As many of you know, one of my greatest comforts in life is a freshly baked chocolate chip cookie. The smell, taste, feel just gives me energy and a renewed spirit to take on the day! Unfortunately for me, sugar causes swelling which as an Arthur sufferer; I don’t need any more of. What many of you don’t know is how I become so attached to chocolate chip cookies. This is my story…
As a long time ski instructor, I needed to remain active and outside during summer in order to maintain sanity. So beginning in about 1997-98, a group of us started rock climbing. It was a great way to remain outside, spend too much on cool equipment, exercise, and most importantly it was fun! Besides, how can you go wrong playing in dirt right!
Much like everything else in life, some of us became good, some not so much. I wasn’t a good climber nor did I suck, but as someone who is 6 feet 5 inches; well let’s just say I’m better built for football or basketball and not rock climbing. Luckily, my heart and spirit are bigger than me so I never passed up a chance to improve my rock climbing skills.
My first fall happened right as I was beginning to learn how to lead climb. The route wasn’t rated that high as I recall, there was about a 10 to 15 foot span without protection that was the reason for the rating. (For those of you that don’t know; I’m defining leading as taking the rope and quick draws up instead of running it through a chain at the top of the cliff/wall like in a climbing gym). I was almost to the top of the 10 to 15 foot span when I lost my grip. Since I was leading, that meant that I was going to fall about 20 to 30 feet before my rope would catch me.
Since I was a newbie, the rope was in the wrong place when I fell. This meant that when my protection stopped me, I got a huge rope burn around my leg. It hurt like HE*&! Of course the important part of this story is that I stopped! The bad news was that my shorts were full of smelly stuff; my leg was badly burnt from the rope being wrapped around it when I stopped, and of course it took about a week before I stopped shaking from being scared.
Fast forward to June of 2003! On that day, I ended up falling about 15 feet. According to the 2 other people I was climbing with that day, I screwed up by not placing my first quick draw in correctly. At the time, I didn’t have any health insurance so my friends got me off the mountain and took me to the ER without calling for help. I ended up spending 3 days in the hospital, where I received 6 staples in my head and 10 screws and a plate in my left wrist. The left side of my body was an odd color mix of black, red, blue, yellow, and orange. As my first physical therapist would tell me latter, “I was lots of hurt!”
Even after all these years, I can still remember clearly hitting the ground from about 15 feet thinking “alright I made it through the fall without getting seriously hurt”. I was wrong of course because as soon as I stopped, I went through the biggest rush of adrenaline, pain, confusion, fear, and hysteria mixed together that anyone could have imagined!
Needless to say, I was completely wiped out when I hot home from the hospital! I had no fitness left!!! My first attempt at regaining some fitness consisted of walking to a Chevron gas station that was about 2 blocks away from my apartment at the time. There I would get one of those chocolate chip cookie ice cream sandwiches and walk home then eat it. This was my reward for getting up and moving, it was a great reward let me tell you! I would continue this tradition after all my surgeries. Eventually I would walk to Starbucks (about 5 blocks round trip) to get my cookie, which explains my loyalty to them and my cookie addiction.
At this point I want to share one of my proudest moments during this whole experience. It came the first morning after I got home. I wasn’t that hungry when I woke up but I knew I had to eat something with my meds so I decided to toast up an Eggo waffle. Not the best breakfast for someone recovering from surgery but it was simple. Unfortunately for me, the toaster was on the bottom shelf near the floor and there was no way I could bend down to get it without falling over. Faced with this challenge, I decided to get the rug from my living room, used my foot to kick the toaster out on to the rug, and then pulled the rug to my computer desk where I could sit in my chair to pick it up. I didn’t realize it at the time, but this would be the first of many examples were Arthur forced me to solve a simple problem with new skills.
By May of 2004 I was back on my mountain bike and in the gym again. I was having a lot of pain in my left wrist and hand so Dr. Lamey, the hand specialist that did my first operation, decided to scope the wrist and remove the plate and screws. The bone had healed nicely, according to the x-rays, but some tendons had moved on to the plate, which was causing some of my pain the doctor thought. Considering the severity of the fall, having 2 operations didn’t seem to be that surprising. Turns out I was just getting started!
