The Old Ball ‘n Chain
If you had asked me a year ago, where I expected my recovery to be today, I would tell you a far different story than what actually came to be. I would have guessed that the surgeries would be a thing of the past, and the infections long gone. I would have spoken about using my prosthetic legs daily, and the pains of the past reduced to mere inconvenient aches. Unfortunately, that dream is yet to come true, and as the past couple weeks have taught me, I still have a ways to go.
As you may remember from my December posting, I had two scheduled operations for the month of January. The first, on January the 16th, was aimed at nerve repair to my right forearm and hand. We were hoping to find and repair the problem in my radial nerve that has prevented me from extending my fingers (I can grasp, but not open my fist). In addition, the doctors were planning to reroute a working but unnecessary part of the median nerve, to the damaged ulnar nerve. The goal being to regain function and feeling in my pinky as well as some fine motor movements in the hand. I was working with a team of doctors outside BAMC since the hand surgeon was the only doctor I’ve met that has offered me any hope that improvements could be made.
After a four-hour procedure, the surgeon was unfortunately not able to do as much as he had hoped. Only the sensory portion of the ulnar nerve ( the part that controls feeling) could be found. The motor portion (that controls function) was either lost in the deep mess of scar tissue in the arm, or lost in the explosion. The radial nerve was not found to have any damage, which is good news. However, with nothing to fix, there was little the surgeons could do to “repair” the problem. Therefore, if it heals at all, it will do it on its own over time. Some other small fixes were done to scars or uncomfortable areas, and a few pieces of lingering shrapnel and rock from the blast were removed. Overall, the surgery was not as successful as we were hoping, but a few improvements were made. It could take over a year for the full results to show.
The bigger and more intensive operation came a week later on January 23rd. The explosion in 2011 destroyed most of my left leg, and took with it large portions of bone and muscle. The operations that followed, saw the removal of additional dead and infected areas. This left my left limb with a little excess of skin and fat around the thigh. While it wasn’t much, it made it difficult to secure a proper fit with my prosthesis. The surgery on the 23rd was targeted at removing that additional soft tissue. In addition, the pain at the end of the limb had been steadily increasing over the past few months. Increased activity would only further aggravate such pain, so the surgeons were also going to take a look at alleviating any problematic areas.
The overall operation was a success, but the procedure uncovered a troubling area, which has resulted in my latest setback. The pain at the end of my limb, was due to an area of eroding/ deteriorating bone. Upon further inspection, that area appeared to be dead bone (gross, right?). The bone was jagged and sharp, and was the most likely culprit of the discomfort. The doctors had no choice but to remove the end of the femur (about 1 inch) and send the piece for cultures. The results came back positive a few days later that identified a nasty little infection that had previously attacked my leg last year. The infection itself is most likely from the initial explosion nearly two years ago, when all sorts of debris found its way into my leg.
The troubling part of this, is that we had already treated this infection, and after ten months with no problems, thought we had beaten it. But now it is back, and I cannot afford to keep losing bone and therapy time to such recurring ailments. So, beginning this week, I am undergoing a six-week regimen of aggressive antibiotics. The chosen remedy is stronger than what was used last time, and better targeted for the bacteria they found. We are all praying that we can rid my body of this pest for good. I was discharged from the hospital over the weekend with a long term IV in my arm. The antibiotic course is pumped through my veins 24 hours a day for the next six weeks. Unlike previous home antibiotics, which would be two hours in the morning and two at night, I am hooked up to the goods around the clock for this one. I refer to my antibiotic as the “Old Ball ‘n Chain” since the medicine comes in a ball that I carry around. It releases the medicine through the pressure of the ball through the chain/ IV tube into my arm. Not too fun to carry around, but it is what needs to be done. I also still have a rubber drain hanging from my left thigh. I hope to get that taken out by next week. That, with the incision line, deep tissue pain, and the Old Ball ‘n Chain, I’ve been immobile and uncomfortable. But I’ve dealt with worse.
As I wrap up this long update, I wish to remind you all that we are ending Blood Donor Awareness Month. However, even though January ends, the need for blood does not. As you may recall, in the first 24 hours following my injury, I needed nearly 40 units of blood transfusions (most donors donate a single unit). Over ten more units were required in the weeks that followed. Without that blood, I wouldn’t be here today. I don’t know where it came from, or what noble individuals took the time to give it to me, but I am forever grateful. Please understand that no matter how inconvenient, uncomfortable, or painful you might think the process, the people who are depending on it are in much worse shape. Many people can’t donate due to things like medical history, recent travel, or tattoos. So if you can give blood, I encourage you to do so. It’s quick, it’s free, and you just might save a life.