Monday, August 27, 2007

Comeback Time

My first martial arts class in six or seven months will be Tuesday, Sept. 4.

I got my carbon-composite-and-titanium knee brace on Saturday, and wore it for several hours that day to check the fit. It feels a bit odd, but I'm told that with time, use and adjustment, I won't even notice I'm wearing it. Now that I have the brace, I can start attending class--my last class was a month or two before my March 27 ACL surgery. But I'm going on vacation this week, to LA, so my comeback will have to wait until Tuesday evening, following Labor Day.

The core class doesn't involve contact, it focuses on learning the proper form for punches and kicks, putting them into combinations, and getting a good workout. We'll be hitting focus pads, kicking shields and Muay Thai pads, not each other. I'm eager and nervous about my return.

Yesterday, I looked at a DVD of my black belt test--actually made by Hulk's wife, but since we were testing in the same area, I'm in the video much of the time. I can see things I did well and poorly while kickboxing. One practical thing I need to address--my headgear shifts every time I get bonked on the head, and I have to take a moment to readjust it, which is not good--it makes counterpunching difficult. It's big, face-protecting headgear, because I have poor eyes and could be at risk of retina detachment. I also wear prescription goggles, to see and for protection. But they often fog up with the helmet on, and the fit under the helmet isn't great. One option might be to get less bulky headgear, but this would protect my eyes less well--and could leave quite a mark if my goggles get pushed into my face. I won't have to worry about this practically speaking until maybe January, but it's on my mind.

I'm looking forward to LA, but with one big regret--my disorganized son, in need of a new social security card for several months, put his license and birth certificate in the mail a week ago. It won't get back in time for the trip. I'm taking him to Social Security today in hopes we can intercept it, but I think the odds of recovering it today are slim. So he may have to stay in NY while we go, which would be a life lesson for him, but a great disappointment to all of us.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Recovering from ACL surgery

It's a good time to think back about what the recovery from ACL reconstruction and meniscus repair was like.

I don't remember going into the operation on March 27, 2007, because the anesthesiologist got me good and loopy so he could put in a nerve block on my leg. When I woke up, my left knee was tightly wrapped, and I had a long but light black brace in the photo above (this was much bigger than the titanium brace I'm getting later today to use in martial arts classes). My leg was extremely sore, and basically useless (not only from the operation but also from the nerve block). My wife, despite her lack of inclination towards the nursing profession, took me home and took a couple of days off from work and took great care of me. My daughter was so much help whenever she was home from high school.

I wasn't supposed to put any weight on the leg; I had to have the brace on whenever I got up (which basically was to go to the bathroom, you have a lot of fluids in your body after surgery and you need to go a lot!); and I started putting my leg in a knee-bending, continuous-motion machine (CPM), which you can also see in the photo beside me, on the couch. Initially, it was painful to bend my knee even 15 degrees. I was supposed to use the machine several hours each day. There was also a cold-water bag wrapped around my knee, with a device to use gravity to fill it with or drain it of ice-cold water.

My leg really hurt. And then, after about a day, the nerve block wore off.

I have never felt so much sustained pain in my life. I was taking Vicodin at the highest rate allowed, and it felt like it was doing NOTHING. To steal a metaphor from Antoine de St. Exupery, I felt like I was trying to put out a forest fire with a glass of water. I couldn't even read, I couldn't focus.

At my first physical therapy session, I think two days after the surgery, I was in agony. My physical therapists, whom I came to adore for their skill and encouragement, told me, "you did really well today, you didn't pass out and you didn't throw up." When they first took off the wrapping from my knee, I was horrified--it looked so swollen, it should have belonged to an alien.

I hated the side effects of Vicodin--I got totally, how to put this, plugged up. Prune juice helped.

I would take off the knee brace for the CPM, or for physical therapy they had me do at home between sessions. Then I'd have to strap it on again in a hurry--very difficult if you can't bend your leg--and grab the crutches when it was time to pee. My wife got me a pickle jar to put by the bed for emergencies.

Friends dropped by to help me out when my wife had to go back to work--I am so grateful for that. Some were neighbors, some were from the Unitarian Universalist congregation I belong to. My friends Priscilla and her daughter Natalie picked me up from physical therapy one day.

