Aftermath

For the last 31 years, I have lived within a mile of US Route 1 in Fairfax County, Virginia. Hereabouts Route 1 is known as Richmond Highway because, prior to the building of Interstate 95, it was the main route between the north and the Virginia state capital.

It has been the armpit of the county for most of the time I’ve lived here, lined with predatory lenders, run down motels from the 1940s (or earlier), trailer parks, a staggering number of truly bad restaurants (including the legendary Dixie Pig barbecue joint), and some rowdy clubs including the long-gone Hillbilly Heaven owned by Dan Ackroid’s in-laws.

For many decades, the county stupidly used the Richmond Highway corridor as a money pit for haphazard development. It became a crime-ridden traffic sewer, a road to avoid. People who live along the highway are disproportionately poor people of color. They rely on buses and shoe leather to get around and a disturbing number of them have paid with their lives trying to cross the six to eight lanes of vehicular mayhem.

In recent years, the county finally realized that this mess could be fixed with some long range planning including dense development and a bus rapid transit line that may one day, long after I am pushing up daisies, morph into a Metro rail line.

A big part of the redevelopment is to turn sections of the highway into mini-cities with mid rise apartments, street level shops, and such. The intersection of US 1 and Kings Highway was one such mini-city. Last week, an apartment and retail building that was under construction there caught fire. The five-alarm blaze burned for hours. It sent up a smoke plume that rivaled that of the Pentagon on 9/11. (I know because I rode under the 9/11 smoke plume on my way home.) The plume showed up on weather radar and extended well into southern Maryland.

The intersection is on the far side of Beacon Hill, the highest point between Richmond and DC. I decided to test my recovery by riding to it.

The ride up the hill proved to me that yesterday’s two-mile walk didn’t affect my recovery adversely. My lungs,on the other hand, could use some work. It’s one tough haul up that beast.

Below are a few pictures of the devastation. The construction site spanned a residential street. Along one side it was attached to a huge concrete parking garage. Note that in Virginia tall residential and mixed use buildings can be stick built above the ground floor. As you can see there is nothing left of the building above its first floor. On the other side of the street, the building is simply gone. Townhouses that were already completed seemed to have survived but they were closed, probably from smoke and heat damage inside. An new apartment complex (not shown) that ran the length of the project also seemed not to have burned but many of its units were boarded up as well. A few single family homes of recent vintage had significant heat damage to their vinyl siding.

How depressing.

I rode on afterward hoping to give my back a bit of a reprieve from the climb. I meandered north into the Eisenhower Valley, Old Town, and Del Ray neighborhoods of Alexandria city. Then I toured the sound wall along scenic I-395 to the Pentagon and past the 9/11 crash site. There’s a rather interesting memorial at the site but it’s hard to see because the Pentagon is building some sort of secure freight screening facility and there are fences and other obstructions between the highway and the memorial.

My ride took me to the Lincoln Memorial and down the National Mall. Big mistake. The joint was packed with Presidents Day weekend tourists. At a traffic light I chatted with two tourists from Boulder, Colorado. They were on rental e-scooters. They said I was brave to be riding in this traffic. (They’d really freak out during a weekday!)

I made a brief tour of The Wharf where there were hundreds of people milling about. Then I headed back across the river and down the Mount Vernon Trail to home.

The entire trip was 33 miles. Virtually pain free but for the lung sucking I did climbing Beacon Hill.

 

Taking Steps

So a week has passed since Doctor Evil injected my spine with cortisone. I shudder just thinking about the electric shocks ripping down my left leg. The after-care notes I was given at the doctor’s office warn that the effect of the medicine will not appear for a week to ten days. A friend told me of someone who didn’t feel any change for a full two weeks.

Not much had changed over the first four or five days but I decided to try doing some very gentle physical therapy exercises designed specifically for stenosis. I have my doubts about PT but my friend Ed told me yesterday that he did PT for stenosis without shots with success. (His nerve issues produced different symptoms. For example, I couldn’t stand for any length of time; he couldn’t sit. He said it took a year to get his pain under control. (One odd commonality in our cases is the fact that we both have asymmetric depressions in our leather saddles. This means that our sit bones push into the saddle more on one side than the other.)

I honestly can’t tell if the exercises are doing anything, but they are low risk and only take ten minutes to do. I do them twice a day,

Yesterday, I braved below freezing wind chills to ride to Friday Coffee Club. I had no troubles on the bike. I was very much aware that seven days had passed since the shots. And I am pleased to report that I stood for a half hour with no discomfort at all. I eventually ended up sitting but it was a choice not a need.

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On the way home. Note the flags at the base of the monument. 

