Jun 19

Trigger thumb

Several weeks ago, I started noticing that my right thumb was behaving oddly. When I first woke up in the morning, I found it difficult to straighten or bend the thumb. It would flex normally for part of its range of motion, but at about the midpoint I would encounter resistance. If I made a greater effort, the thumb would flex past the point of resistance with an unpleasant (and occasionally audible) pop. Sometimes this would actually hurt. The problem would clear up after I had been awake for an hour or so, but it always came back the next morning.
Eventually, I noticed a couple of additional things. First, the problem did not disappear until after my morning shower. It was responding to heat, as an experiment with a heating pad quickly confirmed. Second, the problem was a little worse each day — flexing my thumb was more difficult and painful until it was heat-treated. I made an appointment with my primary physician for Monday, June 12. I also did a Web search on the terms “thumb”, “bend”, “straighten”, and “pop”, and found numerous pages documenting a disorder called “trigger finger” (or, if a thumb is involved, “trigger thumb”) that sounded exactly like what I was experiencing.
My doctor’s diagnosis was, indeed, that I have trigger thumb. He referred me to the Raleigh Hand Center. The earliest appointment I could obtain was for Friday, June 16. The early-morning impairment continued to get a little worse each day, and — more ominously — the problem started to flare up during the afternoon. I don’t have a heating pad at work, so I would have to get a cup of hot water from the break room, put it on my desk, and dunk my thumb in it for a few minutes.
On Friday, I went to Raleigh Hand Center and was examined by Dr. Post. He confirmed the diagnosis of trigger thumb, and explained that the first thing we should try was a corticosteroid injection into the joint at the base of the thumb, which often cures the problem. (If that didn’t work, an outpatient surgical procedure would be the next step.) I agreed, and he gave me the injection after administering a local anaesthetic. Dr. Post said that improvement might take as long as four weeks to appear, but that most patients noticed the benefits of the injection after one or two weeks.
The thumb was sore for a couple of days after the injection, but now feels fine. I phoned my father yesterday to wish him a happy Father’s Day, and in the course of the conversation we traded stories about our recent medical developments. Dad astonished me by revealing that he has trigger finger in the middle fingers of both hands. His doctor gave him steroid injections, which cured them problem for a while. But it gradually returned. The doctor decided to repeat the injections, and Dad is symptom-free again. If the cure isn’t permanent this time, Dad will undergo the surgery.
It’s interesting that we both developed the same problem at about the same time. I suppose there might be an inherited predisposition, but the causes of trigger finger are poorly understood and may be environmental. Dad and I both use computers a lot. (Dr. Post speculated that my thumb seizes up during the night because I’m not moving it. If that’s how it works, the afternoon flareups at work probably happened because my right hand was holding a mouse, which involves very little thumb motion.) In any case, we now have something new to talk about. The next time our extended family gathers around a dinner table, Dad and I can bore everyone else by comparing notes on our trigger finger experiences. And of course I can bore the readers of this blog (if any still exist) by writing about my thumb here.

Nov 03

Bland aid

A few days ago, I was cutting up mushrooms for my salad and accidentally sliced my left thumb. It wasn’t a serious laceration, but I thought I should stick an adhesive bandage on it to protect it while it heals. So I went to the bathroom cabinet to see what was available. There was no shortage of strip bandages, but they were all varieties that call attention to themselves, rather than trying to blend in. My choices were:

  • Glittery silver
  • Harry Potter
  • SpongeBob SquarePants
  • Assorted fluorescent colors (hot pink, bug-bulb yellow, lime green, traffic-cone orange)

I’ve heard that you can get skin-colored adhesive bandages, but I don’t live in a household that stocks that sort of thing. So if anyone’s wondering, that’s why I’m wearing Harry Potter’s face on my thumb today.
UPDATE: According to the official BAND-AID Story, the man who invented the product did so because his wife was a clumsy with a kitchen knife as I am.
ANOTHER UPDATE: Argh. I see that James Lileks wrote about this topic two days ago, making me look imitative and lame. But I cut my thumb before that column appeared, darn it! Is it my fault I didn’t get around to blogging about it until today? Well, yes, I suppose it is. But I have a full-time day job, and rehearsals for the play I’m in that have me getting home around 11 p.m. every night this week. Is it any wonder it took me a few days to find time to write a blog post? Lileks, on the other hand, only has to be a stay-at-home dad and do radio interviews all day long promoting his new book. And write daily blog posts and a daily newspaper column and articles for various other periodicals and websites. And produce a weekly podcast. Slacker.
YET ANOTHER UPDATE: Yes, I know you can buy pre-sliced mushrooms. They’re more expensive than whole ones. I’m trying to be financially prudent here, and if that means sacrificing a finger or two, well, nobody ever promised that being a husband and father would be easy.

