What Exactly Is Wrong With Me?

Some of you have asked me to explain what was done to me in my surgery on March 15th.

And, others have asked what has been wrong with me since the accident.

The medical records on my arm could fill a gigantic book … or two!

Except for the medical/orthopedic folks reading this, most people wouldn’t even understand the majority of it.

So, I will try to give you a brief, very simplified, summary.

The car accident was on July 30, 2006 – nearly ten years ago.

The inside of my upper arm and shoulder basically exploded on impact when a car ran a stop and collided into my car – and me.

I, naively, listened to my general practitioner and tried “physical therapy first before surgery.”

Doing so delayed EVERYTHING, and my first surgery wasn’t until January of 2007.

When it was determined I needed surgery, I picked an orthopedic surgeon who works close by and was on my insurance plan.

To this day, I believe he’s a decent doctor who (unfortunately, for me) didn’t understand some of the weird/unusual stuff that had happened inside my arm.

He didn’t think my injuries were anything other than the rotator cuff tear the MRI indicated.

(But, I now know a lot more was messed up inside my arm than the MRI showed.)

That doctor performed surgery and repaired my rotator cuff tear.

He thought.

But, the repair did not take.

It took two more surgeries before this was discovered and my rotator cuff was actually repaired.

In the meantime, all sorts of complications arose because I’d been walking around, trying to function with a torn rotator cuff along with other injuries, for a couple years.

Trying to function with a lot of pain and a torn rotator cuff, a now “frozen” shoulder, and a lot of other yet to be discovered arm injuries was excruciating.

I think of this time in my life as The Dark Period.

And no, I’m not joking.

No human being should ever have to experience pain like that.

In March of 2008, I went to a new doctor “for a second opinion.”

I was curled in a ball, in horrible pain, as he examined me.

He wouldn’t even let me leave his office until he booked Surgery #4 – which he performed just two days later.

It was a “big” surgery and he did so many things to my arm, no one but someone specializing in orthopedics could probably understand it.

Almost nothing in my upper arm and/or shoulder was left untouched.

He followed this up with a manipulation (Surgery #5) a month later – an attempt to prevent my body from scarring down after so much trauma.

At the same time, I was getting injections into my shoulder joint every other day …

And, going to physical therapy six days a week.

(In hindsight, probably both of those things only aggravated my arm MORE.)

That same doctor also told me I had virtually no chance of ever regaining use of my arm if I didn’t have a breast reduction …

His opinion was that my (yes, large!) breasts were hampering my chances to regain use of my arm.

Surgery #6 (in June of 2009) was a breast reduction … I was desperate, after all, to regain use of my arm.

The breast reduction did absolutely nothing for my arm or shoulder, but I do have very perky boobs.

So, there’s THAT.

By 2010, four years after my accident, everyone had given up on me.

I consulted with an acupuncturist who told me I’d been “too anatomically altered” for acupuncture to work.

He wouldn’t accept me as a patient.

My physical therapist, a long-time close friend, had quit on me with no notice.

It devastated me.

When he gave up on me, I think I gave up on me too.

Even my doctor didn’t seem to feel there was an explanation for my continuing pain.

I began hearing not-so-vague insinuations that “maybe” the pain was just a figment of my imagination.

I never doubted my pain was REAL, but not having gone to medical school, I could offer no explanation as to what was causing it.

And, if TWO “good” orthopedic surgeons couldn’t help me, then I mustn’t have anything “fixable” left wrong with me.

I was referred to a Pain Management Specialist (Dr. Painless).

That’s where they send people they don’t know how to help.

Thank God, Dr. Painless never doubted for a millisecond that my pain was very real.

From the first day I saw him, a dose of sanity was restored to my life.

In 2010, four years after my accident, my pain management doctor performed Surgeries #7 and #8 to install a neurostimulator.

A neurostimulator is a built in pain reducer …

I had a generator in my abdomen and twenty four electrodes in my arm and shoulder …. with wires running up my back.

It helped somewhat – along with a combination of techniques my pain doctor used.

My pain was becoming more manageable …

I had an arsenal of tools to help me keep it within certain boundaries, most of the time.

Unfortunately, a “recall” was issued for my neurostimulator.

It was burning people from the inside out.

Surgery #9 removed it from my body.

I was offered a replacement neurostimulator, but I declined it.

I vowed I would never have another arm surgery.

After a lot of experimentation with various physical therapists,

I finally found David Bradley (nickname: Paul Newman) at Newport Physical Therapy.

From the beginning, I informed him I was “unfixable” and I just needed him to keep me from regressing and help me with pain management.

“But, WHY do you have pain?” he asked, insistently.

“It doesn’t matter,” I answered.  “They can’t fix me.”

Paul Newman gets the credit, really, for determining something was very wrong with my subluxing bicep tendon.

I also need to thank him publicly for sticking with me and being a faithful, ongoing support, and friend.

Trust me, I’d told several doctors about the pain my bicep tendon caused.

But, no one ever did much of anything about it or even seemed to HEAR me.

Meanwhile, Paul Newman never stopped gently (?) pressuring me to have “just one more” surgery to address my bicep tendon.

In November 2015, nine and a half years after my accident, an unleashed neighborhood dog jumped Fred from behind.

The yanking of the leash sent my arm into a tailspin of breathtaking pain.

My orthopedic surgeon told me “nothing new” was wrong with my arm.

But, I knew better.

I’d also learned (finally) to trust myself more than doctors.

I consulted with several top surgeons and they ALL thought quite a bit was wrong with my arm.

For one, I have a moderate sized tear in one of the tendons in my elbow.

