I would have guessed perhaps my mother and sister were the only two who kept up with this blog, but I’m humbled to find there are more than just two people who are waiting for updates and new blogs. There’s also my wife, so that makes three.
It’s a lot easier to blog when there’s constant excitement and I had planned to blog throughout my entire tommy john recovery, but I found that typing with one hand was much more difficult and tiring than I had anticipated. So, the kick in the pants I apparently need is some material to blog about. Quite a few people have wondered how rehab has gone, am I throwing? what’s in store for baseball? etc., so I’ll do my best, albeit briefly, to bring you up to speed.
Surgery was an amazing success and I am back to throwing and very soon will be ready to officially play ball again. I feel stronger than before, my body is healthier, mentally I feel I am ready, and I’ve had fun learning how to control the new movement I have on my pitches. Most of my rehab started out throwing overhand, but more recently I’ve worked back in the submarine delivery and more importantly a lot more sidearm, which I am pretty excited about.
Here are some elbow pics –
Until I have more than just working out, throwing, and rehab exercises to talk about I’m thinking about bringing back some older posts I’ve written – unless you can come up with some good things for me to blog about, look for some Batman, poopsticks, and shower shoes to make their appearances soon.
It has been well documented we can be influenced by our surroundings or by what we hear even when our conscious mind is “turned off” or totally out of it, such as when we are asleep or under anesthesia. As previewed here on this blog, Mrs. Disco and I are doing everything we can to have as positive an influence on my healing process as possible. This meant we had a huge opportunity while I was “under the knife. During surgery, a time when a patient is most vulnerable/susceptible to picking up on what doctors/nurses are saying, we felt it would be a great opportunity to apply a powerful technique Mrs. Disco is not only trained in, but also amazing at: Guided Imagery.
Guided imagery can be explained in many ways—many of which I’ve heard, but I’m still not confident enough to publish what it is. So I’m going to leave that to Mrs. Disco in the paragraph below.
We look at it as a therapeutic tool using carefully chosen language, suggestions, and visualizations to positively influence the mind and body. What this means is that while Chris was under anesthesia for his Tommy John surgery, instead of listening to the voices of the medical staff and the beeping of machines, he was going through images and feelings of miraculous healing, among other things.
I find all of this fascinating. Mrs. Disco teaches me more about this kind of stuff every day as we go along the healing journey. There are some particular aspects of all of this we find truly intriguing. First one is the mind, in an altered state (under anesthesia for example), is capable of more rapid and intense healing, growth, learning, and performance. The other is that medical literature suggests when we have a sense of being in control, that, in and of itself, can aid in healing and recovery.
One of the things I was worried about with the surgery was that I would be able to feel what was going on, but be able to do nothing about it. Not sure where I got this, but maybe I’d flipped through an after-school drama one day and seen this phenomenon. Thankfully this didn’t happen, but based on how amazingly good I felt immediately after coming out of anesthesia, my mind was still working and listening.
So, if we can hear while we’re undergoing surgery and we heal better if we feel like we’re in control, then I’m pretty sure I don’t want to hear a doctor say, “I don’t think he’s going to make it” or “he’s bleeding all over the place” and I also want to feel like I’m in control in some way, shape, or form. Thankfully, I had an incredible surgeon, Dr. Kremchek, who is not only all about this, but we’ve noticed, he is also someone who focuses on the positive, naturally and effortlessly. So when Mrs. Disco came up with the idea for me to wear noise-canceling headphones to listen to an mp3 she made especially for my TJ surgery, Dr. Kremchek was all about it.
So how is someone supposed to feel like they are in control when they are actually completely out of it? Good question. I wondered the same thing.
I will add this aside…For some reason during the 2006 baseball season (before even meeting Mrs. Disco), I decided every time I wanted to sleep on a bus, I would play a mix of Radiohead songs. I had a bunch of their songs, but never actually listened to any of them, so I decided to listen to them while I was asleep. To this day, I have not purposefully listened to a Radiohead song while awake, but when one does come on the radio, I instantaneously know that I know the song and have heard it. Interesting…huh? I couldn’t tell you one lyric of any Radiohead song, but I have heard them—consciously or not—for hours and hours (long bus rides in the Midwest League) and they are implanted somewhere deep in my brain.