Nov 22

The church menace

In case you don’t have enough things to lie awake at night worrying about, here’s one you probably weren’t aware of: you’re not even safe in church. In fact, your church is going to kill you. According to a study published in the European Respiratory Journal, church air is full of incense and candle smoke and will give you lung cancer, especially at Christmastime. Antoine Clarke points out the obvious corrective measures: “Immediately ban church-going for all children, impose a tax on adult church-goers, put health warning signs on the outside of all churches and copies of the Bible. Oh, and ban Christmas.”

Jun 03

Falling down

A couple of weeks ago, I promised to explain how the Nazis caused my almost total lack of blogging in late April and early May. Here’s the first part of that explanation.
In the spring of 1942, the Third Reich began implementing the “Final Solution” to exterminate European Jews. As a result, Anne Frank and her family went into hiding in a secret annex in Amsterdam. Anne chronicled the experience in her diary, which was saved by one of the family’s helpers after the Franks were discovered and sent to concentration camps. Although Anne didn’t survive the war, her diary was published and became one of the most widely read books in the world.
A play based on The Diary of Anne Frank opened on Broadway in 1955. The “Definitive Edition” of the diary was published in 1995, and a new stage adaptation premiered on Broadway two years later. This play came to Raleigh Little Theatre in the spring of 2004, running from April 9 to April 25. I wasn’t a part of the cast or crew of Anne Frank, but Ben and I helped build the set, which was rather large and elaborate. Striking this set would not be easy, and as the end of the run approached, Roger (the RLT technical director) sent an e-mail message to the volunteers’ mailing list, asking for as many people as possible to help on Sunday, April 25.
I went, of course; my whole family did. While Ruth and Marie helped to strike costumes and props, Ben and I joined the swarm of volunteers attacking the set. An hour or so later, he and I were working to together to remove some windows from the rear wall of the set so that they could be stored and reused in future plays. Ben was inside the set, removing the screws that held the windows in place; I was behind the set’s back wall, waiting to take hold of each window and lower it to the deck (the floor of the stage). The set’s floor was raised several feet above the deck, so I was standing on a bench placed against the rear wall in order to reach the windows.
As the second window popped out of its frame, I took hold of its sides and began to lower it. At that moment, the bench I was standing on tipped over backwards, and I fell to the deck, landing awkwardly on my right foot — which buckled, twisting inwards. As my full weight came down on that foot, my ankle bent sideways. I screamed in pain and collapsed in a heap on the deck.
Several other volunteers rushed to my aid, setting the bench upright and helping me sit on it. “Are you okay?” Roger asked. “Don’t know yet,” I gasped through clenched teeth. As fellow volunteer Asher went to fetch a cold pack from the first aid kit, I removed my right shoe and sock. The initial overwhelming agony was fading, so I gingerly took my foot in both hands and tried flexing the ankle to see if it was broken. The ankle moved normally without any of the sharp pain or sickening twisting sensation of a broken bone. (I do know what a broken bone feels like.) I found that my foot could move on its own, too, so there didn’t seem to be any major damage. The initial agony had subsided, leaving me with a throbbing ache. Asher returned with the cold pack, which I applied to the ankle. The pain continued to fade.
Looking around me, I saw that the window I had been holding when I fell was lying on the deck nearby. I called Ben over and asked him to pick it up and put it with the first one we had removed earlier. It was at about this point that I realized I had scrapes on both of my forearms, one of which was actually oozing blood. The window had evidently done that by falling on me as I went down.
After about twenty minutes, the cold pack wasn’t really cold any more, and the pain in my ankle was down to a dull ache. It was time to find out whether I could walk. I stood up slowly on my left foot, gripping a nearby cart for support, and gradually put weight on my right foot. It didn’t buckle, and there was no increase in pain. Carefully, I took a step, then another. Then I walked across the stage. The ankle was sore and stiff, but it worked.
I concluded that I had dodged a bullet, put my sock and shoe back on, and rejoined the rest of the strike crew. But I knew it wasn’t a good idea for me to do any climbing, so I didn’t try to work on dismantling the set any more. Instead, I spent the next two hours collecting, sorting, and coiling light cables — a task that I could carry out while standing on the deck.
By the time I ran out of cables, the set demolition was complete and it was time for the strike dinner. Ben used antiseptic wipes to clean my scrapes, and I thanked Asher for getting the cold pack. After dinner, we went home. My ankle was now rather swollen, but otherwise still functional. I’d managed to avoid any significant injury, I thought. But I was wrong.

