Humans do really stupid things. It really is a miracle that we’re all still here on this planet, going about our lives, raising families, when we must make at least ten stupid mistakes a day. They can be really obvious at times, like people running red lights, texting while driving and parents not watching kids… all examples of the more traditional stupid choices the fully conscious and aware make on a regular basis. Then there’s the unexpected, but fully preventable accidents which make TV shows like America’s Funniest Home Videos, such a hit. You know, the program that gives us permission to laugh and take pleasure in the pain, suffering and embarrassment of others. While an extremely successful concept for ABC, it does offer the viewer a chance to learn from someone else’s follies. In this same spirit, I thought I’d share a mistake I made, which led to the very bizarre and painful experience of literally tearing my bicep muscle off the bone. It’s really something you don’t want to try at home.
My mom loves going to Target with me. We walk down the isles, oohing and aahing at crap we don’t need, sometimes doing a coordinated dance of placing items in the cart, only to be removed by the other, as a means of rescuing ourselves from financial ruin. One particular Sunday afternoon, found my mom and I walking the electronics isle, gossiping about family members, when I made a remark regarding how cheap flat screen televisions had become. “Let me get this for you!” my mom suddenly blurted like if solving the bonus round puzzle on Wheel of Fortune. I tried replying “No really, mom, it’s okay, I have one already, I don’t need one, I was just saying…” however she immediately cut me off and did the entire guilt trip thing which she’s certified and licensed in. Yes, my mom can actually guilt you into not receiving an expensive gift, as strange as it might seem. I finally caved in and walked with my radiant and proud mother to the checkout.
After arriving home and unpacking the 50 inch Samsung Smart Television, I quickly realized I would need help mounting it on the wall. I already had the mounting hardware from the previous television, but I needed someone to hold the rectangular monster while I made the numerous audio and video connections. Not a problem. I reached out to my friend Ricky to help me out, and since he’s always there for his friends, said he would happily do so on his day off. I was set. All I had to do was wait for Thursday and the TV would be on the wall and looking beautiful.
I can be a very impatient person, especially with new toys and technology… I made it to Wednesday and couldn’t wait any longer. Thoughts of how cool this sleek new television would look on the wall were dominating my thoughts at work. It didn’t help that I started consuming multiple energy drinks which just fueled my motivation to find a way to put this television on the wall all by myself. After all, it only weighed 26 pounds, I could just hold it with one arm while making the connections with the other. Yes! That would be so easy, why hadn’t I thought of this before? Waiting for Ricky was just dumb and a complete waste of time.
I would encourage all of you to avoid energy drinks while making important decisions. The wings they give you are more akin to the wax variety worn by Icarus, and we all know what happened to him. With much enthusiasm late in the evening, I proceeded to prepare the television for the best solo mounting event of my adult life. Dehydration from the massive doses of caffeine, ingested earlier in the day, had started to set in. My arms and chest became extremely vascular, veins bulging out like some body building magazine cover, which just added to the illusion that I was some superhero and could easily complete the task without Ricky’s assistance. I lifted the television with ease and approached the wall, not taking much notice in the small entertainment center positioned below me. This hollowed square structure, with compartments for the cable converter and audio amplifier, was only about 14 inches thick, but prevented me from getting close enough to the mounting bracket on the wall.
The stupid mistakes I was making seemed to compile on top of each other, one by one. If the decision to do this on my own wasn’t bad enough, I had undertaken this task while in need of hydration and with an easily movable object in my way. In my muscle head frame of mind, I quickly decided the shelving unit could remain there. With my arms extended outward, I began reaching for cables blindly, then attaching them to the appropriate connectors once I figured out what they were for. The weight of the television started shifting as my arms began to tire of the awkward position and angle. Previously in perfect balance, the TV began to rock back and forth as the last cable was connected. “Finally!” I thought to myself as I raised the now heavy television up to the level of the mounting brackets, just a couple more centimeters and I could let go…. then it happened.