The scope went as well as to be expected. There was a considerable amount of soft tissue damage in the wrist. I say was because I’m currently down to less than 5% of that tissue left. Surgically, that meant that if the pain continued to be bad the only option I had left was to fuse the wrist together. This sounded like it might slow me down so the doctor recommended I go see Dr. Eckland, a local rheumatologist at the time (he moved to Montana several years later which was bad for me because he was/is a great doctor!).
Dr. Eckland was able to control a lot of the pain by putting me on some anti-inflammatory drugs and tramadol for the pain. Ironically, I didn’t even know I had neck problems until the wrist pain was brought under control. Since the neck pain was new, Dr. Eckland ordered an MRI that showed I was definitely suffering from some form on degenerative arthritis.
The neck pain became worse through the winter of 2004 and spring of 2005. It got so bad that I couldn’t turn my head at all; I had to turn my shoulders in order to see anything around me. The pain was horrible! To this day, I find neck pain to be the most depressing of all my pains. There is just something about it…
By the summer of 2005, the pain was so bad that Dr. Eckland and Dr. Lamey recommended that I see Dr. Floyd. Dr. Floyd was a spine specialist, generally considered one of the best around I would learn. He sent me for another MRI and sure enough, the C5/C6 disk had ruptured so it was time for another surgery. I was very much looking forward to this surgery, the pain was horrible! (To this day I don’t understand people that are afraid of going in for surgery, if you’re bad enough to need it you should be looking forward to feeling better right?)
Turns out that the neck x-rays, MRI’s, and CAT scan of my neck didn’t show that a piece of the ruptured disk was lodged between my spine and corroded artery. Outside of this discovery, the operation was a success. In fact, I noticed a huge difference as soon as I woke up in recovery. I believe my first question was could I have a cheeseburger. My numbness was gone and the neck just felt a lot better. My physical therapist for this recovering was Cassie who turned out to be unbelievable. I have seen her for all my operations since this. Once again though, I would learn that another joint was in trouble as soon as the previous joints pain was brought under control.
When I fell, I had landed on my left side. Not sure why or how I got into that position, I just was. I was born with hip dysplasia but never had any trouble with my left hip until I fell. At the time I was in school working towards a second degree in accounting so avoiding yet another surgery seemed like a good idea. During the next couple of years, Dr. Eckland tried steroid and synvisc injections. Steroids didn’t help at all but the synvisc injections did.
The pain and x-rays showed by the spring of 2007 that it was time to go see a surgeon. I had seen Dr. Menzner before for a knee issue and I knew he had hip experience so I made an appointment. Since I was still young he recommended hip resurfacing instead of a full hip replacement. At the time, he didn’t know of anyone in Idaho with experience doing this operation so he sent me to the University of Utah to see Dr. Peters.
A little side note. As it turned out, there was one doctor in Idaho performing that particular type of operation. I discovered this information from an article in our local paper. The article didn’t mention an exact date of when he had performed his first hip resurfacing but I’m pretty sure I’m one of the first 5 people in Idaho to have it done to them based on what I read. My claim to fame I guess J
Luckily I had family in Salt Lake so it wasn’t such a circus to pack up the family and head south for an operation. I don’t recommend having an out of state operation because the paperwork is a nightmare! Insurance companies don’t like it, mothers & fathers don’t, and physical therapists don’t either (they like access to the surgeon). Since I didn’t know of another alternative at the time, there basically wasn’t a choice for me.
The surgery went great! I have to admit I’ve been incredibly lucky in regards to the surgeons that have crossed paths with me. The only real news about the experience would be when I fainted walking back from the bathroom. Turns out I was hyperglycemic and didn’t know it. Good news was they kept bringing me all the OJ and Apple Juice I could drink the night I fainted. Oh, I guess I did accidently pull out my I.V., which caused a lot of bleeding over everything. Didn’t even realize it until someone saw the blood on the walls.
I spent 6 days in Salt Lake. Once back home I started pt with Cassie. That went great until I started to notice pain in my left knee. It got bad enough that it was preventing me from completing pt for the hip (sound familiar?). Turns out after years of hip dysplasia and walking like a duck, both knees needed scoped. This meant a trip to Dr. Walker, a local sports medicine doctor. For those of you keeping score, the right knee scope meant I had undergone 6 surgeries in 6 years. The right knee scope also led to me have my first negative side effect of surgery. All the drugs I had to take caused me to become hyper farsighted literally overnight.
