Friday, April 29, 2011

200th post


Well, not that cool.  200 rambling posts, which vary between extraordinarily long rants about sexism and tiny little posts that consist of me just complaining about stuff.  Not that impressive, I'll tell ya.

Anyway, tomorrow I'm leaving for my very first conference, a vision research annual meeting.  I'll be presenting my first poster, too, which I'm only excited about because I'm proud of myself.  I'm not that thrilled to stand beside it for 3-4 hours, repeating myself endlessly/judging myself if fewer people stop by my poster than at other posters.  I'm anxious that I'll be bored during people's talks, or get in trouble with my boss for not going to enough talks/poster sessions, or whatever.

But hey, I'm signing up to be a scientist.  It's time to get used to talks and posters and symposia, after all.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Compartment Syndrome--Officially Diagnosed

As the title would suggest, I got the official diagnosis this afternoon.  Here's how that shit when down, y'all.

I left work early, and when I got home, I put on my running clothes and discovered I didn't have any Tylenol.  AWESOME.  I arrived at the office, a quick drive away, and filled out lots of fun information.  Eventually, I went into the exam room and had a conversation with the doctor about my symptoms.  He agreed that it really sounded like I had compartment syndrome, and explained to me what it was.  He didn't know that I'd pretty much done all of the research already and didn't need to be told that information, but I did like that he explained it, and in very clear terms.  A lot of doctors DON'T explain things very well, which is frustrating, so I appreciated the explanation, even if I didn't need it.

He had me lie down on the exam table (it had a pillow, so that plus my affinity for extremely firm mattresses made that table super comfortable, no joke), and he explained what he was going to do.  He then injected novocaine into each compartment in each leg.  There are four compartments in the calf, so that meant 8 injections.  He first applied betadyne, and then marked each injection site by pressing a plastic rod into my skin.  He then told me I would feel a pinch and then a burn as he injected the novocaine.  I barely felt the pinch, which is normal, but wow, he wasn't joking about the burn.  If you've gotten the HPV vaccine, you'll know what it feels like.  Unpleasant, but temporary.  I'd never had novocaine before, so I didn't know it burned.

Next, he took the initial measurements.  These weren't that painful, thanks to the novocaine, but they did feel very weird, and not in a completely innocuous way.  For female readers with gyno experiences, it's sort of the same weird kind of sensation when you get a pap smear, in terms of feeling discomfort in an area you usually don't have things stuck in (for male readers or readers with less gyno experience, having your cervix touched, either because of a pap smear or through sex, is a different sensation than, say, simple penetration.  Often, if "pap smear" is mentioned, women who've had them might make a face or squirm a little.  Unpleasant).

After the initial measurements, he had me help him apply pressure to the injection sites to keep them from bleeding.  Then I went outside for a 10 minute run.  I was concerned because my symptoms weren't kicking in, not until the end of the run, and even then, it was borderline.  However, even though I didn't feel the pain of my usual symptoms, my calves did feel as if something was still wrong.  That is, when I don't have any symptoms, I can very comfortably run at least 2 miles.  With symptoms, my calves feel stiff, as if they've seized up.  That feeling was present, while the pain was not.  I ended my run at 10 minutes, disappointed that my symptoms weren't popping up on the one day they really needed to, and decided to run up the stairs to the second floor office to make sure I stressed my calves more.  I ran in place in the exam room until the doctor returned, and I made sure to land on my toes to keep my calves stressed.

The second round of measurements was less pleasant.  I've had a cold for the past week that went from nuisance to nasty over the weekend, and I've been coughing a lot, quite painfully, for the past couple of days.  The run in chilly weather didn't help much, so I was gasping a bit (thus supporting the illusion that I'm out of shape, ugh).  Plus, the novocaine was wearing off, so the measurements were slightly painful in addition to seriously uncomfortable.

