Sunday, July 17, 2011

Dealing with Pain.

Well I made it. My last day at the World Series of Poker was Friday , July 15th. To say that I survived with life and limb would be true, but one limb in particular is definitely worse for wear. More on that in a second.

Let me start by admitting that I feel a bit foolish thinking I could maintain 3 jobs at once. My original plan was to work at the Golden Nugget on weekdays from 11am-7pm, and then head over to the Rio and work at the World Series of Poker from 8pm-4am, while picking up shifts at the Mirage on the weekends and any days off from the WSOP. I laugh now at the idea that I thought I could do that. At lunch, on the very first day at the Golden Nugget, I talked with a few of the other dealers. I learned that we would be paid somewhere between $5-$7 per down. (a "down" is a 30 minute period at each table.) That is not good pay for a dealer. At that rate it would hardly cover the cost of gasoline and parking. By contrast, the pay at the WSOP was between $16-$20 per down. It didn't take me long to decide that it simply wasn't worth the time and/or energy. I finished the day, but politely informed the poker room manager that I would not be returning. It turns out that I would not have been able to stay on anyhow, the pay notwithstanding. My boss at the Mirage reminded me that as an "on-call" dealer I need to have much more availability. So, I worked exactly one day at the Nugget and called it quits. I never would have been able to maintain that pace anyhow because...

One day before the WSOP started, things got complicated. While at the gym doing bench presses, I pulled some muscles in my right shoulder/back. Over the next day the area tightened up and went into spasm. The following morning, while getting out of bed, the tightness put direct pressure on my spine, and something popped. It felt like I had been shot. The pain was excruciating. I collapsed onto the floor. I wept in pain for several minutes before I managed to gather the strength to stand. I rolled up a towel and bit down on it to muffle my cries. The pain shot down through my shoulder, arm, all the way to my fingertips. After 10 minutes had passed and the pain had not subsided, I called my friend and asked her to bring me to the hospital. At the emergency room they injected me with Dilaudid, a painkiller. But it did little to make me any more comfortable. They took x-rays, which came back negative for any bone damage. I was then swiftly discharged with a sprained shoulder diagnosis, and given a bill. I did have a sprained shoulder... but that was lesser of my injuries. Over the next week it became apparent to me that I had persistent nerve problems. The pain continued, but I noticed that if I tilted my neck to one side, it would lessen to a tolerable level. Obviously I could not walk around all day with my head on my shoulder, so mostly I just dealt with the pain... and took shitloads of Advil. I started researching my symptoms on the internet. It wasn't long before I recognized what had happened. The key was the weakness, numbness and shooting pains through shoulder, arm, and all the way down to my right thumb, index finger, and half of my middle finger. This is indicative of a pinched nerve root. This video explains exactly how it works. An MRI is the only way to reveal the severity of the disc herniation... almost certainly located at the C5/C6 vertebrae, and the subsequent root nerve impingement. My problem was, I had no time to go to the doctor to confirm any of this. So I just had to deal with it. Literally. It was very tough going for the first week. Some days were better than others, as the level of inflammation around my injury would dictate the amount of sensation I had in my fingers. Some days I could barely feel anything in my index finger and thumb. I would sometimes drop or fumble with the chips. The cards would occasionally fly out of my hand erratically. If it became noticeable, I would explain my disability to those at the table. In large part they were sympathetic. But even with a gimp arm, I still managed to function fairly well, and with better efficiency than many of the other dealers. That says A LOT about the skill of the average dealer at the WSOP, but that is the topic for another post.

The first part of treatment for an injury of this type is rest. Unfortunately I could not give it the amount necessary as I had to work nearly every day... sometimes for over 17 hours straight. The injury also interrupted my exercise schedule. This has had a significant effect on my body. See, for the last 4 years, I have trained with weights 3 or more times per week, and played tennis or some other cardio activity just as often, if not more. As such, I maintained a very lean body composition. I suppose my metabolism had become used to this regimen. So, without it... my body began to dispose of the excess muscle. It didn't take me long to start wasting away. Within 3 weeks I had lost 7 lbs. Today I am down about 10 lbs of muscle mass from my torso and arms. I have high hopes that I will recover fully and get back into shape someday. For now,.I will have to continue to assure people that I am not dying. :) Having has a few days now to rest, I feel like the sensation and strength is slowly returning to my right side. I have an appointment with the Orthopedist next week, where we will get the MRI's and find out the exact nature of the injury. I may also see a chiropractor as it has become apparent that my frame is very uneven.

Enough about my arm. Tomorrow I will post about my experiences while dealing at the World Series of Poker.

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