Just walk it off…

Ever heard those famous words? Just walk it off, shake it off, or any number of variations… I remember when I had a skateboarding accident 100 years ago when skateboards weren’t much more than roller skate wheels tacked on the bottom of a flat, rigid board. (No wonder I had an accident! Never mind a distinct lack of coordination. But I digress.)

At any rate, I took a spill in front of at least 30 other studetns during the break in our summer play rehearsal at Evanston Township High School. The prevailing wisdom as the crowd gathered was, “Ah, it’s only a sprain, walk it off.” One lone voice out of the crowd said, “No, wait, you don’t know what’s wrong. DON’T put any weight on it.”

Unbelievably, I listened to that lone voice and waited for the x-rays. To make a long story short (my wife would say it’s too late for that), the doctor’s review brought back sickening news, “It’s a good thing you didn’t put weight on it, or you would have been crippled for life!”

All that to say, from that point on I wasn’t a big fan of “walk it off.”

However, this is just what I decided to do with this back, shoulder and arm pain I was experiencing. After looking online and finding out that shoulder blade and right arm pain was not on the list of any symptoms of a heart attack, I decided the best thing to do was to head out for a hike in the mountains. I would just walk this thing off. And, hopefully, I was right about this not being a heart attack. (It’d kill me or cure me I figured. Besides, Tucson is filled with hospitals if worst comes to worse.)

We headed off for a hike in the Catalina Mountains. I tried to ignore the pain in the back and arm, though I couldn’t even be comfortable driving the car. We got out to the parking area and things were no worse and no better. So far so good. Of course, the pain was real and hindered me from breathing easily and I needed to actively focus away from my problem to keep it from being all consuming.

As we hit the trail, I couldn’t decide which was better, to allow the arm to swing freely or to hold it tight against my side or curled up across my stomach. Sometimes, I even tried to lift it up almost over my head to try to take any pressure off the arm and shoulder blade. Again, it was like a good news/bad news joke. The bad news was that no position made it any better. The good news was that no position made it any worse!

Well, so much for “walking it off.” (Of course, we’d only been on the trail a short time.)  It was a beautiful spring day in sunny Tucson. The weather was perfect, not too hot or too cold, with a nice breeze from the southeast.  I and the two young men proceeded up the slope in pursuit of some waterfalls advertised on a weird marker. (Hard to imagine waterfalls in the desert, but the map agreed, water ahead!)

Of course, you know that ahead meant, going over a mile or two into the trail, going up the canyon and down the canyon, without any sight or sound that predicted that we were closing in on the object. All the time, I was quietly assessing my arm, shoulder, and back pain. A hike would have helped clear up any stress pain. I loved to be out on a trail with my “men.” After working on training the girls in an all-female environment, time with fellow testosterone-bearing humans was something I looked forward to all year.

After monitoring my pain for a while, I began to wonder if these testosterone-filled men had enough testosterone to get me out of the canyon. I eyed the saguaro-filled slopes on either side of the ravine through which the trail wound. Though lovely in the early spring, dotted with budding cactus flowers, there was no access for any motorized rescue vehicles. “What if things got worse?!” I asked myself. How far out would my sons-in-law have to run to get help? Where would a flight-for-life rescue copter set down? How stupid was I to come out here with an undiagnosed pain anyway?”

“It’s not getting any worse, it’s not getting any worse,” I started chanting to myself. I remembered several heart bypass survivors explaining to me that their pain always worsened when exerting themselves and was relieved when the exertion stopped. So I pushed myself up the hill aggressively at one point to see if any pain increased. I figured I’d better push myself early so it would be easier to get help if necessary. Or at least, not be so far for the guys to drag me. Smart, huh? Actually, not so much.

Once again the experiment came back inconclusive. I picked up a walking stick along the trail, the long, dried stem of a yucca flower. This brought some relief to the shoulder and back. At least temporarily…

Just as I noticed the day warming up, we heard something… a light roar up ahead. We rounded a corner and glimpsed water between the cliffs. We were getting close.  In the heat of the excitement, all thoughts of the pain disappeared.

What a cool place! We were surrounded with a jumble of huge boulders alongside the edge of a river. Shoes and socks were stripped off and the men looked for a spot to at least dip their legs in.

Refreshment in the heat! Sweet water surrounded by the beige rocks of the desert. Other hikers on their way back down were also rejoicing in this strange stream and pools of water in this barren land.

After this brief respite, we climbed a little farther to see what else was up there. Fortunately, the men decided that we weren’t really going to see anything new in the short term. The next real landmarks fo interest were a long way into the Catalinas. So down we went.

Along the way, I kept telling myself that every few yards was closer to the parking lot we started from. At least from there, it would be a simpler matter of finding a hospital if needed. Once again I monitored what was happening with my body. Once again it was a dull, non-exertion-dependent ache. I began to suspect a pinched nerve in my neck or upper vertebra.

The hike was still beautiful in spite of my maladies. I tried my best not to distract my sons-in-law by groaning or otherwise betraying my pain. Later they could say how considerate I was not to disrupt our hike by calling attention to myself. How crazy! I wonder how many people had engraved on their tombstones — Always the Considerate Patient, Never Troubled Us with His Infirmities.

As we entered the final approach to the parking lot, I breathed a sigh of relief. Today would not turn out to be my swan song. No heart attack would interrupt an already fine day. In fact, I was able to tolerate the dull aches all the way home. Once back in the KC area, I visited my friendly, neighborhood chiropractor. (Neighborhood, if you’re from Independence. There is nothing in the neighborhood in Wellington.)

At the chiropractor’s office, the doctors there decided that my symptoms did indeed trace themselves to a pinched nerve. I also, had some bursitis in my right shoulder. So, all in all, it was a false alarm. Alarming to me, but no threat to my health. It all goes to show you, not all fears amount to something substantial.

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