The Claw- a device used for torture and changing out struts.

One Month Down

This past week marked one month since my surgery; on Thursday I visited my doctor for a regularly scheduled appointment to check my progress and change out another strut.

I was nervous this time as I know how painful a strut change can be now.  In addition to that, we would have four kids with us so that immediately following my appointment we could be taking Matthew to practice.  Nothing evokes sympathy from passersby like a frightened woman in a wheelchair surrounded by unruly children.  As it happened, the kids were fantastic and, as far as I know, sat patiently in the waiting area throughout the entire appointment.  Right now, most of the kids are at an age when my approval and love really means a lot to them, so they tend to try to at least maintain a facade of good behavior and argue over things like who gets to hold my hand as I’m wheeled around or who is going to bring me my pillow.  The 13-year old is a different story; he knows everything, nothing impresses him, and nothing is more important than what he wants or needs.  As much as I want to believe I could never have been this way at 13, I have to wonder.

They waved ferociously at me as I disappeared around the corner to the x-ray department.  My doctor’s office has an odd system of communication which relies on cards with fruit symbols.  I haven’t cracked the code yet, or even ascertained its usefulness, but I know that when you go to get an x-

Awaiting my strut change at the Fracture Clinic.
Awaiting my strut change at the Fracture Clinic.

ray you are handed a yellow card with a banana on it and when you are done, the banana goes in a tray on the wall with a banana on it.  I’m a little worried about the medical system in general if this is what they are using in lieu of email notifications, but I’m trying to stay optimistic.

X-rays are extremely annoying with a Taylor Spatial Frame; the tech is invariably confused, and has to ask what he’s looking at and which part the doctor cares about.  He then proceeds to bend my leg in the most awkward positions.  Usually this entails dislocating my knee cap and balancing the enormous rectangular metal frame around my foot on a single corner and holding perfectly still while my atrophied muscles scream from the abuse.

Back in the waiting area, I attracted the attention of a couple of nurses with my homemade frame cover.  I’ve been walking around with different colored frame covers for a few weeks now, but this is the first real notice anyone has paid.  It takes a very specific audience to appreciate the ingenuity and skill required to design and sew a cover for an external fixator and I was enjoyed being lavished with praise.  Even my doctor complimented me on it when she came in.  Dr. Workman was supposed to be taking vacation for a couple of weeks, but as I am now her most favorite patient, she made a special trip in just to see me.

Dr. Workman, who I cannot possibly call Kimberly due to my absolute reverence for her as a mystical super human, is the only doctor I have completely trusted since the onset of my illness fourteen years ago.  She is younger than me if crow’s feet and hair color can be believed, and has the kind of tan and naturally lovely appearance you would expect to see on a carefree hippie.  She has three children who almost attended the appointment with her, but last minute decided they’d rather go for ice cream with their father.  In addition to being this likable woman who says things like “F-bomb” and laughs at even my stupidest jokes, she also happens to be the foremost authority on lower limb deformities in the region.  If you are toying with the idea of trying on an external fixator for a few months, I’m happy to offer an endorsement for her as you really won’t find more capable hands.

The Claw- a device used for torture and changing out struts.
The Claw- a device used for torture and changing out struts.

My x-rays showed the bone growth of a natural over-achiever; rather than worrying about a non-union from bone that won’t grow, we are now worried that the bone is condensing too quickly and will make my daily strut modifications more difficult and painful.  All in all, she was extremely pleased with my progress.  My swelling is minimal, the pin site are in good shape, and my foot is noticeably flatter than when we started though I still have some ways to go.  The main purpose of this appointment was to change out one of the rear struts- the same difficult one from my last appointment- to a slightly longer strut to continue the expansion.  I got a picture of the Claw this time, but it doesn’t elicit the same level of fear anymore as the strut change was fairly simple and painless.

Once the strut change was done, we were free to go…unless…oh, did I want to do something about that top wire that was causing me so much pain every time I moved?  She gave me the option of waiting until my next appointment to remove the wire, or do it now.  I elected not to wait any longer as the pain was pretty

Before photo of the top wire with inflamed and irritated tissue surrounding the pin site.
Before photo of the top wire with inflamed and irritated tissue surrounding the pin site.

unbearable and all waiting would accomplish is provide me adequate time to elevate my stress level.  It took a moment to round up the supplies, but in no time at all she was cleaning the pin sites on either side of my leg with alcohol and I sat back, gripped the sides of the table, and tried to keep my breathing steady.

The process for removing a wire is remarkably simple.  The wires are culled on each end to hide the sharp points, so she unbent these on either side and unbolted the tiny vices holding them taut to the frame.  With the wire now free and

After photo of the pin site immediately following wire removal.
After photo of the pin site immediately following wire removal.

protruding from both sides of my leg by about four inches or so, she snipped the end of the wire on the far side of my leg as close to the skin as she could get without nicking me.  Gripping the remaining end of the wire with pliers, she gently wriggled the wire back and forth as she pulled until I could feel the end break free from the bone and it whipped out of the remaining tissues like a lawn mower cord.  There was very little blood, the holes which had seemed enormous closed up almost instantly, and thanks to the pain medication I took before my appointment, there was relatively little pain beyond a sharp twinge at the end.

I asked Patrick to film the entire thing, and he did his very best, but he was more startled than I was when the wire flew out and his sudden jolting camera work shows it.  I showed the video to the kids on the way home and for once I was able to impress that stubborn 13 year old.  Maybe next time I’ll make him watch in person.

You too can watch the video below…

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