I’d like to start this off by saying that I am a huge fan. While the PAC-12 does get discredited a lot by everyone, it is nice for those up late. During a time in my life, I was pretty nocturnal, and I loved watching your games when you were at Washington. You in transition was a beauty to behold, and watching you nutmeg defenders was insane. And trust me, I thoroughly enjoyed watching you shred ‘Zo for 25 points when you played UCLA. And this is with me rushing through this, and not mentioning how I know your big men loved how you would dime them in the post.
But as someone with TOS, I am sorry for what you went through, and the journey you are about to embark upon. I say “journey” and not “healing” because…well, there is unfortunately no healing process. Allow me to explain a bit, before you go ahead and stop reading…
Much like you, I was a high school athlete hoping to play in college. I didn’t play basketball, but had aspirations to swim or play water polo. While I wasn’t the best, I was still made varsity after 2 years of competitive swimming experience, and even was beginning to put together a mixtape to send to colleges for both sports. Things were looking up.
I noticed though heading into my Junior year of high school that my arms were starting to get fatigued rather quickly in workouts, and my shoulders were always killing me. I went from being able to do the full workouts correctly, to finishing most of it, to finishing most of it in okay fashion, to barely finishing half of them in a passable fashion. All the while, my arms got more and more fatigued, and my shoulder pain grew more and more intense. Trainers and sports medicine doctors were baffled, and all that was prescribed did not work. I won’t go through all of the diagnosis’s I got, since I am sure you know how it is. Every diagnosis said it was a different issue, and each issue came with a different treatment method. And yet, it always resulted in the same outcome: the pain remained, and my extremities grew weaker.
Now, thankfully for you, yours was caught early. I will not begrudge you for having the best medical staff, doctors, and trainers available to you. I also will not begrudge that your coach actually understands what you are going through, and doesn’t toss you to the wayside believing that you are weak (physically, mentally, you name it). You and I can share solace in the fact that our teammates were super supportive, and were willing to stand with us throughout this process. What I will begrudge you, however, is the naivete that seems to surround you and your group.
Like I said, yours was caught early. Which, I am sure you can guess, means mine was not. Yes, I went from having full range, mobility, and strength in my arms…to upper extremity paralysis.
I will not ask you to put yourself in my shoes, where you are a 16 year old junior in high school incapable of driving a car, dressing himself in the morning, showering at night, feeding himself, taking notes in class, or even going to the bathroom. I do not wish that on anyone, since that is a lonely, humiliating cross to bear at any stage in your life…especially when there is still no diagnosis and doctors are beginning to say (as the media did to you) that it is a “mental issue” since they can’t figure it out.
But I am not here to gripe. I am here to provide guidance. The following points are just realizations that I have learned, that I hope to give to you. It is up to you to listen, but please, this is not to harm or scare. Only to help…
1. Something to keep in mind now that you have TOS, is that everything doctor’s THINK will happen…well, probably won’t. At this point, I hope you are seeing a neurological specialist, a thoracic surgeon, and any muscular specialist you can because one thing you should keep in mind now is that PT is bullsh*t.
TOS is an injury that does occur when a nerve/artery gets pinched either by the muscles or bones located in the region. I was fortunate to have my nerves wrapped around my first pair of ribs AND have my muscles restrict arterial flow. Double whammy. However, another way to think of TOS is that it is an overuse injury. Most people that suffer from this are all baseball pitchers, collegiate swimmers, and other people with high use in their shoulder region. So what is PT’s job? Well, to rehab the area, which is to say that they deal mostly with the atrophy aspect. PT likes doing high reps at super low to no weight…so essentially more use haha.
2. Also, the surgery is ultimately the route you will end up having to take. Most people cannot recover without the surgery. And with that, please, do the surgery not through the top, but from the side/back. If you go from up top by the scapula/clavicle region, you are at a higher risk of neurological damage. Coming at it from the side minimizes that. While it is more invasive (since it involves deflating a lung), there is less of a risk on permanent nerve damage.
