Medical Adventures

I never intended to publish this. However, since so many people have asked me to, here it is. If you don’t have a strong stomach, I suggest you go to one of my other pages.

On Jan 21, 1996 I was skiing with a friend. He had never been skiing before, so he took a lesson. While he was in his lesson, I was fooling around on the ski jump. It was fun and I was really pushing the envelope. Then when he finished his lesson he wanted to see me jump. This time I decided to take it easy because I didn’t want to frighten him away from skiing. But then, just before leaving the ground I hit something in the snow that threw me off balance. I still don’t know what it was, maybe a rock, maybe ice, I don’t know. Anyway, at first I tried to correct butthat wasn’t working. So then I just tried not to land on my head. I fell for about fifteen feet and then my right ski pole hit the ground. Unfortunately, my wrist was strapped to the ski pole. My arm twisted around. Then my right bicep landed on the top of the ski pole. Then my body landed on my arm. That shattered the bone in my upper arm. If you don’t have a strong stomach, that’s all you need to know, stop reading. Here’s the gross part… Then I hit the slope and started to tumble. Of course, the bone fragments in my arm were now acting like blades. It was like I had a blender in my arm. Everything got sliced into little pieces.

When I finally stopped moving, I lay there for a couple of seconds in too much pain to think. Then I started to become coherent enough to realize that I had broken my arm. I knew it without a doubt. I was laying on my back and could feel that my arm was laying straight out from my body. I tried to lift my hand but my arm didn’t move. I decided to look and see how bad it was. My arm wasn’t where I thought it was! It was straight down by my side. That was when I knew something was really wrong.

The ski patrol strapped me to a board and then put me on a sled. They strapped the board and I to the sled. When they finally got me to their building, what was left of the muscles in my arm started spasming. That was sheer agony. The pain was so bad that my whole body started convulsing. The convulsions were so strong that my body was arching up off the sled I was strapped to. The EMTs got there quickly and immediately put me on oxygen. They had realized that the convulsions were preventing me from breathing. I even heard one of the EMTs say, “I can’t believe he hasn’t passed out from the pain yet.”

It wasn’t any better at the hospital. Even after they gave some sort of pain killer, I was still convulsing. Then it got scary when I heard the orthopedic surgeon say the same thing as the EMT, “I can’t believe he hasn’t passed out from the pain yet.”

One of the nurses then brought in a large needle and told me it was demerol. I managed to ask her if it would really help. She replied, “this isn’t for your arm, it’s to take the edge off the morphine shot.” After she put the demerol in the I.V., she picked up the largest needle I had ever seen. This was the morphine. I managed to move my left arm closer to her and she said, “oh no, this would go right through your arm.” She slammed the needle into my thigh. Eventually, that helped a little. At least I stopped convulsing.

I had damaged my radial nerve. That’s the nerve that controls motion and feeling in your wrist and hand. However, the surgeon did not think that the nerve was severed all the way through. He felt that if he operated the nerve would be cut by the bone fragments. So he decided to just try setting the bones the old way. He grabbed my wrist and pulled. Amazingly, it worked. The bone fragments lined up and the nerve survived.

The first surgeon I saw told me that I would never regain much of the mobility in my arm and chances were slim that I’d ever have any real mobility in my wrist or hand. Then he asked my permission to use my X-Rays as a training aid for nurses to show them just how bad it can get. The second surgeon concurred with the first, then brought my X-Rays to a surgeons’ convention and made other surgeons guess how I had caused so much damage. The third surgeon wanted to replace the whole bone with a metal rod. He also wanted a hand surgeon to move some of the muscles and tendons from the bottom of my forearm to the top. He told me that with several months of physical therapy that operation would allow me to use my hand as a claw, the fingers would not move independantly, but I could open and close the hand. I turned down both operations.

The surgeon that ended up with my long-term treatment felt it was imperative to keep tension on the arm. He told me that I could either lay in traction in the hospital until it healed, or I could go home as long as I kept the arm vertical (the weight of the cast would provide the tension). So, I could not lay down. Eight weeks later the blood vessels finished growing back. That was when the bone should have started healing. But of course, when you deprive a broken bone of blood for that long sometimes it simply shuts down. Twelve weeks after the accident it still had not started to heal. The surgeon put me on an experimental electromagnetic bone growth stimulator. The company that made it, gave it to me for free on the condition that they could use me as a case study.

The bone growth stimulator worked, but the growth was slow. Six and a half months after the accident the surgeon decided to take my cast off on the condition that I not use my arm. That’s when I signed up for SCUBA lessons. I got my certification with only one working arm.

Eleven months after the accident the surgeon told me I could start using my arm as long as I took it slow. He also told me to wait another six months before trying to throw anything overhand (i.e., a baseball).

It’s now 19 months after the accident (20 Aug 97). I have 97% of the original mobility in my arm, and about 85% in my hand. The feeling in my hand is still mixed up. If I touch the back of my hand, I don’t feel the pressure, I feel a burning sensation. Currently, I am able to do everything I used to do. I play raquetball, I’ve been white water rafting, etc. Even now, I still notice a slight improvement every day. I expect that eventually my arm and hand will be very close to 100%. Judging by the rate I’m improving, I expect that my nerve will completely heal in one more year, my arm will regain 99.9% of it’s original mobility, my hand will regain 95-99% of it’s mobility, my arm will grow to be stronger than before (I’m working out now), and I won’t have any trouble doing anything I used to do. The surgeons can’t believe how well I’ve healed.

People have asked me what I would change in my life if I could go back in time. I say “nothing.” I would not even go back and avoid that accident. It was a very difficult time in my life, but I believe I have gained a lot.

I had never felt true agony. Sure, I once broke a notch into one of the bones in my other arm, but that was just pain, not agony. Experiencing real agony really changes your view of pain. Your mind starts to accept regular pain as just an irritation.

Losing the use of an entire arm for so long taught me a little about what it is like to be handicapped. I can now understand a little more when I see someone with a handicap. I also know that a handicap does not prevent you from living a normal life. I learned to write with my left hand. I learned to type using only my left hand. I learned to play raquetball with my left hand. I even got my SCUBA certification with only one functioning arm. It just takes much more thought and a little more preparation.

Throughout the past 19 months, I’ve managed to keep a very positive outlook. That really taught me something about what the human mind is capable of. After skydiving, I new I could overcome any fear. After the accident I learned I can overcome any depression. (Not only was I living alone and trying to deal with it myself, but I also had almost no contact with other humans during that time. I’d go a week or two without seeing anyone.)

Overall, I’m glad I had to go through that. I’m a better, stronger person now.

As it turns out, even this accident didn’t frighten my friend away from skiing. He still gets out on the slopes!


About Carl

I'm just a guy who enjoys living life and hopes to inspires others to do so as well. I'm a father of two, husband, and software engineer.

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