under the knife


I am sitting in a lawn chair in the backyard, reading accounts of the first ascents of the big mountains in the Sierra Nevada in the late 19th century – real men, real adventures. I am also drinking coffee and eating lemon meringue pie left over from Easter (likely the highlight of my day). I have to eat with my left hand, because my right arm is immobilized in a sling strapped to my body.  I am looking at cherry blossoms and tulips that have recently pushed up through the ground, watching the newest additions to the backyard (four adolescent chickens) tear and scratch their way through them.

my peeps

I have never had any reservations when it comes to buying eggs; the ultra-cheap ultra large ones have always suited me fine. But after seeing how anxious our chickens are to get out of the coop each morning to roam the backyard at will, I rethink where the previously mentioned eggs hailed from. I can imagine gigantic brightly lit warehouses with stacks and stacks of tight, chicken containing compartments, stretching out for hundreds of yards. The modern egg factory. It is now apparent to me that chickens very much prefer some sunlight and freedom, and the quality of their eggs had better reflect that observation – or they’re going to find their way into a pot (maybe).

In addition to the entertainment provided by the chickens, I am also contemplating the strange feeling of not really having anything that I “have to do.” It has been a long time since I’ve had the experience, probably since summer vacation from school really was a summer vacation. I don’t like it. I don’t have to think very far back to day after day packed with school and nightly restaurant work. Sitting here I think I would prefer that schedule to my current one, but I know that I would tell myself the exact opposite six months ago.

An unexpected domino effect of occurrences, new experiences, and flash epiphanies has put me here in the backyard. A month ago I would have had no idea I would be here today. The first of these has to be the nasty little top-rope accident (previously chronicled) I had last august, that resulted in bruises and a dislocated right shoulder. The dislocation made an old shoulder injury acutely worse than before. Ever since I have been in a strange six-week cycle of training and climbing that culminates in starting to feel strong, then having another dislocation. These painful occurrences restart the cycle, and I have to continually convince myself that maybe it will get better and that surgery is not the best option. I would guess I have had five or six dislocations since the event in august.

Almost as frustrating as not being able to go climbing, is not being able to feel like you can try hard for fear of injury. I have realized that one of the fundamental characteristics of climbing that makes it so satisfying, is the possibility it provides for fully exerting yourself and discovering where your boundaries lie. I am once again reminded (and need to be reminded often) that any day I find the time and have the health to go out and try hard – is a good day. Sending or not sending is not fair criteria for deciding if the day was good or not. I am also reminded that bodies are soft and fragile, and that rocks are hard. When it comes to our bodies we are promised nothing, so strike the iron while it’s hot.

The second event was a very new experience for me; I quit my job. By quit I don’t mean putting in your two weeks because you have something else lined up and your quietly making your exit, but suddenly deciding enough is enough and marching out of the establishment. This is the type of thing most people with hated jobs fantasize about (I did), and rarely actually do (I guess now I have done this too). It is not an ideal way to leave a job but sometimes I think you have to do something drastic to force a change (I will keep telling myself that). I’ll spare the details, but I went to work one day and realized I couldn’t stand being in the service industry anymore, nor did I need to be, and that was it.

The third event follows directly from the second. After finding myself without a work schedule to adhere to, I made the obvious choice; go climbing. A few days later I was roaring down the freeway in a vicious headwind that relentlessly attacked my gas gage and wallet. Regardless of the cost, I had sun, good friends, and Saint George limestone waiting for me. I got two good days and a half of the third. On the third day, the second route of the day cost me another dislocation. After I lowered back to the ground I had already made up my mind that surgery was the only option. I’m not sure why it took me so long to have that realization, but at least it happened. The Monday after I got back I made the call and was scheduled to go under the knife. I figured I might as well be broke in both possible ways at the same time and just get the pity party over with.

This was the first, and hopefully the only time I will have the experience of surgery. The shoulder joint is the most shallow on the body; this allows for a large range of motion but also makes it the most prone to injury. On the lip of the socket is a ring of cartilage called the labrum, which serves to make the socket slightly deeper. I had a tear in the anterior side of the labrum, as well as a large bucket handle style tear on the opposite side that was floating around in the socket. Of course, when the doctor got in there the damage was worse than expected. If I would have suffered only one or two more dislocations, I probably would have needed bone reconstruction and open surgery. Luckily they were able to fix it with just a scope, three small holes in the front of the shoulder and one in the back. The surgery involves trimming up all the torn cartilage, placing anchors in the socket, and reattaching the labrum to the socket via cable that looks like miniature braided climbing rope.

just after I woke up

It hurt a good deal more than expected. Even worse than the pain were the pain- killers. I was in a nauseated zombie-like state for almost a week after. Thanks be to my mom and girlfriend for waiting on me hand and foot. Now a week after that the painkillers are gone and I feel like a normal human being, except I only have one arm so I’m not exactly good for much. I am supposed to stay in the sling for a month before I can start physical therapy and I hope to start easy climbing at two months. With any luck I’ll be as strong as ever come fall.

For now I’ll sit in the sun in the backyard while my bank account dwindles, scouring craigs list for jobs I can possibly do that require zero labor. This must be what it feels like to be old and retired –even if you have anything to do, you feel too broken to do it. I’ll sit and watch climbing porn with sweaty palms, and be envious of Scott Hall and crew because I know I should be there with them. It seems like I can’t remember what it feels like to be able to try as hard as I want to. I crave that feeling more than that damned fattening lemon meringue pie. But my sense and hope tells me that the day is not so far off the horizon. The hard reality is that our bodies are not nearly as suited for hard climbing as we would like them to be. With great hubris we falsely believe that there will always be a tomorrow, another day to try the project, another time for the classic problem a little further down the trail. Treat every day out like the gift it actually is. That single truth should be enough to fuel the psyche for a lifetime.

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