It is a crazy time right now. Back in January a new virus was discovered, a new coronavirus called Covid-19. Since then the virus spread from China around the globe and has cause a massive pandemic causing governments around the world to close towns, force people into at home lockdown and basically halt the economy. Here in Ontario we were forced to close on the eve of our March Break camp causing us to have to refund $2000 in fees. It has been almost 2 weeks since the lockout and there is no end in sight. We had hoped that we would be able to open April 4th however it looks like that is optimistic now. The schools are out and in an unprecedented move the Province is thinking about cancelling the school year. The football season across the world is suspended with all major sports events cancelled including the 2020 Olympics. It seems like a cheesy horror film to say that all the schools and stores are closed and people aren’t allowed to leave the house but that’s the reality now. The Government has promised aid for us as a business since we are missing almost $50K a month in revenue every month we are closed. There have been almost 1000 infections in Canada with a few deaths however the virus is extremely contagious as they found in Italy Spain and China and now in the USA where Trump, asshat that he is really didn’t take it seriously to start out and now is the most infected country on the planet.
Bizarre is the best way to describe things. Elyse is home from school every day now and the gym is a ghost town. We can’t go to LA Fitness because everyone except essential services is on lockdown. We spend most of our time working on the gym to prep for opening again but there is only so much you can do. Big projects like painting are going to have to be done and cleaning out the pit however we can’t have anyone in to help so it’s gonna be a bit of a job for me to get that all done. Our landlord has told us he may be able to give us some rent relief but if this goes for more than couple of months things will start to look bleak. The only thing we can do is hope that if there are casualties of the sickness on an industry scale that we are not the first and we can pick up some much needed business from the ashes. It’s a crappy thing to say but when there is a bear chasing you all you have to be is the second slowest to survive…
It is incredible to me to think that it’s been 13 months since my back surgery especially when I know just how much difficulty I have reaching things on the floor. Not only that but I am almost back to a fairly normal routine with my shoulder now 6 months post surgery. It’s odd to think that only 5 months ago I couldn’t even reach the push to start button in the car my shoulder was so bad. After getting out of the sling my recovery was painful and painfully slow but since at my age time just spins out of control it seems like no time since then. So how am I doing? Well, my cardiologist says my heart is getting better, the thickness in my heart wall is down and while I still have protein in my urine and less than optimal kidney function I am getting slightly better. That said, my legs are still immensely painful, I have random cramping of my right leg due to the nerve damage and my left leg is suffering due to the inordinate amount of work I ask it to do making up for the lazy one. I can’t really reach the floor very well, I can only just manage to put on my own socks and I really need to find a way to increase the flexibility of my back and legs without risking injury which is the ultimate catch 22. It is now winter and the snow outside makes it treacherous for me to be out and about, I have slipped and almost fallen a couple of times on ice and I actually did fall getting off the ladder after putting up the Christmas lights. Although that sounds dramatic the truth is I caught my chunky running shoe on the bottom rung and keeled over like a sleeping cow being tipped landing softly but embarrassingly on the driveway. I am still sleeping on the recliner in the living room and even though I tried last weekend to sleep in bed I am terrified that I will roll over on my shoulder and rip it apart. At some point I will have to try to string a few nights together and see if I can get back to sleeping like a human again.
Oddly, this is now becoming a list of reminders of when things happened for me since my memory is presently absolute Swiss cheese. I rented a man lift to replace some lights in the gym and by some I mean we have 28 arrays of 6 lights each and were running with a total of around 65 lights instead of the full complement of 168. So I put in about 30 more brighter lights and the place looks so much better for it. Now I am known for not being afraid of much in life given what I have endured but let me tell you being 20ft up in the air at the top of a cherry picker is unbelievably scary for someone of my size and age. Logically I knew the thing couldn’t tip over but it swayed like a drunk on New Year’s Eve and felt like I was about to be catapulted into the abyss. It’s not something I am dying to try again but in all honesty the lift was fun to drive around the gym and with the exception of repeatedly hitting my head while going through doorways and on the frame of the lift itself while entering it was a very fun experience. Terrifying but fun. I am also of the realization that I will probably require painkillers and muscle relaxants for the rest of my life given that my ambition to get stuff done is not dulled by my knowledge of the pain that will follow.
