Rehab Report: Repairing My Hand and Planning My Return to the Platform

TAGS: hand repair, open heart injury, health care, torn ligament, ulnar collateral ligament, physical therapy, consistency, Jeff Guller, competition, rehab

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Happy New Year. May you have a year of health, wealth, and PRs.

You may wonder why I'm saying Happy New Year in February. This article was due to be published in early January. At that time, my hand was in a cast and I could neither write nor type. It's still difficult to do both, but I have a very tough editor and deadlines are deadlines.

This article was meant to have been about the results of my meet in December and the setting of PRs and possible world records. All of those aspirations ended on October 7, 2016. On that date, a pickup truck turned in front of me, totaled my SUV, and banged me up a bit. After a week or two, I was back training. But as I did, I noticed that the swelling in my thumb had not subsided. I visited an orthopedist hand specialist who said that I had torn the ulnar collateral ligament off of the bone and needed to be repaired. She also said I had greatly reduced feeling in my hand. On December 12, 2017, I had a carpal tunnel release and the ligament reattached to the thumb. For the next six weeks, my hand was in a wrap, a cast, a brace, and a splint. All of that was removed about two weeks ago and I began to train again. Fortunately, during the six-week period, I was able to train legs twice a week on a belt squat machine, a leg press machine, and a calf raise device. My upper body had gone to hell, but my legs were not too bad.

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Just before the brace came off, I asked the doctor if it could be modified so that I could more easily hold a barbell. She thought it was a good idea, as it would offer my thumb some protection and give me more confidence. The physical therapist did the modifications and it worked well on both counts. So after two weeks of training, I was sore as hell. I got admonished severely by the physical therapist the day after my first bench session. Gripping a bar on squats and deadlifts isn't so bad. When I bench, however, the weight is on my palm and the scar from the carpal tunnel release becomes exacerbated. The next day my hand was very red and swollen. I was told to protect the hand with a glove. A powerlifter wearing a glove — YIKES! Does that mean I have to get a matching purse and shoes? Can I get a medical dispensation for a few weeks?

I have physical therapy scheduled for March and it may go longer. A hand and thumb are funny things. With a knee, hip, back or heart, you know you are going to be disabled for a while. The healing seems to take longer and the entire body hurts during a cough. A hand is too often taken for granted. When a hand is hurt, we can still function with the other. Some things are not possible, but most things are doable. The rehab, however, is real; the pain is also real. Picking up small objects and putting them in small places is very frustrating. Dropping things and throwing them across the room is not an unusual occurrence. The good thing about a hand and thumb rehab is that I can do a great deal of it sitting in my recliner watching TV. A heart has to be rehabbed in a medical facility with a heart monitor under a great deal of supervision. A knee rehab requires machines and devices to strengthen quads and hamstrings. A hip requires exercises done standing or lying down. But I can manipulate my thumb with my left hand as I sit here and also do my hand and wrist exercises as well. I will, however, need to go to the gym to strengthen my grip.


MORE: Another Setback, Another Challenge...Another Path to PRs


An aside: Health care is not about health care; it's now simply about the money! I have had more physical therapy on my hand than I did on my knee, hip, back, or heart. The hand rehab is covered by the other guy's liability insurance, and he has admitted liability. Therefore, there is no limit on the care I receive. I can continue to receive medical care for as long as it is determined to be necessary. My other medical situations were covered by my own insurance that had certain limits, so the care had to be within those limits. Follow the money!

This has all not been life threatening or greatly debilitating, but it has been an enormous inconvenience. It will have taken as much as a year from my ability to compete, which at my age is a huge pain in the ass. I was ready to compete when the accident occurred. Now, I don't know when it will be that I compete again.

Having said all that, what is the takeaway? What's the old man trying to say? The key to getting over this bump in the road is the will to do so, and to do so consistently. The key is consistency in the gym and with the rehab. Never miss a scheduled training session and give at least 110% each time in the gym. Whatever the physical therapist asks to be done, do twice as much. Consistency in both these areas will have me back on the platform as soon as I can be back on the platform. Nothing dramatic, just consistency!

Work Notes

At various stages of my education, I was given aptitude tests. Every aptitude test I took tended to indicate that I should be a teacher. I enjoyed teaching a great deal, especially coaching. My time at Wingate University, teaching and working with the football team, was a delight. But being young, I wanted to make more money than teachers and coaches were being paid. As a result, I went to law school and practiced law for about 40 years. I achieved my financial objectives; I was able to rear and educate four children, didn't want for anything, and pissed money away needlessly. Partly as a result, I went through three marriages, smoked too much, didn't eat very well, and was always under a great deal of stress. The result was open-heart surgery with five bypasses.

After my wife died, I sought to re-enter the workforce in one of various fields in which I thought I was qualified, one of which was becoming a trainer and powerlifting coach. But who in the hell is going to hire a little old man without a degree in physical science or any of the hundreds of training certifications? For a while I wandered around, training friends and others at various commercial gyms.

Finally, I hooked up with Brutal Iron Gym in Rock Hill, South Carolina. Now I relish "going to work." I still consider myself new to powerlifting, although I have lifted weights since 1957. I don't purport to know everything, but what I know, I learned from the very best: books, articles, and hands-on training from Dave Tate, Jim Wendler, Donnie Thompson and every teammate at elitefts with whom I have come in contact. I have Live, Learned, (and am still learning), and now have an opportunity to Pass On the things I've learned.

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