Health: One Year Later, One Year Lost

April 7, 2012, this is the red letter day in my personal annals marking the worst physical injury of my entire life. At the one year anniversary, I am much much better, thank you very much, but I am still trying to climb out of the hole and still have a way to go.

To recap: it would seem that I suffered the perfect storm, the right combination of age, exercise, and what seems to have been an inherent weakness in my left side (I'm right-handed). I overstretched the tendons in my left arm and caused myself a number of problems. I slightly separated the two bones in my left forearm, the ulna and the radius. As a result, I displaced the bones of my left wrist and messed up my left elbow. I pulled the long head of the biceps tendon out of its groove in my left shoulder. I completely traumatised my upper left quadrant but stopped short, thank God, of actually tearing my rotator cuff. This also threw my neck out of whack leaving me with a pinched nerve at the C6 cervical disc.

For four and a half months I was in pain twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. I couldn't use my left arm for about five months. My left hand would tingle all the time but at its worst, would go numb. I could not walk ten metres (30 feet) without feeling shooting pains in my left forearm and hand. While I went to work and walked to the grocery store, these trips on foot were excruciating ordeals. Other than that, I pretty much stayed holed up in my apartment.

If this trial by fire wasn't enough, getting help, any help, proved to be both baffling and frustrating. While two doctors confirmed I hadn't torn my rotator cuff, they both failed to identify the displaced ulna and radius, the partial dislocation of the tendon from the bicipital ridge, and the pinched nerve at the C6. I visited a chiropractor, a massage therapist, a neurologist, a sports medicine specialist and out of desperation even an acupuncturist, but it wasn't until I ran into a kinesiologist who had dealt with sports injuries that I found someone who had the best understanding of my problems.

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The kinesiologist, the miracle man, used a number of techniques to get the various pieces of my body back in place. He used a chiropractic adjustor to jiggle my bones back in place then followed up with massage and taping my joints. The taping went on for months as he had to repeat the use of the adjustor several times. Since my bones had been out of place for months, they kept slipping out of their proper position and the repeated adjustment and the continuous taping were necessary to get my body to heal correctly.

Six times in 6 months, the kinesiologist dug his fingers into my shoulder and yanked the long head of my biceps tendon back into its groove. It didn't hurt but the results were dramatic. He would test the strength in my arm and would notice sometimes that I was as weak as a kitten. He would perform his magic trick, putting the tendon back in its proper place, and then retest my strength. Each and every time I could feel my strength shoot up a thousand percent. It was stunning.

Speaking about strength, what happens to muscle if you don't use it? I imagine everyone can put their hand around their wrist. My left arm had atrophied so much; I could just about put my hand around my upper arm. Under the direction of the kinesiologist, I spent about four months doing isometric exercises. I did however have to go slow. It wasn't just my arm that was hurt; I could feel it throughout my shoulder and my upper chest. As I said, everything was so traumatised that walking would put pressure on my upper body and it hurt. For months I lost the simple pleasure of going for a walk around the block. Push-ups? Sit-ups? Jogging? Forget it. At one point I tried doing a biceps curl while holding a jar of spaghetti sauce and realised even that was too much.

I was worried that I was doing no cardio at all. I couldn't jog as I couldn't walk however I did discover I could do something I ofttimes do during the winter when it's cold: stair climbing. I would walk up the two flights of stairs in my apartment building then walk down. I have no idea why but this didn't put as much pressure on my upper body as just walking did. I started out doing it a few times but quickly graduated to some long sessions. I managed to do the two flights fifty times or the equivalent of a hundred stories up and down.

After four and half months, I started managing to do without pain medication. A few days, then a week, and finally I stopped altogether. I could walk without discomfort. I started to take longer and longer walks.

Finally this past fall, I attempted to jog a block. Then a tried two blocks. Then I managed to do a kilometre. It wasn't much but it was a start.

Feeling a little better and eager to do something, I bought myself some resistance tubes this past December. For those not in the know, a resistance tube is a length of rubber with handles at each end that can be attached to a door and used for strength training. With a great of trepidation, I started doing some light exercises. I was constantly worried about damaging myself. After all, the kinesiologist had to put my biceps tendon back in place a total of six times over the same number of months.

My 1st Anniversary
Two months after my initial accident, I visited a sports medicine specialist. He confirmed I had not torn my rotator cuff then added that I would need six months to a year to heal. He was right and he was really the only person to tell me the time necessary to recoup. Up to that moment, I had absolutely no idea of what I was in for and not knowing was one of the worst aspects of the injury. Oh how I have wished many a time that I had visited somebody in the first few days who would have properly assessed me and told me precisely what I was in for and for how long.

