Altitude Sickness
July 20, 2017

This summer’s athletic stupidity challenges unveiled

By Brady Crain

I have spent a lot of time since this lumbar surgery (left side L3-4 foraminotomy/facetectomy – didn’t need a laminectomy because the disc was already gone) walking, swimming, icing, and stressing about what was going to happen if I spent $3,000 or so (my out of pocket maximum) on a surgery that didn’t do anything to fix the problem. This is no longer a consideration.

I finally had my one month follow-up appointment with one of the P.A.s at the surgical office (I meet with the surgeon at three months), and I learned the causes for my stress. The first cause was a misunderstanding whether I should have any more nerve pain.

One of the great things about this surgical office is that they have a team of nurses, N.P.s, and P.A.s that I can talk to at any given time during office hours, and someone on call at night.

One of the disadvantages to this is that sometimes you get variant stories/wordings from different people regarding your situation.  When she said that I should not have nerve pain after the surgery, I understood her to mean “nerve pain will not be part of the recovery process.” She was speaking of nerve pain after the recovery process.

The second cause of my stress was that during this process, I had experienced a number of really weird nerve issues and concomitant pain. There were parts of my inner knee and hip that had apparently been numb for decades, and the nerves were now reawakened. There were parts of my pelvic floor musculature that had been non-functional for a very long time, along with a portion of my lower digestive tract that was inoperative.

After this surgery, I literally found myself with nerves and muscles that I literally didn’t know I had. It can be alarming when a place you’ve never felt sensation suddenly hurts. It can be alarming when you have wandering patches of numbness during your morning walk.

It took me a while to figure it out, but my nerve pain symptoms were always worst in the morning and during my first walk and swim, before I sat on an ice pack for a few hours. When I would go on my second walk nerve issues were nearly nonexistent until two to three miles, and the third walk I would be clear of nerve symptoms until five to seven miles.

The cause of this was confirmed by the P.A. that I met with: while sleeping, I was not icing, and so the insulted flesh around the incision would swell, causing compression of the recently awakened nerves. As I iced throughout the day, the inflammation and swelling in the flesh and bone surrounding the foramina and associated nerve would decrease in size, allowing relief.

At my meeting with the P.A. I was told the magical words regarding activity, “You can no longer undo the surgery.” This meant that I was free and clear (as limited by pain) to do whatever I wanted activity wise. I immediately began twisting my spine and waving my arms around, as it had been one month and one day since I had performed those activities.

I have never been so excited for pull-ups and push-ups in my life. Ring dips. Weights. Stronger trail hike/runs. I have been thinking up new and interesting ways to torture myself, and being quite successful at it.

Remembering that the weak spot in both of my attempts at the Spartan Ultra was vertical rope grip, I rigged up rope grip pull-up handles for my pull-up bar. I did this by taking two six foot rope lengths, folding them together into three foot lengths, tying an overhand bight at the loop end, and then creating a four strand braid, tying it off at the end, making a handle about 15” long.  This I then looped around my pull-up bar until achieving desired length, passing the end through the loop, binding it to the bar.

It is spectacular. The muscles between my scapulae have never been this sore. I also immediately went out and did some moderately strenuous sprint work on grass, because I did not want my first experiment to be during a softball game the following day.  It all worked out swimmingly; I barely even got sore.

I reported for softball duty, played second (which I am not used to, but we have a legit first baseman who is also our only home run hitter), and then center (which is way back in the memory banks, but is easier on a newbie because there is so much time between when the play starts and when the ball gets to me). I seemed to have no trouble throwing under pressure from center field like I did from first base. I may have found my spot.

I had fun, I sprinted base running, I swung the bat (to no great avail, but nonetheless, I got on base once and was thrown out once), and felt good enough at the end that I played two innings for another team that needed a player. It was a good time, and I wasn’t even sore the next day.  I just need a little batting practice.

Now that I have made it past the surgical swelling, I have to say, if you have bad sciatica, I totally recommend this surgery. The jury is obviously still out for me, but it is no longer deadlocked.

Ok, so now my promise to unveil this summer’s stupidity: Barring catastrophe, I plan to make another (and probably my last) attempt at the Spartan Ultra, AND if there are still spots left when I feel comfortable committing to it (if there aren’t, so be it, another year), the Vermont 50 a couple of weekends later. Yes, that’s right, I am going to step it up. Two major events in two weeks, one of them the most base abuse of the human body and spirit imaginable, and the other basically a double marathon surrounding Ascutney, one of the longest steepest vertical climbs in Vermont.

Finally, I have decided that I am going to both get my bench press up over 200 pounds, and train myself to do a one armed pull-up.  This should keep me busy.

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