It’s fantastically bizarre when you hear a loud snapping noise, even louder than that of a large postal rubber band, and realizing it’s coming from inside you. My arm instantly gave way and the television almost crashed to the ground. The connected cables offered some support, as I abruptly lowered it on top of the boxy shelving unit. I jumped backwards from the television, as though I had been electrocuted, confused as to what just happened. I felt jolts of pain and electrical stimulation running up and down my arm as I started to walk in circles, chanting the familiar mantra of stupidity… “oh fuck, oh fuck, oh fuck…“
I was scared to look at my arm, thinking for sure I had broken a bone, it was the only possible explanation for a sensation I had never experienced. Getting the nerve to look down, my arm looked perfectly normal, except for one small detail… I had this awesome flexing bicep look and I wasn’t flexing. The muscle was curled up, almost in a ball, to the top of my right arm. I couldn’t understand it and then I noticed the pain was gone. What the fuck just happened? I lowered my arm and again no pain, perhaps it was just a bad muscle spasm I thought, I had been so dehydrated that must be what it is. I held my arm out and decided to rotate it sideways…”Oh fuck, oh fuck, oh fuck…“
The next morning I could barely move. The night before I had officially become the queen of denial and popped some Motrin before finishing the mounting job with one arm. Yes, stupid mistake number 42, I obsessively kept working on the television until it was perfectly set on the wall. But now the pain was incredible, my entire body seemed to hurt with each tiny move. I called my co-worker Nancy and asked if she could take me to the emergency room. I would however, still have to walk my two 70 lb dogs on my own, with the one functioning arm, probably one of the longest dog walks of my life.
It didn’t take long for the emergency room doctor to figure out what I had done. The dehydration pared with the awkward extension of my hobbit arms, as my friend Ricky calls them, snapped the connecting tissue of my bicep muscle, detaching it from the bone. In technical terms, this is called a complete distal bicep tear (I would later find out from my surgeon, that there was actually a single fiber still holding onto my bicep for dear life, which he easily removed with a flick of his finger). I was sent home with painkillers and a referral to see an orthopedic surgeon on Monday, which was great because I couldn’t think of anything else better to do on a weekend, since becoming recently single after a ten year relationship, being extremely lonely and depressed, than to sit in bed all day and contemplate my existence. I had been in the best shape of my life and now, according to the internet, would be at least 4-6 months before I was working out again, and even then, using very little weight. All the great selfies on my iPhone were now just a lie. Yes I know, a very shallow thought, but I was a single gay man living in a SCRUFF world.
Monday came along faster than expected and it was time to visit the orthopedic surgeon the ER doctor had referred me to. Driving was difficult since any use of my right arm would result in colorful expletives bolting from my mouth, like some form of gay turrets, but I managed to make it work. In Miami, cursing while driving makes you a better person. I parked my car and found my way through the 1970’s architecturally styled building, a first indication of what was to come. I opened the office door which revealed a large room, filled with mostly empty plastic chairs, the kind often found in elementary schools. There was a small window at one end, with a smaller than usual frosted glass door. Adorned around the window were a collage of signs, some in broken English, others in Spanish, stating many instructions such as “sign in and wait to seated“. Yes, that’s right, “wait to seated.” As I approached the window cautiously, I couldn’t help but notice the group of about ten very senior citizens, sitting in their plastic chairs, huddled closely together. They sat there quietly, occasionally whispering to each other, the silence adding to the very eery vibe of the place.
After being greeted by an emotionless receptionist and given a clip board, I couldn’t help to be reminded of the scene from the movie Beatlejuice, where the newly departed couple find themselves in the waiting room of the afterlife. I felt as though I must have been dreaming or something, maybe the painkillers were distorting reality. As I made myself seated, I began to fill out the many forms attached to the clip board and noticed something very odd. All the information on the form was in the wrong place, like address was in one spot and then city was somewhere else on the form. The broken English I observed on the wall continued within these forms and I was so taken back, began texting my sister and friend Ricky about it. In a matter of seconds I received the text message “LEAVE NOW!” and so I did just that. The receptionist finally showing emotion, a look of confusion when I gave her the clip board back and said “I’m leaving, I can’t stay here.“
I sat in my car and cried. I couldn’t believe this was happening. I had read online that scar tissue would form inside my arm very quickly, and could possibly prevent me from healing completely and or having a successful surgery. I remembered my co-worker had mentioned a sports medicine doctor her husband went to, and had nothing but good things to say…perhaps they would see me? I googled the phone number and called them, explaining my situation. I was a hot mess and I’m sure they could hear the despair in my voice. After some brief questions about my insurance, I was told the doctors would be informed of my case in their staff meeting later that day. I drove home in a confused daze, not knowing if I had a doctor that would see me, not knowing what was to become of my arm and just plain terrified of the entire situation. My arm was hurting even more and I was leaving the one place I was sent to, I was completely on my own.
