The Funny Bone

I don’t know exactly where to start with this story, so I guess it’s best to start with the facts. Two Sundays ago (the day after Elise’s birthday party) I injured my right elbow playing hockey, and this Friday, July 28, I’m having surgery to fix it. Though I wish I could say it happened in some sort of glorious fashion that included scoring a game-winning goal, the truth is I wasn’t even playing a game when it happened. I was doing backwards skating drills and fell forward. As a natural reaction, I reached out with my hands to brace myself for the fall, but when they hit the ice, they stretched outwards and I felt something tear in my elbow. Just to be clear, this wasn’t an injury caused by impact, it was caused by an over extension of my right arm. Let’s just say it was extremely painful, but more on that in a minute.

To make matters worse, my Mom and daughter Ava were there watching me play. One of the things my Mom wanted to do while visiting us for Elise’s birthday was see Ava ice skate and play hockey. Since Ava’s session is right before mine, the plan was for Mom and me to watch Ava, then Mom and Ava watch me play. Going in, my biggest concern was that I wouldn’t score a goal (something that hadn’t happened in several games) with them there watching me. Getting injured wasn’t even a thought in my mind.

When the injury happened I was essentially paralyzed in pain on the ice for a couple minutes. By the time my teammates helped me up I could see Ava at the bench freaking out. The poor thing has now been the primary witness to two of the most significant injuries of my life – last summer’s skateboarding accident, which resulted in a broken foot, and now this. As soon as my Mom saw what was going on she started to panic a bit as well. I just remember sitting there on the bench trying to figure out what just happened, and my Mom asking me repeatedly “Do you want to go to the hospital?”, but I was in too much pain to respond to her.

One of the guys I play with came over to check on me, and he could see how upset Ava was, so he asked his kids (who were there watching him play) to keep Ava company while I figured out what I was going to do. Ava was having none of it though and refused to leave my side. They kept saying “Honey, come over here while your Daddy takes care of himself”, but her response never wavered, she just kept saying “I’m not leaving my Daddy!”

Eventually I got up and started heading to the locker room to get changed. Ava carried my gloves for me, and once we stepped into the locker room she said “Wow this is amazing! Look at all the hockey sticks and bags and showers! I’ve never seen anything like this!” Even in my miserable state I couldn’t help but laugh at her enthusiasm for something so seemingly meaningless. I guess if she’s going to be a hockey player then it’s a good thing she likes locker rooms.

Getting out of all my hockey gear was painful and difficult, but eventually I did, and then we all headed off to Urgent Care. My poor Mom had to drive, in a city she doesn’t know, in a car she’s not familiar with, and she was a nervous wreck. At this point I kinda started to lose it. I just remember starting to hyperventilate in the car, then for the first time as an adult, I started crying from the pain. Seeing me crying was too much for Ava, so then she started crying. It was such a mess!

A minute later I snapped out of it and helped direct my Mom to Urgent Care. Not only was it the same facility we took Enzo to last year when he split his head open, but they even put me in the same room. The only imaging device they had there was an X Ray machine, but due to the fact that there was no impact in my injury, I didn’t feel like an X Ray was necessary. I figured an MRI was more appropriate, but the doctor explained that whenever someone experiences an injury to a joint, having an X Ray is standard operating procedure, so I cooperated.

Shortly after my X Ray the doctor came back to my room and said “Michael, would you like to come see your X Ray?” My immediate thought was “Uh oh. That’s not a good sign. Obviously this means there is something to see.”

What he showed me was pretty surprising. Basically there was a small piece of bone, about the size of a dime (but thicker), detached from my elbow, just kinda floating there. I asked if I could take a picture of it and he complied, so feel free to check it out below. He explained that this may be related to my accident, but not necessarily. It could also be a calcium deposit. He then called an orthopedic specialist to have a look, but their recommendation was to wait 3 weeks and see how it’s healing.

I wasn’t too keen on waiting 3 weeks to figure out what’s wrong, so I took my prescriptions and X Ray cd, and we headed home. The next day I went to my normal doctor’s office, but ultimately all they said was that I would need to see a specialist. The funny thing was they recommended me to the Edmonds Orthopedic Center, which is the same place I went to last summer to treat my broken foot. Apparently I’m becoming a bit of a regular there…

A couple days later I saw the specialist. He looked at my X Ray and said we would need an MRI to know exactly what’s going on. Just as I had suspected! It sucks that you have to jump through so many hoops in our medical system, but that’s just how it works.

