My Recovery is Going Fantastically

I know I haven’t posted in a while, and that’s for a few different reasons. For one thing, I’ve been going to school and the gym a lot more than before, and I’m feeling really good. I still have a few aches and pains all the time, and a little bit of stinging and lost mobility, but beyond that and headaches I’m doing alright.

I’ve also started managing the freerunning and parkour team “Kinema”. It’s a student team in Madison Wisconsin. Most student organizations and teams are iffy at best and downright terrible at worst, but these guys are an exception. If they weren’t good, I wouldn’t be managing them, after all! Their YouTube channel is here, their twitter handle is @KinemaF. One of the guys is even a gymnastics coach! I mean jeez, how cool is that?

I’ve been shooting and editing their videos, managing their events, and their finances. To be honest, parkour and freerunning are like blogging. You don’t go into it expecting to make money, you go into it because you want to do it. And if you you’re one of the lucky few to get recognized and end up with a lot of exposure, making money is the icing on the cake.

Speaking of money, something cool about wordpress is that unless you self host through WordPress.org and then register your domain through another third party like godaddy, you can’t put ads on or monetize your blog! This works for and against you. You know that the many writers who review products are impartial, and you know that you will be presented with a clean, organized interface. Unfortunately, this same advantage is the reason that groups looking for a free or low cost interface to advertise themselves and earn revenue from can’t use WordPress.com. When you start up, be sure to take this into account. For this reason, I’ve moved my main blog from WordPress to blogspot, at the link AthleticZen.blogspot.com. I want to have the flexibility that that provides, but I’m going to miss the interface and templates offered by WordPress.

Never Lose Hope

Recently, I approached Apeksha about writing a guest post for her site, because I believe that I’ve got a story to tell that fits right in on her site. I know that many of you are used to logging for a daily quote to keep you motivated at work or while training, and too read about athleticism, sport, motivation, and the success that can be achieved when those three factors are brought together in rare perfect harmony.

My name’s John and I just started to write recently, after I broke my neck wrestling. During one of the final tournaments of my career and after competing for almost 4 years without a single major injury, I shattered my spine.

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It was the quote in the article: “Thank You Roger Federer – A Letter to the Champion.” that resonated especially deeply with me.

Success is not measured by what you accomplish, but by the opposition you have encountered, and the courage with which you have maintained the struggle against overwhelming odds.

Orison Swett Marden said this, and I believe that this is very deeply and profoundly correct. Right now, I’m more proud of what I can achieve than I ever have been in my entire life, despite the fact that I’m the weakest that I have been since I was 8 years old. I’m proud because I am successfully by Orison Marden’s definition, because I have progressed so much since my accident. 6 weeks ago, I was unable to move my toes, raise my arms, or feel my legs because of the trauma to my nervous system.

Now, I can ride a bicycle, lift weights, and even go to school as a full time student. I write about my progress on my blog, but I decided that simply talking about what I was doing wasn’t enough. Now, I’ve made it my goal to be as supportive and informative to people with similar traumas to mine, and those who have suffered much more greatly than I have.

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Just like Apeksha learned lessons from Roger Federer, I have learned from my injury. These lessons are:

When you are depressed, friends will help you,
When you are weak, you will find the drive to push on,
When you have lost hope, hope will find you,
Never doubt the strength of the human spirit.

It’s been an honor writing for the site. I’m a big fan and this has been really exciting for me.Please read and share this story with everyone who has lost hope and tell them about my journey and hopefully if they can learn one thing from my experience – Never lose hope.

You can check me out and follow my recovery process at GoandDoit.wordpress.com and in a few months read all about his adventures: running, biking, and motivating others to do the same.

My First Occupational Therapy Session

I’ve already written about starting physical therapy here, and I figured that I should start writing about my visits to an occupational therapist, what I’ve learned, and any advice that I can give to you based on what I’ve experienced.

So here you are: full blown, no holds barred; this is what goes down when you break your neck and you need to start using your dominant hand for something other than a prop when you need to carry something.

Today I met with an occupational therapist for the first time since the accident. Because my brace is off, I’ve been cleared to lift weights up to thirty pounds with my upper body, and as much as seems reasonable and appropriate with my lower body.

I visited an occupational therapist for my hand and arm. Even now, I’m still confused about the difference between an occupational therapist and a physical therapist. Maybe some knowledgable souls can help me out by posting their answer to that question in the comments below.

