- A well-needed break
- The Trip to Elba
- The Accident
- Travelling back to the UK
- Back Home
- Dr. Robinson (Consultant Trauma & Orthopaedic Surgeon)
- The Operation
- Recovery and physiotherapy
- Split Stitches
- Top 10 tips if you break your elbow.
- Thank you
- Update: 29th January 2019 Operation
- 2 Years Later…
So I made this blog because when I broke my elbow in a very nasty accident, all the stuff online about terrible triad injuries was either focused for medical professionals, or very pessimistic and ‘doom and gloom’. I decided to try my best to get better, so I can share with others how the terrible triad injury isn’t so terrible really, and that with the right physio, diet and mentality, you can make a great recovery and go on with living your life. This blog post is quite informative in that respect- I had a pretty nasty terrible triad injury, so if I can get better and recover, I hope you can too.
DISCLAIMER: I’m not a medical professional, nor do I have any medical knowledge whatsoever. My medical experience starts and ends with a game of ‘Operation’ I lost about 15 years ago. Please consult with a medical professional before trying/implementing anything in this blog, as just because it worked really well for me, it’s best to check with the professionals if it’s the right thing for you.
A well-needed break
I sat down in the boardroom and my manager took a seat opposite me. He’d called me in for a quick word, and he looked concerned.
‘Hamzah, you look exhausted.’
I was surprised. I thought the talk would be something business related, but as he said those words, I couldn’t help but concur.
‘I really think you should book a holiday, or have some time to rest.’
Again, his words rang true. I had been working 18-hour days all year, and in the long languid summer days of July, I’d felt myself slow down. My feet would drag wherever I went, my eyes weren’t as sharp and my thought process was clunky whereas before it had been razor sharp. The reason for the extra work was a proliferation of extra circular business activities, including running a digital agency, building an app and publishing a book.
He was completely right.
‘You’re right, I’ll book a holiday. I haven’t had one in a long time.’
That night on Instagram, I saw the most beautiful beach I’d ever seen. I messaged the account and was told it was Elba, a tiny island off the west coast of Italy. I booked an AirBnB with a guy called Leonardo and found some cheap tickets online.
The Trip to Elba
So on the 23rd September 2017, I set off for Elba. It was a bit of a trek to get to, (from Pisa it was a few tube stops, a train south to Piombino, followed by a bus and finally a ferry over to the island) but after nearly a full day of travelling, I reached the island in the dead of night. Even as I approached it on the ferry it looked beautiful, the waves shimmering in the moonlight.
I checked into my AirBnB, and met Leonardo. He was great, and even gave me access to his bike to explore the island. It was around 10PM when I finally settled down in my flat, which was near Portoferraio, the commercial coast of the island. The air was humid and people were still milling around in the streets, drinks in hand.
So on the first day of my holiday, I set off for Biodola Beach, which was around 4 miles from where I was. Instead of taking a car, I thought I’d walk it, as it was super sunny.
I walked through the city, which was bustling at 11am, and picked up a late breakfast at a wonderful restaurant, with fresh prawn pizza taking my fancy.
I then walked a few miles along a dusty road, and was near the beach at around 2PM. I was sweating- it was hotter than I thought it would be.
I could see the beach in the distance as I walked along the dusty, winding road down towards it. As I was walking on the side of the road, something happened that changed everything.
You might laugh and think ‘how could you slip down the side of a road?!’…I’ve been asking myself the same question since, but the fact is, the side of the road was dusty and it was totally my fault for walking so close to the edge, anyway. And, annoyingly, my trainers may have been a little knackered.
As I slipped down this small hill, I realised that my feet were out of control- I was gathering speed at a monumental rate, and that’s when I saw it.
It was completely silent when this happened, so as I hurtled towards the edge of this small cliff I realised I might die. I’d never been more terrified in my entire life. I glanced over the edge a few feet before my feet left the rocky hill, and saw a 20ft drop onto a concrete road below.
‘Shit,’ I thought.
I went flying off the edge of the ledge at high speed and as I was falling, I remember trying to calculate whether I could land without crushing my head or breaking my leg. In the end, instinct took over and I landed squarely on my left hand with a loud crunch and thud.