This brings us to my surgery. Mrs. Disco’s research told us we are susceptible to suggestion while unconscious, her experience made her the perfect candidate to record an audio track with Guided Imagery, and I had experienced first hand already the effects of listening to something while unconscious. It was all coming together perfectly. So for my surgery, I wore noise-canceling headphones while listening to guided suggestions asking my body to move blood away from the surgical area for a clean working space for my surgeon, asking my body to regulate my blood pressure, heart rate, and breathing by keeping it stable and by telling my body it’s okay to accept the new ligament as if it belonged there all along.
I’m so grateful God gave Mrs. Disco this amazing and totally pertinent ability to motivate me and help me heal through language and imagery. The mp3 is about an hour and twenty minutes long and its expansive content encompasses a bunch of stuff I don’t know much about, just know it works. She included the three sensory modalities (visual, auditory, kinesthetic). We all have preferences of how we like information presented to us and usually tend to respond better when they are presented in our “choice modality”. For instance, some people are visual learners who like to see what you mean in a diagram or picture. Auditory learners tend to “get it” when they simply hear an idea, while kinesthetic learners need to experience what you are talking about for themselves. Like learning to ride a bike – some may only need to see someone else riding the bike to know how to do it on their own. Others may only need instructions given and are able to get on the bike and start riding. While others need to actually get on the bike and try it themselves before they can fully learn. Most people learn through a combination of sensory modalities, so Mrs. Disco included all three on my mp3.
Here are a couple very basic examples of the three modalities she used on my mp3 (Mrs. Disco asked me to tell you these are the most simplistic forms of applying these techniques)
Visual: See your body healing. Picture your elbow becoming stronger, now.”
Auditory: “When you hear the beeping of machines, your body relaxes even more as you tune into your Inner Healer for a miraculous recovery.”
Kinesthetic: “Every time air enters your lungs, you’ll be reminded to relax and experience pleasant sensations of healing”
The day of surgery, I asked the nurse to give me at least a ten-minute heads up before getting wheeled into the O.R. so I could start my mp3 to help me relax a little more. All I remember is hearing my wife’s sweet, soothing voice calming my thoughts, reassuring me I was safe and in good hands. Next thing I knew, I was in the recovery room elated with my amazingly strong, new elbow and telling anyone who walked by how awesome it was.
Today if you were to ask me what was on that CD, I would have no idea. But the surgery went perfectly and from day one I have been healing amazingly well and have been ahead of schedule. And every once in a while Mrs. Disco says something that makes me think…hmm, I know I’ve heard that before.
Next up: NLP & Hypnosis
I’m bequeathing the blog reins to the Mrs. again for a while. Don’t worry there’s some good parts…er, I mean some parts I wrote (found in italics)…sprinkled in there as well.
Lately we’ve gotten in the blogging mood while I’m at PT and typing while doing elbow flexion and extension exercises ad nauseam has proven messy. I’ll be back on board soon enough…until then, here’s the better half:
So why the heck are we so excited about all of this? During that first week of ups and downs, yeses and nos, we had the opportunity to sit back and reflect on what all of this means for us and our future in baseball.
The first radiologist’s phone call was actually the toughest. That night we had company over, so Chris took the phone call up in our bedroom. He was taking longer than I expected so I excused myself to check on him and instead of finding him talking on the phone about rehab options, I found him lying on our bed face down in a pillow – silently crying. He was crying hard enough that I could see his back shaking with the sobs. While I doubt he’d really want me to tell everyone that he was bawling, the way I look at it is in that moment who wouldn’t cry if someone just gave you news that appeared as if your boyhood dreams were officially over? I’ve seen Chris tear up here and there and even cry once or twice in our 4 years of marriage, but I’ve never seen him like this. I climbed on his back and kissed the back of his neck while he sobbed. As he choked back tears, he took his head out of the pillow and said, “It’s over. It’s torn. Baseball is over.”