I have slowly worked up to jogging two and a half kilometres. With the warm weather coming, I can see myself getting back to my usual routine of jogging a 5.5 kilometre neighbourhood route two or three times a week.

I have purchased several different resistance tube sets and am working out every two days. I have consulted the Internet and talked with some fitness experts and have put together a routine to develop the upper quadrants. While I can't put my hand around my upper left arm (I now can make a muscle again), there remains a lot to be done. I am now seeing the deficiencies in the strength of my left side and am making a conscious effort to develop it. I remain worried about trying to do push-ups but have attempted a few push-ups off my knees. I am scared to death of yanking something out of place and hurting myself. Oh Lord, I do not want to go through this again.

I joined a gym and signed up for an introductory six sessions with a personal trainer. The first time I looked around at all that youth and vigor, the sweat, the good-looking hard bodies and bulging muscles, and I felt very much a skinny weakling only this time I was an old skinny weakling. (I'm 60) I realised that getting my health back and getting in shape would do wonders for me psychologically. If life isn't full of enough upheavals, losing your health knocks you to the ground then kicks you in the teeth for good measure.

I wonder
In the beginning, the pain just kept going on and on day after day. I had no idea if it was ever going to stop and I got frightened that the condition could be permanent. I had heard of people living with chronic pain but that? They shoot horses, don't they?

Today I am pain free but I am not without reminders. My neck still remains stiff and many times feels odd. The index finger of my left hand continues to tingle all the time and I mean twenty-four by seven. I would guess that I have 60% feeling in it. From time to time, either my left hand or my right or both get these odd sensations like the start of tingling or numbness which makes me think that while the pinched nerve in my neck corrected itself, my neck has not returned to normal. I wonder sometimes if I'm going to do something, whether jogging with the bouncing up and down or twisting my neck to look at something I might not suddenly put something out of whack and give myself another pinched nerve. In the hopes of avoiding that, I continue every day to do neck exercises to both work the full range of motion and to improve the strength of my neck muscles. As on the original day, it is scary to consider that everything could be taken away from me in the blink of an eye.

The Intouchables
I saw this French movie in June, 2012 (my review) and it hit home with the idea that health is everything. The main character suffers an accident while paragliding and is left a quadriplegic. While my situation hasn't been anywhere near that dramatic, my accident has made me realise just how true the saying "health is everything" truly is. Plus other people have told me their personal stories and their on-going issues of chronic pain or permanent injury and I think, "Heck, what do I have to complain about?"

My cousin went to Mexico on vacation and ended up with an ear infection. Despite treatment, it refused to go away and only became worse to the point where he lost his eardrums and almost all of his hearing and was continuously suffering from excruciating headaches. During my worst months, we spoke frequently on the phone commiserating about our problems. A year later, I am pain free and back jogging. He's had two ear operations, numerous MRIs, scans, treatments, visits to specialists, and many visits to emergency when his pain would reach a critical point where he could no longer deal with his problem. To this day he still has headaches of such intensity he drops to his knees. In other words, I am better, he's not. And for him, there still isn't a light at the end of his tunnel.

Final Word
I'm going to be 61 years old this October. I'm no spring chicken. Heck, forty seems like a kid to me. But I would like to try and make this, the fourth and final quarter of my life, as good as possible. I don't want to ever go through this again and I am going to make a conscious effort to consult the experts and educate myself so this no longer forty year old body can function as best it can. I want to walk. I want to run. I want to live without an overwhelming sense of restriction that parts of life are over because I physically limited. Okay, I'm not going to be foolish (no skateboarding down the up escalator), but I'd like to have fun. When my ride is over, I want to be able to say, "Thanks, it's been a hoot."

 
Click HERE to read more from William Belle

References

I wrote a number of posting during the past year chronicling my journey through the gates of health hell. While these aren't necessarily your sunshiny feel good postings (you may want to slit your wrists), it is a reminder that there but for the grace of God go I meaning there is a bit of luck in this thing we call life. Don't smoke, eat right, drink moderately, exercise regularly, and live clean but still step off the curb and get hit by a bus.