So I went in for the MRI first thing Saturday morning, then went about my day. We had plans to spend the day with Jim, Brenda, Kristy, and Madi, so shortly after getting home I got ready and off we went. By this point I wasn’t even wearing my sling because my arm didn’t hurt much, I had full range of motion, and it felt like it was starting to heal. Consequently I started thinking that maybe I had overreacted and that nothing major was wrong.

By the time my appointment on Monday came around (the one where I’d get my MRI results), I was almost certain that surgery wouldn’t be necessary. My arm was continuing to improve, so I figured I’d be back out on the ice in no time. Unfortunately the news I received was to the contrary.

Turns out that I had experienced something called an avulsion fracture. Basically when I fell and my arms stretched out, the muscle (my triceps) didn’t tear, but it pulled away from my elbow joint, and tore off a piece of bone with it. In other words, the tearing I felt wasn’t muscle or ligament, it was literally a piece of bone tearing off. Once I heard this I have to admit I felt a bit of relief because before this I was thinking that I had overreacted. I felt bad about crying in front of my daughter and making a big deal out of something seemingly insignificant. Hearing about the severity of the injury gave me some sense of justification. The doctor explained that if I were a professional athlete, this would be a season-ending injury.

He then explained that the piece of bone floating in my arm is still attached to a piece of my triceps. It would never float off into some other part of my body because it was still attached to muscle, but it would also never heal on it’s own. Based on my age and level of activity, surgery was my only option because the muscle needs to be re-attached to my elbow joint. If I didn’t agree to the surgery, I would be voluntarily accepting a significantly weaker right arm (my dominant arm) for the rest of my life. Obviously I couldn’t accept that, so surgery was my only option.

Having surgery comes with a downside though. I’m going to be in a full-arm cast for 10 days following surgery, then in a mechanical arm brace for 2 months. I will also have to go through a couple months of physical therapy in order to rebuild strength in my right arm, so basically I’m going to be dealing with this for the rest of the year. Worst of all, I’m not allowed to play hockey for 6 months. Obviously I’m not a professional hockey player (and in reality I’ve only been playing for 6 months), but I really love playing, so I couldn’t help but feel bummed out. I’ve made several friends through hockey, and just recently we had all decided to form a team and join the GSHL (Greater Seattle Hockey League) in the Fall. I would have almost certainly been a first-line forward on that team because I’m one of the highest scoring players in our group, but now I have to sit out and miss everything.

I’m sure the optics on this from a third person’s perspective are a bit silly. I don’t need to be out playing hockey, or doing anything that could cause injury for that matter. I have a wife, kids, and career to focus on, but I’m the type of person that thrives on doing stuff. Obviously I have the guitar to fulfill my need for a creative outlet, but I need a physical one as well. Just in the last 5 years alone I’ve spent significant time doing a variety of physical activities including: Ice Hockey, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, Kempo Karate, Running, Surfing, Skateboarding, and Snowboarding. To cut out all physical activity from my life would make me miserable and I’m simply not willing to do it at this time. I realize that I’m not getting any younger, and if I continue to stay active then I’m going to continue to deal with injuries, but that’s a tradeoff I’m willing to make.

The other crazy thing with all of this is the fact that just last month Jessica had neck surgery! Can you imagine if I was in a full-arm cast while she was still in a neck brace!? Trying to care for the kids would be nearly impossible (but funny). I keep imagining a photo of us with a caption saying “This is what parenting can do to you”. It’s also strange that last year Jessica needed surgery to have her appendix removed, then shortly thereafter I had my skateboarding injury. Now this year Jessica has neck surgery, then I have my hockey injury which also requires surgery. You couldn’t script this stuff! What a mess.

Up until today I’ve been feeling a bit depressed about needing surgery. The only other surgery I’ve had in my life was having my tonsils removed, but this is going to be a whole different level. This is real surgery with a significant recovery time, and it’s been bothering me, but I’ve now shook it off and am ready to get on with it. I gave myself a dose of perspective by thinking about how I’d feel if I knew I needed surgery, but wasn’t able to have it, and had to accept permanent consequences. Or what if something more significant had happened and I’d never be able to play hockey again? The fact is that it could be so much worse for me, and I need to keep that in mind. The way I see it, a little dose of adversity is good for anyone. I just need to remember that when the recovery starts getting difficult.

