photo by: Jeff Swensen
Sunday February 8th, 2014
I had thought about writing this months ago, but was reluctant to because it is such a personal topic.
As many of you know, nothing makes me happier than creating music and playing guitar. I have been a guitarist/musician for twenty-plus years and to this day, have not lost sight of the dream and my passion grows daily. That said, my hands are my life, tools, money makers and my key to playing. Last year, I was working A LOT as a bartender, started CrossFit training, and was playing as much guitar as ever. Everything seemed to be going great. I was getting in shape, my playing and writing was improving, I was developing my solo music career, and I was kicking ass at work. Plainly put–things were groovy. Then sometime around mid-spring, I started experiencing an excruciating pain in my hands, wrists, and forearms. I figured it was just fatigue because I am such an active person and used my hands all of the time. I blew it off and hoped that the nagging nerve sensation I was experiencing would subside or go away altogether. Usually, the pain would come in the middle of the night, keeping me up for hours. I was getting even less sleep than my usual limited 3-4 hours a night. And on the worst nights the pain would sometimes bring me to tears. I didn’t tell people about it because I was scared, worried and didn’t want to hear the “you are getting old” jokes or “slow down you are doing too much” advice that I often hear.
This terrible numbness went on for a few months and once I got to the point where it was affecting my guitar playing I really grew concerned. It even started to impact my leisure exercise interests too. One beautiful sunny day I was bike riding and a few miles into the ride, I was almost in a terrible collision with a car because my hands went numb and I couldn’t use them to grip the brakes to stop when coming off of a bridge. It was a super close call and terrifying. I was so angry, and frustrated and had to shorten the ride by leaning on my forearms and elbows to steer. It was pathetic. That’s when I decided to go to a doctor. The doc suggested physical therapy to see what the source of the pain was– which she eventually diagnosed as carpel tunnel. I guess years of guitar playing, writing and bartending had taken their toll on my hands. We were going to try everything possible and if those things didn’t help relieve the pain, in the very worst case , she uttered that dreadful “S-word” that I feared the most– SURGERY. That was an absolute last choice. One that I didn’t want to even consider.
On the other “hand” (ha ha get it???) I did my best to keep a positive attitude and continued to go to CrossFit five days a week which was helping me with stress. But, to be honest, in the back of my mind I was wondering if my training was what brought on the pain because it is so barbell heavy and physically demanding overall. My chiropractor assured me that my hand problems weren’t CrossFit-related. He actually said that it was helping me because I was getting stronger and encouraged me to keep going. I was still working a lot, however, bartending was destroying my poor hands because our summer season is busy. Our drinks involve a lot of cutting, juicing, shaking, stirring and muddling at a high volume for long periods of time. Work was great financially, but was killing me physically. Being a trooper, I pushed through the pain quietly. I didn’t tell anyone. There would even be days where I’d drop a glass, a bottle, and would joke about me being clumsy. Even counting money caused painful cramping. The truth was, I was losing feeling in my hands and they would sometimes give out without warning.
Musically, I was writing and producing a lot of music for various video projects. I spent more time on the keys and production side. Sadly, I was playing less guitar than normal because my playing had taken a turn for the worse. I could still play, but it was a struggle. I powered through on many occasions, but, I couldn’t play for the duration of time like I used to. I still played a lot, but I’d have to take a break once the numbness kicked in. There were times I couldn’t even hold the guitar pick or couldn’t feel the tips of my fingers. I grew even more frustrated as the summer moved towards the fall. I was terrified that I would lose all ability to play guitar at all. To me, the idea of not being able to play was the end of my life.
I spent the entire summer running myself into the ground trying to fix what was wrong with me. I also think that staying violently busy was helping me to cope with what was going on. For four months my average week consisted of: working the bar five days and nights (w/ 4a.m. closes), 9a.m. CrossFit sessions, six doctor appointments a week, studio sessions, business meetings, production projects/deadlines, my second job in catering, –and what little time that was left for minimal sleep and personal events. Seemed like everything that I had to do was doing more harm than good because I was exhausted all of the time. Over time, the tingling sensation and nerve pain improved a little bit, but after four months of therapy, I still was experiencing the symptoms. I started sleeping with braces which helped a lot, but not enough to alleviate the pain fully. I could feel the depression kicking in. I really was afraid of surgery. Since I wasn’t getting much better, my doctor scheduled a nerve test to see how bad the carpel tunnel really was. The results revealed that I had “severe” Carpal Tunnel. My chiropractor went as far to say that my case was the worst he had ever seen before. I was crushed. I was numb. I was hopeless. The idea of not playing (or not working for that matter) due to surgery had me super upset. My biggest fear was that I’d lose all ability to play again. None of the doctors could figure out why it came on all of a sudden. I was used to my hands being tired, but I never felt pain in them. I would do yoga stretches and various warm-ups to prep them for playing. At that point, it didn’t matter. Nothing was working.
