Sunday, August 16, 2009


High School Insecurities are Fatiguing

If I’d been a bit chunky in high school, I probably would have an aversion to Twinkies today that bordered on religious zeal. If I’d had a speech impediment then, perhaps I’d now be giving an earful to anyone I could trap long enough to tell how I overcame it.

Those weren’t problems of mine, though. My concern was that I was 6’3” and weighed 160 pounds when fully clothed. This is probably why, in my adulthood, I have demanded of myself that I be able to bench press more than any of my coworkers.

Fortunately, in the newspaper industry this is an easy target to reach: most reporters rarely lift anything heavier than a full coffee cup, and the best ones are too consumed with finding the scoop to concern themselves with exercise or a nutrient-rich diet (personal hygiene is also known to suffer).

When outlifting my fellow journalists got to be too easy, I began targeting the top 5 percentile of the gyms I used, and the top 2-3 percentile after I moved to Korea. I adopted the technique which states that each set should consist of no more than four repetitions, and on the fourth the vein in the lifter’s forehand should be visible from the moon.

After following this method for four or five sets, if the lifter is still able to open doors for himself, then he probably could have tried harder.

By my mid-20s it had paid off; I weighed in the neighborhood of 210 pounds, more and more people were asking me for help in ensuring that heavy things around the office were in the right place, and in the spring I could be seen tugging at shirts whose short sleeves weren’t quite wide enough.

Eventually, though, I paid the price for this obsession.

One day last year I pushed a weight as heavy as myself above me for four sets, four times each. The next day there was a sensation in my upper left pectoral that I at first mistook for the bounty of exercise, which is soreness. When it had spread to my left shoulder and grown more intense the day after that, I knew something was wrong, and that I needed to stop for awhile.

I didn’t pick up a weight for another two-three months, and when I did it was significantly lighter. Still, the following day the sensation, which I imagine is similar to having liquid magma poured in between your shoulder and arm bone, had come back.

I visited a doctor, who was immediately able to locate a creaking in my shoulder indicating that there was a fluid buildup between in the joint. He casually recommended that I avoid putting my left arm behind my back or over my head, and said in about four weeks I’d be fine.

This advice seemed at once both unrealistically hard and simplistic. For one, you do realize how hard it is to avoid such motions until you’ve put on a belt or taken off a shirt. For another, the sudden recurrence of pain months apart indicated something much more serious than what he had diagnosed me with.

So I went to an Oriental medicine doctor, who very quickly found that something more was wrong: My whole skeletal system was out of alignment. My pelvis was crooked and my left shoulder higher than my right. The first step toward correcting it would be acupuncture.

Many Westerners fear this, but I actually was not worried about the idea of having needles in my shoulder. Too bad none of them went there: Apparently treating bone alignment problems requires lots of needles in fun places like right beside the thumbnail, the tip of the pinky toe, and the underside of the knee.

You may be wondering if this was painful: Let’s just say that after the last needle had been inserted and I’d released my last gasp, I understood enough Korean to know that my doctor was laughing, not just at me, but at Westerners in general who have a low tolerance for needles in their digits.

The second part of my treatment has been rest, and after a few weeks the pain has decreased. What’s more, the number of needles required has also gone down, and they’ve been moved to places that result in less gasping.

Still, the doctor insists that I get rest, and he knows just enough English to tell me to avoid the gym because, as he puts it, “You might fatigued.”

"You should only walking,” he continues. “Otherwise, I think you will fatigued.”

I take him at his words, no matter how poorly utilized they may seem. My attempts at surmounting my high school insecurities by bench pressing a compact car will have to wait.

And so will this column. Until I’m sure I can left both arms over my head without paying for it the next day, I have to assume I haven’t rested enough. Hopefully it won’t take more than a couple of months before you see me again.

Whatever happens, though, I wish you all well, and that you won’t too much fatigued.


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