Gradually I was able to cut back on the Vicodin, and then switch to extra-strength Tylenol--my doctor didn't want me taking anti-inflammatories like Advil or naproxen, he thought the inflammation was part of the healing process. I kept increasing the degree of bending in the CPM. I began to see a little definition in my thigh muscle, which had become a total blob. On the other hand, I began to see my left leg start to atrophy.

I started doing push-ups and crunches--I couldn't lock my feet under anything to do a sit-up because of the pressure that put on my knee--so I was able to keep my ability to do 50 push-ups in a single set. One great day, sitting on a bike-like machine at physical therapy, I was able to make my leg go around in a complete circle. Soon I was doing the stationary bike, and then a Stairmaster-type device at therapy.

The most pain at physical therapy came when the terapists would push on my ankle to make my leg bend more. I swear, once I had to stop myself from grabbing the therapist's hear and yanking it, she hurt me so much. But it was working--I could bend my leg more and more.

I took two weeks off from work--including one week of disability pay--and then worked from home, via computer, for the following three weeks. When I started my hour-and-a-half commute again, I initially wore the leg brace, in large part to let the other New York commuters know they really shouldn't shove or bump me.

I'm glad I got my ACL reconstructed. I don't want to go through with it ever again.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

New Sensei

I met my New Sensei tonight, so he would know who I was, and why a brown belt was suddenly appearing in his class who couldn't kick and who didn't remember a lot of things.

He said he had knee surgery himself--occasionally he has to shove his rod-supported kneecap back into place (ouch!)--and he encouraged me to work at my own place. He was also very understanding of my anniversary trip to Hawaii: My wife and I were going to Hawaii in the spring to celebrate our 25th wedding anniversary--but my knee operation got in the way. We're now planning to go the last week in January, and I promised my wife: no tournaments or black-bet tests until after we're back. New Sensei said, "Yeah, you don't want her to break your other leg." He understood I won't initially be ready to torque that knee or kick with that leg.

He said he wanted me to wear my brace--and thought I should probably even wear it for the black belt test. He said that opponents in grappling at the test could be told to take it easy on my knee.

He told me that there will be, starting in September, a revision to part of the black belt test I passed--punches and kicks have to be demonstrated on pads, to judge their force as well as their form. He's not sure if I'll have to re-take that part of the test yet. I told him I wanted the black belt when he thinks I'm ready, and if that means re-taking that part of the test, that's fine. (As part of this discussion, I learned that we're starting to use Muay Thai pads.)

He said he's a stickler for discipline and order in the class, which I had heard, and which is fine with me. It's preferable, in fact.

He said one option when I'm ready for contact is to attend kickboxing classes but only work on upper body punches and movement, and be with the less experienced classmates.

That's all I can remember at the moment, except that I should get back to core class, that he would help me get the black belt, and that I would need to communicate with him about what I can and can't do.

I was happy with the meeting. I hope I get that knee brace soon so I can get back to class.

P.S.: The Japanese symbols above, according to the Memories of a Gaijin blog, say, "Find a Sensei."

Sunday, August 19, 2007

A Little Like Elvis

Thank goodness few people are reading this blog, because I would surely get in trouble otherwise for saying: I'm not a huge Elvis Presley fan.

Despite my lack of fandom, last night I attended a show by a couple of top-rated Elvis impersonators--or Elvis tribute artists, as they are called in the business. It was actually an outing by the extended family, because one of the artists, Donny Edwards (see photo), is dating my wife's second cousin. It was a fun evening, especially because we got seating up close--I was sitting the the second row of a small auditorium. Donny's role at the concert was to portray Elvis as a young singer.

We all know what happened to Elvis when he got older--overweight, unhealthy, addicted to pills. I'm not addicted or particularly unhealthy, but when I got on the scale this morning, I hit 200 pounds--a 10-pound gain since I got my ACL surgery. It's not quite the highest I've weighed post-surgery--at one point before I could exercise I hit 200.5--but I am not pleased. Blame vacation and too much food for this recent surge from about 198. (To put this in perspective, I'm six-feet, one-and-a-half inches tall.)