So I am shocked and ashamed to see that the last time I posted here was back in December of 2018. Well, a lot has happened since then and I can tell you it’s been a hell of a burden.
The year ended OK with me trying to recover from my back surgery and all was going quite well however the damage to my leg was significant and even now (September 11 2019) the strength isn’t back much more than it was post op. I know it’s a slow process but it’s been almost a year since my surgery and I was expecting some of the mass and strength to return.
There was a massive glitch in my recovery and I will be short with it here but it has been a terrible ordeal for me and I am certain I would never be able to do the process justice here. Some time in April I was taking out the garbage that we had produced at the gym from installing the new carpet rolls we had been given by U of T Gymnastics. They had donated 6 rolls of 1.5″ carpet which we snatched up and managed to replace most of our 1″ areas and carpet the concrete areas making the gym so much better in the process. Our neighbour who I had repeatedly asked not to park his damn trailer outside our back door had once again put it in the way so I was unable to get my car back into the loading dock to throw the carpet pieces in. (As an aside I also got a new car in March but more on that later). In the process of jumping into an out of the loading dock taking the garbage to my car I fell off the dock landing on my shoulder. The fall was painful but I was able to move my arm and I had thought maybe I had broken something or strained something, little did I know how badly I was hurt.
I called my lovely wife who was napping so I had to drive myself to the hospital to get the requisite xrays etc. I was told to return in a couple of weeks to see if the xrays had cleared up or if I needed an MRI. Long story short I needed the MRI to discover that all 4 rotator cuff muscles had completely detached from the bone. At this point I was told I would have to make a decision on surgery but to wait a few weeks to see how it healed. It was actually going quite well however since the capsule of the joint now had no stabilizing muscles and would likely wear itself out in a matter of months I finally decided to go ahead and have surgery. So on July 31 almost 3 months after the fall I went under the knife. It is also worth noting that I had other injuries from the fall including bruised ribs that made it almost impossible to sleep or breathe once I lay down. I must have scared the crap out of Nicole and Elyse gasping for air laying in bed literally struggling for breath. It was an absolute nightmare.
So here I am 6 weeks after surgery having endured some of the most painful days of my life and having to get used to doing everything with my weaker arm. The pain was in some respects worse than the pain from my back surgery and the first 4 days I was in so much pain that I literally got zero sleep regardless of how many times I took my pain meds. I am now supposed to be out of my sling for the first time and I am very relieved because the sling was causing me significant back pain from having the bolster keep my arm so far away from my body. My arm is incredibly weak my shoulders have atrophied to an unbelievable degree and the pain when I move is still significant. So it’s a new day, I have my arm back although it’s more like Deadpool’s baby legs but it is a start.
On the upside we were able to take a cruise in July on the Allure of the Seas to the Bahamas (before they got destroyed by hurricane Dorian) and it was a great time and improved my leg strength a little due to the amount of walking back and forth to the kids club and the buffet. I had my blood pressure medication increased to try to get my bp down into reasonable territory since apparently it’s still a little out there and the summer has simply disappeared in a haze of pain and day camp. So that’s all for now, I will go into more details about the Subaru Ascent later, maybe…
I just realized that it’s been over a calendar month since the surgery, also that it’s been over 30 days and my 6 week checkup is on the horizon. I feel pretty good all told, I am fairly mobile, I am in the gym as often as I was before albeit with extremely modified workouts. My pain comes and goes, not really enough for daily painkillers but there are days when it’s hard to say no when I fell like my legs are burning with nerve pain and my back feels weak and fragile. I am of the opinion that at this point any day when I am out of a wheelchair or off my cane are good days, I know that’s a low bar to hit but then again I don’t know of many people in my situation who have had 3 spinal surgeries and lived to tell the tale.