The pain wasn’t actually too bad. I’m guessing it was adrenaline.
I let out a loud scream in this weird low rumbling tone I’d never heard before, and looked down. There was blood all over the concrete floor, and I could hear a car coming, too. Luckily, the cars round this end were going pretty slowly, otherwise I might have been roadkill. My nose felt weird, and I could smell this strange scent every time I breathed, it was crisp and coppery, like my head was suddenly bursting with blood and oxygen.
To illustrate how I fell, I’ve used my considerable skills on Paint to draw a picture, which will undoubtedly leave you speechless at my artistic acumen:
A taxi driver had been smoking a cigarette not far off, and in this weird slow motion, I saw him flick it and come running over, a concerned look on his face. He looked at me, and looked to the heavens, his eyes wide with disbelief.
‘You fell from…you came from…’ he stammered, looking at the clouds.
‘From the bloody cliff, I fell!’ I yelled back hoarsely, trying to muster a smile to show I was still alive.
He ran back to his car and got me some water. Meanwhile, I tried to stand. No chance. I realised blood was pouring from my mouth, and there were shiny shards all around me. My phone screen was shattered, but as I dragged it across the concrete, my body shrieking in protest, I realised it was still working.
A small wave of relief instantly dissipated when I saw my arm.
So I had landed squarely on my left hand, and I was pretty sure I had cracked a few ribs, too, as well as cut my face.
I looked at my elbow and it was totally dislocated, and the skin was pulled white to the point where the bone was just about to break the flesh. I couldn’t move it at all. It looked like something out of a cartoon, like I had 2 elbows or something.
The guy came running back with water and said ‘your teeth, your teeth are everywhere!’, but I told him it was just my phone screen shards. I took a deep breath and thanked God that I was still alive. I got scared that I couldn’t move my foot, but realised it was probably pins and needles from sitting on it for so long.
Angelo, the taxi driver, promptly called the ambulance, and I heard it wailing in the distance a few moments later. Angelo looked at my elbow and his eyes widened in shock, and I’m pretty sure he said the word ‘shit’ in Italian.
Worth mentioning by the way, that this random stranger Angelo saved my life. He stood in front of me and waved cars to go around. Many people jumped out of their cars and offered water and blankets- Elban people are truly the most kind and hospitable people I have ever met, and I have a deep admiration for them all.
Angelo made small talk as we waited, and I told him I was on holiday in Elba, although that had kind of been cut short now. I felt super thirsty so downed some water, using the rest of it to wipe blood from my face. I looked up at Angelo and asked ‘it’s not too bad, right?’ and he just smiled kindly with a worried look on his face.
Before long, the ambulance arrived (they have a different siren noise in Italy than in the UK- it’s more sassy and urgent) and a few paramedics jumped out.
One guy looked about my age, and he asked if I spoke any Italian. I shook my head and said (in my broken Italian) that I only spoke English. He switched to English effortlessly and started checking me over. I tried to move but he warned me against it.
‘Hamzah, you might not know it now, but you could have fractured your neck or back. You moving could cause injury that could paralyse you permanently.’
Damn. I stayed pretty still after that. The paramedics thanked Angelo, who disappeared before I got a chance to say goodbye. They called the hospital and got a stretcher out, putting a neck brace on me and loading me onto it carefully. I clutched my travel bag, which had my passport in it, and closed my eyes once in the ambulance. I was exhausted.
‘Hamzah, don’t shut your eyes,’ the Paramedic warned.
I nodded and waited a few minutes as we drove back to the main port. Before long, we arrived at the hospital, and I was lowered into another stretcher.
As I was wheeled through the hospital, I realised that if I had fallen slightly differently, I’d have cracked my head open, or snapped my neck. I take no credit for falling on my hand and destroying my arm- it was just luck.
A distinguished looking doctor came over and looked at me disapprovingly.
‘Ciao!’ I said brightly, smiling at him.
‘Ciao,’ he replied disapprovingly, looking at my elbow. A few more doctors and nurses joined him, and they started debating what to do.