I rode home in even colder wind chills. The ride across the river had a nasty cross wind that cut right through my neck gaiter. The right side of my face was nearly numb by the time I reached Virginia. Fortunately, I had the wind at my back for most of the last 12 miles home. I could tell how tough it was for DC-bound riders by the look on my friend Joe’s face just south of the bridge. Then a few minutes later another DC-bound rider yelled, “Hi John!” as she rode past. She too was freezing, but a smile betrayed her Hoosier upbringing. (Winds in Indiana are often so strong they moan.) I said “Hi, Laura” back but she couldn’t hear me.

About five miles from home I came upon an e-biker. He was covered in black except for space age reflective goggles across his eyes. He looked like an extra from The Fly. He did not say “Help me!” in a high-pitched squeaky voice.

Last night I walked to and from a restaurant with no cane. No problems. Today I awoke and felt totally limber. I was standing straighter. My back and hips felt relaxed.

After puttering around the house all morning, I took the back by the cane as it were and headed over to Huntley Meadows Park to go for a walk. The park has a flat. unpaved trail that leads to a boardwalk through a marsh. It’s a great place to chill out. On a day like today the chilling was literal and figurative.

I brought my cane to be on the safe side. I managed to get over a half mile before I started using it. Again, it was not out of need. It was just seemed easier to use it than to carry it.

I made it about a mile before is started getting some very mild discomfort on the outside of my lower left leg. It never progressed into pain. I walked two miles in all and maintained proper walking mechanics. In fact, I had trouble keeping my walking pace down. My legs wanted to rumble. When I finished I noticed that my lower back didn’t stiffen up. 

I did feel a hot spot on my left hip and the continuation of discomfort in my lower leg when I got home but I still regard today’s walk step in the right direction.

 

Rosanne Rosannadanna phone home

I’m five days removed from the cortisone injections in my spine. I should start noticing some effects in a few days.

I’ve ridden my recumbent bike and my CrossCheck twice each. Until today I was having no problems. I have stayed off my feet as much as possible to let the steroid do its thing. So it’s not surprising that I have had no pain.

Today, about an hour into my indoor recumbent ride, I experienced a sharp pain in my left knee. It felt very different from the various kinds of knee pain I’ve had over the last year. I think it’s an iliotibial band strain, the result of doing no stretching for three weeks.

It’s always something.

The cortisone shots have some interesting side effects. I had a pretty good headache the night of the injections. And then my face turned beet red the next day. The illness that I had last week seems to be lingering, perhaps a result of transitory immune suppression.

Yesterday I went to the drug store. It’s transitioning from one national chain to another. I had to wait in lines twice, perhaps for a total of 15 to 20 minutes. I had no trouble with my lower back or left leg.

Tonight and tomorrow I am attending events in the city. I’ll be interested to see how my leg and back do. I’m bringing my cane just in case

The beneficial effect of the steroid injections should start kicking in this weekend.

 

 

 

 

A Little to the Left, Doctor

I noticed a sore throat coming on a few days ago. I thought it was just the aftereffects of a smoggy temperature inversion the likes of which Los Angeles had not seen since, well, Monday. No such luck. I had a full on head cold on Wednesday. I treated it with extensive napping, Netflix (Philadelphia), and, very unwisely, a bottle of Clos du Bois Cabernet Sauvignon.

I slept not a wink Wednesday night. After my bi-weekly diner breakfast with Mrs. Rootchopper, we went to the library while our house was being cleaned. I put on my headphones, played some woo woo music, and promptly fell sound (and I do mean sound) asleep. Two hours later we went home.

The weather outside was cold and wet so I rode Big Nellie in the basement. (For the uninitiated, Big Nellie is my recumbent bicycle which I have attached to a resistance trainer. Get your heads out of the gutter, people.)

Later that night I took a couple of Nyquils and fell into a deep slumber.

This morning I woke up groggy and stayed that way through four cups of coffee. I then went to the physiatrist, also known as the pain doctor. After a bit of a wait, the doctor came in dressed in black. She had on what appeared to be a black butcher’s apron over her black outfit. I was half expecting her to speak with James Earl Jones’s voice. With an incongruous smile she said, “You’re on deck.”

Oh joy.

Soon I was escorted into white room which contained what appeared to be a giant white C-clamp from Goldfinger’s laboratory.

No, Mr. Rootchopper, I expect you to die!

This fluoroscope is an x-ray device used to guide the doctor to the appropriate trouble areas of the spine. I lay face down on a padded black table, my face in a donut shaped extension which allowed me to do such helpful things as breath, drool, and, as it turned out, cry out for my Mommy. The doctor’s assistant (what is the female of Igor anyway?) positioned a small padded chair for me to place my hands on.

After the assistant used freezing cold solutions to clean and disinfect my lower back, the doctor came in and fine tuned the position of the fluoroscope. The doctor mentioned that, as we discussed in our previous meeting, I have a transitional (i.e., abnormal) lumbar spine, one with an extra vertebra. I was relieved that the doctor was taking care to find the right section of my spine to inject.

Out of the corner of my eye, I spotted two needles that looked somewhat like artillery shells in my doctors gloved hand.

I. Am. So. Screwed.

Then the poking began.