Feb 04

The eyes have it

My glaucoma screening at Kelly Eye Center was today. The technicians measured my intraocular pressure (IOP) again and gave me another visual field test. They also measured my corneal thickness (which affects IOP, so you have to allow for it when comparing IOP numbers). Then Dr. Talluto dilated my pupils and used an ophthalmoscope to look through the lens of each eye and examine optic disk (the spot where the optic nerve connects to the retina). And she saw exactly what we thought she would: cupping of the disk, indicating damage to the optic nerve.
It’s official — I have glaucoma. But the disease is in a very early stage, and now we can treat it. Dr. Talluto gave me eye drops to put in one eye for the next month, while leaving the other eye untreated. This will allow her to measure how well the medication is reducing the IOP. I’ll visit her again on March 4, and she’ll decide what the next stage of my treatment will be.

Jan 26

Something in my eye

On December 4, I went to my optometrist’s office for an eye exam. I needed contact lenses to wear on stage during performances of Cinderella, and to get those I had to have an up-to-date prescription. Therefore, an eye exam. I got the prescription, but Dr. Samuels told me that one of the routine tests had produced an unexpected result. One of my eyes had a greater internal fluid pressure than the other. “I’d like you to come back in a month to repeat the test, so we can figure out whether this is a temporary aberration or a measurement error,” he said. “If it’s real, it could be an indication that you’re at risk for glaucoma.” I scheduled a follow-up appointment.
That appointment took place last Friday, and the result of the second test was the same; the difference in pressure is real. And another test showed a slight, barely measurable decrease in my field of vision — exactly what you would expect in the very earliest stage of glaucoma. We don’t know for sure whether I have the disease, but I certainly fit the classic pattern. The next step is to go to a glaucoma specialist for an optic nerve scan. Dr. Samuels gave me a referral to a specialist in Raleigh, and I have an appointment to see her on February 4.
I didn’t actually know what glaucoma was, so I did some Web research with Marie’s help. Basically, it’s a degenerative disease (usually, but not always, associated with excessive pressure inside the eye). If not treated, the disease damages the optic nerve, causing the visual field to narrow gradually over time. This leads to “tunnel vision” and eventually to complete blindness. There is no cure; damage caused by glaucoma is permanent. However, glaucoma can be treated with medication (or, in some cases, surgery) that prevents the damage from happening in the first place. If the disease is detected early, the prognosis is excellent.
As it turns out, there is a history of glaucoma in my father’s family, and it illustrates the importance of detection and treatment. My grandmother, Ruth Morris Berry, had glaucoma — and so did her father, Willie Morris. Willie’s was never treated, and he eventually became blind as a result. Grandma Ruth’s glaucoma was diagnosed and successfully treated with medication. Both of them lived into their nineties, but my grandmother didn’t go blind.
If I do have glaucoma, it has been detected very early. I know this because December 2003 was not the first time I went to Dr. Samuels to get contact lenses for Cinderella. I did exactly the same thing in December 2002, and my intraocular pressure was normal. So the glaucoma, if such it is, developed sometime during 2003.
I’ll know for sure when I visit Dr. Talluto on February 4. If she determines that I have glaucoma, the most likely result is that I’ll have to use eyedrops every day for the rest of my life. It’s possible that I’ll have to have laser surgery. But I won’t lose my sight — thanks to Cinderella, and to medical science that’s almost a century more advanced than when Willie Morris was my age.

