...On the MAT(T)
SERIOUSLY?!?!?!?!

This week has turned out to be anything but the lovely, relaxing, well deserved Spring Break that I have anticipated. Truthfully… It has been one of the saddest and roughest weeks of my life.

Where do I begin?

Well… First… I just want to say that I’m not looking for a pity party here at all. This blog has been therapeutic for me. It has been a place for me to let out the emotions that seem to get bottled up inside. If you have been following, you know that I have had my ups and downs over the past months, and having a place like Tumblr to reflect and share has really been just awesome. I hope it helps me this time too.

Let me take you into my mind for a moment and have all this come together… The BJJ part is coming… I promise.

I haven’t had many people in my life that I can really call a great friend or best friend. My Wife, My Dad (lives in NJ), and the best man in my wedding (who sadly recently moved to Germany). And then… there is my friend “The Scientist” who came back in my life recently and really enriched it. We were friends in high school many years ago and lost touch as most people do as they start their lives. I went off to another school and joined the Marines shortly after. He went to undergrad school at Rutgers and came to the University of Maryland to attend Grad school and has been here in Maryland since. About six or seven years ago, we ran across each other on MySpace of all things. (does anyone even use that anymore?) Anyway, we hung out once and it was just like old times. We quickly became close friends and started hanging out quite often. He is really the only “friend” I have around here. Sure I have friends and co-workers, but no one (other than my wife and “the Scientist”) really know me for me. Where I am from, what I have been through, who I am… all of that. Someone I ca truly be myself around with no reservations. Long story short… he’s moving… on Sunday. Not like down the street or even a state or two away… He’s headed to Hawaii. Now, I couldn’t be more happy for him (and I must confess, slightly jealous)! He is taking action on his dream. Good for him. He just got sick of spending his life in a cubicle and is actually going to do something about it. So he quit his job and bought a one-way ticket to Hawaii. Not many people have the balls to do something like that. I commend him but I surely will miss him. I know our paths will cross again someday, but until they do… Skype will have to do… I will miss him.

A few months ago, my Aunt was diagnosed with colon cancer. She had some surgery to remove a tumor and part of her colon. The initial thought was that the cancer was contained and they were able to get it all. Well… after some tests, blood work and scans, they found some more. I am terribly sad but hopeful for her. About 9 years ago, she lost her father (my Grandfather, and one of the most beloved and influential men in my life) to what started as colon cancer. This disease really hits home for me and my family. Rightfully so, she has been taking it pretty hard. My problem is that I’m not really sure what to say or do to make her feel better… As if anything I say or do can take away the pain and difficulty that she will face as she fights through this. I guess the best thing to do is just be there. Be there to listen, and keep things positive, honest and rational when negativity can can seem to take over.

The other person who has been taking this news pretty hard is my Grandmother. My Aunt and Grandmother live together. They are best friends. You can almost say that they share the same brain sometimes. My Grandmother had a stroke about a year ago. She has been rehabbing since to regain control of her left side and doing well. She called me last week crying and telling me how sad she was about my Aunt and what she will be going through. We chatted for a bit and she calmed down for that moment. …and then came Friday…

I got a call from my mother on Friday evening who was just arriving in Florida to start a vacation. My Grandmother was being rushed to the hospital. My Aunt came home from work to find her seated in in a recliner, conscious but unresponsive. She had another stroke. I sped to the hospital about 45 minutes away and met my Aunt there just as she was arriving behind the ambulance. My Grandmother could hardly talk or form words or sentences. She has always been a talker, full of life and things to say. It was hard to see her struggle to communicate. Needless to say, I have spent more time by her side with my family over the past few days than I have ever spent in a hospital. Fortunately, she has been showing excellent improvement and was released on Wednesday to an acute rehabilitation facility about an hour and a half away from me. It’s the same place she went to last time for rehab. She did really well there and it really is the best place for her now, but it sure makes it difficult to go see her. But really, that’s my problem. I guess I should feel fortunate that I can drive there and that I am as close as I am. I guess things could be worse.

