Tag Archives: orthopedic surgeon

Flashbulb Chronicles 4 – Fear of the Unknown


The twists of my medical misadventures became even more bizarre in a saga that lasted several months and once again changed the course of my life, bringing me further into the family of my good friend Yinka Ogunro. A close confidant through thick and thin, our shared love of music has been a beacon over time. Since I met him, nearly twenty years ago, I’ve been enthralled by tales of his inventive Nigerian namesake father – an upper extremity orthopedic surgeon known by most as “Dr. O”.

1) “That’s one of the great things about music. You can sing a song to 85,000 people and they’ll sing it back for 85,000 different reasons.” – Dave Grohl


When we finally met, Dr. O spent twenty minutes trying, but failing, to dislocate my shoulder, which I had always thought was the source of my recurring pain and nerve impingement. With natural, conversational curiosity, he administered a battery of tests with the loose focus of a jazz drummer setting up his kit. He referred me to a nerve specialist, who electrically tested the nerves in my arms. We crossed the shoulder off the list and I took my films to a spine guy who set me up for a series of neck injections, which proved helpful but left me with residual pain. For this, I was given a TENS, or transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation, unit that uses pulses to alleviate pain.

2) “I can tell whether a person can play just by the way he stands.”  – Miles Davis


When I returned to Dr. O weeks later, the pain doctor had already denied that the electricity provided by the TENS machine could have possibly been connected to the constant pain now engulfing my right arm. In his first analysis, Dr. O didn’t know what to make of it. Knowing what I know now, I believe the hemangioma – a sort of vascular cluster – had always been there. But there was no way for me to know that not everybody’s funny bone shot lightning into their pinkie finger. I imagine further that all of the steroids I had taken for previous maladies had helped it gain size.

3) “People create stories create people; or rather, stories create people create stories.” – Chinua Achebe


Fitted for a brace that locked my arm at nearly a right angle, and necessitated the use of a sling. I was prescribed awful large red anti-inflammatory pills to keep jagged, inflamed pain at bay until the good doctor could get better insight into my condition. Seemingly without warning, I could be overcome by extreme jolts downward from the elbow of heat, electricity or even icy cold. There was an upheaval of every activity in my daily life as I would spastically jump at the attacks. There were frequent office visits – including sensation tests which demonstrated a significant loss of feeling down the arm and into the outside fingers.

4) “The only reason for time is so that everything doesn’t happen at once.” – Albert Einstein


As a writer, my hands have always been instrumental in processing the ideas at the heart of whatever words I may endeavor to write. First seen as black ink scribbles on loose-leaf pads of paper, the second more intensive stage takes the rotational engineering of the radiocarpal joint and advances it to the more precise gambit of the keyboard, where each finger contributes in an enigmatic flow which inherently expands and deepens what the pen began.

5) “We are not idealized wild things. We are imperfect mortal beings, aware of that mortality even as we push it away, failed by our very complication, so wired that when we mourn our losses we also mourn, for better or worse, ourselves.” – Joan Didion


I don’t know if the area in question was discovered by Broca or Wierneke, where the complications originate for my terrible issues trying to adapt from my long-established process of working to the use of dictation software as my arm became worse. The speaking, voice hearing part of my brain collided with my overwhelming dependence on music to train my focus on the task at hand. Where I could modulate pace, volume and intensity of my tunes to suit my writing needs, my voice invariably made me more anxious and unresolved.

6) “People love gentle larceny.” – Dan Akroyd


A group of us were standing on my cousin’s porch when my girlfriend pointed out a protrusion beneath my elbow that didn’t look right. It was like a push button of pain and her noticing it changed the course of treatment dramatically. When I showed Dr. O the mass, he curiously manipulated it, moving my arm into different positions, and finally suggested an MRI might reveal our culprit. Back in the tube, the arm was isolated, which kept me in an awkward position. I was, however, becoming adept at mentally slipping my mind out of my body as the machine blurrged around me – the hint of a popular country radio station fluttering beneath it.

7) “The idea of ‘Spoonful’ was that it doesn’t take a large quantity of anything to be good. If you have a little money when you need it, you’re right there in the right spot, that’ll buy you a whole lot.”  – Howlin’ Wolf


Two months before my imminent surgery to remedy the worsening situation, my girlfriend and I rescued a little black dog with smoky grey bits. He was six pounds and eight weeks old, a little dirty but full of love. Immediately, I called him “Mingus” after the composer and bass player, Charles Mingus, who’s Beneath the Underdog has been hugely influential. With one bad arm, I did my best to keep up with my new friend, fighting off the isolation that can accompany pain from an unknown source.