Afterwards, we applied pressure again, and he confirmed that I definitely have compartment syndrome, in three out of four compartments in both legs (and, as I expected based on my symptoms, worse in the right leg).  I don't have it in my lateral compartments, which he explained is actually a normal finding for folks with compartment syndrome.  He's sending the info and diagnosis back to the podiatrist, and she and I will talk and she'll refer me to a surgeon.  In the meantime, he recommended Tylenol (picked up some on the way home, yay), and he ace bandaged some ice packs to my legs.

Walking to and from my car, and within my apartment, has been unpleasant.  It's a strange feeling.  It's not serious pain.  It's a constant moderate discomfort and ache.  I can't take a lot of Tylenol right now, since I took DayQuil earlier and I don't want to risk frying my liver, but if my cold is better tomorrow, I'll take it in the morning.

I totally understand why my podatrist explained how rarely she sends people to get this test.  At first, I thought, "Well, if you think it might be compartment syndrome, why wouldn't you?"  Now, I'm like, "Wow, she must have been REALLY sure!!"

We'll see what happens next.  I don't think I want surgery right away, not because I want to try something else, but because I've got two weddings this summer, a vacation I'm planning on taking, and flute ensemble.  I'd only be able to do surgery in early May or the beginning of August, and I'd rather do August so I don't miss work!  But as a friend pointed out, my insurance is about to change, and it might be too difficult to get the right surgeon and find a good physical therapist with my school insurance in the fall.  I'm calling the podiatrist tomorrow and I'll hopefully be able to meet with her as early as next week.  Probably not, though, increasing the chances that I'll wait till August for surgery.

Possible explanations

This morning, I woke up feeling much worse than I did yesterday, cold-wise.  Everything felt magnified: cough, fatigue, congestion.  I ran scenarios through my head about what would happen if I stayed home.  After all, I was only going to work till noon, so did I really need to go?

And then I stopped asking myself if I needed to go to work, answering yes, and asked myself why I felt so much worse.

I mean, maybe my cold was worse and I should have stayed home.  Or maybe I shouldn't have stayed up till 2 am reading articles on and complaining to my friend about whether or not he was spoiling the rest of Portal 2 for me.


Wednesday, April 20, 2011



Spoilers for Portal and Portal 2

So I've played about 45 minutes of Portal 2.  Why only 45 minutes?  Because I got freaked out and had to stop.

Portal is one of my favorite games of all time.  Not that I've played a lot of games.  But those of you who know me are aware of my undeniably strange affinity for The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, and how I unintentionally and probably magically seem to know everything about it, and am quite excellent at it.  And yet if I had to pick the better game, it would be Portal, and I kind of suck at Portal.

I first played Portal last year when it was free on Steam for about 2 weeks, and newly released for the Mac.  I had heard of Portal thanks to the ubiquity of the phrase "The cake is a lie," as well as the popularity of its theme song "Still Alive."  I assumed I would never play it, and so when I looked up the cake line, I also read the synopsis of the game.  A mistake, sure, but in the end, it was only a small one.  Not that I think the game is better spoiled, but the game is so great that you don't need to be ignorant of everything to be able to enjoy it.

So I knew things, like the fact that (duh) the cake would be a lie, that I would have to euthanize my companion cube, and that GLaDOS was trying to kill me.  But the game was still amazing.  So amazing, in fact, that even though I knew what was coming at the end of test chamber 19, I still found myself terrified, angry, confused, and betrayed.  Sneaking through the rest of the facilities, outside of the test chambers, was thrilling, and even though there was a specific way to escape and reach GLaDOS, just like there were specific ways to get through the test chambers, it didn't feel the same.  It really felt like everything I was doing was something unplanned and spur of the moment in order to escape.

And while Scott (the same one who can't read this yet because he hasn't started Portal 2--COME ON SCOTT) pointed out that all of the messages and arrows were supposed to be scribbled by one survivor from GLaDOS's attack prior to the game, which I guess makes more sense, I never got that feeling.  I always felt like everything was written by a variety of previous test subjects, who weren't necessarily smarter than I was, but who wanted to warn me.  I figured some of them had stayed hidden for a long time in secret parts of testing chambers, while others had been searching for GLaDOS only to fail where I succeeded, and had left information along the way.  It gave me an amazing sense of community, combating the ridiculously suffocating isolation that GLaDOS and the testing chambers created.

