The ligaments in my arm are pretty much worthless.
It all started around age 2 when my elbow began dislocating at its whimsy (apparently called nursemaid’s elbow), which was indicated by my blood curdling screams and concurrent elbow clutching. It happened so frequently – several times a day – that the doctor taught my mom how to relocate my elbow herself. To remedy the problem, I spent a lot of time in a long arm splint (Picture 1), and at one point had a long arm cast (which I quickly shattered on the side of my high chair because I wasn’t feelin’ it).
Then, during my Little League/swim team years I started having problems with my right shoulder being too loose and causing me wicked rotator cuff tendinitis, and I mean wicked tendinitis. But, it wasn’t until I reached college that shit actually hit the fan. Between my freshman year and the summer after graduation I had 3 extremely painful, sucky shoulder surgeries to fix my jacked-up shoulders.
Thankfully, after my 3rd shoulder surgery things were going pretty smoothly for a while, and I was pleased with my long streak of injury-freeness. Yeah, things were looking up. I had several months of uninterrupted athletic participation, and was feeling pretty good as a result.
And that’s when it happened…During an indoor soccer game at Duburns my hand took the brunt of a power shot from the Jolly Green Giant (AKA an extremely tall guy) – apparently he didn’t realize that part of soccer is first beating the defense and then shooting. Anyways, it twisted into an unnatural position and then immediately turned purple and went completely numb. I did one of those drop- an’-roll-on-the-ground moves, and then got up and decided I was being a wuss because nothing was sticking out. I kept playing for a while, and my hand started getting really cold. It was weird, but I figured just a side effect of the blunt trauma.
Then the next morning the top of my hand was all sorts of swollen so I begrudgingly took myself to the urgent care center for an x-ray. I’ve never broken anything before, so I wasn’t really sure what to expect. Welp, the people at the urgent care place told me it probably wasn’t fractured since, after all, I could bend it. So then I felt like an uber-wuss and told myself to stop crying about a little swelling. But over the next couple of weeks my wrist was really sore and kept cracking. Plus every time I placed it on the table my wrist bones would pop and move out of place. Crap.
So I super-duper-duper begrudgingly went to see hand surgeon number 1, and – how do I put this nicely? – let’s just say I wouldn’t nominate him for a doctor of the year award anytime soon. He gave me a botched cortisone
injection that caused my arm to feel like somebody snapped it in half, and then sent me for an MRI, which he couldn’t figure out how to open at my next apointment (it was on a cd). After telling me there was only a 50% chance he could repair my apparent Triangular Fibrocartilage Complex (TFCC) tear (my what?), I went for a 2nd opinion.
Hand surgeon number 2 immediately impressed me with his ability to open my MRI, which was definitely a good start. He also explained to me what the hell a TFCC is: a group of tendons, ligaments and cartilage that holds your wrist together, and why – as I begged and pleaded – putting it in a brace instead of repairing it was an exercise in futility because the ligament I tore was ripped completely off the bone, which he could see on my MRI since he was able to open it. He said he was 100% sure he could fix the tear (better odds!), and although he said he didn’t want to step on my other doctor’s toes, I had officially found the dude who was going to cut my wrist open (sawwweeet), and he was officially stuck with me (haha!).
Anyways, although I was very unhappy about it, I had yet another surgery, this time an open repair to fix one of my wrist ligaments. From what I’ve gathered, the doctor cut a Harry Potteresque incision into my wrist (Picture 2) and then sliced open the sheath of my extensor tendon to get to my torn ligament. Then he put a metal suture anchor into my bone and attached my ligament to it, closed up the tendon sheath, and voila – all finished. And seriously, compared to my shoulder surgeries, this was cake! Actually, the most painful part about it was the incision I had, which kept catching on the cast padding. Also it sucked because I was in a long arm splint for 2 weeks (Picture 3) followed by 3 weeks in a forearm splint (Picture 4). This made it hard to do my hair, get dressed, shower – all important things to me.
So after I got out of the splint and started using my wrist again, I was pleasantly surprised by how solid it felt. No more looseness… actually it was tighter than it had ever been before. Awesome! Only problems were the weird lump (Picture 5) on my wrist, I couldn’t feel a small section of my hand, and for some strange reason gripping a pen hurt like hell. Other than those little things (I wasn’t too concerned since I don’t really write with a pen all that often), it was great. But over the next couple months it became apparent that these little problems weren’t just caused by swelling from the surgery itself, so the doctor gave me a cortisone shot (I was afraid to get another one after the first doctor I saw messed up the shot, but he did a good job and it really helped!), and said he thought the sutures were rubbing on my tendon and that I would need to get them removed at my convenience. Since summer had just started I decided to wait on getting this done, and the cortisone shot made it feel a lot better, so I was golden!
Of course in the months to follow I was rock climbing a lot! My left elbow started seriously bugging me, but I figured it was from the sutures (the tendon ‘in question’ runs up my forearm to my elbow) so I just made sure to be careful and tried to force myself to take rests when needed. Then one day I was in the cave at the climbing gym, grabbed a hold at a weird angle, and felt a pop. My wrist hurt really badly for about 2 minutes, but pretty soon the pain went away, so I kept climbing.
