Sunday, August 29th – Friday, September 3rd ……Sunday was spent basically feeling sorry for myself. God that last sentence felt pathetic to type – but that doesn’t make it any less true. I felt horrid. I had a goal set for myself: 16 miles, smooth and steady. And with just a few miles remaining between me and attaining my goal….I became distracted, unfocused, and unglued. Those feelings of underachievement hung over my sofa like a black cloud on Sunday. In short: I was one cranky hombre. I made an appointment to see my doctor the following day, at 3pm.
I worked through lunch in order to take the time I needed for the appointment. A visit with Doctor Cuzzamanno usually results in an addition of 4-5 minutes to my stand-up comedy act….and this one did not disappoint.
Doctor Cuzzamanno maintains an office on the east side of Manhattan, walking distance from my office. It’s a small office located on the lower level of a brownstone in midtown. The sunlight doesn’t cascade through the windows and, as a result, the potted plants on the window sills look more like props from an Addams Family set. As you pass through the front door you are spilled into the waiting room, with eight metal chairs lining three of the room’s exposed brick walls. I am a big fan of exposed brick in a home – I think it looks edgy yet inviting. Now any new clients that walk into this office for the first time immediately may be impressed with the fine doctor’s choice in décor – but I know better than that. I’ve known Dr. Cuzzamanno for a very long time; he bought the office as-is and didn’t want to pump a dime into renovations that weren’t absolutely necessary. In short, he treats nickels like manhole covers.
Centered amidst the waiting room chairs is a rather weather-beaten coffee table, with numerous water rings staining the puckered wood and magazines with dog-eared corners scattered about the surface. Along the far wall sits the reception desk, behind which presides the dictator of this tiny realm or, as I like to call her, Gertrude the Grim. At 6’4” and 200 pounds, with her hair permanently frozen in a hairstyle normally found in a high school yearbook circa 1983 and sporting white scrubs that were in dire need of Oxy Clean, Gertrude was the gatekeeper of this fine medical establishment. No one passed through her castle’s gates without her nod. Until the nod was given, patients wait patiently in their metal chairs, flipping through the pages of the Sports Illustrated Man of the Year issue from 2002, Car & Driver’s May 1997 issue, and every one of 2003’s issues of Soap Opera Digest. The goal here is not to anger Gertrude. Wait until you are called. Do not rock the boat. Simple rules of the road for most people…but if you’ve read this blog thus far, you clearly understand that I am not like most people. I am rather dimwitted and, let’s face it, I do not learn from my mistakes. Ever.
Five minutes before my appointment, the door swung open and I entered the good doctor’s waiting room. I was greeted by two sets of blank stares from two male strangers….and Gertrude.
Me: “Hey Gertrude. I’ve got a 3pm with the doc.”
Gertrude: “Have seat. I will call you.”
Me: “OK, thanks. The last name is….”
Gertrude (looking up at me with a scowl that I now believe shriveled the petunias on the windowsill) “I no need name. You sit.”
Me: “…but you’ll need my file, right?”
Gertrude: “You sit. NOW. Read magazine.”
I retreated to one of the metal chairs along the far wall, thinking that it was safer to comply with the instructions than tempt fate by continuing the conversation. As I reached for a copy of Soap Opera Digest (yes, lab rats, my life is a constant stress test: how much stupidity can I fit into my pea-sized brain in any 24-hour period), I hear Gertrude the Grim bellow down the hallway….
Gertrude: “Doctor, the 3pm has arrived.”
Doctor Cuzzamanno (from the far end of the hallway): “Who’s my 3pm?”
Gertrude: “Some man. Round face with odd look on it.”
Gertrude: “Man who looks like cover of Mad Magazine.”
Doctor: “Gertrude – be nice please – his last name would help…”
Gertrude: “His last name I not know. Will send back – see for yourself.” Then the Gigantic Gatekeeper looked at me and said “You come with me.”
She and I stood at the same time, and I realized just how much taller she was than I. Her shadow dropped the temperature in the waiting room by 8 degrees. Rumor has it that her stare killed a chicken once. I immediately made a mental note to NOT piss Gertrude off. I mean, I take pride in the fact that I can defend myself….but this “nurse” could kick my dimpled Irish ass. I walked down the hallway to exam room 2, and awaited my medical paisan.