I didn’t go to work on Tuesday. I was depressed as hell and the pain had worsened. Blue and purple streaks began to appear on my arm, a reminder that something was terribly wrong just under the surface. No one had returned my call and the feelings of despair began to return. I also knew there was a clock ticking, my body would try to repair this on its own, and as a result, would destroy the chances of my arm ever looking the way it used to, even possibly malformed. I was just about to begin Googling other doctors when the phone rang and I answered it immediately. The lady’s voice on the other end sounded almost angelic as she explained that the doctor’s agreed to take my case and they’d like to see me soon. When I asked when, she replied assertively “right now.“
Walking into my new orthopedic surgeon’s office was a surreal experience. The walls were covered with autographed photos of sports heroes and celebrities alike. The place was clean and shiny, complete with television and Keurig coffee maker. The forms I had to fill out were in clear and correct English, and they already had most of my information because of electronic medical records. So cool!! I waited maybe five minutes before being escorted to x-ray by a tall gentlemen that looked like a professional basketball player. He explained in great detail what he was about to do as we entered the coolest x-ray room I’d ever seen, complete with green laser patterns, carefully outlining the area of exposure. Afterwards, this very confident woman introduced herself as my “trainer” as we walked to the examination room, with even more autographs on the wall. She explained that she would be the point of contact for any questions, before and after surgery. I began to feel like a celebrity myself, my fears dissolved as I knew I was in the right place.
My orthopedic surgeon didn’t waste any time and I was scheduled for surgery that Friday. The next day I received an unexpected call from my surgeon himself, asking why I let the hospital give me a crappy MRI appointment. He insisted I leave work and get my MRI done immediately, reiterating the fact that there was no time to spare. Like clockwork everything ran smoothly, even the MRI technician was this huge muscled up Latino hotty, which definitely helped calmed me down during a severe claustrophobia incident. I was in the machine for 37 minutes, doing my best to meditate, when I became aware of how tight a space I was in. I began sweating profusely, squeezing the ball they said would get me out immediately, only to hear muscle hotty say “hang in there guy, we only have a couple pictures left…” I started screaming as manly as I could under the circumstances “GET ME OUT NOW!“
Surgery can be a very cool experience. It’s probably the only time in your life, as an adult, where you’re comforted like a little kid and pampered like a celebrity, with the drugs to boot, and it’s all perfectly legal. It’s kind of like a spa, only they’re cutting you open. Okay, maybe it’s not so cool after all, but the sedatives they give you before hand make you pretty comfortable with the entire scalpel thing. In my case, they weren’t only going to put me under general anesthesia, they were going to do a nerve block on my right arm. This involves doing an ultrasound on my neck to find a nerve, sending electricity down said nerve and hoping my right hand starts to shake violently, which it did. And like I said, I had no problems with this entire procedure, in fact the geek in me thought it was pretty damn cool. Then they said it was time to go to sleep and I slipped away into a peaceful slumber. During the eight hours or so I was asleep, a small incision was made and a hole was drilled into my bone (radius). The distal end of the bicep was threaded through, like a piece of yarn, and tied into a knot. Then a screw was placed into the hole to keep everything in place.
Whatever I just said about surgery being a cool experience in the previous paragraph, you can now discount. Surgery sucks. Everything in the Universe has an equal and opposite reaction, and coming out of anesthesia would be the opposite reaction of cool for sure. Holy shit it was horrible. My claustrophobia was in full swing the minute I opened my eyes and realized I was basically Velcroed into a straightjacket type of pose. I looked around and just started sobbing. Deep, horrible, painful emotional tears of sadness coming from inside my core. Like someone had injected me with a sadness drug that made me think of every horrible moment I had ever experienced in my life. The drive home was even worse, my friend Ricky had to restrain himself from punching me in the mouth, his type A personality being pushed to its very limits. Suddenly I began screaming for him to pull over, panicking in the car, everything felt so close to me, so tight! He reluctantly pulled over and I jumped out of the car, breathing heavily, tearing off the Velcro strips not even realizing they were supporting my still paralyzed arm. I watched my arm fall, as if in slow motion, down away from me, like a heavy piece of meat, and slam into the side of Ricky’s car. The fiberglass cast did its job though, and protected my arm from the completely delirious behavior of its owner. I picked up my arm with my other arm and held it like a newborn baby, sobbing once again as I got back into the car.
