Today marks seven weeks since I slipped on a patch of black ice on our driveway while heading out to walk our dog. I fell awkwardly and landed squarely on my left elbow, causing the distal end of the upper arm bone (the humerus) to fracture. I knew it was a serious break right away even though it took a while for my brain to send out the pain signals that would, in short order, overpower my rational thoughts. So I quickly gathered myself and went inside to take off my jacket and long sleeve shirt and replace them with a t-shirt. I didn’t want to have them “cut off” or otherwise painfully removed at the emergency room of the hospital. Fortunately my husband was home and was able to find a large jacket to wrap around my shoulders (temperatures were in the 20s) and drive me to St. Joseph’s Hospital, 30 minutes away in Bangor. I waited perhaps another 30 minutes in the waiting room, before I was taken into an examination room and an xray confirmed what I already knew. Having broken my wrist on the same arm just eight months prior, I at least had some idea of what to expect but I soon learned there was much more to learn.
When I broke my wrist in Boise, my nephew, an orthopedic surgeon, was able to meet me shortly after I arrived at one of his nearby clinics. He took xrays, stabilized the joint and arranged for one of his colleagues to perform the necessary surgery the next day. This time, in Bangor, the “on-call” orthopedic surgeon, simply had the hospital staff stabilize the joint and sent me home with some strong pain meds. The surgery was scheduled for three days later by another surgeon at the same orthopedic practice. As with my wrist injury, the corrective surgery required a titanium plate and a half-dozen or more screws to hold everything in place while it healed. Unlike the wrist, I did not get a cast, but rather an open, hard splint that I was only required to wear for a week or so. I also got a much longer incision that was held together with 29 staples (they were removed after a couple of weeks). That gave me hope that the healing would surely take no longer than the wrist, and beside, shouldn’t my recent experience better prepare me for my current healing and rehab?
I would soon learn that in spite of the similarities, every injury/recovery is different. After my wrist surgery I was able to wean my self off the opioids and fairly quickly and was able to get by with occasional use of over the counter pain meds. With the elbow, I was again prescribed Oxycontin along with over the counter pain relievers. After a couple of weeks of taking the prescribed meds, I found myself having stomach pains and constipation. I knew I needed to get off the opioids and quit cold turkey. A rough couple of days followed as I suffered not insignificant side effects. But I was glad to be clear-headed. It didn’t take too long to discover that all those drugs were masking numbness, tingling and pain in my hand. I mentioned it to my doctor at the next appointment and he said he would order an EMG (electromyography) test to see if there was nerve impingement causing the hand issues. My carpel tunnel symptoms got increasing worse, and still no word about an EMG. I called his office and his receptionist informed me that he had indeed referred me to another Dr. for the EMG, but that they were currently scheduling appointments for June, two months from now. Another week passed and I still hadn’t heard anything.
I was talking to a friend at the gym after my workout last Thursday and she convinced me that I shouldn’t wait too long to get the nerve impingement checked out. She herself had suffered a similar carpel tunnel situation (though hers was caused by lyme disease) which never fully resolved because it took so long to diagnose. I went right home and called my Dr. office to advocate on my own behalf. His receptionist was able to get me in the next day (someone had cancelled their scheduled appointment). My EMG revealed that I do have significant impingement of the median nerve. Hopefully, when my orthopedist receives the report he will be able to mitigate the problem and give me back full use of my hand. I know I can’t control everything related to my recovery, but I will continue to be proactive and take responsibility for insuring the best possible outcome. All you can do is the best you can do …and should do.