Huzzah! Let’s celebrate!
Okay, what’s been going on with me:
I had surgery on my back and was told one month with no BJJ. The surgery was to remove a small epidermal inclusion cyst from the upper part of my back. I ended up with 7 stitches – 2 on the inside and 5 on the outside.
Unrelated, I was at home trying to do some exercises that would not put strain on the stitches. So I did 50 squats (25×2) and when I finished them, something felt WRONG. I couldn’t move. I went to the ER, where they took an x-ray and couldn’t find anything wrong, but they gave me pain meds and sent me on my way. I went to the back doctor and he gave me stronger meds and scheduled me for an MRI. The following day I had a strong, negative reaction to the pain killers and threw up 6 times and went back to the ER. They took me off two of the pills and gave me a few days of other pills.
That Friday I went and got an MRI. It’s not really like what they show on tv. What happened was: I had to get undressed and wear weird hospital garments. I laid on a pad, they shoved a pillow under my knees. I was told I would have to keep very still, that it would take 30-40 min, and would be very loud. A hospital man put earplugs into my ears, which by the way is a really odd sensation – having someone ELSE put earplugs in your ears. Then he put a big thing of earmuffs on my ears. I was put into the machine and light rock was piped in – at one point I heard “Honesty” by Billy Joel. Then the awfulness started. The machine was loud. Like a horrible alien probe done with sound. Or like sitting next to a jackhammer. Or like sitting next to a 15 year old boy on the subway who is wearing a death metal t-shirt and earphones so loud they sound like they’re actually speakers. Near the end it became very hard to keep my hands still and I found myself having involuntary muscle spasms in my hands/arms.
Afterward I went back to the doctor. He showed me the MRI which was so cool. Essentially on the left screen he had my spine showing, and there was a horizontal line going along it. On the right hand screen he had the cross section. At one point I found myself stifling laughter as I refrained from asking “is that a cross section of my butt?” During this time he diagnosed me with a herniated disc. He said I have some “spinal disease” in my L4/L5 vertebrae.
This video shows exactly what an MRI of a herniated disc looks like. Very informative. Also, you can see a cross section of someone’s butt. Yes, I’m 10.
He told me it would likely heal on its own in about 2-3 years and then he told me I would not be able to do BJJ for about a year. He said to relax and not exercise for that whole time.
I cried. Seriously. Okay, I’m even tearing up right now.
I felt like I’d been punched in the stomach. I was angry and upset. I kept trying to have him tell me exercises I could do to help my back heal. I felt like he kept dismissing me, saying “That will help strengthen your back but it won’t help your spine heal.” He finally showed me one exercise – McKenzie exercises, and said I could also do swimming or running or walking.
It was ironic that it came right after I posted the query: would you still do BJJ you knew you’d never make it past your current belt? I emotionally texted friends and said it made me want to chuck everything, move to Saudi Arabia, make a bunch of money and come back to Korea later. You see, one of the reasons I am staying in Korea–a BIG reason–is because I love the BJJ here.
Don’t make permanent decisions when you’re a) really hungry b) really tired c) really depressed d) really angry. I knew that was how I was feeling but I knew it would pass. Plus, my friends are very rational and let me simply vent to them.
I had no freaking clue what a herniated disc was, so I did some Internet research. I also learned the Korean for it: 허리 디스크. Your discs are basically jelly donuts between your vertebrae. A bulging disc is if the jelly donut is getting squished and pushes out but the jelly stays inside. A herniated disc is when the jelly gooshes into the spinal column which presses up against your spinal cord and causes massive amounts of pain. So: squishing + integrity = bulging. Squishing + losing goo = herniation. This paragraph brought to you by the word “squish.”
The doctor scheduled me for an epidural steroid injection that afternoon. Again, no clue what that was. The pain I was feeling was because my disc was so swollen and pressing against my spinal cord. The steroids are a strong anti-inflammation fluid into your spine so that the herniated disc can stop pushing into the spinal nerve and give you some relief.
I entered a room with a big radiation sign on it. Not a good sign (see what I did there ;)). I changed into more hospital fashion wear and laid down on this table. The table had two thick knobs near my head, which I sadly learned were for holding on to. Why sadly? Read on. The x-ray machine was so they could make sure the needles were going into the spine in the right places. The doctor dressed in a mad apron and marked my back with a pen so he would know where to inject. Why a “mad” apron? Read on.