That night my mom came over and I was surrounded by friends. We watched a funny movie but I couldn’t even laugh, even when I wanted to. Everything appeared as I watching it from a third party, almost like an out of body experience, but still very much attached. The next morning, my friend Carlos arrived and walked my dogs for me. I couldn’t believe how helpless I was, but also how blessed that I had such wonderful friends and family to help me heal. For the next few days I laid in bed, unable to shower, barely able to feed myself, but at times happy that I had such amazing and extremely wealthy friends. Well not really, but I was binge watching Downton Abbey and the pain killers, when not making me nauseous as hell, made me almost believe I was there in the English Countryside enjoying tea with Lady Mary. This feeling wouldn’t last long though, and I would start to realize how alone I actually was, the emotions amplified by the very chemicals designed to prevent me from feeling physical pain.
I returned to work several days later and decided I had more than experienced life with pain killers and it was time to stop. They have never agreed with me, which is perhaps a good thing considering the horror stories flooding the news and social media these days. So that morning I didn’t take my usual dose and returned to work, barely getting anything done with one arm and a million questions to answer from co-workers. Around lunch time I began to feel run down, almost like the flu, but not as intense. This got me worried because the doctor had stressed that I should contact the staff at any sign of infection, such as fever, chills, etc. By late afternoon I was sweating profusely and decided to contact my trainer at the orthopedic surgeon’s office. When I described my symptoms I was somewhat relieved when told it wasn’t an infection, but that I was actually coming down from the narcotics. Not thinking much of it, I didn’t realize that within hours I would be experiencing something completely new to me, a full blown withdrawal.
The crying started around seven that evening. I was walking my dogs and the sweating had stopped, which was a big relief. I was about to turn a corner and suddenly began to feel utterly devastated and broken. It was like I was dipped into a bucket of pure despair. The sadness was overwhelming and tears began pouring down my face. I began to feel guilty about things that happened years prior and weren’t even my fault. These feelings only seemed to get worse as the hours went by, sadness in the purest form, almost tangible, but out of reach still. The next day at work I couldn’t keep it together. My friend Susan surprised me with a tiny little gift, a ceramic house with a bee peaking its head out. I looked at it and began to sob uncontrollably. Susan’s face was that of dismay and she responded “Don’t cry! It’s okay! It’s just a gift!” almost laughing while speaking, unable to make sense of what she was seeing. This continued for five days, the sudden bouts of tears, the horrible guilt, sense of loss and any other negative emotion I could dig from the darkest corners of my soul. My mom ended up having to stay with me, her calm and reassuring voice repeating “I know, I know, let it out, it’s okay” as I repeated the same confessions over and over again, hoping each time I would feel better. Moms are the best.
As weeks went by, my arm began to heal faster than my doctor imagined it would, being visibly impressed each time he examined me. First every week, then two weeks after the cast came off and replaced with a brace, then every four weeks, and so on. Months later the brace was removed and I was sent to physical therapy, but quickly realized it was just a regular workout with one pound weights and a guy that wanted to be somewhere else, rather than helping me get stronger. I only went for two sessions and then did it on my own, carefully monitoring my range of movement, any strange sensations and performing scar massage afterwards. I actually enjoyed this sense of personal responsibility during my healing process, not to mention the $400 in co-pays I was saving a month. With each visit to my ortho my bicep began to take shape again, the depressing formless mass slowly becoming more and more normal looking. Then one day, unexpectedly, after seeing my ortho and him commenting that he couldn’t tell I had surgery, the receptionist told me I wouldn’t be coming back unless I needed to. The journey was coming to an end.
I wasn’t able to lift my normal weight until almost 8 months after the tear occurred, and attempting to do so was accompanied by lots of fear and anxiety. I was terrified that I would tear my bicep again or even something else like a pectoral muscle. I also began to hear stories from other people I knew, whom had also experienced a bicep tear and that made me even more cautious and somewhat paranoid. For a while my arm would hurt before a rain storm, the bio-absorbable screw used during surgery having turned me into a human barometer. But that even passed with time as the screw dissolved and my bone healed from the drilling. It’s strange to look back now at what happened and recall how afraid I was of the unknown, how I thought I’d never be able to workout again, something that had become such a staple in my life. There wasn’t a lot of information online at the time, and the procedure performed on my arm was also relatively new. Only a couple years prior, the surgery involved an incision from my upper bicep down to my elbow. Now it was just a small line and a puncture wound. In the end, I was just really fortunate to have my family and friends around to help me through it, and the insurance to cover the surgery. I’m hoping that sharing this experience will help calm anyone that recently experienced the same thing, or even better, stop them from hanging a television on the wall by themselves. 🙂