Jan 18

Varicella zoster

Bob recently wrote about Laura’s experience — and his own, in 1979 — with chicken pox. I thought I would add my own CP story, since it’s a fairly unusual one. I contracted the disease in 1988, when I was 28 years old.
Ruth was two years old at the time, and had caught CP in the usual way, from some other kid at her day care center. She developed a full-blown case: mild fever, followed by blisters all over her body. We had been expecting this to happen; no CP vaccine was available at the time, so this was just a standard rite of early childhood. Ruth didn’t seem to mind much (at the age of two, she didn’t care how the blisters made her look, and if they itched, she didn’t complain much). A week or two later, she was fully recovered and back at day care. Marie and I heaved a sigh and turned our attention to other matters, believing that the CP episode was over.
But we were wrong. The next weekend, I developed a low-grade fever, and when a couple of small blisters began to form on my skin, I realized what was happening. I couldn’t believe it. How could I be getting CP at age 28? I didn’t actually remember having it as a child, but I had assumed that it took place when I was too young to recall. I mean, what were the odds of my having gotten all the way through childhood without ever being infected? But just to be sure, I called my mother and asked her: did I have CP when I was a kid? She couldn’t remember. “Then I never had it,” I said. “Trust me, Mom, if you had ever seen this disease, you would remember it.”
This couldn’t be happening. I was 28 years old, and coming down with chicken pox. Why hadn’t my mom ever warned me that I had no immunity against this virus? Oh, right, like that would have done any good. What would I have done when Ruth came down with it, moved to a hotel for two weeks? By that time I was already infected; the virus is contagious before symptoms develop. If I had known that I was susceptible to CP, that just would have given me one more thing to worry about that I basically had no control over. I had been better off not knowing.
By Monday morning I still only had a few blisters, but I knew that the worst was still ahead. At the time I was working at IBM on my very first technical writing contract, and of course we had a major deadline approaching. I decided to go in to work and get as much done that day as I could, before the disease forced me to take time off. But when I explained the situation to Jane, my supervisor on that project, I forgot that she had previously worked as a nurse. She asked what my temperature was, examined the incipient blister on my forehead, and said, “Go home and call me next Monday.” She knew I was going to be out of commission for at least a week.
I have read that before the CP vaccine was developed, mothers of small children often practiced a more primitive form of immunization known as “chicken pox parties.” They would deliberately expose their young children to a kid who had the disease. The idea was that, since your children would have CP sooner or later, it was better to get it over with while they were young. (This also let mothers control when their kids had the disease, instead of being caught by surprise.) In the week that followed, I often wished that my mother had done this, because the worst thing about CP is that it looks awful. Looking in the mirror, I would see my face and body covered with red, fluid-filled blisters. I won’t link to any photographs (you can search for them yourself if you like), but it looks like something out of a horror movie. And the blisters itch like mad. I used topical remedies (Aveeno oatmeal baths and calomine lotion) as much as possible, but it was still very uncomfortable. And you mustn’t scratch, because if you break the blisters, permanent scarring can result. Blisters formed on my scalp (making it impossible to even comb my hair), inside my mouth, and even in my esophagus. It became difficult to eat solid food, and painful to swallow anything. (Except milk, for some reason. I pretty much lived on milk for several days.)
But really, the worst thing about having CP as an adult is the way it makes you look, because it means you’re trapped at home. I spent the entire week in our apartment, because I knew that if I went out in public, people would scream and flee in terror. Having watched Ruth’s case run its course, I knew that this was only temporary. But it was still depressing.
Eventually the blisters healed and I was able to rejoin society. But despite my best efforts, some of the blisters did get broken prematurely, and I still have scars on my face as a result. They’re not very noticeable, but if I point them out, you won’t have any trouble seeing them. (Oh, and let me just mention that when a CP blister inside your mouth breaks, the resulting taste is nauseating. Fortunately, this only happened once.) And, of course, I still have the virus. Once you’re infected with varicella zoster, it remains in your body, dormant, for the rest of your life. It’s not contagious, but factors like stress or fatigue can cause it to flare up again in the form of shingles. So I can never be sure that the virus won’t decide to torture me some more in the future. (But I have nothing special to complain about there; virtually everyone born before about 1990 has also had CP, so we’re all carrying dormant varicella zoster around with us every day.)
Ben wasn’t born yet when this happened, but he went through the usual CP experience when he was two or three. And shortly after that, the vaccine became generally available — just too late to do me or my children any good. But, I told myself, Ben was the last Berry who would ever have CP. Future generations would all be vaccinated, so none of my grandchildren would ever have the disease. But Laura’s experience indicates that it’s not a clear-cut as that. However, as Laura’s doctor pointed out, even if the vaccine doesn’t prevent you from getting CP, it tends to result in a much milder case. So even if my grandchildren won’t be completely immune, I can still hope that they won’t have to go through what I did.
(I know that sounds self-pitying, and that’s not really what I had in mind. I realize that as medical problems go, CP is not much worse that a bad cold. And when I think about my father, who’s been dealing with much more debilitating and painful afflictions for years, I’m embarrased to be making a big deal out of a simple childhood disease. All I’m saying is, CP is NO FUN AT ALL, and I’m glad that future generations will mostly not have to deal with it.)

