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Season 3 (2010): The Non-Season of Injury
It Just Ain't Healing
At the end of 2009 I decided to stop climbing because both my shoulders and my right ring finger were bothering me. I was experiencing sharp pain in my finger, and in my shoulders I would have throbbing pain when lifting them above my head and sometimes pain in the middle of the night when I slept on one side. Because the amount of pain was not terribly high, I figured that some rest, icing, and eventually some gradual stretching would get me back in shape in time to make 2010 another good climbing year. I continued under this assumption through March before I decided that perhaps things were not liable to get better for me. At some point I went on a business trip to Oakland for CyPace. I was in the Kaiser office building and saw a poster that read 'Some injuries will not heal on their own, see a doctor as soon as possible after an injury.' Weird! Even though I only had short-term PPO insurance at the time, I decided to take this advice, and asked around for a good Orthopedics clinic somewhere near Pasadena. As it turned out, Huntington Orthopedics, affiliated with Pasadena's own Huntington Hospital, had a very good reputation, so I scheduled an appointment with both hand and shoulder specialists there.
After seeing the hand surgeon, it was reported that I had something approximating what's known as 'Trigger Finger' apparently some damage was done to my finger tendon and it was rubbing against the 'pulley' at the base of my finger, causing continued inflamation and preventing it from healing. He suggested that I try cortizone shots and splinting it, and if in a few months it was not getting better, I could have a relatively simple surgery done to fix it. As for my shoulders, the left one was in worse shape, so on my first visit we focused on that one. The doctor had an x-ray done but it didn't reveal anything, so an MRI was ordered. I had the MRI performed the next week and the results were sent back to Huntington. At this point I ran into a major issue. When Huntington called my insurance, they reported that they would not cover anything because my injury qualified as an existing condition (since I reported that it occurred prior to taking out the coverage). I was really pissed off, and didn't understand how it could be called an existing condition when I couldn't know the severity of it until I had seen a doctor. I went through a rigamarole for about a week trying to get it sorted without success, until I downloaded the terms and conditions of my plan and discovered that they cannot claim it as an existing condition unless I had seen a doctor about it prior to getting covered. Nonetheless, the hospital was still unsure so they had me pay about $5000 up front to cover costs in case insurance wouldn't pick up my tab. Since it was clear with the MRI that I needed surgery, I put the money down and had the work done the last week of May.
When I went under for surgery, they still didn't know how much reconstruction would be necessary. It would either be a 1-2 month healing period or a more serious 6 month recovery time worst case. When I came to, I had a sling on, as well as a strange padded 'block' that held my arm out away from my side. I saw the doctor a few days later and he reported the bad news, that my labrum (which connects the top of the bicep to the shoulder) had separated from the bone and had to be anchored back in place. This meant that I was facing the worst case scenario, a 6 month downtime. I was pretty devastated, since I figured that there may still be life in my climbing year. I wore the sling on my right arm for the next couple months, and then started physical therapy. It was really painful and progress was slow. Sometime in the middle of the year I switched to Kaiser insurance. As my left arm healed it became clear that my right shoulder was suffering from the same ailment, and I ended up need to go through a similar process for it. Unfortunately, I couldn't go back to Huntington with my Kaiser insurance, and the Kaiser process took an INSANE amount of time. It was commonly over a month between visits, and my MRI had to be scheduled like 5 weeks out. It seemed like I'd never get the other shoulder taken care of...
While I was waiting for progress on my right shoulder, I found a hand surgeon at Kaiser and had him re-evaluate my finger since it hadn't healed. He reported that the Trigger Finger condition should be released via a quick surgery, and that afterward the finger should be basically as good as new in about six weeks. I was very happy to hear this news and was actually able to have that surgery done within a week. I spent probably three weeks with a bandage on my hand where the incision was made, but after that, I quickly gained back the use of my hand and was surprised to find, as he indicated, that everything felt great about a month and a half in. Around this time I finally got confirmation that I needed surgery on my right shoulder, not just for the labrum but also for a tear in my rotator cuff. I attempted to have the surgery scheduled only to discover that the waiting list was about 5 months long!!!! This meant that I would likely be waiting until February. I couldn't believe it. My injuries were going to ruin my 2011 season as well!!
Fortunately, one day in early October, I got a call from Kaiser and they had a cancelled appointment for mid-November that I could take. I figured that this would work out perfectly. I could have the surgery, then fly home for recovery and enjoy a long holiday break with the family. So things were looking a bit brighter until something really shitty happened. At this point, I was living in Portland, and Jared had his buddy Aaron visiting. Aaron was also a climber, and having him around (and my shoulders being decent at the time), I was monkeying around a bit, doing pull-ups and such. One night, after having had a few drinks, I crimped on a door-frame and all of a sudden I heard a popping noise. As it turned out, I tore the same pulley that had been causing the inflamation in my finger injury. It wasn't a Trigger Finger situation this time, but something worse. I was very pissed at myself. I hoped that it wasn't a major injury to the pulley, and figured that since I was having surgery on that arm, I wouldn't be able to use my hand for a few months, and it might heal on its own.
In November I flew back to SoCal to have the surgery done. It was a pretty miserable experience, but I won't go into any detail. After I came to, and found out (of-course) that it was the same story as before, plus the rotator cuff, I got picked up by Pru and taken back to Ryan's place in Altadena for my critical recovery period before my flight home a week later. Here's a picture of me the night I returned from surgery:
Ryan and Pru took really good care of me during that time, although we were shocked to discover that the doctor forgot to suture one of my incisions closed, and it was basically gaping open when we took off my bandages. I got some butterfly tape to close it while it healed. A week later I flew home to recover for a couple months before returning to Portland. I hoped that my recovery would be a smooth one (since I'd already been through it once before) and that my finger would feel better in time to climb in 2011. Would this be the case, or would I be forced to miss out on another year of my favorite activity?
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