Sunday, March 30, 2008

Gettin outta Rehab

After having gone four years without a finger injury I ended up taking my eye off the ball for a bit this past winter and doing something I swore I'd never do again, namely trying as hard as I could on a boulder problem in a climbing gym. I got kinda cocky and thought that my pulley ligaments were indestructible as I thrutched and lunged between the smallest of crimps causing the urethane holds and plywood to flex and recoil generating exponentially more force on my ligaments than is ever possible on real rock. Basically my mental optimism met its match and was bested by the great grounding force of gravity.
Given that I didn't start climbing until I was 19, my structure was already finished growing and thus could not adapt as well to the stresses of gym climbing the way the bodies of the young gym grommets of today have. Forgetting and/or ignoring that fact is something I'll never do again.
I had been training for a trip to the Red River Gorge last fall and was doing both dizzying endurance laps and long power endurance problems in the gym trying to get the crazy fitness the Red requires of you to perform at your limit on some of the steepest longest sport routes in the country. So I went down to Kentucky already a little overtrained, didn't take as many rest days as I should've and then just as I started to get the hang of the pump required to actually send something, I cut my trip short by spraining my ankle when Dario took me down (accidentally) as I rebounded during a rest day basketball game behind Miguels.

Here is a sequence of me sending Shiva, 13b at the newly developed Midnight Surf Wall.

After returning from Kentucky at the end of November I continued to thrash myself in the gym with the knowledge that I was going away with the family for christmas holidays and was going to be unable to climb for a couple of weeks. I thought that the forced break from climbing would actually be a good thing since my left middle finger had been getting progressively more sore at the A2 pulley over the past month or so. As fate would have it the weakend pulley tore, not on some sick move in the gym, but during a sick session on some playground equipment after a warm up of a few rum punches one evening in the Virgin Islands. I came back from the Carribean, canceled my plans to go climb in southern Utah in January and settled in for some dark, cold, festering in the Vermont winter. Fortunately we got some epic snow storms that got me outside enjoying the tight technical backcountry skiing around Smugglers Notch.
Come early February I still couldn't do a pull up on jugs without making my finger sore. I was starting to lose the plot and decided to take a chance and get a prolotherapy injection to help speed the healing process. I had had one of these treatments 4 years prior for a similar injury to a different finger and had thought it had been beneficial but wasn't totally sure. So in I went to the same doctor I'd seen before, layed back on his table and shut my eyes. The last time he'd put the needle under my skin on both sides of the finger. There had been a mild discomfort as he injected the solution and then my finger swelled up like the digit of a crusty frostbitten alpinist and a couple of days later I felt no residual effects from the treatment. This time was distinctly different. This time he had me flex my finger against his hand so the tendon rose away from the bone and then with excruciating slowness slid the needle under my tendon clear through the finger till it was nearly coming out the other side, then he slowly began emptying the contents of the syringe into my finger. This procedure was about as much fun as I'd imagine having bamboo splinters slowly eased up under your toe nails would be.
Back at home as the local anesthetic wore off it was clear to me that the doc had done a lot more physical trauma to my finger than before. While this is all part of the plan to restimulate healing of the ligament I couldn't help being gripped at the possibility that he had somehow screwed up and done something really bad. I focused on staying positive and doing lots of cardio. I also found that acupressure with a flame heated metal object was a masochistically satisfying way of staying proactive and drawing increased blood flow to the hard to stimulate finger ligaments. After a week I could close my grip all the way without much discomfort and 3 weeks later I did some super easy climbing in the gym.
In the beginning of March some friends of mine were planning to go back to the Red in Kentucky and I was hoping to join them but gave myself the stipulation of being able to climb 5.10 without making my finger worse. I went up one steep juggy 5.10 in the gym, came down stripped the layers of tape off my weak digit and made a fist, it hurt. My mood plummeted. I told my friends to count me out of the trip down south. Over the next few days I continued to climb easier routes in the gym without pushing it at all, a week later when they were getting ready to go to Kentucky I changed my mind and decided if I could almost climb 5.10 on greasy frictionless plastic without harm then the perfect texture of the jug hauls at the Red would have to feel better and pulling on real rock, would if nothing else help my mental state.
So a few hours before dawn we hit the road and 15 hours later pulled into Miguels Pizza and climbers campground in Slade, Kentucky. The next morning we walked into the Solarium crag and found a standard Red River Gorge steep 5.10. I did a lap, came down, stripped off the tape and cautiously made a fist, it hurt. Waves of despair loomed up in my mind and I jumped up shook my head and started doing jumping jacks and push ups working myself into a sweat. 15 minutes later the pain of making a fist had subsided and I did another lap. This time with my heart pulsing oxygenated blood through my whole body my hands stayed warm and I was able to flow a little smoother knowing the sequences. I came down, ripped off the tape, made a fist and couldn't stop grinning. There was no pain, just a warm rush radiating through my arms and hands. After having been deprived of my way of life for the past few months I found it quite easy to be satisfied with any climbing I got to do and was able to take it really easy and stick to 5.10s and 11s. This gentle stretching of the tight scar tissue in my finger was the best thing I could have done and by the end of our 10 day trip I was able to climb some steep 5.12+'s, get legitimately pumped, and feel like I got a real workout. It felt so good to finally check out of rehab and get back after it.

Here are two shots of a steep 5.12c and two shots of the classic 5.12a Dogleg both at the Bob Marley Crag.
I tend to go kind of nuts when I can't climb but I must say that I do love the process of getting back in shape after an injury. That progression, as your endurance quickly returns, creates a mental momentum that is often what I need to dig a little bit deeper, reach a little bit further and take it to that next level. I'll let you know when I get back in shape and have a go at some of last years unfinished projects. Be thankful for your health.

Peter Kamitses
Burlington, Vermont

No comments: