Jeff on His Broken Arm

On August 20th, 2022, I broke my left arm. 

Well, technically, it wasn’t my whole arm that was broken. It was just my shoulder, near the top of my Humerus, and it was technically only a fracture. It happened while I was skateboarding at the West Berkeley Skate Park with my son. It had been a beautiful and glorious day. People were friendly and chatty. It was warm in the sun and cool in the shade, and there were plenty of both. My son and I had been skating aggressively and skillfully for two hours. I was tired and sweaty, but I had decided to do one more run because I’d been skating so well. I was coming off the corner of a pool, a vert transition, going very fast. I lost my balance, and hit the ground with my left arm out. I was wearing a helmet, and wrist pads, so luckily, those parts of my body were not injured, but I hurt just about everything else that was not covered by pads. 

When I hit the ground, I heard a crack and immediately knew I was in trouble. I rolled over and stood up. I heard another skater yell from across the park, “Are you okay!?”

Delirious, I yelled back, “Yes… actually, no! I am very badly injured.” The pain in my arm was intense. I felt woozy. I saw purple dots in my vision. 

I tried to lift my left arm. I didn’t work. With my right hand, I grabbed my skateboard and shuffled off to the borders of the park. I found my son and sat down on one of the benches to catch my breath. I drank water, breathed deeply against the pain and assessed how bad of shape I was in. I tried not to pass out or throw up. With grit, I drove home, my left arm dangling at my side. By the time I made it home, all I wanted to do was rest. I was in so much pain that I cried. I asked my wife, Katy, for the most ibuprofen it was safe to take at one time. She told me that I should go to the ER, but, in my own stubborn way, I said that I’d be fine with some ibuprofen, a bag of ice, and rest. She called the advice nurse at Kaiser who instructed me to go into the ER right away.

Once in the ER, I got an x-ray which showed the fracture at the top of my Humerus. I felt glad for this information because it made me feel better about crying and complaining about the pain. I don’t like to complain. They gave me pain pills. They also gave me a sling which I was told to wear as much as possible to keep my arm immobile. 

My prognosis was to be in the sling for 6 to 10 weeks of bone healing. When they told me that, I began negotiating. I said, “How about 4 weeks, instead.” 

The ER doctor looked at me blankly. “Uh.. Okay…”

I explained, “I’m hoping I can shave off a few weeks by getting tons of acupuncture.” Then, I began talking to myself, staring off into the distance, “I wonder how much acupuncture I’ll need to mend a fractured shoulder.”

Instead of arguing with me, they scheduled a follow up with the Orthopedic doctor, three days later. And, so, began my quest to heal my broken arm with as much acupuncture as I could manage to get. 

 I met with the orthopedic doctor on Tuesday, August 23rd. It was a busy day at Kaiser’s orthopedic department. It took an hour of waiting to see him even though I arrived to check in 10 minutes before my appointment, like I was asked to do in all their patient communication. The doctor I got was a good guy: Dr. Jamon. He was about my age, or maybe a few years younger. A good combination of experience without too much burn out. He listened to me and looked me in the eye.  He diligently answered all my questions. I didn’t feel judged. 

He offered to prescribe some more pain medication with opiates. The one they like now is called Norco. It’s basically Tylenol with codeine, or rather, acetaminophen with hydrocodone. In any case, I elected to just take the acetaminophen alternating with the ibuprofen. I could feel  my addiction issues percolating and, even though I was in a lot of pain, I didn’t want to add that to my list of problems. Just having the broken shoulder is enough. They were calling the first week an acute phase, but I feel like that phase resolved when I went back to work 2 days after the break. 