8) “To sit with a dog on a hillside on a glorious afternoon is to be back in Eden, where doing nothing was not boring – it was peace.” – Milan Kundera


The mass had grown into the ulnar nerve and its presence was causing all sorts of confusion. As Dr. O explained it, the nerves are like the bundles of wires used in suspension bridges and the hemangioma would have to be teased out tediously. With this in mind, he booked us a surgical center with the best optics and brought in Yinka’s younger sister, Shade, to handle the four-hour procedure with her young eyes and small hands, with which she left an elegant scar along the curve of the joint.


9) “Buildings are deeply emotive structures which form our psyches. People think they’re just things we maneuver through, but the makeup of a person is influenced by the nature of spaces.” – David Adjaye


The next year, as my eyes were beginning to fail, the problems of the ulnar nerve returned. Every couple of months I’d have another MRI to monitor its progress. Eventually, he referred me to a Radiation Therapist at the Cancer center, prohibited by the proximity to a major nerve. It remains in a happy medium near the nerve but not choking its internal circuitry and I’m sure Dr. O and the rest of the family will ask how the arm is when I see them over the summer in Nigeria for Yinka’s wedding.

10) “A kiss is a lovely trick designed by nature to stop speech when words become superfluous.”  – Ingrid Bergman

Ingrid Bergman as Ilsa in Casablanca





Flashbulb Chronicles 3 – Turning the Screws

Fresh out of graduate school, I was working on my first ghostwriting job during the summer of 2004. The research was exceptionally engaging and allowed me the opportunity to dust off little-used past coursework like Latin, German, Roman History and Legal Ethics. The return to my hometown allowed me to resume participation in my favorite regular basketball games around town. Saturday mornings before nine in Eastwoods Park near the UT campus I played with a group comprised primarily of lawyers and philosophers who I had met through the record store.

1) “For we must be one thing or the other, an asset or a liability, the sinew in your wing to help you soar, or the chain to bind you to earth. — Countee Cullen


Back at it for most of the summer, I was also in a Sunday evening game and had a couple of friends who met up during the week. A streaky jump shooter at best, I was always eager to set picks and make the extra pass. My true focus, however, was and always had been defensive with an eye towards maintaining cohesion between the five positions and feeding fast breaks off the glass. Defense consists of a lot of habits and choices, therefore the more aggressive we become it follows that our decisions are less sophisticated. And in one fleeting down court inbounds of the ball, I would become another statistical illustration of such a notion.

2) “Eternity is a mere moment, just long enough for a joke.”  — Hermann Hesse


That moment is frozen in time, the instinctual break on the ball developed over years of staying engaged with the middle foreground and its peripheral spaces, and it would live on in infamy. Everything about my play on the long pass was well executed, the jump and the timing, but somewhere along the way, I’d forgotten to account for my own landing point. The other regular game was in a nicely appointed gym; perhaps the alternating venue had my sensibilities twisted. But ultimately, there are good reasons players don’t often press full court in pick-up games. Regardless, after I broke up the pass, I had to contort my body to avoid toppling into my opponent and as I did so my right great toe met the concrete where his foot was planted.

3) “When you hear music, after it’s over, it’s gone in the air. You can never capture it again.” — Eric Dolphy


A rookie ghostwriter at the time, I had no insurance to speak of and therefore I did nothing to attend to the painfully jacked-up toe. Having experienced a pair of far simpler broken toes in the past, I kept up with ice and taped the toe for support; years later, I would realize how futile such attempts had been. Though I’d not have thought of it that way at the time, this was the formal conclusion of my basketball playing life, which had begun, in the explosive aftermath of Michigan State beating Indiana State in the 1979 NCAA Championship. The game, however, has lived on within me even though my body can never play again. And, when I watch people play, it can trigger such joy as I recall the lessons encoded in the elements of the game even during years where I relied on a cane or walker and meds to make the simplest trip to the kitchen.

4) “Because things are the way they are, things will not stay the way they are.” — Bertolt Brecht


Nearly four years later, my knees forced me into the insurance market as they began to break down (https://theflashbulb.wordpress.com/2017/01/17/flashbulb-chronicles-pt-2-to-seek-better-thoughts/). Throughout this process I lived in the upstairs apartment of a large split house, which had me up and down stairs, limping and generally putting a lot of wear and tear on my lower extremities. Between each of the knee surgeries, usually, as I was rehabbing and getting myself back into shape, that right great toe would flare up and cruelly shut me down again. When I asked my knee surgeon about the very swollen toe, she scoffed at any surgical fix and left me hopeless.

5) “Literature is my utopia. Here I am not disenfranchised. No barrier of senses shuts me out from the sweet, gracious discourses of my book friends. They talk to me without embarrassment or awkwardness.” – Helen Keller


The process of becoming hobbled was one that came along in phases and delivered me just far enough from normal to dislodge me from any consistent social strata. For years I was at the whim of the crumbling foundations of my poorly engineered body, with nothing but books, films, and music to carry my restless mind out into the world surrounding me. Reams of paper could account for myriad false starts on my own literary works, which seemed to stagnate alongside my own mood.

