Friday, November 06, 2009

The Year in Jim: Epilogue

"If I wasn't done before, I'm done now."

In the finals of the Grand Masters tournament in July, Alex caught a swing pass near the sideline. I was about 10 yards in front of him, being fronted, so I faked a step in and bolted long as he hucked the backhand. Because of the thin air or his poor touch, I had to keep chasing after it and laid out for it. I caught it a split-second after it hit the ground and put it down*. But as I got to my feet, I noticed that both of my arms were tingling.

* - I knew it was down and never considered calling it up, but I somehow had time to turn around and notice my defender pointing down before I did anything with the disc. Maybe I was paying attention to my hands. I later asked the observer whether he would have called it up, just to see what he said. He said it was down, but maybe he was just covering for himself.

At Regionals, down 6-4, we had turned it and I noticed DJ of GLUM was looking to throw it into the endzone, so I dropped off my guy. He threw it, and I had to take an awkward angle to the disc to try to block it. I missed and ended up hitting the ground. Once again, my arms were tingling, and I headed to the sideline for a break.

Around the same time, a similar feeling happened when I landed funny playing basketball. In all these cases, there was a sharp hit and an immediate sensation which began dissipating immediately and within about a minute I was back to normal.

Then at Nationals, it happened at least three times, but this time I didn't have the sharp hit. Once, I simply reached out suddenly to try to block a throw, and twice, I was simply running hard. The last time, my last point, I was sprinting to make a jumping bid at a block, but as I swing my arm down to jump up, my arm isn't responding right, and I am unable to jump. By this time even _I_ have become a little suspicious of what's going on (unless it's debilitating, I generally don't seek medical advice; even for nagging injuries, I don't do a whole lot except for occasional ice and ibuprofen and maybe rest; I considered it a major step this year when I bought several pairs of new shoes to combat nascent plantar fasciitis). I mention this to a few people over the next few hours, and tentatively make plans to see a doctor when I get back, when I get around to it.

That night, I end up at the beach after the bars close, and I'm standing next to Alex, no doubt spewing about something. Two of our friends see us and decide it'd be funny to tackle us (and I have to agree with that), so they rocham to see who gets whom and charge us. I see tje charge at the last second but can't prevent it and end up flat on my back. However, my legs immediately feel very heavy, and I realize that I can't get up. As soon as I am aware of it, I try to wiggle my toes and find that I can, and then I begin the struggle to get up. I can finally move my arms and legs after maybe a minute but it's like pins and needles, times 100. I can sit up a little bit, and can sorta flop my arm over. It takes me probably five minutes before I am able to stand under my own power. Never in this time range did I have any change in mental faculties, no shortness of breath or seeing stars (well, I guess I could see stars since we were outside and it was a clear night). Eventually I'm ok, and fortunately someone finds a doctor in the group and he interviews me and determines that I'm not in any imminent danger of paralysis or death, but that I really need to see someone as soon as I get back.

Over the next day and a half, I'm sore, though not appreciably sorer than I would be any other year, and my arms and legs feel a little weak. Additionally, my arms feel a little weird. I have a little trouble sleeping so take some ibuprofen.

I go to my PCP on Monday afternoon and describe my symptoms, she calls a specialist to discuss, and they set me up with X-Rays and an MRI. Within an hour of the MRI, I get a call at my house suggesting that I should probably go to the ER this evening instead of waiting until the morning, since the doctor would "hate to see a young guy like me paralyzed." (He quickly added that he'd hate to see any age person paralyzed.) We arrange for the boy to have a sleepover, and get to the ER at about 8. Now, I didn't really think there was any imminent danger, and they didn't whisk me to the front of the line, but they put me in an uncomfortable neck brace and make me lie down, where I stay for the next 8 hours or so. I tell them I had an MRI at another hospital, but when they finally see me four or five hours later, they ask me if I have the MRI. My wife has to then drive to the other hospital to get a CD of it (they don't share information electronically) so they can look at it. The resident on call is somewhat apologetic but otherwise the staff isn't all that attentive or sensitive to the fears of this patient. I eventually see a neurologist at about 2 or 3 in the morning (or was it 1?), and he's half-asleep. (The reason I was directed to this hospital was that the other one didn't have a neuro staff working.) After looking at the MRI, he tells me I can go home but they'll give me some steroids or other anti-inflammatory to reduce the swelling in my spinal cord. He goes off to ask his "spine guy", and comes back and says in a monotone, "Our spine guy got kinda excited when I said I was sending you home." "Is that excited happy or excited agitated?" I reply. "Yeah, he wants you to stay here tonight. How are you with that?" What do you think, bucko? Oh, after he leaves, the nurse comes back and says, "So, you'll be having surgery in a day or two, is that right?" Huh, how about that.

