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…(Queue Law and Order Dong)
As long time ski instructors, we needed to remain active and outside 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 butt loads of $ on equipment, exercise, and most importantly it was fun! Besides, how can you go wrong playing in dirt right! If I remember right, our desire to become rock climbers even lead us to a marathon 10 hour day once out at the Black Cliffs (Near Lucky Peak for any non-Boise, Idaho readers)! We definitely brought or ski instructor mentality to climbing.
Much like everything else in life, some of us became good, some not so much. I wasn’t in the “not so much” category, but as someone who is 6 feet 5 inches, well let’s just say I’m better built for carrying the cooler full of drinks to the climbing site rather than actual climbing. Luckily, my heart and spirit are bigger than me so I have never passed up a chance to improve my skills.
Looking back, my first real fall climbing should have been a warning to me, but like I said, my heart and spirit are bigger than my body so I didn’t realize the significance at the time. (Before I go any further, I would like to point out that the language of climbing has changed since I was last involved in this world so I apologize now for any terminology errors I might make-my email is firstname.lastname@example.org if you would like to file a complaint :).
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&$!!! Now, in the interest of fairness I should explain the debate my belayer and I had at the time. He claims I stopped when he hit the side of the cliff from the force of my fall. I claim the rope stopped me right before I landed on a pillar that was just off to the side of the route I was climbing. 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.
Too bad I don’t learn quickly!
Fast forward a few years. The original group that I learned to climb with started to get grown up jobs and bills (stupid student loan people wanting their money back!) so it became harder and harder to climb as much as we did during college. I had quit being a ski instructor in 2000 but went back to teaching in the 2002/2003 season in order to make some extra cash. That’s when I meet my new climbing friend Hot Girl (inside joke as to why I’m calling her this, might explain later).
Hot Girl was a gifted instructor and all around great athlete. I was very excited to be able to get back to climbing regularly that summer with her!
That June, we were out at the Black Cliffs playing in dirt having a great time. Hot Girl had just led a route that I was pretty sure I had done back in my early days of climbing. Being competitive by nature, I decided to pull the rope because I was going to lead this route too. (Before anyone makes a stupid joke, I wasn’t showing off. I don’t care if someone can pee standing up or sitting down, if they are better than me at something I want to change that). As it turns out, I should have left the rope alone and climbed the route on top rope.
As I recall, I made it to my first piece of protection without much difficulty. I thought I had put the rope in right and was on my way to the second piece of protection feeling pretty good. Assuming my memory is correct, I was about one move away from my second piece of protection when I fell. As soon as I fell I could tell something wasn’t right. Turns out that I had NOT put the rope in correctly at the first piece of protection and it had come out. Whatever I did wrong I did complete wrong because the rope didn’t break my fall at all like it should have!!!
Even after all these years, I can still remember clearly hitting the ground from about 10 to 15 feet thinking “alright I made it through the fall without getting seriously hurt”. I was wrong of course. What was probably only milliseconds after I decked out, I started to roll down the hill. Hot Girl, my belayer, pulled on the rope after she and another person had got out of the way which is what finally stopped me. 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!
As I was lying there caked in weeds, dirt, and blood, I remember looking at my left arm and that was it! The break was horrible; this was my first ever broken bone by the way (see x-ray below). This sent me into some form of shock/panic attack for a few minutes. Once I regained my mental capabilities, I started to wiggle me toes then fingers on my right hand. My logic was that if I could wiggle my toes/fingers along with mentally realizing it that probably meant that I didn’t have a neck injury. Unfortunately, I would go into these shock/panic attacks every few minutes which isn’t a great place to be mentally when you are trying to self-diagnose.
One of the worse breaks the x-ray tech at the time had ever seen! Took 10 screws and a plate to put back together.
Hot Girl and her friend that was with us were AMAZEBALLS!!! Despite me being dirty, bloody, and badly broken they stayed calm and collected which helped me out tremendously! I don’t think I will ever be able to thank them enough for their help and kindness that night.