Mentally at this point in my life, I was sick and tired of having surgeries. I have never feared going under the knife, its more 6 surgeries in 6 years were exhausting to say the least. It was time to find something else to do with my time! Turns out, there was one more surgery I had to do before I got an extended break.
In the winter of 2008/2009 I was skiing with a friend of mine who was recovering from a stroke and trying to learn to ski again. Yes, my group of friends is quite the medical marvel. We were on a pretty easy intermediate run that as instructors we both had skied 1,000s of times before. I had skied ahead to stop in a spot at the bottom of the run that as instructors you would stop to gather your students. What I didn’t realize was that ski patrol had set up flagging but someone had knocked it down and it was buried in the snow. Not surprisingly, I didn’t see the flagging until it had tripped me. Since I’m so protective of my left arm, I instinctively tucked it into my chest as I fell that night. That meant that I was leading with my left shoulder as I fell towards the ground.
According to the doc in the box that I saw the next day, I had dislocated my shoulder. He recommended I go to physical therapy. Cassie worked with me and got the shoulder pretty much back to normal, or at least we thought. By that summer, the shoulder would pop out whenever it wanted and was hurting. Yet again, I would be going to another orthopedic surgeon. This time it was Dr. Curtain (he told me a great joke when I first meant him. What’s the difference between a vacuum and snowboarder? Give up? It’s where you attach the dirt bag! HEHEHE).
Dr. Curtain thought the operation would be a pretty simple scope. Once in the shoulder however, he discovered that the damage was pretty severe which meant that my simple scope quickly turned into a Bankart surgery. My left bicep looked like a frayed rope and the soft tissue damage to the socket was bad. I don’t remember how many screws and anchors I received that day.
PT on shoulders is horrible. I highly recommend knee or hip surgery if you are thinking of a joint to damage. The harness I had to wear caused a lot of neck pain. At the risk of getting a little to personal, I sweat a lot and the harness didn’t help my cause at all. It was so bad use to pour bottles of baby powder on my arm in the hopes of absorbing some of the sweat. That harness was so disgusting by the time Dr. Curtain let me out of it that it probably should have been burned.
Chances are good that I will have to have my right hip resurfaced next but don’t count out the bulging disk and pinched nerve (MRI confirmed this in October) in my lower back. Instead of getting better with time, I seem to be experiencing more inflammatory and degenerative arthritis as time goes on.
As far as I know, only my first 2 surgeries can be directly tied to my rock climbing accident. The other 5 are either indirectly related to the trauma or caused by one of the over 100 different forms arthritis can take. Part of it depends on which doctor or physical therapist I talk too.
To add to my story, about 4 years ago I started to develop severe pain and swelling in both hands. My GP ran some initial blood work and based on that diagnosed Gout in my hands. Depending on who’s research you reference, Gout presents in the hands of a 30 something male only about 5% of the time I would learn. I started the usual treatment but my flares and swelling seemed to continue to get worse and more frequent as time went on however.
Fast forward to this year. I could not take the pain anymore so I decided to try a pain management clinic. After hearing my history, one of their recommendations was to see a rheumatologist. So while getting a series of 3 spinal epidurals for my neck pain I went to this new rheumatologist, Dr. Palfreyman. As luck would have it, my old records with Dr. Eckland were still with this new clinic so Dr. Palfreyman has access to my first doctors test results and notes. Based on all this old information and new symptoms Dr. Palfreyman has began treatment for seronegative Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA).
Everyday is a new challenge in fighting the pain of the RA and the trauma of the fall. I was lucky in that I found an online patient community that listens when I need it but will also kick my butt when needed. I’m now back to skiing whenever I can and even started to run again thanks to the support of this community. Every patient should look into finding other patients for support and inspiration I strongly believe!
Since my fall I’ve earned a second degree in Accounting, bought my first house, started working full-time again in government, and started this website. My proudest accomplishment though has to be becoming a Stanford University MedX Scholar and Honor Role recipient. I’m bragging because arthritis and chronic pain isn’t an excuse to give up on life, in fact, it’s just the opposite. It is an excuse to enjoy life more while appreciating and learning from everyone that crosses ones path along the way.
As odd as it sounds, I don’t regret my rock-climbing fall at all! The new friendships I’ve developed because of the experience have been amazing and I like to believe I’m a better person because of the experience. I don’t wish RA or chronic pain on anyone but if you do experience it, take advantage of the opportunity it presents to meet new patients and advocate for others that are less fortunate than you.