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The Slim shady year, part two

“Life without dreaming is a life without meaning.” – Wale

In my previous post about events of 2018, I mentioned that I embarked on Do-It-Yourself-style research into my rapidly progressing adductor muscle tightness. In the opening of that first post, I said that my intent is not to be brief, but then somehow, I slipped into a hasty style of talking about the three months I spent in Basel. Recognizing this disconnect, I’m correcting myself and slowing down the pace of writing. For the third post, I’m planning to shift to even lower gear to make space for details.

Now, back to my Do-It-Yourself-style research. I concluded that reading raw low-level medical papers wasn’t going anywhere. I lacked the big picture, and it was unlikely I would build it out myself - the space was too vast. I need a smarter way to navigate it than pure brute force.

The conventional way is to tap into a network of specialists. In my case, it was the network of doctors specializing in sports medicine. I decided to order a few books on the niche subject of elite sports medicine and training in the hope of generating a fresh list of people to contact. At the same time, I was chatting with my chiropractor friend, and I was telling him how my Basel mission wasn’t working out. He suggested I should visit a chiropractor named Meersseman. My friend described Meersseman as in equal parts a legend and a medical schismatic.

Meersseman was a founder of a famed AC MilanLab - a high-tech, an interdisciplinary research center focused on cultivating the top athletic performance. Through MilanLab, Meersseman pioneered applying predictive analytics (as we know from tech companies) to detailed training customization for each soccer player individually, with fantastic results in players’ performance and injury-free longevity. That’s the glorious part. He is a fervent believer in the “whatever works” approach disregarding the standard practices of Western medicine, which is the less superb side. As a result, Meersseman attracts stern critics.

I was under the supervision of some of the best people in conventional medicine in the world, and they didn’t know what to recommend, so I was open to trying something new. I learned from my friend that Meersseman is based in Como, a picturesque city in Northern Italy, popular among wealthy techies from Bay Area and celebrities from LA. Como was a few hours by a direct train connection from Basel, and I decided on the spot to go.

However, my schedule at Rennbahnklinik was packed. The whole idea of moving to Basel was to embark on a super intense combination of physical therapy and training. So I had to talk to my therapist and free up a day for the trip. I thought about how I could run this idea by her. It took a lot of convincing to book up otherwise busy people for three months, and now I would effectively question her team’s skills. Or at least, I worried that could be one way to see it. Still, the priority for me was to try absolutely anything to finally recover and get to other things in life.

  • “I’ve heard great things about this guy called Meersseman, I feel like we’re stuck, and I would like for him to see me. What do you think?”
  • “Sounds like a good idea to see him. He sounds interesting and maybe will find something we miss. I’m curious what he will say.”

I was going to Como next week.

Here, I want to pause and share my tally of physical therapists. I’ve worked with more than two dozens by this point. You will get three reactions if you start throwing ideas for what they could try outside their curriculum. The bad ones will not mind your ideas but won’t be able to run with them either; they’re that bad. Good ones will often resist or visibly dislike your melding with their expertise, almost like deep inside, they hold a scrap of insecurity. And then you have the great ones that are forceful when sure and perpetually curious. So the more stuck they are, the more open to experimentation and learning they are. It’s your growth mindset right here. Fabienne was among the best I’ve worked with.

Back to my trip to Como. I’ve arrived in this cozy, sun-drenched town in Northern Italy around noon. I had some spare time before the appointment and went strolling the town to explore local restaurants. I took this picture of the back patio of one of them:

Unexpectedly, the sight moved me deeply. An all-in effort to recover is fundamentally a very lonely journey, and the deserted red rose was a perfect metaphor for my feelings. That picture became one of my strongest memories from my Como pilgrimages.

The appointment at Meersseman’s clinic consisted of three parts: a general admission interview, a posture+gait examination, and a half-an-hour slot with JP Meersseman himself. To cut it to the chase, Meersseman formulated the diagnosis instantly upon seeing me and the results of my posture examination. The verdict: my five-year-old jaw joint (TMJ) injury from a nearly deadly ski accident is causing my leg muscles to tense up. The visible symptoms are my pain/tightness in the adductor and rotation in my pelvic. An interesting twist is that rotated pelvic forces other body parts (e.g., lower back) to compensate. That introduces a constant tension in the back and the neck, which exacerbates joint misalignment—truly spooky at-distance-work. The worrying catch was that I didn’t hear how exactly jaw’s position could influence my adductor’s activity and why it was this muscle and not any other.

I took a train back to Basel the same day. The following day, I discussed this with Fabienne, and she found the hypothesis believable. She has heard of the jaw-pelvic and leg muscles connection before. She didn’t know the exact mechanism behind it, either.

I had new hope and a new path to explore. Was it worth going, against all other options, though? Meersseman seemed to be onto something, but at the very end of our first appointment, he admitted that my case is complex, and he has to think about whether he can help me. He was hesitant, and I had some serious doubts. At this point, I had an experience of working with over a dozen of doctors and became immune to too-good-to-be-true diagnosis. So how do you make the decision that this is the turn I should take next?

A side note: here, I’m offering a much more distilled version of my story with Meersseman. If you’re reading this, because like me, you were desperately researching the Internet for any new clue for your own injury, you might enjoy the fine details I included in week 5 and week 6 notes of my 2018 Basel trip.

As part of my research on JP Meersseman, I looked him up on Google Books. As a rule of thumb, I find media coverage (e.g., articles in sports magazines) to provide a supremely weaker signal-to-noise ratio than books. A well-written, non-fiction book represents a compressed authors’ view over a given subject. Hence my “life-hack” is to utilize books as much as possible, and Google Books is invaluable in finding the leads. Google Books yielded a particularly promising lead: The New Science of Elite Performance at Any Age by Jeff Berovic. On my way to Como, I started reading the book and found this quote:

That tipped me over to try working with the Como-based chiropractor. He had the right kind of bravado to look where others might have not. My job was to both convince him that I’m worth his attention and, at the same time, watch out for any trace of snake oil. The problem with common sense is that it’s usually right; I’d remind myself often that stepping to the very edge of medicine must be coupled with utmost prudence.

On my subsequent trips to Como, I’d collect and analyze scraps of evidence that would either strengthen or weaker my belief that JP Meersseman owned keys to my puzzling muscle disorder.

Thanks to Lyn Nagara for reading my drafts.