3. This part will suck to here…but you may have to do surgery to both sides of your body, and remove your entire first pair of ribs. It may seem extreme, and your doctor may advise against it, but hear me out: your wingspan grows with the removal of a rib.
With the removal of my first rib (elected to go with the right side over the left), the length of my arm “grew” by a little over 2 inches. It is an artificial growth, but an important one to note. Essentially, with the removal of the rib, you are also removing the muscle, connective tissue, and anything else surrounding it. Therefore, your arm will droop more. Speaking from experience, your balance gets f*cked up in a major way. Writing about it now, I can consciously feel how much more my shoulder dips down, and how it “weighs” more and “drags” a bit. It doesn’t actually drag mind you, but it feels…well, unnatural. I do believe this is mostly to do with being slightly off-balanced in terms of my wingspan, since (even being as out-of-shape as I am) I can dunk with right arm but not my left. I won’t even speak on how long it took to “fix” my shot post surgery (hint, took a little over 3 years).
4. So, the part that no one is going to tell you is the side effects of any of this…
- No one will tell you how bad the rehab will be, where it could take you a couple weeks just to finally blow into a tube correctly (to re-inflate your lung of course). This also isn’t taking into account the amount of time/work that will go into just getting full range of motion back, and that isn’t accounting for adding weights into that scenario.
- No one will mention how your ring finger and pinky finger (unless you continually work them out) will be hooked, or how the hand tremors (which are constant) can turn quickly into full body ones. They can and will travel up your body, and leave you immobile/useless for over an hour. Record I have is an on-and-off’er for 3 and a half hours, but severity wise it wasn’t too bad. I once had one turned into a seizure.
- No one will mention the hypersensitivity all down your back and arms, which leaves even wearing clothes to be an exhausting measure. It’ll result in body convulsions, and the only treatment for it is by making it worse to the point where, even though you feel the individual fabric fibers still, you’ve become desensitized to them.
- No one will mention that you can’t sleep on your side anymore, since it restricts blood flow severely to your arms and hands. You’ll make up most nights with “dead” arms and hands, and don’t be afraid if you can’t move them for a couple minutes or so. It takes awhile for blood to pump to your extremities now in your state.
- Worst of all, no one will mention that it never goes away, and that it stays with you…forever.
While the non-surgical/surgical treatments will fix all that ails you now, and you’ll finally be able to not have the lasting fatigue/pain, you won’t ever be what you once were. I can’t swim or workout like I used to. I can barely throw a ball for more than a couple minutes at a time, and I can’t go full speed on it either. I can’t hold heavy objects for long, so there goes being able to hold my children in the future. I pretty much have to resort to dieting and running (yuck, running) in order to not be obese. While basketball does fit into that running mold, you won’t be able to do much for awhile. You’ll be a lot looser with your shot, and it will not drop like it used to before this became an issue.
But I didn’t write this to give you advice on how to do your profession. This was written to help you through a journey you are about to embark on. I can’t really provide you advice since, well, everything is different for everyone in this world (hell, Patrick Mahomes puts ketchup on steak, YUCK!) But what I can empart on you is a little wisdom I learned during all of this:
Don’t worry about the frustration that will occur with this, it’s bound to happen. There will be days where you can finally curl that 5 pound weight without assistance, and then the very next your hand tremors can be so frequent that you won’t be able to even text the letter “K” to your mom. This injury isn’t like all the others, where a surgery fixes everything and in a couple months you are good to go. This surgery/treatment makes your life LIVABLE. It won’t fix everything, ask anyone that has TOS. You’re no longer in that “only out 3-6 weeks” bullsh*t timeline. You’re only post-poning the inevitable. Don’t be discouraged, and keep your chin up. You’re about to go through the biggest media criticism ringer of your life with this. People’s ignorance/misunderstanding of this will lead to a lot of negative emotions and thoughts on your road ahead. Keep your head up, friends and family close, and tell everyone of those people doubting you to go f*ck themselves.
You’re now thinking about your future ‘Kelle, and doing what’s best for you. In the wise words of our SEALs, “The only easy day was yesterday.”
Stay strong bud, I’ll keep you in my prayers.