With all of that going on this past week and a half or so (I promised the BJJ part would come), I went to the doc Thursday for my MRI follow up as I mentioned in my last post. Guess what?…. I have three extruded disks… AGAIN!!!!! I am scheduled for a surgical consult on this coming Tuesday, April 3rd. The worst part is… She told me that I may not be able to Wrestle or practice Jiu-Jitsu ever again… EVER AGAIN!!!!

The week from HELL!!!

Venting / Rant is over… Thanks for reading. As always, I’ll be sure to update how things go on Tuesday at the surgical consult.

…and I guess… Unfortunately for me, I will NOT be seeing you on the mat anytime soon. :-/

Back in the Tunnel I Go! :-/

Quickly…

I’m going back in for another MRI today at 2:45… in about 2 hours. I have been feeling back pain and muscle spasms again… just like before the surgery. The numbness in my foot, toes, and shin seem to be coming back to what they were. This really all started to happen after the Nerve Study…. GRRR!  

The doc has put me on Lyrica for now to calm my nerves down until we get the results of this MRI back. She think this might be a disc leaking again or something. It could be that disc at L3-L4 which was torn but wasn’t treated by either surgery. It could be my mind playing tricks on me. I guess we will see.

…. Frustrated once again…. :-/ I don’t even want to type about it. I’ll be sure to update though…

Peace!

Nerve Conduction Study (EMG) = NOT FUN!

So… today I went for an EMG or a Electromyogram Nerve Conductive Study. I guess the purpose of this study was to find out if my nerves are communicating properly with my brain and spinal cord. What I didn’t know was that they were going to stick me with needles (NOT LIKE ACUPUNCTURE) and “listen” to my nerves to see if there was anything actively irritating the nerve.

The first lady came in and put electrodes all over my legs, After getting in a gown, of course [facepalm]. Then she said “I am going to stimulate your nerves. Some of what you feel may be unpleasant.” She then took what looked like a small, handheld version of a cattle prod and began shocking me. My muscles were jumping all over… involuntarily. She prodded me on my ankles and behind my knees. When she was all done… In came the DR. Apparently the last lady was a RN or something. The Doctor then proceeded to remove a needle from it’s sterile packet as she asked me if I had ever had this kind of test before. She hooked it up to the same machine and commenced jabbing it into my thigh. She finally stopped moving it when she got the right sound to come out of the machine. It sounded like static to me. After the thigh… she moved on to the calf… then the shin… and on to the same spots on the other leg. The pain and tingling lasted long after the test and I still am feeling some tingly sensations now.

Truth be told, I was really being a baby about the whole thing and still am. I’m just tired of being poked and tested. I just don’t want it anymore. I want to be better… NORMAL!!!

The good part is that the test came back as being “normal”. My nerves are working just fine and nothing seems to be irritating them or pinching them right now. The Doctor said that they are probably just still healing from the damage caused by the herniation.

So what now???? That’s the big question. It (My Back) definitely hurts when I roll… particularly when I try to hip escape. My left foot is still half numb and the other half hyper sensitive. I still can’t walk on my toe or heel of my left foot because my shin and calf are too weak to hold me up. When I am running or skipping or sidestepping as a warm up before rolling or drilling, I can feel my left foot slapping the mat or my toes dragging a bit. I feel like I might roll my ankle at any moment sometimes. Yet when I leave the academy after class… My back feels great! … better than it does during the day. I guess because I’m warm still, because it’s stiff as hell when I wake up the next morning.

Today… I am feeling impatient once again. I feel as though I am on the brink of coming back strong but maybe it IS a bit too early. Should I wait a bit longer? Is rolling or drilling good therapy? I just don’t know right now.

What say you?

Thanks for reading… I see you all next post.

I Am Officially Cleared To Roll!

