It has been over a month since I last posted to this blog; this time corresponds to the time I had my left arm either in a temporary cast, under the knife or in the post-op hard cast. Indeed, my trial began with a hard fall outside the Talkeetna PO on Thursday, March 26th due to my own laziness. In hindsight it is amazing to think that during my morning rush to handle a few chores before an appointment a simple misstep allowing my right boot lace to catch an open hook on my left boot could so change my near term future. One moment I was exiting the PO frustrated because the expected package hadn’t arrived and the next I was sprawled on my right side wondering what in blazes had just transpired. And then the pain began to register; initially involving my right knee and ankle but quickly shifting to my left arm.
After taking a few minutes to attain a sitting position and assessing my condition as well as talking to a couple of folks who witnessed my ‘crash and burn’ these kind folks helped me to my feet. In so doing I recognized my left arm was seriously injured; by the time I’d taken the four uncertain steps to my vehicle I could no longer hold my left forearm horizontal to the ground and the pain flooding into my awareness from my left elbow told me the shock of the accident was wearing off. I couldn’t move my left fingers and the pain was so powerful it was making me nauseous. I did manage to tuck my now throbbing left hand into the left side pocket on my vest, slowly back myself into my vehicle and make a very painful drive home. As I’m really pig-headed regarding pain I decided to wait a few hours to see if the pain would subside; my lack of medical coverage also encouraged me to do so. In this case it was a very stupid move because when I finally yielded and called the Sunshine Clinic I could not get in until Friday morning. This cost me a very painful and sleepless night punctuated by groans, yelps and more than a few ‘colorful expletives’.
It was very apparent within the first few minutes the doctor’s assistant spent looking my arm over that I had broken bones; even though the clinic did their best they were not equipped to image such an injury because I could not straighten it. The clinic tried to locate pain killers but they had nothing for the severity of my injury. I was told to get to the Mat Su Regional Medical Clinic in Wasilla ASAP; they wanted to have an ambulance take me but I talked them into letting me find a local friend to take me. In the end I recognized I could drive and I was not going to pass out from the pain as the clinic folks worried so I packed a simple bag, made the arrangements to have the dogs cared for – possibly for days – and drove the 70 miles south to Wasilla. Thanks to the wonderful Emergency Department care I was immediately given a non-drowsy IM pain killer, had multiple x-rays taken and was given a custom fitted protective cast. Because of the swelling I was sent home with an order to contact an orthopedic surgeon first thing Monday to set up a visit. The surgeon (Dr. William Todd Pace) was able to see me that afternoon and after a brief review of the x-rays told me I had a severe injury in the form of a fractured ulna and a fractured radius with bone pieces visible in the image. He immediately called his assistant and had them clear his afternoon schedule for the next day; this spoke volumes to me regarding the injury’s severity. I drove home and made arrangements for a good friend to drive me to Wasilla the next morning for a noon surgery.
To shorten this sad tale I was taken into surgery by 13:00, given a general and spent 220 minutes under the knife during which time Dr. Pace resurfaced the elbow, cleaned and resurfaced my left radius, set and pinned the two bones and placed a large plate in place using another six pins. Here’s an image of his handiwork:
And thus I started to really learn just how much I’d taken my health for granted; I began to have an inkling right after the accident but I was still rather ‘shocky’ across those first 30 hours due to the pain and hence didn’t really understand what I was going to endure. I was given a prescription for Percocet but thanks to the amazing skill of Dr. Pace I only needed them the first few days after the surgery. The hard cast was applied after the surgery on Tuesday, March 31st; it was finally removed Monday, April 27th. During this four week period I daily learned just how great I’d had it the previous 60 years with respect to my health. Outside of cracked ribs from studying Tae Kwon Do and the ubiquitous broken toes from kicking furniture while barefoot my only skeletal injury was a greenstick fracture of my right ulna when I was in grade school. Because of this I was ill-prepared to experience life in a cast!
Not a day passed I wasn’t frustrated, angered and/or amazed by how much I used my left arm/hand even though I am predominately right handed. And every time I was reminded just how much I took my generally excellent health for granted. Probably the worst thing was my inability to really bathe; the best I could do for that month was ‘wash cloth baths’ which were pretty much useless. One of the first things I did when I returned from having the cast removed was take a long, hot shower; I suspect this is what a religious experience must feel like! I learned that it is virtually impossible to wash just one hand and also endured the frustration of trying to pull one’s pants up with just one hand. I quickly learned to leave all bottles and screw type containers only partially tightened because otherwise I couldn’t open them. Entering my Ford Escape required a complex operation of backing into the open driver’s side door, then slowly rotating while pulling my legs in and finally reaching over my body with my right hand to close the door. Getting in and out of bed required always moving to a sitting position from the right side, then planting the right hand and pushing off so as to minimize strain on the left arm. Typing with one hand is an arduous experience; slow and filled with errors. I could go on and on but you no doubt get the idea…
Based on my experience I would request that anyone reading this blog take a few minutes to reflect upon your health; if it is good revel in this fact but even if it is not so good remember it can always be worse. In the grand scheme this ‘very severe’ injury – Dr. Pace finally admitted this was such an injury after the cast came off – provided me with a true wake up call. And while it was a severe insult it pales in comparison to the kind of health issues so many people face on a daily basis. All of us blessed with good health need to be reminded that it takes but an instant to reverse what we take for granted; as such we should celebrate our wonderful luck every day. And we should foster a real sense of empathy for those who do not share in our luck!