The Diagnosis (part 1) The Walker That Tackled Me

I sat in the nursing home with my adopted great grandma, joking with her and complimenting her clothes. She had dementia and her husband had just passed away and in spite of not knowing quite what had happened, was in pretty rough shape. She wasn’t supposed to be left alone. I adored Carrie and my favorite things about her were that I could tell her the same jokes over and over and she would laugh hard every time as well as her incredible sweetness. We were laughing pretty hard and then she suddenly asked me to read to her from the Bible. It was in my car and I knew I couldn’t leave her for more than a minute or so, so I hustled to the door.

Like many entrances, this one had two sets of doors to go through to get outside. The concierge said something to me as I pushed open the first door in a full power-walk. I turned my head in her direction, continuing my stride. Someone had left a walker directly in front of the second set of doors and I didn’t see it in time; blasting into the walker, my legs tangled. I landed hard on my knees and was still moving forward quickly towards the second door frame. In the split second before I hit the frame,  I crossed my arms in front of my face and tucked my chin. When I hit the door frame, I struck with my arms at exactly the wrong angle. I felt something wrench in my shoulder.

To add insult to injury, the walker hit me on the back of my head. My humiliation won out over my pain and I got up quickly. Of course, there were about eight people who saw it. It had been a pretty comical fall and because I was doing my best to hide my pain, everyone was having a good laugh. I hurried out to my car for my Bible with my shoulder hanging out of socket.

I couldn’t get it to go back into socket! Having had multiple surgeries already on my other shoulder, I was a pro at these things. I sat with my great grandma and read to her, my pain growing every minute. Finally I couldn’t handle it anymore and I called a friend to finish my ‘shift’. When she arrived she had a dubious look on her face. I knew what she was thinking; she doubted I was actually hurt. Let me explain why:

Over the last two years I had just about every medical problem taught in med school. Nothing seemed to be related. One day I had mono and pneumonia, and the next I was in the hospital for a ruptured spleen, another time for a uteral tear, then yet another time my stomach lining tore. It was always one thing after another, and for all appearances, I still looked healthy. I was even starting to doubt myself. When I started having major heart problems, I didn’t even want to tell anyone. Since I couldn’t stand looking vulnerable and was afriad of hospitals, I never allowed anyone to visit me in one. Naturally, people had major doubts.

My friend took over watching my dear great grandma for me and I trudged out to my car, cradling my arm. Wow did it hurt! Using my other arm, I went home.

Three days later, I was in the same boat as day one. My arm was just hanging by my side uselessly. Finally I choked down my fears and called the doctor. They got me an appointment for that day. I walked in and the nurse immediately took me to get X-rays. I was doodling around in the exam room, having fake little swordfights with my hands using the Q-tips, when the nurse blasted in the door with an urgent look on her face.

Nurse: We just read the x-rays. Did you know your shoulder is still out of socket?

Me: Yeah? That IS why I’m here.

I guess they had thought it was a resolved dislocation. The problem wasn’t that my shoulder was relocated outside the joint; it was that it was dangling, like it was too stretched out to go back in. She helped me into a shoulder sling and the doctor came in. He explained that my rotator cuff was definitely torn and that they needed to do an MRI to determine how bad it was. I nodded, imagining that the worst news I could get was that I needed surgery right away.

Off I went, on the phone to schedule the MRI at the local university hospital. The next day, I started my new job. I was doing computer work, so showing up in a sling wasn’t a great impression. My boss was fine about it, thankfully. They were gracious about my having to take time off right away to get the scans done as well. Sweet.

My MRI was scheduled for Valentine’s Day. I had just been through a heartbreak level breakup, but my guy friends asked me out as their fake date once I got back from the MRI. As I pulled into the parking garage, something started spraying and hissing out of the hood of my little Honda Coupe. I popped the hood as a quickly growing stream of radiator fluid connected with my shoe. My radiator had somehow blown. I probably would have flipped out had I not been totally dosed on hydrocodone. I walked blankly into the hospital and checked myself in. Three hours later, still blazed out of my mind, a nurse FINALLY approached me. They had somehow lost my appointment. I was furious. I had taken time off to be the only person in the waiting room all day and they had only just wondered why I had been there for so long. They led me to a dressing room. Since they had to inject dye into the shoulder capsule they told me I could keep my pants and belt on for the time.

They led me into a radiology room and had me lie down on the table. Still high, I was confused as to who the doctor was. There was a twitchy, nervous resident and a fat guy in a chair barking instructions. He was scooted back through the door frame to the imaging station. Turns out, he was the doctor and I was the twitchy resident’s first shoulder capsule injection. I hope it was as traumatic for him as it was for me.

First, when I spoke no one even looked at me. In every sense of the word, I was meat. Next, the resident had absolutely no idea what he was doing.  A nurse injected my joint with numbing medication. The resident, asking the fat doctor in the chair through the door what to do, clumsily started to press the dye needle into my shoulder. I remember shouting at him that if he was actually leaning all his weight onto the needle and it still wasn’t going in, he was doing something horribly wrong. He didn’t even glance up. The doctor, also shouting, still didn’t get up out of his chair. The resident wiggled the needle and all at once it went in. Then it came out of the back of my shoulder. I lost it. Somehow having the composure to NOT flail my impaled arm I went off, cursing, screaming and still blazed. The doctor got up, backed the needle out and completed the procedure. At this point someone finally spoke to me. It was the nurse with the wheelchair. Time to go.

I shoved past the resident and sat huffily in the wheelchair. First my shoulder, then my car, then getting impaled by a resident. I was pretty distraught at this point. They had me lie down on the MRI machine, set me up with music and braced up my shoulder. At this point it was dark outside; it was early afternoon when I had arrived. As I slid into the MRI I had a powerful tightening sensation around my waist. At this point I was so freaked out I just started hollering and they backed me out. It was my belt. I removed it; they were surprised I was wearing pants, as they said I was supposed to have been told to take everything off. I shrugged and they slid me back in.

I dressed quickly, cursing at everyone who looked at me. I got to my car and remembered the radiator was blown. I wasn’t about to be trapped in this place any longer; I drove it home anyways. My fake date came and picked me up and we went out to a comedy show and then met my other fake date for drinks. I was so exhausted (I had worked at 5am and it was roughly midnight) my vision was swimming and I felt a remarkable full body ache. One of the guys drove me home and on the way I asked if we could stop at a convenience store. I asked for my usual pack of cigarettes and pulled out my wallet. My card didn’t work. I tried another, and another; none of them worked. My wallet had been in my back pocket when I went through the MRI. The rought part: I used a virtual bank; I couldn’t go anywhere for cash. I was broke, immobile and wounded.

On this Valentine’s Day in less than 24 hours, I suddenly had no access to my money, no significant other, no car and still no working arm. Over the next two weeks, things would get much, MUCH worse.

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