By Dan Kennedy • The press, politics, technology, culture and other passions

Tag: elbow

Elbowing my way back to health

Fifty-two weeks ago today, I rode my bicycle for what I can pretty much guarantee will be the last time. I shattered my right elbow in an accident, bringing to an end what had been a fairly remarkable run: despite leading a pretty active life as a backpacker, a runner and a cyclist, I’d made it to 54 without ever having broken a bone.

The actual anniversary date of my accident is tomorrow, Sept. 19. But today, the third Sunday of September, feels more like the real anniversary.

My injury was devastating and yet not all that debilitating. I broke the tip of my elbow almost clean off, and there was cracking of the bones all around. It was put back together with plates, pins and screws. Despite being very diligent about doing my rehab, it doesn’t feel remotely the same. Yet there’s been very little pain, even within a few minutes of the accident. Today I have almost the full range of motion, and can lift reasonably heavy objects. I’m told it will continue to improve.

I know how lucky I was. In fact, as you may know, Boston Globe reporter Bella English suffered far worse injuries in a bicycle accident the same day that I went down.

For those who are interested, here’s what happened. Because of recurrent gout, I had pretty much given up running in favor of cycling. I had a few favored 18- to 20-mile routes, but on the afternoon of last Sept. 19, a Sunday, I decided to try something new. I headed out along Route 127 past Endicott College, then cut toward Wenham, and rode around the Gordon College campus.

I didn’t like the route, as there were too many cars, and the roads were rutted and bumpy. Still, my accident really came out of nowhere. I was cutting through the empty parking lot of the Briscoe Middle School in Beverly, turning right, which of course had me leaning to the right. I wasn’t paying attention and hit a speed bump at maybe 17 or 18 mph. The weather had been drizzly off and on, so the pavement was wet. My bike slid to the left, and I went down, directly on my right elbow. I also slightly injured my back and bumped my head — though not hard, and I was wearing a helmet.

For a few minutes, all I knew was that I was in a lot of pain. I tried to lay back, but every time I did, a driver would stop and ask if I was all right — much appreciated, but I didn’t want an ambulance coming. So I forced myself to sit up. It soon became clear that I’d hurt my elbow, though I didn’t know how badly. I stood and walked around a bit — dizzily at first, but soon I started feeling better. I called my wife, who came and got me.

Now, as a sign of how little pain I was in, while we were riding home I tried to decide whether to ice my elbow or go to the emergency room. I opted for the latter, but went home first and took a shower. I did discover that it hurt a lot if I tried to lift my right arm over my head. I got dressed and drove myself to the Lahey Clinic emergency room in Peabody — a choice I made solely because I thought it would be less crowded than Beverly Hospital. I had to sign something at the desk, and it was really difficult. Still, I figured it was just a momentary thing.

Barbara and I were supposed to go out to dinner. I called her from Lahey, and groused that if I wasn’t seen in a few minutes, I’d leave. But I got in, X-rays were taken — and the damage was revealed. The doctor on call put a cast on it. The next morning, Monday, I drove my daughter to school, then drove to the Lahey Clinic in Burlington, prepared to go into surgery that day. Not sure I’d thought through how I would get home.

At Lahey Clinic, post-surgery. I walked around and slept with that thing for several weeks.

As it turned out, surgery was scheduled for Tuesday morning. My surgeon was Dr. Andrew Marcantonio, from whom I learned the seriousness of my injury. First, there was his name tag — “Traumatologist,” it said. Second, when I asked him when I’d be back to normal, he said (I’m paraphrasing), “With an injury of this nature, we speak in terms of functionality.” Oh, great.

I went home that day, feeling pretty good, and even watched part of a gubernatorial debate that night. I fell asleep, but I’m not sure the Percocet was to blame. I was out of work for three weeks, and when I came back, I was wearing a huge brace on my right arm.

Anyway, I will fast-forward here. Thanks to my amazing physical therapist, Julie Peterson, I made fairly rapid progress and got some help for a longstanding problem with my right shoulder as well. I don’t mean to suggest it was all onward and upward. I lost my confidence to the point that I got scared being so far from home on a trip to New Haven on Nov. 30, and drove back that night rather than stay in my hotel room. It was months before I could bend my elbow enough to tie a necktie. But I kept getting better.

