It Happens Fast

Injury is part and parcel of a runner's life. Sometimes minor and nagging, requiring nothing but cutting back or cross training to banish. Sometimes major, enough so to require a complete rest from running, perhaps even surgery. I've had so many injuries, even some surgeries, over my 30 years of running that I probably couldn't list them all. I continue to run, knowing the risks, willing to take them.

It's a different matter altogether when the injury happens to one of my dogs. They're runners, too, but unable to tell me if and when something hurts. The first sign of anything wrong, and I stop as soon as possible. They don't run again until I'm sure they're healthy. I treat them much better than I've ever treated myself. If one dog is injured and resting, the other usually rests to. They hate being separated. The one left behind howls as if being drawn and quartered, while the one getting to go spends all her time looking for her sister, lagging behind, stating strongly with nudges and looks that we've forgotten someone very important and must go back to reunite the pack.

This morning, it was Meadow who became injured.

One minute we were hiking up into the forest, slowly, because the new snow is heavy and deep (which is why we were hiking, not running). It was a quiet, overcast morning, and we took advantage of a break between snow showers. Next minute, after chasing Maia down the gully we'd just climbed (we were turning for home), she's limping and seeking comfort. I didn't see what exactly happened - they'd gone around a bend in the trail. But knowing how they romp and chase, dancing around one another, I could imaging a twisting sort of injury.

No yelp, to whine or whimper, but a significant limp, and a clinging to me that's very unusual for Meadow. Even Maia seemed to know something was wrong, as she stuck close as well, watching as I tended to Meadow.

I checked her foot and pads; nothing wrong there. Massaged her leg, knee, hip, and while she didn't wince or withdraw, she continued to avoid putting full weight on her right rear leg. She'd walk when I asked her to, limping heavily, then lean into me in an effort to stop and seek comfort. I needed to get her home to do a better job of diagnosis.

We were about a mile from the house, thankfully all of it downhill. I fashioned a sling out of the leash, doubling it and running it under her belly just in front of her hip joints, and held up her hind end as much as I could while we all walked slowly back to the house. It helped. When I removed it, she limped more. She didn't object when I put it back.

We'd been through this once before. Two summers ago. The girls and I were running a remote trail, an exploratory outing our first summer in Idaho. It had been awhile since we'd crossed a stream, so I urged them down off the trail toward one burbling perhaps 50 feet away. As Meadow ran back up toward me, I heard a loud thunk, and she stopped dead in her tracks with a stunned look on her face. I urged her to come the remaining 10 feet or so, but she wouldn't put weight on one of her front legs. We were four miles - at least - from the car. This was serious, although at least the weather was warm, dry and sunny. There's no way I could carry her - she weighs 85 pounds. I have no idea what happened, but think she hit her shoulder or foreleg on a rock or stump hidden by grass and shrubs. With the leash as sling, we walked very slowly toward the trailhead; as far as I was concerned, we'd take as long as she needed. After about a mile of limping along, she started to put more weight on the leg and picked up the pace. After two miles, I removed the sling and she started trotting on her own, with a slight limp. She seemed to want to get out to the car as fast as I did. I let her set the pace, holding Maia back so as not to entice her into too fast a pace. We jogged the last couple of miles, slowly but steadily. Even with anti-inflammatories and rest, it was a full month before I felt she was fully healed and let her run again. Those memories flashed through my mind as we slowly made our way through the snow to home.

As we passed the snowmobile parking lot area, her nose rose to scan the air and her body veered that way. I knew she wasn't in too much pain if she still wanted to investigate the deer parts someone recently discarded there. (An ongoing, annoying crime; spoke to the sheriff's deputy about it yesterday.)

I keep a supply of Deramaxx for just such injuries, and gave Meadow some as soon as we were in the door. As the day wore on, her limp disappeared, although she continued to have some trouble trying to jump up on my bed. More massage, while carefully watching her facial expressions (she, like many dogs, tends to breath faster, yawn a lot, and lick her lips when in mild distress) reveals that it's her hip, rather than her knee. Oddly, that's a relief - I had visions of expensive ACL tear repair. I hope, though, that it's not the start of arthritis in her hips. She's not quite six years old.

She seemed to enjoy laying in the snow; perhaps the cold helped whatever pain or swelling she was experiencing. I caught her laying on her back at one point - a clear sign she was feeling better - and snapped this entry's photo.

Today was a reminder of one of the lessons dogs are so good at teaching us, given their relatively short lifespans: savor good health, use and enjoy it, yet protect it, because it can quickly change: in a moment, the blink of an eye, on a romp down a snowy hill.