My daily routine seems to consist mostly of trekking between gyms checking on the kids and working out. My home life is a lot of chicken soup making since that’s my new favorite thing but I really need to focus and get a list together so I can start to tackle all the things I wished I had time to do when I was working. Once my back is better I think I may tackle the hardwood upstairs since the dog seems to have pooped or peed on almost every square inch of carpet we have upstairs. I was able to do the entire lower floor in 2009 by myself at a cost of about $3000 as compared to the $7500 that the installers were asking. I may have to acquiesce and have someone do the stairs, that seems a bridge too far for me. I am concerned that the flooring will be too cold, especially since two of the front bedrooms are over the garages and are already somewhat chilly. Maybe there is an underlay for that, I am not sure. I have been very happy with the downstairs hardwood, it’s been almost 10 years and it looks pretty new still. It was from Home Depot I think, I wonder if they still carry the same stuff. Anyway that would be a great project to do in the spring or over the summer when coaching is less demanding.
But back to my physical state, I am back up to my pre-surgery weight, mostly because I have run through my workout schedule several times now and my glycogen stores are once again as active as ever. My weights are very low, I am only able to do 40lbs on the leg extension still, and although I remember only being able to do 25 the progress is painfully slow. I am not lifting heavy at all at this point, it’s just not smart or safe so instead I find myself seeing if I can hit 350-500 reps per workout. That kind of volume comes with it’s own mental challenges no matter how light the weight and of course as of yet I have not done any yoga, I am still waiting until my back feels more secure before attempting that. I really should be swimming but I remember the torsion created in the pool was incredibly disquieting last time, something which was very disappointing to me.
So not much of an update, no disasters to report, no medical mistake that has made me superhuman and best of all no relapse so far. Fingers crossed those mistakes are behind me.
I can touch the floor. Now when I drop something I am able for the most part to pick it up… Slowly and carefully but all the same I can do it…
Yesterday I did the 5th of my 5 day gym rotation finally sealing my first set of workouts since the surgery. It took more than 5 days and there was some mixing of body parts but I think I did OK. I have been testing my leg strength every day and before I went into surgery I had 10% of my leg strength, that is to say I could do 120lbs on the leg extension with my left leg and only 10 with my right. Also, I was only able to do about 3 reps and that was all. I am happy to say that the strength is coming back slowly even if the stamina is still extremely poor. I was able to get up to 25lbs for at least 3 reps the day I was supposed to do legs, and then spent the rest of the time trying to crank out as many 10lb reps as I could but my max was about 3 or 4 in a row until I couldn’t straighten my leg any more. I tested again yesterday and although I didn’t do much I was able to get above 30lbs for a couple of attempts. The rest of my workouts are basically just trying to reactivate the muscle and get my active tissue back so I can burn more calories. The long term plan is to try to reduce my weight to around 220lbs from my current 235 where I have been for the last 10 years. I think if I can get down to 220 for a year or two then I can try to push lower as time passes. You don’t see many 275lb 70 year olds around but you do see some that are pushing 230 so I feel like I am not on the endangered species list any more.
As for details I was able to bench 185 without any pressure on my back but I had to do all my back workouts standing using cables rather than on the lat machine sitting down. Shoulders were done not sitting but standing and laying on an incline and traps also done with cables standing. These are not ideal but are getting me back to where I need to be which is active in every area of my body. I think I am going to have to add a day of yoga into my schedule also this year. I recall doing the Tony Horton Fountain of Youth yoga was something that I really enjoyed and had significant benefits for me. I wasn’t enamored with it at first but once I had it as part of my schedule and got 10 sessions or so under my belt I really started to enjoy it. Of course Tony describing the benefits and advantages to you while you work also seeps into your brain after a while and that’s not a bad thing. So I think with my leg workouts sadly lacking that maybe leg day will turn into leg and yoga days for the time being. Of course there is extreme stretching for the lower back involved with which I will have to be microscopically attentive.
