Lefty’s Bruises Are Gone Now But Full Range of Motion Has Not Yet Returned
Okay folks. Let’s add Orthopedic Surgeon and Physical Therapist to the long list of medical professionals to whom I have been referred since I turned 65, my start in the serious phase of getting old. The most recent referral however had nothing to do with aging but with a vehicle/pedestrian accident. I was the pedestrian in that collision.
The traffic accident I survived in December of 2017 sent me to the emergency room of a trauma hospital. There, a lovely 50ish Asian woman ER physician (Dr ER) had x-rays of my left shoulder – which the Grand Marquis car had hit from the back – taken to see the extent of the injury. As soon as the image became available, she projected it on a computer monitor. My face grimaced at the sight of the junction of my thin arm bone and the left shoulder area. Skeletons! They form a part of the 206 bones that make up a human adult.
The humerus bone is broken but it is not broken, said Dr ER, beaming. She expounded: The ball of the arm bone that goes into the shoulder socket is broken but it is not shattered or dislocated. No surgery is needed. The crack will eventually close and heal. How lucky, I gushed. DR ER recommended that I find an Orthopedic Surgeon (OS) for follow-up consultation. The ER doctor’s job is to perform the minimum required care and move the patient out of the ER as quickly as possible to make room for new emergency cases.
The process of getting an OS involved my Primary Care Physician (PCP), who was so glad to get in on the action. He gets a big kick out of finding what’s medically wrong with me then referring me to a specialist. This time he referred me to Dr OS, a cheerful red-head middle-aged man.
Dr OS ordered x-rays of my left shoulder and arm then reviewed the images with me. His verdict echoed Dr ER’s. This is broken but it is not broken and that is a good thing, Dr OS proclaimed. But I’m in pain, I disagreed. He expounded: The bones will fuse together eventually. I’ll see you in three weeks.
The next three weeks tested my dexterity. Bathing, showering, taking off and putting on clothes with one arm were challenging. I learned new wiggling motions.
I’d heard of the expression “One hand does not know what the other hand is doing.” I disagreed. Having my left arm in a sling 24/7, I learned my right hand (Righty) knew exactly what my left hand (Lefty) was doing. Nothing. Doing nothing. It just lolled inside a hammock, the shape of the sling. So, Righty, in tandem with my brain, took over quite a bit of responsibilities. Righty did not have issues about monopolizing the tasks it had once shared with Lefty, as if things had always been that way. What a hero! Of course Lefty was not totally worthless. It lent Righty a hand – pardon the expression. While doing dishes, Lefty propped the plate without pressure on itself, allowing Righty to scrub diligently. In other words, they had each other’s back – or front. One performed token work, the other the real grunt work.
There were just certain tasks where Righty had to go it alone, like applying deodorant to both underarms. Imagine the contortions Righty had to go through to cover the right armpit.
I learned to orchestrate Lefty and Righty to attract attention for help in depositing household trash in the neighborhood trash bins. Any able-bodied person who passed by the bin area was fair game. A certain smile, a timid hello, a little drama by Righty struggling to lift the bin lid – they all did the trick. The old folks in the retirement resort were genuinely happy to assist the helpless senior babe.
After two months, Dr OS told me, Lose the sling. You don’t need it anymore. As directed, I stopped wearing the sling. Friends unaware of the accident and happy to see me often slapped my sore left arm.
Dr OS referred me to a Physical Therapy clinic (PTC) to start the process of loosening up my left shoulder and make way for Lefty to regain full range of motion.
The intent of my first appointment was to determine how much physical therapy would be needed for my situation. While waiting, I overheard a 40ish Hispanic woman named Michele and a 20-something named Valerie conversing about me. Valerie asked, Is she the one? She doesn’t look like……(her voice tapered off). I could not tell if she meant I did not look my age, I did not look like Nancy Kwan, or I did not look like an accident victim. One tough lady, Michele commented.
During the assessment session I learned more about the physical therapy profession. I thought everybody who works in a PTC is a physical therapist who bends arms and legs. As Michele gently massaged my left shoulder, I drummed up a conversation: So did you need a massage background to get this job? She laughed and said, Actually I’m a doctor. I felt like a heel. My turn to laugh. What do I know? I said. I am a retired engineer. I only knew sewers.
Michele explained that in a PTC there are different gradations of physical therapists, ranging from on-the-job trainees to college graduates, but there’s only one doctor. In that clinic she is the doctor. I notice she is the only one who can massage me. All others count or time me as I rotate my shoulders, pull pulleys or rubber bands, lift weights with my left hand.
Lefty is still working to regain full range of motion.
I think I’ll put on my string bikini, soak in one of the retirement resort’s five hot whirlpools, and do some serious positive thinking.
Have you or someone you know had a broken shoulder? How long did it take to go back to normal?