My Quarter Million Dollar Arm
One morning, in spring 2008, I agreed to take a friend to the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV), Driver’s License Examination office so he could take the behind-the-wheel exam. As he had a permit, I allowed him to drive my car, “Priscilla”, a Chevrolet Prizm, four- door in good mechanical shape but dinged some to use for the exam. I rode shotgun with my window down and arm resting on the door.
We picked a good day – weather was clear, warm and dry. As we were headed out south bound Hanley Boulevard, traffic was steady but moving at a pretty good clip. We were in the outside lane going with the flow of traffic, doing about 38 mph in the 35 mph speed zone when all of a sudden a north bound car attempted to make a left turn directly in front of us. My friend barely had time to say “Oh shit” before we T-boned the car in the front passenger’s door, and column. Obviously things came to a crashing halt (pun intended).
We were both shaken up, and when I looked at him, I saw a minor laceration above his right eyebrow. As I asked if he was ok, I attempted to reach over with my right arm, but noticed only my shoulder seemed to want to cooperate. I looked at my arm, and noticed that from the hand to the shoulder is looked about the size of an adult elephant’s leg, and almost the same color. Now I’m a good size man with substantial biceps but this was ridiculous.
When I attempted to open my door to check the other driver, I discovered that despite my best efforts, my arm decided it had a mind of its own. Needless to say, I conceded that match, and waited for help to arrive. While waiting, the other driver got out of her mother’s brand new Volvo station wagon, sat down on the curb and started shaking like a leaf in a gale. Luckily some people had stopped to help – they cared for her until the police, and rescue squad arrived, which didn’t take long as the cop shop and fire department garages were less than four blocks away.
When the rescue squad crew got to me, they took one look at my arm, and decided to have a conference on how to get me out of the car. I’ll throw in the technical complications here to make understanding the situation a lot easier.
I’m 6’1″ tall, and at that time weight around 250 lbs. As I said previously, my arm had swelled to the size of an adult elephant’s leg from shoulder thru hand, and I had no control over it. Subsequent MRI at the hospital disclosed that I had sustained a comminuted fracture of the humerus (upper arm). What was once a solid bone had become nine separate pieces amidst muscle and sundry tissue, and I didn’t feel a thing.
When the rescue crew got back to me, the first thing they wanted to know was if I wanted morphine – “We’re qualified and approved to give you morphine.” My response was, what for? I have no pain, and even if I did have pain morphine would only deaden it – pain is a symptom!
So, no morphine, but now getting me out of the car becomes an issue. They want to put an air splint on my arm before they help me out of the car. There’s just one problem, air splints are designed to stabilize a fracture between two similar joints, no can do with a shoulder joint.
Second conference needed to discuss what to do about the arm. I stopped them by asking if they had an “IV board.” OK, I’m old, get over it.
For those not in the know, and IV board is a small board, usually made of simple plywood and cover with gauze that was historically used to immobilize an arm while the patient was receiving intravenous fluids, etc. Nothing fancy, but functional for the times.
At first, the younger medic didn’t know what I was referring to but one of the older guys did. Lo and behold, the only piece of equipment needed to treat me on this huge, and very expensive ambulance are the gurney and a simple IV board. I cringe when I think of my taxes.
“Do you want morphine before we move you?”
NO! I’ll move myself. So I did, I held the IV board below my lower arm to stabilize it against my body, then got out of the car, and laid down on the gurney, which three strong men then lifted up, and put into the ambulance.
“Do you need morphine?”
NO, but they might.
Now for my favorite part. The young paramedic radios into the emergency room to give details about me, my injuries and my refusal for morphine. As he’s doing so, I hear him say, “Patient has a fracture of the right femur.”
“Femur?” Umm, no, I don’t think I was born with a femur attached to my shoulder.
“Excuse me doc (facetious), but I think my humerus is injured, not my femur.”
“Huh?” he says.
You told the ER it was my femur, and while I’m not orthopedic specialist I’m pretty sure it’s my humerus.
“Umm, excuse me,” He called back and tried to correct himself. It didn’t work, he said femur again.
I let it go this time. Thought the ER nurse could deal with it without my help.
Halfway to the hospital, the ride in the huge, very expensive ambulance is feeling like I’m riding in a coal cart on a very rough road.
“If you’re having a lot of pain, I can give you morphine for it.”
I’m beginning to think this kid is a pusher for a Mexican cartel.
No, thank you!
We get to the hospital where an ER nurse climbs into the back of the ambulance ready to give me a shot of – wait for it – Morphine!!
About now I’m feeling I’m still unconscious in my car, and having a sick dream.
No morphine thanks.
“That’s a humerus!” I hear whispered.
Well doh, I think.
Into the ER, cut my shirt off, one of my best of course, and off to Radiology where another nurse asks me if I want Morphine.
No thank you.
Throughout all of this, I have no pain, even in Radiology where they bend, twist and turn me, and my arm into exotic positions for the MRI. That done, and I’m back in the ER where the nurse asked me. “Do you need any pain medications?” At least she didn’t say Morphine.
So I’m lying on the gurney in the ER for an hour before the Doctor finally arrives.
“Hi, I’m Dr. So n So, your arm has a bad fracture, and I’m giving you this morphine while I splint it.” Zap, I get dosed without another word, and he walks out.
After about fifteen minutes a “Orthopedic Technician” comes in to set up the materials for a plaster splint. When the doctor returns they begin to create a splint. It’s an artistic endeavor, but alas, not a functional one. (Please refer back to the air splint idea – two joints)
I had to return in two days to have it changed. Second one didn’t work either so I switched doctors. Second doctor decided some new device would work – it didn’t. What it did do was allowed by arm to swing 180 degrees to the back. I could shake hands with people following me, and not have to turn around, but forget trying to use a can opener – no luck there.
The principle here is that in order for a splint to work, it must immobile, and realign the bone, fracture and all so that it can knit. The way they were splinting my arm was only protecting it. Thankfully, after weeks of no improvement, the second doctor realized his mistake, and referred me to a specialist at Barnes-Jewish-Children’s hospital.
Went to the clinic to see the specialist, where x-ray orders were waiting for me. Across the hall to x-ray, two films taken and back to the specialist’s office, where I only had to wait 15 minutes to be examined. Doctor looked at x-rays, and said the bone will never knit without support, I’m putting in a titanium rod from shoulder to elbow – is tomorrow morning too soon?
I loved this guy.
So here I am, repaired with new parts, and having a blast when I go to the airport or courthouse, but have uncertainty about some rescue squad personnel.