So the last 3 days have been a real shit show, please excuse the language but honestly I can’t think of a more appropriate description. It is the pain. It has been so bad I have resorted to being back on painkillers to function and although it is only temporary it really bothers me. the problem is the increased mobility in my back. It has been almost 8 weeks since my trip to the hospital and so a very long time since the fine and gross motor muscles of my back have had anything to do. Anyone who has ever broken anything and spent weeks in a cast can attest to the pain that accompanies the first few days of use. The problem with your spine is that every single thing you do from breathing to putting on your shoes involves your back. Last surgery I had issues with my hips. The pain was excruciating and kept me from sleeping for several days at a time. This time it’s the muscles of my lower back that are the issue and the pain is just as intense as the trip to the hospital. In case you are wondering just how painful that is imagine being in so much pain you beg someone to knock you out. Imagine the worst toothache you have ever had (since that is often nerve related) now multiply that by the ratio of your body to your tooth, or approximately (since the average tooth is 1g) 100,000x. It is for all intents and purposes impossible to imagine. Since having my staples out I am able to use the heat which has helped but still the pain comes in ever increasing waves each time I go from one position to another.
On the upside I know the pain is from an ever increasing degree of ability, the more I can do the more everything hurts but it’s now Sunday (day 19) and after spending the day at a gymnastics competition yesterday I am happy to report that the pain is starting to subside. Not only that, it’s 5 degrees today which is a welcome change from the cold and snow we have been having and it also means that next week I should be able to resurrect my walking schedule. But first let’s talk about what all this mobility means in real terms. I can now put one sock on by myself. I can actually do both but the left foot is a real challenge and getting the sock on straight is a pipe dream. Getting into the car is a lot easier now, I don’t have to go bum first any more I can go one leg like a human. I can’t really reach the floor yet. I have tried but unless what I am reaching for is pretty tall it is just not happening. Which means that when I drop anything in the kitchen it’s immediately dog food. Standing for long periods is tough as is sitting but since I managed to pick up a VR headset for black Friday I have been able to do both with regularity and it helps to move between positions as often as possible. So generally speaking things are improving steadily once again. I do have to be very careful about twisting too much and of course with little pain I forget to reach for things with great care. But as I often tell people I am less than 3 weeks out of surgery and I am almost completely functional again so I really can’t complain too much. I haven’t had the chance to go back to the gym to do legs yet because I am waiting an extra week to sit and do the extensions that will tell me just how much strength has come back into my leg. I fear that the answer is very little. After the impingement I was down to less than 10% and right before the surgery I was back up to 25% but now I am not sure. What I do know is that the muscles themselves are nowhere near back to normal, the nerve pathways are still inactive and the muscle is all but useless without those signals. It will take a while to come back, I just hope it’s not a permanent situation like the first surgery was. As for the feeling in my leg it is slightly better, I get some feeling in my quad and knee now which is good but the sensation is very far from normal as of yet.
Pain 4 Mobility 7
Pain is up due to staple removal, mobility is up because I can sit!
Today I got my staples removed at the walk in clinic. The doctor was surprised at the number and the size of the incision until I explained to hm that I had 2 discs taken care of this time. The removal was not enjoyable in the least. Each staple sounded like it was cut for some reason and then removed however now I have had a chance to look at a couple of videos I can see that the noise isn’t the staple being cut just the sound of the staple being folded back against itself so that the ends come out. That said, each video I watched claimed that the staple removal was painless which is typical medical bullshit. The procedure feels like someone digging the staples out with a knife. It’s not painless at least not in your spine and it’s not something I would suggest you look forward to. However, the upside is that I can now use my electric blanket to help with the intense soreness in my lower back and after last night using it I feel a lot better this morning.