Ten minutes after I plopped myself down in the examination table, Doctor Vicenzo Cuzzamanno entered. He is approximately 5’4”, and built like a fireplug. As wide as he is tall, the good doctor looked like he could moonlight as an enforcer for one of the five families. Though his midsection evidenced a few too many zeppoles (for the uninitiated: usually found at Italian street fairs, zeppoles are small, round pieces of dough that a re deep fried and covered with sugar. Greasy, delicious, and they probably take 2 minutes off of your life – but who cares? Those minutes are the ones at the end….the adult diaper minutes….), it was evident that the doc could still handle himself like I always knew he could, dating back to the high school years.
The doc and I went to prep school together in the Bronx. Both of our families were middle class, so we understood each other fairly well. Over the years we lost touch, as he went to medical school and I floundered in a sea of utter mediocrity. Now years later, we were reconnected through fate: he learned how to heal the human body, and I learned how to abuse it. A big smile crept across his face as he tossed my file on the exam table.
Me: “Hey Vinny!”
Doc: “Hey Joe! What’s up? How’s it going?”
Me: “Pretty well – except for this damn foot.”
Doc: “The planar fasciitis again? How hard are you training?”
Me: “I’m logging 30-35 mile weeks. Some speed work. Long runs once a week. I’m up to 13-14 miles now. However, Saturday was FUBAR.” (FUBAR: F*&ked Up Beyond All Recognition)
I described the Saturday long run, the fall, and how my foot felt in detail. Vinny nodded and took notes as I provided the synopsis. Then he set forth and examined the left foot.
Doc: “hmmmm…..no swelling. The ankle looks OK. How bad is the pain?”
Me: “I’m popping Advil like M&Ms.”
Doc: “That’s par for the course for you. Dumb move.”
Me: “I know. So what are my options?”
Doc: “Shut it down for 2 weeks. Heal up.”
Me: “OK then – let’s hear option number 2.”
Doc: “We can shoot it up with cortisone – but it’s only a temporary fix and it can cause you to do more damage to it.”
Me: “OK, Dr. FeelGood, shoot me up.”
Doc: “It’s your foot. Just understand that it’s temporary.”
The doctor left the exam room to get the drug and the needle, leaving me to my own thoughts. I knew what I was doing – at some point, I’ll need to shut down running for the year. However, if this works, I could continue training and improving just the way I have been all along. I was nervous – yet content with my decision overall.
The doctor entered the exam room with the necessary accessories to numb my heel, and he immediately got to work. He loaded the syringe, cleaned the appropriate area with alcohol, looked up at me and said, “you’re not going to like this.”
….and with that, he jabbed my foot with the needle and I screamed like a five year-old girl in a horror movie.
As I sat there, staring at my foot, the doctor quietly murmured “I told you that was going to suck. But trust me – it will feel different when you run for the next few weeks.” A few minutes later, we shook hands and I waddled down the hallway to take care of my co-pay and fill out whatever forms were required. When I handed her my Visa, Gertrude looked up at me and said “wimpy man cannot take needle. Scared the patients. Wimpy wimpy wimpy”. I was still rather unfocused, so the only retort I could come up with was “where did you develop your bedside manner, Gertrude? A four car pile-up on the West Side Highway?” I know – not my best work – but that’s the only verbal bullet in my gun when I needed to pull the trigger. I hobbled out of the office hoping that this evening’s practice would feel…..different.
Later that evening I joined my team in a 10 kilometer tempo run around the reservoir. Each time my left foot landed on the soft dirt, the expected pain was nowhere to be found. Huzzah for the good doctor. I finished the evening’s workout with a smile on my face and a renewed sense of self-confidence. I temporarily took The Tool’s main offensive weapon away from him, just like the simple defensive strategy coined by Vince Lombardi. Now that little 4” schmuck will have to find other weapons in his arsenal to attack me with. I actually chuckled to myself as I headed home.
Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday evenings were spent in the park as well, enjoying the feeling of pain-free running with teammates amid familiar, friendly surroundings. Running in Central Park was like running with a constant home-field advantage. Wednesday night’s post-run team social was a lot of fun mixing laughter, alcohol and inexpensive bar food into two plus hours of enjoyment.
With the Labor Day Weekend upon us, Saturday’s long run of 16 miles would have to be completed solo, sans the support of the team. The first true test of this heel after the shot. As I fell asleep Friday night, I was actually pumped up about the long run. It would feel great to see what my body can handle without any anchors holding me back.
“The will to win means nothing if you haven’t the will to prepare.” – Juma Ikangaa, 1989 NYC Marathon winner