Oct 24

If you prick us, do we not bleed?

So I can’t give blood anymore. But a new donor has stepped forward to replace me. Ruth donated blood for the first time today. That means that while my personal contribution to the blood supply has ceased, our family’s remains unchanged. Thus is the balance of the universe maintained. Needless to say, I am very proud of her. I didn’t begin donating until I was two years older than Ruth is, and I gave infrequently for the first decade or so. As a result, it took me almost a quarter century to reach the five-gallon mark. I’m sure Ruth will beat that record.
She and I have something else in common; we’re both waiting to find out the result of our auditions at Raleigh Little Theatre this week. Ruth’s audition was for StoryTellers, an intensive workshop performance class for ages 13-18 that will perform Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead. She won’t know until Sunday which role she’ll be playing, but we already know that her initial audition (a monologue from The Never-Ending Story — the book, not the movie) got her into the class. So she’s definitely in the cast. I’m proud of her for that, too.
My audition was for Cinderella , which is gearing up for its twentieth season. Tryouts were held on Monday and Tuesday. I sang “Oh, What a Beautiful Morning” from Oklahoma on Tuesday, and it seemed to go well. I’ll find out on Monday whether I’m in the ensemble again. (I’m not in the running for any of the major roles, which is fine with me. I’m quite familiar with them from last year, and I know that I wouldn’t be a good fit for any of them even if I were considerably more experienced.) Either outcome is okay with me; if I’m not cast, I’ll volunteer for the running crew. That will still let me be a part of the show, but I won’t have to spend my evenings and weekends at the theatre for the next two months — the technical crews don’t have to do anything until the last week of rehearsals, and they don’t have to work at every show. So not being cast would be a relief in that sense. But we’ll see.
Marie will also probably be working on Cinderella. The six children playing the mice who become ponies, and the boy who plays the Young Prince in one scene, have to be supervised when they are not on stage. The traditional job title for this is Mouse Nanny (although I think Mouse Wrangler would be more accurate). The woman who has been the Mouse Nanny for the last several years is not available this time around, and Marie has offered to do it. (She and Ruth actually served as substitute nannies last year on a couple of occasions when the regular nanny couldn’t make it, so she knows what to expect.)
I’ll post updates here when the cast lists are announced.

Mar 14

Bloodletting redux

Last year, I complained that no information was available about the nutritional value of human blood. I was wondering about how to factor a blood donation into my Weight Watchers plan. (Do you get extra points for it, as you do for exercise? If so, how many?) Lo and behold, Cecil Adams has addressed this question in his latest Straight Dope column. Adams cites an article published in the journal Transfusion Medicine that includes an estimate of the caloric value of blood: 600 calories per unit. This means that a unit of blood is equivalent to 12 Weight Watchers points.
For vampires on the Weight Watchers plan, the implications are clear. My daily allotment is 25 points, so a vampire of my body weight would be able to consume two units of blood per day. Since an adult contains about five units, the dieting vampire would not be permitted to drain a human completely. But I suspect they don’t do that anyway; it would take too long. (Vampire lore is wildly inconsistent, so it’s hard to be sure about such things. Has Buffy ever established how often vampires feed, and how much blood they take from a victim?)
I want to emphasize that this is just idle speculation. I know the temptation to put two and two together is considerable, but I am not a vampire. It’s purely a coincidence that my new work schedule only requires me to venture out at night. Greg, Virgil, and Bob can testify that they have seen me in daylight, since I have lunch with them every week.
That reminds me — I need to put sunblock lotion on the grocery list. We’re almost out.

