I Got Sidelined, and I Did A Thing That “Good Fatties” Don’t Do

I have been sidelined.

I had been feeling some tingling in my right quadricep (feels like pins and needles – like when your foot falls asleep but more mild). I first noticed it last fall when I had kiddo on my back on a trail walk. I’ve noticed it now and then since, when carrying kiddo on my back.

A couple weeks ago I started noticing it when I was not carrying any extra weight on my back; just while standing and walking. So my primary care doctor requested an MRI of the lumbar spine, to see if it was a spinal issue. I had the MRI this past Monday. That same day I started noticing tingling in my left foot.

The results came back yesterday and I have two big disc herniations. My primary care doctor  explained to me that while one of the herniated discs was super common for weight lifters and she wasn’t worried about it, I also had a compression on a vertebra in the thoracic that was not commonly herniated (even among weightlifters), and appeared to be related to an older injury or possibly something I was born with (since I don’t recall ever having an injury to the spine, but the MRI report definitely said it was an older injury). She is referring me to a specialist to see if this herniated disc causing my symptoms. It appears that it is slightly compressing the spinal cord.  I don’t know yet what treatment the specialist will recommend (physical therapy? surgery? shots?). I have a lifting limit in the meantime – no more than 50 lbs. I can still walk, swim, or do yoga or stretch.

I am beyond bummed, because lifting is so much fun for me and it makes me feel healthy and strong and proud. But not causing more nerve damage is obviously more important. I’m trying to look on the bright side and feel grateful that a) we caught it before I experienced any pain, weakness, or loss of function, and b) that I can still lift my kid if necessary, because 3 year olds are not great at listening. I’m feeling nervous about finding a new routine / way of going about my week that makes me feel as good as lifting does and that I enjoy. I’m nervous about the possible time/money commitment that rehab will involve. Hopefully my insurance will cover this. I don’t have answers yet. I am feeling defeated –  I finally got to the point where my movement routine felt like a true habit….like brushing my teeth. And now I need to change my routine and schedule.

My doctor also warned me me that the spine specialist group I am being sent to has the most talented spine doctors in the area, but they are all assholes. One of them once told a patient to “ditch the refrigerator she is carrying.”

I was super nervous about going to the specialist after hearing this. I don’t enjoy confrontation and I am scared that I will be so intimidated that I wont ask the right questions. I asked in the Fit Fatties group for suggestions on handling doctors like this, and someone suggested  “bring an advocate. ”

At first I couldn’t think of anyone. Let’s just say my husband is not known for his assertiveness. Most of my local friends have kids. And I have some local fat friends who would be great for solidarity, but would probably be just as disrespected and possibly triggered as I am by the specialist.

And then I thought of the perfect person to bring along. She is a massage therapist and ART practitioner with several anatomy practicums under her belt. She is a Cross Fit coach and weightlifting coach. She drew a tree out of a human spine on her Christmas cards.  Read: she will likely understand what the doctor says a lot better than I will. And she will know what questions to ask regarding rehab and lifting.

Now, though I like her a lot, we are not close friends. I trained at her gym for a while and we are Facebook friends and maybe we would hang out more if I didn’t have a kid and I wasn’t a boring introvert who likes to stay home. So I was really nervous to ask for such a big favor from her. But I remembered how important relying on a community is, and I reached out and wrote her a message. I explained what my doctor said, and how I was afraid that the specialist would intimidate me or shame me and I might lose it or forget to ask the right questions. I asked if she would consider coming with me to the appointment. I offered to pay her for her time or buy her dinner or barter veggies. I was in tears as I typed the message, even though I knew she was likely to say yes. From nerves and an emotion that I wouldn’t identify until later.

My friend did say yes. She didn’t make me feel bad for asking at all. She agreed with my doctor that the thoracic herniation and compression was concerning because it isn’t one that typically herniates. She is happy to come with me. I am so relieved and so glad I reached out and that a knowledgeable friend is going to help me.

Later, I asked myself why I felt so emotional asking my friend to come help me. I realized that the emotion I felt was humiliation. In our culture’s mainstream media, we hear about “obesity epidemic” this and “strain on the health system” that quite often. And so I was trained to feel humiliation about the fact that here I was, asking for an accommodation or favor that I needed, that I may not have needed if my body was a different size.

Once I identified that, I realized that I was doing NOTHING wrong by advocating for myself and asking for what I need to get proper treatment so I could get better. I realized I didn’t need this favor because of my size, I need it because of the societal stigma and medical bias around my size. And while that is not my fault, and it does indeed suck that it has become my problem, I am practicing good self care by asking for it anyway. Even if I cried tears of humiliation as I typed the request to my friend.

Wow. That was heavy. On to something a bit lighter. How am I going to get my movement in, now that my favorite thing is off the table for now?

In the meantime, while I wait to see the specialist, I am cleared to walk, and swim and do yoga or stretch. Since I already have a good walking routine going, I hope to continue that, but I need to make some changes now.  Since I don’t have the option of carrying kiddo on my back when he gets tired, it limits the distance I can walk with him, and probably limits trail walks. Anyone with kids knows that 3 year olds’ legs work great..until they don’t. So, hiking with a kid won’t work anymore, for now, but I can still walk to the garden on my own. Now that I’m not lifting in the mornings, I can try to get those walks in before my husband leaves for work.

I have done yoga in the past, but honestly, I have some resistance or a mild aversion to trying it right now.  Maybe that will change later. I realized that while I enjoyed it in the past, now, I tend to associate it with the days when I felt really unhappy with my body and was trying so hard to change the way it looked.  I was a lot thinner then than I am now, but  I was also a lot more unhappy with myself. So maybe that’s why I am not super excited about yoga.

But I knew I could wrap my head around swimming, if I found the right pool. As a child, I loved swimming. I was not good at any other sports, but I really enjoyed swimming so my parents paid for lessons year round (because “hey, whatever gets the fat kid to move” is probably what they thought, but nonetheless, I loved it). I wasn’t planning to join a gym this summer, but I knew I wouldn’t feel great if I didn’t find some form of movement to replace lifting heavy stuff.  And I want to keep myself feeling good.

So today I went to check out a gym with a nice pool and childcare. I have a friend that teaches classes there and I think it will be a good fit. Not only do they have a nice lap pool, it is in a room with lots of natural light, so you don’t feel like you are swimming in a dark, smelly room. They also have a kid’s wading pool so I can bring my kid to play. And a rock climbing wall I can do with him (or rather that he can do with me; I’m scared of heights and probably not cleared for that).

And not for nothing, but I was also pleased with the way the salesperson handled the gym tour and sales pitch with me. I told him what I was there for: “I’m a weight lifter and I am injured and my doctor says I am cleared to swim. So I am interested in the pool and your childcare hours.” And he asked me what kind of weightlifting I did, and I told him I do some powerlifting and some Olympic weightlifting. He showed me exactly what I asked about. He did not try to sell me training packages. He did not push (or even mention) weight loss – which means that he didn’t make assumptions on why I was there based on my size; he actually listened to what I told him about why I was there. When he was showing me the weight room, he said things like “when you are cleared to lift, if you want to do Olympic weightlifting, you can do it here. Here’s where I do power cleans…” And last fall I had such a hard time finding a place to do that. So I am happy.

Check out this sweet lap pool!

Check out this sweet lap pool!

So, I will probably join later this week. It will give me both a place to swim and an activity to do with my kid in the summer. I’m excited about that.

Still very sad about being sidelined, and feeling a bit defeated, but trying to make the best of a shitty situation.

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