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Day 25 and Counting

Dave Draper, The Weight Room, Summer 2006

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If you missed part one from February 22, 2007 -- read this first.

Twenty-five days after I was harpooned by a skilled cardio-thoracic surgeon, I dragged my stinky gym bag from the closet. I was headed for the gym and needed it for security, not for its contents: thick leather lifting belt, heavy duty knee and wrist wraps, a Top Squat, DMSO. Heavy-duty and thick were not part of today’s plan. I simply wanted to enter the hallowed iron halls, take a deep breath and nibble at the edges of the equipment. I was more curious than hungry. 

My trusty gym bag weighed a ton. Collars, chain, tuna, water bottle, selected tools, lubricants... they all add up and come in handy when you least expect them to. A brief inspection to identify my belongings indicated a mouse had taken up residence in the main compartment of the bag. A half-eaten protein bar lay in the corner amid shreds of foil wrapping. Further, the shreds were arranged neatly to form a cozy nook, a shelter from the elements. Less than a month and I was displaced, evicted, tossed on the streets, homeless.

I snatched the food supply and makeshift fortification from the bag and scoured the adjacent areas for contraband. A wrist strap had chunky bites wrenched from its side, more material for the snug winter dwelling place. All I needed was Godzilla the Mouse moving into my territory. My heart skipped a beat.

Mugsy, we need to talk!

Laree was behind the wheel and we were off to the gym before we could change our minds. It’s not wise to drive while recovering from open-heart surgery, as the freshly dissected sternum is vulnerable to direct steering wheel impact should an accident occur. Good point. Zoom, zoom!
A sunny Sunday early afternoon and the gym was spotted with three other muscleheads with no place to go. My energy level has not been good, going from rotten to lousy to crummy over the slow days of recovery. I expected as much, thank God I’m alive. However, as I climbed the steps to the Weight Room’s back door, an old time feeling slid into place, like a greasy gear in an old Chevy transmission. The place was as fresh and friendly as yesterday, same music, same slanting sunshine and shadows, same swell smell, same clink and clang.


I grabbed my water and headed for the leg press, first things first.

Laree was already there, my training plan briefly outlined with her to gain feedback and a nod, and to ready her to assist me while she blasted some iron of her own. We loaded a plate on each side to begin the journey. My legs have been wobbly since exiting the hospital. Jelly quads have a way of reducing one to a defenseless heap; every thing and place is uphill and a mile away. And if boogiemen chase you, you can’t run.

The first set was very nice. Feet well-placed, ample oxygenation, the steel platform went up and down for 20 reps just as prescribed. I huffed and puffed. Another pair of plates was added to the press. I did some calf raises and stretched while regaining my hampered breath. The second set was also very nice, up and down she went for 20 more reps (10, pause, 5, pause and 5). The thighs felt strong and solid, though the endurance I knew was severely limited. That’s where time and patience and courage come into play, I assured myself with a deep voice of authority.

The third set was accomplished with three plates on each side (Laree and I are impressed I can load and unload the 45s without imposing strain or pain on the sternum... Yahoo). I totaled 15 reps and felt the weight bearing down on my twig-like limbs. One more set? After careful consideration, much gasping and a glare from Captain Cute Stuff, I decided instead to knock off four sets of leg extensions with some dinky calf raises thrown in for good measure. The reps were strong, effective and had a graceful rhythm to them. I’ve been here before.

I know what you’re saying: “Give the bomber a match and he wants the whole stick of dynamite. He’ll never learn, and he proposes to teach us? Blast yourself into oblivion, Nutso!” Thanks, I needed that. I’m tempted, but tempered. No way shall I step too close to the edge of exertion and look down its long and lonely descent. I’ve been there before, too.

Walking to the next general location of useful equipment was no rounded-back shuffle. I stepped with purpose and a revived gait. So what it was a pair of 15-pound dumbbells that held my interest? They felt like a ton! Time for some curls -- seated dumbbell alternates -- to awaken the sleeping dwarfs hanging by my sides.

I had no idea if the weights would move simply because I willed them. They were under dubious control; an incision that resembled a stretch of barbed wire on the forearm lead to a boney hand like a trowel (its partner, a rake), a dehydrated body still swimming in a stew of mixed chemicals and a mind as questioning as a two-year-old’s... Why’s the sky blue?