Oct 10


Twenty-two years ago today, I came as close to death as I ever have. A car was reduced to scrap metal while I was inside, and I was lucky to remain in one piece.
October 10, 1980 was a Friday, and I was looking forward to a break from the daily grind of classes and studying at the University of South Carolina. My roommate Ernest and I were going on a double date with my girlfriend Marie and her roommate Elza. We planned to go out to dinner and then see a movie (Somewhere in Time, with Christopher Reeve and Jane Seymour). Ernest was driving his Volkswagen Rabbit. I was riding shotgun, and Marie and Elza were in the back seat.
I don’t recall which restaurant we had picked for dinner, but it must have been somewhere in the St. Andrews area of Columbia, because we headed out I-126 toward Irmo. I-126 is a local expressway that connects downtown Columbia with I-26, which bypasses the city on the west. Where I-126 meets I-26, the two highways simply join and the railing between them ends. Merging is not necessary; you don’t have to change lanes or yield to other traffic. In theory, traffic should continue to flow smoothly through the interchange. But on this particular evening, it did not.
Exactly what happened is a matter of conjecture, because we never did manage to talk to the driver of the car ahead of ours. It’s possible that she became confused or disoriented. Perhaps she thought she had driven the wrong way on an exit ramp and was now headed the wrong way on the interstate, and panicked. All we know for sure is that at the point where the railing between I-126 and I-26 goes away, she slammed on her brakes and skidded to a halt while traffic around and behind her was moving at 45 miles per hour.
Ernest had two or three seconds to react — not enough time to stop our car, but enough to try to avoid the obstacle. He attempted to swerve into the lane to our left, and nearly succeeded. By the time we reached the stopped car, only the right half of the Rabbit was still in the blocked lane. As a result, the actual collision took place directly in front of me. I don’t have any coherent memory of the crash, just a vague impression of deafening noise and violent motion.
When the world stopped spinning, all four of us were still in our seats. Marie and Elza had only had lap belts, so they had been rattled around in the back seat quite a bit and would shortly develop an impressive collection of bruises. They also had minor cuts from flying window glass. Ernest had escaped injury entirely, although he managed to cut his thumb on broken glass while climbing out of the wreck. But when I tried to get out, I discovered that my right leg did not work. The femur was broken.
We later learned that a total of seven vehicles were involved in the collision. Acquaintances of ours who passed through the area afterward said they had seen the wreckage and wondered how many people had been killed in the wreck. Amazingly, the answer was “none.” In 1980, most cars did not yet have air bags, but all four occupants of the Rabbit were wearing seat belts, and they did a superb job of protecting us. No one in the other vehicles was badly hurt, either. Mine, it turned out, was the most serious injury.
As luck would have it, two off-duty paramedics were in a vehicle not far behind us, and they arrived at the scene within a minute or two. At first, they were mainly concerned with assessing our condition. Marie and Ernest had gotten out on their own, but Elza, although conscious, was confused and didn’t seem to know where she was. And I wasn’t going anywhere without a stretcher. I remember noticing gritty stuff in my mouth and asking one of the paramedics to see if my teeth were damaged, but it turned out to be fine particles of glass. My face was covered with blood, but this all came from a few superficial nicks to my face and scalp, also from glass fragments. (Scalp lacerations bleed like crazy, even very minor ones.) Even my bone fracture was a simple one — no jagged bones protruding through the skin, or anything like that.
Eventually the emergency crews arrived and began the process of removing Elza and me from the wreck. The paramedics decided that Elza was suffering from whiplash and ended up strapping her to a backboard and taking her out through the rear window. Getting me out was a little more complicated, because I was sitting in the most severely mangled part of the car, with the dashboard more or less in my lap. In the end, they had to use the Jaws of Life to pry the door off and pull me out. This involved some movement of my broken leg, which was quite painful, but they got me onto a stretcher and immobilized it as soon as possible. One ambulance ride later, I was in the emergency department of Richland Memorial Hospital, where, after a quick assessment, I had to wait for several hours to be treated. (I’m not complaining. This is standard emergency-medicine triage. My condition was stable and I was in no danger, and I’m sure they had other patients who might die if they weren’t treated immediately. The RMH staff was entirely justified in letting me wait while they helped those people.)
