Practicing through an injury
Things are getting personal this week.
In the middle of the night on November 1, I woke up seized by pain in my right wrist and hand. After taking some Aleve and NyQuil, I was able to drift back to sleep. The pain was still there when I woke up, and it hasn’t gone away in the seven months since I first experienced it.
Since August, I had been practicing at least two hours a day for 5-7 days per week and my practice time was only going to increase as I entered into an intensive Ashtanga teacher training. Determined not to let this injury interfere with my plans, I pushed on and practiced harder with a brace. I was reluctant to let anyone know about my mystery injury that appeared out of nowhere, until the pain became unbearable. I lasted a week on my own before others started noticing. Many teachers and trusted yogis poked and prodded and manipulated my hand, and each person had a different diagnosis. After much encouragement and cajoling, I went to go see a doctor. On a Friday afternoon, I didn’t have many options so I headed to an Emergency care clinic. Two hours, a splint and three x-rays later, the doctor had not made a diagnosis and encouraged me to visit an orthopedic specialist.
The pain had only become stronger and more intense, and I was forced to modify my practice- downdog became dolphin, updog became cobra and chaturanga became forearm plank. Frustrated, I went to an orthopedic hand specialist. Dr. Viralkumar Patel walked into the room, 20 minutes late and obviously still rushing to make up for missed time.
“This is a carpal boss. Only 2-3% of doctors would even find this, it is a rare diagnosis because everyone thinks these things are cysts.”
Staring with my mouth agape, all I could think is, “Wow, this guy is arrogant, he spent three seconds with me and didn’t even look at my x-rays and he thinks he knows what’s going on?” Dr. Patel then went on…
“You must stop doing yoga. This is very bad, you have a lot of inflammation and you are destroying this joint.”
I started crying. Dr. Patel looked at me like I had just poured vinegar in a wine glass and offered it to him as a $400 glass of champagne.
“Why are you crying? I just told you we can fix this.”
“But, you, you…you told me I can’t do [wahhhhh] yoga.”
“I don’t see what the problem is, it’s only yoga. You have to get better.”
Clearly frustrated (and uncomfortable) by my continued sobbing during his already late schedule, Dr. Patel said he would send a nurse in with his treatment recommendation. He put me on a heavy duty prescription NSAID, Voltarol (which sounds a lot more like a superhero than a drug) and sent me on my way. Disgruntled, I drove directly to another orthopedic surgeon’s office.
Orthopedic surgeon #2, “Kyle,” was young, athletic and right out of med school. He was not confident in his diagnosis, and things only got worse when I caved and told him about my morning with Dr. Patel. To make a long story short, several visits and MRIs with Kyle cost about $9k+ and his final diagnosis: carpal bossing on my third carpal/metacarpal. In summary:
Dr. Patel: $100 or less after insurance and generic Voltarol and a diagnosis in less than three minutes
Kyle: $1-2k out of pocket and a diagnosis in three months
After I stopped (read: greatly reduced) my yoga practice and took a course of Voltarol, my hand was better but still aching. Any extra pressure on my hands caused the inflammation and pain to flare up. Clearly handstands (my favorite) and arm balances were out of the question. This would be my new yoga practice, I decided. I would have to learn how to enjoy the finer aspects of yoga, and admire those who were born with perfect hands that hadn’t failed them as they soared through their arm balances and took my beloved handstands for granted. (Still a little bitter? I think so… working on it y’all…)
I’d come to peace with this decision, until I went to Annie Carpenter’s teacher training. The first week was fine, I felt the pain, but pushed through it. Bad idea. By the end of the second week, my hand ached all the time. My modifications were back in full force and I felt so conflicted- ashamed that I was dishonoring my body by pushing through the pain and proud of myself for at least modifying and not just trying to get into the full expressions of the postures. With a tear in my eye, I approached Annie on the second to last day. With kindness and compassion, she asked me what my options were and what the prognosis of those options were. She took her time to talk to me about the surgery I was considering and why it might be a good idea, given the relatively low risks and a surgeon I trusted.
In the coming weeks, I will detail my surgery, recovery and return to yoga. In the meantime, I want you to
1. The things you are putting off
2. What you gain by putting these things off
3. What you lose by putting these things off