The Bee Got Me

jiu-jitsu knee injury
I’ll do anything to post a shot of a FightWorks Podcast gi patch!

A bee sting is a terrifying event for a child. Whether the sting is brought on by actively harassing a yellow and black-striped insect that is not meant to be harassed, or by accidentally angering one, just about all kids do one or the other during childhood and receive a painful lesson in return.

I fell into neither category. I was never stung by a bee when I was little. There was a time when the only rational explanation that I could think of was that I had superpowers. “Of course I was stung by a bee at some point. That’s normal! But I bet when the bee tried to sting be it couldn’t penetrate my skin! I never even felt it!”

I later decided that the real explanation for never having been stung was due to an abundance of precaution and luck. Of course, bees being very common it was a near eventuality that I would be stung, and a few years ago I was stung a couple of times (lawn mowers and underground beehives turn out to be a bad mix).

In the same way I wondered if I would make it through life without ever being stung by a bee, for a significant portion of my Brazilian jiu-jitsu career I have been wondering if I was going to make it to black belt with no major injuries. While I have certainly had my share of bumps, bruises, tweaked joints and lingering aches, I had never suffered a significant injury that seem to have affected a sizable minority of jiu-jitsu training partners I have known since I began Brazilian jiu-jitsu training in January 2002.

The odds caught up with me today however. Saturday mornings are normally a great day to train as the classes are huge. Belts from blue to black fill the mats during the advanced class, the training is tough, and you get to see all your buddies. But during the opening minutes of class today, I experienced my first major injury in Brazilian jiu-jitsu when I tore my left knee’s lateral collateral ligament (LCL) completely during warm-ups. Yes, I was not even sparring when I got hurt! That is kind of embarrassing but the good news is that no one has to feel guilty about having any responsibility for the injury.

We were doing the sideways-galloping motion in a large circle around the room, in unison, to get the blood moving a bit. The spectrum of tough jiu-jitsu guys and girls filtered past the small entrance to the mats as the line passed by: BlackBlackBlackBrownBrownBrownPurplePurplePurplePurple and so on. On one of the sideways gallops, my left foot got caught (perhaps I got lazy and didn’t lift it high enough off the mats) and stayed in place. The rest of my body kept moving laterally and when it came time to place all my weight, it all came down but the bottom of my leg was not there to support my weight and my knee buckled inward at a sickly angle.

I immediately crumpled and screamed. For a moment the whole class stopped. Some had seen what happened. Fabio Santos, my instructor, immediately went for the icepack and tied it around my knee with my brown belt. I think I mumbled something to the group like, “Proceed” but it’s a little hazy at the moment.

Fabio and another student (I don’t remember which one) helped me off the mat and laid me down in the lobby of our academy and elevated my leg by placing my foot on a chair, while the ice kept working on the knee. A purple belt student at our school named Luke that I don’t remember ever meeting before began treating me and I took 3 ibuprofen. It turns out he is a doctor.

I stayed there face up with my knee elevated for about a half hour. Due to what I suspect was a combination of shock and the cold from the icepack, I began to shiver. In retrospect I have to admit I felt like a bit of a drama queen, as Fabio prepared a pillow for me from an unused gi top and covered me in towels to keep me warm. But hey I was cold!

Shortly thereafter The FightWorks Podcast resident medical expert Doc, aka UCSD emergency medicine specialist Doctor Aaron Schneir came off the mats in his gi and purple belt to attend to me as well.

He decided that it was time to go to the emergency room. He and Luke carried me to his truck, and we made small talk on the way. Doc reminded me that just the other day, I mentioned that he and I should discuss knee injuries among BJJ folks! Irony, irony, irony.

xray knee injury
Taking a page from Triangulo Pesadelo and posting my hospital photo!

Like Luke, I really owe Doc. In addition to being one of my favorite resources for medical information for The Mighty 600,000 in our humble Brazilian jiu-jitsu internet radio show, he was with me through my whole time in the hospital, from intake, to the x-rays, to making sure I got home okay.

Next Tuesday I will make an appointment with a surgeon to look at things, but it’s a certainty that I will go under the knife. In addition to completely severing the LCL (which needs to be repaired surgically) Doc said I may have actually more ligament damage in there.