For me the craziest thing was that instead of breaking down into a hot mess of tears, I instead was filled with a very calm and peaceful clarity. For the first time in my life I actually had nothing to say, but I knew I had to do something. So I said, “Get up. We’re not crying over this. Get in the car. Let’s go watch the sunset.”
Ever feel like you’re in a dream-world and crazy-talk just starts spilling out of your mouth? Don’t try to tell me this has never happened to you. While we were watching the sunset from our daze of a dream-world, staring blankly into the distance, a thought popped in our heads, “This isn’t what you think. Baseball isn’t over. Rather, it’s just the beginning.”
Try to wrap your heads around that one – 28 years old, highest level AAA, independent ball, tommy john. Just the beginning, my ass.
We tried to put the reality of the situation in perspective – it just seemed a little too far-fetched to actually believe this crazy thought, but then suddenly new questions quickly started coming up, one after the other, as quickly as we could say them out loud. Little by little it all started to make sense.
What if my elbow actually started deteriorating years ago without even realizing it? This idea forced me to think back over the past few years and with surprise started recognizing more and more pieces of the puzzle starting to connect themselves.
Was the cause of my drop in velocity over the years not related to the addition of new arm slots like we had thought, but rather a deteriorating UCL instead??
I’m going to add a disclaimer here on behalf of orthopedic surgeons across America. The Tommy John procedure in itself doesn’t make you throw harder. Some have this misconception and want to bring their 11-year-old in to get Tommy John so he throws harder. In my isolated case, I believe that in the past, my body was protecting itself from further injury to the UCL and in turn wouldn’t allow me to “let go” and throw hard. If I have had 106mph in me all along, my body was only allowing me 75% throttle so to speak, because it knew that kind of force on the kinetic chain would cause further injury. I started off in college throwing mid 80s from my low arm slot and every year for the next six years steadily dropped one or two mph each season. It could make sense my body needed to provide more and more shelter and continue to throttle down. Don’t get me wrong, I love Disco, but by this past season I was throwing 74-76mph.
Is that why I struggled with controlling my slider over the past couple seasons, even though it was my original go-to pitch?
It’s not a secret breaking balls put a lot of stress on the elbow. But over the past 3 or 4 years as my slider has up and left me, I never had a reason to question if health were the cause. I have been wracking my brain for years now on this exact issue. I’ve likened it to dogs and cats. My slider used to be like a well-trained dog, it was always by my side and did what I told it to do with precision and obedience. One day (probably in 2008) I woke up and my slider was an unruly cat. Many days I couldn’t even find it, and when I did, it had a mind of its own going seemingly wherever it pleased with emotions ranging from apathy to boredom. It made no sense, and worst of all, it made me a one-pitch pitcher. As I said, when health wasn’t a concern, the mystery was –well, a mystery. If it turns out my body’s been protecting itself from injury and holding back through the cat-ification of my slider, it’s a mystery no more.
Disco just shout across the room, “hey you should say, ‘bullet point number seven: Is that why he sucked the last two years in AAA?’” 🙂
Is that why he always felt like he should be able to throw harder, but could never convince his body to actually break through that barrier?
What we find most cool about this one is that we both truly believe God gives us opportunities when we’re ready for them and not a second sooner. In the exact moment we become ready for something, its like the ‘that was easy button’ BAM – here’s your new opportunity. This is exactly how we feel about the torn UCL. Chris’s body must have subconsciously known it couldn’t handle a 105 mph fastball with a sub-par ligament, so it prevented him from throwing anything harder than 86 (overhand).
Maybe that blockage was fueled by a fear of not being ready or good enough for the big leagues; maybe the body knew it wasn’t ready, so it caused that fear. The instant Chris recognized this hidden fear might be holding him back, with the help of his teammates, he dug deep to release that barrier.
It was in that very INSTANT when we feel he actually became mentally ready for the big leagues, in turn producing the fastest pitch of his life. This is the EXACT INSTANT that God smiled and BAM, hits the ‘that was easy button’, saying, “let’s blow this pop stand (er, elbow) and give you a new, stronger, and better elbow that can handle the speed you are truly capable of”.
