On June 1st 2009, I broke my right forearm’s Ulna.
“The ulna is one of the two long bones in the forearm, the other being the radius. It is prismatic in form and runs parallel to the radius, which is shorter and smaller. In anatomical position (i.e. when the palms of the hands face forward) the ulna is located at the side of the forearm closest to the body (the medial side), the side of the little finger. The corresponding bone in the leg is the fibula.”
It happened during a martial arts training, on a bone conditioning drill. This bone is not supposed to break.
During the diagnostic process (which took more than a week) I received much varied estimations of recovery time, but ultimately I was told it would take 3 months before I would become functional again, and up to 6 months for complete recovery.
It was my first time having a serious, temporarily maiming injury. However there were principles which I was at least aware of, that I used to the best of my ability in order to heal as fast as possible. I also learned a lot in the process.
As a result of this period of recovery, three things happened:
- I learned to write with my left hand in less than a week and overtook 4 x 3+ hours written exams, 2 of them including a lot of drawing.
- I became ambidextrous with pretty much any practical task one can think of.
- 3 months later, I was fully healed, with the doctor’s full license to apply as much pressure on my arm as I see fit. Ultimately cutting my healing time in half.
How did I achieve this (and if you are injured, how can you)? Let me describe 5 main principles to use during recovery, and how I applied them to my specific case.
DECIDE that you will heal as fast as, or faster than, anyone has ever seen.
Believing is one thing, deciding is another. While believing is all but wrong, it is impregnated with a sneaky incertitude which ultimately, your body responds to. Decision is the acknowledgement of the irrevocable fact that you are in control of your body, and working with it.
It is because I decided not to get sick, that in years now the worst I got is a runny nose.
Moreover, it becomes an inner commitment to do everything you know and can, in order to meet your decision.
Understand what task your body is going through, and feed it accordingly.
Nutrition is a confusing world, but the two following facts remain true:
- The main nutrient required for your body to build and repair itself is protein.
- One of the main micronutrients beneficial to the bone structure and its repair is calcium.
Mat’s nutritional weapon of choice: A whole 750g pot of 0% fat, high-protein plain Yogourt, every single day. The rest of my day was of course focused on high protein foods and veggies.
Knowing that my training would be impaired, and was actually stopped during the first 3 weeks, I adjusted my quantities of food accordingly. At the time, I did not have the nutritional knowledge that I possess today. If I had, I would probably have made some tweaks. But the essentials were covered; I let my body do the rest.
Do every movement you are allowed to do, do it often, and resume any regular physical activity as quickly as you reasonably can.
One of the most common issues related to injuries and their recovery periods, is loss or reduction of function and strength. As the common saying goes, “Use it or lose it”.
The 3 first weeks following injury, I couldn’t do much. Before my operation I had a heavy, arm-long cast set at 90 degrees; it seriously impairs function. None the less, I went through the moves of my daily life and stayed as active and up on my feet as possible.
As soon as I got rid of my main impediment (the cast), 1 week following my operation (stainless steel rod straightening the bone, which I’m still wearing today), I started training again. I was allowed at that point to lift a mere 5 pounds with my right hand.
Well, you can be darn sure I took every opportunity to lift these 5 pounds. I first tested what the weight felt like, then lifted and used just about everything at hand that would fit the bill. After 3 more weeks, I was allowed 20 lbs; I applied the same strategy. I could also start paddling again, which you can be damn sure I did.
Regarding my training itself, at the time it mainly took place during martial arts training sessions. I did pretty much all upper body movements and lifts with my left hand only. One-arm back bends (bridge), one-arm dips, one-arm sparring, asymetric KB work, name it. I have to say, I made a lot of progress with it. I could barely do a 1-arm push-up on either side at that point; I did around 10-15 pretty decent of these, after 3 months.
What’s more, I barely lost any significant amount of strength on my right side. The body naturally tries to keep a general balance; therefore even training only my left kept the right side in check.
Funny fact though, my left triceps did become a bit bigger 🙂
Use the mishap as an opportunity to learn new stuff and increase proficiency
Picture this: you live alone in your apartment and have to tend to pretty much everything. Also, in one week you have 4 important exams (including schematic drawing) coming up.
Now, do it all with only your off-hand.
To be fair, using my left hand in itself for most tasks was not that daunting, since years training martial arts had allowed me to become very able with it already.
No, the actual challenge was to do everything with only one hand. You most probably don’t realize how much you use both your hands in everything you do; I discovered it at that time.
To give you just as slight idea, buy a bottle of V8 (small or big) and open it without using your dominant hand at all. As you would imagine, grip strength also matters. (hi-5 to Adam!)
Second challenge : try learning to write off-handed within less than a week. I had no choice. Injured or not, I still had to prepare for my exams, and get through them.
The first time I had to write off-handed was at the hospital; I needed to sign some paper to get checked up. You should’ve seen the incredulous look I gave the lady asking me to sign with… wait, my left?
I put an “X”. Well, I intended to.
One week and a half later, I had gone through all four exams, and even decent results to show for it.
Today, I consider myself fully ambidextrous. Of course, I still feel the dominance of my right hand on most tasks; it’s generally more at ease. But there is nothing that my right hand does that my left cannot do. This has proven useful in more situations than I can count.
Reflect on what’s next in your life. Then do it.
An injured state makes you very aware of what you would do, if only you had the use of that which you are now deprived.
It may not even be related to what you were doing before. Maybe it is.
This awareness is the perfect time to plan what you’ll do, based on what you realized, or remembered, that you truly want to do.
It could be career matters, or spiritual. I would lie if I said this was my case. I felt I was where I needed to be on those points.
I realized how if I want to reach a full mastery of my body, mastering the off-side is just as important as the dominant one, and it can be done. This set forth my quest to ambidexterity, which seriously helped in staying motivated through the everyday hardships during recovery. Since then I’ve thrived to keep doing everything I do with a bit of both hands, sometimes switching just for the sake of it. Also, I often experiment changes of patterns in my daily manipulations.
Oh and if you’re wondering, ambidexterity is awesome.
Moreover, this period fuelled my love of training, and of what I train for, with a renewed vigor. I decided that my current strategy was not enough; if I wanted success in my personal goals, I had to take the matter in my own hands. That’s when I decided to add gym training to my regimen, despite my initial reticence to go back to it (at the time I felt, and was encouraged to think, that what we did during martial arts classes was enough for workouts).
The point is not that I started training in the gym, but that I started taking responsibility for my body. I read, learned and experimented. I stopped wishing to get stronger, leaner and better, and switched to deciding to do so.