‘Doc, could you pop my elbow back in, and I’ll be on my way,’ I said, thinking I’d just dislocated my elbow.
He shook his head. ‘No, x-ray first, young man.’
I nodded and in a few minutes, was being x-rayed. The doctor came back and said ‘torte…VERY torte. Maybe terrible triad,’, and I realised by torte he meant ‘broken’, as he was making a snapping motion with his hands.
I asked him if the damage was permanent, and he nodded. He said that they’d put me to sleep for 30 minutes whilst they snapped my elbow back into its socket, but that the pain was going to be severe.
I nodded and felt a bit nervous. Before long, I was in another hospital room lying on a bed, and was having these sticky things put all over my chest and stomach. I tilted my neck and saw the doctor, a nurse, and some guy behind them who seemed to be with the medical staff. This guy was pacing up and down worriedly, his hands on his head as he looked at me in a panic.
‘Um, why is that guy so worried?!’ I asked. Just as the words left my mouth, I felt myself go dizzy and I fell asleep.
After what seemed like a second I heard someone saying my name and I opened my eyes. My whole elbow was in a massive white cast, and the doctor was standing over me.
‘Don’t worry about him, he was just new. Your elbow was pretty badly broken, it took 3 of us!’
I smiled and decided to focus on the fact that I could have landed on a bollard or broken my neck, in which case things would have been looking very bleak.
‘Shall I go back to England now?’
The doctor shook his head. ‘No. You can’t fly for a few days because you’ve had general anaesthetic. Wait a few days and fly back, but when you’re back get this operated on immediately. Promise?’ He said, in a mock stern voice.
‘I promise, thank you doc. I have travel insurance, but how much does this cost?’
‘Don’t worry about it, we’ll get it sorted with the insurance company. Medical expenses are either free or low cost in Elba. And listen Hamzah,’ he said, looking me directly in the eyes, ‘you were incredibly lucky, you need to know that. Any other angle and you’d be paralysed or dead, so please don’t do anything stupid from now on.’
I nodded and shook his hand, and thanked the nurses too for their efforts.
The hospital kindly called me a taxi and I walked to the exit, realising it was the first time I was walking since the accident. My legs were perfectly fine- not even a scraped knee!
My elbow though was a different story. I could feel the liquid paracetamol they’d given me wearing off, and a dull, engulfing pain was spreading like wildfire down my arm. The bottom of my palm was green and yellow, but considering I’d landed on it at high speed, I’m surprised it wasn’t torn.
I got into the taxi and told him where my flat was.
‘So, you broke you arm, eh?’ the driver asked, after pointing to my cast.
‘My elbow, and I’m left handed, too.’
Suddenly, the taxi driver burst out laughing. ‘You broke your ELBOW, in ELBA!!!!’ he howled, slapping the steering wheel whilst snapping his head back and roaring with laughter.
I was a bit pissed off, but could see the funny side. ‘Yeah, I’ll never forget this one!’ I said, kind of glad as we turned into the street where my flat was.
As I stumbled into my flat, I realised I was suffering from shock. I was certain someone was going to bang the door down and steal everything. As ridiculous as that sounds, I think it probably stemmed from the fear of not being able to defend myself properly for the first time in my life.
The following day…
So I woke up the next day and groaned when I tried to sit up. My ribs were badly cracked, so I rolled over to one side and slowly slid out of bed. My arm throbbed, but the doctor had immobilised it pretty well in the cast. My lip was split and quite swollen, and my nose was a little swollen, too. I grabbed an ice pack and sat in the living room, and watched a few episodes of a show called ‘Limitless’ on Netflix (wholly recommend it).
After a while, I left the flat and found a pharmacy using google maps, where I got some cream for my lip. It was by the main coast, so I bought myself an ice-cream (which was amazing, ice-cream here just tastes like sugary ice now) and sat by the sea, people glancing at my massive cast and bust up face as they walked by. I decided I’d still try to enjoy my holiday, considering I was there for a few more days.
