First week after surgery

Still alive. Not even barely. In pain, yes, kinda sorta. Immobile, for the most part but getting better every day. Freaked out from time to time about my neck healing right, oh yes. But alive and reasonably well.

surgical pen

I spent one night in the hospital and was able to go home the next day in the afternoon, after having pretty much every person at the hospital tell me that the pain meds and the anaesthesia cause constipation and I got plenty of meds, poop-related and pain-related, sent home with me. The pain is actually manageable for the most part. The pain and problems relating to the disc issues were completely gone after the surgery — no more tingling, no numbness, no pain in the shoulder blade area. There are other pains, because, you know, major surgery has happened which involved pulling stuff out of my spine through an incision in the front of my neck, but the initial pain is gone. Just a lot of soreness and some difficulty swallowing. And I get weirdly out of breath when I sit for too long without moving.

The collar is terrible. I understand why I need it and to be honest I’ve gotten crazy anxious about the position and movement of my neck, but it sucks. Washing is difficult, everything is difficult.

Ends and beginnings.

The story so far: I started BJJ about 4 years ago when I was 34. I did a lot of different things at that time; submission grappling, BJJ, kickboxing, and regular boxing — I was in the gym every day for about two hours at least. That was a lot. One day we were drilling in class, some kind of guard attack. I was in guard, got pulled forward, didn’t pay attention and posted with my left arm without really bracing my upper body, and boom — disc herniated. I assume my neck must’ve snapped back at a weird angle. I didn’t think at the time that this was a disc issue. I thought it was an especially bad tweak or pulled muscle and didn’t go and see a doctor until a year later, when the tingling started and the pain just would not go away. I had stopped doing anything but BJJ at that point, because it was just too much and I kept getting hurt in small ways (toe, knee, etc.). The pain came and went and it felt as if someone was pressing the tip of a broom into my back right next to the shoulder blade really really hard. Sitting in a chair was difficult, driving was terrible, because it caused my left arm to tingle and have ‘pins-and-needles’ to the point where it was so tingly that it felt numb.

So I started physical therapy and after 3 additional years I was ‘almost pain-free’ up until summer 2015, when I ended up being completely pain-free…yay!

November 2015 I stayed for open mat, rolled with an outside visitor, got greedy, went for a kimura from guard that was maybe 20% doable and didn’t let go when I should’ve. I got stacked hard and I immediately knew something popped again. Pain in the back and shoulder. Nothing I hadn’t had before, so I just thought ‘Shit, here we go again. Oh well, back to PT it is.’ It was completely my fault and it was ego, plain and simple. I really wanted that tap.

This time it didn’t get better, it actually got worse. The pain was constant, there was no position or contortion I could put my body in that would relieve it (believe me, I tried them all) and I went back to the doc, who prescribed pain medication and more PT. Pain didn’t go away until end of February and I hadn’t really slept for six weeks at that point because of the pain and believe me, that does something to a person. I stopped going to class or roll in December, because it aggravated the pain and tingling.

The pain let off towards the end of February/beginning of March, but with the pain receding (not gone, mind you, but tolerable levels for the most part) and being finally able to sleep again I noticed that my triceps on the left side was gone. As was my left pec. That freaked me out and I wrote my doc, who transferred me to a sports medicine doctor, who did a bunch of tests and ordered x-rays and an MRI. After the results came in he said that I need to see a surgeon for a consultation, saw that one the next Monday, with the result that I will get spinal fusion on c4-c7. The discs are herniated and pinch almost half-way through the cord. Oh, did I mention that in addition to the atrophy I had also developed a slight tremor in the left hand? It’s scary shit. And as I’ve learned, when it comes to spinal injuries it turns out that pain or lack of pain is not necessarily an indicator of improvement or healing. People can be completely pain-free but have continuing nerve damage.

I got a couple of second and third opinions but basically there is no other option at this point than surgery. The pressure on the cord is so strong that the nerve damage would continue, which is bad news. As to the muscle coming back…time will tell if the nerve can regenerate itself. Which sucks but to be honest, I’m looking forward to not being in pain, to be able to sit in a chair for longer than 1 minute without squirming all the time, drive a car without discomfort…you get the idea. I’ll deal with the atrophy later, all I can do right now is stop it from progressing and work on rehab.

As far as returning to BJJ — that’s an open question. It will take at least a year for the bone to fuse together and I will have screws and plates in my neck, so to be honest, I’m not sure if I will ever go back again. Maybe, maybe not. I love Jiu Jitsu and it has been a huge positive element in my life, mentally and physically. However, I’m a hobbyist, not a competitor. I like rolling hard and it’ll be difficult to change that mindset. I’ve never been into all that spinning shit, but I still would have to re-think my game A LOT in order to protect my neck…hah!