It has been snowing for 2 days here so walking has been out. I have been walking at the gym and standing a lot but it is just not the same as a long purposeful walk and I think part of the soreness is due to that lack of lengthy mobility. I will be going to costco this morning in the hopes that a walk around the giant store will serve as some good walking practice. So I am 2 weeks from surgery, I am now officially allowed to sit again and take a bath but their suggestion was that I don’t drive until my first follow up with the doc. That is because of the issues with my leg but since the issues (except the mass) are no longer chronic I think I am good to get out and drive about a bit. Lets hope the snow stops before the weekend and I have to drive to Orangeville …
Pain 1 Mobility 6
I was checking back over my 2002 surgery recovery journal and even though I know I was terrible in my execution of my rehab I had forgotten just how badly it went due to my own idiocy. Not only did it take me 11 days to start walking outside but the first 2 months were rife with relapses. I had forgotten just how many times it happened but as I read back it appears as though there were at least 5 incidents where my nerves were impacted during my recovery. Not only did this make my recovery so much longer but it also ended up impacting my long term recovery in a very negative way. I know that in comparison I only had 2 such incidents during my 2013 recovery one of which was 100% avoidable and my own fault and that my restoration took significantly less time and was infinitely more successful. That said, both recoveries had a big plateau component to them which I am passing through right now. It isn’t that I don’t feel better it is more that my recovery is slowing down as I get better. The days of improving leaps and bounds are over and I am left with incremental improvements that are only noticeable 3 to 4 days at a time. I am also experiencing the usual muscular tightness around my incision and across my lumbar spine. This is totally normal but a real pain because it makes me more aware of the movements I am making and now requires attention to fix. Typically as you start to rehab an injury it takes a while for your body to adapt to moving again and as my spine flexes and twists more as the pain leaves so the muscles have to adapt and start to load up again causing soreness.
I had a rough patch this week, after stopping the painkillers on Saturday (Day 5) it took a week to get the shakes, nerves and emotional catharsis out of my system. For anyone who hasn’t experienced withdrawal from painkillers it’s not fun. Irrational emotional mood swings, cold and hot spells mostly overlapping and of course intense digestive distress together with a headache that feels like someone is driving a car over your face. Yes it’s all fun and games until you have to stop…
As for the pain, I am starting to get more muscular pain ghte more I stand and move. I have been sitting a little and that has caused so much more pain while the muscles adjust. I am now at the point where I have extreme pain when I have been standing for a while and have to sit or lay down. In fact it is painful no matter what I switch from and to and this is something I expected. I just didn’t expect it to be quite so painful.
Pain 1 Mobility 6
I can’t actually justify going any higher with the mobility than 6 until I can sit and do something related to the gym. Woke up this morning on my side and really didn’t feel any worse for wear. This is great news knowing that I can actually sleep on my side not my back and have no ill effects. Other than that it has been 2 days of quite a lot of exercise (relatively speaking) and I don’t feel anything except a bit of lethargy. Yesterday’s treadmill walk was a chore, I had heavy legs and each step was harder and harder as the time passed. I also took the chance to go sit in the car and see if the seat was able to recline enough for my comfort and be safe enough to drive. The jury is out on that for now but it’s already been 8 days, my 2 week ban on sitting upright is looming and my sense of freedom beckons.
Pain 1 Mobility 6
My pain is fine, I have some tightness across the lower back from standing. I know this familiar feeling and unfortunately the stretches that help are not something I can really entertain at this point. However I have spent more time on my feet and plenty of walking so although I am not pushing too hard I am definitely past my comfort zone. It is supposed to be nicer today and since it was -20 yesterday that’s not hard but it does mean that tomorrow I should be able to make my long awaited trip to Tim’s. Medically my situation is still improving day on day but it is getting harder to tell since my mobility is OK and to the untrained eye I probably just seem sore from an overexertion rather than someone who still has enough metal in my spine to set off an airport detector. I am very stable on my feet although my leg still has little feeling, and it is my understanding that it can be up to 9 months for the feelings to return. My pain even when moving around is minimal, I haven’t had any additional painkillers since day 8 which was a week ago tomorrow with makes me very happy. Now the biggest thing I have to deal with is the small matter of the relapse. It happened after each prior surgery and I am going to do whatever I can to make sure it doesn’t happen this time. The problem with that is that the first time it took 40 days to happen and after surgery 2 it took 63 days. I remember a fall down the stairs at some point but I can’t seem to find any indication of when that happened although I am sure I once did. That said I am now aware of the fact that my relapses weren’t at the early stages at all but once I had been lulled back into a false sense of invincibility. I did discover that I had been doing very light workout tests at this point last time which I am already partly way through again. I was able to bench without pain yesterday if only to prove the mechanics not the tolerance for any weight. I was able to do some band work at the gym yesterday again only to prove my mobility not my capacity and it was just fine. Last time around it took me around 2 weeks to venture back to the gym and as much as I feel like going today I won’t, it’s just not a smart choice.