Portal has been hailed as a feminist game, not because it was making a lot of points about sex and gender, but because it took so many problems with many video games, relating to sex and gender, and destroyed them.  The main character is a woman, although you wouldn't know just from playing the game unless you looked at yourself through a portal.  She's not sexualized or objectified, partially because there's no one to do so to her.  She appears to be either white or possibly Latina (I hope Latina, so much less boring).  She's a silent protagonist in order to make the player feel immersed in the game, much like Link in the Zelda series (that's why his name is Link--he's your link to the game).  The method is very effective in Portal; you feel like YOU'RE the one who's in the chambers, and it feels personal when GLaDOS tries to kill you and when she lies to you.  It's a giant middle finger to all of those folks, from gamers in chat rooms to higher-ups in companies, who keep claiming that they're just catering to male gamers who won't be able to identify with a female protagnist.  Seriously, fuck you.  Chell is awesome, and you pretty much become her when you play Portal.  It's amazing.

Additionally, Chell is one of only two characters in Portal, and the other is also gendered female.  She's a supercomputer, GLaDOS, and she is by far one of the best villains ever created.  She's hilarious and terrifying at the same time, and while she strikes you as slightly mentally ill (for a computer), that's not what makes her evil.  She's just EVIL.  And she enjoys bathing in deadly neurotoxin.  She's not one of those evil-and-sexy female villains.  She's not nameless or story-less.  She's a fully fledged character who plans on murdering you.  And she's all you've got for company.

Finally, Portal turns the first-person shooter on its head.  This is not my original idea, but I did find it fascinating.  Not to go TOO into analysis (for example, I don't think that portals are supposed to be like vaginas--you can't go in one side and out the other!), but it's a FPS that focuses not on shooting bullets at things to kill them, but on shooting portals to problem-solve.  It removes a great deal of violence and blood from the FPS without making a boring game.

Anyway, Portal is awesome and science-y, too.

Portal 2, though.  That was a question mark.  We knew it was coming; when Portal was free last year, the ad for it included a reference to the co-op mode that would be in the sequel.  But could it live up to the hype?  Could it be as good as Portal?

One thing about Portal that was so amazing was how new the concept was (unless you had even heard of its inspiration, Narbuncular Drop).  GLaDOS was also part of the game's brilliance, but we killed her at the end (of course, she was still alive, and eating delicious and moist cake, while you probably were trying to get Black Mesa to help you).  Could Portal 2 bring her back without being gimmicky?  I mean, really, we're talking about a sequel to one of the greatest games of all time.  How could it be as awesome?

The verdict is in, less than 48 hours after its release: Yeah, it's that good.

I've only played 45 minutes, like I said.  I was too freaked out.  How was I freaked out?

Well, from the beginning, it's freaky.  Your little hibernation room (a hotel room--awesome) basically crashes into a wall (yup, really) for an extended period of time.  I was so freaked that I actually backed myself into a corner of the hotel room.  I don't know why.  It's not like I could have died in the game at that point.  It was nice to know that almost a year later, I still felt like I was immersed in the game.  I wasn't backing in the corner for Chell's sake; it was for my own.

Wandering through the damaged center was trippy.  Especially since there was a room with drawings all over the walls.  Drawings of GLaDOS going on a murder spree and then ME (yes, ME!) defeating her.  There was an image of me drawn in an angelic pose, and a shadow of a cross lay over it.  I wasn't too psyched about the cross symbolism, but it was effective.  I was someone's savior.  Weird.

Meanwhile, I did find it unpleasant to go through the chambers with a cheerful, not-robotic male voice giving instructions.  Not that I wanted GLaDOS back, but it felt weird without her.