In the meantime, Ernest, Marie, and Elza were treated and released. Elza had recovered from the initial shock and her whiplash was found to be minor; she had to wear a neck brace for a while but was otherwise fine. But I was admitted to the hospital. X-rays showed that I required traction to move the pieces of my femur into position for proper healing. A hole was drilled laterally through my right tibia and a metal pin about four inches long was screwed into the hole. I was then moved to a hospital bed equipped with an overhead rail for hanging traction gear. My leg was elevated in a padded sling supported by ropes that ran through pulleys (attached to the overhead rail) to a set of counterweights. Other ropes and pulleys were attached to the tibia pin and to a sling around my thigh, and weights were hung from these to apply traction in the proper directions. The resulting rig looked like I had blundered into a large spiderweb. Of course, as Bob pointed out at the time, it could have been worse.
The crash had apparently broken my leg by slamming the dashboard of the car straight back into my right knee. Such an impact could certainly exert sufficient pressure to snap my femur, but no one could figure out why the knee itself wasn’t injured. As any football player can tell you, the knee is a temperamental joint that’s easy to damage, sometimes permanently. Not only was there no damage to the joint, the skin of my knee was completely unmarked — not the faintest sign of a bruise or abrasion. This wasn’t the only bizarre aspect of the accident. At the time of the wreck, Marie was wearing my high school ring, a pendant on a neck chain, a pair of clip-on earrings, and a bracelet wristwatch. All of this jewelry vanished in the crash; afterward, it wasn’t on her body anymore and none of it was ever found in or near the wreckage. Her glasses and mine were also knocked off, but both pairs were found lying intact on the roadway. Mine had several nicks where the plastic lenses had stopped glass fragments and presumably saved my eyes. (This was the only time I have ever been thankful that my glasses had such thick lenses.)
Apart from the broken bone, my injuries were minor. None of the lacerations required stitches, just Band-Aids. The last joint of the little finger on my right hand was also damaged; it was sore and I couldn’t move it. X-rays showed a tiny bone fracture and a muscle that was displaced from where it should have been. The joint would have to be repaired surgically, but this would have to wait until after traction was complete, because I was stuck in my hospital bed for the duration, and you can’t wheel a bed into an operating theater.
At first, the doctors weren’t sure how long I would be in the hospital. There was some discussion of a surgical procedure to use metal pins to put the bone back together, but the doctors didn’t want to resort to such an invasive procedure if it wasn’t necessary. In the end, they decided that it was best to continue the traction until the bone fragments were in the right positions, then put a cast on the leg, fix my finger, and send me home. But there was no way to predict how long the traction would take to set the bone. We would simply have to wait and see.
It took six weeks. During that time, I was unable to leave my bed. Obviously, this put an end to the fall semester as far as I was concerned — I had to withdraw from all my classes. I was also stuck in a hospital 70 miles from my family. They visited as often as they could, as did my friends from the campus. But it was Marie who kept me sane. She had only known me for six weeks prior to the accident, but she visited me every day, riding buses or borrowing a car to get to the hospital. She took charge of my life, bringing me things I needed, helping me straighten things out with the university, and making sure that visitors didn’t tire me out. I don’t know how I would have gotten through that experience if it hadn’t been for her.
Eventually, the bones were in position. The traction rig was dismantled, the tibia pin was removed, and a cast was applied to the leg. My right hand was then surgically repaired, which resulted in another cast that went halfway to the elbow. After I recovered from that procedure, I spent several days in physical therapy learning to walk with crutches (the right one equipped with a cradle for my forearm and a handle that my partially-immobilized hand could grip). I was finally discharged and allowed to go home the day before Thanksgiving. I had to wear the cast for nine weeks, and after it was removed, to walk with crutches for another four weeks. It was February before I was able to walk normally again.
Some effects of the crash lasted longer than the treatment. The fracture healed, but my femur now has a sizable knot in it, which can be painful if pressure is exerted on my thigh (for example, when a child sits on my lap). The surgery on my finger was not a success; instead of healing properly, the joint simply fused, and I have never regained the use of it. (Fortunately, I am not a concert pianist, so I have very little need for full mobility in my little finger.) The lacerations on my scalp and face healed, but you can still see the scars if you know where to look. (Marie also has a scar on the back of her left shoulder, where a piece of window glass left its mark.) And I have permanent scars where the pin was inserted in my tibia and later removed.
But there are compensations. Marie and I were already in love on October 10, but the custodial relationship forced on us by my hospitalization moved matters along considerably. And being apart during November and December underscored how important the relationship was for both of us. In January of 1981, I asked her to marry me, although we didn’t announce our engagement until the following year. Over two decades later, we’re still together. Would this have happened without the crash? I like to think so, but it’s impossible to know.