Why I’m Still Kinda Scared of Lifting Heavy Things

I lifted weights tonight. Heavy ones. (Note: “heavy” in this instance means simply “heavier than the 10-pound dumbbells in my basement.”) I even did squats (in the Smith machine! Whose name I just learned Sunday!) and leg presses. Rachel would be so proud.  I did not, however, take weight room selfies. I felt awkward enough already. Give it some time, folks.

Now, I know this is surprising, but tonight was not the first time I’ve done the leg press. It was, however, the first time I’ve done the leg press in the last six years. You see, I used to leg press all the time; it was one of the few machines in college that wasn’t too deep in Meathead Land, so I boldly used it every week. I kept up that tradition when I moved here and started working out at the Body Firm… for about a month. (Side note: There are no pictures of my own to accompany the following tale, because this was in the days before prolific smartphones. Be old-fashioned and use your imagination.)

When we first moved here, Jordan lived just up the alley from the gym. It was super convenient: I’d go work out right after work, then walk to his house, run through the shower there, and eat dinner with him. It was a nice system that worked well until that fateful September night.

It started as any other night at the gym: I ran on the treadmill, then went into the weight room for some quick strength work. As usual, I grabbed a 45-pound plate weight and placed it on one side of the leg press, then started lifting another weight to the other side. I missed. I don’t know how I missed, because this hole:

 and this bar:

are the same size. This should not be hard.

But still, I missed. And that 45-pound weight landed directly on my big toe.

I stood and stared at the weight for a minute, and some nice man picked it up and loaded it on the machine for me. Well, now I couldn’t just not do the exercise after he was so nice. So I lay down on the sled, squared up my feet, and did a set.

And watched blood start seeping through my shoe.

“Huh,” I thought. “Maybe this is bad.” So I stood up. And made this face:

I gimped slowly away from the leg press and thought about what I should do. (I promise that’s the only time ever that I did not rerack my weights). I didn’t have my phone with me, because I never brought it to the gym (less than a block from Jordan’s, remember?). I could have borrowed the gym’s phone, but I honestly did not think I was that badly hurt. I could walk that 100 yards or so, surely.

So I got my jacket and keys and hobbled out the door and into the alley. I made it about 100 feet, got incredibly lightheaded, and sat down. I waited for my vision to clear and thought about what to do, kicking myself for not bringing my phone. Jordan wasn’t expecting me for another 45 minutes; by the time I was late enough for him to worry and come looking, it would be dark and cold. An alley behind 7-11 is not a place that I want to be when it is dark and cold. So I got up and started walking again.

I don’t remember much of what happened next. I do remember suddenly regaining consciousness, still walking, as I ran into a shed. No idea how that happened. I remember falling over the treacherous line of stumps that separated Jordan’s yard from the empty house next door. And I distinctly remember stumbling into Jordan’s kitchen, sinking to the floor, and shouting, “Please come here. I need you NOW!”

Now, put yourself in Jordan’s shoes for a minute. You’re just sitting the living room, grading papers, when you hear your fiance come home and shout those words. So you hustle into the kitchen, where you see her collapsing to the floor, completely filthy, with blood dripping down her face. (I didn’t even know about that face-blood part yet.) Yeah. File that under “How to scare your loved one to death.”

Jordan took one look at me and said, “We’re going to the ER.” Because I am both stupid and stubborn, I argued. I said that I was fine, and if he could just help me get my shoe off, I’d be okay. I did not win that argument, but I did realize that my jacket, keys, and water bottle were missing. I clearly had dropped them in the alley, and I insisted that Jordan find them. That is probably the fastest my dearly beloved has run before or since; he was back with my missing items in a flash. He scooped me up (again, as I protested), plopped me in the car, and took me to the hospital.

In the ER, the nurses cleaned my up and put band-aids on the little wounds on my hands and knees (souvenirs from a few blacked-out tumbles on the way home). Then, the doctor came in and told me he was going to put in a few stitches above my eye. Bewildered, I said, “My eye? But my foot is hurt.”

Now it was the doctor’s turn to look confused. “I know,” he said, “but your eye is cut pretty deep. It’s bleeding everywhere.” Huh. I must have cut it on the chain link fence in the alley when I fell. I sure didn’t remember it, though.

Five stitches, a boot for my broken big toe and smashed foot ligaments, and a prescription for Vicodin later, I was back at Jordan’s house, where I spent the night so he could take care of me. I insisted on showering, because I was still sweaty from the gym and filthy from the quality time with the alley. Then, I took some Vicodin and went to bed. 

That was the first (and only) time I’d taken Vicodin. That stuff is c-r-a-z-y. It left me loopy and tired, even into the next morning. Jordan tried to convince me to stay home from work, but it was September of my first year of teaching. I couldn’t let myself take a sick day. So I went to work. And tried to teach Langston Hughes while still a little high on Vicodin. It went about as well as you’re picturing it. I’m sure my students learned a lot that day…but not about poetry.

The worst part about the whole incident was that I couldn’t run for eight weeks. Apparently running on broken big toes and smashed ligaments is bad. As most of you know, eight weeks in Runnerland is a very long time. The recumbent bike and I got to know each other well, and eventually, I was back to health and my usual routine.

And I did not take another Vicodin. Ever.

So that’s why, for the last six years, I’ve been terrified of the leg press machine. But tonight, I conquered it. And used 25-pound weights.


Have you ever hurt yourself in a dumb way at the gym?

Are you super-stubborn about admitting when you’re actually sick/hurt?

13 thoughts on “Why I’m Still Kinda Scared of Lifting Heavy Things”

  1. Oy vey what a story! I have dropped a weight (much lighter than 45) on my foot and it hurts like hell. I haven’t done much lifting lately and after this I don’t know when/if I will!!

  2. OMG!!! What a story! I wouldn’t be too keen on lifting heavy weights again after that, either!

    Side note: I had vicoden for my knee surgeries and do NOT like that stuff. Made me so sick!!

  3. Oh my. I am on the bus laughing at you trying to teach on Vicodin. I’ve never has the stuff and hope I won’t ever need it. I also cannot imagine pain that would cause you to black out like that. I guess I am pretty lucky, knock on wood. And I do not blame you one bit for not lifting heavy things again

  4. I am certainly proud of you for overcoming your fears, especially after reading that story! I have dropped the bar on my foot before after clearing it while deadlifting. I felt like a complete idiot because I had basically moved my foot under the bar. Then, just two weeks ago, I hit my head on the weight rack. How? I don’t know. I’m an idiot!

    One time, I decided it would be a good idea to run in the cold with a horrible cough. This led to me coughing for hours and hours afterward. I somehow bruised a rib or something, but I was in the most horrible pain in my entire life. Did I not run the mud run I had signed up for that weekend? Nope. Still ran it. I was forced to take Vicodin and felt loopy for the rest of the weekend. Never again.

    You are the best story writer of all time!

  5. Wow! This story is intense! How did you stay sane of 8 weeks of no running? That would have killed me. Do you have an residual pain from your broken toe and ligaments? OUr gyms leg machine has the weights prestacked and you just move the pin. Much safer than what you had to deal with!

  6. Oh man that is scarrry!!! But everything in baby steps! Don’t rush and do what you need to do for your mind and body. I have done stupid things especially to my wrists and if I don’t have my right wrists in well working manner… I think that is going to be super devastating!

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