In another hour or two, I get some more X-rays and then get ushered upstairs to a room, where they finally remove that cursed neck brace and I can get to sleep for a bunch of hours. I get woken up at about 9:30 and am told that they are scheduling a CT scan as soon as they can. Around 2 they come in and tell me that it will be at 4. At 4 I am picked up and taken to the CT area, where I am propped up without a word for about 40 minutes. Finally I get taken in, the tech apologizes and says an emergency had to get screened, I jokingly say "but I was here first", and we get the CT scan done. Unfortunately, the "team" doesn't have time to look at it before their shift is over, and I have to hang out until "first thing in the morning" to get the results.

At about 10, I'm told by a nurse practitioner who is trying to make me think she's a doctor that they'll be letting me out that afternoon but that I'll need surgery and that the attending neuro will talk to me after he's out of surgery at 1 or so. At around 3, after hearing nothing, I'm a little upset at the lack of attention. In 36 hours of an expensive hospital stay, I've had 10 minutes of diagnostics, 5 minutes of an NP, a bunch of vital signs readings (I made a control chart of my pulse rate), and a whole lot of waiting. Luckily I have my laptop and there is wi-fi, so I am able to keep in touch with the team and let them know what is going on, and my wife has spent a lot of time at the hospital with me, though she was also trying to do work. It's just annoying that they tell me so little and leave me waiting for long periods of time past when they said they would do something. I called the patients advocate line to pre-complain about my bill and the lack of attention, and I almost never bring my complaints to the authorities, generally just keeping them to those within earshot.

Finally, sometime after 4, the team (attending, sleepy doc, and NP) comes in, and I learn that I have two of my neck vertebrae compressed against each other and there are spurs and there is some impingment on my narrow spinal column. The fluid that I thought I heard the MRI guy say was there is not there, but there is swelling, which will have to subside over the next few weeks prior to doing anything. I'm lucky that I'm not paralyzed, I'm told. I ask whether that's "lucky like there was a chance that I could have been paralyzed, or lucky like 'I'm surprised you're NOT paralyzed'", but the attending doesn't seem to understand my question, as he apparently has not been briefed on how to handle levity. (The nurses who frequently came in were personable.) There is no fracture, I'm stable, I'm in no immediate danger, but I'll need a laminectomy. I'm confused about a lot of it but he is staring so sullenly I don't know what to ask. They write nothing down and discharge me with instructions to wear a (more comfortable but still not fun) neck brace and take the OTC medicine of my choice for pain and schedule a surgery consult for the next week or two, which apparently gets scheduled for December 8 without telling us.

There is a wide enough range of outcomes per teh Interwebs that I can't tell what to expect from post-surgery without more detailed knowledge of my specifics. I have the MRI and CT Scan and have sent out copies to a neuroradiologist friend who will share it with his colleagues, and I'm going to get a second opinion. I think there's a good chance I've played my last competitive ultimate game, and I can live with that, but I'll be really disappointed if I can't golf or play softball (not to mention what would happen if I get another traumatic hit prior to surgery and end up paralyzed).

Ooh, I get shivers just typing that sentence.

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

The Year in Jim: Masters

So, back to DoG and Masters. I had already missed two tournaments. I quietly put my name on the roster, and eventually word got around. I got sincere "Sorry, it would have been cool, but we're glad to have you back." Both were true. The idea of a 44 year old playing a cutter role on a Nationals contender would have been cool, but it was also nice being back in my comfort zone, both as a player and as a teammate. I was actually relishing the idea of being a bit player who could focus on going all out every point, but I also enjoy the challenges of being The Man.