Before I got up to leave, I called my sister and told her I’d had a slight accident, downplaying it heavily. She sounded concerned, but I told her it was just a scrape, and that I would be home soon.
That day, I left for Biodola beach again, but this time, I took a taxi. It was really pricey, but I was fine paying it considering what had happened yesterday. I passed the place I had slipped in the taxi and asked the guy to slow down, which he did. I glanced over the edge and felt sick instantly, so he sped up and dropped me off right next to a stairway that went down to the beach.
It was beautiful, and I found a sunny spot and lay there for hours, my cast drawing lots of weird stares. The sun beat down on the golden sand, and the sound of the waves lapping against the shore was really calming. I tried to sit up but realised I couldn’t because of my ribs- I was literally forced to lie there until I could roll over onto my side and sit up. I stepped into the water tentatively and let it ebb and flow up to my ankles. After a while I grabbed something to eat, trying prematurely to lift my arm to the counter, which proved impossible.
I took a few photos for my Instagram and it occurred to me that whilst I was lying on the beach with a badly broken elbow, cracked ribs, a split lip and a banging headache, the photos I had taken made it look like I was lounging in some sunny paradise, without a care in the world. I work in digital marketing, and truly believe we just curate our lives on social media, but posting those pictures online really helped it hit home- social media is just the highlight reel, and the actual truth behind every photo is only known to the person who takes it.
After a while I went home, getting a pizza on the way back as I wandered through the streets of Elba at dusk. Surprisingly, people had left their doors open, and there were children playing in the streets. I stopped to speak to someone who asked about my cast, and they laughed whilst telling me the crime rate in Elba was practically 0%, which left me stunned.
That night was very tough, but I watched a movie on my broken iPhone to pass the time. The next day I explored the island, checked out the touristy side and walked through Napoleon’s summer house, which was fascinating. I also got a fresh haircut and shave from a guy in the island’s commercial district. He owned a shop called ‘saltymanelba’ because he loved fishing, and he was a really cool guy to chat with.
Travelling back to the UK
And then, in this colourful and warm blur, it was time to go home. I packed my bags with great difficulty and lugged my bag to the port, where I was waiting for 30 minutes. I was sweating profusely as I jumped on the ferry, people moving out of the way when they saw my cast.
The journey back wasn’t as difficult as I had imagined. Everyone was so friendly and supportive, with random people offering to hold my bag or pay for my bus fare when they saw me struggling to get into my wallet. I did at one point accidentally catch my left arm on my bag, which sent packets of hot pain all over my left side, making me feel sick. But for the most part, because my elbow was immobilised, i managed to just about make it back in one piece. I was worried though, as I seemed to be losing motion in my fingers as I travelled.
I made it to Pisa airport after the ferry, bus, train and taxi, and was in the queue when a flight attendant looked at me with concern. I made it to the front of the queue and she took me aside, and asked how long I had been in the cast.
I told her it had been a few days, and I also had a doctor’s report showing I had broken my elbow after a nasty fall. She frowned, and started checking my cast, to make sure it was sealed, and that I didn’t have some sort of hidden compartment in there. She went and got another guy, who proceeded to wipe some weird strip thing on my cast, glaring at me accusingly.
He then called another guy, and the 3 members of staff all started debating whether I should have been allowed on the flight, as I may have been carrying ‘unknown substances’. After a few minutes, I got pissed at the pain in my arm and just walked onto the plane, leaving them heatedly debating behind me.
The first time I saw my family at the airport, I felt relieved, as I had tried to ignore how difficult it had been to fly home with a big cast to lug around and only one working arm. I was asked lots of questions.
‘So how did you actually fall?’
‘How high was it again?’
‘Is that cast coming off soon or not?’
I said I’d fallen around the height of Trotsky, which is what I named my Honda Jazz. So that’s about 4/5ft. Having thought about it, the fall was nearer 15/20 ft, as I remember the weird silence in the air as I fell, which lasted a good few seconds.
When I got back home, we went to the hospital to get an X-ray. Now I know everyone complains about the NHS, but I personally think they’re amazing. It was busy when we went, but the staff were friendly and supportive.