A little too much hunk of burnin' love at the moment.

Once I get back in karate class, I'll get rid of that weight.

I'm seeing my New Sensei on Tuesday to meet him and to talk about returning to class. I hope the new knee brace will be ready this next week, though with our planned vacation the following week, I may not get back to class until September.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

You Can't Do It All

The Catskills were relaxing--two nights and three days of quiet at a friend's cottage in a wooded area. Theme song for the trip: Heavenly Day, by Patty Griffin.

One thing did on the trip was to review the workout suggestions in Ultimate Boxing, also consider the suggestions in a couple of kickboxing books I've read, and try to come up with a workout schedule. The things I wanted to include are:

Core karate class
Distance cardio training
Interval cardio training (sprints)
Physical Therapy for the knee
Resistance Training

After thinking about it for an hour, I concluded: I just can't do all of it every week.

Even though I know when I'm getting home now--unlike my prior job--it's still a long workday, plus about three hours and 15 or 20 minutes a day commuting. I can't realistically plan more than two days a week at the gym while I'm working--too much work to do. I can do some workouts at home in the evening, but some nights I'll be going to my martial arts school, and I want to see my family as well. And part of my training is to get eight hours of sleep at night.

So I have to prioritize. Once I return to martial arts, I want to shoot for three classes a week (no contact until January, just the core class). For the next couple of months, I need to be sure to get a couple of do-it-myself physical therapy sessions in each week (I just did one at home today). And the cardio is absolutely key--I get some of that in the karate class, but I need to do two or three more per week. I can't do sprints quite yet for interval training, which I found in the past is EXTREMELY valuable. But I can simulate them a bit on the elliptical machine at the gym; I'll be able to start up the sprints about the same time as I can stop the PT.

The resistance training comes up last at this point. Sit-ups and push-ups are crucial since I'll need those in the Black Belt test. I'm going to focus on other core work for the abdominals, and some tricep work, but I just don't think I have time to do extensive weight training.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Back from Boston

I'm back from Boston, where I had a relaxing visit with some friends. My wife was with me the first three days, and my daughter stayed for the fourth day as well. We attended a concert one evening my daughter wanted to see; I liked two of the bands, Incubus and The Bravery, but truly should have brought ear plugs, my hearing is already suffering and my ears were still ringing the next morning. My daughter loved it, though, which was fun to see.

I was pleased to see my friend the Astronomer was going to the gym every weekday morning. His wife, the Moral Genius (really bright couple) has had just about all the cartilage removed from her knees, so climbing stairs and such is really painful. But she's been swimming (except now, when the pool is being renovated) to stay in shape. They were college classmates of mine, it's great to see them keeping fit. I'm happy my wife and my friends--including these two and another couple--get along so well.

I haven't heard back that my knee brace is ready yet, but that's not surprising, it hasn't even been a week.

Tomorrow, I'm going off by myself to the Catskills, to stay at a friend's place, alone for two nights. I'm going to read, do slow kicks, do knee physical therapy, crunches/sit ups, push ups, but generally just relax a bit.

Actually, per a prior post, I'm also going to figure out an exercise plan--how to fit all the different types of conditioning I want to do, including my return to core karate classes, into a busy schedule that includes my 3-hour round-trip to work each day. I may have to include some cardio and martial arts on the same day, but I really need pencil and paper to figure it all out.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Knee Brace

I just got fitted for the knee brace. From what I can tell, this is the one I'll be getting. It will be ready in a week to 10 days.
The guy making the brace has had ACL surgery himself. Twice.

PostScript: This isn't a photo of MY knee in the brace. Note the lack of any cool scar on the knee.


Today, before we hit the road for a vacation to visit friends in Boston, I'm getting fitted for my titanium knee brace.

My colleagues at work have this image either that I'm going to be the Bionic Man or, if they're younger, I'm becoming a Transformer. I've had to tell people there is no hydraulic assist on this thing, and it doesn't shoot missiles.

Apparently I need to have a cast made of my leg. I wonder if I'll have any hairs left around my knee after the cast is removed.

