The lovely Mrs. Disco is not above toilet humor; after all, she married a guy perhaps best known to many for his toilet exploits.
However, for this story we will pick things up with Mrs. Disco exactly there, above a toilet … or more correctly, standing on a toilet.
The quick back-story:
Immediately after surgery, functionally, I was down an arm and a leg. Why a leg, you ask? In Tommy John surgeries, the graft for the new UCL typically comes from the Palmaris Longus which, for you latin fans, means it is located somewhere below your Palmus and runs Longus-ly into your forearm.
The reasons are many why this tendon is used for typical TJ surgeries, but perhaps the most important is the fact that it is essentially biomechanically irrelevant. As a result, something like 1 in 6 people don’t have it. Going into surgery, it was noted I was Palmaris Longus-deficient in my left wrist, but my right wrist showed promising signs. The story changed in surgery and it was determined my right PL would not suffice, so the doctors got a monster, hog-of-a-graft from my left hamstring.
Surgery went perfectly, but my Palmaris Wimpus resulted in my walking–er, waddling–out of the outpatient procedure with my right robot arm and my left leg able to (reluctantly) bear some weight, but with little to no ability to flex. My left knee was badly swollen and any activity of the hamstring sent a nice electric-cattle-prod-shock down my hamstring, across my knee, and down my shin.
After a few days, I was proficient in contact lens removal/application left-handed, amongst many other tasks. Most things were more daunting, but with the help of my amazing wife and some extra effort and patience, my daily life was mostly carrying on like normal-ish. Except that, typically, I shower daily.
My sense of smell was un-effected by the surgery and after some time I decided I was past due for a shower (reports vary on how many days had actually gone by). Maybe it was because she is insanely helpful and a godsend, or maybe it was because she didn’t want me to change my mind and go another day, Mrs. Disco immediately offered to help. With that, I asked her to meet me in the upstairs bathroom in fifteen minutes or at the base of the stairs when she heard a thump-roll-roll-bang-thud; whichever came first.
In the bathroom, we started up the tub for a bath, figuring keeping my leg and elbow wounds dry would be easier if the water was more or less at rest. As the tub filled, it was time for the undressing ritual. This is just the back story, so maybe I’ll leave this for another post, but undressing involved me holding my right arm (sans brace) with my left arm and balancing on my one free limb, my right let. Yeah, we won’t get into more details, lets just zoom forward to just before entering the bath, after applying water-proof bandages to my arm, wrist, and leg, Mrs. Disco passed a roll of Saran Wrap around my right arm to protect it from any errant water. The tub was surrounded by walls on three sides and the water spout was on the right when facing the tub from the bathroom. Left foot in, right foot in would be the ideal method of entry for this type of tub, but since my left foot could barely bear any weight, let alone all my weight while standing on a slippery tub floor, this was obviously not an option. (Side note, and you cannot make this stuff up, as I’m writing this, Mrs. Disco’s iTunes account just fired up some Right Said Fred I’m Too Sexy. Guess it’s time to just jump right in to how to enter a bathtub with a wrapped, braced, numb, swollen, and useless right arm and left leg. If you have the song, I’d recommend finding your iPod and playing it now to get the full visual, if not, just by me saying I’m too Sexy enough times, the song is probably playing in your head right now. I think the scene is set…)
So it was right foot in, spin around, slowly lower body so left arm can push bottles of shampoo and body wash off the ledge against the wall and brace my weight while Mrs. Disco carefully holds my right arm since I am sans-brace for the bathing. Once slowly lowered down, use the left arm to hold up the dangling right arm and keep it out of the water. Then, with no free hands, make sure the left leg stays elevated and ends up on the left edge of the tub and out of the water.
And I do my little turn on the catwalk
Yeah on the catwalk, on the catwalk, yeah
I shake my little tush on the catwalk*
*I’m not at all kidding, this is actually happening. That’s what’s playing in the background right now as I type. I hope you’re in the moment as much as I am. To acquit Mrs. Disco from any scrutiny for her music selection (and indict me for much worse offenses), I downloaded the song a long time ago to turn it into a ring tone I could use as an alarm clock.