Where can we sign up?
After all of those plausible thoughts came streaming through, one last crazy-talk idea came up:
Now what if we revolutionized recovery time for tommy john surgery by getting Chris’s elbow to miraculously be 100% in only six months after surgery instead of 10-12 months? Imagine that?! We could totally do it. We have all the tools we need. He could be ready for winter ball, throwing 120, big league spring training invite, breaks out of camp less than a year after TJ as opening day starter for the Cubbies. (We’d even be okay if it weren’t the Cubs…. It would just be so convenient for us. We live a mile from the stadium, we have family there, all of our friends, Tracy’s business… list goes on).
Obviously we acknowledge this last part is just pure crazy talk, but it’s what fueled us that first week through the seesaw of medical opinions and is most importantly what led us to this uber-ly influential question; the crux of our motivation:
How are we going to work together to get this elbow to heal miraculously and what do we need to do to make it happen?
For those of you incessantly checking the blog, all one of you, (hi Mom) – we apologize for way too long of a delay in getting blog post number dos up here. Mrs. Disco writing, Disco is currently whipping a BodyBlade around in physical therapy in hopes he’ll actually learn how to fly.
As we mentioned in the last post, Chris’s injury came out of left field. As bummed as we initially were, the week immediately following his injury was filled with such contrasting medical opinions that we had the opportunity to step back and do some serious self evaluation. We were obviously hanging on the hope he wouldn’t need surgery, so the stark contrasts in each doctor’s opinions really threw us for a loop. Going from one extreme to the other was emotionally draining and by the end of it, it got pretty ridiculous.
So, to bring you on our journey of the emotionally radical highs and lows, I’ll give you the timeline rundown of what we were told the week following his injury.
Basically, this is how it went down:
1. Mid game, Chris leaves the mound for elbow pain. (Emotions: Oh crap! How bad is it??)
2. Immediately upon entering the clubhouse he passes initial elbow stability tests, which lead us to believe it’s not blown out. (Emotions: Pretty bummed he had to come out of a game b/c of pain, but figure with a couple days rest he’ll be ready for his next start. We are optimistically cautious.)
3. Next day Chris is examined by an ortho surgeon. Ortho says, “nope, you didn’t blow out your elbow; probably just a forearm strain. Rehab it and you’ll be back in a couple weeks”. Trainer pushes for MRI anyway. (Emotions: Yes! Feeling relieved it’s not serious. Can’t wait for MRI confirmation.)
4. Later that evening, radiologist calls to say, “Sorry, rehab isn’t an option because you have a torn UCL. Surgery is the only answer. You’re out for the rest of the season.” (Emotions: Shocking, shocking blow. Lots of tears. How could it be torn?? Surgery? More tears. Really, really sad tears. Sad. Sad. Sad. Feeling pretty darn low right about now.)
5. First thing the next morning, two new orthopaedic surgeons examine Chris’s elbow and decide they disagree with the initial MRI report. They believe there is no tear, just a forearm strain. They recommend 6 weeks of rehab. Surgery not needed. (Emotions: Relieved there isn’t a tear and feeling lucky that he doesn’t need surgery. At this point we are feeling hopeful, like we got a second chance after enduring last night’s sadness. Dodged a big bullet. Today is a good day.)
6. Later than night, right before bed to be exact, the chief radiologist calls to confirm doctor’s thoughts. Says, “definitely NO tear in your elbow. No tear at all. Initial radiologist was wrong. You definitely do not need surgery. You just have an over-stretched UCL, making it appear “wavy”. You only need rehab.” (Emotions: Holy roller-coaster ride the past few days. Up, down, up, down, yes it’s torn, no it’s not, etc. Still bummed about Chris having to sit out for 4-6 wks, but thankful it’s only a month compared to a year. Hoping to get one final opinion from one of the top sports surgeons, we overnight Chris’s MRI to a few of the best elbow surgeons in the US. We go to sleep feeling very happy and very blessed.)
