A fist full of hernia: returning to BJJ after hernia repair Part 1

Recently I found it difficult to source useful and relevant anecdotal information on the Internet regarding Jiu Jitsu and hernia repair. So, as I am currently going through this procedure I thought I would write a four part series covering information on how I got the hernia, what I did to repair it, recovery time and process and then eventually returning to BJJ. I will be leaving to Brazil around the time that my doctors and surgeons have predicted I will recover so recovery is number one priority for me. I hope to share with you this information in hopes that if some of you go through this procedure in the future you may find a little support. Remember there is always a light; there is always day after night and calm after storms.

Injury is not the end.

First up in this series is a little history on how I experienced my herniation. It did not occur in an ordinary way so I hope you can find some enjoyment in my pain as you read on.

Have you ever heard the phrase ‘It’s what’s on the inside that counts’? Usually this phrase points to the perception of human qualities (e.g. compassion, patients, etc.) based on personality not aesthetic appearances (e.g. being ridiculously good looking). These words have always held a special influence in my life’s philosophy influencing the type of people I gravitate towards and also the way I try to carry myself. Sometimes certain emotions and thoughts should not be displayed in front of others. Emotions like fears and anxieties to certain situations that may be seen as weakness and could potentially be exploited. Some things on the inside should never make it outside such as certain expectations, fears, prejudices and vital organs… Especially vital organs! I have shown all of these in less than appropriate situations but none hurt more than my adventurous intestines.

Let me explain. For the past six months or so I had noticed a small lump protruding from my abdomen whenever my stomach became bloated after eating large quantities of food, wheat, beans and especially after drinking beer. Every time I experienced this I would point it out to my friends making them all rub my belly asking, “Is this normal? Do you have this?” We would all laugh about it and by morning the lump would disappear back into my body. Except for that one fateful night a few weeks back. I had been at the local pub with a few friends of mine. We had downed around six or so pints of beer each before deciding to try out the “Challenge burger” at another nearby bar. Conquering this burger in the past I thought nothing of it nor did I expect what was going to happen in the night ahead of me. I had already been a bit bloated from all of the beer so racing my friends to finish this behemoth of a burger probably wasn’t the best idea, but most memorable nights rarely begin with “great ideas”. What happened was, soon after finishing the last bite of the French bulldog sized burger, I felt a build up of pressure within my torso. As I had eaten the burger in around 10 minutes I’m pretty sure it had travelled down my gullet in a form similar to its shape as it had been on the plate. The pressure caused a golf ball sized lump to appear in the middle of my abdomen. I showed all of my friends and we had a bit of a laugh about it. Gradually I started to find it hard to breathe comfortably and even standing up straight became a problem. It was decided the best idea was to let a doctor look at it and I was taken to the emergency room. Low and behold it wasn’t a Xenomorph (reference to the film ‘Alien’) trying to escape my body but part of my visceral organs. Commonly known as an epigastric hernia. After waiting a while in the emergency room I was seen by another doctor who proceeded to feel the lump with his index and middle fingers. This felt pretty uncomfortable, especially when I looked at his face and saw him looking up to the top corner of his right eye with his tongue poking into his cheek. I was about to ask what he was doing when he pushed down on the lump with his fingers abruptly as if he were a participant on Sale of the Century in the final round. He did this sharply two or three times more and told me to “relax.” I screamed “Do you even work here?” Then it occurred to me that he wasn’t just some random person walking the various rooms of the hospital jabbing strangers in the stomach, he was actually trying to push my lump back inside of my body manually… or a cheap form of surgery as I called it.
After my hernia had been reduced he informed me that I had a gap within my abdomen that caused me to be susceptible to herniation and that I would need to have it operated on. I said, “Fine… please stop rubbing my belly.” He laughed and then he left. I’m still not sure he really worked there.

Later My GP and training partner Dr. Max Po organised for me to see a friend of his who is a specialist in the hamburger, I mean hernia field. I brought him my ultrasounds so he could better see the hernia. He remarked, “Why did you bring me these ultrasounds?” I replied “Uh so you can see the hernia.” To which he replied “I don’t need these. I can see it with my own eyes, it’s right there. In your belly haha.” We both laughed. This guy knew what was going on. He surely worked here.

