Huh, looks like I’ve never really posted this. This was about a month after surgery, I think, and that’s what I’m walking around with. Recovery is going extremely well, by the way, and I think the nerves on my left side are recovering, so the atrophy might be reversible. It’s been six months since the surgery and while I’m not cleared to do any heavy lifting like deadlifts and squats I have started working with kettlebells again. Nothing crazy, just something to get the heart pumping and rebuild some muscle. I’m throwing different workouts together out of Dan John’s excellent article on workouts using just one kettlebell, which I highly recommend for recovery.

There is lots of stuff going on and I’ll save it for a longer post, but hey, this is a sign of life, amirite?

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.

Made it another year

More beach.

A post shared by Cät Wizärd (@_catwizard) on

Another year, another birthday, and I’m moving slowly but surely towards the big 4-O and I more and more understand what people mean when they say that ‘youth is wasted on the young’ — oh if I could plop my now-self into my 20-year-old self…that would be fucking amazing.

I don’t care much about birthdays, which is also maybe a problem. Maybe I should celebrate them more, not the getting older, but celebrate the community I have and turn it into something more life-affirming rather than one more checkmark on the calendar. These are some old ghosts I’m carrying around with me. It’s funny how those old yokes that your upbringing puts on your shoulders are just so fucking hard to get rid off…

Anyway, what makes this also bittersweet is the fact that finally I’ve pushed my BJJ injury from years ago to the point where it’s so bad that I can’t go to class anymore and that I am seriously considering the possibility of never being able to do it again. There is some nerve/disc/muscle-related issue that just won’t go away and I’ve been in constant pain for several weeks now. Yes yes, I’ve been to a doc and I’m doing PT and I do other stuff, but it’s pretty bad. And this is a hobby, I don’t have to do BJJ for a living, I don’t have to compete for a living, and for a hobby it’s just not worth it any more if the discomfort it causes is outweighing the benefits. Now, I’m not saying that I’m calling it quits yet, but, as much as I hate it I’m mentally preparing myself for that possibility.

In other news, a new tattoo! Now both my sleeves are the same length, which is great and it makes it look so much more balanced. But, shit, that stuff hurts. There’s a reason I’m only getting work done every five or six years or so. Pics to follow. Maybe.

Relaxing into the New Year


So what about that late resolution from March 2015 about decluttering and getting rid of books? Well, it went so-so. We are still in the process of getting rid of things and while our possessions are shrinking it doesn’t really feel like it. Mostly because a lot of the things we are getting rid of are already in our hidden stashes, so the stashes might get emptier, but it’s not really visible. Oh well. At least I know it’s gone.

How did we do with the other ones from the actual beginning of the year? You be the judge. Resolutions for the new year? Not that much different, short and sweet:

  • Find a new job.

  • Spend more time with friends.

  • Travel more.

That’s pretty much it. We did better doing these things this year, but it really needs a conscious effort and planning to do these things and it’s so easy to not do it and then months go by that you haven’t seen a friend that lives in the same town!

This was the first year at my new gym and I’m not regretting one second that I switched. The training is great, I got my blue belt, people are very nice, it could not be better. Unfortunately this was also a year of injuries, including aggravating the slipped-disc situation in my neck and one incident where I thought “Holy shit, I think I just broke my collar-bone!” (I didn’t). But it’s all worth it, which is a little bit crazy. And I think I might be having a bit of a hard time accepting that I’m in my late thirties and not late twenties and that I have to start to be more aware of things when I’m rolling and to tap when I’m in a position or situation where I can get injured again (stacking comes to mind) and not only to submissions. Lame, but that’s going to be my project for 2016.

We did end up buying a condo this year, which was an insane process but now we are property owners and don’t have to worry about cleaning the gutters, haha.

This has been a terrible year for blogging and I know it’s been terribly quiet. I can’t force this stuff and I know the motivation to blog comes and goes in phases for me and that’s okay. I’m much more wordy on Twitter, in case you crave more regular updates and want to check if I’m still alive. Again and again, I wish more people I know would be on Twitter, which I still prefer over Facebook. Oh well, a grumpy German can dream.

This year I tool the Goodreads challenge of reading, what 20 books this year and ended up reading 46. More or less, because I also counted the ones I started and stopped reading because I didn’t like them, but those were really just a handful. There where some great books and some terrible ones, but I really enjoyed, in no particular order:

  • The Rifters Trilogy by Peter Watts

  • The Power of the Dog by Don Winslow — holy shit, what a ride. I’m currently reading the sequel, The Cartel. If you are interested in decade-spanning narco thrillers, this is amazing.

  • Dreamsongs I & II and Tuf Voyaging, all by G.R.R. Martin and they are all great fun and so good you don’t want them to end.

  • I’m going to throw Jeff Vandermeer’s Southern Reach Trilogy in here, as well, simply because the first book is amazing and while the second and the third grow progressively weaker, in my opinion, it’s a great, visceral ride.

Not a lot of movies this year that stood out and no, I haven’t watched the new Star Wars yet. Neither Mad Max. I’m dependent on when these movies come out on Netflix or any other streaming service and frankly, I don’t really enjoy seeing movies in the movie theater anymore. I did watch some great shows this year though, and again, in no particular order, Hannibal, Narcos, and True Detective all blew my mind.

I’ve doodled around with some video games — as far as my computer is actually able to run them — and enjoyed playing Guild Wars way more than I thought. I also have a fledgling party in Wasteland 2, where I thought I’d go ahead, make a character based on me, and try to actually role-play myself. I’ll let you know how that goes. And despite exciting new and ‘fun’ developments in Dwarf Fortress I didn’t have any patience for it this year…

So, to avoid having this post sit here for another three weeks, off we go, happy 2016!