Before the actual screening process even began, I s run through the usual medical history questionnaire, along with a full set of upper body strength and range of motion tests. Between all of the doctors, nurses, and medical professionals that I’ve had to visit, one of the few things in common between them all is the strength and range of motion test. By now, I practically have that thing memorized. I might have even had a dream where I was taking a range of motion test! Haha

The occupational therapist, who is often just referred to as an “OT”, helped me out by screening through what issues I should be worrying about and what will just take time to recover from. After eliminating things like fatigue and some soreness in my muscles in my neck that I haven’t used since my anterior cervical diskectomy and fusion (ACDF) as simply caused by not being used to using the muscles, we moved on to range of motion and deep pain.

The OT massaged out some of the small, stabilizing muscles in my neck and then had me do some exercises to work them out and increase the up and down range that my head could travel. Before doing any exercise, he measured the exact degree of my range of motion, and then the degree at which I could move afterwords. Consistently, my range of motion was always increased by at least 10 degrees, if not more.

After stretching me out and checking my nerve function and assuring me that I was recovering at a normal rate and telling me that I’m recovering faster than most people do after an anterior cervical diskectomy and fusion (I would ha used the acronym there to save time, but for some reason my OT would always call the surgery by it’s full name. He was fine with being called an OT instead of an occupational therapist though, for some reason), he gave me a packet of things that I’m supposed to do, and also told me how often I’m supposed to do each one. After the appointment, I bought a Home Ranger Shoulder Pulley (model 240) to help me do passive range of motion exercises. I think the pulley is great and already after a few uses I feel my should and arm loosening up.

In my case, my range of motion is better when I’m not engaging the muscles in my arm or shoulder, so using the pulley helps me stretch out. Then, I do the same exercises that I had done passively and assist with my left arm, helping my muscles and nerve relearn where to go and how to feel. I could go on; but I think that a full on review might have to wait for a separate post. Maybe I’ll set up an amazon affiliate account, and if you want to buy a pulley after reading my review of it, you can get the same low price that you would always get on amazon, and help support my site, my tours, my message, and my fundraising all at the same time.

Anyways, my first meeting with an occupational therapist went great. My occupational therapist is smart, efficient, and professional, all without losing that personal touch and feel. If you’re nervous about your rehabilitation you shouldn’t be, because you’ll have a great physical or occupational therapist helping you out.

Getting Out of My Neck Brace

I visited my doctor today, and I finally got permission to stop using my neck brace. Until you have had your neck constricted for almost two months and then released, you don’t know how good you can feel. I think that the resident described by expression as “beaming”.
I’ve been working with the incredible staff at the UW Sports Medicine clinic.

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Not only does UW have some of the best doctors in the world, but their sports medicine clinic on science drive has a fantastic state of the art indoor gym where people can go to rehab and work one on one with therapists and trainers, or even just sign up for a membership for and work out there just like they can at the YMCA.

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My doctor said that the X-ray looked good. Honestly, I think that he was a little surprised, because a majority of the anterior cervical diskectomy and fusion procedures that he performs are on less than ideal surgical candidates, who often times have degenerative disk or bone diseases that need to be treated with a fusion.

Taking my neck brace off for the first time was a little scary. I was excited, but I was also a little nervous that I would do something to hurt myself if I moved too much, or really moved at all.

20130220-174146.jpg Right now, my neck is noticeably skinnier than it was before I had the neck brace on, because I haven’t really used the muscles at all for 6 weeks. In the coming days, I’ll of course become more comfortable, and increase my range of motion much more.

So there you have it. The doctors put in 4 screws and a plate, of which you can see the X-ray below:

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To be honest, I’m not sure yet if I’ll set off metal detectors, but I’m not quite sure what will happen if I do. I guess a trip down to my local courthouse is in order to test that out (kidding, kidding. Don’t worry, I would never waste the time of the bailiffs, who already have a vital role in the speed, efficiency, and safety of our judicial system).

Understanding the Recovery Process

If you’re having some trouble wrapping your mind around all of the parts of the recovery process, don’t worry. I’ve been thinking, and I came up with a good way to visualize how your body gets things done.

The main parts of your physical recovery are rest, rehabilitation, and nutrition. If you think of your recovery processes like a group of builders building a house, it’s a lot easier to understand.

The rest portion of your recovery is the number of hours the builders work. If you limit the number of hours that the builders can work, it will take them longer to build your house than if they were allowed to work longer days (go ahead and assume that these imaginary workers don’t get tired, don’t need workers comp, and don’t complain about consecutive 16 hour work days. After all, your body is truly an amazing system).

The physical therapy and exercise is the training that the workers receive, and also their foreman. With a good foreman and lots of training, the workers are more motivated to build the house well and make it strong, and they’re more competent to complete the job more efficiently and at a higher level of craftsmanship. When you exercise, your body releases chemicals that make it rebuild the part of your body that you worked out stronger and better while you rest.

