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Previous readers may recall the several months I fought boredom at home while I healed from my neck injury in a neck brace. (See here and here if you’re new!) Now that I’m free from that annoying contraption, I’m making the most out of the opportunity to get out of the house and exercise again.
I love to work out; health and fitness is one of my passions. Exercise is my way to get away from it all, to relieve stress, and most of all, to have fun! Even with some limitations (no running, no jumping, no falling, no contact sports – probably ever?), I am lucky to be back doing what I love in just less than a year after an accident that could have left me paralyzed. Less than a year! Lucky isn’t the word, but perhaps blessed.
No, make that #blessed. Hehe.
With much pain and discomfort in my neck, I took it slow in December, my first month out of the neck brace. But after the New Year, I just went for it. While I was still mindful of my injury and limitations, I began integrating various activities into my daily life to return to exercise. Though I walked to stay relatively active while wearing a neck brace, I didn’t want to lose the level of fitness I worked so hard to attain over the last few years. Following workout videos on YouTube, lifting weights, doing yoga, and swimming became the highlight of my days.
I started my strength training program with my kinesiologist on January 12th. I started from the bottom – three to five-pound dumbbells on my first week, after more than half a year of not lifting anything.
I also started going to a yoga studio a few minutes’ walk from our apartment. The Hatha class I attended was SO CHILL. We barely moved!!! At least I had the courage to do a Downward Dog without being afraid that my head was going to fall off. (Live with a broken neck and you’ll understand.)
Though I went to a few more Hatha classes there, I tried another yoga studio nearby that offered hot yoga. I was certain that the heat would do my tight neck muscles some good, but I wasn’t sure if I could handle the intensity of the classes. Luckily, Yoga Chaud Québec (now Yoga Fitness) offers a one-week free trial! I went there three times that week, loved the classes and the staff, and never looked back! (Not literally, of course. This is yoga after all.)
I usually experienced some pain and discomfort in my neck after the first ten minutes of each hot yoga class. When I felt any neck pain, I just chilled out standing or on my back in Savasana while massaging my neck. Considering the state of my neck at the time, I didn’t have the balls to attempt Camel Pose or Ustrasana.
Slowly, I got stronger and more flexible. But I was still quite limited. Because my shoulders didn’t have their full range of motion yet, I couldn’t even remove my sports bra sometimes! For real. At home, I had my husband help me out. (Lucky him, right?) But once, I had serious trouble taking off my sports bra IN THE CHANGE ROOM AT THE YOGA STUDIO. I had to walk home with a damp bra. Boo.
In January, I was still going to French immersion school every day from 9:00 am to noon. I also had physiotherapy three times a week in the afternoons. Adding my workouts, I didn’t have time for ~*special projects*~ such as writing here. I wrote a grand total of THREE articles* that month, ten times less than what I used to produce when I started this blog in my Aspen collar!
*But this one out of the three was pretty darn good, wasn’t it?
Because there weren’t enough students to form a class for my level, I couldn’t continue going to French school anymore. Instead, I took private lessons three times a week, at two hours each session. So I had that going on, plus physiotherapy. I was working on a couple of writing projects too (up to four at one time!).
I made new friends with my husband’s friends from graduate school. Even then, I was on the lookout for activities to help me integrate into Québec/French society. After all, I can take the bus and cross the street by myself now! I joined a Meetup group aptly called “Québec City Geeks and Nerds.” (The admission rule was to name three geeky/nerdy things I like. I named: books, board games, and movies!) I’ve attended two meetups so far – one at a board game cafe and the other at an arcade bar. As I braved the Québec City social scene on my own, I met some great people at those meetups. I can’t wait to see them again when I return to Québec City next month.
Aside from meeting up with my fellow geeks and nerds, I became involved with the Centre des femmes de la Basse-Ville (Centre for the women of Lower Town). It’s actually funny how I came across this group. It was my last day of French immersion school, and I was searching for a new French school/lessons. I went to a new immigrant welcome centre near my apartment and asked if they had any information on French courses for Canadian citizens like me. The receptionist handed me a seemingly outdated pamphlet to help me in my search. I proceeded down the list of organizations. It seemed like I was eligible for some of them. See, a normal person would just phone and ask for more information. But it was a Friday afternoon, and I had nothing to do that day (nothing of importance, anyway). So I decided to go on a little adventure riding the bus to ask for more information in person. I went to two offices and both didn’t really offer French courses like what the pamphlet said.
ANYWAY, one of the offices where I went was the Centre des femmes de la Basse-Ville. I met this lovely lady there who informed me of the different activities in which I was welcome to take part. It was not only to improve my French, but also to meet new people in the community! Since then I’ve been going to their Tuesday morning breakfasts, monthly community cooking events, and various workshops.
For example, one workshop I attended was on making medicinal ointments out of beeswax and oil from different herbs. SO RANDOM, I KNOW.
I actually started swimming because of a lady I met through this group! In one of the Tuesday breakfasts, this woman was casually talking about how she goes to the pool three times a week to do Aquafit exercises. I was like, Hey, can I come? (Okay, in French though.) And that’s how I began my twice-weekly swimming sessions.
