studio, thinking it would help to stretch the muscles in a low-impact kind of way. It seems like it’s going to be great — eight sessions, everything explained in detail, just the kind of pace I need at the moment.
For the first class, I arrived early. I had planned on getting there early in case there was any paperwork to fill out, but it turned out that because I am an idiot when it comes to time, I actually got there 45 minutes early instead of the 15 I had planned for. The receptionist was very nice; she’s like this super-cool older (older than I) lady that you can just tell — nothing gets by her notice and she handles it all with the same monotone interest. Kind of like Roz in Monster’s Inc. (Turned out, I didn’t have any more paperwork.)
So, since I was alone and had some time, Roz offered to give me a tour of the studio; here are the lockers, the showers etc. And then, she pointed to a room where I could tell there was a lot of activity going on.
“That’s the aerobic-yoga cross class,” she said, “You could take it any time you want. You’ll love it.” And then she left me in the lounge right outside the room, where I stretched out and started leafing through a stack of O Magazine issues.
“Get your kettlebells!” called the trainer lady from the room. I imagined a room full of people swinging their kettlebells like they were all going for the bronze in hammer throw to her prompts. The music was pumping like a 90s rave; the place was shaking with the accumulated movement of the people in the room. I turned a page to see how Gayle King was handling the purge and organization of her enormous and very cluttered closet. (Who needs that many purses? How many shades of blue shoes can you wear?)
All of a sudden, the door flew open, and a guy just stood there in its frame with an empty water bottle in his hand. He was just DRIPPING with sweat. He was, no exaggeration, built like Dwayne Johnson. I mean, HUGE, sinewy muscles, wearing an itty bitty hanky of a black tank top that clung to his dampened pecs like tissue, the kind of guy you’d see in a GNC ad, and he was breathing so heavily, in such a labored fashion, that for a brief moment, I thought he was just going to fall forward on his face like something in a Warner Brothers cartoon.
He made his way over to the water fountain to refill his bottle, but his breathing never slowed, was never steady, never inaudible. He could not retrieve enough oxygen for what this class was taking from him.
That class? Roz thinks I would love that class? What had I ever done to Roz? Why would she want to kill me? Needless to say, I don’t think I will be taking that class any time soon, and by soon, I mean before Kanye West is POTUS.
Anyway, I’m going to stick with my nice quiet yoga class for now. Two classes in, and it’s been pretty good. I do feel like it’s going to be helpful, if not for the compartment syndrome, at least just in general. I’m never going to be the poster girl for lululemon, but hey, it’s worth a shot.
Okay…so Manfrengensen is pretty fit. He didn’t used to be fit. I mean he was fine, not overweight or anything, but he didn’t make an effort to exercise regularly. Then we moved, and we’re less than a mile from a YMCA, so he started going. At first, he started swimming, and then he started on the stationary bike. He’s quite competetive, so every time, he competes against himself, trying to top his last time or distance.
Then this summer, he started running, and he LOVES it. Loves it. He’s thinking about trying to run in the 2012 NYC Marathon. He’s serious business kind of running. Every day, he posts his progress via a chip in his Nike onto the Facebook; every day tells me that he set a new record. In short, he is into it. And he makes running sound like it’s so much fun.
He’s pared down now, his body looks almost Avatar-sh, only you know…not blue. And he hasn’t grown a tail. But I feel like when I hug him, I’m hugging a washboard. And when he hugs me, it’s probably like he’s hugging a bag of laundry.
So, I’ve been trying to exercise. Summer is hard to do regularly because the kids are on crazy schedules…I’m not even going to bother to lay out my lame excuses for you. There’s always an excuse.
It seems like everyone I know (except Manfrengensen) is doing some kind of Couch to 5K program. Just in case you haven’t heard, been under a rock, or just aren’t in tune to that kind of thing, Couch to 5K is an app you can download onto your phone, and it takes you gradually from the couch to being able to run a 5K. Supposedly. You warm up with a 5 minute walk, and then you run for a minute, walk for 2, run for 1, etc, until eventually, you do more running than walking, right up to all running. So I hear.
I thought I would try it. I got some good stretching in, following a stretching regimen I found on Youtube, and then I ran on the treadmill. And I couldn’t make it past 20 or 25 minutes. I couldn’t complete Week 1, Day 1. I would get a pain from my ankle to my knee (I have sprained that ankle so many times — have I ever told you what a graceful individual I am?) and I would have to slow down and stop. I tried different shoes. I tried more stretches, but I still couldn’t make it past 25 minutes.
So last week, I figured, perhaps it’s the treadmill. The weather had cooled, so I planned to run outside in my neighborhood. It was Wednesday, and it also happened to be the one day a month that I cook for a local soup kitchen. I had made the chicken, but then I also make a couple of desserts. The plan was to stretch, put the brownies in the oven, Couch to 5K for half an hour and then back to take out the brownies. So simple, it was bound to go south.
I locked the door, put the spare key in the zippered pocket of my pants and began. It was a beautiful, glorious afternoon. And since my house faces parkland, there was plenty of shade under which to run. It wasn’t bad at all, in fact, at times it felt almost good. But then, at the 15-minute mark, the pain began. I thought I would push through, and I tried, but it was too much, and I limped home. Got to the front door, reached into the pocket and all I found was a hole. A hole! Where the key should have been! And the oven’s on! I’m like Lucille Ball over here, a sit-com mom, goofball, in short: a total dork. I am up a creek sans paddle or even any kind of floatation device.
