WHEN BONES DON’T KNIT – Marilyn Armstrong

Yesterday morning, I dropped the mouse for the computer in the bedroom. I reached down to pick it up and a pain shot through my chest, down my arm and I yelped.

I had a lot of heart surgery more than five years ago. Most of it has healed well. The thing that hasn’t healed properly is my breastbone. Surgeons split it in half when they work on your heart. Normally, it will take between 2 and 6 months to knit into a single unit. Mine didn’t knit, so it’s still a two-piece breastbone. Healed, but not knitted and held together with steel wire. Apparently, no medical technology exists that can convince a bone to knit if it doesn’t want to.

Typically, this is a problem on joints that cannot be immobilized — ribs, breastbone, shoulders, spine. And, I should mention that when one of these is broken, you discover that every single other thing in your body is connected to it. So it has been for the past two days. Moving really hurts. But only at certain angles while using my right arm.

I’m a rightie. Of course.

It seems a little better today than yesterday, but it’s still crunching with each breath I take. I can hear it through my inner ear. Creepy.

Every doctor I talked to assured me — energetically — that it would heal in three months. When after three months, it hadn’t healed, they said “Definitely by six months.”

When more than a year had passed, they shrugged, pointed out that there’s nothing they know of that will make a bone knit if it doesn’t feel like knitting. Nope. No glue. The only thing they could do is open me up and rewire me. “Why, ” I asked, “Would that improve the quality of my life?”

My doctor — my personal physician — shrugged. “It wouldn’t. Personally, I wouldn’t do it.”

It’s more than five years later, heading rapidly into six years. My chest still crunches when I breathe and sometimes pops out of place when I lift something with my right arm. It sometimes makes breathing pretty unpleasant and my right shoulder doesn’t like me anymore.

Meanwhile, I’m held together by some pretty tough steel wire. Doctors always seem so sure what will happen after the surgery. Except in my experience and for a lot of other people, it doesn’t necessarily go that way. Nerves don’t “calm down.” Bones don’t knit. You are left with a lot of weird problems you were sure were going to be gone. If at least the major part of the surgery worked, then I suppose it’s better than where you were at the start. I always want to trust my doctors because they mean well, but they aren’t me. So these days, I understand just because they believed it when they said it doesn’t mean it will happen that way.

Author: Marilyn Armstrong

Opinionated writer with hopes for a better future for all plus a big helping of cynicism.

31 thoughts on “WHEN BONES DON’T KNIT – Marilyn Armstrong”

  1. I’m down south with a bunch of other ‘mature’ folks, and the collective medical stories is enough to turn my hair white. Oh, wait, it’s white already. 🙂 Hope everything is settling down with the least amount of discomfort.

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    1. It was really intended as a warning to people to not assume your doctor knows everything. Your doctor knows more medicine than you, but your body is not everybody’s body. Things that can’t go wrong very often do, not only when you are older, but also when you are young. I guess it didn’t come off the way I meant it.

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  2. Oh painful, but the noise hearing the creaking from inside is (shuddering)really bizarre
    and I truly hope your arm does not dislike you so much that it takes a swipe at you! THe healing of bodies after surgery (trauma) is always an unknown as you have written. A bit like the medicine pamphlet that lists all the side effects, (well now many are only online) Perhaps Surgeons need a similar potential list of side effects for patients to read and then he/she would really be consenting with full disclosure. Perhaps if they did their coffers would not be so full. I for one am glad you had the surgery and feel for you that you have issues. If you had not then I may never have had the joy of reading your blog.

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    1. I didn’t have any choice about ANY of my surgeries, so regardless of side effects, without the surgery I’d have died … or been permanently in a wheelchair or worse. But they could have been a little more realistic and a little less enthuiastically optimistic. They also should have asked me a few more questions about ME. They never LISTEN to us.

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      1. That is true too, I’ve been in situations where that was the case. My hinge when broken off my ankle and they said you’ll never walk again was one situation. I had to make the best of it, and I did, but there wasn’t anything brave about it, I just went with what was.

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      1. It’s that ‘intermittently’ that’s the problem. Does it affect the strength of your right arm[s] or just painful if you lift using…those muscles?

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        1. Something is affecting the strength of my right arm. I’m not sure whether it’s a pinched nerve or a pulled ligament from years ago that I never had repaired because it seemed so unimportant. But lifting makes it worse, so maybe it’s a combination of things.