7. Late the following night, 10:30 pm to be exact, we get a text from Dr. Timothy Kremchek (doc for the Cincinnati Reds) asking if we have time to talk. Dr. Kremchek says, “Absolutely no question about it, Chris’s UCL is definitely torn. Text book MRI. He further explains that a “wavy” tendon does not mean stretched; it means torn. If Chris wants to continue playing baseball, rehab will not solve the problem – he will need surgery.” (Emotions: Impressed at the personal attention from this amazing surgeon. He made us feel like he genuinely cared about Chris’s well being. BUT… now with those new results, we are back to being bummed, a little discouraged and confused. NOW what are we supposed to do?? hrmph.)
8. Next day, we get a call from a different ‘top surgeon’. He’s very rushed and says, “yes it is a tear”, but gives generic information about rehab and says he’s “got 50 more MRIs to review today so if we have any questions to call his fellow”. Fellow says Chris could try rehab for 6 weeks to see what happens. (Emotions: Not feeling very important to this particular surgeon. More confused. A little more discouraged. Should we try rehab? Should we not? What the heck are we supposed to do?)
9. That night we talk to Dr. Kremchek again. He is confident it’s a complete tear. Doc explains Chris could try rehab, but a torn ligament is a torn ligament is a torn ligament. Kremchek understands all of the recent conflicting medical opinions causing our current state of uncertainty, so he suggests Chris try to throw. He says, “the proof is in the pudding. If Chris can’t let loose, if he can’t just ‘let it go’, he’ll have his answer”. (Emotions: Bummed, but feeling optimistic about gaining clarity. Thankful for Kremchek. That night we pray for clarity and nervously await the next day when Chris will throw for the first time since his injury.)
10. The next afternoon, Chris goes out to the field to play catch with a teammate while I watch nearby from the bullpen. It’s not good. He feels pain through the first couple soft tosses and is afraid to even try and let loose. He sucks it up and tries anyway. No chance. No matter what he tries, his body just won’t let him throw any harder than the 38 mph heat he’s currently throwing. (Chris’s addition: “At this point he’s barely throwing hard enough to be a tee-ball pitcher” nyuk nyuk.) Exactly as Kremchek said. He finally convinces his body to throw a tiny bit harder and it doesn’t go well. At all. Significant pain in his elbow. He can’t put anything behind it. He catches one more ball and instead of throwing it back to his teammate, Chris walks towards me… head down, shoulders defeated. He looks up at me with tears in his eyes and says, “well, at least we got our answer.” (Emotions: Tearful relief. Feeling grateful God granted us the clarity we prayed for the night before. Sad to acknowledge Chris’s season is officially over.)
11. We walk in from the field together with the amazing trainer, Jess, and call Kremchek. We’ve got some serious questions for him. He patiently and thoroughly answers each and every one of them. We know some surgeons don’t actually do their surgeries, so we ask Dr. Kremchek if he would consider doing Chris’s surgery start to finish. Kremchek says he does all of his surgeries and explains the entire process. We ask him to explain his “docking” technique of how he attaches the new ligament and ask why his is a little different than Jobe, Andrews, and Yocum. Before hanging up, we learn one final piece of information we feel valuable enough to choose Dr. Kremchek to perform Chris’s surgery. Kremchek makes a strong effort not to disrupt the ulnar nerve during surgery unless absolutely necessary because some patients experience nerve pain, tingling, or other side effects. We don’t want Chris’s ulnar nerve touched. We schedule surgery 4 days away.
12. The next day we pack up our car and make the 534 mile drive out to Cincy to meet with Dr. Kremchek. He is amazing. He does a saline MRI and as he noted earlier, this new MRI confirms a full and complete tear of Chris’s Ulnar Collateral Ligament. Because there wasn’t obvious trauma to any of the surrounding structures, the doc and radiologist concur that the UCL had probably been tearing little by little over a long period of time. This piece of information is unbelievably paramount to us for so many reasons. It is the final nod, the official “yes”, the complete confirmation that we are officially on a new journey better than we could ever imagine and we are oh so excited for surgery.
Emotions: bring. it. on. tommy. john.