Bits & Pieces
I’m in pieces, bits and pieces.
Nothin’ seems to ever go right.
I’m in pieces, bits and pieces.
‘Cause night is day and day is night. The Dave Clark Five, 1964
I learn about the ulna and the radius, two parallel forearm bones that I fractured right before my left wrist. I become intimate with the calcaneus, better known as the heel bone. This round bone has a hard outer surface with softer material within. I crushed both of mine with two breaks in the left and one in the right. I’m in pieces, bits and pieces.
My time in the x-ray room in the Bonaire hospital right after the fall was the most painful moment of the whole day. They had me position my arm and feet in the most awkward ways to take the shot. The pain was excruciating as I had to hold each position for what seemed to be endless. Afterwards the general surgeon on duty looked at the x-rays and decided that this hospital could not handle my case. They arranged for an air ambulance to fly we to Aruba the next day where they actually have orthopedic surgeons on staff. Strangely, I never saw the surgeon on duty to ask any questions.
But before departing Bonaire I had to get my broken bones stabilized to fly. Re-enter my EMT tech, Sandra. It turns out she’s a plaster master and put temporary casts on all my breaks. The arm break was a bit complicated since the bone was way out of place. Sandra put me in traction for 15 mins in a device that looked like it came from a medieval torture dungeon. Two bamboo cones were place over the index and middle fingers with strings that were connected to weights. The bamboo reminded me of Chinese finger trap toys that I played with as a kid. That process stretched out my forearm bones so that they were better aligned, close but no cigar. Then Sandra completed the cast to hold everything in place.
Soon we were cruising above the Caribbean blue, Aruba-bound in a Learjet 55. This classic 1980s beauty with its walnut veneer walls and posh seats screamed James Bond. But I felt far from 007 bound to a stretcher taking up most of the starboard side of the plane. I was delivered to the hospital where the next day I met with Dr. Eertmans, a retired orthopedic surgeon filling in for a colleague. He explained that the arm break could be reset and recommended just casting the heels. The alternative is plate and screw surgery, which after researching on the web, didn’t seem to have much better results than what Eetrmans was offering. I chose the less invasive route and now hope for the best.
One week later with all the swelling down I get to go home, but first my temporary casts are cut away and Eertmans deftly moves my forearm bones back into place. When they snap in, I instinctively feel that the bones are correctly aligned. “I worked for 8 years in Africa,” explains the doctor. “We didn’t have x-ray machines there so I learned quickly how to ‘feel’ the broken bones and reset them based on my anatomical knowledge of the skeleton.” That is the kind of guy I want working on me. Eertmans also thought he might have to push the heel bones back in since with high-impact falls like mine, they often splay out to the sides. But with casts removed, both my heels looked ok and permanent casts were all that was needed. I give credit to the sturdy boots I had on during the fall. I believe they kept the shattered heel bones more or less in place.
Aruba is known as “one happy island” and that spirit carries on in the hospital’s cast room. The two plaster masters there offer me a palette of colors for the final gauze to be wrapped around each cast. I finally realize the first advantage from having this accident. I get to choose multiple colors. Dress me up in blue, purple and screaming yellow. After all, I am in the Caribbean.
Next up, First Light.