Out on a limb…

Had I been given a choice which part of my anatomy I’d maintain a life long grudge against, with diligent consideration for all my flaws and shortcomings, (not counting anything that goes on in my head-so stop with the suggestions) I certainly would have made a different selection. I have legitimate gripes against my complexion, ears, pear shaped figure, feet, butt, boobs, weak arms and hands. For the life of me I can’t figure out why I keep hurting the same little ‘piece of Neese’ for the last 50 years.

About the age when I dislocated my elbow for the first time (of many)…

It all started in the early 60’s at school. One of my least favorite subjects-physical education, P.E. for short. Horrible class, ugly uniforms, wasn’t fond of the teacher. Semesters divided up in segments featuring a variety of sports. All of which I had absolutely no interest or ability. But this particular sport wasn’t as bad as most. It was gymnastics. Don’t remember a single piece of equipment besides the pommel horse, which was kind of fun. Pretty sure there has been little or no change in the horse from ancient times of my youth through today. Not sure how wide the horse is but several inches. With 2 evenly spaced gripper thingy’s for your hands. I was attempting something radical like walking one end to the other. It’s a stationary horse! Doesn’t sound dangerous for a young preteen does it? Nope. Yup.

This clutzy kid took a header to the floor off the horsey. Good news, my left elbow took the hit, saving my questionable complexion. The school called Mom to pick me up. We drove 4 blocks to Dr. Hegg’s office, only to find a sign on the door that Doc was out of town for the week. I was devastated because I loved Doc Hegg. Gruff, but sincere and kind. (I was in serious pain, Rock Valley had no hospital yet). So Mom decided to go to Hull, about 10 miles away. Can’t recall who the doctor was, but he informed Mom I had dislocated elbow-not a big deal. Gave me a shot of morphine, rolled it back in place, put my arm in a sling for a few weeks and that was it. Or so I thought. Although I’ve never been particularly athletic, nimble, or coordinated, I’ve never been accident prone either.

I got on a health kick in the late 90’s for several reasons. I was in my upper 40’s, had recently stopped smoking and gained some (30 lbs) weight. Started working at McDonald’s, assuming since it was called work, I could eat a cheeseburger and fries everyday and not gain weight. Wrong. Gained some more weight. The Hubs was diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes and encouraged to lose weight to avoid medication. Here’s the deal, plain and simple, I don’t wear fat well. My legs, arms and neck stay relatively normal looking but I just balloon through the middle third of my body. Not attractive. At all. These red flags were signaling some big changes to my life.

What my arm looks like after therapy. The top bruise was so tender, so she made new bruises…

For the better part of a year I stayed on a strict diet and lost 75 pounds (yes, while I was working at McDonald’s. Once a week I’d eat a dozen fries, hot out of the fryer or take 2 bites of a sausage biscuit on my break, my only McD’s food). The best (smartest) part of my dieting/lifestyle change was the addition of a daily walk. At first I could only walk a couple huff-puffing blocks, but I stuck with it. And grew addicted to walking every day. Everything about my life was better when my day included a walk. My second profound life change came when I started going deaf about the same time. At first the loss was only in my left ear which wasn’t debilitating, though after a couple years was affecting my balance. When I was walking and looked up, I’d walk right off the sidewalk.

I’m not always eager to recognize or accept changes in my life. One morning when my schedule was full, I started my walk too early-it was still dark. Late September, 2003, a mile from home when I slipped on some acorns on the sidewalk and fell. Oh nuts! Flopped myself back to a sitting position, grabbing my left arm. Huh, my elbow was not where it was supposed to be. Yikes. Hubs took me to the ER. They thought it was dislocated-again. An orthopedic doc rolled it back in place but was fairly certain from the X-ray, I had chipped a small piece of bone off and needed surgery. Nope. Yup. Damn.

Repair work completed, some hardware inserted and a dozen staples (stapling human flesh is beyond gross). Afterwards Doc said I would probably have limited movement, my arm permanently bent at a 40 degree angle. There was a small window of opportunity in the coming weeks to lessen that elbow angle with some tortuous physical therapy. Sounds like fun right? (He also concluded that I probably chipped off that piece of my elbow during the fall when I was 12, but it went undetected).

After 6 weeks in a sling I went to my first physical therapy session. Sharing my orthopedic surgeons goal of my having a useful, relatively straight left arm, I was paired with a petite German gal, 5’11” weighing in at 240 named Brunhilde. Honesty, I cried during every therapy session. Brunhilde pulled, tugged, manipulated, twisted, applied heat, melted wax, electric current and hot towels to straighten my arm. She succeeded. Although my arm’s not completely straight, it’s damn close. It was unpleasant and miserable but she did her job (and really, really enjoyed her work. Yikes).

Soon I was back to my daily walk, but had been recently diagnosed with Ménière’s disease, affecting my inner ear causing balance issues, noise in my head 24-7, vertigo, head spinning (not the Linda Blair kind) and nausea. I had to be more careful when I walked. Constantly aware of sidewalk structural conditions and debris. But I am a slow learner. Autumn of 2009 I was about 2 miles from home, it was just getting light out, (dumb) when my striding tennis shoe (foot included) found a rock just as I stepped off the curb. Twisted my ankle, went down hard. Landed on my left elbow. Not surprised, are you? Picked up my headphones, glasses, put myself back together and felt various body parts. Nope, think I’m good. KEPT ON WALKING FARTHER AWAY FROM HOME. Made it about a block when I started seeing spots. Reached for a sign on the bike path to steady myself and woke up under a bush. Soaking wet, leaves clinging to my clothes. I’m so done. When I got home, discovered blood running down my arm, a hole in my shirt where my least favorite elbow met the unfriendly blacktop. My elbow was huge.

Oh man, I didn’t even know how to tell John. He held his tongue (though I’m sure he wanted to throttle me) and called the same specialist. Yup, broke again. Number 3 and counting. But I didn’t need surgery, just a fiberglass splint for 6 weeks. And more therapy. I did receive a stern lecture from doc to stop injuring the same arm, there wasn’t much else he could do to fix it. Again.

So I hurt my left elbow last summer and it hasn’t been right since. I’ve lost strength and mobility. Finally, 8 months after the fact I saw a specialist. X-rays confirm my elbow’s a mess but don’t know if I broke it for a 4th time. Doctor recommended physical therapy to help with tendonitis. Vicious cycle, not using my arm because of numbness, tingling and pain which causes the tendons to tighten. To date, I’ve suffered through 3 sessions of this nasty therapy business leaving my arm in various shades of purple, blue, maroon, yellow and green. Holy moly.

Can you tell I’m not real anxious to go back for session # 4…

Nice hot pack on my arm for 10 minutes, but it’s all downhill after that. He/she slathers my arm with a Crisco like substance. Then the Tool (physical therapist) uses a tool akin to a thick, wide metal butter knife. Scraping it hard, over and over a small section of my arm. Besides being painful, it feels like they’re gouging this instrument over guitar strings. Ping, ping, ping. The Tools suggest resting 3 days in between sessions. Well no shit Sherlock. My arms so tender I can barely wear a shirt sleeve the day after therapy.

Is therapy helping my hopeless, hurt elbow? Too soon to tell, but I remain optimistic. And sore…

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