Let’s digress. You’re caught up; the stage is set for the Toilet Revenge. I’ve Patrick Swayze-d my way into the tub and have my leg awkwardly hovering up the wall. Not quite a model, if you know what I mean. I’m Too Sexy aside, when poor Mrs. Disco signed up for this baseball wifery, needless to say, I don’t think what she had in mind was the scene taking place.
So how do we end up with Mrs. Disco on the toilet? The tub method just wasn’t working. I think it was a combination of my incessant nervous laughter as Mrs. Disco tried to make some progress with a loofah and the fact I just couldn’t hold myself in a position with my arm and leg out of the water long enough without getting electrocuted by that missing tendon in the back of my leg. So we decided to go with a shower. The plan, as it was suggested to me, was we’d drain the water from the tub and Mrs. Disco would start the shower while aiming the shower head down to not get me wet. Once the shower was running, she’d help me up.
The plan was flawless, yet at this point I still had the nervous giggles and Mrs. Disco was now cracking herself up with comments (however inaccurate they might have been) about how it was probably cold to have a tub drain out from around you. My laughter made her laugh harder. Her laughing meant we were still sitting in the cold bathroom, which only perpetuated more laughter. We were an absolute giggling mess. A brief thought-collecting sigh only preceded more laughter, but gave Mrs. Disco enough wherewithal to mount the toilet and from her tip-toes, she could reach the shower head to begin to execute the plan. The shower head was one of those hand-held heads that “docks” onto a base high up in the shower so you can pull it down if you chose to, or leave it up like a normal shower. She carefully kept it balanced in its dock, but aimed it down so when the shower started to spray, it wouldn’t hit me. While holding on to the shower head and leaning against the wall, she then balanced on one tippy-toe and reached with her free foot to turn the water back on and then to shift the flow of the water from the spout to the shower head.
You know that brief moment of silence after you flip the switch in a shower to start the shower flow? The time where there’s no water flow coming out of either outlet? The time where you can quickly pull your head out of the shower and escape the shower’s downpour? The calm before the storm, of sorts? Yeah, at that moment, that exact moment, just as the water was gaining momentum vertically up to the shower head and about to unleash a spray of water across the entire shower that the lid to the toilet Mrs. Disco was standing on slipped a few inches away from the shower and she lost her balance. Her foot was still dangling into the shower to keep pressure on the switch, and her only course of action to try to regain her balance was to quickly grab the shower curtain rod. The plastic, spring-loaded, “tested to approx. 0.6 Newtons of force” curtain rod.
As I sat watching all this take place in the empty (potentially cold) tub, still with leg up in the air and left arm cradling my dangling right arm over the tub wall, waiting for my wife’s help to lift me up to a standing position, the shower curtain and rod came crashing down onto the tub millimeters before Mrs. Disco who crashed down milliseconds before the toilet seat broke and flew off the toilet and the flow of shower spray rained down.
Thankfully, Mrs. Disco suffered no injury in the fall and somehow she was athletic enough to fall clear of my limbs which were probably draped everywhere she would have ideally been able to land. There was a split second of silence to assess the damage level, which upon realizing was nil, gave way to an eruption of hysterical, wet laughter.
If you were to walk in to the bathroom at that moment, you would have found a toilet seat and lid on the ground by the door, a fully-clothed, soaking-wet wife in the push-up position heaving with laughter while straddling a bathtub covered with a shower curtain and rod twisted up diagonally against the wall. The hand-held shower head had been knocked off the dock by the shower curtain on the way down and now, powered by impressive water pressure, was swinging wildly across the shower like a live electrical wire. Rugs, towels, walls, toilet paper, mirrors were wet. After the dust had settled, we noticed standing water in the trash bin. Back in the tub, the naked, wet, perhaps cold, baseball player with one leg elevated up the shower’s side wall and a heavily-bandaged right arm covered in a disheveled mess of Saran Wrap held by his left arm dangling out the side of the tub would have only been noticeable by the belly laughing going on under the shower curtain. Thankfully for us, no one did walk in the bathroom at the moment.
But they came close. The story ends here with an ironic twist. Remember the amazing host family from Arkansas who we desperately did not want to saddle with a clogged toilet as we were getting moved to another city? Yeah, them. Well, since we’ve blogged, they happened to move to Cincinnati and were again hosting us while we were in Cincy having surgery and rehabbing. The mom, who was at the store while we started the shower-scapade, had come home and undoubtedly heard a loud crash from the shower and ran up the stairs. “Everything OK in there?”