Yesterday I got the the gym with a colleague from work and did some bag training. What a stress relief. I felt so much happier.

A book I'm taking on vacation is The Ultimate Boxer, by a women's boxing coach named Christy Halbert. Besides being interested in what it teaches about boxing, I want to use it to help me craft an exercise program that I can fit into my schedule.

One thing that struck me right away is that she talked about not only cardio conditioning from aerobic running, but also interval work, which in the past I've found was the best way for me to lose weight and get in top shape for a tournament. In my case, I would go to a track, and after jogging for a mile to warm up, I would alternate sprinting for 15 seconds and walking or jogging for 30 seconds, starting at one mile and increasing over time.

When I can DO this interval work, besides one day a weekend, I'm not sure. Maybe it's enough to do it on the weekend. I can do a different type of interval workout on bags, and during martial arts class when I return, I guess.

Thursday, August 9, 2007


Two big milestones:

On Tuesday, my physical therapist said I'm through with PT in the office. I should continue doing some of the exercises, over the next couple of months, or "until you get bored." On my last exercise of the evening, I broke the flexible band tying my feet together. "You're done," another therapist said.

On Wednesday, my knee doctor said I could return--carefully, with initial restrictions--to martial arts, once I get a custom-made titanium brace for my knee. I can't do contact stuff ("combat" he called it) until January, and I need to avoid kicking or torquing with my left leg for six to eight weeks. I shouldn't even do sprints for six to eight weeks, he said.

Surprisingly, I feel a bit let down because I couldn't go back to class right away. I'm getting fitted for the knee brace Saturday morning, before we go on a short vacation to Boston.

I'm trying to figure out how to fit all these activities into my schedule:
Cardio workout
Interval workout (sprints--eventually)
Upper body resistance (beyond push ups)
Lower body resistance
Knee PT
Martial arts

I'll sit down with some paper and start figuring this out on vacation.

Sunday, August 5, 2007

He Kneels!

I did something yesterday that I had been frightened of trying out: I kneeled on my left knee, the one I had surgery on (lovely current photo of the knee above). And I was able to put some weight on it!

It happened accidentally. I was in the gym and had just done 50 push ups with my legs raised on a 55 cm Swiss ball. The pushups were harder than usual for some reason, and I was thinking about that. Somehow in the process of coming down from the ball, I put my weight on, not only my right knee, but also my left knee. I realized I had my weight on my left knee--and it didn't hurt! I could definitely FEEL my knee in a way that wasn't normal, but it wasn't pain. I was so happy, it made me realize that I probably will eventually be able to grapple from my knees again some day.

I was at the gym for the bag workout I hadn't had for the prior two days. Besides the push ups, stretching and 50 inclined sit ups, I went on the StairMaster for 10 minutes just to get a little bit of a sweat up. I did a little speed bag work--I'm not very good at it, but it's fun and I assume it is helping my hand speed--and then, because I was impatient to get to the bag, only three two-minute sessions of shadow boxing.

Then I got to it: Five three-minute sessions on the bag, starting with single punches and working my way up to combinations. I did try switching to a southpaw stance for a little bit each round. Fighting southpaw--having the right hand forward, confusingly--would protect my left leg somewhat, but also I've read in a kickboxing book that people should be able to switch their stance (something my school doesn't teach). The bag training was very satisfying.

But even more so was kneeling.

Saturday, August 4, 2007

On The Difficulty Of Discipline

Thursday and Friday, I wanted to go to the gym at my work and do some bag training. I brought my bag gloves to work, and my hand wraps (don't leave home without 'em). I packed my Everlast round timer (see photo) which still works even though the clip that keeps it attached to your shorts broke off.

No luck. Just too busy, what with interviewing a job candidate, editing stories, and attending meetings about my company getting acquired. (I could use a chance to blow off steam.)

Thursday night I was at least able to do some home Physical Therapy. Friday evening, I considered going from work to the gym, but my wife, who I haven't been able to spend much time with lately, wanted to go out to dinner, so I came home (after my hour-and-a-half commute I got home at about 7:15 PM, my normal time--one reason it can be hard to spend a lot of time with my family). We went to dinner with our daughter to a restaurant where my wife's second cousin is head chef.

