Of Charley Horses and Long Discourses

It is perhaps an axiom that oft times our actions can be misconstrued as being something totally different than what they are. The man who picks up the lost wallet usually does so in plain sight of the victim, who is telling the policeman what his wallet looks like and where he lost it. The friendly peck on the cheek from a good-looking long-time acquaintance always occurs just when your spouse walks around the corner. Of course, it’s always at church or an important business meeting that you discover your impish 5-year-old has chosen that day to surreptitiously place a Chiquita banana sticker on your hindquarters.

I have to admit that I have, not without a small sense of pride, continued this ancient tradition just this very morning. I have the somewhat odd habit of sleeping not in a bed but in a recliner, one of those wondrous inventions that hold you, tilt you, rock and recline you, heat you and seat you and now even feature mini-refrigerators and audio/visual control stations. Unfortunately, I don’t own one of those – the one I have is an oldie, a sort of bland non-color material liberally clawed by the cat of the house, the kind of chair in the kind of condition that even the Salvation Army would turn their noses up at, squeaky and rickety and dirty and abused, but comfortable. The hole in the front of the seat cushion is starting to enlarge to the point where the yellowed foam inside is making its break for freedom, yet still I wouldn’t trade-in this battered old veteran for a dozen new models.


It has soul.

and it’s super bad

Another of my odd habits is that as a self-employed writer I tend to keep strange hours. I have no wife or children in the house, just a room-mate who believes in my literary quest and had offered me inexpensive lodgings when I most needed them (starving-artist syndrome). As a result, I often do not “hit the sheets” until 3 or 4 in the morning, and coupled with my polyphasic sleeping habits, developed many years ago in college, I am what is usually known as a “napper” – I sleep for an hour or an hour and a half, 3 times a day, and find that this provides me with enough energy to do what I need – and want – to do.

Unfortunately, I am also getting older – I turned 56 a few months ago – and although I spent over 40 years practicing and teaching martial arts and consequently was in pretty good physical shape, I have allowed myself to fall into the disgrace of unfitness these last 10 years or so since my retirement from the martial world. I won’t say that I’m on the same level as your typical Walmart shopper or Chinese buffet attendee, but let’s face it – I’m not the man I used to be. No longer can I perform those jump-spinning roundhouse kicks to my opponents heads – now I just turn my lawyers loose on anyone foolish enough to challenge me and use big-sounding words to defeat little-minded opponents.

So perhaps it was not entirely unthinkable, given my sleep habits, self-imposed work schedule and poor dietary habits (hint: pizza and coffee are two of my main food groups) that one day I would get a Charley horse.

According to the National Institutes of Health’s MedlinePlus Encyclopedia, a Charley horse

… is the common name for a muscle spasm. Muscle spasms can occur in any muscle in the body, but often happen in the leg. When a muscle is in spasm, it contracts without your control and does not relax.

They go on to inform me that the cause of a Charley horse may be over-exertion (that’s not me), dehydration (hey, I take in 5 pots of coffee every day) or the lack of certain vitamins such as calcium or potassium.
MedlinePlus then gives me some fascinating news, of which I would never have been aware of had they not told me –

When a muscle goes into spasm it feels very tight. It is sometimes described as a knot. The pain can be severe.

Yes – VERY severe, as I found out this morning.

I had finished up an article for a client at around 2am and made myself a little snack consisting of a banana (note – source of potassium!), a few nuts and my final mug of light and sweet coffee for the day. I collapsed into the recliner and kicked back to the “TV viewing” position – only a slight recline angle and with the feet elevated. I started watching one of my favorite oldies on the oldies network, ”The Honeymooners”, and my final memory of consciousness was chuckling at Ralph and Norton’s antics before I fell off into my short sleep mode.