So… I went to my Surgeon today for my 12 week post-op follow up… AND…

I am completely off all meds except for some Advil now and again. I have been going to the gym religiously and doing lots of core strengthening and balance training, some light lifting / upper body, and a bit of running (no more than 3 miles, my calf/upper achilles can’t take much more) and elliptical for cardio. Although I am getting stronger every day (not losing much weight as I had hoped :-( stuck after losing 20lbs), I feel that I still have a long way to go. My left calf and shin are still weak and become very sore, very easily. My big toe will now move, but only with lots of concentration and visual connection. My flexibility seems to be stagnant regardless of how much I stretch every day. Every morning, I seem to be right back where I was the day before. If there is progress here, I am not seeing or feeling it. My glutes, IT band, and lower back have been spasming more and more frequently, especially when I lean forward or twist, or both. That began as I weened myself off of the Cymbalta; which was a rough go, let me tell you! I’m tired of the pills and no matter what, I don’t want to take them any more. I have been seeing an Acupuncturist for the past few weeks which I am unsure is effective just yet or not. The jury is still out.

My Surgeon told me today that the pains that are coming back are normal (your body’s way of protecting itself from a known injury), and reminded me that the first thing he said to me was that he couldn’t take the pain away. He was right. He wrote me script for Skelaxin for the spasms. Like I said… I’m tired of pills!!!!

He said that if grappling wasn’t something that I have been doing for years, and it was a new hobby, then he would advise me against it. He doesn’t mind me running or doing other things at the gym which I can control. If there is less control, there is more chance for injury if that makes any sense. It does to me. He then said that he understands my passion for grappling and thinks it would be OK to slowly get back into it. 

YYYAAAHHHOOOOO!!!!!

OK… Now that that’s out, I think I should really take it slow. I don’t want to go through all of this again.

So here’s my thoughts. I am going to go back to Yamasaki and talk to Fernando. Let him know that I am back but not quite ready to roll. I have to listen to my body. Maybe I can start off with just drilling. Hopefully this will add to the strengthening of my core to stabilize my lower back more. As time goes on, I will just continue to listen to my body and take it day by day. 

You should be hearing a lot more from me now. And hopefully not to report any more injury, but for what I started this blog for; to share my journey with Jiu Jitsu.

This is the reason that I haven’t Tumbled in a while.

This is the reason that I haven’t Tumbled in a while.

I’m Five Fingerin’… Doctors Orders!

I am now, today, officially six weeks post-op and feeling GREAT! Since my last post, I have hit the gym almost every day… religiously! I have lost about 15 pounds, and have now been narcotic pain med free for more than 3 weeks. I have even stopped taking all muscle relaxers (Flexeril and Tizanadine) and am down to one Cymbalta per day (AM) and Meloxicam (NSAID) only when I need it.

I visited my Orthopedic Surgeon (Dr. Levin) on Friday and he was elated with my progress. I think he may have been worried about me and the Percocet for a while. His eyes grew large (surprised and happy) when I told him how long it had been since I had any. He was impressed with all of the self directed physical therapy I have been doing at the gym (he even said that it was OK if I jog or run a bit, but not too much) and asked me if I wanted to start something formal. I said yes right away. I want to be sure that I am doing the best things for my self and I’m all about anything that will increase my chances for a FULL recovery! The PT office is (co-located) adjacent to his office. They share the same waiting room in fact. I think it’s great and I am hopeful for excellent results because I am sure that they are used to dealing with folks after surgeries such as mine. I go for my initial evaluation on Thursday.

After Dr. Levin did a physical evaluation of my strength and feeling (or lack there of), he told me that he is a little worried about the progress of my L5 nerve. The strength of my big toe and numbness in my toes, shin, and heel are not progressing as quickly as he would like to see, if at all. At this point he said that it might come back fully in two months or two years or it may not come back at all. It’s not the best news but I can live with it I guess, all things considered. Of course I am hoping that it WILL come back fully and I intend to do whatever I can do to make it happen. If it doesn’t, at least I know I tried everything.

This morning I visited my pain management Doc at The Spine Center. She was thoroughly impressed with my progress as well. Strangely, she recommended that I watch the weather often and only take Meloxicam when there will be a drastic change in the weather (like tonight because we are supposed to get lots of rain, which has just started). She also said that I can start taking Cymbalta every other day in about two weeks, do that for a month and eventually stop. I asked her about acupuncture and thought that maybe it could help wake up that L5 nerve (like I said, I am willing to try anything and everything!). Thankfully, she informed me that I should wait a week or two. I should be off the narcotic pain meds for a full month or a bit more for the acupuncture to be completely effective. Something about the receptors in the brain not being ready sooner, due to the narcotics. Good thing, I was going to start sooner. I guess I will wait until a week or so of PT goes by.