I was just going to drink water, but I saw a table get glasses of white wine, it was so damn hot and the end of the week, and I ordered a glass of wine too. At least I had salmon for dinner.

Got home full and tired (I'd gotten up early to prepare for interviewing the job candidate in the morning) and I just plopped in front of the TV. At 10 I watched Human Weapon, for the episode about karate, set in Okinawa, didn't get to bed until 11:30 (I shoot for 10).

(It's interesting seeing original Okinawan karate kumite, where you can't hit to the head--that's why karateka can hold their hands down by their sides. You get more power punching from that position, but you don't protect your head. In my martial arts school, where we do kickboxing, you usually have your hands up by your head for protection.)

Today I couldn't sleep late so I'm working on seven hours of sleep, when eight is better for me and I do have a sleep deficit from this week. But with all I have to do this weekend, I still want to get in bag training today, and PT at the gym tomorrow.

One of the problems is that martial arts are fun, just working out or doing physical therapy isn't, but I can't do martial arts yet.

Quote of the evening, from my 14-year-old daughter, who wants us to adopt a baby, upon seeing a kitten: "You won't even get me a baby, at least you could get me a kitten."

Thursday, August 2, 2007

PT at Home

Because I'm going to be ending physical therapy soon, my therapist gave me a list of exercises to do at the gym or at home. I was too busy at work to make it to the gym today, but I did these at home:

forward/side lunges: 30
step downs: 30
kicks (step back bending the knee, then do a slow kick forward): 30
forward backward lunge: 30
single leg calf raises: 30
double leg calf raises: 30
leg twists (twist the body and reach the leg behind me): 30

Tomorrow I'm hoping to make it to the gym at work for a bag workout. I feel like punching things.

Gumba Frank

Last night, my wife, 14-year-old daughter and I went out to dinner--a rare treat for me, because I get home usually around 7:15 and they've had dinner by then. My martial arts school is next door to the restaurant, and it felt so good to see several of my fellow students and my Original Sensei as I walked past--big smiles, waves.

The restaurant is part-owned by Gumba Frank, a black belt at my school. Gumba Frank is maybe a year older than me, and is the strongest grandfather on the planet--I've seen him crank out 100 perfect pushups in a row. "He's got that gumba strength," my Original Sensei said about him once. He lifts weights, and I know at one point he was also taking boxing classes.

I saw him at the restaurant, sitting with his parents--he was sticking out of a booth into an aisle, so I bumped into him and said, "Hey, buddy, you're blocking things here." He turned with this incredulous look, then recognized me and smiled. He introduced me to his folks--he looks like his dad--and we talked about how the old guys have to get back to class to whip the young punks into shape.

On walking out of the restaurant, a class was going on, and my family looked in the window. My daughter wanted to see the black belt girl in class my son think is cute. We saw Gumba Frank, The Family That Fights Together and other classmates being taught by my New Sensei and practicing ducking under a jab. A few of them saw us and waved.

I can't wait to get back. Maybe the doc next week will tell me it's time to return.

Wednesday, August 1, 2007


Imagine that you're standing on a step three inches above the floor. You hop off the step and land on one foot. Easy, right?

Now imagine that your fear is that when you land on that one foot, your leg won't be able to support you, and your leg will buckle underneath your weight. So, even though you want to land softly by bending your leg, you keep landing with your leg held almost straight.

That was one of the things I was doing last night in physical therapy for my knee. I got better at it, but there was always that fear that my leg would give way as it most certainly would have before my ACL reconstruction surgery. Also, I know that my knee doesn't have the strength when it's bent that I want.

Another simple thing that's difficult (though it's getting easier with practice); standing on a step with my weight on my left leg, and simply bending that leg so my right heel will dip to touch the floor. Again, it's an exercise to rebuild that flexing strength in the knee.

Despite all this, I'm coming to the end of my physical therapy. I have my full range of motion in my knee, and my quad muscles have good tone. I'm hoping this will mean returning to martial arts soon. I'm seeing my doctor in a week, we'll see what he says.