I don't know the robot's name, but there's a round, one-blue-eyed robot who was assisting me at the beginning.  He told me to find the portal gun, and then he helped me as we tried to find an escape pod.  To get there, though, we had to pass through where GLaDOS used to live.  He was terrified to go through, saying she would kill us if she woke up.  As we went through, and she didn't wake up, he began telling me that some human had defeated her.  He was impressed that a human managed to do something like that, but that's not what struck me.  The handful of pronouns he dropped referring to the human were male.

Now, I don't know if the writers did that intentionally, although I really hope they did.  After all, the writers knew, like we did, that Chell, a woman, defeated GLaDOS and that the robot was using the wrong pronouns.  Perhaps they used male pronouns because "he or she" was too wordy, or because they didn't feel comfortable getting away with "they" as a non-gendered singular pronoun.  But either way, the use of male pronouns was actually something I really liked.

Because, again, we know that it wasn't a he.  So we come to one of two conclusions, in game, about the robot.  Either he thinks that the person was actually a man, or he isn't sure and goes with the male pronoun (either because he thinks it's more likely that a man defeated GLaDOS, or because a lot of writing uses the male pronouns instead of "male or female" ones).  And so the gamers playing are forced, however subtly, to resent the robot, at least a little, for getting our sex wrong.  It's a microaggression in one of the most anticipated video games in recent years.


Anyway, I stopped playing soon after that because, you see, we woke up GLaDOS a short while later.  When it happened, I had the biggest "Oh shit" face you have ever seen.  She was piecing herself together, and suddenly she was back, and she knew it was me (the little robot was all, "Wait, what?!!" and then she KILLED HIM).  And then she knocked away my portal gun and threw me in the incinerator, and now she's going to basically make me run tests until she kills me.


Now do you see why I stopped playing soon after?  At least in the first game, she wasn't so outright about planning on killing me.  And it wasn't personal.  Now it's personal.  And it's TERRIFYING.

Compartment test tomorrow

Tomorrow, I'll work for a few hours and then head home to get my running clothes on, take some Tylenol, and head out to get my calves tested for compartment syndrome.  I'm not sure how long the test will last, but I have to arrive 15 minutes early to the appointment, run for 15 minutes, and have measurements taken 1 and 5 minutes post exercise.

I found a great blog:, detailing another young person's experience with compartment syndrome, the test, alternate treatments, and eventually surgery.  And by "I found," I mean, "My mom is also panicking and she found."

So that's fun.

Because I was sick all weekend (FUN TIMES, folks--missed one of my friends running the marathon because I couldn't get out of bed), I didn't try to go running until last night.  I was worried that waiting until yesterday would decrease the chances that my symptoms would be induced on Thursday, but even then, I was considering postponing the test so I wouldn't have to run with such a bad cold.  Typically, if I don't run for a couple weeks, my first run after that break is fantastic.  One time, I ran 3 miles, something I'd never accomplished before.*  My symptoms don't usually kick in until the second or third run after a break, giving me a false sense of security followed by a huge let-down.

In fact, that was the only pattern that stuck.  Being an obsessively self-diagnosing scientist, I tested plenty of other variables, such as how fast I was running, how much I had eaten that day, what I had eaten that day, if I was running any differently than I had before, or if I was running any differently than other people (the last one probably made other people uncomfortable, sorry!  Didn't mean to stare at you so creepily!).  The only thing that was consistent was that two or three runs after a break, the pain returned, worse every time I ran until I took another break for a week or two.

That's one of the reasons why the podiatrist I saw is convinced I have compartment syndrome.  When I don't run, my calves don't expand (and they atrophy a bit), and the symptoms subside.  After each run, I increase the space that my calves take up, eventually hitting the limit.

I haven't run since my appointment with my doctor a month ago, when she thought I was straining my muscles (which didn't explain why I almost blacked out a couple of times).  I have been using the elliptical on a regular basis since that appointment, since I don't want to waste my gym membership.  So, unlike most of the instances where I've stopped running because of the pain, I didn't stop exercising.