As you can imagine, getting me off the hill and into my car was difficult at best. We were able to construct a crude sling for my arm and I had an extra towel in my backpack which was used to wipe the blood and dirt from my face. The trail back to the car wasn’t long but it was moderately steep. So Hot Girl grabbed one side of my climbing harness and her friend grabbed the other side in the hopes that they could be a stabilizing force to keep me upright. It worked! We got back to my car and were off to the nearest ER which was probably 15 minutes away. (Now kids, I didn’t have insurance at the time so that was why I was bound and determined to walk out. If you have insurance, PLEASE call for help if you are ever in a similar situation!)
Hot Girl drove to the ER. Her friend called my dad to tell him what had happened and which hospital we were going too. I still feel kind of guilty because as I walked through the front door there was someone else checking in at the time. The front desk lady took one look at me and immediately left to get me a wheel chair and help. At this point in the night I was well into crazy town so I would have happily waited my turn I like to believe. J
Side note, I’m writing this during my lunch break. I need to go to the bathroom before I have to go back to work so I think this would be a great time for an intermission. Stretch your legs or an ice pack for your neck, the story has about 9 more years to go!
You well rested? I am! Got my neck and back pain to calm done some so its time to finish my story. Plus I have my Starbuck’s and blue arthritis power wristband; everything an Arthur writer needs right? I should probably warn you that Kurt Vonnegut (HOT GIRL is the one that introduced me to him actually) is my favorite author so random thoughts might end up in my posts.
Immediately upon checking in I started to get lectured from everyone with medical training how I could have had a serious neck injury so I should have called for help. They would not shut up about that!!! My problem with that lecture was that they sent me for a CAT scan on my spleen, due to the amount of bruising I already showed, before I got a CAT scan for my neck. I would eventually rupture my C5/C6 disk in my neck, but that would not happen for another 3 years.
I’m going to get up on my soapbox for a moment know. If you don’t want to hear my rant, please feel free to skip this paragraph and resume reading below. I will wait for you to move on. OK, since my left arm was so bad, I didn’t even realize that the cut on the top of my head was pretty serious. In fact, they had to put 6 staples in my head to close it up. My rant is about the price. The hospital charged me something like $300.00 for a “set-up” fee plus another $500.00 for the actual procedure. A nurse pulled out the staple gun from a drawer, opened the package, loaded the staples, and then stapled my head back together. If I had been told the price before hand, I would have had my dad or HOT GIRL do it. Never let anyone claim that there is nothing wrong with our health care system, some people are getting incredibly rich at the expense of those of us that are hurt!
I lied; my soapbox is going to go for one more paragraph…sorry!!! I ended up spending the better part of 3 days in the hospital. During my stay, I did have an operation but never was in the ICU. If there is such a thing, my stay was pretty basic considering people are there for triple bypass or stroke for example. The hospital wanted something like $2,000 an hour for my stay, which was just for the hospital! It didn’t include the surgeon’s bill or all the other specialists that saw me. They wanted something like $20 per pain pill even though I got my prescription filled at their pharmacy for the same price. They charged me $10 for each ice pack they got me which consisted of a supermarket plastic bag with ice in it (the surgeon put me in a hard and soft cast so he didn’t order the ice because it wouldn’t do anything. I ended up eating the ice when the nurse wasn’t in my room because I wasn’t supposed to have water yet). Again, some people are getting incredibly rich at the expense of those of us that are hurt!
Enough ranting, I promise this time. Actually this is the part of the story that explains my cookie addiction. 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 to get my cookie, which explains my loyalty to them J
One of my proudest mornings during this whole experience 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 on 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, many examples where Arthur forced me to relearn how to do a task in life.
