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I feel like James, from Survivor

By Gary F. Zeolla

The following message was posted in the Weight Trainer's United forum and on my MySpace page.

For those who did not watch this season’s Survivor (winter-spring 2008), James was a very muscular, ripped, large guy, who had to leave the game due to an infected finger. Unfortunately, I don’t look anything like James, but like him, I might get knocked out of the “game” by an infected finger. The game being the powerlifting contest I was planning on entering Saturday June 7, 2008, the Northeastern States Championships for the Natural Strength Athletes Association (NASA).

The story: when I woke up on Memorial Day morning (5/26), the tip of my left index finger was a little swollen and painful. I didn’t think much of it. I had put in a bench assistance workout on Sunday, so I just assumed I must have slightly “crushed” it between some weights, but just shrugged it off at the time.

I didn’t notice it much the rest of the day, and I put in my final heavy squat workout before my upcoming contest Monday afternoon. It didn’t bother me at all during the workout, but that evening it really began to hurt, so I iced it some.

That night, I barely slept at all. I wasn’t sure why, I just couldn’t sleep. The next day, the swelling had increased to the entire finger, and it was very painful, and now throbbing, and rather red. I iced it throughout the day, but that didn’t help at all. That night, I didn’t sleep a wink. The pain and throbbing kept me awake. Plus, I was freezing all night long.

Wednesday morning, I finally called my doctor. Fortunately, he was able to seem right away. That’s when he diagnosed it as an infection. I had thought of that, but unlike James who had gash on his knuckle, there’s no cut on my finger. All the doctor could finger is the infection got in through the area around the fingernail. But I have no idea where I might have picked up the infection from.

The doctor gave me a prescription for an antibiotic. He also warned me that if the infection seemed to be going up into my arm to get the ER immediately to get IV antibiotics. In fact, that’s what James ended up needing, hence why he had to leave the game. But he came back to be on the jury, wheeling an IV pole besides him!

In any case, I told the doctor about my upcoming powerlifting contest. He assured me that it would be cleared up by then. However, when I told him I had planned on putting in my last two heavy workouts on Wednesday and Thursday, he advised against that. So if I still enter the contest, it will mean it will be almost two weeks since I put in heavy workout.

I say “if” as here it is Saturday morning (5/31), one week from the contest, and three days on the antibiotics, and there is no change in my finger. It is still as swollen and red as before, but at least it hasn’t gotten worse. And I have been sleeping reasonably well. Taking acetaminophen is helping some with the pain.

But still, I am having a hard time typing. Just try typing without using your index finer, and you’ll see what I mean. So I have really gotten behind work-wise.

If there is no further improvement by Monday morning, I will call the doctor again. I might still end up needing the IV antibiotics. Or maybe, it’s not an infection at all, but maybe something else. But what that “else” would be, I have no idea.

But I do know, if the swelling doesn’t come down, it will be very difficult to hold onto the bar. There’s no way I can wrap my thumb over my index finger like I normally do. So the best I could do it stick the index finger out, not using it at all, and wrap my thumb over my middle finger. That should work for squats and benches, but using just three fingers might not be enough strength to hold onto a heavy deadlift.

My original plan was to put in a light squat workout tomorrow, then a light bench workout on Monday. And that would be it for working out until the contest. I might still do that to see if I can hold the bar. But I wasn’t planning on deadlifting again until the contest. But I might try a light lift just to see if I can hold the bar or not.

Meanwhile, today was when I planned on starting to cut weight for the contest. Weigh-ins are the evening before the contest, at 6:00 pm. I will be competing in the 114 pound weight class. I weighed 121.0 this morning. The actual weight class limit is 114.5 pounds (52 kilograms). So that means I need to cut 6-1/2 pounds in 6-1/2 days.

I have no choice but to start cutting weight now, but I will be really upset if I cut weight and end up not being able to compete. Add to that the fact that I’ve been training for this contest all year. I found out about it in January, and I started a 20 week routine to prepare for it on January 13. And I usually only enter one contest a year, and this contest is it. So again, I will be real upset if I cannot enter it over a finger!

If I do compete, I have no idea what the time off, the infection, and the loss of sleep will do to my strength levels. I figure the best plan will be to open up much lighter than I had originally planned to be sure I get an attempt in for each lift. I will especially have to lower my opening deadlift attempt. If the opener goes well, I might jump more for my second attempt than I normally do.

In any case, assuming I enter the contest, I will be out of touch for several days due to the contest. I will post a contest report the week after the contest.