6) “It’s not the load that breaks you down, it’s how you carry it.” – Lena Horne


A year after my third knee surgery, we moved into to a one-story house on the Near Southside of Fort Worth. Throughout the move and ensuing six months, I’d had only a pair of flare-ups with my foot and was becoming more active riding my bike and shooting hoops solo a couple times a week. But with the New Year came a historically bad decision, which saw me walking bourbon-fueled and in wholly inappropriate footwear just over a mile in the dark of night to see the live music beckoning to us on our porch. Somewhere in the first quarter-mile, something in my foot had busted loose and all I had was more bourbon to offset the rising tide of pain overtaking me. By the time we arrived at the venue, neither my mind nor my body could stand up and there was quite literally nowhere to sit down. It was a long quiet, much slower trip home and it would be seven long painful months before I would find any sort of relief.

7) “Respect your efforts, respect yourself. Self-respect leads to self-discipline when you have both firmly under your belt that’s real power.” – Clint Eastwood


My personal purgatory became a podiatrist’s office in a strip mall, where for several months I returned only to have no cure but plenty of foam for my shoe and prescriptions for meds to combat my body’s growing revolt against the demolished and now re-broken set of bones that made up my right greater toe. X-rays were taken and I was assured that surgery was an option if it were necessary but that my sesamoid bones were shattered and would need time to recover. But alas, when these methods fell short of improving my condition, I took my business and x-rays to an Orthopedic Surgeon specializing in foot and ankle reconstruction.

8) “I haven’t been everywhere, but it’s on my list.” – Susan Sontag


Within five minutes of meeting my surgeon, I felt a deep sense of relief, it didn’t hurt that he was cool, carrying on with the looseness of the leader a big band. Digital x-rays were quite the time travel from the podiatrist’s office and as we looked at them in his spacious office I finally saw the adversary. As we booked the ensuing procedure, he explained the truth about podiatrists, “I wish those guys wouldn’t load people up with meds like this. You know they aren’t doctors, right?” I simply thought mine was incompetent but it would seem I’d fallen into a common error loop.

9) “You can rebel against everything adults say. When I want to find out what the new music is, I find out what parents hate.” – George Clinton


The surgeon broke the bones again and reshaped them so that the right great toe stood straight with the assistance of titanium screws after crookedly crowding its longer neighbor for eight years. Throughout the process, I tried my best to continue covering local music. The week before I went in I caught Loudon Wainwright at The Kessler (https://wordpress.com/post/theflashbulb.wordpress.com/45) and the week after I had a big show booked which I attended. It was a glorious night, the venue was packed and even though I was medicated and on a cane, I still found ways to dance all the same.

10) “The most merciful thing in the world, I think, is the inability of the human mind to correlate all its contents.”  — H.P. Lovecraft


A year later, I returned to have the screws removed because I could feel their heads emerging beneath the skin. As he looked over the file, he commented quite emphatically, “That toe was quite a mess,” before scheduling the procedure for his main office in Dallas. The screws come out much like one would expect with a medical-grade screwdriver and repeated ratcheting of my foot. As he set to work on the first screw, he asked if I could feel what he was doing. When I acknowledged that I could, he called for another dose of the deadening agent which he applied quite liberally before picking up his tool again.

Flashbulb Chronicles 2 – To Seek Better Thoughts


Prior to my eyes failing, I had already become well practiced in the process of degeneration, procedure, and recovery over the course of a decade. It was another of my birth defects, a pair of bipartite patellae, where the saga of my surgeries began. A dislocated knee during 7th-grade football tryouts tipped us off to the fact that the kneecap had never fused properly; rather it remained two separate bones. Most importantly, as I would mythologize later, I beat the kid next to me on the track, which had just enough of a dip in it to pop my kneecap out.

1) “In most of our human relationships, we spend much of our time assuring each other our costumes of identity are on straight.” – Ram Dass


Ten years ago, while moving a 7-foot couch into my upstairs apartment, something began to break down in my left knee. The process was intensive and involved removing a pair of posts on the screened-in porch; there were a number of casualties on the way to its final resting place at the other end of the house, including my roommate’s scraped up back and hands. Before we got the massive piece of furniture through the kitchen, my knee began to swell to the size of a large grapefruit and I remained on the couch for the next six weeks.

2) “I find that most people know what a story is until they sit down to write one.” – Flannery O’ Conner


Most of the next year was spent nursing the knee before I finally sought an orthopedic surgeon nearby to check it out. When the first x-rays came back, I commented on how the smaller chunk looked like a ship leaving the harbor of the larger chunk. The greatest concern about removing the wayward bone for the surgeon was the 7-inch incision required. Despite my waving off any issues about scars, he wasn’t sure it was a necessary procedure, choosing instead to do a basic cleanup of the damage caused by the kneecap’s split arthroscopically.

