DEAR LITHE (LOVE LETTERS) 10 Feb 2016
In 2002, I worked in the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit at The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia. I transitioned into the PICU a year earlier and loved everything about the fast-paced, high adrenaline environment. I was approaching the end of my shift on December 23 and my patient was a little girl with AML, a type of leukemia. She was about 4-years-old and having increasing respiratory distress and we called for a stat chest x-ray. The x-ray tech brought the machine into the room and wheeled it up to the bed. I remember doing what I had done hundreds of times before, placing one hand behind the child's back and one hand under her bottom. I needed to lift her enough so the x-ray tech could slide the plate beneath her. The child's father offered to lift her for me, but of course I refused. I was in a rush and proper body mechanics flew out the window. I didn't lift the height of the bed to my level which caused my weight to be unbalanced between my feet. One second after lifting the child, I felt a pop and my back gave out. The pain was so frightening that I dropped to my elbows on the bed. I remember the child's family being as concerned about me as they were about their child at that moment. I had never injured myself before and had no idea what to do. A fellow nurse thought that I pulled a muscle and tried to massage the "kink" out of my lower back. Thankfully, I was at the end of my shift as all I wanted to do was get into bed. I returned the next day on Christmas Eve, but my body got increasingly tight and I couldn't stand up straight. My rib cage was shifted to the left and I was hunched over. I was sent home midday as the pain was unbearable and my body position was a terrible sight. After a quick occupational health exam, I was told it was a musculature injury. I drove home that afternoon and was unable to get out of the car. I cried until I figured out how to get my feet on the ground. The following week was a blur of physical therapy, muscle relaxers, and tears. Eventually the acute phase subsided, the swelling went down and I began to see the sway in my lower back again.
As with any chronic pain, you adapt and it becomes your new normal. You're aware of your body position at all times. Don't stand for too long, don't sit for too long, always sleep with a pillow under or between your knees, and forget about sleeping on your stomach. Ice sometimes, heat other times, and lots and lots of Motrin. The bathroom sink becomes a dangerous place. You're always sure to rest your elbow on it as you brush your teeth and if you must wash your face at the sink it has to be one-handed as the other needs to lean on the sink. The one thing that never eased was my inability to have all of my weight on one foot. I was in my late 20s and had to lie on my bed to get dressed every day.
My condition exacerbated whenever Thanksgiving and Christmas rolled around. I would stand for too long while baking and end up on bedrest for a few days. This post-holiday slump was particularly bad in 2010. My doctor sent me for an MRI and it revealed three bulging discs and degenerative changes to my spine. It was clear that this injury was not new and the changes had most likely taken place over many years. My neurosurgeon friend reviewed the results and told me it was time to make changes as I couldn't keep living this way as I would end up in a wheelchair. We talked about surgery which I vehemently opposed and thankfully he advised against. The only other option was finding a serious core strengthening program. He explained that if I tightened the muscles around my spine, I would have a chance of relieving the pressure on the discs. A fellow nurse was going to a new exercise studio called Lithe Method. She loved the program and encouraged me to try it. I wasn't into classes and preferred blending into the walls of the gym. Since my usual exercise methods weren't helping, I took her advice and went to an immersion class in April 2010. At first, I was in uncomfortable, but not in pain. Once you experience true pain you always know the difference. I took the classes at my own pace and focused on form. I was petrified of injuring myself and was often behind the rest of the class. I worked up to 4-5 classes a week and focused on the sculpting as it was physically impossible for me to do any jumping. I fell in love with the workout and stuck with it. Over time, I picked up my pace, but I always maintained form as most important. I watched myself gain strength from the inside out and began to understand my body. I can't pinpoint exactly when the chronic pain began to fade away.
After two years of Lithing, one of the instructors suggested that I audition. I was thrilled and proud of the recognition. That was when I reflected on how far I had come and how great I felt. I auditioned and made the Lithe team in March 2012. That same year, the girl who couldn't lift her feet years ago ran the Broad Street 10-miler. All of these accomplishments were new to me since I never considered myself athletic. My pain is mostly resolved with only occasional rainy day aches. Though my injury is still there, I've learned to manage it by maintaining a healthy weight and lifestyle.
Thank you for the opportunity to encourage others and show them it is possible to achieve relief. Most importantly, we all need to listen to our bodies and take the time to care for ourselves.