I am here at home resting. While there were certainly a number of cute nurses in the hospital, I am lucky that my fiancee (who is already heroically understanding with my passion for Brazilian jiu-jitsu) is a nurse as well and much cuter than the nurses at any hospital.

In the spirit of not letting the injury become an excuse to not get stuff done, I will try to finish up tomorrow’s episode of The FightWorks Podcast but I can’t promise anything. It is already completely recorded and just needs some editing. But if it doesn’t show up tomorrow, I’ll shoot for Monday.

So the lesson for me today is that just like the incident in the front yard with the lawnmower, bees can come out at any time, and you can get hurt when there’s no reason to think you’re going to get hurt. I hope if anything like this happens to any of the Mighty 600,000 that you have a Doc, Luke, and Fabio near you to take care of you!

16 Replies to “The Bee Got Me”

  1. Caleb,

    Sorry to hear the news of your injury. Although I wouldn’t wish them on anyone, I think injuries can be a blessing in disguise. I separated my shoulder last year and it made me explore aspects of my game that I hadn’t previously. Good luck to you in your recovery. It sounds like you have a good nurse to help you through things. Be well.

  2. Oh man im sorry to hear about your knee. i hope u make a speedy recovery
    and please keep us posted man.

    goood save btw
    “I am lucky that my fiancee (who is already heroically understanding with my passion for Brazilian jiu-jitsu) is a nurse as well and much cuter than the nurses at any hospital.” 😉

    hope to hear from ya soon.

  3. I am SO, SO sorry. Been there, done that twice so I certainly feel your pain. Have the surgery, get through the PT (physical therapy OR pain & torture) and you’ll be dancing at your wedding! You’re in our hearts and we love the both of you TONS.

  4. Caleb buddy I hope you rest up and come back strong. that really, really sucks! did Doc tell you how long injuries like this can take to heal? i gotta do some LCL research and find out some more info.

    try to take the down time to your advantage. we’ll all be thinking of you and wishing you a speedy recovery!!!

    take care dude,

  5. Oh man… I’m the purple belt from GB Temecula that’s written you previously… Wow!!!
    I sympathize completely… I have ACL replacement on Wednesday… I’ll send you pics… Holy S… Mine happened the same way…

  6. That’s terrible news: hope you heal up soon!

    If nothing else, all that time recovering could be the perfect opportunity to translate your way through the Reyla Gracie book… ;p

  7. Hey Caleb, I’m really sorry to hear about your injury. It can certainly be scary, but I’m sure you will bounce back fom this even stronger and hopefully with a bionic leg. I’ve had some knee problems in the past and it taught me to always keep my body strong and take – very good – care of it.

    Been a fan of your podcast for a while now but never got to post or write anything – until today! Anyway, best of luck on your recovery and I look forward to hearing about your return to the mats asap.


  8. oh man!! now i know what fully happened. and you are right, it was a sickening angle your leg was at when you fell. makes my stomach churn replaying it in my mind.

    i hope you have a great surgeon and that you heal awesome.


  9. It is good to see that you have a sense of humor and a positive outlook.
    BJJ will always be there for you and I am sure you will find ways to continue to grow while you heal.

  10. Just heard about it Tues. night. Tragic but I think that the fact that you have “gumby legs” to begin with will definitely help you through PT. My knee was pretty stiff for about a year after my ACL replacement but I didn’t have BJJ at the time (nor was I all that flexible before the injury!) Hoping for the best for you.

    On a side note you mention that your girlfriend is a nurse…whew, I’m just glad to hear that you’re back with girls! …j/k


  11. i can feel your pain (figuratively…maybe a little bit literally as well) and i hope you get better soon. i tore my meniscus on new year’s eve (rolling…who goes to jiujitsu class on new year’s eve). i’m about 4 months away from even drilling again and it seems like an eternity. a little advice…go on amazon and buy some gel pads for your crutches. they’ll save you from calloused arm pits.

  12. I feel the pain too. I streched my LCL last fall and I was away from the mat for 5 months. Now I am training again but I still have to take it easily cos the ligament is still loose.
    I am doing movements shown by physioterapeutist to toughen the muscles around the knee. I hope that helps and I don’t have to get surgery. I’ve already had surgery on the same knee (meniscus, couple of years ago).
    In our gym it seems that there is knee-injury-epidemic. I am not the only one.
    Caleb, you should have some knee expert on your show and discuss this stuff.

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