I had been doing some training already. Besides the Ironside practices, I did the weekly team workout, and was doing a lot of microexercises. I did a set of 50 no-weight squats every day, would do various reps of other exercises when I had a minute to spare, would hold up my computer bag while walking to build up arm strength, little stuff like that. Those all stopped. Later, I would return to doing some workouts, but not right away.
I played in the championship of the Ultimate Showcase a couple weeks later. It was really odd being on the same field with some of the Ironside guys. Only one of them said anything at all to me at all related to my having been with them just before, but hey, what do you say to Jim Parinella after you just cut him? I played poorly, or at least caught poorly, though it was windy. I must have had three drops, maybe even four, in the first half-dozen points, plus a throwaway, a block, a goal thrown and a goal caught. I think I was turnover-free the rest of the way, adding two blocks and some goals, but didn't do anything of real note.
My first tournament back was Boston Invite. We lost a couple winnable games on Saturday and had to win a game to stay in the 9-16 bracket. I was a little down and played uninspired that day, happy and sad to be back. On Sunday I felt good, though, and helped beat Open Nationals qualifier Pike in our B quarters. That was definitely fun, and I felt like if I had played like that in tryouts maybe things would have been different. We then had Pony next, and started off in a similar vein with me getting open at will against the best defenders on a team that thought it could be at Nationals, but then age 44 kicked in and Pony played better and took control of the game. But it was a fun morning, with the team's best game in some time.
Next up was Grand Masters in Denver, which was like Masters, but without even that level of defensive pressure. It was hot and at altitude. We had two games in a row on Saturday where I felt every day of my age and then some, but otherwise I had another very good two days of running. I did get lazy at times with setting up cuts because I knew either that they were going to screw up the coverage or I could just outrun them if they didn't. This actually might be a key point in assessing my real ability to play at a Nationals Open level. It is often said how smart of a cutter I am. It has become more often the case that I punish defensive mistakes rather than just being able to shred regardless, so if a defender plays solid positioning on me and continues to adjust based on the changing flow, I might never make a real cut. But let him suddenly find himself on the wrong side of me because he didn't adjust, and I'll make a devastating cut and catch the goal flat-footed. So if you're young and fast AND you know what you're doing, I might have some real difficulties. That wasn't the case at GM. There were times I found myself thinking, "ok, I need to set this guy up, drive him out a little, act like I'm coming in and make him bite, and then go deep....nah, I'll just sprint deep." After all, those were old guys I was playing against. Some of them were even 44 years old!

So our O had a great time out there, not just me but Coop, Simon and Will all played well. It was basically our starting O line from the regular Masters team.

Next up were two coed tournaments, Hingham and Summer League. Most of Hingham was against bad teams. One team (hardly fair to call it a team, just some counselors from some camp) threw more Callahans than goals and gave up more points than points played (there was a two-point cross-gender huck rule). We had a decent game in the semis, and a good game in the finals against a mid-Regionals-level coed team. I felt very mobile again this game. I mused later that perhaps I am beginning cold-blooded in my old age, in that as long as the sun is out and it's warm, I am lively, but if it's only 60 or less, I am pretty lethargic. (The first day of Nationals disproved that, though.)

Summer League was pretty good, as far as I can remember now. We played in the semis against the Andover High recent grads. Jackie had coached the girls' team there last year and I met some of the parents (who are probably my age). One of them said to me, "It must feel good to be able to keep up with these young kids." Never one to take a compliment well, I responded, "Keep up with? I'm blowing by them." She looked at me strangely, as she should have, nodded, and walked away. But that's how I felt. None of those kids knew enough about how to play, even if they are serious players, so even though sometimes when I had to cover them I was often just trailing them, offense was still pretty easy.

These were all great training experiences for me, much better than an Open tournament with Ironside or 2000s DoG. The sheer number of points played and the increased role in each dwarfed any increased level of opposition. That's partly why I've recommended that aspiring players slum around some. (Probably the bigger reason is to get time playing a bigger role and expand their repertoire and to get more experience in points where they have to play well or the team will lose. I feel this outweighs the possible bad habits they might pick up.)

At Sectionals, the hard fields contributed to my lackluster performance. I had really wanted to play well against Ironside but it was the fourth game of the day and I just didn't have it. I beat one of them deep but I couldn't catch the crappy trailing throw. Breaking the tradition of bad Saturday/good Sunday, I didn't feel better on Sunday, and thus the team didn't do any better.

Clambake did manage to have a couple games in it. This was a harder to classify performance. Typically, I either have it or don't have it on a given day, but there were moments of both here. We had some real struggles moving the disc when I was out there trying hard but just not getting any separation, and times when things went well.

At Regionals, Saturday was one of those days again, another day when I was glad I wasn't out there embarrassing myself in Open. Sunday started off well. I burned one of their players early deep and threw a deep pass in the first few points and I felt good. But the team just fell apart. In the game to go, by the time I actually got to play, the game was essentially over, so it didn't matter.

Nationals, once again. I didn't get good sleep in the couple days prior to Nationals,and when I got up on Thursday, I felt run down. It didn't help that the temperature was going to exceed 90, but despite a good, early warmup, I just never had it in my legs all day. I'm not saying that I'm worth 4 points a game (Bill James once found that the value of a (baseball) superstar is far less than anyone thinks, and I would definitely be psyched if ultimate could one day have enough data to put a number on this), but I feel that if I had been moving well, we'd have beaten GLUM instead of losing to them.

Day 2 was much better. The quarters were the highlight of the tournament for us. Our O had only 2 turnovers and 1 break and we won 15-13. I didn't feel quite as good as at some of the other events this year but with strong performances all around, we did well.