It was all I could do through my laughter to hold back from eking out, “Yeah, we’re fine. But we finally broke your toilet.”
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
Bout darn time we get back on the ball, eh? So, we’ll pick up where we left off… answering the question:
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?
We both truly believe the path to absolute optimum health and recovery consists of:
- Positive thoughts
- A true belief in your healing
- Realistic understanding of the process
- Ability to really listen to what your body is telling you
- Surrounding yourself with a healing/healthy environment
- Guided Imagery
- NLP & Hypnosis
- Healing Touch
All of us have the ability to decide how we are going to feel about something – we can either complain about how something isn’t perfect or we can cheerfully, with gratitude see all the good things about that same situation. We can think of our aches and pains as “bad” or be grateful we are able to recognize the signals our body is trying to tell us and then figure out a plan to manage or even fix the source of the problem.
In this same manner, language and how we use our words holds more impact in our lives than we might imagine. If someone constantly identifies themselves as having a “bad back or bum knees or ‘what a pain the neck’ or ‘this is a pain in my butt’” – well, this may come as a surprise to you, but more than likely your back and knees aren’t going to get any better and if you hadn’t had neck or butt pain, more than likely you’ll eventually talk yourself into having neck issues and hemorrhoids…. unless you shift into using more positive language patterns like you may have already begun to start thinking about, now.
Same goes for this miraculously healing elbow. The mind and body are more powerful than we can imagine. The body has the ability to heal itself, but we end up talking ourselves out of it. We started thinking, well, what if we instead talk ourselves INTO it… what if we can be a catalyst for encouraging a positive healing experience?
Mahatma Gandhi said: “Be the change you want to see in the world.” This also goes for our immediate surroundings and relationships with others. If we want to live in a more positive, healthy environment or have better relationships, then we have to look inside ourselves to begin that change. You can’t expect other people to change for you. But if we gradually shift our own attitude, we then begin to see the world around us shift as well. So that’s what we did with the elbow. We truly believe the blowout was a gift from God. We’ve dug deep; taken an honest look at ourselves to figure out our fears, our faults, our short-comings and as hard as it is to do, it’s what gives us the ability to make progress; to be the change we wish to see in our lives.
So, as we share these next few blogs, as much as it seems we are writing them to share with others, (which we are), we are more so writing them for ourselves to help us grow. We pray for you and hope at the very least one-person smiles while reading this and thinks to themselves, “yes, I also want to be the change I wish to see in the world and in my own relationships and surroundings” and in turn, a small piece of your world is just a tiny bit better because of this. It’s the least we can hope for.
Next up: Guided Imagery (during surgery)
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.
I guess it’s a sign Tracy and I are on an amazing journey that seemingly every step of the way we look at each other and one of us will say this is going to make a great chapter in the book. The book itself doesn’t exist in paper form, yet as each page turns in our life, it’s so good, we just can’t put it down. But then again, we don’t really have a choice.
I don’t know if we’ll ever sit down to write our story years after the baseball journey has come to an end, but seemingly countless “low points” have, at the time, looked like perfect opening chapters. Ours is a story of progress—ascension, in a way—and we’ve thought it would only make sense to start at the lowest point and let the reader work “up” with us through the book. Yes, there have been peaks. Almost always they have been more spectacular than we could even dream up. But there have also been plenty of “valleys”. And as the journey continues to unfold, each new “valley” we’re mired in makes for the best opening chapter yet.
Two weeks ago, I tore my Ulnar Collateral Ligament.
It was Saturday, May 21st and I was pitching in Somerset, NJ against the Somerset Patriots with two outs in the bottom of the 3rd inning. After five submarine offerings including a foul ball on the last one, I decided to throw Josh Pressley an overhand sinker. I came set and delivered the pitch. Upon the release I felt sudden and sharp tightness in my forearm.
The pitch was fouled off and the count remained 2-2. My heart began to race and as I got a new ball from the umpire, I shook out my forearm to evaluate what was going on in my arm. I knew it wasn’t good, but adrenaline was in charge and a fair assessment was near impossible. I remember thinking in the next 10 seconds before I should deliver the next pitch, I easily could either grossly under-diagnose the issue just as easily as grossly over-diagnose it. Neither were good options.
