Sunday, August 09, 2020

Use it or lose it

Photographing San Antonio de Padua Church in Dixon, NM.

The results thereof
As you can imagine I’ve given a good deal of thought to physical health, fitness, and longevity over the past seven months. And, in the midst of the Covid-19 onslaught, these contemplations have taken a more expansive turn. I’m seeing the confluence of my own setbacks with that of an entire nation and world. It’s been instructive to say the least.

Entering Elizabethtown Cemetery during a photo safari on The Enchanted Circle.
Since December 24, 2019 I’ve had two falls, each of which resulted in a serious injury. When I did a face plant while running in LA, I tore my rotator cuff. When I crashed my road bike on June 10, I broke my hip. As my osteoporosis doctor told me “I can’t wrap you in bubble wrap.” This from the guy who told me “Don’t fall” six years ago. That was Tuesday. Then Thursday our dermatologist asked my naked self, “What the heck happened to you?” I gave him the sad story of my self-inflicted, back to back injuries and he warned. “Maybe your body is trying to tell you something.” I scoff in your general direction, Dr. Auerbach.

In the case of the rotator cuff, which like the hip did not require surgery, I am doubly blessed by that good fortune, I really didn’t skip a beat. I never stopped running and was lifting weights and doing push-ups and pull-ups inside two weeks. The fractured hip has been more of an impediment. I sure the hell haven’t been running. But I was back to lifting from the seated position in a couple of weeks. That and the roster of leg exercises prescribed by my physical therapist have kept me connected to my corporeal self and have left me with a modicum of fitness. Except for cardiovascular exercise which has been nil. When I complete my 12-week sentence on September 10, I will have had no cardio for three months, marking the second longest dry spell in 44 years. My spare tire bears witness.

Last Wednesday at PT I performed a battery of tests. Katherine, my therapist, exclaimed, “I can’t believe how you’ve maintained muscle mass in your quadricep. Most people have a really hard time bouncing back from a broken hip.” It made me remember Peggy’s dire report at the beginning of this ordeal, the one that said 30% of old people who break a hip die from it or a related condition. I filed that in the hidden reaches of my mind. It's not something you want to dwell on.Then last week I read that 40% of geriatrics die within two years of the injury. Jesus. It’s chilling statistic than mutes my self-congratulations. Besides if I pat myself on the back too hard, I’ll probably break my arm.

Slightly embarrassed by Katharine’s accolades but not a little proud, I explained, “It’s because I’ve faithfully done the exercises you gave me.” Simple as that.

She replied “Yes. I’m sure that helped, but it’s really because you were strong when the injury happened.”

Which leads me to the gospel of taking care of the body which is allegedly our temple. We are drowning in news about the preexisting conditions that lead to serious Covid-19 related illnesses and deaths. First among those preexisting conditions is obesity, this in a nation where 42% of the population is overweight and 30% is obese. It’s obscene. And we’re led by a yellow haired doughboy that thinks McDonalds serves gourmet cuisine.

Almost everybody follows this blog is north of 65. I don’t know what that says about my posts. But I do know how important it is to protect your physical health, to maintain a strong heart and lungs, to stay trim and to maintain muscle mass. Do you know that after 60 we cannot build new muscle? The best we can do is to keep and strengthen the muscle we already have. “Use it or lose it” is the timeworn but most apt adage.

I’ve been considered compulsive by some for my commitment to fitness. After this episode that commitment has only strengthened. Whether I’m able to run again, and I think I will, or must choose another pursuit I will attack it with even more vigor than before. I’m standing on two legs today because I paid my dues yesterday.

Katharine instructed me to bring hiking poles to PT Wednesday. I think there may be an fully loaded walking step in store.

My three-month orthopedic follow-up with Dr. Marvil is September 2.

She said, “You’ll be walking into that meeting.”

I asked, “Without a walker?”

She nodded, “Yup.”

So, please take care of your body so that your loved ones don’t have to take care of you too soon. Keep on doing what you do. Many years ago, the writer Jeff Jerome wrote that, “We exercise to preserve function.” He was right.

I told Katharine, “Americans are so willful. Why don’t we take care of ourselves? Why do we die so young? We have the only declining life expectancy in the First World. Infant mortality is about 30th in the world. We have 4% of the world’s population and 30% of its COVID cases. Is that the American exceptionalism we’re so proud of?

We have a strain of independence that’s says that no one can tell us what to do. And we don’t have enough respect for the common good. Some have called that a “frontier mentality.” I appreciate individual liberties as much as the next guy, but where does caring about the others enter the equation?


Blacks Crossing said...

You have presented us with many extraordinary blogs, Steve, but there is something about this one that is rich and full in its truths, not to mention the great photograph of the stair step roof line of San Antonio de Padua. Dr. Auerbach has a lot of nerve. He and Fred would do martial arts in the examination room as the doc burned bits and pieces of skin. Several of the truths in your blog include the fact that because you were in such good shape before the two unfortunate accidents, you have come out better and more dedicated to fitness. Those of us who others think are obsessed with the physical things we do will almost always fare better. And I have my doubts if you have a spare tire. Regardless, it will be gone in short order, after you walk into Katherine's office without the walker. And another truth, you are not old. The numbers may indicate otherwise, but your condition is like that of a 40 year old. And I dare say many American 40 year olds have a diminished level of fitness. So the kudos Katherine gave you are genuine and well-deserved.

Americans are willful. As a country, we seem to carry the best and very worst of our teenage years as proud baggage. But through your example and continuing to preach the gospel of fitness, perhaps you will have some influence on your fellow humans.

Steve Immel said...

Thanks for your warm and thoughtful comments. The importance of maintaining fitness has been underscored by these bouts of injury. I started using hiking poles Wednesday, took a mile walk with the poles that evening and am walking around the house unaided some of the time. So, walking into my orthopedist's office September 2 is as good as done unless I do something foolish.

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