A junior doctor came over after the x-ray and said it looked ‘pretty brutal’ and that I’d snapped my ulnar in half (that long bone leading up to your elbow), as well as destroying my radial head too, which is the socket type bit that lets you rotate your wrist. I worried that I’d never be able to box again, or perform push-ups, or (for some weird reason this really worried me) play ‘head, shoulders, knees and toes’.
I didn’t sleep much that night, and in the morning I needed help sitting up as my ribs were still pretty badly cracked. We went to the hospital for an appointment, where they cut off my cast from Elba.
I laughed as some sand fell to the floor from Biodola beach, and my arm appeared for the first time in a while, exfoliated from having the sand rub against it.
My upper arm, however, was really badly bruised, with various shades of green and purple blotched everywhere. The nurses gave me a sling, and they performed some more X-rays. I couldn’t move my arm at all, or my wrist, which was quite scary.
Dr. Robinson (Consultant Trauma & Orthopaedic Surgeon)
My doctor’s name was Dr. Paul Robinson, who was a specialist in upper limb trauma. All the other doctors and nurses had smiled at me when I’d said he was going to be looking after me, because his reputation was one of meticulous care, with one nurse saying ‘he’s one of the best, he won’t let you go until you’re perfectly fixed’.
I’d just like to say for the record, this guy is an absolute legend and an asset to the medical profession. He’s a consummate professional, incredibly skilled, and he was integral in getting me back on my feet again.
So I met Dr. Robinson, who came into the room looking very concerned. I shook his hand and asked what the x-rays had shown.
‘It’s very, very serious, Hamzah,’ he began, ‘Your ulnar has snapped, there’s shards floating around in there, and your radial head looks like it’s been cleaved in two. I’m not sure about the ligaments, but there seems to be some damage there, too. I’m going to shift some appointments and operate on you within a few days, as it’s rather urgent. If we don’t operate soon you could lose a lot of motion in your arm, and you don’t seem to have much left anyway.’
‘Oh, okay. Well I’ll be back to the gym pretty soon though right?’
Dr. Robinson shook his head. ‘It’s a very, very nasty injury, so there won’t be any gym for a while. What you’ve sustained is called the terrible triad injury, because you’ve broken your ulnar, radial head and also dislocated your entire elbow’
I nodded and thanked him for his time, slightly nervous at how serious he had deemed my injury. And since when were medical names so damn dramatic? ‘Terrible’ triad was a horrible name for an injury!
I went home and informed work that I’d fallen off a small cliff. ‘Listen, just downplay the whole thing please, it’s not that serious’ I lied to my manager, Lance.
Within a few minutes my colleagues from work were calling and texting, and although I was in quite a bit of pain, I felt blessed to work in such a brilliant company as VBD. My colleagues sent ‘get well soon’ gifts and a card, and my assistant Amelia came over later that day to see how I was. She even got Josh Widdicombe to film me a get well soon message for my birthday!
Trust you to nearly die on holiday, honestly!’ She said, shaking her head in disbelief.
For the next few days I researched the operation on Google, which was a big mistake, and part of the reason I’m writing this blog. EVERY single post on the terrible triad injury was focused on medical professionals and was essentially all doom and gloom. Some forums shed some hope on the situation, although they were mixed between ‘I have full motion back!’ and ‘I never felt my arm move again’, which was a bit disheartening.
So the day of the operation came, I packed my overnight bag and me and my mum left the house at like 5.30am to ensure we checked ourselves into the hospital for 6am. My appointment wasn’t until 11am, so I waited there for a few hours, and watched a movie on my phone called ‘Snowdon’, which was pretty decent. The waiting room wasn’t designed for sitting in for 5 hours, so I felt tired and sore by 11am. It turned out that I had been delayed a bit, so I waited another 2 hours or so, pretty much memorising the news being played on the TV (something about the £ losing its value…)
Finally, my name was called and I was taken into a room for an MRI scan. Another doctor told me that they needed to be prepared for all eventualities, so this would give them a clearer picture of what they were dealing with. I had the scan, which involved being slid slowly inside this massive smarties tube thing, and listening for about 10 minutes to what can only be described as a less elegant version of heavy metal. The doctor sat me down, frowning at the laminated sheets.