I don’t normally check the radar gun in the ballpark while I’m pitching (the ego can only take so much), but I wondered if the pitch, despite feeling like it came out with good velocity, actually was insanely slow. I figured if I had blown out, which I didn’t think I had, I’d turn around and see a big FIVE-EIGHT. Turns out I was wrong…on both regards.
I should take a step back and acquaint people new to this blog. Ever since I was a tiny child I have thrown things, balls, rocks, crunched up paper. You name it, if it could be thrown, (even if it couldn’t be thrown) I’d throw it. It just feels like the right thing to do. I remember one time throwing a Nerf baseball against a door and counting how many times in a row I could do so error-free. I honestly don’t remember what the number was when my mom asked me to stop, but I do remember saying “one-thousand” to myself a lot of times. I’m not saying this to brag (frankly it wasn’t very difficult going error-free for so long when I was only five feet away from a perfectly flat surface) I’m saying this because despite knowing I would no doubt make an error, I still did it over a thousand times. I don’t know how old I was, but I do know we moved out of that house when I was eight. In that same house I remember breaking countless artifacts my mom held dear to her heart. At that point in my life, I threw harder than I should safely throw in the house. And come to think of it, I guess my aim pretty lousy.
From those roots, I became a soft-throwing control pitcher in professional baseball. The Disco nickname comes from my fastball not being able to get out of the 70s. Overhand I have thrown as fast as 86 and maybe on occasion I’ve been lucky enough to have hit 87; but then again, I’m not quite sure.
The stadium radar gun in Somerset read 91mph. That is faster than any radar gun has ever clocked me, ever, in my entire life, even on a good day with a fast gun.
I don’t remember experiencing any excitement over the 91; I was still in diagnosis mode and this was just another data point. It couldn’t be blown out if the pitch came out that well. I stepped back on the mound and found the rubber. The pain wasn’t in my elbow; it was in my forearm. Our catcher called for a fastball. Just throw it, don’t baby it. If it’s blown out, it’s blown out. I came set. What if it’s just hanging on a thread? The submarine offering was again fouled off and the count remained 2-2. The tightness continued to clamp down.
After two more non-competitive pitches out of the zone, the batter headed towards first base and I began to pray. I started to pray for health, but then without any conscious intent to do so, my prayers shifted towards asking for the strength to summons the trainer and our manager out to the mound to let them what was going on.
I have been blessed to wear a professional uniform for over 1,000 games in my career and up until this point had been unavailable to play in exactly zero of them. Gaining the courage to admit I actually had an injury was significantly harder than I thought it would be. I surely didn’t have the strength to do so, but my prayers were answered.
When I told my manager what had happened he immediately signaled to take me out of the game. I was hurt.
That night, my arm numb from the effects of the ice, we couldn’t help it… This is going to make for a great chapter in the book. Heck, THIS has got to be the opening chapter.
I’m going to ask Tracy to write this section of the blog. I will preface it by saying I sit here absolutely thrilled about what comes next for us. We have talked about this for hours on end and we both feel exactly the same way, but my perfect and pretty little wife has an amazing knack for making things especially uplifting and it wouldn’t be fair to you to have me try to write this and obstruct her energy even in the slightest. Without further ado, here’s Tracy:
Honey, first let me say, I’m so grateful you decided to start blogging again. (Holy cow! I already have to add a side-note here. Sheesh! Before I started writing my little portion only moments ago, I quickly prayed for the perfect words. A simple and quick prayer to help me engagingly express our excitement with the perfect words and as soon as I said Amen, I felt the urge to start typing and this is what came out: “Honey, first let me say, I’m so grateful you decided to start blogging again.” Then craziest thing happened (at least for us anyway), as soon as I typed that sentence, a beautifully hovering hummingbird appeared right outside my window!! You see, hummingbirds are incredibly, incredibly special to Chris and me and have appeared out of nowhere, more times than we can count at the perfect times… just like now. We’ve never seen a hummingbird in this area. Ever! Didn’t even know they existed here! For me, it was just yet another little wink and thumbs-up from God showing we’re still on the right path and most importantly for right now, He’s glad Chris is back, too. So cool.
