How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Preemptive Invasive Surgery

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Inner Dialogue Voice 1: Are we going to be at the start of every post?

IDV2: Probably, Reed finds it easiest to write the same way he speaks and imagining a dialogue is his way of recreating that.

IDV1: That’s a great justification for talking to yourself.

IDV2: Yeah, he thought so too.

As some of you know, the Major League Baseball Hall of Fame vote was last week. For those of you who didn’t know, the Major League Baseball Hall of Fame vote was last week. Many of the players who played during baseball’s steroid era have been retired long enough that they are eligible for induction into the Baseball Hall of Fame. The sport is currently giving us a fascinating insight into what is and what is not acceptable as far as body modification.

If a player has: the most homeruns in a season and in a career, the highest slugging percentage in a season and in the world series, the highest on base percentage in a season, the most walks in a season, was 7 time league MVP, 14 time all star, 8 time gold glove winner, 12 time silver slugger winner, and is the only player to ever have more times on base than he had plate appearances in a season(baseball stats are weird, but I promise this is possible), you’d think they would get more than 34.7% of the vote to get in the hall of fame. The Baseball Writers Association of America is the organization that votes on who gets into the hall of fame and they’ve clearly decided that Barry Bonds’s use of PEDs is a good enough reason to ignore those accolades and keep him out of the hall.

Before I go on I’m going to give a brief primer on how steroids work on a biological level as well as explain a procedure known as Tommy John surgery. Have you heard fitness trainers recommend alternating ‘leg’ days and ‘arm’ days? Part of the reason for that is when you exercise a muscle group it takes roughly 48 hours for the muscle tissue to rebuild to suitably healthy levels before working out again will do much good. The steroids which have become the PED of choice in many major sports shorten that recovery from 48 to 24 hours. This means you can work out every single day and build muscle faster. The fact that the drugs only work as a repair mechanism becomes important in a couple paragraphs.

Tommy John surgery is a medical graft procedure in which tendon from somewhere in the body, or from a corpse, is removed and put in place of the ulnar collateral ligament in the elbow. It was first performed in 1974 and is named for the major league baseball pitcher it was first performed on as opposed to the doctor who invented it which I always found odd. This surgery has become common among pitchers as a way to to erase the years of stress the pitching motion puts on that ligament. This surgery is meant as a repair mechanism, it hasn’t been shown to allow the player to throw harder or faster, this will become important in a couple paragraphs.

Taking steroids is considered by many to be the ultimate baseball transgression. It puts you right up there with the 1919 ‘Black Sox’ who fixed a world series. There is a player named Mike Piazza who has never tested positive for steroids in their career, but because he developed a case of acne on his back(a possible side effect of steroids) during his time in the majors he is considered to be tainted and is not in the hall of fame despite being possibly the best offensive catcher ever to play. In the modern baseball era, as far the Baseball Writers Association is concerned, there is no greater sin.

In the last ten years there has been such a rise in Tommy John surgery among pitchers that some team doctors are now recommending pitchers get the surgery after college and before they start playing in the majors so that their recovery time from the surgery doesn’t interrupt the middle of their career. The surgery is as low risk as any invasive surgery is, and has been shown to be a boon of a recovery tool for pro athletes.

I imagine by this point you can see the rub. Tommy John surgery and steroids operate in a very similar way, neither one enhances by itself, it just makes it easier for the body to get to and stay at peak condition. Recovery through drugs is evil, but recovery through surgery is encouraged. Taking steroids to get the most out of your body should get you banned from the game for life. Having doctors transplant tendons to get the most out of your body is so normal it doesn’t even have to wait for a real injury anymore and can be done in advance with no one batting an eye.

We’re a society that loves our drugs, there’s no doubt there. The average american fills twelve prescriptions a year(source: 1). We’re rapidly entering a world in which medicine allows us to get more out of our bodies than any human in the past ever hoped to get. Sports are always going to be breaking ground in this arena because it is only there that people are paid millions to squeeze every drop of physical potential out of their bones and sinews.

Will society only accept drugs that treat disease but don’t enhance? Will your average pro athlete soon be able to shatter all existing world records because of modifications either surgical or drug based? Will we someday see athlete sponsored surgeries the way we now have sponsored shoes?

I lean towards yes on all three of those questions, but all I know for sure is that Barry Bonds belongs in the hall of fame.

I’m happy to announce I actually received a question recently I plan on answering via this blog. That said, questions, criticisms, and comments of all forms are always welcome. Answers are guaranteed.

Source: 1 http://www.cnn.com/2011/HEALTH/05/31/med.nation.too.many.meds/

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