Part of the reason I’m upset about being away from hockey is that Ava is now getting into it, and I want to be able to practice with her. After some thought, I came up with a way to be able to do that, as well as stay engaged with the game during my recovery: I’m going to switch sides are start playing left-handed. Permanently. The reason is simple: as a right-handed player, it’s your right hand that is lower on the stick and extended out from your body. Meanwhile your left arm is tucked safely into the side of your body, so it’s your right arm that is doing most of the work. Now that I know I have one arm that’s ‘better’ than the other, it makes sense to switch sides. This way my good (left) arm will be the one that’s extended, and my right arm will be tucked into my body. When I fall, I just need to make sure I keep my right arm tucked in, rather than extend it, which is what caused the injury in the first place. It would probably do me some good to practice falling without extending that arm. I’ve got plenty of protective gear on so the impact of the fall won’t hurt me, and I can still extend my left arm to brace myself, but it will go against natural instinct.

Switching sides is going to require practice, but you don’t need to be on the ice to practice. I had already recently been telling Ava that I was going to buy her a hockey stick, and of course she was excited, so I’m also going to buy myself a left-handed stick and start practicing stickhandling and shooting in the garage. Hopefully by the time I get back on the ice I will have built up my skills and will be confident enough to play on that side. The reality is I wasn’t an excellent player on the right side, so it’s not going to take too long before I’m at the same level on my left side. Luckily I’m allowed to start ice skating before the 6 months is up too, so I should have enough to keep me busy, and I’ll still get the satisfaction of practicing with Ava.

I think one thing that I’ve had trouble with is the idea that in order to get my arm back to 100%, I’m going to have to knock it down to 0%, then work it back up. The fact is that right now, my arm is probably at about 60%, so in a sense I could live with it, but it would never get better. In fact, it would only get worse. The other thing is, I can’t just give it 6 months and then decide to fix it. I’ve got a somewhat limited window to act on it, and if I miss that window, I’m screwed. So again, surgery is my only viable option.

Since I’ll be wearing a full-arm cast for 10 days, I’m taking all of next week, plus the following Monday (August 7th) off work. It’s a bummer that I’ll be in a cast for my birthday, but we’re still going to the blues festival that day, and I’m going to do my best to live as normally as possible during this initial recovery period. At least I only have to wear the cast for 10 days (which is long enough for the incision wound to heal). By comparison, Jessica had to wear a neck brace for over 3 weeks following her surgery, so I’m fortunate in that sense. Good thing I’ve got so many books to read because I’m going to have plenty of free time on my hands next week. I’m pretty sure I’ll still be able to play my guitar as well. I’m certainly going to try so I guess we’ll see soon enough.

Anyway, I could ramble on all day about it if I wanted, but I think you get the point. It’s not going to be a fun process, but it could be a lot worse, and in the grand scheme of things, it’s not that big of a deal. It is what it is. I’m just glad I’ve got Jessica and the kids to get me through it.

With the exception of my injury, we had a great visit with my Mom. She got so much quality time with the kids, we stayed busy with various activities, and we ate well every night. As always, it was sad to see her go, but I’m sure Christmas will be here before we know it. The kids are already super excited for everything she has planned, so in their mind it can’t come soon enough.

The weather here has been perfect lately so Jessica and the kids have been busy everyday with fun activities. Yesterday they went to Jetty Island in Everett and had a blast, so we may do that again next week when I’m off work. It’s crazy to think that Ava is only about 6 weeks away from starting Kindergarten, but that’s how it goes. We also just found out that Grandpa Rick is coming out for another visit in October, so we’ve got that to look forward to. Actually before that I think we’ll be seeing Amy and Tom for Labor Day, but I’m not totally positive.

So that’s the update for now. I won’t be able to write again until I have the cast removed, but you can expect another update shortly thereafter. We recently received photos from Leon taken during their son Miles’ birthday, as well as Elise’s birthday, so please enjoy those. I can’t tell you how nice it is to have a close friend that is such an amazing photographer! It’s such a treat to regularly receive these kinds of photos of the kids, so I hope he knows how much we appreciate it. I do my best to reciprocate in my own ways, but never quite feel like it’s enough. Enjoy the pics and I’ll see you on the other side of surgery.

My X Ray immediately following the injury

Hanging out with family this weekend. At least I won’t be the only family member in a cast.

Elise at Miles’ birthday party

Ava enjoying the festivities

She loved riding that thing

As did Enzo

Possibly the greatest cell phone photo I’ve ever taken

Ava loves the water

So happy at the zoo

What does the tiger say? ROAR!!!

It’s all about the fire trucks

Our beautiful little mermaids

This is right before I got fired from cake cutting. Good thing I redeemed myself the following weekend.

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