And I think that's why my symptoms kicked in after only 4 minutes of running last night.  Like I said, I don't usually have symptoms on a first run after a break.  Ever.  It takes another run at least, if not more.  If I had symptoms every time, I wouldn't need to go running this week to prepare for the appointment.  So that's a first.

I mean, it's pretty obvious that the elliptical is still maintaining my symptoms, if not inducing them outright.  To me, that's an indication that "Just use the elliptical, don't bother with surgery" would be a stupid pseudo-solution to this problem.  Not that the elliptical is a terrible thing.  I just hate using it.  It's a great piece of equipment, you get a great work-out, and clearly it's great for folks like me who need low-impact stuff.  But I hate it!  I want to run, damnit.

So, at least I don't have to run tonight and make this cold any worse.  Tomorrow's the big day!

* I basically suffer from this incredible problem where I absolutely do not look like I'm in shape.  Not only do I look like I'm not in shape in terms of what my body looks like, but because of my calf pain, I often look like I'm not capable of running a mile.  But when I have no calf pain, I can rather easily run a 5K!  Of course, one of the results of this discrepancy is that folks seem to think I'm running for weight loss, and therefore don't understand why I would put myself through surgery instead of just sticking with the elliptical.  I'm supposed to be a runner; it's in my blood and, if I believed in souls, it would be there, too.  I'm mostly disappointed I didn't discover this passion until so late in life.  If I'm always going to be a fat runner, that's fine!  Means I don't have to throw out my wardrobe.  But I'm not giving up something I love just because there are other ways to be skinny.  Skinny is irrelevant.  Running isn't.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

A WHAT Passover feast?

In checking my all-but-obsolete Yahoo! email, I saw an article on the front page that caught my eye.  It's entitled "A Family-Friendly Passover Feast."  It's a basic article that provides folks with a menu and recipes for Pesach, prefacing the info with some spiel about how it's challenging to provide a delicious and kosher meal that's kid-friendly.

The caterer who provided recipes is Jewish, but even so, the article irks me.  First of all, while I'm familiar with the pickiness of kids, and know that such pickiness doesn't mysteriously disappear at the seder, Pesach food has never really occurred to me as NOT kid-friendly.  As a kid, my siblings and I were always giving the opportunity to pass on foods we didn't like (and as picky adults, we sometimes still do), but we weren't allowed to dictate the menu.  Don't want gefilte fish?  Don't eat it, but we're still serving it.

Secondly, I resent the insistence that it's difficult to create a delicious meal with the Pesach kashrut.  One of the reasons it seems difficult is because of the complexity of so much modern food.  When I shop for Pesach, I prefer to go to Whole Foods or (more likely) Trader Joe's, since the lack of preservatives and additives makes it so much easier to shop.  If I head to Stop & Shop or Shaws, foods that could be kosher often have additives that negate that possibility (e.g. corn syrup, soy).

General Pesach rules say no leavened bread.  This includes a lot more than just bread.  It means no crackers, cookies, pasta, cereal, etc.  But as an Ashkenazi Jew, I'm supposed to follow even more rules, which are really strange and don't make much sense.  Under these rules, rice and rice products, corn and corn products, peanuts, and soy are also forbidden.  I know, that's weird and arguably unnecessary.  Watch me agree and follow the rules anyway.

So that's where things get tricky.  You buy salad dressing, and realize that for some reason there's soy in it.  Annoying.  But you can EASILY make delicious meals even with the rules.  Cook some delicious potatoes for your starch (if all the matzah isn't enough), make lots of veggies, make a meat dish.  I've been to an all vegetarian Pesach seder, and it was delicious.

And every year at my grandmother's seder, we have egg salad, gefilte fish, matzah ball soup, and then the main course, which is usually veggies, salad, potato kugel, and either chicken or deliiiicious brisket.  Dessert is obscenely easy: flourless cake, meringues, macaroons, and those awesome fruit slices.  My grandmother has to hide those carefully to make sure they're not gone before dessert.