The first days of adjusting to the injury were a struggle to get through as I tried to maintain a positive attitude. All the things that usually brought joy now brought pain: gardening, piano playing, yoga, and baking were all shoulder related. In fact, just about everything was painful, even resting. It was difficult to find a comfortable reclining position. I was way more tired than usual and needed copious rest. Mending a bone takes it out of you. There were other changes: my sweat had a weird smell; cognitively, I felt not quite up to snuff, even though I don’t remember hitting my head (and was wearing a helmet that was undamaged when I fell); it was hard to make decisions. I knew, theoretically, that pain, all on its own, rattles the brain. But here I was experiencing it myself for real life. 

In my efforts to catalyze the mending of my broken bone, in the first week, I managed to get three acupuncture treatments. I wasn’t not sure my shoulder got any better from it because I wasn’t testing it out, so it was difficult to gauge any improvement. Also, the first week, it hurt all the time no matter what I did.

The 4th treatment with Dawn I felt some buzzing in the injury site and some muscle spasms in my shoulder. Then I fell asleep for 10 minutes and that felt really good. 

I tried to approach this as a learning experience. Or, at least, feel like there is some great context, some larger narrative that this injury fits into, that I hadn’t considered or seen yet. Something about slowing down. Taking it easy. Being more compassionate. I had thought I’d been doing pretty well on all those fronts: my motto: “Live slow. Die fast” rings true. I’m a pretty compassionate dude already. In any case, I was searching for a lesson even if the lesson wasn’t searching for me.

The first weekend after my injury was tough. I didn’t feel good at all. My shoulder was aching constantly and I was unusually tired the whole weekend. I tried to honor that and rest as much as I could, but there’s only so much laying around that I can do. It was also hard to rest because that is when I felt the shoulder pain most: resting with no distractions. So I alternated: resting until I was losing my mind, and then doing stuff until my shoulder hurt too much to go on.

At some point in my restlessness, I tweaked my shoulder in the garden. I was watering my plants (I was growing some huge sunflowers at that time) and neglectfully dropped the hose and went to grab it, unconsciously, with my left hand, and lifted my arm. It was a bad move. I saw purple dots, felt woozy, and had to take a knee.

The second week, I was in a little less pain, but still very tired. It took so much more energy to do anything because it was more complicated and took more mental prowess to figure out how to do everything with one arm.

On Monday of the 2nd week, I had my 5th acupuncture treatment. Still no local points on my shoulder. It was hard to tell if the acupuncture was working because my progress is so incremental. It also didn’t seem linear. Some days were better and some were worse and it was hard to tell what was helping and what wasn’t. 

During my acupuncture sessions I could feel a sense of heat where the break was. It was a strange, qi-like, hot lava sensation that almost feels like bone is knitting. I had decided to go with it. I imagined threads of white light and electricity pulled into the shoulder to mend bone, first from my body’s core, then from the universe; it was a healing, loving quality of energy. Then, at some point during the treatment as I was visualizing, I dozed off. Sleeping during acupuncture was a new thing for me. I am usually one of those people that has my eyes closed and looks relaxed but really I am thinking about all the crap that needs to get done and waiting for the 30 minute mark to roll around. 

I had my 6th acupuncture treatment with Holly on Wednesday, August 30th. She was daring and caring enough to try some local points on my shoulder for the first time and it seemed to help. I felt ever so slightly better that morning. I was cutting down on the amount of ibuprofen I was taking and my pain levels were about the same. I also felt like I have a little more confidence in my small movements.

On Friday, Sept 2nd 2022, I got my seventh treatment from Dawn. She did not want to do any local points and that was fine; it was still a good treatment. My arm felt okay enough that I took it out of the sling and laid it gently on the arm rest. At the end of the treatment, I had completely forgotten about the pain and injury so much so that I tried to wave a silent thank you to Dawn with both my arms. My left arm just lifted and fell, because it didn’t work and that one little movement was so painful. My arm throbbed for a long while afterwards. Just so frustrating to feel okay and then to accidentally set myself back again. 

No acupuncture over the weekend between the 2nd and 3rd weeks, but I think the restful quality of the time was more helpful than any therapeutic intervention. 

