Saturday, June 13, 2009

Referred Pain

I ran 12.65 miles today.  In an hour and forty-eight minutes.  It was a great course.  Some really tough, steep hills, a few super fun descents, and even a few miles of flat, fast road.  I felt like I was flying, racing against a personal best and feeling like I could conquer the world.  The euphoria of a great run was overshadowed by acute pain shooting through my kneecap into the tendons in the back of knee, radiating down my shin and setting my ankle on fire.  It was mind over matter to get my battered body up the steep hill to our house and my frustration mounted as I limped up the 21 steps from our garage to the main level of our house.

I remember the specific moment I injured my knee in February.  Stretched a little bit too far in the wrong direction on the balance ball and I instantly felt my mistake.  Curt examined my tender knee and determined it was more of a small "tweak" than a real injury requiring a visit to the clinic.  We treated it as an overuse injury and I followed all the steps to help it heal.  Forced break from exercise of any sort.  Started back slowly by running small distances at a slower pace.  Cross trained with weights and stretching at the gym.  

It's been four months of doing all the right things and in spite of an initial improvement in my pain level, my knee seems to be getting worse.   The stubborn side of me pushes through the pain to accomplish my goal of running a personal best half-marathon in two weeks.  But the more I push, the more my body fights back.  Curt described the fire in my ankle as "referred pain."  Medical terminology for your body's alarm system.  Ignore the source of the pain long enough and your body begins to sound alarms in other areas.  The brain says, "Since you're ignoring the knee, maybe I'll send sharp pain into your ankle and you'll be forced to stop and address the real problem."  It worked.

I had Curt re-examine my knee on our kitchen island in his makeshift home clinic.  I felt a bit frustrated as he pushed, prodded, twisted and turned my knee in a bazillion directions that were pain-free.  But then he tried McMurray's test and BINGO!  As I shrieked, "OW!" he pinned the source of the pain.  It appears there's a good chance I have a torn meniscus which would explain why, in spite of my best efforts and greatest intentions of rehabbing my knee, I'm not making any progress.  An MRI will most likely reveal both the source and the solution. 

I couldn't help but draw the parallel to pain in life.  Because let's face it.  We all have areas of pain in our lives.  Relational discord.  Buried hurt.  Unemployment.  Financial crisis.  Shattered dreams.  Unmet expectations.  Parenting faux pas.  Spiritual apathy.

When the pain initially rears its ugly head we have two choices.  Ask God to diagnose the source of pain and utilize His healing power, or we can try to fix it on our own.  Sometimes we ignore the pain.  Bury it and pray that it goes away.   Other times we keep ourselves occupied with activities and events that feel rehabilitative.  But in spite of our best intentions and well-planned efforts, the pain continues to festers.   

Before we know it, we experience referred pain in our lives.  Our struggle to find peace leads to depression or anger.  We feel inept.  Purposeless.  We wonder why God is not meeting our demands or following our self-prescribed treatment plan.  As the pain spreads, we realize we'll try anything to numb the pain that is no longer sequestered to one specific area.

While we flounder pathetically, God, the original MD, sits waiting for us to realize we are throwing effort after foolishness and make an appointment in His clinic.  He wants us to, in humility, lay our lives down on His examining table and let Him push and prod, twist and turn.  And He expects us to holler "OW!" when He nails the source of pain.  

Our honesty will free us up to allow God to show us the MRI results of our lives.  We'll see and rejoice in what is good, healthy and functioning well.  We'll also see in clear precision what is injured, broken and in disrepair.  While we mull over our injury, God, who is gracious and compassionate, is kind enough to give us a prescription for total healing.  Isaiah 26:8 says, “He will swallow up death forever.  The Sovereign LORD will wipe away the tears from all faces.”  It's a promise I'll mediate on as I limp around this weekend.

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