Monday, May 19, 2008

My back-story

From Radiological Associates of Sacramento:

Patient: Eric O'Brien
Examination: OPEN MRI LUMBAR W/O
Findings: L 1-2, L 2-3, L 3-4: Unremarkable
L 4-5: There is a disc bulge. The central canal and neural foramina appear adequate.
L5-S1: There is disc dessication and small posterior central protrusion. The thecal sac is effaced.
Impression: Disc dessication and small posterior central disc protrusion at l5-S1. The thecal sac is effaced anteriorly.

Well, shoot. That's essentially the same damn thing they said ten years ago.

Many of you don't know that I spent a large portion of my twenties in a theatre company. I had day jobs at an ad. agency and a newspaper, but a big chunk of my time was spent doing PR and direction work at a non-profit, experimental theatre company. I smoked a lot and drank a fair bit--habits I chalked up to working the equivalent of two full-time jobs.

After I got married and realized that I was never going to make it in the arts, my wife and I quit smoking and I went back to school. The only way for me to get over a heavy nicotine addiction was by trading it for another one, so I joined a gym and went crazy with weightlifting and basketball. Hoop has never been my sport, but I hustled around and made an ass of myself.

One evening at the YMCA I was playing in a recreational league game when I went up for a rebound, had my legs swept by a cutting guard, and landed parallel to the floor on my hip. I was gimpy for two or three days, but I didn't think much of it until I tried doing some weight work later that week. My lower back pretty much exploded, and I developed bursitis in both hips and bulging discs above the sacrum. After three bouts of physical therapy, a number of steroidal injections, enough Celebrex to dope an army, and tentative discussions about surgery, I crawled into a chiropractor's office and spent 4-5 months getting back on my feet.

That was 9-10 years ago. I started biking when running proved too much for my back, and after we moved to Davis in 2003, I started logging pretty serious miles. I always had to stop to stretch after 60 miles during my first year or two of recreational riding, but when I started racing for UC-Davis, Judd Van Sickle took a long look at my bike fit and dialed it in so perfectly that I could complete hilly centuries without too much pain. Using Judd's core and flexibility routines, I've been able to race without much pain for the last 3 years. I would have occasional aches and twinges, but I never suffered anything severe enough to warrant medical attention.

Then, right before Christmas, my hubris got the better of me. I grew tired of failing to produce adequate power in time trials, so I started screwing around with my cleat position. Moving the pedal spindle backwards gave me a bit more power, but it also necessitated dropping my saddle to prevent my hamstrings from snapping at the bottom of my stroke. That's when the wheels started to fall off; a chain reaction led me here, to a three a half-week forced vacation from my bike and my computer that's nearly driven me insane.

Dropping the seat height sent my back into reactor meltdown. After a Steele Canyon ride, I got home and tried to straighten my torso after getting off the bike, but instead I collapsed in a heap on the sidewalk. I could hardly raise my upper body past 45 degrees. Four ineffective days of rest and ibuprofen led me into the UC-Davis Student Health Center, where the doctor ordered an MRI, P.T., and a consultation with the orthopedic surgeon. The results of that test are listed at the top of this entry. The Ortho. told me that if he were to examine 100 backs, 50 of them would reveal the same damage that mine displayed, but my high activity level increased the chances of developing symptoms. I'm not a strong candidate for surgery, thank God, so he advised rest, Pilates, etc, etc.

A scheduled trip to visit family in the Midwest for Christmas forced me off the bike for a bit; the rest and recovery put things back in order and I was able to roll into Aggie training camp in decent shape.

When I returned to riding, I felt pretty good in my back, but then the another fateful Steele Canyon ride bit me in the butt again last month. As I labored up the last climb up toward the dead-end before the turn-around, I heard a loud CRACK and suddenly felt myself hovering just above the rear tire. The seat-clamp bolt had snapped under my sizable posterior, throwing my saddle onto the road behind me and nearly crushing my prostate. I suffered the indignity of riding back to Muscovite Corner on a bare seat post; climbing every hill out of Steele Canyon while standing up ain't much fun--but I finally learned to descend sitting on the top tube.

Alan Rowland graciously gave me a replacement carbon seat post, but I really, really screwed myself by forgetting to apply carbon prep to help it grip in my bike's carbon seat tube. I'm so paranoid about over-tightening the seat post camp (and too poor to buy a torque wrench) that after I installed the post and dialed in the fit, I rode 50 miles as it slowly sank 2 centimeters into the seat tube. After I got home and tried to stand up, I realized my error--but only after I fell to the sidewalk in a heap. Again.

So I took 5 days off the bike and iced, rested, and prayed. All this led me straight into the UC- Berkeley Criterium, where I got popped off the back because I couldn't apply power without killing my back. I rested another week before conference championships, where I quit the road race in agony after 35 miles. I was able to help the Men's B team win our Team Time Trial, but the strain of 20 minutes at ANT2 in the aero position forced me into spasms and convulsions for the rest of the weekend. I tried to race the crit the next day and got dropped again. Shameful.

So now I've been laid up for the last two weeks. I managed a 75-minute easy spin with Jas. last weekend, but by the following morning I was wrecked again. I got some more P.T. and excellent treatment from Ray Spore D.C., who's worked miracles in the last four days. But I'm about to start slowly losing my mind--for three weeks I've been unable to ride, pick up my children, or sit to write or read, basically all of the things that make my life livable. All of this bitching is absurd in the face of Nils Johnson's broken femur and Jason, Chad, and Kelley's collarbones, but I wanted to write a post and let the team know that I'm not giving up on the season or any of your racing goals.

I feel like I've turned a corner after getting some good work done with Dr. Spore, and I hope to resume easy spinning by this weekend, but for now, let me offer an object lesson: while we can't always control the safety of the other riders in the group, we can take care of our aging bodies and make SOME injuries preventable. Yoga, Pilates, and core work will save our legs and backs from repetitive stress injuries, and some light strength work might make crashes a little less damaging. Take it from me: I crashed four times last year, but I've finally been undone by my inept bike repairs and haphazard core maintenance.

1 comment:

FWS said...

Hey E.O'B...
In the great big scheme of things,
take the time needed to heal properly... Not doing so certainly
could have longer term negative effects. Talked to Leon B. Saturday, and he too has put himself IR for ongoing issues with his hip. We love our sport, but
there are others things in life that are way more important.