Do you have two hands that work?
If no, you have my deepest sympathy.
If yes, I suggest you put one of them in your pocket or behind your back. Got it? Good.
Now go wash your hair.
This has been my life since the summer of 1993, on and off. Mostly on.
I’ve had four hand surgeries since then: three on my left and one on my right.
I won’t elaborate on the proximate cause of the situations leading to these surgeries. I may finally get around to editing and posting the story of Costa Lotta Jack, the evil Appaloosa who tore my wrist bones apart back there in ’93. Now is not the time.
Let us begin with the premise that my left wrist was destroyed in 1993 by an evil Appaloosa named Costa Lotta Jack, which lead to my first wrist reconstruction a few months later.
That repair worked so well that I was able to relearn to play the banjo and fiddle. Not the way I played it before: I lost a lotta wrist action in that fight. Good enough to cut a solo CD that still tops the folk charts, although it still hasn’t paid for itself.
Six or seven years later, that repair broke down. Another reconstruction. Lost some more range of motion with that one, but managed to keep playing music once they pulled a couple of steel pins out of my wrist.
And so on until a year ago, when I had a big crash and burn from tripping over a barrier between two campsites in the pitch black new moon dark. The hand surgeon in Flagstaff was sure it was a tear in the joint capsule, and the MRI with contrast demonstrated the same.
And by the way, my shoulder started hurting then. And it seemed to have jolted something loose in the minefield otherwise known as my neck.
So began my love affair with Flagstaff, Arizona, home of many orthopedists. Hallmark of a ski town.
I got tired of running to doctors after awhile, and decided that some benign neglect might do me some good. Or you might say I was sick of hearing that I needed this operation and that operation. Really burnt out, if the truth be known.
Off I went, tending to this and that family emergency. My wrist and shoulder and neck still felt bad, but not as bad as running to doctors.
When I landed in Tucson for the winter, it made sense to make friends with a local orthopedist about my shoulder, and with a hand surgeon about my wrist.
I had my initial consultations taken care of, and a return visit to the shoulder guy for an injection into my subacromial bursa, which is a fluid filled sac in the shoulder. It didn’t help.
Then, toward the end of January, I had a terrible fall that tore the shit out of my rotator cuff and did something bad to my wrist.
I went immediately to the hand surgeon, who scheduled surgery, and to the shoulder guy, who sent me directly from his office into the nearest MRI machine.
The MRI shows two full thickness tears in my rotator cuff muscles. As a bonus, I split the tendon to my biceps muscle in two.
But I’m getting ahead of myself.
I had my latest hand surgery 8 days ago, I think. I’m still a bit addled from all that has gone down, so if I get things out of order, that’s why.
I’m told that the surgeon came and talked to me after the operation. I can’t remember anything, because I was waaaaaaaaay over-anesthetized. That can happen, especially if the anesthesiologist doesn’t listen when you tell them there is a very big reason you resist general anesthesia. Some of us need a much lighter hammer.
I had rented an Airbnb room in which to recover for a week, boarded Atina the Doggess, and settled in with my vaporizer and edibles (I don’t do well with opiates). I hired people from a local home health agency to drive me to the surgery and back and go to the pharmacy and Trader Joe’s for 24 bottles of Trader Joe’s brand seltzer water.
That night, or maybe the following night, I got two phone calls, one from each of my guys.
Shoulder guy: “Well, you have two high grade tears in your rotator cuff muscles, plus your biceps tendon is split. Other than that, your MRI looks great (except for the rough place underneath another muscle that shows it is getting squashed by something else). You should be able to put off surgery for a few months…provided you don’t fuck it up again in the meantime.”
He didn’t use those words exactly, but that’s what he meant.
Next call was my hand guy.
“Um, how are you feeling?”
“Just peachy. What did you find in there?”
Pregnant pause…then he said:
WTF, my surgeon is calling me sweetheart, and I want to know why.
“I’m so sorry. I thought we were just repairing your joint capsule, but when I got in there with the scope I found that your triquetrum (one of the 8 bones in the wrist) was rattling around loose in the joint, no ligament, no cartilage, no blood supply…so I had to take it out. Really should have done a first row carpectomy (procedure that removes a whole row of those little bones because once they’re fucked up they don’t heal), but I didn’t have a permission signed for that. We’ll have to watch this carefully and maybe plan that operation for the future.”
Instead of bawling, I said (with considerable irony),
“Well then. I suppose I’d better sell that new guitar.”
“Oh, no, no, don’t sell your guitar! We’ll get you back playing!”
Nice one, Doc, but I’ve been around this block a whole bunch of times. I didn’t fall off the turnip truck yesterday. I know as well as anyone else what happens when you start taking out bones. It’s a slippery slope.