August 15, 2013

Losing a Toenail

I have been incorporating resistance exercise into my wimp parkour: in fact each session has a couple “lift to failure” components, sometimes with dumbbells, sometimes with body weight. Lifting to failure is a pretty simple concept. You just do something hard – very slowly and mindfully – till you can't do it any more. It shouldn't take more than a few minutes: if it does, next time you do it with more weight/resistance. The concept is easy. It's fun to do (despite its name!) because it's fierce, all-out effort. By God, you know you've exercised! And it's actually less likely to cause injury than the endless repetitions so many of us were led to believe were good exercise – i.e. calisthenics and aerobics and so forth – which entail a lot of wear and tear on the joints. It gives a clear message to the body: we better ramp up the strength and endurance here: we can't do some of the stuff we need to do!*

So – I am quite a bit stronger than I was a few months ago. And I've been savoring that strength. I sling my table around with ease. It's not a “portable” table: it's a solidly built, custom, Robert Hunter table, slightly oversize. I love carrying it around, and I love the skill with which I shoot it into the back seat of the Honda, swinging it on its handle, using its momentum, using just the right pivots and leverage, resting it briefly on one knee, and powering its last little scoot over the drive-shaft bump with an easy flex of the gastrocnemius and soleus muscles. Knowing how the body's muscles work has all kinds of side-benefits, and it pleases both the massage therapist and the engineer in me; not to mention the teen-aged boy.

Well, pride goeth before a fall. Last night I pulled the table out of the car, let it swing out, then up along the side of the car as I straightened, and then let it swing back to rest one corner on the ground – except I blew it. My sandaled foot was half an inch too close to the car, and instead of just clearing the ground, the corner of the table snagged the nail of my big toe. Nearly tore it off. The pain blossomed in a brilliant wash of gold and red, saturating my body. Extraordinarily intense.

I gave out a stifled roar and then bit my lip, hard. Then – I've noticed this response to intense pain before – I found that finishing the task I was engaged in when I was hurt, in this case of getting my gear into the house, assumed immense importance to me. I loaded myself up with my duffle, linens bag, and table, and walked into the house with them. I put them carefully away, and then sat down on the couch to let the pain subside.

It took ten or fifteen minutes. I just sat and observed it. I am interested in pain, professionally, now. What was most interesting was that, while the initial pain was as intense as any pain I've ever experienced, my assessment of its importance was so low that my emotional distress was minimal, and the pain evaporated very rapidly. Soon it was not there at all. I'm limping today, favoring it, but so long as I don't move it, it's fine, and I expect it will heal up in no time: the nail might or might not sluff off, but basically I'm fine, and it's not impacting my life at all. I'll go to work as usual, and do a massage tonight, no problem. I've lost toenails before: I know they just grow back. It's no big deal. This is a great example of how even blindingly intense pain can have a really minimal impact on one's life, if – and only if – one is thoroughly convinced that it has no importance.**

* See Doug McGuff, Body By Science

** See Lorimer Mosely's video, Why We Hurt

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