Okay, I’m back. I’m not sure how much or little Chris wants me to write, so I’ll pick up where he left off – the night of his first ever game-removing injury. That night was especially peculiar for us because he had never been hurt. Together we’ve dealt with rough games, tough calls, disappointing roster moves, you name it – baseball related stresses – we’ve been through almost everything… except an injury. That night and over those next few days, the list of unknowns, what-ifs, and the inherent fear of what a real injury might mean for us were with no doubt at the forefront of our thoughts. Will he be ready to go before next start? What if he’s not? How long should he rehab? Can he even rehab from this? What if it’s a serious injury? What if he needs surgery? “Could you imagine if you needed surgery, honey?? Ha! You? Surgery? Mister always perfectly healthy. That would be crazy. So didn’t see that one coming.” How long would it take him to come back? Would he come back? What would we do if he didn’t come back? Is it even possible to come back? 28 years old in independent ball and now with a potential injury. At first glance, a future in baseball ain’t lookin’ so bright … or is it??
I don’t know how or why, but over the days following his injury we can honestly say God did some serious intervention with our thoughts and has shown us so many irrefutable signs and reasons why playing baseball is not only still very much a part of our future, but that He is preparing to absolutely blow us away in sheer amazement and awe of what is in store for us and what has already begun unfolding before our eyes.
I think I’m actually going to end my portion here. I didn’t even get to the good parts yet, but I’m getting the sense that for now, this is perfect and I will trust my next guest appearance will begin sharing the stinking awesome and amazing things that have happened to us recently. I can’t wait to share them!!!
In 2006 I had already begun writing down some stories from my experiences early on in baseball. The first one I ever wrote was my first professional appearance as a pitcher. I gave up something like 4 runs in 0.2 innings. At the time, it was a crushing experience. But there was a story within the inning that, despite not making any sense at the time, I knew was noteworthy. So I wrote it down. It was such a miserable performance on the field and a miserable feeling wondering if I just wasn’t good enough, I remember thinking at the time this is the perfect start to the book.
Since then, I had supplanted the story of my first outing countless times with other deeper “valleys” that have been “better opening chapters”.
Which takes us to the present. I get Tommy John surgery this week. I’ll miss the remainder of the season and be in a brace for weeks. We’re left hoping my left hand can step it up and Tracy won’t have to wipe my valley in the meantime. I’m 28 years old in independent ball and hurt for the first time in my career. Can’t get any lower, right? THIS is going to make for a great chapter in the book. Heck, THIS has got to be the opening chapter.
It may very well be the opening chapter. But if it is, it won’t be for the reasons we used to think. True, ours is a story of progress—ascension, in a way—but we have seen time and time again without exception that the supposed “valleys” turn out not to be “valleys” at all. Remember that confusing, noteworthy part of my first outing? Now it makes perfect sense and has perhaps helped me as much as anything I’ve learned in my entire career. I won’t share it here (this is painstakingly long enough already), but suffice to say each and every low point has proven to turn out in such a positive way. We could go on and on. We are grateful we have been more blessed by our low points than any other points along the way.
The only difference is this time—for this Tommy John chapter—we didn’t have to wait until after the fact for the low point to reveal it is actually a true and amazing blessing. This time it hasn’t taken us until after the fact to see that we’re not actually in a valley at all; we genuinely feel how blessed we are as each new page turns.
Here’s Tracy again with the final run down:
Much to Chris’s lovingly adoring chagrin, I admit, I can sometimes be the kind of person who needs a little explaining during a confusing movie, “Wait, so how did that guy end up there?” Like Inception with Leo DiCaprio, for instance. Confusing, yet amazing movie that I intentionally mention here because it also just so happens to have NLP (neuro-linguistic programming), subconscious suggestions, and hypnotherapy mixed in all over the place… which is a foreshadow into our coming blogs. See, instead of just leaving those comments here for someone to hopefully pick up on the foreshadowing in later blogs, I will just spell it out for you:
Here’s what’s to come –
- Disco officially back to blogging. Yay. Took ya long enough!
- Blog posts catching you up to the present day are coming, so if you read this and, like me, get confused when timing isn’t what it should be… I promise in a week or so, we will be up to speed, in real time, everyone all caught up, fully understanding what the heck is going on.
- Very cool, very awesome happenings we can’t wait to share
- Robotarm. It’s a thing.
Can I get a woop woop?
Roger. Over and out.