(It can’t be fixed until I’m a little further in my recovery from THIS surgery.  It will probably be addressed in May.)

“THIS” surgery is Surgery #10 … which was performed by Dr. John Itamura with Kerlan Jobe on March 15, 2016.

Healthy bicep tendons are supposed to be white.

Here’s a photo of three inches of damaged/torn/unhealthy bicep tendon Dr. Itamura removed from my arm:

BT © Suzanne Haggerty 2016 W

 

Even in the above, not-so-great, photo you can see the bicep tendon was RED, not white and healthy.

Here are a couple close ups of my bicep tendon.

Everything RED is bad – inflamed, torn, damaged ….

BT1 © Suzanne Haggerty 2016 W

Red, torn, bicep tendon.

BT2 © Suzanne Haggerty 2016 W

Red “bad” bicep tendon.

Dr. Itamura removed most of the tendon, and reconnected my bicep well below my shoulder.

Arm5 © Suzanne Haggerty 2016

I have four incisions, but only one of them is big.

(He fixed some other things when he was inside my arm, too.  Because, hello very f*cked up arm!)

The moment I woke up from surgery I knew “that” pain …

The pain I’ve lived with for nearly ten years was gone.

Dr. Itamura explained to me not only was the tendon damaged, but it was also getting pinched (impinged) every time I tried to move my arm.

The immediate post-surgical pain was LESS than the pain I’ve lived with for ten years.

What’s next?

Well, I don’t think anyone expects my arm will ever be “normal.”

I’ve had so many surgeries and each one has altered me in some way.

But, my goal has been to lose the pain … and, although, I’ve got months of recovery ahead of me,

I already DO know I’ll go forward with a lot less pain than I’ve had these last (almost) ten years.

My function should increase also, but I have no idea how much.

I expect, sometime in May, Dr. Itamura will give me the go-ahead to get the torn tendon in my elbow fixed.

One of his colleagues at Kerlan Jobe will be addressing the tear in my elbow.

None of this is fun, by any means, but I feel like I’m being given a new beginning and I’m very grateful.

I don’t know how long the recovery/recoveries will take.

I don’t know where I’ll be when it’s all said and done.

My goal is to live the most “normal” life I can, and to continue shooting for years to come.

I do know, I’m already living with much less pain than I have for the last ten years.

And that?

Is the very best news I could hope for!

22 Responses to “What Exactly Is Wrong With Me?”

  1. Denise

    Wow, I remember some of those “events” along the way from your blog. So very happy for you that you found the right surgeons to take away so much of your pain. Crazy that it took so long and so many doctors to get to the answer. You are awesome. So many people would be knocked out on pain meds and never find a way out.

  2. Mona

    Wow, Suzanne, it has been a long, frustrating, painful and very screwed up journey. No one should have to endure what you have, and for so long. I am so happy to hear there is hope for a mostly pain-free life for you and that you should regain greater use of your arm.

    • Suzanne

      Thank you!
      I’m so excited.
      I don’t know how much better I’ll be, but I think it will be a lot based on my early progress!

  3. Charlene

    Wow, I started reading you a long time ago and I’m so freaking excited for you.

    • Suzanne

      Thank you – I am too!
      I’m trying to keep my excitement tempered a little because I know I still have a long way to go.
      But?
      I really can’t. I feel giddy!

  4. Ruth

    HOLY CRAP! Thank God you did not give up. So glad to hear that you are able to manage the “now” pain. Prayers for a speedy recovery Cuz.

  5. Stephen

    Having been following along all along, I am so happy for you that your pain levels are so much improved. Because, during the “Dark Period” you were such an inspiration to me and literally someone I glommed onto because I too, was in a very dark place, you are one of my heroes. I CANNOT WAIT!! to witness the the new heights that I believe you will attain with the pain no longer being the dominant thing in your life. Suzanne, I’m so happy for you I could just pop! 🙂

    • Suzanne

      Thank you Stephen.
      And, thank you for being a pillar of support for so many years.
      It has meant a LOT to me!

  6. Michelle

    I am so happy for you. I look forward to seeing how much more you can do in the future with way less pain.

  7. Missy Stalcup

    Hugs to you and to your new surgeon for finally getting to the root of your pain issues. And a big high five to you for having the courage to keep pushing to get better.

    • Suzanne

      I asked my surgeon to marry me.
      He was a bit taken aback, but I think he’s starting to get used to me!

  8. Linda Tustin

    Wow- I too have followed you since I guess about 2008 or late 2007? I remember reading about many of these events and have always admired your courage. You have been a source of inspiration to me. I can’t tell you how happy I am that the pain has finally been addressed and you have hope for a less painful future. One thing I have learned through the years- Doctors are fallible and don’t know everything….. Glad you found a good one

    • Suzanne

      Thank you.
      Yes, even the best intentioned doctors make mistakes …

    • Suzanne

      Thank you! I imagine I will always have *some* pain, but it should be substantially less now. Which is an answered prayer! So happy!

  9. LisaK

    Suzanne, i am so happy things sound like they are going to be going so much better for you! i have been reading your blog for a long time and remember a lot of this.

    • Suzanne

      Thank you Lisa!
      I’m really looking forward to getting back to real life.
      The hardest part is having patience with the recovery process, but I’m trying!
      : )

  10. Judi

    It’s hard to imagine going through all of that and not giving up. Bravo to you! And now you finally get some payoff after finding medical professionals who listen and believe you. I’m so very happy for you!

    • Suzanne

      Thank you.
      I think I did give up a million times, but never for too long.
      And yes, I knew almost instantly my new doc was not only listening but “got it” in a way other doctors have not. He’s brilliant and I’m so grateful to him.

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