3) “Everybody you fight is not your enemy and everybody that helps you is not your friend.”  — Mike Tyson


Almost immediately after the first surgery, it was clear more work needed to be done. The first procedure had simply cleaned up the wreckage but did nothing to stymie the patella’s further separation. When I returned with a nearly melon-sized knee, the surgeon simply showed me a series of rather intimate pictures as evidence of how nicely he had cleaned out the joint. Of course, these were images taken during the procedure and did nothing to explain my body’s extreme reaction weeks after the fact. Throughout this frustratingly idle process, my options were mostly limited to reading and watching movies, which allowed my usual quote harvesting to intensify and acted as a welcome distraction from the pain.

4) “Don’t walk behind me; I may not lead. Don’t walk in front of me; I may not follow. Just walk beside me and be my friend.” – Albert Camus


After three frustrating meetings with the first surgeon, my mother encouraged me to track down Dr. Bergin – the orthopedic surgeon who had diagnosed the malady twenty years earlier. Of course, my visits became frequent because my insurance refused surgery on the knee for another nine months, which meant my only recourses were Hydrocodone and regular draining of fluid build up. So I had time to learn about a cowboy trading her riding lessons for hand surgery, which led to competitive cut riding, and, eventually, a novel she based around her experiences. By this point, I rarely left home and when I did it was with the assistance of a cane; my interpersonal skills deteriorated further with each passing month as I became more consumed by what was happening.

5) “I never make stupid mistakes. Only very, very clever ones.” – John Peel


Between the first and second surgeries, I had signed on to develop story ideas for an upstart production company. However, hovering somewhere between pain and painkillers left my mind lacking clarity and I became increasingly difficult to be around. Emotionally frazzled, I left a trail of questionable choices and confused dealings as I lived in a perpetual state of limbo. Unsurprisingly, I was giddy as a schoolchild when Dr. Bergin finally asked, “Are you ready for me to pull that thing out yet?” In less than a month, I was wearing my gown getting the low down on my cocktail by an anesthesiologist before being wheeled into the OR.

6) “You can tell how smart people are by what they laugh at.” – Tina Fey


Before I undressed, I had asked the nurses if I could take the chunk of kneecap they extracted home and when I awoke there it was like a new potato on the table to my right. That first laugh was a very long time coming – almost like seeing a defeated adversary – the conclusion of the nightmare saw a return of a more sociable version of myself. Many of my friends, even a couple of their kids, asked to see the bone, which I kept in the freezer – I would always indulge them by pulling it from the freezer and saying, “You can touch it if you want.”

7) “I am neither especially clever nor especially gifted. I am only very, very curious.” – Albert Einstein


Those three years initiated a period of personal transformation driven by the breaking down of my body. In my early 30s I expected to spread out and challenge myself, but instead, I was comparing notes with my mother about her knee replacements and researching pain management. A large percentage of my energy was spent doing mental health upkeep, at times I could trick myself by focusing like a sommelier on ways to describe the various types of pain stimulating my central nervous system. At times, it was as though the pain’s intensity overwhelmed my visual field, where I would see blobs of color. The dynamism of the pain could trace jagged electrical bolts or feel heavy and sludgy like lava.

8) “Humor is laughing at what you haven’t got when you ought to have it.” – Langston Hughes



With each recovery came a renewed sense of vigor, I bought a stationary bike to help me get back in shape. Activity during the periods of regrowth accounted for over a hundred pounds of weight loss, a curve that would fall off a cliff when a step felt a little wrong and my body would once again stage a revolt. With each new round of swelling – when gravity and mobility become far more adversarial – life moved towards an Olympic level of absurdity. I am the sort of person who refuses assistance as a way of life; many of my falls, tumbles, close calls and near misses were due to an irrational pigheadedness. But I found it helped to laugh as often as possible upon unintentionally finding the floor.

9) “The monster was the best friend I ever had.” – Boris Karloff


Only one procedure was needed to care for the issues in the right knee. Through all three knee surgeries, I lived upstairs in an old house, which meant I was hopping up and down; my bedroom was a loft in a converted stairwell, which meant I took a few tumbles. As a result, my spine had taken a beating at either end. In addition, all of the limping had awakened a big toe pulverized years before I had obtained insurance, and soon after that same toe would become an ordeal all its own.

10) “Simplicity is the most difficult thing to secure in this world; it is the last limit of experience and the last effort of genius.” – George Sand


For more than three years, everything revolved around my problematic patellae and it became clear I was missing out on a great deal of life. My friends were getting married, having children and starting businesses while I was stuck in third gear, a moody shell of my former self. At times I certainly found myself feeling despondent, but for all that was lost, I gained the appreciation of simple glories, like the moment you successfully regain a normal gait and return to walking without limitation after not knowing if such a thing were possible.