I told her about my lingering L5 symptoms and what I have been doing at the gym and she immediately told me that I should go and get some Vibram Five Fingers. She explained how they could aid in strengthening the weak muscles in my foot and leg which were affected by the nerve damage. As my friend Will put it “Propioceptive input to increase central nervous system processes that will facilitate greater motor output. Or….simply stated “Stepping it up to work it out” :-)” So I listened and here’s what I got!

I’ll say it again… I’m all about anything that’s going to increase my chances of having a FULL RECOVERY! I also have to say that I went to the gym today with them on and… I dig ‘em! They are pretty comfortable (once you get them on, which can be difficult and time consuming with NUMB TOES!) and I can already feel the difference. In other words, I know my feet and leg muscles are going to be sore soon from doing 30 minutes of intervals on the elliptical (1/2 the time with no hands), about 12 minutes on the treadmill walking and running (landing on my forefoot as she recommended) and lifting chest and biceps. I’ll be sure to keep you updated on how they continue to work for me.

As Always… Thanks for reading and I’ll see you again soon, Hopefully soon enough on the MAT!

Until then… Keep rollin’ without me. 

Love and Peace!

Six Weeks Post-Op

I know, I know… it’s been a while since you’ve heard from me. Probably because I’m just plain depressed at how things have progressed since the surgery. The first two weeks after the surgery, I was feeling good. I was on my way to the doc’s for a two week checkup, when out of nowhere, I rolled the window down at 30 MPH and hurled out the window. My poor daughter was in the back seat, dodging and weaving and saying “Daddy… Are you OK?” Well apparently, I wasnt. I had caught some kind of stomach bug. Now, a friend of mine and I were drinking a bit of scotch the night before but this was no hangover. I proceeded to vomit 12 or so more times that day.

Soon after that day, I started feeling some of my old symptoms come back. You know, numbness on the top of the left foot, and a basically paralyzed big toe. At least I still had strength in my shin, or some of it anyway.

A few days later, I started feeling new symptoms. My calf began to go numb. The little toes on my foot and the underside of my foot began to experience pins and needles. Now, I can no longer do a calf raise. The same weakness that I experienced in my shin, was now happening to my calf and little toes. So I called the doc right away, and typically, they won’t do an MRI until six weeks Post Op due to swelling, and scar tissue, they really wouldn’t get an accurate reading. a week or two went by and things were getting worse. I am really limping and in  lots of pain.

So, It’s been six weeks since surgery and they finally sent me for another MRI on Friday of last week 11/18/2011. Now I’m no doctor, but I think I’m getting pretty good at reading these MRI’s.

The blue circles below are at L4-L5 where the surgery was done six weeks ago and the incision to the right. The red circle is the next level down L5-S1; Which you can guess, That’s right, controls the calf and little toes. 

Now if you look at the last MRI photos before surgery in this post, it doesn’t even look nearly as bad as the disc circled in red above. Below is a shot as if I were lying down with my feet toward you.

Here you can see the compression on the nerve which is sure to be causing the numbness and  weakness in my calf and pins and needles in my toes and foot.

I’m scheduled to see the Surgeon again tomorrow at 3:30pm. So I guess I will let you all know tomorrow if it’s that time again; to go back under the knife.

Thanks all for reading. You will be hearing from me again soon.

FRUSTRATED!!!!

One Week Later…

So, It has been a week since my discectomy procedure and I must say that I am feeling pretty good. Better every day as a matter of fact! The strength of my shin has dramatically improved and the numbness is slowly going away. I feel very fortunate to have such great results. I almost wish that I had done this sooner. I guess it happened the way it did for a reason. The pain is getting better also. Initially, I called the Doc and had him switch me to Percocet rather than the Vicodin he prescribed, and he did. They gave me one at the hospital before I left and it really did the trick. The Vicodin didn’t seem to do much at all. I might as well have taken a placebo. I still can’t sit for longer than 30 minutes at a time, bend over, or twist at all, but I’m sure those things will come soon enough. I am not quite shuffling anymore, but more like… well not quite walking normally yet, somewhere in between the two.