My point is that for so many Jewish folks, cooking for the seder isn't a challenge.  Kids will eat the food, and everyone will enjoy it.  It's really not as big a deal as the Yahoo! article would imply.

Finally, the inclusion of veal on the menu is a bit stupid.  Veal is, in the strictest sense, kosher, but many Jews will not eat it because cruelty towards animals is unacceptable in Judaism.  That's following the rules without actually thinking about the rules, and thinking about the rules is what Jews do.  It's why we've got the Torah, and then a zillion more volumes of text TALKING about the Torah and what the Torah must mean.  Ugh.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Of course I'm not easily panicked!

So I've calmed down a bit from yesterday.  While the idea of having surgery isn't making me feel all warm and fuzzy, I'm not as freaked anymore.  If I have compartment syndrome, it's not serious enough to warrant immediate surgery.  I'd probably have it at the very beginning of August, so I can keep working out (on the stupid elliptical) before my brother's wedding, and I won't have to miss more work for it.

At this point, the two things I'm worried most about are whether or not I'll be able to induce my symptoms next week for the test, and whether or not I'll be okay enough walking to get into my apartment after surgery.  Because my apartment is stair-accessible only.

It's a good sign when I'm now panicking about two things that won't be problems.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Compartment syndrome

More on the adventures of the Stupid Calves that Hurt When I Run--

Trigger warning: If you are easily squicked out by medical stuff, you have been warned.  Nothing too squicky, in my opinion, but I don't want to assume everyone has similar squick levels.

I had my appointment this morning with a podiatrist.  The great news is that she didn't believe that my ridiculously flat feet were contributing to my calf pain.  Because I got new shoes with high arch inserts, and the combination didn't solve the problem, it's not my feet.

Great, right?  Aren't I SO glad I don't have to do really easy exercises to bring my arches back up?  Or buy shoes with arch support?  I mean, because that's so very difficult for me to do.

The doctor believes, based on my symptoms, that I have exercise-induced chronic compartment syndrome.  Please do not put yourself through the squicky horror that is looking it up on the internets.  After doing just that, and feeling very freaked and squicked out, I can tell you some information about compartment syndrome, and I can tell you that my symptoms fit it really well.

Your muscles are all surrounded by a layer of fascia.  In the case of my calves, the fascia surrounding my calf muscles, tendons, ligaments, nerves, blood vessels, etc., is a certain size.  Specifically, a size too small for my calves (which, if you've seem them, are HUGE).  So as I run, the calves are too big for the surrounding fascia, and so I get a huge build-up of pressure in that "compartment" made by the fascia.  The pressure can result in nerve damage, ischemia, and tissue death if untreated, although since this would be chronic exercise-induced compartment syndrome, it would only result in those very serious things if I kept running through the pain for a significant amount of time on a regular basis.

However, the reason why I think that this is the right diagnosis, as opposed to a gastrocnemius strain, is that a muscle strain wouldn't explain my weird vascular symptoms.  Compartment syndrome easily does.  That is, when I experience the symptoms when I run, one of the major things I've noticed is that my calves almost always feel better after I rub them a lot and help increase blood flow.  Additionally, on a handful of occasions where I've made a significant effort to push through the pain, I end up feeling extremely light-headed, and twice I almost passed out because of it.  If I were just straining my muscles, I wouldn't have such terrifyingly odd circulation symptoms.

Like I said, compartment syndrome explains it.

So, what's next?  I should get a phone call either today or tomorrow from a sports medicine MD out west (not far out west, just not in Boston).  I'll go to see him, and he'll run the test for compartment syndrome.  In order to conduct the test, I'll have to get the symptoms started.  So in preparation, I'll probably go running a few times (yay!) in advance, and then go running at the appointment during the test.  That'll induce the symptoms, and then they will stick some needles into both of my calves.  Using these needles, they'll measure the pressure inside the compartment.  If it's high enough, then that confirms the diagnosis.  Voila.