I’m getting surgery this week. The ideal timeline, if there are no complications, is that I will be able to return home the next day, and return to work in about 10 days (or work from home if I can’t). There’s a two week and a six week check-in with the surgeon. Neck brace for six weeks, after three months I should be able to start lifting. Total recovery time should be a year.

Given that BJJ is out, my plan is to start doing Starting Strength again as soon as I’m able, this time for real. I’ve done the program for 8 months five or six years ago, but half-assed it a bit. There are some weightlifting gyms in the area that have coaches, so I can actually work with someone who is certified check my technique and whatnot. I’ve always liked weightlifting but doing BJJ and weights together was just not possible if I wanted to do other things, like, I don’t know, spend time with my wife, hang out with friends…you know, nice things.

Sunday Papers 7-27-2014 — kinda…

Whoa whoa whoa this has been a busy week and I have no idea where it went and it’s Sunday already and what do I have? Nothing! But you know what, here’s what you can do instead — Rickson Gracie was on the InsideBJJ podcast and the Joe Rogan Experience this week and if that name means anything to you then you should download these immediately, if you haven’t done so already.

Speaking of podcasts, the reason why I was so busy this week is that me and a buddy of mine finally got our shit together and recorded and edited and finished the first episode of our podcast! So that ate up a lot of my time this week where I’ve usually had futzed around on the internet, but I think it was worth it. I’ll post more details when it’s all done and available, so watch this space.

Finally, I’ve lived with that UP Jawbone thingy for about two weeks now and one thing I noticed about passive life tracking is that, well, it’s passive. Not much to do for me. But I can still tell you what I think!

PROS

  • The sleep tracking and vibrating alarm is pretty sweet. The sleep tracking is one of the main reasons I got this wristband and it’s actually doing what it’s supposed to do.
  • Tracking steps is working well too, as far as I can see. In a way, this is a tricked out pedometer and that is just what it does. I’ve read some haters on the internet complaining about it not being 100% precise, but as long as it’s in the ballpark I don’t give a shit.
  • Tracking your food intake, as every time I do it, leaves me depressed because it shows me that I don’t eat by far as healthy as I think I do. And the app gives you challenges, like eating a specific amount of fiber a day, which is kinda neat, but leads me to the cons…

CONS

  • The app sucks. Not only does it drain the battery like crazy, it’s really difficult to see your stats over time and there is no web interface where you can get the big picture over longer stretches of time. I kinda solved that issue by feeding the data into a Google spreadsheet using IFTTT, but come on…really?
  • Tracking food sucks as well. It takes a long time to enter your own food, the food database isn’t that great, and there’s a but that doesn’t save the calorie count the first time you enter it and guess what…you can’t edit items in your personal library once you hit ‘done’.
  • The app gives you daily challenges, like eating a recommended amount of fiber, but it doesn’t give you any real ideas what you’re supposed to eat in order to get there. I know that I can do that research myself, but this seems like something that could’ve easily be fixed.

So, yeah, I guess the big selling point for the Jawbone UP is the price, which with the introduction of the UP24 dropped to ca. $60, but if they were the same price, I’d probably go for the Fitbit (which sells for about $100) instead of the Jawbone. Don’t get me wrong, it’s tracking sleep and waling, etc. just fine, but the presentation of the data is disappointing.

Some more Resolutions for this year

I think I need to add some resolutions for this year:

  • get stronger
  • work on cardio/conditioning
  • work on grips

During the last three weeks my gas tank was so empty that I just could not go on anymore and it was a humbling and frustrating experience. It’s probably a mix of not being smart about using my energy and burning it doing unnecessary things, like pushing where I don’t need to push, pulling where holding would do, etc. and, well, not enough cardio.

I also want to work on my grip strength, because I’ve noticed that open guard and especially spider guard is burning through my grips really fast and I’m left with what feels like five sausages at the end of my hands instead of fingers.

So I started doing Tabata Circuits, some bodyweight and grip training, and hope this will pay off over the next year. This is not the first time I’m trying to work out at home and so far I haven’t had a lot of success with it. However, the difference this time is that it is actually purpose-driven, so maybe that will make a difference.

We’ll see.

:-/

So, that irritating tingle in my arm and the cramp from hell that just wouldn’t go away, regardless of how much I foam rolled…turns out I have a ruptured disc in my mid-back.

It’s not as bad as it could be and the Doc said I should be able to continue to roll as long as I take it easy and slow, which is great. And it’s probably something that can be fixed with physical therapy and specific exercises. However, it does scare me a bit and I’m glad it turned out to be nothing too bad.

Hurting your back is scary stuff.

Anyway, so it seems like I dodged a bullet (kind of) and will be able to continue to train while it is healing.