Rant 44 December 2007: Separate but equal

Hi everybody! OMGBFF A here. I will be your guest host for the Rant ofthe Month, as Krista is busy choking people out while I am sidelined with a shoulder injury.

The month of November has given me not one, not two, but THREE visits to the hospital. The first came when Krista’s father had emergency double bypass surgery. We walked in one evening, two days after his surgery, to find him sitting up in bed, mostly naked and complaining about feeling hot and claustrophobic. I could see the giant scar on his chest where they opened him up, and the equally giant scar on his leg where they had removed an artery to upgrade the factory-installed artery. The scars looked like big zippers; the parts of the steel teeth were played by the staples the surgeons used to close him up, and I could just imagine them unzipping him to fetch the forceps they had accidentally left inside.

Watching this kind, gentle man suffering a panic attack through a haze of morphine, I remembered my own post-surgical week from last year, where all I could focus on was accessing the basic bodily functions most of us take for granted. I recalled what it was like to be completely dependent on Krista as I covered her father’s forehead and feet with cold washcloths to cool him down.

And it was then, right then, that I promised myself that I would NEVER put myself in that position through my own action or inaction. Our bodies are remarkable systems, but they’re not invincible. Eat garbage, sit on your butt, and the body starts to stage minor riots. Keep it up and we’re talking full-blown Parisian suburb riots with looting and burning cars.

If I’m going to have a heart attack, it’s because I will have gone 20 minutes in the Abu Dhabi finals with Kyra Gracie, not because of my problematic fondness for those gross Ruffles Sour Cream and Onion potato chips.

A few days later I competed in the 2007 Joslin’s Canadian Open Grappling Championships. Wanna see?

(I’m in the pink gi.)

Twelve seconds into this match, when she flipped over, I felt and heard my shoulder go “POP”. I knew something was wrong, so I grabbed her arm, took a deep breath, and calmed myself down. She rolled away from me instead of into me, which was a big mistake. I thought quickly about setting up an armbar, but reconsidered and took her back instead, finishing the fight by rear naked choke 37 seconds after the POP.

I got off of the mat and told my instructor about my shoulder. It hurt pretty badly, but I seemed to have full range of motion, so I foolishly made the decision to continue. My next match was against my teammate Doris:

I took her right down and started to pass her guard, but I noticed that I couldn’t exert pressure with my left arm. I wouldn’t say that it hurt; it was more like my body wasn’t doing what I was telling it to, and I wasn’t used to that. After she spent several seconds tugging on my arm, the pain was unbearable, so I had to let her sweep me and I tapped. My friend and instructor Steve rushed me to the hospital after dire predictions from the EMTs who checked me out on site. The apocalyptic diagnosis of shoulder dislocation was pretty upsetting, and I didn’t feel much better when I got to the emerg and they suggested it might be a broken collarbone.

After the remarkably efficient emerg staff dosed me with morphine (highly recommended; rather than groaning in agony, I spent the first five minutes of my post-morphine experience laughing my ass off) and took some x-rays, they diagnosed me with a Type I shoulder separation and sent me home with a recovery prognosis of 4-6 weeks. The drive back to Toronto from Hamilton was pure torture: every little bump made it feel like somebody was stabbing me in my shoulder.

I’ve still been going to jiu-jitsu class every day, but instead of participating, I sit on the side of the mat and shoot video for our instructor. It’s incredibly frustrating to not be able to do something I so desperately want to do, but I know that if I jump back in too early, I’m going to regret it. Luckily, though, I was there one week after my own injury when one of the other students had his shoulder dislocated in an armbar-gone-wrong. Krista diagnosed him and told us he needed to go to the hospital, calmly saying, “I think we should probably get him to the hospital” rather than doing what I would have done, which would have been running around the studio screaming, “OH MY GOD, HIS SHOULDER IS DISLOCATED! DEAR GOD, SOMEBODY CALL THE AMBULANCE!” So we piled him in my little smart car and I drove the 2km to the nearest hospital, where they got him right in and cut his shirt off. I could see right then that something was horribly wrong: the shoulder was, erm, definitely not where it should have been. My instructor arrived a few minutes after me, as did the guy he had been rolling with, who felt terrible. After they gave my teammate some of his own morphine, they asked us to leave the room, sedated him, and popped his arm back into place.

Unlike me, he left the hospital feeling MUCH better, but his recovery time was 9-12 weeks. As miserable as I was about being out of commission, and as badly as I felt for him, I was grateful that mine was only a mild separation.

Well, it’s now four weeks later and I am back to full strength. My recovery has been described as “incredible” and “miraculous”. I’ve been pain free for five days, which is a full two to four weeks faster than everybody predicted. I think a lot of this is because I did something really simple: I ate right, got a lot of sleep, and performed the rehab exercises that Krista gave me with a religious zeal typically reserved for fanatics.

Like the visit to the hospital to see Krista’s dad, my two subsequent visits to the emergency room taught me some lessons. The first is that severe injuries can happen quickly and unexpectedly. Every sport carries with it some risks; we have to be vigilant and careful. In martial arts, especially in class, we shouldn’t execute techniques with which we are not completely familiar, and certainly we must exercise restraint.

It is an understatement to say that I am not patient; I left patience behind so long ago that it is a ghostly memory to me. My time off the mats has taught me the importance of patience, of looking at my activity as a long-term project. Taking an extra week off is far better than coming back a week too soon, re-injuring myself, and spending an additional four weeks away.

Probably the most important lesson I’ve learned, though, is to know when to quit. The idea of working through pain is bullshit. I’m not talking about the “the last three squats in this set are really hard” pain; I mean the kind of pain that makes you go “oops, that’s bad” when it happens. The right thing to do would have been to resign after my first match.

Next time, I’ll know when to quit. And then I can come back next time, better, more skilled, and with the same love of jiu-jitsu that I have had since I discovered it.

Oh, and the final lesson? Do everything that Mistress Krista tells you to do. That approach hasn’t failed me yet.