Thursday, April 8, 2010

Nature, red in tooth and crawl

Nature's first green is gold, Robert Frost said. April is the cruelest month, T.S. Eliot said. Give it up. You're not going to get two poets to agree with each other, nor did anybody at all get along particularly well with Frost. And why agree, anyway? In a chaotic world, you're more accurate with less accord. This past Tuesday couldn't have been more disparate, couldn't have been more spring, couldn't have been more cruel.

I was stuck indoors chasing deadlines, but it was easy to see the trees and the sky taunting me. The first buds were unraveling into leaves smoldering with that pale yellow glow that makes it so easy to see the gold Frost saw. So peaceful, so promising. The tornado sirens started blowing just before noon. The hail followed shortly after, and the rain and wind still haven't quit.

Spring promises - defines - birth and regeneration, but it teaches us that renewal is a violent affair. You can only be born if you didn't exist; you can't be reborn without dying a little.

In my efforts to remake myself into a competent swimmer, my right shoulder died on me a little. Rotator cuff issues, it seemed, not at all uncommon with swimmers. Serious rest was the plan. Ride the storm out. This weekend's Alcatraz and Golden Gate swims provided either a time frame or a deadline, however you want to see it. I saw it as something getting closer and closer, and too soon for a complete, spontaneous cure. Michigan State University Sports Medicine - and I cannot say enough good things about this practice - made time to see me. Dr. Norris asked questions, moved parts and felt contours, then sent me off to the MRI lab for high-technology confirmation that his classic training and skills and instincts were dead-on accurate. The picture:

I have some damaged muscles and tendons and a little swelling and a bunch of fluid where it doesn't belong, probably from overreaching on my stroke and crunching tissues together more than I ought. Not a terribly big deal. I have a torn biceps tendon where the tear goes in such a direction that it is of no consequence whatever, other than to be a fun landmark on the MRI image. And I have a torn labrum. That's not so good. The labrum is the layer of cartilage that lines the dish part of the shoulder's rather loose-fitting ball and socket. It's not supposed to tear, and it takes a while to heal when it does. It usually needs some outside help. But my labrum is more ground up than lacerated. And where you can easily abuse a cut into a bigger cut, when you grind up hamburger you just make more hamburger. If I swim Alcatraz Saturday, the worst-case scenario is more likely to affect my short-term dignity than my long-term health. I'm more likely to hurt too much to finish the swim than I am to do anything to change the course of my recovery. Pain don't hurt.

The plan: Rest time was over. I was to go to the pool yesterday afternoon and swim about a thousand at Alcatraz pace and see what happened. If I was headed for a bad outcome, better to have it where I could quietly climb out of the water without jeopardizing anybody else's epic.

The test run was even better than pain-free. I torqued my shoulder doing something that had nothing to do with swimming freestyle and it hurt like hell, and I still swam fine.

I'm going to Alcatraz. It will be golden and it will be cruel. Nature, red in tooth and crawl. I'll be reborn. I'll enter the water an enthusiastic dork with a compromised joint and still more fitness than skill. I will emerge as an enthusiastic dork with all that and a five-dollar bill, in search of a tourist kiosk where I can buy one of those goofy "Alcatraz Swim Team" hats. And if it hurts to reach up and put it on, well, it's not like I left Dr. Norris without scheduling a follow-up.


Sara Davis said...

You are a nut.
Alcatraz is not worth it.

KovasP said...

Way to go Jef! I applaud your decision - if your doctor says that your swim only creates more hamburger and doesn't change your long-term forecast, why not? Best of luck with the swim - I wish you mild currents and warmer water.

veloben said...

Dorks, sir, are the coolest people. Go swim, prove your hypothesis.

Caution just makes you slow.

Wishing you the best of swims and just enough pain to make it meaningful and even better in the retelling.

Judy Avery said...

Frost agrees with you totally on the spring thing, "nothing gold can stay":

Nature's first green is gold,
Her hardest hue to hold.
Her early leafs a flower;
But only so an hour.
Then leaf subsides to leaf.
So Eden sank to grief,
So dawn goes down to day.
Nothing gold can stay.

3cross said...

Good luck on your epic. I can't wait to read your write up on the event next week. Onward through the fog!