The Elbow and the Surgeon

continued from The Queen Bee meets Attila the Hun…

It was Day Two at home with an elbow replacement and two broken bones in my forearm.  I was already getting bored and realizing that life in general was growing a bit more complicated with my arm and hand confined in a splint.  I was not looking forward to Day Seven when the arm was going to be put into a cast.

I was doing Attila the Hun’s light physical therapy, basically isometrics to keep the muscles from turning to mush, when Sister Dianne called.

Have you thought about acupuncture?  Herbs?

No, but I’m game. Dianne made an appointment that very day with her acupuncturist and drove me up, up, and up a very steep, winding road to a small cottage on the top of a mountain with views of the entire valley.  The needles didn’t hurt and I left with a bag of herbal drops, teas and something that resembled a cigar. I was to return in a few days.

The cigar herb, also known as Moxa, was lit and then held over my elbow and the breaks.  I could feel the heat go right through my bones and it felt surprisingly good.  The herbs didn’t taste nearly as good, but I got them down nevertheless.

I was now doing light PT, herbs, had round I of acupuncture, round II scheduled and thought what more? Indeed. 

A healing circle. I belonged to a very informal group that did energy work. I should have called them before 911. But, better late than never, they put me in a middle of a circle and began to send healing energy.

Hopefully, all of these paths would find the road to a quick recovery.

Day Seven and I was ready for the surgeon.

How are you feeling? he inquired a bit cautiously.

Fantastic!  And you?

He raised the single eyebrow and sat down to look at the arm that had been unwrapped from the splint by the nurse.

I held my unwrapped arm out for him.

Good Lord. Don’t do that.

I looked down at my arm.

It’s not healed! It needs support!

oh. It felt fine to me, but if he wanted the arm supported, I’d support it.

Now, tell me exactly what you been doing. He was trying very hard to reclaim control.

I rattled off my routine: isometrics, acupuncture, herbs, moxa, a healing circle…

He glared at me.  I don’t believe in any of that stuff.

I met his glare.  You don’t have to; it’s my arm.

With that, I was marched down to X-ray, still holding the injured arm even though it felt fine on its own, and then sent back to the exam room to wait.

The surgeon re-entered, sat down with shoulders slumped. He sighed.

Tell me again what you’ve been doing.  Your arm is completely healed. You don’t need a cast.  You don’t even need that splint.

That’s great, I responded, a bit oblivious to his obvious pain, Can I start real PT now?  I wanted to get the recovery moving farther down the road.

I don’t know what to tell you. Do what you want. It’s working. Come back in six weeks and please bring the herbs and a list of what you’ve been doing.

Six weeks later, I returned with a healthy arm that had regained full range of motion, even though it wasn’t supposed to, and was taken straight to X-ray.

The surgeon walked into the exam room and shook his head, sighing.

I have to show you something.

And he brought out a large, heavy textbook and three X-ray slides of my elbow. He pointed to a well-marked page in textbook.

That is a photo of an elbow replacement.  It is textbook perfect.

I had no idea what I was supposed to be looking at, but I nodded and said, hmm.

He pointed to the first X-ray.  That is your arm right after surgery.  Not textbook perfect, but close. Very close.

He pointed to the second slide.  That X-ray is a week later.  It’s textbook perfect. It shouldn’t be.  The new joint couldn’t have moved.

And, this one, this one…

He looked at me as though I had arranged for someone else to provide their elbow for my X-ray. 

Today’s X-ray is better than textbook perfect. I don’t understand. I just don’t understand what happened.

There wasn’t anything more to say so I smiled, thank him and patted him on the shoulder with my hand that was attached to the arm that shouldn’t have been able to stretch out to reach him. 

Then, as I was meeting a friend to swim laps, I left him sitting in the exam room, shoulders still slumped, still sighing, still shaking his head and looking at the three X-ray slides, the textbook, the herbs and a piece of paper listing the healing circle, moxa, herbs, acupuncture and physical therapy. 

The Brick and the Elbow

Once upon a time, there was a brick.  It was just hanging around in my back yard, waiting for me to find it. I didn’t know that, even though a dear friend who is a professional astrologer had cautioned, Watch out for August and accidents. Pay attention.

I wasn’t paying attention as I was chatting on the phone with my daughter-in-law that August morning and, multi-tasking,  walking through my backyard.  It was then that I tripped and found the brick.  It was actually my elbow that found the brick as the two collided.  

Scrunch.  The elbow shattered into too many pieces to ever be put back together.  It no doubt felt a bit like Humpty Dumpty after his fall.  Two bones in my forearm also joined in the fun by breaking.

Despite common lore, there is pain worse than childbirth. This particular pain was hitting about 150 on a scale of 1 – 10.  Exposed nerve, shattered funny bone and you have a general idea of the pain level.

Despite the pain, ensuing nausea and sliding into shock, I attempted to straighten my hair and makeup before help arrived. 

Some things never change.

An ambulance arrived in short order. The paramedics were less concerned about my appearance and more concerned with the injuries. In short order, I was wheeled into the ambulance and a morphine drip begun.  The pain immediately subsided and I floated off into a la-la land, only marginally aware of the ride and transfer into the hospital.

It was 24 more hours before an elbow replacement surgery could be scheduled. Although no one knew it at the time, another complication was developing.

Between the morphine drip and injuries, I was in no condition to answer any questions, much less volunteer information that, under normal circumstances, I wouldn’t have known they needed to know.

And, no one at the hospital thought to ask the one question for which they needed the answer.

Do you meditate?

I still don’t quite understand the why but the what became quickly evident in surgery.

There’s a little gizmo — a pulse oximeter — that measures the oxygen levels in the blood.  Most of us have seen them:  a probe that looks like a modern version of a clothespin is placed on your finger, and the amount of oxygen being carried though the blood is instantly measured.

Once in the operating room, the anesthesiologist slipped the oximeter onto my finger. A range of 95% to 100% is considered normal. Below 85%, and medical attention is required.

My level was 30%.

Hmmmm. He was a well seasoned doctor.

Another oximeter was put on my finger.


He took the meter off me and placed it on his own finger.


And, with that, the surgery was halted while they focused on re-oxygenating me.

To be sure, at the time I wasn’t aware of living, dying or the surgery.  I was just aware that I was being brought back out of a free-floating, pain-free blackness.  A voice, a light, a color….a question for me but no voice with which to answer…and, finally a strange sound trying to form a “yes.” 

There was a sudden awareness of a dull pain, a reassuring word from the doctor and darkness once again.

The surgery had begun.

To be continued…