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Arrested Development

Empty hospital bed

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Art of the Arm by DJ Lynn

I went into the hospital on March 29th feeling very nervous – more than I expected I would feel. It was supposed to be a short surgery. The operating room had been booked for 70 minutes. I wouldn’t be spending the night they said – it was not a complicated surgery.  The doctor would be removing a metal plate and a bunch of screws from my elbow where it felt like an animal with sharp claws had attached itself. The doctor would also perform a capsulotomy to remove scar tissue around the front inside of my elbow which was supposed to increase range of motion up to 50 degrees. It was supposed to be relatively simple and quick.

I spoke at length to the anesthesiologist because they had done such a good job the first time. I had cosmetic surgery years before and for 10 hours afterwards I couldn’t drink a sip of water without throwing up. But after the June 2020 fracture, I came out of surgery without a headache or any weird feelings at all – and no nausea! I could eat immediately. The anesthesiologist was friendly and said he would duplicate the pharmaceutical concoction so that I would have no issues afterward.

Then another doctor came in and said they wanted to do a nerve block. I questioned why I needed it -they weren’t mending bones so I wasn’t sure why I was going to be in such pain that I needed a nerve block, but my doctor and several of the nurses standing around seemed adamant that I should do it, so I finally agreed. It was a little weird (I was allowed to watch the whole thing on an ultrasound monitor) and not terribly painful but then I’ve heard from a number of doctors and dentists over the years that I’m a bit pain tolerant.

I woke up in recovery with the doctor at my side who delivered the awful news. During surgery after the plate and scar removal she manipulated the arm – a common procedure I guess to make sure things are moving correctly. It was almost over and then somehow in that manipulation she broke my distal humerus. For a few seconds, before my anger set in, I imagined the chaos in the operating room. It must have been one of those WTF-OMG moments dreaded by a surgeon. The doctor was trying to fix me and instead broke me – caused more harm.

Nurses and other doctors in attendance at this teaching hospital must have been wide eyed, mouths open in disbelief. After a few moments of shock there must have been some sort of frantic but controlled chatter about what to do. Total elbow replacement? More fixation with more plates and screws? Fusion? The doctor had made the decision – more fixation. More knock-out drugs were pumped into my veins, and someone was told to gather the metal work. Soon, more cutting, more careful relocating of nerves and ligaments, removal of fragments, smoothing surfaces and finally the doctor asked for a drill and some screws … the doctor’s heart was racing now.

I was drugged but I could feel the anger, disbelief and despair descending on me. I was then wheeled into a surprisingly large private room where I was informed I would be staying for a couple of days. A nurse appeared asking if I wanted some drugs of various sorts.  She didn’t have much to offer except Tylenol and oxycodone.

I was angry and snapped at her, “Give me all the drugs I can have, and I want them every four hours. Don’t ask, just bring them.”

An hour later they sent a nurse with a laptop into my room to ask me a bunch of questions about my state of mind. I believe I said something like, “I can’t do this again.” Angry does not describe how I felt. She took a few notes and later that evening another nurse came in and questioned me further about my state of mind, which had not improved, but I pretended it had so they wouldn’t put me on some sort of suicide watch or give me any additional drugs. What I wanted was to be left alone.

“I’m fine. Please close the door on your way out.”

A couple of days later I was discharged with a bag of drugs, told to stay in the splint, and that I would see my doctor in three weeks. At home I curled up on the couch, turned on the television and stayed there for the better part of the next several weeks.

OMRON Complete™ Wireless Upper Arm Blood Pressure Monitor + EKG