Finally, your nutrition is materials that your house is built from. If you don’t eat well or enough while you’re recovering, your body won’t have enough or proper materials to build it’s house. If you feed your body lean protein, plenty of fruits and vegetables, as well as all of the other vitamins, minerals, and nutrients it wants, your builders will have plenty of the strongest bricks and mortar. You don’t want your new house to be built out of Dr. Pepper and Fritos, do you? It’s completely ok to eat and drink a little bit of junk food, but the key word there is a LITTLE bit. Not a 2 liter and a family sized bag for breakfast before you go out and seize the day.

I hope that you’ve developed a bit of a better of an understanding of what’s going on behind the scenes during your recovery. If you give your builders enough time to work, enough training and a good foreman, and all of the best building materials; your house will be framed and finished before you know it, and you’ll be independent and lead a healthier lifestyle than you did before because of it.

The Importance of Rest (aka, your excuse to take a nap)

All over my site, I espouse the benefits of sticking with a physical therapy regimen and how much of a difference it will make on your fitness and overall physical and mental well-being. The other end of the fitness commitment spectrum from slacking off and not trying hard enough is trying too hard, and putting in too much time and effort.

“But John!” you say. “Haven’t you said over and over that you need to dedicate yourself 110% to your recovery, and that you should work as hard as you can?”

Well, yes. However, working as hard as you can and dedicating yourself 110% to your recovery process are very different from overworking yourself. Part of Having an optimal recovery plan is having optimal rest. It might seem cray or even counterintuitive to some, but it’s not out of line and not even uncommon to be sleeping upwards of 16 or even 18 hours per day when your body is trying to heal.

Why do you need to sleep so much? Your body does most of its work repairing tissue, muscle, and bone damage as well as growing new cells to replace old ones while you sleep. When you exercise vigorously or have a serious injury to recover from, your body signals that you need to sleep so that it can adequately repair itself. After my accident, I slept or rested almost nonstop for the first two weeks. I didn’t do this because I’m lazy (I’m not saying I’m not); I did this because it was the best thing I could do for myself.

During your recovery process, don’t ever forget how important it is to rest. Resting is on equal footing with your physical therapy, and if you forget the importance of rest and don’t sleep enough your physical therapy won’t be able to have as great an effect as it could if you had properly given your body everything that it needed to heal.

Starting Physical Therapy

Starting physical therapy is both daunting and exciting. It signals a level of well being such that you are again able to exercise and work on increasing your strength, but also signals that you must begin to work hard to become as strong and as independent as you hope to be. Not all of your recovery will be easy. There will be times when you’re hurting, or stretching farther than you’d like to, or unable to lift something that you thought you could. But don’t give up. By giving up, you forsake your inner spirit that drives you onward and pushes you to succeed. By focusing, pushing through your misgivings, and working as hard as you can you can do all that you set out to.

You must, must, must do what your physical therapist tells you to do. Starting physical therapy is no easy thing, but finishing it can be even more difficult if you don’t give your exercises 110% effort. If you skimp and cheat, and tell yourself that “You’ll just do it tomorrow” or “It’s ok, I’ve already gotten so far”, you aren’t only cheating yourself. Remember that your trainer, your family, and your friends all want you to do well and all want you to become as healthy as you can be, and that by slacking off you’re denying yourself a level of health that you could have achieved along with contributing to the stress of others who want the best for you. Don’t give up. You’re strong, you’re capable, and you’re able to push through whatever life throws at you.

When I broke my spine, I shattered my C7 vertebrae. Small slivers of bone exploded outwards, and some of them stabbed into a large nerve that runs down my left arm. For weeks I could barely feel my hand, and could barely lift my arm. I started physical therapy as soon as I could by simply squeezing a stress ball and playing with something called air putty. By doing these exercises, I was able to strengthen my hand much quicker than I could have had I just left my body to heal itself without any help from me.

Now after just 6 weeks, I have full feeling in my hand and most of my grip has returned. I’m getting stronger every day, and I believe that starting physical therapy had a major impact on the speed of my recovery. Although I still have issues raising my left arm much past parallel to the ground, as soon as my doctor clears me to do exercises to improve my strength, mobility, and range of motion I will exercise with a passion.

Remember: You are the one with ultimate control over your recovery. Starting physical therapy is one of the best ways to improve your health, your independence, and your motivation level. One of my most potent motivators has been seeing my successes and my improvements every day, which are all thanks to starting physical therapy.