This is a True Story…. October 1, 1999
I woke up in the recovery room on October 1, 199 and began the routine of checking for all the parts. Actually, I know this routine well enough to be on the annual Christmas card list for the O.R. staff. (I’ve had a lot of surgery over the years.) This time my body checks kept coming up short. It seems that I was sort of missing my left arm. After a few minutes I realized that it was partially paralyzed.
I’m no stranger to cervical spine surgery. Two previous anterior fusions were mildly annoying. My neurosurgeons had always told me that partial or complete paralysis was a distant possibility, but up to this point, that was a minor prediction. I had always been able to return to speed bag punching, with the annoyance of wearing a brace, with a few weeks.
Now, after a four level posterior cervical laminectomy, fate had caught up with me. At the moment, that wasn’t really on my mind. I was too busy fighting off the rising panic.
Days later, just after the doctor said “… I told you this was a possibility”, He said the compression at the C5-C6 level was far worse than expected. He thought my left arm weakness and pain was a temporary reaction and most of the function and strength should return. The only part I heard was “most“. Along with the significant weakness, there was a searing, almost non-stop pain where the posterior Deltoid should be.
By the time I got to the Sports Medicine Clinic eight weeks later, my mind was right, I was motivated, I was ready to start getting my arm back. I could barely raise my left hand to the table and knock stuff off onto the floor. My left Bicep, left posterior deltoid and posterior rotator cuff muscles just didn’t fire. By the way – I’m no stranger to rehab either. At this point, with ten surgeries in the past nine years, I’m on the rehab centers Christmas card list also. Lynn Glass, ATC, sports athletic trainer has worked on every joint I have and kept me going a lot longer than most people expected.
In a Rehab facility, there is specialized equipment to heat you up, some to cool you down, others to electrocute you or put ultrasonic pulses into your body. The rest is an assorted group of torture chamber items disguised as weight machines, stationary cycles, steppers and lots of theraband stretching cords. All of these are very useful, but they usually stay in the rehab center. Insurance only allowed 3 visits a week for 12 weeks. Impatient and motivated, I wanted to work my arm everyday. Since I could not yet drive, I would have to continue rehab at home.
The only exercise item in my home is a speed bag. Most people recognize it as boxing equipment. It’s a hanging punching bag attached by a swivel to an overhead board. You punch it and it rebounds. I had been avoiding it out of pure ego and stupidity. Several years earlier I had published the only book and video-training program to teach people how to use it. I have appeared in numerous trade shows throughout the sporting goods and fitness industries presenting demonstrations and training seminars and now that appeared in jeopardy.
I wasn’t ready to tackle the speed bag with a partially paralyzed left arm. A few attempts had come up way short because of pain and weekness. Obviously, I could not perform to my previous level, so I had left it alone. That was ego. Stupidity was not realizing it was actually a terrific functional activity for the upper extremity. I should have known better! Sometimes ego overrules intelligence.
In fact, the speed bag improves everything I needed! Strength, endurance and range of motion of all the shoulder and arm muscles, eye-hand coordination, and repetitive fluid motion of a fist alone or both of them together. There is a rhythmic flow of body movement to repetitively punching, and the rebounding bag creates a unique “beat” or rhythmic sound. We call it the “rhythm of the bag” and the sound is a very definitive cue for guiding the movements. Resolved, I had learned to do this once, so I could learn to do it again. It was now time to put a little Rhythm in my own Rehab.
I could not hold my left arm up let alone hit a moving target, so my right arm did the work. Holding my left wrist in my right hand, I began circling my left fist into the bag. My fitness training kicked in and I developed a graduated program, which I did 3 or 4 times a day. A month later my left arm was strong enough to punch slowly by itself, but not repetitively. I would punch once, stop the bag and punch again. Next, I would punch, watch the bag and try to hit it again just before it stopped. In another month, I could hit repetitively by counting the rebounds. This progressed over the next few months. On the six-month anniversary of my surgery, my left arm had again found the rhythmic circling movement, hitting repetitively every three rebounds. But it was very slow, and I had to see my hand to know where it was in space. The method I used gave rise to the “Four Step Progression” found in the beginners tips section.
Eventually, I got about 80% of all strength and function. Nine months after surgery, I entered into my spare bedroom / video studio to shoot the videotape called Rhythm & Rehab (see below). It is a 2-hour video dedicated to showing you how to use the speed bag for rehabilitation and as a home fitness activity. It covers equipment, punching and elbow striking techniques – how to learn them and how to set up a personal and targeted rehab or fitness program for your own individual needs. It is also captioned for those with hearing impairment.
Even as a therapist who works in rehabilitation everyday, my own personal journey through disability and recovery was no different than anyone else. I went through the early pity party and denial. After anger came depression. Eventually, the pre-injury personality reappeared along with my sense of humor. Boy do we need that! I eventually arrived at acceptance. Recovery was not full, but it was substantial. All things considered, my life is not that much reduced, even with most of my neck bones removed. So if you happen to see a guy hitting the speed bag, perhaps riding a stationary cycle, with a stiff neck, come on up and say hi!