I ended up staying in physical therapy until January of 2004 relearning how to use my left arm. The swelling was so bad that it was almost 3 months before I got much more than 10 degrees of movement from my fingers and wrist. It was 4 months before I could hold and drink a can of Coke with my left arm. Like the saying goes, if you are going to do something do it right and become the best at it. This was my first bone break so I wanted to be the best, and by best of course I mean worse off than every patient ever J. Sometimes my mind works differently than others I’ve been told.
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 is what 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. As my dad and friend would later prove by having strokes, your corroded artery is somewhat important! Outside of this discovering, 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 and pains 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. Well, between landing on the left side and being born with hip dysplasia (my parents didn’t tell me about the hip dysplasia until after my hip resurfacing), my left hip was now hurting. At this 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. For those of you considering hip injections I want to warn you now, they hurt! When I say hurt, I mean tears will appear type of hurt so good luck (I still recommend getting them if you need it, I don’t want to discourage anyone from trying something that might help in the long run!)
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 (Dr. Menzner had trained with Dr. Peters at the University of Utah). As it turned out, there was one doctor in Idaho performing that particular type of operation; I discovered this 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 1st 5 people in Idaho to have it done to them.
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 it, having an out of state operation is a paperwork 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. Surgery vacations aren’t fun, if you do it at least go somewhere like Europe!
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, it’s more of even the best marathon runners get tired. 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-I guess birds of a feather really do flock together! We were on a pretty easy intermediate run that as instructors we both had skied 1,000s of times before. It was night though and the right knee scope had caused me to become hyper farsighted remember. 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 kind of 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 still tuck it into my chest every time I fall. 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 pt, this was fine with me since I trust Cassie so much. She 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 yet 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, 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; at this part I’m pretty much more machine than man.
PT on shoulders SUCKS the big one!!! I highly recommend knee or hip surgery if you are thinking of a joint to damage J. 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 I use to pour bottles of baby powder on my arm in the hopes of absorbing some of the sweat. That stupid harness was so disgusting by the time Dr. Curtain let me out of it that it probably should have been burned!
As far as I know, the 2 wrist surgeries and half the shoulder surgery are the only one’s that I can directly attribute to the rock climbing accident. The neck wasn’t helped by the trauma, but it didn’t go bad for almost 3 years after the fact. I’m about 2 years into a gout diagnosis, which is more than likely what is causing my new pains in my hands, and lower back in particular. My blood doesn’t show anything like Rheumatoid or AS but at my worse I’ve had 5 therapist at once try to get some kind of movement out of my back which has led Cassie to think I might have AS. Despite all this though, I am one lucky SOB!
The people that I’ve meet since the accident have been truly inspiring! I can directly attribute the accident for this positive outcome. Sure, the pain gets old quickly and I still do have self-pity episodes, but if it wasn’t for the fall I’m not sure I would have meet all these amazing people. If you have a moment I highly recommend you check out:
www.theunlost.com – Theresa is a fellow accounting student/friend who decided to quit her high paying corporate gig in order to help the unlost become found!
www.angeladurazo.com – Pretty sure you could shoot Angela and it would only make her stronger J Amazing athlete and person considering everything she has gone through!
www.thehurtblogger.com – Her passion for a better health care system is something we need more of and I hope to be able to write like her some day!
www.notstandingstillsdisease.com – Kirsten’s since of humor is great and she is a liberal hippie just like me J
www.advocatewurmie.blogspot.com – Joanne has become a friend, little sister, and mentor for me and I will always be grateful for that!
As it stands right now, I’m not exactly sure what my medical future will entail. I know my right hip will need resurfacing sometime in the near future. My guess is there will be many other surgeries in my future because of the degenerative nature of my arthritis. I do know that I want to become a better advocate and friend for those that are less fortunate than me!
So that’s my story as to why I hurt! Hopefully some of you will be inspired to get up and go get your own chocolate chip cookie ice cream sandwich :). If you do suffer from any form of chronic illness or pain, please know that you automatically have a friend and advocate in me and I’m just starting to learn how to fight for the cause!