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  3. At least they added “It doesn’t mean it will happen that way” . Here (and perhaps it’s the pool of physicians available), they usually reassure and reassure and did I mention reassure that ‘all will be well…you’ll feel FINE.” After the three major surgeries I’ve had (not to mention the numerous colonoscopies and three or four minor surgeries) I tend to open a jaundiced eye at those words “You’ll feel FINE.” As you stated, they (the doctors and medical personnel) aren’t US (don’t walk around in our bodies) and so how the blazes do they KNOW? My knee surgery was an almost complete disaster. Four years almost and the damned thing still feels ‘wrong’ and hurts and swells and I still can’t bend my leg like I could prior to having it replaced. They’re on at me to have the other knee done, but damned I’m scared to do it. Because I’m 99.5% it won’t feel fine at all, and my wobbly sanity will be sunk permanently. I’m so sorry you’re in pain and that you live with that wonky skeletal problem, but really what else can we do?

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    1. I remember when they told me my heart surgery was going to make me feel a million percent better. So I said, “Oh, it’s going to fix my spine?” They looked at me like I had two heads. But the thing was, my heart didn’t bother me. I didn’t even know I had a problem. Now my back, THAT bothers me — but they weren’t fixing my back. They were fixing the piece that was essentially painless. It would have eventually killed me, but I didn’t know that. And it would have been delightfully quick, too.

      Every time I hear of a friend going in for knee or hip surgery and they tell me they’ll be back to normal in just a few weeks, I wince. Maybe if they were 20, but not if you’re well past 40. After that, the likelihood of something going wrong is close to 100%. It’s just a matter of WHAT will go wrong and how wrong it will go and how long it will take you to fix it. It’s not just bones.

      Cartilage is also hard to heal as you get older. It’s damned hard to heal when you’re younger, Bones heal more readily, but tendons, cartilage, ligaments — when they tear they have a habit of staying that way permanently. I’ve got a trick knee from an accident I had when I was in my 20s for which I never had surgery. It was a serious surgery with long recuperation and from which many people didn’t get good results. I’m no kind of athlete anyway, so I turned it down. If I was a runner or a skier or a tennis player or anything where that knee was critical, maybe it would have been worth it … but for me? It wasn’t worth the risk my knee would go from bad to worse.

      There are technically surgeries they could do on my back, but the odds favor winding up in MORE pain rather than less. I have been warned to run screaming from any surgeon who offers to do it. Apparently surgeons make a lot of money on this surgery, so they really like doing it. It typically doesn’t make the patient feel better, but the surgeon gets to buy a yacht.

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      1. That last bit about the expensive (not strictly necessary) surgery where the patient might or might not recover fully, but the doc gets to sail the world in an expensive yacht reminds me of my mother. That kind of thinking killed her. She broke her leg (shattered it really) and while they were fixing the bone (plates and screws and so forth o my!) the doc got permission from my brother to do her knee too (the knee was really bad, but she could still walk around). She did not recover from the surgery and that led to the heart attack which killed her. My brother still feels guilty about giving permission for the knee surgery and it’s been 15 years this year…

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        1. We make the best decision we can. It isn’t always the right decision, but 20-20 hindsight is very easy compared to knowing the right answer at the time. I spend a lot of time forgiving myself for making what I thought were good decision which weren’t. You have to stop beating yourself up at some point or you can’t move on.

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  4. I can’t help your bones knit, but please know I am cringing at the thought of your pain and the intruding sounds from a ‘a two boned breast bone’. I like your attitude “I might have to live with it, but I don’t have to like it..” My thoughts and prayers are with you.

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      1. I have a bone diseases, so I truly understand what you are talking about. Thankfully my pain is not constant either. The down side is it always seems to catch me off guard. I guess as in all things, we take our blessings where we find them. Wishing you many comfortable days.

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  5. I agree with your doctor that I wouldn’t go in to get your chest bone rewired. Too much risk at this point. I sure would be very careful and wouldn’t lift anything more than a pen. We look to our doctors for answers but they don’t know everything. They only can predict the norm. Do be careful.
    Leslie xoxo

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  6. Youch!!

    So sorry Marilyn. Now the permanent nerve damage in my arm from a too-tight tourniquet during elaborate hand surgery (thumb joint replacement) seems minor by comparison…(which I know I shouldn’t do).

    I hope this current flare up doesn’t plague you too long….longly?

    💜 (for your battle wound)

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