Everyone who has endured chronic pain has a story to tell. That includes me. It began in the fall of 2005. I had been quite an athlete, jogging and playing tennis two to three times a week, biking three to four hours on weekends, skiing single and double black diamonds during winter months and mountain hiking since being in my late teens. In 1980, 81 and 82, I trained for and ran three Boston Marathons, staying in the ‘back of the pack’ just for the thrill of it than for speed. I recall having some knee pain after the second marathon and went to see an Orthopedic Surgeon, Kenneth Greg, MD who said to me, “George, given your huskie size, I’d highly recommend that you run on soft wooded trails than paved roads!” While I felt thin and weighed 185 pounds at 6 feet, I still knew what Dr. Greg meant. The endorphin high of street jogging would be allot nicer than thinking about any long term consequences of pounding on the sloped, hard pavement. Did I listen to him? No. Who did those days?
As a Psychologist, I did allot of testing during those years. I typed hundreds of reports never paying any attention to my hunched over posture. Report writing helped sustain a large referral base of doctors and nurses but it never occurred to me what I was doing to my spine. My wife would scold me for bending over but I didn’t listen, just like my experience with Dr. Greg. My frenetic need to get these reports done surpassed any long term concern for what could happen to my spine.
I continued to play tennis allot and did everything else until the fall of 2005 when, at age 54, I experienced some tingling sensations in my fingers and toes. My physician at the time did a blood and urine test and ruled out diabetes. He then referred me to a neurologist who, upon meeting me, smiled and said after hearing my symptoms, “It’s probably due to your wearing tight sneakers. Also, you may have carpel tunnel syndrome.” He administered an Electromyography Test (EMG) then, after looking at the results, called me into his office and, in a somber tone and expressionless face, told me “You have peripheral neuropathy.” He was an older gentleman and didn’t recommend anything for me to do other than informing me that the endings of my peripheral nerve fibers were damaged. There was no empathy from this elder gentleman as I pondered having to stop playing tennis. This was perhaps the most painful experience I ever had to confront at the time. Tennis had been in my blood since childhood. I knew I had the knack for this game at an early age. I grew up with a father who became a Bronx handball champion. He met my mother while playing doubles on a handball court. My parents eventually picked up racket sports and encouraged me to do the same. I recall having a Davis wooden racket at age 10. Even though my parents couldn’t afford to give me tennis lessons or have me train or do USTA competitions. I still enjoyed both the competition and the socialization tennis provided. In between school yard stickball games, I played at our local courts in Cunningham Park, Queens, NYC. I rode my bike to the park with a bag lunch and played all day long with other people who loved the game. I even remember one spring day playing against a new NY Knickerbocker named Phil ‘shoulders’ Jackson. Boy, was that fun as this guy didn’t seem to know how to get out of his own way. Every year, some of my friends and I attended the US Open at Forest Hills, NY. It was only 7 miles from where I lived. Later on, I would teach tennis lessons at summer camps. Tennis was so much a part of me. I even envisioned that I would die on a tennis court.