Now after an hour and a half, my internal alarm clock usually goes DING and I awake refreshed and ready for another 7-hour stint at the keyboard, but this time something went wrong. This time I was catapulted into wakefulness by not one but TWO Charley horses, one in each calf. To call this pain “severe” is like calling the Titanic disaster “a little boating mishap” – this level of pain is usually reserved for masochists and volunteers for political rallies. It felt as if Hulk Hogan had grabbed my left calf, Arnold Schwarzenegger my right and then both proceeded to squeeze for all they were worth.

A moan, long and low yet quite spirited, escaped my lips – “Ooooooooooooooooohhhhhhhhh”. At the same time, I rocked forward slightly in the recliner, which gave off its usual “SQUEEEEEEEK”. The pain in my legs lessened by just a little and I fell back into the chair. That’s when the next wave of pain invaded my lower legs.

Once again – “Oooooooooooohhhhhhhhh” … “SQUEEEEEEEEK” …

And again a third time … “Oooooooooohhhhhhh” … “SQUEEEEEEEEK” …

By this time I couldn’t even get out of the recliner, the pain was so bad. Arnold and The Hulkster were having a grand old time wringing out what remained of my ”gastrocnemius” and ”soleus” muscle groups. It was then that I noticed that Tigger and Snagglepuss, the resident Pekingese and long-hair/shorthair mix cat, were sitting quietly together watching me, fascinated by either my movements or, more likely, my sounds. Normally they respond only to the sound of a working can opener or of food being poured into a dish, so I can only imagine that somehow my preternatural moans closely imitated Kitty Chow being dumped into a small ceramic bowl.

gastrocnemius-devils.jpg - Charley Horses
Arnold and The Hulkster NOT to scale
Tigger and Snaggs watched me for several more Oooohhhh-squeeeek cycles before boredom overtook them both and they began chasing each other. Unfortunately. they chose as their play area the space directly BENEATH the recliner’s footrest, so even if I HAD been able to get my feet down on the ground the movement would have been thwarted by several pounds of combined canine and feline bodies.

“AAAHHHHH!” I managed to utter in my frustration at this newest turn of events. Thus began the mantra of the morning –

“Ooooooohhhhh” … “SQUEEEEEEEK” … “AAAHHHHH” … “SQUEEEEEEK” … “Oooooohhhhh” …

talkin’ ’bout my generation

That’s when my roommate’s head poked around the corner slowly and carefully, afraid to see what, once seen, could not be unseen. The look of relief on her face was priceless but was then rapidly replaced by puzzlement. The critters meanwhile ran under her legs for shelter from the moaning madman.

At the same time, I heard our upstairs neighbor, a 40-ish maintenance man, actually giggle and then walk rapidly away from a spot directly overhead.

After what seemed an eternity but was in actuality perhaps only three minutes after I first woke up I was finally able to stand up and begin lurching stiff-legged around the house like Frankenstein’s monster, still giving off guttural moans and the occasional “AHhhhh!” when a mini-seizure would strike once again in my lower extremities. After several more minutes of thump-moan-thump-moan and the rapid devouring of 3 bananas and a gallon of Orange Crush drink the pain disappeared, leaving my legs feeling like I had just finished a 30-mile forced march with a full pack on my back.

After several more minutes of thump-moan-thump-moan and the rapid devouring of 3 bananas and a gallon of Orange Crush drink the pain disappeared, leaving my legs feeling like I had just finished a 30-mile forced march with a full pack on my back.

Remember back at the beginning of this article, when I mentioned how the most innocent of actions can be misconstrued?

I went to the store this morning to pick up my daily rations of milk and bread, and as I approached the glass entry doors I saw my upstairs neighbors laughing with the female clerk (our next-door neighbor), both suddenly stopping their laughter and finding things to be busy with when I walked through the door, still not being entirely able to wipe the smirks from their faces.

I paid for my supplies and left, and as I began walking up the sidewalk I heard behind me “Oooooohhhhh … SQUEEEEEK …. AAAHHHhhhhhh”, followed by an eruption of laughter. I would swear that several stray dogs grinned at me before I got back home. Little old ladies coming out of church spit at me.

Sometimes life just isn’t fair, and things aren’t what they seem.

charley horses

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