The third week, I got my 8th acupuncture treatment. It felt good. I slept a tiny bit. The treatment room was brutally hot due to the heat wave. I believe the copious rest over the weekend really made a difference. No longer did my shoulder hurt all the time, it just ached, or was painful only when I moved it the wrong way. 

On Wednesday, Sept 8th the heat wave continued. I got my 9th acupuncture treatment for my shoulder with Holly. It was about 11:45 am and I slept hard. Holly’s treatment was gentle but my shoulder was sore afterwards. Holly used a bunch of local points again. I’m not sure exactly what she did but I think it was LI-15, SJ-14 and Jian Qian. All points that I would have done. 

I was at my wits end with the heat wave. I couldn’t sleep because I was so uncomfortable. I couldn’t cook the way I wanted because I didn’t want to turn on the oven and make our abode even hotter. It has really tipped the scales in terms of my mood and how functional I was with the one arm. It makes what is already so difficult that much harder. I was struggling to barely make it through each day. 

As the heat wave was still present but began to abate, I got my 10th shoulder treatment from Dawn. During this treatment I contemplated, with regards to having one arm in a sling, what was impossible and what was possible; and, in the possible category, what was extremely difficult and what was just a hassle. For example, work was just a hassle, but I can do it. However, putting on my socks was extremely difficult with one hand. Then, on the far side of impossibility, the tasks of grating cheese and/or pulling my hair back into a bun was totally, not at all, possible. 

Other extremely difficult things include parallel parking which I’ve always done with my left hand on the wheel, while I twisted over my right shoulder. I don’t think I’ve done it any other way, except perhaps for the 3 months in 2004 that Katy and I spent driving around New Zealand in our beat up Corolla with the driver side on the right. I must have reversed my parallel parking technique. In any case, either side of the road involved splitting my arms apart, which I couldn’t do. So I tended to look for non-parallel parking spots. It’s a good thing I wasn’t going out very much.

By Friday Sept 10th, the weather had finally cooled down.

I saw Jaimila, the chiropractor, and got an adjustment on my left shoulder. She also worked a lot on my neck and left elbow. It felt good right afterwards but then, by the time I got home, I was pretty sore. When I woke up on Saturday, everything hurt. I have to take into account the fact that I am in my mid 40’s, I’ve lived life well, and I have the injuries to prove it. Almost every morning I wake up aching regardless of how many recent injuries I’ve had. Some mornings are a little worse than others. These days, my shoulder is usually the thing that finally wakes me up. There’s other things that hurt too. I was glad to have my neck and elbow worked on. I don’t think I realized how sore and damaged they were. 

When people ask me about the break there are various clever things that I say to try to make it funny and light. I’ll say that I’ve been skating for 40 years and this is my first break; hopefully I’ll skate for another 40 before my next break, then stop. Or, it was worth it because Calder and I were having so much fun right before it happened. I describe how I fell, going around the corner of the bowl, how it happened so fast; sometimes, I describe how I don’t turn as well turning towards my back side. 

When I tell people about my injury, some people are very judgmental. They are quick to say, “You’re too old to skateboard.” It’s a mean thing to say, but I understand that, to some people, skating is thought of as juvenile. I wonder if I said skiing, or mountain biking, which are just as dangerous (if not, statistically, more dangerous), what people would say. Are those more appropriate places for an adult to injure themselves? More expensive for sure. 

If you look up the top twenty lists of most dangerous sports, skateboarding is not even on there. Gymnastics and cheerleading are. Mountaineering. Boxing. Rugby. Luge. Mountain biking is number nine on one list I read. Skiing is in there but only the helicopter version which does sound legit crazy. 

Everybody knows someone who died skateboarding and they tell me the story when I explain my broken arm. One friend was telling me a story about a dad who was just fooling around on a skateboard, no helmet or experience, and fell on his head. He had massive head trauma and died, but not after a painstaking debate on whether to pull the plug. My friend said he left behind 3 young children. 

