Third Time’s a Charm or Three Strikes You're Out?

TAGS: XPC Powerlifting Championships, Chris Janek, surgery, passion, iron game, mental toughness, arnold classic, football, Sports Training, rehab, recovery, strength training

COACH

In mid-October I was training my 8:15 AM class (coaching a group of six) and continuing my recovering from my heart repair surgery when I received a call from my cardiologist. This call was supposed to give me the good results of a 15 week post-recovery check-up.  Answering the phone, I instantly knew by the tone of his voice.

"Chris, the valve is loose and you need to get in now so we can fix it." 

Mind you, this news was being given to me while I was in the middle of coaching. 

"Let me call you back after this class, Doc."

Finishing up the last 30 minutes of my class was terrible. My focus was literally done and thoughts were in the clouds. As soon as the hour was up, I rushed to my car and sat in disbelief. How in the hell was I messed up AGAIN? I made it 15 weeks this time. I gained some muscle and size back. I cannot say too much about the reason I was in store for a third open heart surgery, but I can state that it was due to malpractice. Driving home after receiving the news, I remember making some calls and thinking this could be it. I don't want to die.

There had been s many complications already and when dealing with the heart, one never knows. Calling back my cardiologist, I told him right away, "I refuse to go back to that hospital and have the previous surgeon even touch me."

He surprisingly agreed with me and even went as far to say, "I am going to send you to where I sent my own mother to for a similar surgery." WTF!? You don't send your own mother to you partner, but to another hospital? Why wasn't I sent here in the first place?

This news was around mid-October. I had all these plans; to attend two Wisconsin football games, Halloween, Thanksgiving, and so many other things.

My cardiologist and new surgeons’ nurse both told me surgery was needed now, not in a day or two. I pleaded with them to just give me a week so I could line up people to work for me and attend my events. They wouldn't budge and said that my aortic root was almost totally loose and if it became fully detached I would either die on the spot or it would be extremely difficult to fix.

With this news I agreed and said I would be there in a few hours. My wife, parents, and Coach Randy got there early and checked me in. I must add here that my support system these last seven months has been amazing!

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Once I arrived and checked in, they brought me to my room and prepped me for surgery. I got to meet the surgeon and instantly had a better feel that he was going to fix me for good. Everything he was saying about the way I was feeling we have thought and wondered about. I don't remember much after that except waking up after the surgery. They replaced my aortic root, replaced my aortic valve, replaced my mitral valve, and did a couple other things that the surgeon didn’t like from the previous surgeon.

The stay in the new hospital wasn’t as bad as the past two stays in the old hospital. The comparison of concern, care, and even equipment was so much better at this stay. The stay was under two weeks.


RELATED: From Living and Lifting to Hardly Living and Hardly Lifting


Getting released and back home was same old song and dance with the exception of having a pic line in my arm and having to run antibiotics every six hours. This on top of an in-home nurse every other day had me busy, but I felt under better care.

My weight loss was once again rough. Fatigue and my breathing were terrible. Chest pain as well as coughing and sneezing were rough. But at least I’m here, right?

During everything those last few weeks, I was still able to send workouts for my powerlifters to keep them on track. In addition during this time, I wrote out my recovery time on a calendar and my expectation time as to when and how I would get back to training myself.

On my fifth week checkup, there were some questions answered. The surgeon informed us, "This is my specialty, repairing and replacing. When I got in on your problems, I was a little baffled on what to do."

It took him 12 hours to fix everything. I was also told there is no such thing as a fourth surgery and that a heart transplant was the only option. My security this time around was having them put in a pace maker and defibrillator to monitor and just in case of emergency.

Again, all this news wasn’t what I needed to hear. My questions went unanswered: When can I lift again? When will I feel better?

A week later they ran a CAT scan to make sure all was healed. On the day of the test we were there for a few hours longer than expected, but got the test done.  We had to wait till the next morning for the news.

The surgeon’s nurse, who we got to know very well, called us and told us all is healed, just be smart and don't mess it up. I talked with her for a while and asked their opinions on many things. Can I drink caffeine? Can we start to try to have another baby? Can I lift weights soon?

Most answers were good with the exception of that I wouldn’t ever lift heavy weights again. I instantly got pissed. Even though I should be happy that all is fixed and I was alive, in the back of my mind, all I could think of was, “What do they consider heavy?”

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Is an 800-pound squat heavy or a 1000-pound squat? Define heavy.  Heavy for me is going to be very different than for them. They deal with mainly 60-year-old patients, not a younger man who is healthy and played strength sports most of his life. I am a powerlifter. I have been for the past five years. I still want to compete.

I decided to wait until my cardiologist meeting the following week.  During all this I was back to taking a load of meds, with one being water pills. My weight loss was even more extreme. I weigh 255. I haven’t weighed that since 15 years old. It is so depressing to look in the mirror or see yourself in pictures and see a skeleton of your former self. I went so far as telling my own wife, “I refuse to take pictures this holiday season as I don’t want to remember this person I am now. I don’t even like to go out in public as I feel that I look weird.”

I know this is pathetic and other people are going through stuff way worse than me, but I can’t help it. I have a standard and I have looked and felt this way since teenage years and now it is gone. Meeting with the cardiologist he did all of his normal check-ups and told me that all looks great. I had a bunch of questions for him, but my mind only wanted to ask him, “When can I lift and when can I eventually go heavy again?”

I knew right away by his face that his answer wouldn’t be to my liking. He recommended I never go back to what I was doing. I asked, “Why? If I am fixed shouldn’t I be okay eventually?” We kind of left to conversation at, “Let’s get you walking and breathing better first.”

I have to do some rehab classes and have to go back to see him in a few weeks. My plan is once I get healthy, to go slow, and get back to lifting light. You ask what is light? I want to bench 315 and squat and deadlift 500 pounds by a certain date. I will compete again no matter what level I am at. My brain is wired differently than most due to the fact that competing is something I have done since age 13. I don’t care if I complete at a low level, I merely want to know that I will be back on the platform.


RECENT: The Mental Games: Are You Winning or Losing?


I know this sounds nuts after everything I have gone through. But I truly believe that I am eventually going to be fixed and better than I ever was heart-wise.

Until then, I have shifted my focus on getting my powerlifting team ready for this year’s XPC Powerlifting Championships at the Arnold.  I would like to get my weight up to 285, be healthy and on my way to competing again. I can never have my weight up to pre-surgery of 315 and bloated to the brim. Bloating is no longer an option as the extra water on the body and heart is not a good thing for me.

I continually look at the all-time records for the 275 multiply division and feel that over time I can get right in there with some of the best. But once again, I have to let the heart heal first.
I am constantly preaching to my lifters, “Train your ass off and compete as much as you can since you never know when you won’t be able to.” I get so pissed off when I hear anyone announce that they are going to take some time off. Doing a meet or two in a year's time (the XPC at the Arnold and another one throughout the year) isn’t a lot.

That is all I ask of my team. I am living through my team as of today. Helping them means more to me than it ever has.

I do believe we can be a force if we keep busting ass and growing.  Getting myself back to where I want to be will be an uphill battle.  Little by little I am getting better. I am just confused and still deciding where I am I at: Three Time’s a Charm or Three Strikes and I Am Out? Hopefully, you and I will know the answer to this in the months to come.

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