Friday, May 01, 2009

Still Shattered, or The Never-Ending Story

The glasses I was wearing on May 1, 2006.

Today marks the 3rd anniversary of the day Gomez the thoroughbred failed to kill me. We had only been in the ring for 10 minutes when I nudged him to go from a walk to a trot. Instead he went ballistic, and the next thing I knew I was in a helicopter in excruciating pain, with my eyes bloodied shut. Later I was told that he'd thrown me into the steel-pipe perimeter fence.

My injuries:
  1. Broken right humerus and split humeral head
  2. 2 broken left floater ribs
  3. Broken nose
  4. Broken palate
  5. Broken right palatinate bone
  6. Broken right maxillary sinus
  7. Broken right brow bone
  8. Smashed-up front teeth, 3 top & 1 bottom
  9. Nerve trauma to head
  10. Severe concussion
In the ER at Swedish Hospital I got stitches in my forehead and upper lip (my teeth had gone through it), then spent a week in the multi-trauma unit. (Best memory: a card on my meal tray with "Happy Cinco de Mayo from your Swedish volunteers!") While there, I was given the choice of having a titanium plate put in my arm, or wearing a brace for 6-8 weeks. I chose the brace. Why have needless surgery?

The next month I had 3 root canals on my top front teeth, 2 of which died and turned a lovely shade of gray.

By August my arm hadn't healed, and my thumb and first two fingers were floppy. So I had a 6" steel plate installed, inspiring the late, lamented Miss Snark to run a Get Humerus Poetry Contest (see Well and Truly Screwed). My hand still didn't work after that, so in November my arm was sliced open again to release the median nerve.

When I went to see "Casino Royale" that Thanksgiving weekend, I discovered that violence made me nauseous and panicked. So did sirens, helicopters, ambulances, squealing tires, TV sports, news reports, combat photos...

I started getting therapy for post-traumatic stress disorder.

In August 2007 I had to have more surgery on one of the top teeth, plus root canal on the bottom front tooth, which also turned gray. In October I had surgery to fix the dent in the side of my nose and remove bone spurs from my sinus. (The dent caved back in.)

In January 2, 2008, I had a bonus lipoma (fatty tumor) the size of a half-baseball, which had been discovered in the ER, removed from deep under my right shoulder blade. My middle finger and inner sides of the index and ring fingers had gone numb and the base of my thumb had atrophied, then the steel plate in my arm started giving me trouble. So on Friday, June 13, my arm was sliced open yet again to remove the steel plate, plus carpal tunnel release was done in hopes of returning feeling to my digits.

My fingers stayed numb as ever, but my arm started feeling better immediately. Then in late September it suddenly got much worse. The doctor who did the 2nd & 3rd arm surgeries gave up on me. Thus began The Circle Game of trying to find someone who could actually fix the arm, instead of just giving me drugs to mask the pain.

In March, while in Charlottesville for the VaBook Festival, I went to see my former osteopath, the wonderful Mark Dean of Osteopathic Pain Management. He suggested that I might have a traumatic neuroma (why didn't the neurologist and neurosurgeon I'd been seeing in Denver think of that?). When I returned home, my D.O. here sent me to another D.O., "Dr Schmuck," for diagnostic ultrasound.

No neuroma, announced Dr Schmuck, but the lipoma is growing back in the same place, under the scapula by the infraspinatus muscle. No need to have it removed, though, nor for any surgery on the arm.

Oh joy! But...now what?

I soon found out. Last week my fingers abruptly got more numb after I'd been swimming for just 5 minutes. The area around the original break in my arm also turned dark, like a bruise--a symptom that no doctor had been able to figure out. I made an appointment to see Dr Schmuck the next day.

I felt like crap when I showed up: I hadn't slept well because of my hurting arm, my dog had awakened me twice in the night and I was spaced out from a new pain med I'd taken (never again!). Schmuck questioned the necessity of having the first lipoma out, even though my surgeon called it a "big-ass tumor" and you could see the lump through my shirt from across the street. Then without even touching my arm (an osteopath is supposed to do physical examination & manipulation), Schmuck crisply told me that my problem is "brachial plexopathy" and that the only solution is to see his buddy Dr T, 45 minutes from my home, for an injection of corticosteroid and anesthetic.

"What's that going to do to me?" I asked.

Whereupon Schmuck berated me for "choosing to see the glass half-empty instead of half-full," and for having a bad attitude, and for being a "cantankerous New Yorker."

"You fell off a horse," he scoffed. "I have patients with head injuries who can't add two and two, or who are missing limbs."

Which made me feel SO much better. Who am I to complain about pain and dysfunction after 3 years, 8 surgeries, PTSD and depression? I shouldn't have been wasting Schmuck's precious time with my little problems.

Just kidding! Actually, my tart reply was, "I didn't fall off a horse, I was thrown with great force. And I know what it's like to have a head injury."

Whereupon he berated me some more, and as he walked me out said that I had to have hope.

In tears, I snapped, "If I didn't have hope all this time I would've just taken a bottle of Percocet and killed myself!"

That elicited shocked expressions from some of the patients in the waiting room, but nothing from the charming and empathic Dr Schmuck. I vowed never to darken his door again.

But...now what?

Time to make another appointment with "Dr B" the neurosurgeon. And for backup, one with Dr M, arm specialist to Denver's sports stars.

4 comments:

Katie Alender said...

Oh, Bella! What an anniversary.

How awful of Dr. Schmuck. I hope you find a doctor who treats you with respect and compassion.

Katya said...

I'm a rider, a reader, and a writer. *hugs* I've never had such a bad fall, but I've been lucky. My thoroughbred's had some pretty psychotic moments and when I got him, had a reputation for flipping his head and bolting towards the nearest wall. My sister is recovering from a major head injury from a fall off her pony a few weeks ago. Horses are risky creatures.

I hope you find a doctor who is competent. And honestly, I'd report these guys to your state medical board for being rude, sexist, condescending and unprofessional. It's unlikely that it will really affect them, but then it's on the record and the medical board will perk up if others complain.

Kim Stagliano said...

The remind me of John Lennon's glasses, which were on disply at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame along with the duffel bag he was carrying when shot.

A powerful visual Bella. And perfect cover art should you decide to write a book about your experience.

I'm sorry.

Bella Stander said...

Thanks, Katya & Kim. I found a kind, competent surgeon. Unfortunately he couldn't help me at all. I'm seeing another surgeon in 2 days. We'll see what he has to say.

To write a book I'd to relive my experience. NFW I'm doing that; once was/is bad enough.