On the day of the surgery I arrived at the hospital and went through the usual admission process. I saw the front desk, was admitted by a nurse who then showed me to a change room containing a small cupboard that held my hospital gown, robe, compression stockings, booties, hospital underwear and cap. I wasn’t really paying attention when she told me which item was which and I subsequently wore a second pair of underwear on my head in place of the hospital cap. What do you want from me?! I don’t work there!

I met with the surgeon and the other doctors and nurses assisting in the operation. They were all very nice and the surgery went on with great success. Well I assumed anyway… I mean, my stomach was no longer staring me in the face anymore. I later left the hospital with a smile on my face and a spring in my step. Which I thought was odd. Why did I feel so good? Upon leaving the nurse told me that I still had some anaesthetic at the operation site so that is why I couldn’t feel anything. She also told me that for pain relief, when I get home, I should use Panadol. I thought “Wow, that’s a pretty basic form of pain relief.” But what do I know. I don’t work there.

I remember after bringing my father home from the hospital the day he had three hernias repaired in one day. He was smiling and laughing much like I was. That day he came home from the hospital I caught him carrying a washing machine up a flight of stairs. I said to him “Hey what are you doing? Are you crazy?” I remember thinking he was crazy, he was strong as hell and he never felt pain. I remember the look he gave me when I asked him that question. It was a look of “Am I-a crrrrazy? Madonna Mia god-a has-a bless-ed me widda the biggest a pussy for a son-a?” Dad could communicate a lot too me in facial glances than he ever could with his broken English. Now leaving the hospital I felt the same way. “Ah man this operation wasn’t as bad as everyone made it out to be. I’ll be back at Jiu Jitsu in no time.” The next day all of the anaesthetic that had been in my body was well and truly gone. Now came the pain. I began downing Panadols like they were M&M’s (if you know me you know I love M&M’s). It wasn’t so much that the incision site hurt but more that every movement I made hurt. Getting up, getting down, turning, sneezing (Oh my god sneezing), laughing, sitting down, standing, going to the bathroom, passing gas you name it, it hurt!

Then something happened. I had started to feel massive cramping visceral pain, I suddenly got a fever, began to turn white and yellow and felt incredibly nauseous. I was taken to hospital in an ambulance with the fear of infection. The paramedic informed me he was going to give me the green whistle (Penthrox) and administer some morphine. But first I had to tell him which medications I had already been taking. I told him I had some Panadols. He asked me if I was serious. I affirmed his question and he began to drop F-bombs and C-bombs as if he had just dropped his ice-cream. He couldn’t believe I was sent home with Panadol. The doctors back in the emergency room also held this sentiment as they proceeded to give me many many many forms of pain relief during my next eight hour stay there. For some reason (maybe it was the endone cross morphine cocktail) the chorus from ‘Disturbia’ by Rhianna replayed over and over in my head non stop. I had substituted the word ‘Disturbia’ obviously for the word hernia and began to sing it out loud whilst swirling my empty green whistles as if they were glow sticks at a rave.

I’m not sure if it was a mistake to give me Panadol as sole pain relief or if in fact my father was right all along and god had blessed him with the world’s biggest pussy. But, what ever they gave me had worked and I began to regain colour in my skin, reduction in nausea and overall pain. The trade off was I lost pretty much all of my comprehension and eloquence but hey, no more pain so salute to the emergency room. I guess my tip here is to question the medication you are given to take home if it seems a bit underestimated.

This has been a brief, and factual, rundown on what happened to me from beginning of herniation to surgery and a short time after. I have omitted some events within the story in order to cut down on content and to omit unnecessary information (or rather what I deem as unnecessary).

In the next instalment of this series we will have guest author Dr. Adam Thomas contributing information of what a hernia actually is and how it relates to us; the BJJ community. His words and medical view may be a bit more professional than mine but what do you want from me? I don’t work here!

One Response

  1. amy

    i just had hernia surgery a week ago (38 year old woman from melbourne) and i loved reading about your similar experience – i laughed so much (yes this hurt) with your distubia / hernia comparison – thanks so much for making my recovery that little bit happier 🙂


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