Personal Injuries: Feeling My Clients’ Pain
“If you fall off that bike one more time, we’re going to have to get you some training wheels.”
So said the manager at the gym I joined last week when I was giving him my recent athletic history. That recent athletic history features a surprising number of bruises and scrapes and sprains and strains. Nothing broken…I think…or too badly torn…I think. But enough to get me to skip my last triathlon of the year. To keep the bruises to my ego from matching the bruises on my body, I am going to pretend I’m not clumsy — rather, I’m going to pretend that I’ve been hurting myself on purpose so as better to understand the conditions my clients deal with.
Here are the highlights: In mid-August on a Wednesday afternoon, after a successful mediation in a car wreck case, I decided to celebrate with a mid-week training ride on the Silver Comet Trail. Having left Hiram for a sixty-miler, I was closing in on the halfway point when I reached a short, but extremely steep, hill just beyond Rockmart. Through downtown Rockmart the trail runs along and across a small river, past the cemetery, then around the ball fields and through a quiet park, before abruptly rising and turning to run along Nathan Dean Highway.
That abrupt rise can really catch you off guard if you aren’t expecting it, as you need to be in your lowest gear (or have much stronger legs than mine) to make it up without stalling. I was in the right gear, but slipped off the side of the pavement about halfway up and came to a complete stop. With my feet clipped into the pedals and unable to put my foot down in time, I toppled over to my right. My ribs crunched audibly.
One of my favorite clients is an older gentleman who fell on the untreated, icy sidewalk at a shopping center. He broke four ribs (and tore his rotator cuff). Out of a lifetime of injuries, including those associated with a long competitive and recreational athletic career, he tells me the rib injury was far and away the most painful.
I absolutely believe him.
According to my indispensable chiropractor, Rob Hart at Eaton Chiropractic in Marietta, I most likely didn’t break anything. Put a couple of rib heads out of place, maybe tore a little cartilage. Regardless, that rib injury was excruciating – easily an 8 out of 10 on the pain scale, at least in spikes and waves – for about two weeks. The most insidious thing about a rib injury is that there’s just about nothing you can do to relieve it. The best you can do is find the position that hurts the least and then try to maintain it with absolute precision.
I can only imagine how much worse FOUR(!) BROKEN(!) ribs must have been. I know that for about two weeks my client “slept” at his kitchen table, leaning forward into a mountain of pillows, because there was no way he could lie down. He also ended up hospitalized for pneumonia because he couldn’t cough or breathe deeply enough to keep his lungs clear. Needless to say, while I already felt much compassion toward my broken-ribbed client, my own experience with rib injury really boosted my empathy.
Also needless to say, my triathlon training slowed way down. Swimming and biking became very difficult, and running was impossible for a while. As soon as I could stand the impact, though, I started running again, figuring that if I gritted my teeth I could get enough last-minute training in to complete the race.
And then…a squirrel tried to kill me.
On my last long pre-race ride, as I descended into the Rockmart riverwalk area a squirrel ran under my bike. Soft-hearted nature lover that I am, I slammed on my brakes in order to avoid it, not realizing that was just what it wanted me to do. My rear tire exploded, I flipped over, landed on my head, and for a few minutes had the disquieting experience of knowing both that I should know where I was…and that I didn’t know where I was. Of course, I was in Rockmart, the injury capital of my little world. Surrounded by evil Rockmart squirrels. Fortunately, I was able to snap a photo of the perpetrator.
I spent a little while in the back of an ambulance before my wife arrived and drove me back to my car. I spent the rest of the weekend in a dark and quiet room, and I slept a lot. I probably should have gone to the hospital, but the experience reminded me of something I ought to keep in mind when working with our many clients who have suffered concussions and traumatic brain injuries – getting hit in the head can keep you from making the best decisions. And it is scary and extremely frustrating to observe your own impairment. Fortunately, the effects of my bell-ringing wore off by the end of the weekend, but I have several clients who will likely be living in a similar fog for years, or decades, or the rest of their lives, not because of an evil squirrel but because some dummy was using a cell phone while driving. Again, I got an empathy boost.
So I skipped the race and, in fact, didn’t work out at all for two weeks, wanting to give my poor addled brains a little time to rest. On top of several weeks of reduced training, though, my conditioning took a nosedive. Wanting to reverse course and having no sense of moderation, last week I got back in the pool, got back on the bike…and joined a boxing/MMA gym
for good measure, where I think I set a record for most high-intensity classes taken in the first day of membership.
Which is how I exploded my elbow.
No, not at the gym. But after taking three intense classes in 18 hours I decided to skip the gym last Friday and go play some friendly, laid-back mixed-doubles with a marketing consultant and a couple of doctors. I have a great client who broke his elbow
in a fall. Had surgery and physical therapy, and is now working with a chiropractor to try to regain full use of the arm. Apparently on some level I
must have wanted to boost my empathy for this particular client, so in my first service game I hit a serve so badly my elbow screamed in pain. A couple more serves and one tumble chasing a deep ball left my right elbow sprained and my arm bruised and swollen from just about wrist to shoulder. I’m sure I’ll be fine, as bad as it sounds, and I’ll be back on the court as soon as I can schedule a match. Send me an email if you’d like to play! (Seriously, where are my tennis players?)
While the sprains and strains are no fun, it really is helpful to get a taste from time to time of some of the things our clients go through (albeit in a much more intense and lasting way than the inconveniences I’ve experienced). When we do battle with negligent drivers, irresponsible corporations, and ruthless insurance companies we fight for people who have suffered and are continuing to suffer serious losses and intense physical pain coupled with profound financial, emotional, professional, and even spiritual consequences. I am proud of the work we do and honored to work for the people we help.
If I want to be able to keep going, though, I probably ought to take a look at those training wheels.