Facebook reminds me that it’s been 11 years since I went for an ill-advised run in the snow, fell, and shattered my elbow. I’ve had four surgeries since—the initial one to reconstruct it, with a bunch of metal. Two to remove the metal, and one in 2016 to scrape out scar tissue. The final procedure left me bruised from wrist to armpit, but did help with the pain caused by pressure on the nerve. My surgeries were described by one surgeon as a “salvage job”. It could have been worse.
It’s not an obvious disability. The scar running down the back of my arm is noticeable enough. If you came to the gym with me, you’d likely realise the restricted range of movement, and the fact I can’t get through a workout without it giving way and dumping me unceremoniously on my nose during a pushup or a plank. Other than that, most people wouldn’t notice, given that we don’t go around comparing how straight our arms can go. That’s helped by the fact I work from home, and I can type one-handed with my right hand above my head to help my swollen fingers without anyone wondering what I’m doing.
I tell people about it, partly because along with a reconstruction that isn’t really elbow-shaped, I have damage to the ulnar nerve. That’s the nerve that runs through your elbow and controls your fingers. The last surgeon to take a look described it in my notes as “pretty battered”. Some days I don’t have too many problems with my hand, other days the brain to hand connection will briefly disconnect, and I’ll drop whatever I’m holding on the floor. I find it’s easier to explain if people already know I have some sort of issue before I drop a drink on their feet.
The ulnar nerve is also the thing that gives you that weird feeling when you hit your “funny bone”. I get weird little shock feelings like that for no obvious reason, my fingers are often numb, I keep cutting and burning them as I don’t realise I’m doing it, I wake up in the night because it feels like hot needles are running down my arm. It’s exhausting. It could have been worse, it could have been so much worse, but it is not great.
There’s likely some more surgery in my future. My main problem now is that by continuing to do sport, lift weights, and ride bikes, I’ve made a nice mess of my shoulder and collarbone trying to compensate for the wonky arm. You get two choices when you have some sort of life-changing injury. You either resign yourself to the limitation, or you just get on with it and try to find a workaround. I’ve always chosen the latter, which means I’m a lot fitter and healthier than your average woman in her late 40s, despite the wonky arm, but I’m also broken in unusual ways. I wouldn’t change a thing, but I’d like not to hurt all over.
I’m writing this down as a data point, this is where I am right now. I’d still strongly suggest that you avoid running when it’s icy.