My incision seems to be also healing well as you can see below. It is even getting a bit itchy already. That usually means to me that it’s healing well.

As you can see, It’s still a bit swollen. I have been icing it every once in a while when I lay down.

It all sound great so far, right? Well… there is one issue; my throat! Since the surgery, I have had one of the worst sore throats I have ever had. After surgeries that I have had in the past, I have had a sore throat for a day or two afterwards, from the intubation tube they insert when you are under general anesthesia. It is pretty normal for most patients to feel a bit of uncomfortability for a day or two. My throat has been almost unbearably painful for the past week. I even called Dr. Levin, on Saturday (sadly) to ask him if there were any complications with the intubation. He said “No, everything seemed to go normally” and asked me if anyone in my family was sick, or anything like that. I of course said no, because everyone is healthy. The pain from my throat has been keeping me up at night and every meal is excruciatingly painful. Dr. Levin prescribed me Augmentin just in case there is any infection or strep or something. Well, it’s been two days on the antibiotics and no improvement. So far, I have gone through almost two bottles of Chloraseptic numbing spray and a box of Cepacol lozenges. I really just wish I knew what happened. When I look down my throat, it looks obviously swollen, and it looks as though my uvula (punching bag thingy in the back of your throat) has some small cuts or scabs forming on them. I don’t see anything white that would indicate an infection, but I am no doctor. I called the Doc again this morning, as he told me to do if there was no improvement in 24 hours, and I am waiting for him to call me back.

That’s about all I have for today! Thanks for reading, and as usual, I welcome your comments or support.

I’ll see you next post! Peace…

Every Day I’m Shufflin’

Well… I did it!! I made it through the discectomy procedure, and thankfully with no complications.

When I arrived, in Pre-Op, everyone was quite welcoming and friendly. However, I was told that I must remove my contacts for the surgery. :-/ This made me a bit nervous because I couldn’t identify any of the myriad doctors and nurses that were questioning me or sticking me with needles. I am quite blind without my glasses or contacts. Anything that is more that a foot from my face is a complete blur! The anxiety I had before I arrived was heightened by my temporary “blindness”.

Thankfully, when Dr. Levin arrived, he really made my experience a great one. His familiar voice was quite comforting and I can’t thank him enough for what he has done for me. With his soothing tone, he was extremely good at communicating with both me and my wife (best friend, caretaker, and so much more…) about what would be done and what to expect going forward. He was also very attentive about any concerns or questions. It was all in all a wonderful experience, as far as surgeries go. As I mentioned, I was quite nervous when I arrived, and he made me feel at ease, as did the Valium I was administered. He even signed my back (as you will see in the photo below) where the incision was to be made, just to be sure that there would be no confusion.

As I explained in my previous post on Sunday, I asked Dr. Levin if I could keep the piece of extruded disc that he will be removing, and to my dismay, he said that he will be taking it out in chunks and usually gets “sucked out” in the suction tank. :(  But he actually looked disappointed for me, so I let it slide. :P 

  The incision was made vertically as shown below. and all of the micro surgery was done through this small opening.

After I shower today, at least 24 hours after surgery (Doctors orders), I will be taking the dressing off to reveal no stitches. Apparently they are all inside and will disolve. 

The doc said that the extruded piece of disc was a lot bigger than he expected, but was able to get all of it. He was even able to reach across to the right side to remove the central bulge that I mentioned in my last post.

Immediately after surgery, Dr. Levin went out to reassure my wife that everything was OK and went smoothly. Within an hour, I was WALKING (more like shuffling) down the hall, ready to go home.

On the way home, we stopped at CVS to pickup my Meds, Vicodin and Valium, and when we finally arrived, I shuffled to the front door and couldn’t be happier to to be home! 

The Doctor said that he wants me walking at least 30 minutes a day, and not to sit for longer that 30 minutes. so I keep shuffling around the house, taking very short sitting breaks when I need to. Last night was definitely a rough night of sleep for me and my poor wife. I am guessing that because of the IV drip that kept me hydrated during surgery, I was up every hour on the hour having to go pee. The transitions from lying down to standing are the hardest and most painful so far, and my unconditionally loving wife was there to help me every time. Even if I told her that I want to try myself, she stood there steadfastly, waiting to offer a helping hand.