After several x-rays to make sure they were right on, the doctor started pushing in the first needle. He would push, x-ray, push, x-ray, etc. This was uncomfortable and I held on to the bulbous handles to give my hands something to do. Then came the injection. Remembering it right now is causing me to cry and I’m having trouble breathing. I really think that if there is such a thing as a Post-Traumatic-Stress-Disorder brought about by an injection, that this was it. I could feel the fluid enter in, and it caused me to be acutely aware of every single nerve running through my right leg. As in it felt like he injected fire into my leg. I started screaming. Not yelling, but screaming. Like a murder victim in a horror movie who is being stabbed to death. I couldn’t stop screaming and crying. He had to stop to let me calm down before they could continue. He had to do this twice. During this time I was gripping those bulbs so hard I thought they would break. And my doctor’s apron was making me ANGRY – it was a print of fake denim patches and it looked SO STUPID. It’s possible it was the murder victim pain I was feeling that brought on those feelings.
Excuse me while I have a cry break.
At least I got my revenge on those guys – I left makeup all over their stupid table.
Afterward the doctor told me my right leg would be numb for up to 12 hours. Sure enough, zero control over it. The doctor brought me a wheelchair and a different doctor wheeled me out to a cab. Getting in my house involved leaning heavily against the brick walls and hopping. Luckily I had pulled a Mary Poppins and had brought a sturdy umbrella that could support my weight. My leg and foot felt like they were asleep. Not quite the pins and needles you get afterward, but somewhere in between. At one point I went to the refrigerator and kneeled down to get something, and my right leg gave out and I went over sideways, knocking tomatoes everywhere. Not my finest moment.
Around this time my cat was shaking her head vigorously as though to say “no, no, you MUST do BJJ” so I took her to the vet and she was diagnosed with ear mites.
Not the best week in Casa Jiu-Jiu.
Since then I have returned to work and become much more rational. I can walk, I can move, I do not have active pain. When I wake up my back is very stiff and sore, but it feels like regular lower back pain. I am taking pain killers only in the mornings.
My plan to get healthy:
First, I posted about it in Jiu Jitsu forums and got some helpful support. If you’d like to see how positive and wonderful the community is, check out my post about my herniated disc. From that post I watched a fantastic video by Rener Gracie:
I researched some exercises okay for a herniated L5 disc and crunches and pushups and jogging were all okay. So I started doing these and logging these exercises. I learned that more blood flow to the back = good. Also, me losing more weight = good.
I started doing C25K, which gets you from the couch to running a 5k by building up your stamina. The first week you run 60 seconds and walk 90 seconds and repeat for 20 minutes.
I started taking my supplements again. I’m taking my multivitamin, fish oil, Vitamin D, and glucosamine + chondroitin. Several articles I read online seem to show that these may help. I’m all about the “may” at this point.
I plan to get a second opinion. I want to talk to a doctor who is used to working with athletes. I’m coming up on the same problem that Meg had: “My experience suggests that there is a sense in the NHS that one is either a professional athlete or not – ‘true’ as far as it goes – and there is less appreciation for the lifestyle of the amateur athlete, where physical activity is integral but not the entirety of life and work.” My feeling is that my doctor is accustomed to working with normal folks who may need to just take it easy but that I really want someone who has worked with athletes and can give me clear guidelines on which exercises I should avoid, who can help me create an exercise regime and can WORK WITH ME so that my whole body doesn’t turn into a jelly donut in the next year or two.
As far as BJJ goes, here is my decision: I’m sticking with it. I’m going to stay active in the community–here in Korea, here in my blog, and here in Jiu Jitsu Forums. I’ve decided this is a GREAT time to observe other gyms within the John Frankl network here in Korea and to post the reviews here, because English speakers have a HECK OF A TIME finding BJJ gyms in Korea. My hope is that by the time I’m ready to go back on the mats I will have reviewed (AND POSTED) about all of them :).
It’s also a great time to go to class, observe, take notes, reflect, analyze, and evaluate. To continue my BJJ notebook and perfect my note-taking skills. To get my head in the game. I was directed to this great post by Allie the clear belt, about a teammate who observed classes for the two years he was unable to train. Inspirational. Also, a great time to work on my Korean – recording classes then going over it later with my tutor. I’ve also decided to start posting more Korea specific BJJ stuff. Not all of it, but some things that will be perhaps only interesting to the Korean BJJ community – like Korean BJJ jargon that I’m learning. I will also be revamping the site–making it easier to navigate, tagging things, etc.
So I am hopeful, I have not given up, and I will be active within the BJJ community during my time off the mats. And yes, I’ll go to class. After I finish this week’s lesson plans!
Thank you all for your support. I realize this is a much longer blog post than normal, but I’ve had a helluvaweek and wanted to share. Thankfully it did end well. Today I went to a great seminar – my first – and will be posting about it this week. This photo was taken tonight. I was involved, though not participating.
So now: I’m grateful for supportive friends, supportive family, supportive coworkers, the BJJ community, the commenters on this blog, anti-inflammation effects, and my cat. What are you grateful for this week?