Cutting My Way to Healing: Surgery

When my elbow was shattered three years ago on D-Day, the wrack and ruin of the injury was a real shocker to me.  I had never broken a bone, never had surgery, never even stayed in a hospital, save for one diagnostic thing years before… nothing serious.  Now, my surgeon tells me that I have three broken bones in my right elbow that could take up to a year to recover.  That also assumes no other complications set in and I even can return to work some day let alone regain use of my arm.

The break had torn all the soft connection tissue free.  That all had to be anchored back down and repaired.  Then the bones themselves were in 10 different pieces!  The head of the Radius and Ulna were shattered essentially into three and four pieces each.  The Humerus head had snapped just above in one big chunk making it the easiest repair.  What a way to look at it, but when your surgeon has put together elbows and wrists of men wounded in battle, I’m thinking I fared pretty well.

Throughout this time, I kept praying.  “Why, God?  What is Your purpose in all this?  I cannot see you, and know that I should be afraid, but for some reason, I am not.”  that was the strange thing.  I was scared, but I had peace.  A peace I should not have had, by human standards.  By spiritual standards, I know why.  He carried me through it all for I did not do it by my own strength or denial alone.

The day of the surgery was more of a relief on many levels.  It was going to hurt and freak me out, but at least it would be over and I would be able to heal proper and get better.  They never asked me to count down for the anesthetic knocking me out, so I volunteered anyway.  I remember distinctly saying, “Wow!  I didn’t think I’d make it past 85, but I’m still awake.”  They laughed at me, good-naturedly I hoped.  I don’t remember 84.

Then was in a hospital bed feeling like I had been out drinking all night.  Not hungover, but still buzzed and hating it.  My arm did not hurt at first, but then I moved reflexively.  Well didn’t that just tilt the pinball machine!  What went from a kinda tolerable, but miserable 7 on the pain scale to a 10.  Oh yeah, this is gonna be fun was my thought.  It wasn’t till the last week of rehab did I learn how the pain scale was supposed to be calculated.

Having to pee was embarrassing too.  You finally have to go so bad and are so gorked out of your mind you just don’t care who is watching and what you piss on.  I remember the process of  getting to the can being a disgusting an humorous operation, dragging poles and machines that went ‘ping’ behind me and finally not caring what my accuracy was, and the fact I was naked in front of three female nurses.  Oh who CARES!  My bladder is calling the shots and it says “You go NOW!” like an angry sumo wrestler.  Oh the joys of bodily functions in front of strangers.

Beyond that, mother morphine played deletion roulette with much of my memory.  I do remember lunch before being picked up being surprisingly tasty.

My father picked me up and we went to see the surgeon where I was informed of what kind of a mess I was.  A plate a bunch of plastic anchors and glue holding my tendons and ligaments together, a bunch of cartilage scooped out and a metal plate with four screws, and one for good measure through my Humerus.  Just…. really.  My surgeon cautioning me that because of my size, I could EASILY tear these things loose and be forced to suffer another surgery and some real potential problems.  So for two months, I had to live, arm locked at a 90 degree angle and praying that something horrifying did not happen, like falling in the shower (Which I did, more on that later) or worse.

Living alone, there was some concern about how I was going to handle things on my own.  Hell, I was worried too.  But, God provided a way.  I was always able to find a friend, or neighbor or family to take my clumsy butt where I needed, go shopping with me or help out.  To those people, you are saints, and I praise God for you.

But, that was the first big step in what has been a multi-year recovery.

 

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Three Years On: A Personal Anniversary

Three years ago just before midnight on D-Day, my life was turned upside down in a flash.

I drove spotter truck at the time, pushing semi trailers back and forth from dock to lot and vice versa.  It was physically difficult in a way not even many truckers realize when you are doing 7-10 moves an hour.

In and out.

Up and down.

Slam, bang, bump.

I had been driving professionally in various forms for going on five years and had just earned my Class A the autumn before.  I wasn’t sure I enjoyed trucking as much as I enjoyed bus driving.  But, I needed work, and this was work that paid the bills, so I did it as best I can, but slowly was starting to dread it.  Although, there were good times too.  Working overnights, and only four nights a week, that’s not bad money, and it wasn’t like the grueling 14 hour days 5 days a week with 16 every Tuesday I had to endure running inter-modal to Chicago and back.  That was psychological torture.

No.  this was physically harder, but my mind was at peace.  I no longer felt like a criminal 24/7 whenever I drove.

It was dry out, and a clear sky.  Sure some puddles remained on the ground from the rain two nights before, but my feet were not wet.  I just saw on my computer I got a “Freebie” move.  A liveload where the driver was still there, but they put the move up inside.  So I got credit for a move, doing nothing.  I just had to go wake him up and say “Yer outta here!”

It did not happen that way.

I pulled up to his cab with the spotter and got out to knock on his door.  The spotter door slid open behind me, and I went through onto the deck.  Spotters go in and out of a sliding back door, you know.  I started going down the stairs, and then disaster came.

Now, falling off my truck was one of my worst fears as a driver.  I have seen people break ankles and knees.  I almost broke my right ankle in a rail yard thanks to a lump of rotted out concrete.  But falling was particularly worrisome, cause I’m a big guy.  So I planted my feet, and took hold of the railings to go down the stairs.  Yes, spotters have very steep stairs with two railings that bent to angle with your motion.  Three points of contact.  Yes indeed.