One of my wife’s friend’s had a family member who died. Also no helmet. But, he knew how to skate, unlike the other example. 

I can’t help but ask myself the question: Am I too old?  Especially with other people telling me that I am. I don’t feel too old. 

But seriously, what an uncompassionate response to an injury. 

Most people think I’m cool, and I can’t help but enjoy the coolness factor related to my shoulder injury. 

On Monday, Sept 12th, I got my 11th acupuncture treatment since the break. Once again, I fell asleep.

I gently tested out my shoulder and my range of motion had definitely improved. It’s still sensitive if it gets bumped or pushed on. 

Through all this, the unrelenting intense fatigue is what has surprised me the most. I just don’t have the same energy that I used to have. Just doing the basics of my life has been a struggle. 

On Wednesday Sept 15th I got my twelfth treatment with Holly. She did some local pts on the top of my shoulder again; this time they were sensitive but not painful. It was nice to see the clinic busy for her. I just barely fell asleep. All my favorite chairs were taken so it was not as easy to relax. It was a stressful and busy morning; I felt my blood pressure was up and it took a while for me to really relax and not dwell on all the stressors and everything I needed to do. It’s hard to say if my arm felt better day to day, but it did feel better week to week. 

So much other stuff hurts when my shoulder isn’t crying out with pain. My whole left side got smacked around in my fall. My ankle was still a tiny bit swollen and my hip would be sore, if I walked around for too long, which is all the time.

The next day, I got my 13th treatment on my shoulder from Beth. She’s back in town subbing for us for the next month. It was very quiet in the clinic and I fell asleep for a minute. There always seems to be something I do in my sleep which would aggravate my shoulder. Reaching up or rolling over. I never seem to wake up feeling good because I am always injuring myself in my sleep and those injuries finally wake me up.

On Friday, Sept 17th I got my 14th treatment from Kate. Good treatment, but it was crowded and people were a little loud in the treatment area. I couldn’t relax for the first few minutes. When it finally quieted down I got a nice nap. 

I went right from that to getting a cranio-sacral themed massage from Diedre; my second one since the break. It was very profound. It felt like my shoulder was glowing hot lava. It had occurred to me, while in Diedre’s session, that I hadn’t been praying about my shoulder. That my prayers were phoned in, automatic. I started praying, “Please, heal my shoulder. Please, give me my arm back.” And that felt therapeutic. Somehow. I started doing it again during my yoga practice which was an amazing 40 minutes long and I listened to the first two sides of the Tool’s newest record, Fear: Inoculum, which is excellent.

While I had no idea if all these therapeutic modalities have been helping my arm or not, I can only assume it had helped my mood, which was dampened but not depressed. There were a few times I thought I might slip into a deep depression, but somehow, by some miracle, I haven’t, even though there is a lot to be depressed about. 

On Tuesday Sept 20 I was due for my 4 week shoulder check up. I was hopeful that I’d get out of the sling and graduate to the next phase, the rehab phase, of this shoulder injury.

I got an x-ray and an office visit with a different orthopedic doctor, named Amy. She was very nice. My x-rays showed that the bone has healed! Hallelujah! I got the green light to start PT and to be able to do some more basic movements. So I entered into phase two of my healing. My shoulder is still sore, but it feels sore in the muscles because I’m actually moving it around. 

I went to work without my brace for the first time in a month. It was awesome. I was noticeably faster. The transition from poking people to typing was much easier and, in general, it was much easier to take needles out of people. I also didn’t have to explain myself to the new people what had happened, but I’m sure that time gained was canceled out by celebrating with some of my regulars, finally being freer in my movement. Many people were surprised by how fast I had healed and I was quick to blame it on the acupuncture. 

I’m glad I countered the expectations of the first couple of doctors who said, six to ten weeks of healing and I replied that I’d like to take four to six. Because, that seemed to work. And if you are curious about how many acupuncture treatments it takes to heal a fractured Humerus? It’s 14. 

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