The End of My No-Surgery Streak (and Why I’m Thankful)

I have had an interesting two weeks.

I took Hillary, my panda-in-crime, out on a date for a dinner and a movie. We figured we only had so many date-nights left before our first baby came in six weeks. So, as any good MCU fan (Marvel Cinematic Universe for the uninitiated) would do, we bought our Avengers tickets for opening night and headed to one of our favorite place for dinner. That night, I had to walk out on Thanos because Hillary had gone into labor, and our first son was born an hour after we drove to hospital.

While the whole parenthood thing snuck up on me early, I had been able to play catch-up to get everything ready for Leo to come home and to settle into our new routine. A calendar alert popped up on my phone Friday, right when I was feeling the full joy of routine: “No more supplements.” In my sleep-deprived state, it took me a second to remember what this was about. Then it hit me. Surgery. I’m scheduled to have surgery on May 17th. And then I remembered that my streak was over.

Over ten years of grappling, I had had no surgeries. I had been one of the lucky ones, and you can probably fine at least one blog post where I bragged about it.

The gentle art has a way of reminding us that it is not so gentle sometimes. It can be an achy elbow or shoulder sometimes or it can be a fully blown ACL in other times. After all, things happen. You land awkwardly on a sweep, and you separate your shoulder. Your training partners don’t pay attention and fall on top of your knee which bends it in an awkward angle. You underestimate the amount of danger a joint is in as you try to escape.

Injuries are part of our sport. They seem to be almost a constant, especially for competitors.

Somehow, I had beat the odds—for a while at least. A few months ago, Hillary noticed my breathing while sleeping had changed. I suddenly sounded like a runaway locomotive. Upon further inspection, I noticed I could not breathe out of my left nostril. It was almost completely clogged, so depending on how my head was on a pillow, breathing through my nose would be impossible, and I would begin breathing through my mouth, making all kinds of noises along the way.

I made an appointment to an Ear Nose Throat doctor, and I had a conversation not about when I broke my nose but which time. I have been playing contact sports most of my life. I remember the first time I flattened my nose: I was in 8th grade playing rugby in Chile. I ran face first into a defender that almost doubled me in size. After that was the time in high school I broke it wrestling and had to wear a mask for half a season, then it was my time in MMA, a white belt head butting me so hard I saw stars, and finally a missed throw at a Sambo tournament.

Two weeks after that tournament, my issues started. I had swelling and bruising, but I just trained through it, just like each time before. Except this time, the break didn’t heal like it should have. My doctor took a look and told me that he could see the break—more than one actually. A CT scan and a further examination showed the scar tissue and the damage to the cartilage on my nose from years of abuse. How am I supposed to shoot a blast double without putting my face through someone's sternum?

The wear and tear had added up.

My doctor wanted to make sure the last break healed sufficiently before the surgery, so he scheduled it in May, 3 weeks before our baby was due. “All first babies are late,” he told us. Now, poor Hillary is going to have to take care of two babies while I recover from having my nose broken by a surgeon and then reconstructed.

I will be away from BJJ for a few weeks while my nose heals. I don’t plan on risking getting hit and nose and having surgery ruined, which would mean having to do the surgery again.

Though I am not looking forward to the procedure, I have been thinking about how lucky I have been. And how my reaching my black belt as fast as I did was only possible because I was on the mats all the time. I witnessed many friends go through prolonged injury layoffs and surgeries, only to comeback to this crazy thing that we do. Some call it quits after their first or second major surgery. Staying healthy and on the mats is something we often take for granted, but the more I think about it, it is one of the most important things for us to progress in this art we love so much.

Good luck avoiding the injury bug. Looking forward to rejoining all of you soon.