There are the things you know you ought to do, that are hard to do, in part because the “ought to” of them is pretty abstract, especially when they are surrounded by so many other pressing, concrete demands. For me, a whole lot of stuff has long fallen into that category, and particularly things that have to do with taking care of myself. I ought to eat a little better. I ought to drop that five pounds. I ought to get more sleep. I ought to exercise more regularly. I know all of those statements are true, and I really do try to do the things they urge, but it’s often easier to let those things drop when competing demands arise.
And honestly, when don’t competing demands arise.
But I’m finding myself squarely in front of one of those moments when the world sends a no-kidding message: That “ought to”? You should maybe interpret as “must.”
Last week, right near the end of the DH conference, I started getting some pain in my left shoulder. I’ve got some kind recurrent tendonitis in both my shoulders, and with all the hauling of suitcases and carrying around of laptops, I figured I’d triggered it, which promised an aggravating few days ahead.
A week later, however, things had not gotten better. In fact, they were much worse: the pain was no longer localized in my shoulder, but was radiating both up my neck and down my arm. My small stash of Aleve was running out fast, and weirdly, given the range of things you can buy OTC here in Paris, naproxen is unavailable without a prescription. So R. talked me into seeing a doctor, and got a friend to make an appointment for me.
My experience of the French medical system is not the point of this post, but I should note how good it was: I got an appointment with a very good doctor for the very next day. She discussed the problem with me, did an examination, explained her diagnosis, and wrote me three prescriptions. The cost of the examination, for someone who was for all intents and purposes uninsured, was 50 euros. The cost of the three prescriptions, 15 euros. The doctor also said I should go get an x-ray, which I’m going to do while I’m here, both because I’m here for another three weeks and because it’ll be cheaper to pay out-of-pocket for it here than it will be to handle it through my insurance back home.1
What I need the x-ray for is more to the point of the post: the doctor diagnosed me with a pinched nerve in my neck, almost certainly produced by une arthrose — cervical osteoarthritis.2
My first response to this was annoyance. I am way too freaking young to have arthritis in my neck.
My second response was something much more akin to terror: if it feels like this in my mid-forties, what will it feel like in my sixties? My eighties?3
And following fairly quickly on the heels of that was a fairly predictable conviction: I have got to start taking better care of myself.
What this means, however, is turning all those ought tos into musts. In particular, I must make more time for more regular exercise, to become as strong as I can in preparation for whatever the coming years are going to bring my way. And this is going to require two things of me:
First, I must reprioritize. It’s useless to say “I have to get more exercise” when my calendar and my to-do list simply cannot take more being crammed in. Something, in other words, must go — and it can no longer be the things that have always seemed too (literally) self-centered. What that something will be, I’m not entirely sure — but I am starting to recognize that where ambition or accomplishment gets in the way of basic physical health and well-being, maybe it deserves a little more critical examination.4
And second, I need some kind of accountability, a means of ensuring that I actually follow through on what could turn out to be no more than a whole lot of good intentions, particularly once the pain fully recedes. So I’m hoping that maybe my internet friends will help hold me to these changes, and maybe even come along for the ride. If you use Runkeeper, I’m kfitz there. I’ll try to post some here about how I’m doing as well.
I’m determined to be that wiry little old lady still running in the park when I’m 80. And I’m weirdly grateful, I think, for this last week-plus, which has made abundantly clear that that absolutely is not going to happen without some really determined decision-making on my part.
In fact, my friend here warned me that her doctor was one of the more expensive around, but sent me to her because she’s so good. So much for the horrors of socialized medicine. ↩
Something in me loves the idea of “arthritis” as a countable noun. It’s not really funny, but it makes me feel a little better. ↩
I don’t want to overplay this, because lots of people live with far worse and far more ongoing pain than this. But I will say that the level of pain and the loss of function that I have experienced over the last week-plus is not something that I really care to sustain over the long-term. ↩
Those last two sentences lead me down a digressive little path about intellectual life and the locus of the “self,” as taking time out for exercise or for proper sleep feels utterly self-indulgent, while taking time out for research or writing does not, despite the degree to which such work literally serves my conception of my self. Makes me wonder whether I carry some unexamined assumption that intellectual labor is done by — or perhaps on behalf of — something other than the self. ↩
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