I don't find the test very squicky, and to be honest, I'm actually looking forward to being able to run, or more specifically, being required to run.  I miss running very much.  I also like having tests done because they provide answers.  I like answers!

The treatment squicks me out, though.  First of all, because this isn't acute compartment syndrome, my doctors might decide the treatment is elective (because I'm not risking the loss of limb or death of tissue).  It's not as if I HAVE to run.  I've demonstrated that if I don't run, I don't experience symptoms, or at least not often enough to warrant treatment.  But this view makes me extremely uncomfortable.  Not only does it not fix the actual problem (I'll still have the problem, just sitting there, waiting to spring out at me), but I'm not confident that I'll be able to live the rest of my life without participating in physical activities that will induce symptoms.  I'm not just making silly jokes about running away from zombies.  At this point in my life, sure, I can go to the gym to work out, and this gym has ellipticals.  And I can afford the gym.  But I'm not always going to be in this place in my life.  And I think that the emotional effects of never running again are going to be pretty serious.  I've been viewing my calves as a problem that can be fixed, not as a reason not to run.

So what is the treatment?  It's called a fasciotomy.  It's a surgery where the doctor will open up my calves.  No, really.  Once the pressure is released (not sure how long that would take; for acute compartment syndrome, it's apparently long enough that there are some excruciatingly squicky images of people with open incisions or missing skin, and they're clearly not still in surgery), the doctor would sew everything back up except the fascia.  The fascia would remain open.

The way it works is that nothing's going to be ruined.  My calves will still be inside my legs and skin, just able to expand.  With the fascia closed, that's not possible right now, and instead of expanding outward, they just crush everything.  I would eventually be able to run again, with the only possible side-effect being that MAYBE there would be some ugly-looking bulging that doesn't actually signify a health problem.  The bulging, if it occurred, would only happen while exercising, and would just be a result of the fascia being open.

I find the treatment a bit worrisome because there's always the chance that the compartment syndrome could come back (although it's not too high), and because I'm not sure it'll feel worth it to go through so much and spend so much time in physical therapy if I fail to be a runner for the rest of my life.

Weirdly enough, it almost feels as though I'm going to have to choose between committing to running for the rest of my life, or never ever run again.

I think I'd go for the surgery, as long as it wouldn't interfere too much life-wise (that is, maybe if I got it right at the beginning of August, when I leave work, and then be able to walk easily by the time I have to start graduate school).  And of course, it's something to discuss with all of my doctors and with my family.

"But wait!" you say.  "You haven't gotten the test yet!  You always think you have something and you're always wrong!"

That's a fair protest.  I do tend to self-diagnose, and I'm not usually right.  When I had colitis, I thought it was a parasitic infection.  And with my calves, I thought I had some kind of vascular disease (although as you can now see, I wasn't wrong about the vascular symptoms!).  But let's be clear about a few things:

Compartment syndrome fits all of my symptoms.  In fact, it fits them better than any other possible health problem I've looked up.  It explains why my symptoms didn't occur right away when I first started running.  It explains why the pain has gotten more frequent than before.  It explains why stretching doesn't help, why taking it slow doesn't help, or why new shoes with excellent insoles haven't helped.  It's the right "type" of pain, and the right location.  And it does the one thing that wasn't explained by any other kind of diagnosis are the vascular symptoms.  How does calf pain translate to lightheadedness (that isn't caused by a low pain tolerance)?

Additionally, the podiatrist I saw today is very much convinced that I have compartment syndrome.  She examined my feet and calves and found that there was some unusual tightness in my calves that wouldn't be there otherwise.  She's ruled out my feet as the problem as well.

She also explained that in her entire career, she has only sent two patients to be tested for this very rare problem.  One of them had a negative test, and one of them had a positive test.  Basically, if she wasn't convinced I have it, she wouldn't be sending me to get the test right away.  So I think it's pretty clear.

