When I first started out as an RN, I’ll admit I got a bit judgmental sometimes towards certain patients. It was the folks who were fairly obese, in their late 60’s or early 70’s, and lacked the strength to get off the toilet or out of a chair. As two and sometimes three of us struggled to get them standing so they could shuffle back to bed, I’d say to myself “how could anyone let themselves get to that point?” They’d reject the physical therapists who came to work with them, saying they were too tired or hurt too much to do anything today. I’d do my best to encourage them, often admonishing them that if they didn’t start moving things were only going to get worse.
I just couldn’t fathom wanting to spend your remaining years in that condition. Why didn’t they take better care of themselves? One of the more common problems we’d see with this patient population was toenails. Nasty curled and twisted daggers that hadn’t been cut in god knows how long. Often they couldn’t wear socks anymore because you couldn’t pull them on without snagging on the nails. They’d just resort to wearing sandals or slippers all the time. Why? Because they’d become so deconditioned, they couldn’t bend over enough to clip their own toenails. It just seemed so crazy to me. And when they wouldn’t work with therapy and rejected most advice to do something, anything, to help themselves… I’ll admit I developed a certain lack of sympathy.
Fast forward to today. I hurt. Everywhere. I can barely lift my arms over my head. I look like an 80-year-old walking down the stairs. The moaning and groaning when I attempt to get down on the ground is ridiculous. Why am I in this state? Well… my back injury scared me enough that I’m going full speed, hard core, with my workouts. Every day has been at least an hour in the gym. Stretching, mobility work, kettle bells, club bells, lunges, squats, medicine balls… every exercise I can find on YouTube. Plus another hour and a half of hiking hills with the dog.
The end result is that I’m sore. Everywhere. There isn’t a body part that doesn’t hurt right now. Yes, I realize that I’m probably overtraining a bit. But I’m scared. The back strain was a brief window into a potential future if I don’t fix things. And I don’t like the future I saw.
Reality, as they say, came up and bitch slapped me in the face. I was forced to admit to myself the true, current state of all things physical. I’ve never been very physically strong, so I tended to avoid gym work. I was pretty good with endurance stuff, so that’s what I did. I mountain biked, skied, and ran. And I told myself I was in decent shape. Yes, cardiovascular-wise I was. But year after year my muscles were atrophying. Now, years of ignoring strength conditioning have caught up to me. I strained my back badly while sweeping leaves. Yes, really.
Muscle atrophy and weight gain are insidious creatures. They sneak up on you. Every year a little weaker, a little heavier. As it creeps up on you, your motivation to do something about it gets less and less. Sure, you try here and there to diet or start working out again, but it’s hard. The weight doesn’t come off and you end up hungry and frustrated. Your attempts to work out leave you sore and unable to walk. It’s really hard to keep getting after it when you feel like that. Pretty quickly you abandon the diet and give up the workouts. And the atrophy keeps setting in.
And that’s where I had a very real insight into how those patients let themselves go. And I feel bad for not having more empathy for them all those years ago. It would be so easy to do. I hurt, I’m sore, I’m tired. At my age, do I really need to be trying to lift weights? Let’s just stop. A heating pad and some pain pills will make me comfortable. Blink my eyes and I’ll be that old guy struggling to get off the toilet.
No. I’m not going to do that. I refuse to give up. I know that if I just keep pushing, eventually the soreness goes away. Muscles and tendons will become more supple. The aches and pains get better. Mobility and balance improve. I will not let atrophy win.
I’ll just have to wear hats for a while… my arms hurt too much to brush my hair.