If anyone lives in the area, you’re more than welcome to come and watch. The contest starts at 10:00 am and is being held at:

Washington High School
201 Allison Avenue
Washington, PA 15301

Below are a couple of pics of my finger. The first I took myself on Wednesday, but it didn’t come out too good. The next two my dad took today.


Top 2



Pre-Contest Updates

If any cares, I wanted to post some updates on several issues in regards to my contest this Saturday (6/7/08). It is now Thursday morning (6/5) as I post this.

First, on my infected finger, by Sunday morning (6/1), the pain had mostly subsided, unless I bumped or tried to use my finger. However, the swelling had not gone down. Plus, there was now a “puffy” spot on the top of the finger, below the fingernail.

I assumed there was pus underneath. So I debated on getting a sterile needle and pocking it. But I figured it would be best to ask the doctor first. So Monday morning I called the doctor. He wanted to see me again, so I went to his office in the afternoon. He said the puffy spot was an abscess and needed to be drained. Moreover, he said because of the abscess, the blood flow to the finger was being blocked, and hence so was the anti-biotitic, hence why it wasn’t working.

But before he cut the finger, he gave me a shot of Novocain. He did ask first if I might be allergic to it, like two seconds before he stuck me. It didn’t give me time to think about it. In any case, a lot of pus came out, so it needed drained.

As it turned out, I most likely was allergic to the Novocain, as I barely slept a wink that night and felt terrible the next day. I’ve slept some the last couple of nights, but not real well. Thinking about it, the same thing happened when the dentist used Novocain on me a year ago when I had three fillings replaced (which was a big mistake, but that’s another story).

In any case, if the doctor had given me a chance to think, I would have remembered about the dentist and told him not to use the Novocain. There really was no reason for it. Shooting in the Novocain really hurt, I am sure as much if not more than it would have hurt if he had cut me without it.

But at least after all of that, my finger is now much improved. The swelling is almost down, and the pain is mostly gone. However, the skin ripped off over the area where the abscess was. So now I got a circle of a about ” diameter with the top layer of skin missing, right where my thumb grasps my index finger when I hold the bar. So I will have to wear a bandage. I’ve tried several different ones to find the one that seems to slip the least, and I’ll cover it with chalk, so it should be okay.

Second, on my training, I missed my last two heavy workouts last week as a result of the infection. But I managed to put in a light workout for each lift on Sunday and Monday. And those went well. I was able to hold onto the bar without using my bad finger, even on deadlifts. But then, I didn’t go that heavy, but hopefully, by Saturday, the swelling will be gone, and I will be able to hold the bar normally.

For those light workouts, I did my planned warm-ups and openers for the contest for each lift. I had already dropped my originally planned openers, so they were very easy, but with the problems I’ve been having, I think that will be best.

Third, in regards to my weight, this morning I was down to 117.8, so I still got 3.3 pounds to lose by tomorrow night. That might sound like a lot, but last time, I was at 117.8 the morning of weigh-ins. And today is when I cut out sodium as much as possible, so hopefully, that will drop some water weight, and I will be close to weight by tomorrow morning.

I don’t want to get the position I did last time of having to take two hot baths to make weight. With doing so, I was never able to fully re-hydrate, and with it up being very hot the day of the contest (mid-80s), my performance was affected.

Well this time the weather will be even worse. It will be in the 90s with high humidity. It would figure. We’ve had a rather cool spring here in the Pittsburgh area, with temperatures below normal for weeks. But just in time of the contest, we’re looking at the hottest weather of the year. So I really need to be careful about dehydrating too much and then even more careful about re-hydrating.

But despite all of this, I am ready. I’ll be leaving tomorrow. The contest is only an hour or so drive away. But to get there requires driving through Pittsburgh. So to get there for 6:00 pm on Friday for weigh-ins would have required driving through the city right at rush hour, which would turn that hour into more like an hour and half or more.

With my fibromyalgia, I was afraid it would be too much for me to drive to weigh-ins in rush hour traffic, drive home, then drive back down the next morning for the contest, then home again afterwards. Plus all the driving would cut into my post-weigh-in eating and re-hydrating time. So I found a very inexpensive Red Roof Inn 1.5 miles from the contest site. So I will be staying there rather than driving back and forth.

I am already packed, including lots of food and liquids. I also already checked Subway’s Web site, and it looks liked there’s a Subway right by the high school and another by the hotel, so I will be stopping at one of those for a 12” sub.

I’ll post a contest report next week.


For how this contest went, see NASA NE States Powerlifting Championships - 2008.

I feel like James, from "Survivor." Copyright 2008 by Gary F. Zeolla.

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