The first few needle insertions felt like getting a flu shot. Not so bad.

Then the money shots into the spinal canal, no doubt, started.

One after the other. A series of, I think, four shots into my spine. The first shot sent an electric shock down a nerve in my left leg. My hands clenched together on the seat beneath my head. I tried to breathe meditatively to disassociate my mind from the pain, from the anticipation of the next shot. I told the doctor that she had the correct spot as the electric shock exactly matched the pain I have been experiencing for months.

Then came the second shot. Fuck all! That hurt. So much for breathing techiniques.

I groaned. The doctor apologized. Then she said, “Take a deep breath. Now, let it out slowly.” (She was on to me.)

The third shot was doozy. OWWW.

“Sorry.”

Then the piece de resistance. The mother of all injections. It sent a bolt of pain straight through my butt, my knee, my calf, into my ankle and foot. Had I not had my hands clenched together, I’d have come off the table.

Lordy.

Done. The doctor left. (I swear she said, “BWA HA HA!” under her voice as she exited.

I sat up. My left leg was numb from my hip to my toes. I gingerly plopped into a wheel chair and was rolled out into the waiting room. I struck up a conversation with a forty something man who had a walker. He was a retired Marine who had 16 years of pain after 20 years of service. The VA and Walter Reed had done all they could for him. He’d had the same injections that I had. “I can’t have any more,” he said.

As he rose to go into the examining area, he turned and quietly said, “Oorah.”

Semper fi, dude.

Count your lucky stars, I thought.

The feeling in my leg returned in stages beginning in my foot and working its way up. I left with only a slight numbness in my thigh after 50 minutes.

I refrained from leaping for joy and yelling “I’M CURED!!!” Mostly because the doctor’s self care sheet said the shot wouldn’t really take effect for a week to ten days. I can take OTC pain killers. I must keep a day-by-day account of my pain progress. In a month I go back to Dr. Pain to see if I need another set of injections. 

I hope not.


Before I forget, I need to welcome back Jessica from her adventures around the Pacific Rim. I started nearly every day of this pain party reading one of her upbeat posts on Facebook, often documenting her doing inane things such as rolling down a hill in a giant translucent ball or lowering herself into a Viet Cong tunnel. From time to time, she recapped her antics in her blog, which I highly recommend. Thanks for keeping my spirits up, Jessica.

Errandonnee Encore

My Christmas stocking contained a small packet of ground Texas Turtle coffee from World Market. Judging by the name I had my doubts about the taste but it turned out to be the best coffee I had in years. Today’s first errand was to ride 15 miles to a store in Bailey’s Crossroads, Virginia to restock.

I am easily spotted around town my the humongous saddle bag on my Surly CrossCheck. It holds a ton of stuff and easily handled two packages of coffee and a box of tea.

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I had planned to ride a long way but I dressed inadequately for even the warm temperatures so I made my way back toward home. I stopped at District Taco for lunch. I had picked up a $10 gift card at the Hains Point 100 and finally got to cash it in on a California Burrito.

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Muy deliciosa.

I hit 30 miles again.

To recap:

I’ve totally crushed the mileage requirement. Living in the suburbs has its advantages after all! And I’ve done four errands in three days. Not too bad. However, I can see that I will have trouble covering enough categories. (There are nine. You have to use seven.)  Life is hard. Then you get a needle in the back. Maybe I’ll ride to the pain doctor on Friday. It’s only a half mile from home.

The weekend, by the by, was brutal. My back went out in a big way Friday or Saturday. This was the worst stenosis pain in a long time. I couldn’t stand up straight so I spent a lot of time sitting with an ice pack on my back. I made it to a Super Bowl/birthday party and had beer instead of pain killers. I woke up this morning and my back felt much better. I highly recommend Koltsch as a stenosis remedy.

 

 

Errandonneeing like a champ

I’m out of the gate fast with two errands on the first day of the 2020 Errandonnee Challenge. I rode ten miles to the bookstore to pick up a couple of books. (Bill Bryson and Gillian Flynn), After a ride across the Memorial Bridge I headed for home. We’re going to a party for a friend’s 65th birthday with a side of Super Bowl. Mrs. Rootchopper had requested that I buy some beer. It easily fit in my panniers.

I was a bit worried that the bottles in the right hand panniers would break in transit but they made it home intact.

A couple of things to note.

About four miles into the ride I had the worst back spasm I’ve had in a long time. This was quite different from my usual aches. It felt like an electrical shock through my pelvis.

At the supermarket I locked up near a dumpster because Safeway offers zero decent bike parking. Anyway as I was loading the panniers on my bike, I saw the biggest turkey vulture I’ve ever seen perched on the top edge of the dumpster. It was at least 2 feet tall.

Errand No. 1: A stop at a shop

Errand No. 2: You carried what on your bike

Lesson learned. Even with back spasms you can do errandonneuring. Where there’s a pill, there’s a way.