Suddenly, it was two points of contact.  My left foot lost its grip on the worn-smooth metal.  Its timing a split second earlier or later would have made a world of difference.  No seriously, it was that precisely timed you would swear it was planned.  It slid under the fender a little, and partially in the open wheel well.  I still had both hands on the railings.  Two points of contact left.

Then inertia proved to be a harsh mistress.

My right arm hit full extension just as my grip was at that stupid bend in the railing.  That small, insignificant spot.  I lost grip with my right hand.  My strongest arm, and began to whip around by my left arm out and away from the truck.  All 380 pounds of me, swinging out like a swing ride at a carnival.  The centrifugal force was tearing my left hand’s grip free but it felt like I was sliding down the railing faster than I was losing my grip, and thought there was a chance to control my fall.  Amazing I can remember that in the split second of the time.

Then I hit the side of the truck with a loud bang that shocked me…

…hard.

Then I bounced clear and in a freefall.  I felt like I was suspended in air by that arm for a second, but it wasn’t the case.  Gravity took over and I was falling the rest of the way, my feet were maybe only three feet off the ground, but it felt so much higher.

I remembered faintly my judo training from decades before and tried to brace to roll with it.

Then I did the same thing that nearly dislocated my shoulder as a student:  I reached for the ground.

You ever play with those pose-able leg Barbies as a kid?  You know the ones with the plastic ratchet inside them.  That was the sensation I felt from my elbow.  And pain.  A whole lot of pain and shock to that right elbow.  I had saved myself from striking my head, but my elbow payed the price.

Flopping on the pavement of the lot and let out a long howl of agony and shock.  I couldn’t help squirming around, as I fought with the shock of what had happened…

Impressively, I managed to keep my right arm glued to the pavement.  A semi drove by me and ignored me.  He looked right at me… and kept driving.  I realized I was not getting any help at that moment, and had to get it myself.

I moved my arm, or tried to.  It refused to move at first.  So I tried to curl it back to me.  I felt that horrifying Barbie doll ratcheting and knew something was pretty damn bad.  I prayed it was just a dislocated elbow.  With my arm to my chest, the throbbing came, but the pain had subsided a lot.  I was quite surprised and started thinking, well, maybe I got this after all.  But I had to report the fall.  So I tried to climb back up into the spotter and my right arm was in agony with every move.

I’m sure now it’s dislocated, but prayed that it wasn’t broken.  I called on the radio for help and told the lead driver to meet me at the office and then drove, slowly, with every bump and crease in the drop lot causing shocks of pain to rattle my head as I drove.

Filling out the report was an ordeal.  Being forced to drive myself to the hospital they chose was brutal.  The agony of waiting and then maneuvering my body around as they took X-Rays and then an MRI.  There was a hairline fracture, but the doctor would have to tell me more.  I finally was given something for the pain, but it wasn’t much.  My arm was wrapped in fiberglass and gauze.

Then the next challenge came:  Going home.  I had to drive all the way back, 35 miles to home, by myself, on pain meds.  No family or friends were available in the middle of the night.  My boss tried to claim I did not follow safety regs, which I proved false the next day.  I was swimming with grief as I drove home.  I called my parents, and my father drove over 100 miles from their campground stay to help me get back to the hospital six hours later.

The next morning the surgeon gave me the news.  It was called “The Terrible Triad”.  A break so bad that it had it’s own nickname.  My Radius and Ulna broke through the head into multiple pieces.  The Humerus snapped right above the joint.  Every tendon was snapped free, and the ligaments were torn loose.  My cartilage was shredded.  So much for the hoping against hope it was dislocated or sprained or something that in a week would be fine, or at least just sore.  I asked him if it was the worst he’d seen.  He said no.  Later on I learned that he did this sort of surgery for the US Military, and could only imagine seeing the ruined limbs he had repaired.  Mine would be a cakewalk compared to a limb jellied by an IED or shrapnel.

Surgery was scheduled for three days later.  And then would begin the entire year ordeal where I would also face a second surgery because something else would not heal in my arm, and had to suffer a partial elbow replacement.  Just before Thanksgiving.

My life fundamentally changed three years ago today.  My career as a commercial driver, gone.  My record of never breaking a bone, gone.  My belief in my ability to recover naturally from anything?  Gone.  Ability to effectively wipe my own ass, gone for months but not forever!  Talk about a true discovery of how frail and dependent we are on our dominant arm.

That event transformed my life and all things in it.

But I thank God.  To this day I am thankful.

Although I am permanently scarred and partially disabled, I know how much worse it could have been.  Had I not gone above and beyond the call of duty with safety procedures, this slip would have put me head first into the pavement from a height of about nine feet.  I would have been lucky to be only paralyzed then.  More likely I would have died outright.

Worker’s Comp covered my medical bills completely, and if I healed well enough (which never happened) I would go back to work when it was over, with no fear.

Therefore, I praise God.  He gave me peace and supplied my needs throughout this crisis.  It makes me wonder why it happened, and I suppose some day, I will be shown why it happened and what was caused by it.

I’m still a safety lecture example of why drivers use three points of contact at my job and at my driving school.  I guess that might save someone’s life some day, and that’s a good thing.

But D-Day is no longer just a memorial for Operation Overlord for me.  It is a personal D-Day where I lost my former life and health forever.

In a split second.

Just before midnight.

 

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Ugh a horrible picture.  But this was my arm for almost three weeks!