All sentient beings, possessing a body, eventually come face to face with pain. In the course of a lifetime, there’s no getting around it. We are in a certain relationship with the experience of pain, and that relationship is often an adversarial one. Pain is something to avoid or get out of, and whole industries have been built to facilitate those goals.
For the last four months, I have encountered a pain that has challenged my patience and resisted most efforts to eradicate it. It started at Bandon Dunes, the site of some the greatest links courses in the U.S. And, in a word, I overdid it. I’m not sure if it was the 50 mph winds, or playing two days in a row, or neglecting to use the super size jacuzzi, or hitching a ride on a tricked out pickup–the only truly Mickey Mouse device on property–that carted us, rudely, from one green on Bandon Trails to a tee up, what felt like, a very significant rise in elevation. Quickly grabbing for my cart, I wasn’t quite settled before the truck lurched forward and, I think, fractured my rib. Of course, I was not about to admit injury since we still had the rest of the day and the following day on our buddies trip, and what’s a buddies trip without one of the buddies. And the pain didn’t show up until a week after I got back. So at first, I figured it was just a muscle pull and I could keep doing what I normally do. Eventually, I went to the doc who also got it wrong, taking x-rays and diagnosing it “just some arthritis in your upper back.” The pain persisted and my primary doc sent me to a physical therapist who joined the group who flunked basic diagnostic techniques and procedures in grad school. Thank God he didn’t lay a hand on me, and only had me do some absolutely worthless exercises that completely bypassed the pain. By now, I couldn’t sleep since the pain would awaken me several times during the night causing serious sleep deprivation, which is something akin to what they did to prisoners at Guantanamo. So at the risk of sounding like a Class A Kvetch, I returned to my primary, told her again about the pain and sleeplessness, and she sort of reluctantly sent me to a specialist, who was a doctor of restorative medicine, over in the same department as a the physical therapist. Oh, there was one other unfortunate stopover: a chiropractor who a trainer at my gym recommended who specialized in soft tissue repair. He proceeded to work on me–160 bucks for the first session–like a gorilla with a toothache, digging into my injured rib area with abandon, and without a mention for a need to see an x-ray. “That may be sore for a week or so,” he said as he wrapped some sports tape on the area, looking smug that he had done me such a good service.
About a week later, at the prescription of the specialist, after they pumped a telltale dye into my blood stream, a bone scan detected a fractured rib at that very same area. For the previous two and a half months, unbeknownst to me, I was walking around with a broken rib at the bottom of my rib cage. Finally, I know what the cause of the pain was, though I still wasn’t sure about the origin. If I had known, the rib would’ve been healed by then, and my summer would’ve been a delightful weekly romp on hiking trails and golf courses. But because–I suspected–of that Rube Goldberg device previously mentioned and a series of mis-diagnoses, my summer and most of the fall was in bodily pain I have not experienced before.
And with pain, and its cause revealed, the order came down for “no golf.” Not even chipping practice. No putting practice beyond four feet. Now, mind you, golf is not only a mild recreational pursuit for me. It is psychotherapy. It is cathartic expression of emotions–especially the difficult ones like anger, grief, sadness, rage, frustration, and regret. It is Zen practice. It is Man’s Search for Meaning. It is part of my livelihood. It is a vital source of who I am. It is the content of much of my thought during the week. And most importantly it represents the essence of the moment to moment experience of the changing conditions of one’s life.
Speaking of that, I’ve just returned from being an evacuee from the largest wildfire in the written history of California. My doctor who diagnosed the fractured rib tells that on second consideration, it’s not a fractured rib after all, that she doesn’t know exactly what it is, that more tests are needed but that the CT scan shows that the bone scan actually shows that the rib area in question is either a soft tissue infection or cancer in the lymph nodes. So much for the miracles of modern medicine. It shouldn’t be this hard to diagnose Humpty Dumpty’s pain in his ribs. What’s modern medicine for if not accurate diagnosis? Then they can be forgiven for botching up the treatment.
And for the final diagnosis? The envelope, please. Non-Hodgkins lymphoma, a cancer of the lymph nodes, mostly caused by advancing age. I just turned 72. Which accounts for why I haven’t posted anything on this site for quite a while, and has nothing to do with my original supposition that it had to do with my trip to Bandon. That trip was excellent, and I still highly recommend it, even more than a trip to Pebble Beach Golf Links. I’ve just been overwhelmed. The prognosis? Quite good, according to my oncologist. The chemo will start soon, and for most, the cure rate is excellent for this type of cancer. Am I worried? Of course. I come from a long line of worriers. But I’m in good hands. I’ll keep you posted.
Keep a close eye on Jon Rahm, the 23 year old Spanish phenom. He plays with the passion of Seve, with even more skills. This kid could very well win a major this year.
American golf is in very good shape with Justin Thomas, Jordan Spieth, Dustin Johnson, and Lexi Thompson, all likely to have a banner 2018.
Congratulations to Cameron Davis, the 21 year old who shot a final round 64 to take down Jason Day and others to win the Australian Open.
And next week, look who’s back on the world golf stage: Tiger Woods. I wish him well in this new field of young guns. Does he have enough fuel in the tank to win again? Depends on how well his body (speaking of bodies and pain) holds up. We’ll soon see.
So. Is no golf still part of the treatment? I’m thinking that anyone with a personal oncologist would benefit from the Zen practice we love.
Stephen Altschuler says
Well, the doc said I could try golf, so I hit some balls yesterday and suffered some pain I could have done without. So the body tells me no golf for now. Just some chipping and putting practice. Zen and the full art and practice of golf will have to wait for the body to heal enough to take on the rigors of a full swing. Of course, Zen is what Zen presents in any given moment. In this case, it’s this illness, this particular form of suffering: though undesirable, it’s yet another opportunity on the road to higher consciousness.
Thanks for caring enough to comment, Jim.
Bucky Jackson says
So sorry to hear about your medical journey.
Hope the treatment will be successful and you will be back on the
course soon. All the best.
Stephen Altschuler says
Thanks, Bucky, for the positive thoughts. Am hoping with successful treatment I’ll be back at Bennett and swinging away.
Hope you’re well, my friend.
You’ll overcome this and come back roaring like a tiger! Finally a proper diagnosis and treatment ensues. You are stronger than you think.
Stephen Altschuler says
Thank you, CC. You’re darn tootin’ I’ll be back, maybe better than ever. You’re right: now that the diagnosis is set, treatment can follow, and that’s what I’ve been waiting for. Your encouragement is great appreciated during this vulnerable time.
Stephen aka mindful golfer,
With no post in a long while, and knowing you were close to the Santa Rosa area, I sensed that something was amiss; and not good. However, I now sense you can bounce back strong from this setback. It takes some faith. Golfers come back again and again with faith. After all, you did sink a 75 foot bomb recently. I’d take that as an omen. All the best.
Stephen Altschuler says
Thanks, David, for the encouragement and positive thoughts. I need this kind of response. I’m in a vulnerable place, and thank you deeply for your understanding. It’s true, if you can hole a 75 footer, just about anything is possible.
David Tabb says
My best, my friend. Hoping for a quick recovery so we can play again.
Rob Wallace says
Really difficult reading your blog this morning; my heart goes out to you. Thank God you practice consciousness- that’s the only way through.
Take care my friend.