The elephant in the room


There is one thing that puts a serious strain on my relationship with T. Actually, there’s more than one, but for the sake of simplicity, let’s just look at this one for now.

I’m talking about her right shoulder. Or rather, her lack of one.

T’s always been a heavy sporter. She started playing badminton when she was 14 or 15, and when I met her, she was training at least 3 times a week – plus competition almost every Sunday, both individual and in team. She basically grew up in that sports hall (and even dated her trainer for over 6 years). Sports, badminton, her club – that was her life. I was never able to keep her from going to training: whatever it was, it would have to wait.

But some 2 years ago, she had to give up during a tournament because of unbearable pain in her right shoulder. She had been struggling with it for some time, but it suddenly worsened and she was temporarily banned from playing. She still went to train, though without playing, and took physical therapy. When things didn’t improve, sports was banned as a whole, while physical therapy continued. She decided on an operation, during which they couldn’t see anything wrong and therefore just removed some synovial bursae (??). More physical therapy. A homeopath. An acupuncturist. A specialized sports doctor. A different homeopath. She was first allowed play, then not, then she could but no movements above the head, then she couldn’t again. Pain was something she lived with daily, and which no approach seemed to relieve.

By the end of last year, a ‘treatment of the final chance’ was started when she visited yet another specialist, who gave her 3 injection treatments to make a final break with the chronic infection. She was to keep the shoulder immobilized after each treatment until the pain stopped, and encouragingly this time decreased with every treatment. Moreover, for the first time she actually had pain-free days. She was already dreaming of her now dusty rackets when she finally started what should be the final round of physical therapy. Except that she couldn’t – the long immobilization of her shoulder had caused her muscles to atrophy, meaning she effectively had no longer any shoulder muscles. She would have to start from scratch. Very, very slowly. And about 2 months ago, finally, she could start doing low-intensity exercises. She took up running again. So far so good.

Until a few weeks ago, when the pain started to come back. The exercises were cut back, and finally, as of yesterday, completely stopped.

She still goes to after-training drinks, and to competitions, to cheer for her friends from the sideline. But as it becomes more and more clear she might never leave that sideline again, that she might never actually get on court again, she becomes increasingly unhappy. Cheering her up is all but easy – there’s only so many times you can say everything’s gonna be alright, it’s only so long before that looses its credibility. In addition she is much too realistic to let herself be influenced by maybe’s and if’s: as a scientist, she needs proof before she will allow optimism to slip in.
She refuses to adapt her goal – re-enter national competition – though, although she’s been officially removed from the ranking and hasn’t prolonged her membership at her club. I can’t understand why she won’t keep it more realistic, start with being pain-free and be able to cope with the everyday life, and take it from there, I don’t understand why she absolutely has to go running or go to the fitness as soon as the pain diminishes even slightly, and she can’t explain it to me. Words have never been her strongest ally, and thus “you don’t understand” is the only response I get, after which some days of radio silence generally follow.

I go from being sick of the situation and her increasing unhappiness, to wanting to help her but not knowing how. I know there’s no real solution here, and I’ll just have to sick it out until she gets better. I’m just not sure what we’re gonna do if she doesn’t.

5 responses »

  1. When I first became sick and had to permanently give up something that I worked so hard for and deeply loved, I was crushed. It was really difficult for me and I went through some periods of serious depression. Honestly, Mr T tried for a couple of years to cheer me up and steer me in the right direction. I wasn’t ready to hear anything that he had to say and seriously had to work through the reality of giving up a part of myself on my own. Once I did that, I was able to hear him. Having him push me when I was wasn’t ready only made things more difficult for me.

    Once I was able to accept things and move on, I was appreciative that he was there for support. She will come around eventually, just be patient. My advice would be to let her take her time and she will appreciate you more for it in the end.

  2. Thank you… but just giving her time and let her figure stuff out makes me feel so useless, so powerless, so utterly and totally unsupportive. By which I am making this more about me than about her, I realize as I re-read that… . It still sucks. Big time.
    Thank you – it’s good to hear the other side as well (since she, well, she just won’t talk about it).

  3. I can relate to what she is going through in a way. 12 years ago, I got crippled during a routine back surgery. I have been disabled ever since. I have partial paralysis in my left leg and foot, which has resulted in a great deal of atrophy over the years. I can never run again, and walking any distances is difficult….so I have turned to my exercise bike for exercise. I went through many years of not accepting my physical condition and was a bear to live with at times. My wife stuck by me the whole time. It might take “T” quite a while to accept her condition, but she will….in time. My best to you both! Greetings from Texas! :)

    • Wow – that is quite a story and I am so sorry to hear you have to go through that. I can imagine it must have taken a long time to accept… (how on earth you accept thát?) which is why it’s all the more amazing how you’ve given it all a positive spin and turned your exercising to fun by making it a coast-to-coast tour. I just wish and hope the pain is minimal… .
      Meanwhile the one-week ban has been extended and it looks like new treatment is under way. We are still hoping but reality seems to catch up this time… .

      Thanks for sharing your story with me, and keep up the positive spin!

  4. Athletes are different, I am convinced. They have this drive and fire that I can’t quite understand because I don’t have it in me. I’m very sorry that T is going through this and has been for a long time. I hope there is something that can be done soon. My thoughts are with you both.

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