I have to be careful here or I might actually get teary-eyed, which almost never happens….
Recently I broke my right humerus just bellow the shoulder. I broke it badly, I broke it very very badly. This was not just a clean fracture. I am talking about a nasty, complicated, jagged, destructive break. If that is not bad enough, the joint was badly dislocated. The ball on the end of the fragment of bone no longer engaged the shoulder rotator cuff and was pushed to the side, sitting in my upper arm.
It was not clear that my shoulder joint could be saved. The orthopedic physician who saw my injuries told me it was the kind of job that necessitated a the best surgeon available. Still, there were no guarantees, even with the best, that my joint could be saved.
If it could not (and that looked like it might well be the case) then I would have to have it removed and replaced with a fully artificial shoulder. My bone and cartilage joint would be replaced with one made from metal and ceramic.
Of course, joint replacements should themselves be considered an important feet of science. Millions have recovered from severe injury or had their lives drastically improved thanks to the technology of orthopedic joint implants. If I had to receive a shoulder replacement, I would have been benefiting from modern medicine, enormously.
Still, for an active 31 year old, living life with an artificial shoulder is, at best, sub-optimal. There are complications that can occur. The durability and range of motion can’t match a natural joint, and I would likely need the prosthetic replaced, perhaps multiple times.
Thankfully, that’s not what happened. If I had experienced this accident ten years ago, or if I had been admitted to a different hospital, that probably would have been the case. However, I had the great privilege of ending up at Yale New Haven Hospital. In addition to the hospital providing extremely attentive and high quality care, I was able to have Doctor Ted Blaine preform the surgery.
Doctor Blaine is one of the best shoulder and elbow orthopedic surgeons in practice. He is the head of the department at the Yale school of medicine. He is also very active in research and development of better surgical methods and teaching new doctors how to preform the procedures.
It took more than four hours of surgery and what Doctor Blaine described as “A lot of screws,” but my joint was put back together and my original anatomy retained. At present, I have little use of my right arm, and I probably will need to have it immobilized for upwards of another month. After that, I face a long process of physical therapy. However, I am expected to recover normal function and use of my right arm, though it may be several months before I reach 100%
Of course, I have communicated to Dr. Blaine that I would be eager to participate in any medical research. In fact, I would fully consent to invasive procedures or to experimental rehabilitative techniques that carry the risk of setting back my recovery or being inferior to standard methods.
My desire to participate in such research comes, in part, from my enormous gratitude and respect for the scientific knowledge and hard-working researchers who have helped make my recovery possible. However, it is also because, even despite the excellent care I received, this has been, quite literally, the worst experience of my life. After the anesthesia wore off, I experienced two days of physical pain I could not have even comprehended before. I have had my share of minor injuries, but nothing can come close to the agony of the post surgical inflammation. This was not due to any inadequacies in my care. I was given the most powerful painkillers possible, including high doses of IV morphine. But it did very little. The pain is simply due to the nature of the operation required. Thankfully, it was temporary and the hospital did do everything possible to provide some relief.
When I think of the pain I experienced as well as the long and difficult recovery I face, I can’t help but be heartbroken by the thought that millions of people will experience such agony and worse. For many, it won’t be temporary. Most will not get the quality of care that I did. After this experience, I hope that there is a way I can help advance scientific knowledge and reduce human suffering, perhaps leading to more people not needing to go through as much as I did.
Finally, and on a slightly unrelated note:
Bikes are great. They are a simple and elegant form of human-powered transportation. They provide for enjoyable and low-impact method of exercise. They allow people to travel locally while experiencing their community in a more direct way than being inside a car. They are a great way to avoid traffic, enjoy the fresh air and save some money on gasoline.
While I am all for biking, and will surely continue to bike ride, it is certainly not a risk-free activity. On a bike, there’s really nothing separating the rider from being thrown off and injured.
Please wear a helmet and exercise due caution. When in doubt, be more conservative with speed and safety boundaries.
I know this is obvious, but, given the circumstances, it’s worth repeating.
This entry was posted on Wednesday, September 4th, 2013 at 6:46 pm and is filed under Good Science, personal. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.
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