Overall, I was so impressed with Lahey that I switched my primary-care physician, and finally started treatment for gout, which I’d had occasionally for about a dozen years, but which had suddenly gotten much worse in 2010. (I have learned that gout is serious business. If you’ve got it, get help.)

And because my gout is now under control, I started running again last February. Believe it or not, I lost a month when, in March, I tripped over a root, landed on my face, banged the bionic elbow and injured a rib. (I had to make a presentation to Northeastern faculty and administrators the next day with a scab covering my entire chin.) But I got back to it, and am now running five miles a day, three or four days a week. At 55, I’m probably in as good a shape as I’ve been in a while.

My one remaining frustration is that my elbow feels strange, almost constricted, when anything rubs against it, like a shirt sleeve. I won’t go backpacking because I need protection, and when I’ve tried things like a rollerblading pad, I can’t stand the feel of it rubbing up against my elbow. Dr. Marcantonio has suggested it might feel better if I have the metal removed at some point, but I don’t like the idea of elective surgery. And even he said most patients opt to keep it in.

Overall, though, I know I’ve been pretty lucky — lucky not to have been hurt more seriously, lucky to have gotten good treatment and lucky to be healthy and physically active at 55.

Besides, I can say with certainty that I will never be in another bicycle accident. How many people can say that?

On the disabled list (II)

Is that cheese? Or SpongeBob SquarePants?

Just want to write a brief, one-handed update for those who don’t follow me on Facebook or Twitter.

This morning I had surgery at the Lahey Clinic in Burlington to repair my shattered right elbow. It went well, and I’m home and pretty much pain-free. (Nothing like Percoset.) Unfortunately, they had to put in a plate and some screws, and the road to recovery is looking a lot longer than I’d thought.

The crazy yellow foam concoction that you see is meant to keep my elbow protected and elevated, and I’ve got to wear it for at least a week. I’ll be out of work for at least two weeks.

I really do think I’m done riding my bicycle. I’ve taken two or three pretty hard spills over the past few years. The only difference on those occasions was that I wasn’t seriously hurt. I’d like to get back to running, but at my age (54) the nagging injuries have me not doing it as much as I do it. I’d hate to join a gym, but it may come to that.

Finally — all hail Lahey. I couldn’t be more impressed with the quality of care I received, both in the emergency room in Peabody on Sunday and in the surgical unit today. I chose the Lahey E.R. almost at random, and I’m really glad that I did.

On the disabled list

Briscoe Middle School

Well, this is a pain. It’s awkward trying to type with a sling and a cast on my right arm, but I thought I’d give it a go.

This afternoon I broke my right elbow in a bicycle accident in Beverly, toward the end of a long ride across the North Shore. Ironically, I’ve been riding my bike only because nagging injuries and recurrent gout have kept me from running.

The tip of the elbow broke off. I need surgery, possibly as soon as tomorrow. Yes, it’s my throwing arm, but I should be ready by the time pitchers and catchers report. Oddly enough, though it hurt like hell for the first few minutes, I am in no pain now, even though I haven’t taken anything.

What happened? I was going way too fast while cutting through the Briscoe Middle School parking lot and hit a speed bump I thought was just a painted line. I spent a minute or so thinking I’d broken every bone in my body, but soon felt good enough to get up. Good thing. While I was sprawled on the pavement, people kept stopping their cars to ask if I was all right.

Mrs. Media Nation came and got me. I took a shower and then couldn’t decide between icing the elbow or heading to the emergency room. I opted for the latter, and I’m glad I did.

So no classes tomorrow. My students deserve better, but I’m hoping to be back at it by later this week.

By the way, I’ve scheduled two posts to go up tomorrow, one at 9 a.m. and one at noon. I wrote them this morning, before my bike ride. Just letting you know that I’m not quite that obsessive.

Photo (cc) the Beverly Public Library and republished here via a Creative Commons license. Some rights reserved.

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