Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Not taking your health for granted--Part 1 By Lee Kelley

When anyone sets out to be a musician, there is one thing that doesn’t really come to the forefront of the thought process…Personal health. Because being a musician is a somewhat taxing physical career and we just barrel through days, weeks and years of gigs, we tend to follow the mentality of “the show must go on.” Think about how many gigs you have played with a cold, flu, a muscle pulled or torn, or even worse. Sometimes your health is as such that the show cannot go on but may have to go on without you. So,what happens when you have spent years playing only to have a health issue come up that is unavoidable and has to be dealt with, even at the cost of having to step away from playing for a bit? This is what happened to me during the back half of 2008.
It all started innocently enough with a day on the lake in early August. In the latter half of the afternoon, we were hanging out with friends from my fiancée, Denay’s,job. We decided to go cliff jumping on one of the islands. Well, I decided to take a jump from the highest point of about 42 feet. Probably not one of the smartest decisions, you know? I jumped,and instead of landing straight in the water(Perpendicular), I landed at a slight angle. This felt like my lower back was slammed against a concrete floor, knocking the wind out of me in the process.
Once I came back to the water’s surface, I knew something was wrong. My back was in very intense pain and my mobility was limited due to that discomfort. I slowly got back to the boat with a little help,and someone pulling me part of the way with their jet ski. Denay and friends helped get me back on the boat and seated, but I knew this was really bad. I got our jet ski back from the friend riding, slowly got it back to the launch, got it on the trailer, towed it back to our house and unhooked the trailer….all while in extreme pain.
I made my way into the house and upstairs to lie down and wait for Denay to get home from where they were parked at the local marina. Every little movement shot pain through my back,and down my legs. I got as comfortable as possible (no easy feat) with 3 pillows to support my lower back. My fiancée got home and had some back and body medicine for me so I took the pills and sat back hoping for my back to have a bit of relief.
That relief did not come in 1, 2, 3 or 4 hours, even with extra medicine. The pain got worse and my body became stiffer, to the point of screaming at almost any movement. With a road trip for two shows with Mark Chesnutt, my main artist gig at the time, coming up the following weekend, I made the choice to call the band leader, Slim Yamaguichi, and try to set up a substitute for those shows dependant on what my doctor’s prognosis was the following day.
I made an appointment with my physician, Dr. Michael Beckham, the next morning to see him that afternoon. He decided it was a severe sprain, put me on some prescription medication and suggested that I sub out the upcoming gigs to let my back get better. With what would have amounted to roughly 42 hours on a bus (just under 2700 miles), setting up, playing a couple of 2 hour shows and tearing down Dr. Beckham strongly advised against my trying to make it. I went home, got in touch with Slim, subbed the gigs out, took some medication and prepared to just rest and let my back heal.
A couple days into this I noticed a strange development. One of my inguinal hernias that I had as an infant looked like it had ruptured. Upon another trip to Dr. Beckham, he pointed me toward Dr. John Boskind to have it examined. Sure enough,
my suspicions were correct. Luckily it wasn’t serious enough to need to be repaired right then. I went back home to rest for another week or so before having to be back on the road. I just had to make sure to not strain myself or lift anything heavy.
After a couple of weeks of working both in town, on the road and my back feeling a little better, my hernia was beginning to irritate me a little more; nothing too painful, just uncomfortable. I decided then it was time to get with Dr. Boskind about getting it put back in place. Scheduling the surgery for a month or so later, I went back to playing and continued to avoid any overly strenuous activity. I also went over this situation with Chesnutt’s band leader to arrange for a substitute in order for me to spend 2 weeks, of the recommended 4, healing from the surgery.
The last run I would make with them started on September 18th, 2008 and went for the next 14 days. In those 14 days, we would travel a total of 6,500 miles and play 6 gigs….2 in Texas, 3 in California and 1 in Washington State. During this run, my discomfort continued and I can safely say between the ridiculous amount of travel with minimal gigs, my growing frustration of working for an organization with no progressive thinking,and with no control over that, along with the pain, discomfort, medication (prescribed, over the counter and extracurricular), it didn’t make me the most pleasant person to be around, to say the least. I was looking forward to getting on with the surgery and healing process and subbed out the next two road gigs over two weeks. I also decided to take a full month off from any in town work that was a regular thing,or that came up.
The operation day came and went without much of a hitch. I then kicked back to let it heal as the pain and discomfort was quite something to deal with. Just going through the days as lightly as possible and taking the medications required by the doctor. I would only take the prescribed medications as directed and no more, trying to wean myself off of them slowly as I realized during this process how easy it would be to become addicted to the pain killers given to me. I did however notice myself getting a bit winded from simple things like walking upstairs in our house. I just figured that was due to the surgery I just went through and expected it to clear up as I healed; more on that later.
The following weekend, my second weekend off the road, Denay decided to do some painting in the kitchen and I was feeling somewhat well enough to try and do some light work. Not only in weight, but we literally had a couple of new lights to replace the old ones outside our front and back entrances. It was a pretty nice day. A warm day in October, but not too hot, I decided to give it a shot since it didn’t seem too strenuous to hang a light or two.
It began all well and good. Got about 2/3rds through the project and got extremely winded and dizzy. I sat down on the patio for a minute thinking it was just momentary, but a cold sweat broke out and Denay insisted I go inside and lie down, as I probably should not have been doing it to begin with. A couple hours later I felt better and finished that one, but figured I better call Chesnutt’s band leader to discuss my stamina concerns.
I called Slim on October 12th to discuss my issues and concerns with him, how I would be coming back on the 18th, but would still need a good bit of help getting my kit up and down. Upon this call, Slim informed me that Chesnutt and his management had decided to make a change,with me being let go. In other words, I am fired while healing from hernia surgery. As I stated before, I was not the easiest person to travel,or play with at this point, so I can’t say I blame them really.
This was, however, quite a shock as anyone can imagine. Luckily for me, my family was amazingly supportive. They have all understood the precarious and bohemian lifestyle of a musician, especially my fiancée. While I couldn’t really see the forest for the trees, so to speak, she immediately believed, without a shadow of a doubt, this change was something that should be taken for great advantage. She was right.
Denay said not to worry and take the actual 4 weeks to heal. After that time, get back to playing my local gigs, slowly get back in the loop for more road work, but most importantly, just look forward to the joy of our upcoming wedding the following month. Sounded great to me.

Part 2 next month....