It’s been one week since you looked at me
Threw your arms in the air and said you’re crazy
– Barenaked Ladies, One Week.
Pain 2 Mobility 6
Some people may have looked at me last Monday and thought I was crazy to be going in to surgery but if there is one thing I have learned over my lifetime of back issues it’s that knowing when to wait and knowing when to act are absolutely critical to prevent permanent damage. I learned the hard way that poor judgment both pre-op and post-op are truly a recipe for disaster. My quality of life since my first operation was severely compromised and the long term effects of waiting too long for surgery and then being far too timid in my recovery are things I am still dealing with to this day. But enough counting regrets I was convinced in my decision this time around that without surgery I would be one more impingement away from potentially permanent inability to feel almost my whole right leg. Although not having any feeling below my knee has been barely noticeable at times, not being able to feel my whole leg would be unacceptable. Not only that, I was concerned that the next time any involvement of my bowel and urinary system would potentially mean a lifetime of adult diapers and as much as having drop foot was frightening I am not willing to accept the potential of this particular side effect. The simple fact is that this particular nerve root was more central, much closer to the “saddle” nerve bundle and a much higher likelihood of affecting that particular system.
Anyway, today I woke up fine. Getting out of bed has been a deliberate and methodical process since the surgery but today I felt more fluid and flexible in my ability to go from laying to standing. Since those are the only 2 things I am permitted to do at this time the transition between the two is a major concern. Two days ago I attempted to sit on the Lazy boy and was greeted with what can only be described as a major breakthrough although getting in was fine, getting out was to be a painful and excruciatingly slow process. Fast forward to today and I am able to get in and out of the recliner with relative ease and getting in and out of bed is more of a formality than a challenge. Daily activities are becoming more mundane which is a great thing but the pain is a constant reminder of just how careful I need to continue to be. I was concerned that last night at the gym would have been a bad decision but this morning I don’t feel any worse than I have done any other day and although that is a good sign, I think I was pretty close to my limits.
Today is Tuesday and I got weighed this morning. I am down about 10lbs from before surgery and am looking both small, frail and old. Of course my relationship with the mirror is as distorted as what I see so I am sure other than looking a bit smaller I look the same. I will continue to monitor my weight and body fat so I can track my progress. This will be especially critical once I start going back to the gym to work out (and no I don’t mean slinging hundreds of pounds around). I do need to reactivate my body in the way to which it is accustomed, which means specific work for specific muscular systems in order to maintain the support my spine needs. Truth is that any weakness of the body transfers a majority of the load directly onto the spine. Having weak arms or shoulders will directly affect the load on your spine and that is exactly what I need to avoid.
Which brings me to my next thought. What to do about my workouts now after my surgery. I would be reckless to imagine that my workouts have had no effect on me. It’s stupid to assume that shrugging 500lbs or shoulder pressing 250lbs isn’t going to affect my spinal load. Those days are officially over. I am going to have to limit myself to bodyweight movements only and by that I don’t mean no weight, I mean limiting my weight to my bodyweight. Only benching 230 rather than my PR of 415 won’t be a big deal but not deadlifting at all, no squatting heavy and shrugging with tiny barbells will most certainly eat at my ego. But it really depends on if I want to struggle with my ego or my ability to walk. I think it’s time for a change.
Today’s facts. Feeling in the leg is the same, no strength changes that I can notice. Incision pain is about the same, a little itchy but no redness or swelling. My mobility is better in the house, and despite buying a nice new pair of winter boots I think today will be a treadmill day rather than venturing out into the -4 weather and freezing my ass off.