I started looking for the key. The ground was covered with piles of the first brown leaves of the season. I scanned the street, the curb, the grass, my eyes darting (and by the way — brilliant me, I decided not to wear my glasses for the run so I was like Moleman looking for a glint of sunlight shining off anything at all) in vain for the key. I was saying a prayer to St. Anthony, because that’s what we Catholics do, until I was chanting it aloud, even injecting an expletive toward the end: St. Anthony, St. Anthony, please come around, my fucking key’s been lost and can’t be found. In retrospect, perhaps the expletive wasn’t a good idea, because as it turned out, St. Anthony gave me the high hat.
Manfrengensen was at a meeting that day, far away. My father had a spare key, but he was working, and I didn’t want to have to bother him. But time was ticking. Half an hour was up. The brownies were drying up in the pan, shriveling, becoming inedible, to say nothing of the potential fire hazard that seemed to become more inevitable with each passing minute.
I had to cave, and I called my dad (hoping that the number I dialed was his, since without my glasses I couldn’t read anything on my phone). After I told him I’d locked myself out, he said he was really busy, so I added, “Dad, I’ve got cake in the oven.”
“Oh, Jesus!” he exclaimed and hung up.
Ten minutes later he barrelled into my driveway. Said he was sorry, he was having a terrible day. He owns a 19-unit apartment building that keeps him very busy, and that day, someone had water leaking from her ceiling. They couldn’t figure out exactly where it was coming from, and he’d had to drop everything to come help me.
And he did. Let me tell you something about my dad: He’s my hero. I cannot tell you how many times the man has rescued me, but I can tell you that it’s been every time I’ve needed rescue. Superman’s got nothing on my dad. He’s awesome.
He tossed me the key, which I proceeded to drop inside the door pocket of his truck. And once I had fumbled to retrieve the thing, he took off to go solve other people’s problems. He’s the man.
So it’s actually a story about my relationship with my dad, rather than the disfunctional one I have with exercise. I think the fates are telling me that running might not be my thing. But I will find something. There’s a kick-boxing class that looks pretty cool at the Y this fall. I wonder if I can do that without hurting anyone. (Can’t you just see me losing one of my shoes?)
Manfrengensen likes to run the numbers for our little organization. He takes pride (as he should) in keeping us fiscally sound.
A couple of years ago, he told me that he thought one of President Bush’s ideas made a lot of sense. So, I did the natural thing and sniffed his lapel for traces of opiates.
Manfrengensen figured out that it would be more economically sound for us to invest in a health savings account (HSA) like the ones President Bush was touting. In theory, HSA’s sound like a great idea. Consumers drive the medical economy by negotiating prices for their own health care. Sounds good, doesn’t it?
The way an HSA works, is that you buy insurance, at a lower cost, with a certain deductible amount that you pay out of pocket. Though you can pick whatever deductible you want in order to dial down your monthly premium, let’s pick a round number, — say, five or ten thousand dollars for the whole family. Then you put that money into a savings account that you dip into whenever you go to the doctor or hospital. You pay less in premiums every month, plus you earn interest on the money in your account.
Again, in theory, a good idea. In practice though, I imagine that most Americans couldn’t (or wouldn’t) be able to put the money aside for their health management. Most people can’t afford to put that kind of money in an account, and lots of those who do have the money, would probably rather spend it on more tangible goods like expensive cars, homes or shoes.
In addition, I don’t believe that the “consumer driven” economy of health will ever come to fruition. The idea is that if people have an economic stake in their own health maintenance, they will be not only be more discriminating about the ailments they seek care for, but they will be able to shop around and thus find the best prices for their care.
So far, I am finding the latter not to be the case at all.
In the last few years, I have suffered from migraines, and after several months of chronic attacks, I finally went to see a neurologist last summer. He’s great, said it seemed like the classic migraine scenario, but suggested that I get an MRI just to be sure. So, okay, I want to get an MRI. How much do they cost? You’d think it would be relatively easy to find out. But it’s not.
First I called the place doing the MRI. They couldn’t tell me. It would depend, the nice, patient lady said, on what my insurance company was willing to pay based on what kind of policy I had with them. She suggested I call the insurance company, as they would be the only ones capable of telling me that number. I said, “Can you give me a ballpark?” And she said, “Well, it could be anywhere from eight hundred to five thousand dollars.” That’s a big ballpark.
So, I called the insurance company, armed with the diagnosis codes the nice, patient lady gave me. The insurance company said they couldn’t give me that information, that the MRI place needed to call them. They said the price of the MRI depended on what price the doctor or the office had negotiated with the insurance company. So I called the MRI place back. The woman there was very nice and obliging. She called me back two minutes later and said that the insurance company told her that they “don’t give out that information.”
In other words, I was chasing my tail. I think it’s like flying to Florida. You never know what the price really is until the day you book your trip. Today the insurance company’s paying $800, but if you submit the bill tomorrow, they spin the wheel and the compensation could be something else entirely.
So, finally, I went to get the MRI, in total blindness, and I waited for the bill. It came in around two grand. Well spent, but again, not the consumer driven health care system we’re supposed to be talking about.
Manfrengensen needs to have his own thing done at some point, so he told me he was going to try to find out what it’s going to cost. I didn’t say anything, because he had to follow his own path, but yesterday he reported that he had gotten the same runaround that I had. Needless to say, I wasn’t at all surprised.
I’m not saying that HSA’s aren’t a good idea. Actually, I think ours is serving us well. But I do think that if you want demand to determine the price of health services, somebody needs to tell the suppliers that the rules of the game have changed.