Do you know where you were 17 years ago today? I do. It was right around this time 17 years ago that I was about to fall from the top of a very tall ladder about 14 feet onto the cement driveway below, with all my weight bearing down on my flexed right wrist.
It was a fine summer Saturday morning, my father's birthday in fact, and I volunteered to trim a very tall tree bordering the driveway at my parent's house. I set up the ladder properly, I found a sturdy limb on which to lean, and proceeded to trim away several large branches. Then, while leaning, the once-sturdy limb cracked and flew to the west. Recoiling, I sent the ladder flying to the east -- leaving me suspended in mid-air for a fraction of a second about 14 feet above the driveway.
In that split second, I tried to think of the best option available to me. Not really having rehearsed for such an event, I opted for sticking out my right arm to help deflect the force of the fall away from my head and back. This worked (I did not land on my head or back) and did not work (badly fractured right radius just at the wrist).
It took me a moment to begin breathing again and to realize something was wrong with my wrist. I went to my mother (a nurse), held up my wrist that had a huge swollen area around it and asked her if this was a problem. She called my father who took me to the nearest emergency room.
After a couple hours at emergency, and a handful of x-rays, the very helpful doctor started splinting me up and instructing me to telephone an orthopaedic specialist on Tuesday (Monday being July 4th). I finally blurted out that no one had told me whether my wrist was broken. "Oh, it's VERY broken," he said.
In the photographs above (click to enlarge) you can see the part of my wrist that broke (left image). The center image is how my genius doctor fixed it -- using an external fixator not designed for this use. I'm written up in a journal somewhere and he did a few speaking engagements about it. (Those four horizontal white things are long screws.) The right image is my wrist after the final surgery -- and what it looks like now complete with a plate, three hooks and two screws. In surgery they had to do bone grafting because under the big chip (circled, left image) is a lot of pulverized bone -- "like powder" my doctor said.
A couple months after the surgery -- sleepless months, I can assure you -- I was at my final appointment with my doctor. External fixator out, bones healing nicely, thank you. Coincidentally, who should walk by but the doctor who had assisted my doctor. He was invited in, introductions made. This second doctor shook my hand (gently, thank you) and held it. He turned it, looked at the scars and his handy work and said "If you had seen what we had seen in surgery, you would be surprised you have any use of this hand at all." (Insert cold shiver up and down spine.) That was the first inkling I had as to the seriousness of my injury.
Originally, my doctor estimated I would retain between 50% and 75% of my normal wrist function. Needless to say, it is 100% thanks to my genius doctor and his brilliant use of technology.
That's how it was, 17 years ago today -- and you are there.