++++Now, I want to make it clear that I know that many people have experienced worse health situations than I have and I am not trying to make my situation seem heavier than anyone else’s. I was still positive and grateful for where my “overall” health was. But, these were my fucking hands. So I was definitely scared and concerned for my music career.++++
The surgeon assured me that the procedure is supposed to be pretty seamless and fast. I know that things could always be worse and in some weird way, and I was happy that it was ONLY carpal tunnel. However, when it looked like the ability to make music was threatened, in my mind, it was a matter of life and death. I recorded as much guitar that I could handle leading up to the surgery. Reluctantly, I scheduled the first surgery in November. I had chosen the left hand (my fingering hand) first so that I could rehab it sooner, plus, I am right-handed. I didn’t want to lose that memory or dexterity in my left hand that would have taken forever to regain. I’ll spare you the gory details, but it sucked. It hurt. It hurt a lot. It hurt during, after and still sometimes hurts. The recovery time was longer than what they said it would be. It was also much more difficult. Because we were having a busy holiday season at Harris Grill, (probably against doctor’s orders,) I went back to work just a few days later. I bartended one-handed to the best of my abilities. In time, my hand improved, but I still have moments where opening a bottle of wine or carrying heavy plates is a challenge. The irony was that I could back squat 300+ pounds with ease, but a six-pound plate of mac n’ cheese would do me in. Frustration grew quickly. For a guy who gets called the nickname “Superman,” I wasn’t feeling so super at all. Everyday was a personal battle to not let Defeat– defeat me.
I took a few weeks off CrossFit so that I could heal. Once I started back I had to modify nearly every movement because it was too painful. I had to lower my weights, wrap my wrists and wear a brace. I still can’t put pressure on my left palm to do a simple push-up. It wasn’t until recently I could even turn a damn doorknob. Oddly enough, two weeks after the first surgery I got a terrible cut at work from a bottle which sliced me open and inch from the surgical incision. That was a huge setback. Still, I remained positive because in my mind, a negative attitude was going to hold my body back from healing fast. I ain’t gonna lie, it was really tough though. I was encouraged by the surgeon to play keys to rehab my hand and build strength. He wanted me to use the hand and keep my fingers active. So I started studying piano and keys. I practiced and studied everyday. I produced a lot of new music that WASN’T guitar driven. I started singing again and writing lyrics. I kept my creative juices flowing as much as I could. I didn’t touch a guitar for over five weeks. However, music never stopped being created. It IS true what they say, “MUSIC HEALS THE SOUL.”
I tried my best to turn this negative into a positive. Everyday I could feel improvement, but it was not speedy. It was sluggish. Fast forward to February, 4th, 2014, the date of my right hand surgery and there I was back in that ice cold room waiting for the inevitable. The day before my surgery I scheduled sessions all day into the night so that I could play as much guitar as possible. I played through the pain and discomfort. I knew this surgery would take me away from guitar for a while again and I needed to bounce back sooner than later. Luckily, this time around it wasn’t nearly as bad as I thought it would be. Maybe because I knew what to expect? Maybe its because I am right handed and that hand is dominant in strength? Who knows? I’m just relieved that surgery is behind me and the road to recovery lies ahead. Can I get a high five??? (be gentle though) Haha!
I only shared this because I wanted to stress how important taking care of ourselves really is. As a musician, I grew up hearing the saying, “Sex, Drugs and Rock n’ Roll’ as the mantra for being a artist. Honestly, most of my idols had drug, drinking and/or health problems despite their talents and abilities. I like to adopt “some” of their philosophies, however, I am very focused on health and fitness. I had someone ask me, “Why do you go so hard on working out when you hate being in a gym?” I explained to them, that it isn’t so I can be buff and flex muscles, it is so that I have the energy and stamina to pursue music to the best of my abilities. I can’t achieve the goals I want without energy, strength and focus. That’s where health and fitness comes in for me. It gives me clarity and also fights off depression, which I have battled for years. I want to feel good, not shitty, ya know? That is juts my own personal approach and philosophy.
Now, with this blog entry, I’m not suggesting everyone join a gym, start drinking smoothies, and get a GNC membership. I just wanted tot share something very personal that still is music-related. I am just simply saying take care of yourself, in whatever way suits you best. No matter what your dreams, passions and goals are, don’t take your health for granted. Health in a weird way, is your co-pilot to getting to where you want to go and enjoying the ride along the way.
Well, until next time, keep pushing on!!! See ya at a show soon!!!!!
Byron “Nasty” Nash