On my first day at the pool after a month, she was ten minutes late. I couldn’t remember any Aquafit exercises so I just started swimming. Although my backstroke wasn’t too bad, my freestyle was TERRIBLE. Just awful. I practised those two strokes until my pool-lady-friend arrived. We had another Aquafit session later that week, but she stopped showing up thereafter. That’s cool, I’ll just work on my swimming technique, I thought. I didn’t know anyone who could formally teach me, nor were there any learn-to-swim courses available. So every week before hitting the pool, I just watched YouTube videos and read how-to’s online! Now there’s self-teaching at its finest.
(By the way, there’s something that no one ever tells you when you start being more active: you will accumulate SO MUCH LAUNDRY! I go through so many towels in a week from hot yoga and swimming. Add workout clothes and socks and you’ve got yourself double your weekly laundry load!)
As I met more and more people, I had to figure out how to conceal/hide/curtail my whole ordeal with my broken neck. Honestly, it was quite hard. Meeting people my age usually starts with, “What do you do for a living?” or something like that.
Well, I’m a geologist. But I’m off work on disability right now. Because I have an injury… uh…
It’s not easy not going into a lot of detail. But I had to force myself to keep it simple. I usually just say that I had a car accident and wore a neck brace for a long time and that I’m doing my physiotherapy now.
Then I end it lightly by saying, “At least I have all this time to learn French now!”
Then we laugh.
Sometimes people ask me more questions, and I reply without my emotions getting the best of me. The last thing I want is to tear up in public. (Again.)
I became so busy that I had to stop planning my weekly workouts, physio appointments, and get-togethers on scrap paper. I began to use a Passion Planner, a real planner with times and dates, as recommended by my cousin. Make that a “Passion Planner template,” because I just printed copies of the template and bound them myself to avoid spending 30 USD + shipping.
March 1st was my follow-up appointment with my neurosurgeon.
My main concern was if he would let me go back to work at the mine. When I last saw him in December when I got my neck brace off, he just told me, “I’ll see you in March, and we’ll see then.”
I was mentally ready to go back to work; reading books, writing, and working on Excel certainly didn’t make me less competent as a working professional. And at the time, I was probably only 85% physically ready to go back. The missing 15% was due to my neck pain and inability to lift objects heavier than 30 pounds.
Despite being mentally and almost physically ready, I knew I wasn’t emotionally ready to go back to work. But I would make myself if my neurosurgeon allowed me to. I could barely handle strangers asking me about my injury, what about my closest friends and co-workers?
I was nervous of the outcome of this appointment. Entering the examination room alone, I wished I asked a family member or friend to come with me for support.
Since my neurosurgeon still had no idea what “working in a mine” entailed, I clearly explained to him what I did at work. Even though I’m not a miner, my job gets physically demanding at times. Carrying sample bags filled with rocks. Looking up to map the rocks above me. Looking everywhere around me for potential hazards. Hitting rocks with a hammer to get samples. Carrying hoses and washing down rock piles. Driving all over the mine. Walking on and looking at piles of rocks. Scaling. I even had him watch the first few minutes of this YouTube video:
It was still a no for now.
“Bone continues to heal. And come on, you essentially had a dislocated neck,” my neurosurgeon said, trying to bring me back to reality.
“And you had a nonunion, so you’re just not healing as fast,” he explained.
“No, it was because your injury was BAD. I mean, you’re lucky you’re not quadriplegic…” He’s told me this every time I’ve seen him.
As for going back to work, he was unsure of the impact all the shaking and vibrations underground will have on my injury. The good news was that he was willing to let me try underground work in June. “And see if you can tolerate it,” he said.
I was initially disappointed because I wanted to go back to work already, emotional preparedness aside. I’ve lived with this injury for nearly a year now.
But okay, I was sad for like, three hours.
Now what to do with all this time
After my appointment with my neurosurgeon, I made a list of all the stuff I wanted to do by that June deadline. That list got pretty big, and it’s still growing. Here are the main goals I’m working towards:
- Regain all my mobility and reduce my pain by stretching my neck daily;
- Get as physically fit as possible for work and life in general;
- Perfect my French;
- Figure out emotional coping mechanisms for my return to work; and
- Get comfortable driving again (don’t worry, I’ve already started!).
Some other projects on-the-go:
- Reading books/articles about my interests (fiction, general geology, mining geology, cooking);
- Drawing and watercolour painting;
- Watching all the movies I’ve always wanted to watch (like Planet of the Apes (1968) and all the Star Wars movies);
- Volunteering somewhere to help my community and improve my French;
- Joining a Geology/Mining/Data Analysis competition with my friends; and
- Sprouting seeds for salads and garnishes. LOL. I started yesterday!!!
I’m the only one who’s raring to go back to work. My husband, my parents, and even my boss tell me to take all the time I need, to make sure that there’s no chance of hurting myself when I do go back. If there’s anything I can get out of being off work all this time, it’s that I took care of my health, learned French, trained myself to be a good swimmer, became a better cook, and practised my writing.
And isn’t that more than what some people can accomplish in a lifetime?