Bracing myself…

I had been really looking forward to day 17 – Thursday 20th July was my first appointment at the fracture clinic at Frimley Park. I say looking forward; I suppose there was an element of trepidation mixed in with the curiosity. I hoped I’d find out how my arm was progressing, if the bones were lining up, and above all that I’d be offered a more robust brace of some kind to give my wobbly arm more protection. I was also slightly nervous that there would be pain, that they’d try to manipulate my arm in some painful way (why, I have no idea?) or that fitting a new brace might hurt. Also that they’d look and say ‘I’m sorry, your bones are not going to meet up’. Totally irrational but that’s the nature of fear and the unknown!

Waiting room

We arrived in good time, not really sure what to expect. There were signs up warning people that if they needed both x-rays and plastering they could be in clinic for two to four hours. I knew I wouldn’t be getting plastered but settled in with a puzzle book in my bag, ready for a lengthy visit. The other clinic visitors appeared to be ankle and lower leg breaks at different stages of repair. One lad and his mum emerged smiling from the consultation rooms and went to the desk to hand in his crutches and leg brace. Job done! A few ladies with lower leg fractures were in wheelchairs. Once again I thanked my lucky stars.

In the event it was all quite quick. We were called in promptly and the doctor took a quick look and organised a chitty for anĀ  x-ray and a brace to be fixed (relief!), promising we could come back to ask questions afterwards. We moved into the plaster room as instructed but a nurse asked me to climb into a chair with a raised armrest and I stared at in fear, saying “I don’t think I can lift my arm onto there!”. She quickly realised we were in the wrong place and the consultant came back to see us again to explain he’d only been at Frimley a week and he’d got it wrong – an x-ray today was too early to see improvement. I needed a moulded plastic brace fitting though – so we were sent off to occupational therapy to get one sorted.

Before we left I checked a few things with him – pain relief, swelling, likely timescales. I don’t think we learned anything new. He said we’d have to experiment with the pain meds to get it right, and gave 10 to 12 weeks before I’d be able to have the brace removed. He said there was a possibility the union wouldn’t be perfect but up to 30% displacement was normal and my arm would regain full functionality. I was to return in two weeks to get the update x-ray.

20108301_1907254362822331_8367183052961138024_nGetting the brace

In occupational therapy we walked past the rooms full of crutches, stools and wheelchairs and found our way to the therapist, Jane, who was to fit the moulded plastic brace to my arm. She was very calm and gentle and put me at ease. First she measured and cut the plastic to a paper template. Then she put the plastic sheet into the warm water machine (like an electric bain marie) to soften it up. She pulled the tube stocking carefully up over my upper arm. It hurt at first with the pressure, but then felt snug. Her colleague Fiona came out to pull my elbow downwards in slight traction while they wrapped the plastic sheet warmly round my arm and then fixed the velcro round. The two velcro straps were pulled tight in opposite directions. It felt nice and secure and reassuring.

Jane suggested I try from time to time removing my wrist from the collar and cuff and gently lifting my hand up and down, supported, to ‘oil’ my elbow joint and stop it completely stiffening up. I also need to squeeze a ball and flex my wrist up and down.

I’ve spent two nights in it the brace now and it feels fine. We’ve only had to loosen and readjust it once so far. Tomorrow we will attempt to shower with it ON, but covered by a plastic bag or shield. In future we can try removing it to shower.

People don’t bounce like netballs do

Yeah, so I didn’t bounce, that was the problem. 11 days ago this evening, I was in A & E at Frimley Park, waiting to be seen. I waited three hours from arrival and admission until a friendly nurse came to dose me up on painkillers and organise my trip to X ray.

What had led me there was a stumble while playing netball. Heavy legs were recovering from a 5km run the day before and three weeks off prior to that following an infected fly bite. My sluggish legs couldn’t quite respond when I spun and lunged for the ball. The ball bounced away into another player’s hands. I crashed to the ground. I still don’t remember exactly how I landed, only that fraction of a second where I was aware I was about to fall and I recall thinking ‘Don’t crack your head on the tarmac!’. So instead I landed heavily on my elbow and upper arm, and there was a definite ‘pop’ as I crumpled to the ground and rolled slightly onto my back.

That arm shouldn’t be that shape!

Play was moved to another court and a kind group of volunteers stayed with me while my husband was called and, once it was established that I couldn’t stand up, an ambulance too. As I sat leaning against another player’s legs, I cradled my left arm and my team mates took a look at the damage, fetching ice packs. The expression on their faces told me that it must be pretty bad – but I wasn’t sure, and neither were they, whether I’d broken a bone, my elbow, my wrist, or dislocated my shoulder.

Five hours later the picture became clear, but not before I’d endured torture at the hands of the radiographer. She needed her angle. I couldn’t let go of my lower arm. She needed me to hold my hand flat. I couldn’t twist it. I cried. She must see it all the time. Maybe not a silly 50 year old woman in a too-tight netball dress, perhaps. The dress and t shirt I’d been wearing had to be cut away at the shoulder so the paramedics could tend to me. Later, it had to be cut off completely and chucked in the bin.

Turns out Monday is the busiest night of the week at Frimley A & E. Two people told us this – the first was the paramedic who brought me in (he was brilliant, but I did ask him why they couldn’t fit better suspension on ambulances – I’d had to suck on the gas and air over every bump in the road and round every roundabout, even though they’d driven sedately). His hypothesis – later reiterated by a Samaritans volunteer who popped his head in for a chat – is that people get injured and ill over the weekend but hang on til Monday to check it out with the GP before reporting to hospital with their minor injuries or conditions requiring admission.

Luckily I had Geoff there with me. Because of this, we were left alone once being found a room to wait in. No-one came to give me any more pain relief, but I could have asked Geoff to go and request some if needed. It was just a long, boring wait. We played i-Spy. As it approached midnight I exhorted Geoff to head home for some rest. I thought I might be up most of the night awaiting attention – but I didn’t know about the dashboard which would show me as red after 3 hours. Geoff insisted on waiting – since he thought once I was x rayed he’d have better information about how long I was likely to take before being allowed home.

WP_20170704_01_42_19_ProIn the event it all happened quickly just after 1 am. I was wheeled to x-ray by the gentlest porter in the world, screeched in pain at the hands of the x ray woman, then wheeled back. The doctor came in soon afterwards and the image was flashed up on screen. A nice, clean, but total fracture of my humerus, mid-shaft and displaced – which explained why the side of my arm was bulging like Popeye’s.

The sling

The nurse, Dan, squeezed a dose of Oramorph into my mouth before telling me the bad news. He was going to fit me with a collar and cuff sling and it was probably going to hurt. No casts are applied for upper limb fractures, above the elbow or above the knee. My fracture was unlikely to need pinning – although the doctor promised to call in the morning after review with colleagues. The ‘conservative’ approach is preferred for bone setting wherever possible, rather than surgery. This meant I would most likely be left with my arm in a simple collar and cuff strap to allow the bones to align naturally, and sent home with an array of painkillers.

After an initial false start, during which my arm muscle blew up and twitched in spasm due to the angle of the bone at that time, with Nurse Dan telling me to ‘Stop doing that’, to which I, panicking, yelled ‘I’m not doing anything!’, the collar and cuff sling was finally fitted. It was comfy enough, and Dan’s good advice to ‘relax, breathe, and let gravity do its thing’ has stood me in good stead repeatedly since.