The dumbbells rose without hesitation -- left, then right -- with precision and remarkable ease... till the 10th rep, where a wall stood firmly in place.  I panted, raised the weight by five and did 10 more solid beauties. After three delightful sets I turned my nose to triceps, pulley pushdowns, and wondered if the muscle recruitment and torso flexing would present a problem. Nope. Not with a sensible lightweight and every sensor engaged.

My arms, wispy stems of a bush, rejoiced.

The seated lat row is situated conveniently at the girly-end of the dumbbell rack. How could I resist? I adjusted the weight stack to a laughable number and gave her a tug. Joke’s on me, the weight wouldn’t budge with the force I was willing to exert. I’m not proud, no one is looking and I just had surgery, after all. I lowered the weight and got three sets of 10 with full range of motion, a squint of pain in the clavicle (easy, boy!) and a minor pump in the lower back. I’m grateful, bordering on ecstatic.

Shoulders. Something for shoulders. Can’t press in this condition. How about one-arm lateral raises to the side while holding onto a support post and leaning slightly outward? I had just rediscovered this movement a month before my visit to Good Sam’s and it was very tasty. Now, I can’t say until I put it into action. Iffy! 10 pounds is enough to determine its worth. The little dumbbell went upward, in the right track and the full distance with a light contraction at the peak for good measure. It came down as it went up, very well... you might say swell.

Laree’s looking on as if I cleaned and pressed 315. “You mean that one doesn’t tear at your seams? This is wild,” she said. I did the big three of 10 reps, working up to the hulky 20-pounder. Look out, stand back, coming through, heads up.

I finished with the Hammer chest press, three sets of 20, with small change on the machine’s yolks. This surprised me cuz the sternum is exactly in the middle of the conflict, and I achieved full range of motion without splitting in half or feeling like I was scalded with a hot iron. No undue stress. Wow!

Laree and I walked to the car and drove home. Shower, food, fireplace and the beat of time.

That was yesterday. I was encouraged. Today I drove to the gym myself (look out, wildlife) to do what I didn’t do the first time around. Crunches, thumbs-up curls supersetted with machine dips (I didn’t expect to even consider this movement for six months. It appears to be a direct assault on wired sternums and relieved pectoral muscles. No problemo with a light weight and 50 years of practice), a resourceful two-handed cable movement resembling a dumbbell pullover (stimulating), one-arm cable lat row, widegrip bar-to-chin pulldown and another round with the hammer chest press. Three sets of 10s and 12s and I’m impressed. Not with me, but the range of exercises with fair exertion and no threatening pain or limiting action.

Alternating left and right sides of the muscle groups where doable is smart way to exercise when considering the heart’s load and overload. Divide the exertion, focus on the action, enjoy the engagement. Light weights are fun and high reps have their heated moments and both can save the body from a terrible crunching. Repair and restoration revive involvement and discovery.

After a beating you must enter the gym and look from the sensible end of the telescope. Not the end that indicates where you were and what you did before the whoopin,’ but the end that reminds you when you couldn’t reach for a glass of water or whisper your best friend’s name. The tough times and the good times -- the real times -- are lining up like dominoes.

Tomorrow is another day. Laree and I visit the good doctor and get his latest report. Hope he’s in a good mood.

More to come, bombers, if you don’t have anything to do or anyplace to go. Sometimes it’s a hoot just to swoop the neighborhood, keeping the wings low to the ground.

God’s might... DD

If you missed part one from February 22, 2007 -- read this.


Quick note: To avoid mucus formation and the resultant throat-clearing that guarantees thunderous pain in the wired sternum, I ingested no milk products to this date. I’ve been a dairy man all my life. Today I mixed two scoops of Bomber Blend in cold water and guzzled it like a wild pig. No mucus, color returned to my face, I felt a warm pump all over and I laughed for no apparent reason, the first time in three weeks. Go figure.

I'm seriously considering the elimination of milk from my diet, maintaining some yogurt and cottage cheese and increasing my already substantial intake of the Bomber Blend. Man against mucus!


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