Health: The Psychology of Getting Well: Real or bogus? 2012-08-03
I believe the mind can play an important role in our health. A positive outlook keeps your spirits up and keeps you motivated. Even in difficult circumstances you feel you're going to pull through. However for the purposes of the following discussion, I would like to clarify a very, very important point. If you get your arm caught in a woodchipper and have it torn off, no matter how positive your outlook that arm ain't coming back. Yes, a positive outlook may make you feel good but let's admit right up front that there are physical limitations.

Health: Hope truly springs eternal 2012-07-26
This past Saturday, I decide to go to the movies. The theatre is merely six blocks away so it's not like I have a long way to walk. Yes, walking is difficult for me but six blocks shouldn't break me. As a reminder, the difficulty in walking is not because I have a problem with my legs or something, it seems that walking puts stress on my upper body which in turn tenses my neck and causes my herniated cervical disc to push against my C6 nerve and send referred pain through my shoulder and down my left arm. Sometimes it's bearable and sometimes it can be excruciating.

Health: There's a knife sticking out of my shoulder 2012-07-24
I have asked myself on numerous occasions why it has taken over three months to arrive at what I now think is a comprehensive and accurate assessment of my condition. I have also asked myself why I have been bombarded over the past months with such a variety of diagnoses and opinions plus suggestions for dealing with my issue. My conclusion is this: I don't have a knife sticking out of my shoulder… What is my little bit of humour about this? If I had a knife sticking out of my shoulder, anybody whether medical professional or layperson would easily see what my problem was. Let's get that big bad knife out of my shoulder then let the healing begin!!! Woo hoo!!! However, my problem is a herniated cervical disc. You can't see it. You can't see anything. My problem is completely invisible. I stand before you looking completely normal. On top of it, I can talk coherently, smile, and crack jokes. I can move my left arm around without pain. Okay, so where's the fire? What's my emergency?

Health: W8NC, a vague next step 2012-07-20
I leave my car at the garage in the morning with the vague description of the steering pulling to the right slightly, a louder than normal noise coming from the exhaust, and a report of the oil light flashing on briefly a week ago. An hour later at work, the garage phones me with a rundown of the work to be done, how long it will take, and an estimate of the total charges. I mull it over for a moment then give my go ahead with the promise of being there before they close at 7pm to pick up the car. It's simple, typical, and an easy issue to deal with. If I thought my health issue was going to be as simple as that, I was dreaming in techno-color. My "Magical Medical Tour" has turned into anything but that.

Health: Pascal's Wager and Desperation 2012-07-11
The 17th century French philosopher and mathematician Blaise Pascal argued that there was more to be gained by believing in God than not. Even if the truth can't be known, a rational person should live as if God exists. … If you have an injury, is it better to believe in a remedy than not? Is there more to be gained by trying a supplement, a new diet, or an exercise then by not trying it? Whether it works or not remains to be seen but like Pascal with his wager, if you don't place a bet you can't win?

Health: Advocating for yourself because nobody cares 2012-07-04
I was tempted to write in the title of this article that nobody gives a s**t or even something stronger. However what I am trying to point out is simply that my health is my problem and at the end of the day I must push for answers until I'm satisfied. After all, when I'm sitting across the desk from a medical practitioner for a consultation, I hopefully have his or her attention. But once I stand up and leave the room, that practitioner is going to get on with the rest of their day while I have to continue to deal with my health issue.

Health: Learning more than I really wanted to 2012-06-21
When your health is good, life is good. Although you probably take your good health so much for granted, you no longer are even aware of it. As a consequence, when you hear about the health problems of others, you intellectually understand it but you don't emotionally understand it. You hear the words but you do not truly grasp their meaning.

Health: You don't know what you've got till it's gone 2012-06-12
In 1970, the Canadian singer song writer Joni Mitchell released "Big Yellow Taxi" which contained the telling line, "You don't know what you've got till it's gone." Yes, it is easy to take things for granted. This captures the idea of the centuries old proverb, "You never miss the water till the well runs dry." Day after day, some "thing" is just there like the sun or the moon and we become accustomed to it being there. However many things don't have the longevity of the sun and the moon and we can see those things come to an end and disappear and ofttimes it is not until something has disappeared that we may realize its value to us.

Health: Life comes to a dead halt 2012-05-27
How do you spell hell on Earth? P-a-i-n. What's a two word expression for pain? Pinched nerve. … I have said that if anybody could return me to the good health of Good Friday, just before Bad Saturday, I would pay them a grand. Oh hell, I'd pay them ten grand. My entire life has pretty much come to a dead halt as my health has become my number one priority and pain management has been my overriding concern.

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