Scene and Heard

Scene and Heard; Mutual Support Between Reed Patients, Staff

By Scene And Heard
Sunday, September 27, 2009

When Adele isn't swimming across the Chesapeake Bay, she's running 10-milers or marathons.

Every September, the Physical Therapy Department at Walter Reed is laid low with a viral infection known as Army Ten-Miler-itis, which, if not treated, can quickly morph into Marine Corps Marathon-itis.

The Army Ten-Miler is a local road race we encourage our patients to do as part of our Missing Parts in Action Team -- either on a hand-cranked cycle or in a run/walk. For the patients, it's all about recovery. But for the staff, it's a crash course in distance running. Having goofed off all spring, we do exactly what we, as fitness professionals, advise others not to do: go from minimal training to zealous overtraining in two weeks.

By the third or fourth week, some staff members have been peer pressured into training routines that might include running six miles each way to and from work or the random Saturday 15-mile high noon "test run." This is overtraining in its finest form, and by the time September hits we are all injured.

Most people would take a couple of weeks off, but we just consult each other and find tricky ways to keep on running. We pass around 800-milligram tablets of ibuprofen, and before the patients enter the clinic, there is almost always a staff member sprawled on a treatment table in agony, getting worked on by another staff member who just got off the table.

The patients might be running with prosthetic arms and legs, but limping beside them will be an army of medical staff members held together with athletic tape, heel lifts and knee straps. We're supposed to be there to encourage the patients -- but it can sometimes be the other way around.

Recently, in spite of all our self-inflicted injuries, my co-workers started discussing the possibility of signing up for a 20-mile race the weekend before the Army Ten-Miler. Because it's no longer about Wounded Warriors anymore, but about punishment and finishing any way you can. I listened to my co-workers discuss this fascinating idea, reeling in the doubters with earnest suggestions such as "You can walk a minute every mile" and "I'm sure there's a Metro stop along the way."

The possibility of doing a 20-mile run with just two weeks' notice sent me into a spiral of self doubt, and I started to question not just my knee pain -- which I was sure would require surgery -- but what I also suspected was a complete breakdown in my overall body metabolism. Instead of filling out the online race registration under the guidance of my misery-seeking co-workers, I left work early for a doctor's appointment.

My problem? Not overtraining, but over-sweating. I was sweating so much on my training runs that I had to leave my running clothes in the bathtub when I was finished. No one I consulted at work was taking me seriously, which was why I had to step it up a notch and see my doctor.

Thankfully, he took me seriously and asked me a series of questions about my hyperhidrosis. It wasn't my face or my hands, but my whole body. Not at night, but during the day. Not all day, usually at noon, specifically around mile five or six.

He took my temperature: 98.6. And my blood pressure: 116 over 64. My heart rate: a steady 55.

He sent me off to get my blood work done, and later I returned to work. Was it my imagination, or did my co-workers seem unusually amused? I felt a spasm of irritation. It lasted for only a second, before I joined the fray collecting in the back of the room. There, surrounded by patients with badly fractured legs and missing limbs, was a co-worker seized with a sudden spasm in his right calf. We all eagerly offered our advice.

-- Adele Levine, Wheaton

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