We'll see what happens.  It's pretty nervous-making on my end.  I just figured I'd either have to do PT for my calves, or some exercises to fix my arches.  Looks like I was wrongitty-wrong wrong!

(For those of you who are confused by the use of the word "squick" and its derivative forms, it's essentially the sort of grossed out cringe-y feeling you sometimes get.  It's less visceral than "EWW, GROSS!" followed by vomit, but definitely not the same as "creepy."  It's like when you see something that makes you feel uncomfortable, in a weird cringe-y way.)

Friday, April 1, 2011

Going to the CAR WASH

Like many folks, I tend to get anxious about doing things I haven't done before.  It's not fear so much as just general stress, because I don't know what to expect, and I don't want to do things wrong.  I'm taking my car to a car wash tomorrow, and since I haven't been to one in about twenty years (I'm twenty-four years old), I have absolutely no idea what to do, where to drive up to, how to pick the right option, etc. etc.  I know I'll be completely fine, I just dislike the unknown.

But unlike most folks, there's a second component to my anxiety about tomorrow.  ACTUAL FEAR.

As a kid, I always lived in single family homes with garages and driveways and yard work capabilities.  So when it was time to wash the car, we would park the car in the driveway, grab the garden hose and some buckets of soapy water, and have a blast.  And then when we were older, we just didn't wash our cars because we were busy, and they were just going to get dirty again anyway.  I need to wash my car, though, because it's still not clean from that time I drove up to Vermont and Maine and got stuck on a muddy highway during a small snowstorm (seriously, entire car was splattered in mud and I had to stop and wash each window because I couldn't see out of them).  And I need to sell the damn thing; dirty cars don't sell as well or for as much as clean ones.

But I have been to car washes before, back when I was little.  But I just vividly remember the last time.

I was very little and had recently seen some black and white movie where a woman went through a car wash and the soap got in and it was HORRIBLE!!!  So while we were going through, I became frightened and convinced that the soap was leaking through the (very, very closed) windows, and that it was getting in my eyes and stinging them.  So I had to have a towel over my eyes for the duration of the car wash, and I was so panicked afterwards that I think that might have contributed to the fact that I don't remember going through another one since.

Now obviously, the soap didn't get into the car, and I was perfectly safe (as was my ENTIRE family, who were all in the car with me and didn't seem to have their eyes stung by the imaginary soap).  But I was still convinced at the time that it was awful, and so today, faced with the prospect of going through the car wash, I'm nervous.  I also looked up information on what exactly happens inside, and it was pretty scary-looking shit.  I mean, I'll still do it, but please indulge this last childhood fear of mine.  I got over my fear of the Joker, after all.  What more do you people want?*

I was on the phone with my mom last night, who empathized with my anxiety about going to a car wash when I didn't know what to expect (we're back to the normal anxiety and not the irrational fear).  She had the same problem when she went last year to have her car washed and detailed.  I mentioned my childhood fear to her, which she remembered, and she laughed.  Apparently, I had recently watched an old Doris Day movie, where a character had gone through the car wash in a car with the top down.  I couldn't believe any movie would have something so stupid, but I wanted to check.  You see, I wanted to discover the plot of this movie, which could only have been a horror movie, and figure out what evil villain would have rigged it so that a person would be forced to go through a car wash with the top down.

Well, I found it.  It's called "Move Over, Darling," from 1963, and although I don't know why the car wash scene exists, I do know something new: the damn movie is a screwball comedy.  OF COURSE.
 If soap gets in my eyes tomorrow, it is completely Doris Day's fault.

* As a kid, I was terrified of the Joker.  I sometimes had nightmares that he was coming to kill me, I once thought he climbed up to my window to kidnap me (oh, you betcha I screamed and woke the whole house up!), and I had to sleep with my closet light on and the closet door open for several years.  When The Dark Knight came out, I went with my manliest dude friend because I was really terrified, and I ended up loving the movie and finding the Joker terrifying but in a fascinating way.  I think it's very strange that the very movie that really instilled the fear of the Joker into so many people actually relieved me of my fear.