The semis were pretty good but a half-step down for me. I had one full-field sprint for a goal but otherwise have nothing specific I can add about my play. It was certainly a game we could have won, something that no one would have thought possible after Thursday's play. We got broken twice to start the game, then there wasn't a break either way again until 13-11. Surly then scored on their only upwind point of the game, and then we got broken on our second upwind point of the game, and it was over. The 3/4 game was a throwaway, notable only for it being the only time we ever played the Condors and joked with them throughout the game.

Coop played great for us all weekend and deserves the team MVP. After being afraid of what he would be able to contribute, he did it all for us and was unstoppable throughout the tournament. Props also to Marshall Goff for solid and sometimes spectactular play handling. I'd go on, but after all, this is "The Year in Jim."

The team was one point away from not even making the quarters. After beating Ball and Chain Friday morning, we thought that guaranteed us a spot. Only during the last round did we realize that if we lost and Boneyard beat GLUM by exactly two, the three-way tie would go to the second tiebreaker, total point differential, and all we could think of was that we had suffered a blowout loss to Surly, and how lucky we were that we had gotten a break at the end to beat Boneyard by two (rather than trading out on serve to win by one). So we're watching that game while we're losing big to Troubled Past. In the TP game, we started out on serve, got a break, Al threw a hammer OB, we get the break back, Al throws another hammer OB to the other side, and they take half. After another break, things spiral and we start looking ahead to the quarters. Except that it's close on the next field. But GLUM is winning or at least has the wind advantage, until I look over at 13-13 to see Boneyard cheering in the upwind endzone celebrating their go-ahead goal. I next look over to see Boneyard cheering the ensuing turnover, and see them catch the goal that gives them the dreaded two point win. Meanwhile, we're down 13-8 and then 14-9, and we watch dreading that every turnover is going to be the one that keeps us out of the quarters by a point. But we manage to get 3 straight to make it 14-12 prior to losing 15-12, and then we hurry over to tournament central to figure out what's going on. Several teams are gathered around to see what's going on. I quickly add together our scores and get -2. A GLUM guys tells me that his team is also -2, and thus our team would finish behind theirs in a two-way tie, so if Boneyard was at -1 or better, we were out. But a quick add shows that Boneyard is -9, and I add GLUM's total to confirm that they are -2, and so I let everyone know what I found, and for about 15 minutes, this is the official word (GLUM, us, Boneyard, respectively, for 3-5), and we play Beyondors in the quarters for the live stream. I confirm with Will Deaver that overall point differential is indeed the second tiebreaker, so we start to mentally prepare for the big game. Eventually, though, when they do the official adding together, they announce that GLUM is really -6 and thus we are 3rd place and play OLDSAG in the quarters. I am torn at this point. I wanted to play the Condors, but I also wanted to improve my chances at making semis (and thus avoiding the consolation games), so do I tell them they added it wrong? Eventually, I decide not to, but go over to see the scores one more time. I then discover that when I got to the final game, I had GLUM at -4, then went and added 2 for the Boneyard game to get -2 instead of subtracting for -6. Geez, now THAT should embarrass me more than any slowness or codgerdom I show on the field. I try to track down Will to apologize for thinking him stupid but he is ignoring me while talking logistics to some other guy and I continue on.

I'm glad that we were on the live stream for the quarters, allowing my wife and my parents to watch it, up to the point that the feed went out at 13-12. Two interesting anecdotes from that game. After maybe the second O point, I hear my defender Paul Bonfanti asking someone in the next tent over how I had broken him that point. He is told that the throw went over his foot, so I shout over that I will throw the next pass at where his foot is supposed to be, knowing that he will be lifting his foot to the new place. Sure enough, I have the disc on the line and throw underneath him on the break side, and he gets a solid foot on the disc. Luckily for me, it pops up into the air behind me, I turn around and catch it, and continue playing. I let him know after the point that I am so used to getting footblocked that I instinctively know where it will go, while others get so flustered after it happening that they bury their heads and have no bid at the second chance.
Late in the game, at 13-12 I think, Alex has the disc about 10 yards out and on the backhand sideline, I am a couple yards outside the endzone, so we make eye contact, and I cut away for the blade for the goal. As he throws it, the two of us and at least one teammate on the sideline flash back to a hammer in the 2000 semis against Condors that some may remember from the second Above and Beyond video. This one, however, was not so high that it melted from being too close to the sun and not so far that I had to keep running after it and not in the air for so long that I had to think about it, and I caught it. (To this day, I'm still not sure the right way to catch that pass in 2000. It's possible that reaching out with one hand is the best way, though I can't imagine having the balls to do that at a late point in the semis.) My defender shakes his head in disgust and says, "Who throws that?" Here, I thought it was obvious.

Next in the Year in Jim: Epilogue. I promise that there is a cliffhanger.