Words cannot express the love and admiration I feel for my family, friends, co-workers, training partners, and folks who I have never met (you all know who you are, and if you’re guessing whether or not I mean you… I probably don’t) who have all been there to support me and send their positive energy and well wishes my way, so THANK YOU all from the bottom of my heart. 

And MOST of all, my Wife and Daughters! Without them there every step of the way, I don’t know if I could have done it. I surely wouldn’t have wanted to anyway. And the love and support that they are sure to give me in the weeks ahead, I will be sure to love them even more each day, more that i already do!

Thanks for reading! I will continue shufflin’ and hopefully soon, running, and wrestling, and Training BJJ again. not too soon though, It has felt like an eternity, but this is a new beginning and… 

"You can’t rush perfection" - Unknown

See you all next post! Peace!

Everything Happens For A Reason

I’m really not sure what that reason is yet, but I look forward to finding out.

Well it’s been almost three weeks since my last informative post about my foot drop and impending surgery. Well, I called the office last Friday to speak with the surgeon’s medical assistant and to see if Dr. Levin wanted to see me before my scheduled surgery on the 26th of September. Here is the response that I received; “Hmmm… you said your name was Matthew? (long pause) I don’t seem to see you on the schedule. Did you schedule this with Jamica?” “Yes, That’s who I spoke with” I replied. “Ummm, Yeah… She’s no longer with us, I’m sorry, but don’t feel bad, your not the only one affected by that one… she dropped the ball on lots of people. Let me call the hospital and at least see if she put it on their schedule, and I’ll get back to you.” Needless to say, I wasn’t on the schedule.

Anyway, I am actually feeling a bit better. The foot drop is showing signs of improvement on the right side. The numb area has seemed to have gotten lower on my shin, and my strength, although still much weaker than normal, has improved. The problem is, that I am starting to feel slight symptoms on the other foot. The top of my right foot has, at times, felt a bit numb or like pins and needles. I only feel it sometimes, but I still feel it. So Dr. Levin called me back that night after finding out about the “Jamica debacle” and apologized profusely and asked me how I was feeling. I told him about the new symptoms and improvement of the old. He said (paraphrasing), “I know the insurance company is not going to like this but I am going to send you for another MRI. That is my “road map” during surgery and if there are new symptoms, I am going to need to address those too.” 

So, I am scheduled for an MRI (hopefully my last) on Wednesday next week, pending insurance approval of course. They did just approve one barely over a month ago. Dr. Levin says he will evaluate the MRI a day or two after it’s taken, and we will schedule surgery for the following week if necessary. This usually take a few weeks but because I was led to believe that I was on the schedule, he would make it work.

Maybe this is an opportunity to let me heal a bit more, and I won’t need the surgery at all. Or maybe it will show that the surgery should treat both sides, and not just the left. Dr. Levin told me that he doesn’t do exploratory surgery like they used to in the years past. The MRI will show him right where to go as not to disturb anything unnecessarily, and aid a speedy recovery. Nice to know!

My only concern really, (please tell me if you think I’m wrong here) is that if I heal now and don’t need surgery now, will I need it soon? I just dont want to get back to running and wrestling and Brazilian Jiu Jitsu if I am going to be back in the MRI tunnel in a month or two with an extruded disc and a drop foot again. Even if I get the surgery, will I be back in the tunnel in a month or two after recovery?

I, for some reason, feel like, if I go through with and need the surgery, It would be like a turning point for me. A time to start fresh with at least that disc. I’m ready to get it out and start the real healing process. All these pills and PT are driving me nuts!!!!! I need my life back, and I don’t want to prolong or procrastinate, or whatever you call it ANYMORE! Where… Oh Where… is the turning point in this struggle. Have I hit the bottom yet? …or have I already made my way on the road to recovery, at least long enough to have my life back for a few years at least.

OK, That really felt good. Maybe this, right now, is my turning point.

Thanks for reading! See you next post. :-/