Learning What I Thought I Knew

One year ago today, on February 3rd, 2013 I blew myself up. I had thought I knew more than other guys who had suffered similar, if not quite as dramatic fates. I had I thought I was more organized, more deliberate, more careful; you know, just smarter than the other guys that got off playing with the big stuff.

I was bench pressing. On the bar was what had been for me a relatively light 305 pounds. This was the third workout of an eight to ten week cycle that was supposed to result in one more (before I turned 60) double bodyweight bench press. For various reasons I had not been benching much for the past several years, preferring instead to concentrate on incline dumbbell presses. On a whim, however, I had the year before put up a solid 320 pounds for a double (two repetitions). Piece of cake…. right.

It was a cold day and it was cold down “in the hole” where we lifted. Warming up seemed to take longer than it normally did.  I was having a hard time getting in the groove even with the lighter weights. As I slowly lowered the bar loaded with a relatively light 305 pounds, I knew that things in my right shoulder were not lined up quite right. It was kind of like a bad squat where you just collapse straight down on your stiff knees, thighs, and end up on your toes, instead of sitting back with the weight on your glutes and your feet planted securely on the floor. Suddenly I got this sickening squishy-squirt-tearing feeling in my chest, immediately followed by a loud “pop.” It sounded just like someone had fired a .22 pistol next to my ear. And then there was nothing…no strength, no real feeling of pain…just the feeling of falling off a cliff as my son Adam desperately tried to slow the weight crashing down on me. Son Jason heard the shot 30’ across the room and ran to help Adam. Between the two of them they held the weight so that I could role to the left off of the bench and on to the floor.

I knew it was bad. I was sure that I had torn my pectoral muscle, the big one on your chest. I knew at some level that I might have also partially or fully torn the pectoral tendon which attaches the muscle to the upper arm bone; however, I was not prepared to seriously entertain that possibility quickly dismissed the thought.

It took a couple of days for it to take on the classic look of a pectoral tear; eventually about half of my right chest turned purple, green and yellow. The blood made its way under the skin of my arm to a little below the elbow. It wasn’t pretty but not as bad as I thought it might get. After about a week the swelling subsided and I began to gently stretch and recover range of motion. At about two weeks I could press with five pound dumbbells without pain. At four weeks I had pretty much regained my normal range of motion and could press the bare 45 pound bar about 30 times. I thought I was recovering about as well as could be expected and was daring to get a little optimistic that it all might heal without any medical intervention.

I was wrong to be at all optimistic. Eight weeks post incident I was still “benching” the bar for only 30-33 reps. Everything would seem fine enough until I would feel an ache in my upper back and then my whole shoulder girdle would just seem to get loose and die. It was a very strange and disconcerting feeling. I had made no progress in a month. I was also paying more attention to a little knot or bump on my chest that was slowly as the weeks went by retracting medially toward my sternum. Given that I was very weak in the movements where the pectoralis major is the prime mover; and given that the little knot was more than likely the end of the tendon, I had to conclude that the whole thing was detached and that only a skilled surgeon was going to put humpty-dumpty back together again.

Next: Really? People “my age” often don’t care if they live with the weakness?

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