However, after that my wrist got really achy and killed when I put weight on it. Plus it kept popping again. I knew that I had re-torn the ligament, so I called the doctor who sent me for an MRI and gave me another extremely helpful cortisone shot. But after that, although the tear wasn’t extremely painful for the most part, I developed seriously bad tendinitis in my elbow (reminded me of my Little League days). It sucked, and was not only keeping me up at night,
but keeping me up in excruciating pain (all in the name of climbing!). I couldn’t get the pain to stop – it suuuucked. Unfortunately, because of the suture anchor being metal, the MRI just showed a big black blob over my wrist. However the doctor was pretty sure I had re-torn my ligament and messed up my tendon sheath. Crap.
Seriously?!!! What the hell?!! So yup, I had to have ANOTHER open surgery (this is so the last time!!!). I got it done on Thursday, and surprise!, I actually tore 2 ligaments this time. Yup, once again the doctor cut a lightening bolt into my wrist (Picture 6) – take that Lord Voldemort (wow, I’m such a nerd)! The good news is that my tendon wasn’t messed up like the doctor thought it might be (woo-hoo). I had actually ripped the metal suture anchor (from my last surgery) out of my bone and it was floating around and roughing up my tendon and otherwise wreaking havoc on my wrist joint.
Since my tendon had been bothering me way before I heard the pop, I can only speculate that the first re-tear and the metal anchor being pulled out was the result of some poor judgment – rough housing with Ben after the first surgery (and I literally mean rough housing you pervs) – and the pop during climbing was the second ligament tear. Anyways, probably a good thing that I got the rogue suture anchor removed since I think my tendon was getting pretty pissed about the metal intruder.
Pretty gnarly, huh? So now I have 2 new, different anchors (I think) securing my formerly demolished ligaments, and get to spend the 3 weeks in a long arm splint (Pictures 7 ) followed by 3 weeks in a forearm cast (the doctor and I decided to be extra vigilant this time since apparently I can’t stay still enough to let it heal). So yeah, this time I plan to keep these anchors in the bone where they belong.
Yup, my arm is currently on lock down and my hair is a mess! Plus this splint thing is super itchy! Luckily, as long as I leave it alone and don’t move my
arm, the pain is barely noticeable. I did catch a look at my wrist the other day (I couldn’t help myself), and I think the massive lump is gone, which is pretty awesome.
Anyways, the whole thing kinda blows because I have to take 3 months off of rock climbing, but I think it will help me be better in the long run because the grip in my left hand was getting pretty bad.
But honestly wrist, can’t you just fracture next time???!!
Update 11/5 – I got my sutures out on Monday and the doctor decided – after seeing the enhancements I had made to my splint – that I was, what is the word? Oh, non compliant (he’s starting to know me well), so instead of sticking it out in the splint, he put me in a long arm cast (Picture 8 ).
I thought this was going to suck a lot, but it’s actually not too shabby. The cast hasn’t started itching, is super light, doesn’t stink (so far) and isn’t as sweaty as the splint. Plus, it’s not pushing on my incision like the splint was, and I’ve figured out how to put my hair in a ponytail despite by inability to move my elbow. In fact, I think I actually like the cast a lot better. Anyways – it’s been only 3 days, so things may change, but only time will tell. Can’t wait to get back to rock climbing!
I’ve had 2 cast changes since the initial purple cast. First I had a different long arm cast put on because the purple cast became too loose pretty quickly. It was hot pink and Ben painted it with the awesome design from the sticker that comes with La Sportiva’s new women’s Muira climbing shoes (Pictures 9 & 10). It was very cool, and when I got it removed the ladies in the casting room thought I should keep it because it looked so great, but since I had been working out so much in that thing it really stunk so I asked them to trash it (sorry Ben)!
Tuesday I had my cast changed yet again; this time to a green short arm cast (woo-hoo). Besides my elbow being sore and popping a lot from the long arm cast, I feel pretty good. I ran 6 miles yesterday, and it was awesome! So far the cast smells only slightly, which is good (all things considered). I figure in 3 weeks the cast is gonna smell pretty gnarly though. Oh well, such is life, right? Anyways, I decided to have Ben paint it like Rafael from the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (Picture 11, 12 & 13), and it’s awesome! He did an amazing job. After seeing my new cast, a couple of my friends told me they wish they could break their arm so they could have an awesome cast too…I have weird friends.
Woo-hoo! I got my cast off on Tuesday! I’m totally excited about that. Some comments:
1. My wrist looks so much better! I usually scar pretty badly, so I’m psyched about how good the incision site looks now (Picture 14) – especially because you can clearly see the Harry Potter lightning bolt (priorities). Also the lump is gone and I can even see the outline of my arm bone again! Nice work Dr. Deitch
2. I’m still a little stiff from being in the cast, but after only 2 days of stretching I can see a big difference, plus my wrist feels very sturdy, which is awesome!
3. It’s amazing what 6.5 weeks in a cast can do to your skin, and my arm hair looks like that of an Italian man’s. A spa night may be in order – my house; Friday. Bring your mud masks and I’ll supply the wine and the Bridget Jones’s Diary (you know how I love Colin Firth).