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Shattered Elbow Update: The Catch 22

I am now four months postop. Saw my doctor 3 weeks ago and everything is healing well however, the catch 22 is now reality.

In summary, I fell from the low rung of a ladder doing an art project. I landed on the olecranon, that’s the pointy bone at the end of the ulna, shattering it into a bunch of pieces. At the same time, I broke the ulna and dislocated the radial head. They have a name for that, and it’s called a Monteggia fracture.  I had open reduction and internal fixation (ORIF) surgery and now have a bunch of metal in there. My doctor called it a “terrible break” on more than one occasion. I sighed. I cried. Now I’m learning to live with it.

My terrible break came with a catch 22. If I was too aggressive with physical therapy in the first six to eight weeks, I might have broken apart all those little shattered bones and that would mean more surgery. Not only are we in the middle of a pandemic and the last thing I wanted to do was be in the hospital for any reason, the thought of starting all over with the process of more surgery, the re-breaking of bones, and more pain and physical therapy, was the last thing I wanted to do.

My option was to take a more cautious approach to physical therapy. If I did that then my bones would heal, and internal scar tissue would form around the injured areas that would restrict elbow movement particularly in rotation and flexion. And that’s where I am now. The bones have healed although the ligaments and ulnar nerve are still healing.

I will see my doctor again in two months to decide whether I want to have more surgery to remove scar tissue and then get aggressive with the physical therapy so that my arm will have better movement. Or I can decide if I can live with it the way it is.

My third option is to wait until the pandemic is over and maybe I’ll be more agreeable to another round of surgery. At some point this may be the better option because the scar tissue itself is likely to cause more problems down the road.

For now, my arm feels pretty good considering I have a metal hinge in my joint, it feels a bit like a robot arm, and I have limited motion. Regardless, I am resolved to stop complaining about it, so this will be the last post about my arm.

In the meantime, I’m realizing more things I can’t do. I had a couple of friends come to my patio for drinks last week and for the first time since March and the pandemic lockdown I decided to put on earrings. I tried you know, to step it up a notch and not look like a total house slug.

I discovered a few more things I can’t do right now like putting on earrings and other types of jewelry, buttoning, putting on contact lenses, doing anything with my hair or face that requires two hands, carrying things that require two hands, or give a bear hug …  Oh, and there’s also no golfing or kayaking, although there’s a website for kayaking with one arm and it can be done.

As you can imagine there are about 1000 websites with work-arounds and I’m learning quite a few. I’ve already come up with the solution for the earring problem. I’m going to buy myself some tiny diamond hoops and just leave them in all the time!