‘Um, okay so you may need a metal radial head replacement. We can’t tell if it’s just cleaved in two or completely smushed.’
‘Oh…well if I have a metal one, what’s the disadvantages?’ I asked, sighing that it just seemed to be disaster after disaster.
‘Not many…I mean you may get arthritis by the time you’re 35, and you may never be able to touch your shoulders again, but most people live pretty normal lives with metal replacements.’
For the first time I got a bit upset, as the doctor didn’t know what a gym fanatic I was, and how much I loved boxing and running.
‘Let’s hope you can piece it back together then?’
The doctor put a big ‘X’ on the arm that was going to be operated on. ‘X marks the spot,’ he said.
He then fetched some papers and asked me to sign at the bottom. It was a pretty standard procedure, as the operation had the tiniest chance of killing me, which I guess most operations do when you’re unconscious. I glanced at the contract and signed at the bottom, barely legible as I’m naturally left handed.
I was asked to change into hospital attire, and I walked down to the operating theatre with a great guy who told me all about how he used to scuba dive in exotic locations, and could have sworn he had once encountered some Godzilla type creature.
Mum came over to see me off, and she started crying, which made me a bit nervous.
‘Don’t worry, these guys are the BEST’ I said with a big smile, trying to steady my breathing.
I was taken into this well-lit theatre and lied down on a bed. An anaesthetist came over and said he’d be administering general anaesthetic and that I wouldn’t feel a thing.
‘Oh, sounds good,’ I said. I realised for the first time how terrified I was- I’d been trying to just push through, but the operation was starting to make me nervous. I hated the idea of being opened up and having my bones fiddled around with.
Suddenly he jabbed the needle in and I winced. ‘OUCH!’
‘Tell the truth to children and always lie to adults’ the anaesthetist said with a wink and a smile.
I laughed and put my head back, slowly feeling myself drift away. Was I just tired or were the lights spinning a bit above me?
Being operated on
I remember snippets from the operation itself. I woke up at one point and there were bright lights above me. ‘Shit, they’ve gone and bloody killed me’ I thought, but then Dr. Robinson floated into view, and a nurse dabbed my forehead, which was covered in sweat.
‘We’re cooking him!’ She joked, as I floated back into a deep sleep again.
I woke up again and Dr. Robinson was there with a concerned look on his face. I remember thinking that this expression was probably just the way he usually looked.
‘Was it successful??’ I croaked, my throat as dry as sandpaper.
He nodded. ‘Yes, it was successful, you’re okay.’
I floated back into a deep sleep, and the next time I woke up I remember being wheeled through some corridors, and saw my mum and dad. I couldn’t string a sentence together so I just smiled to show I was okay, which probably looked really weird.
I was wheeled into a room and spent the next few hours drifting in and out of consciousness. A wonderful nurse came to check on me every 30 minutes or so, and she made the best tea ever. I remember telling her she was an amazing person, half asleep and half awake, and she laughed. I remember mum and dad floating into view at some point, both of them discussing something that sounded like listening to someone talk underwater.
After a while they left and the nurse gave me some morphine for the pain, making me promptly vomit. I got a text from my colleagues early that morning and told them the operation was done. I remember feeling lighter than I’d ever felt, with every tilt of my head sending me into a whole new colourful world of weird light and music.
‘Everything was shredded…’
I woke up the next day and saw my arm was in a big plaster. The pain however, was unimaginable. It was like my bones had inflated and were going to tear through my skin at any second. I couldn’t move my fingers at all, and when I prodded them, I couldn’t feel a thing. It was like there was a weird rubbery thing just attached to my shoulder. My entire arm was paralysed.
Dr. Robinson came in, and said that the operation had taken about 7 hours in total, because of how serious the injury had been. He had opened my elbow up, and thankfully reconstructed the radial head with a few pins, so it would heal properly. He’d also removed some shards floating about inside my arm. So that was a big win- I didn’t need a metal radial head or any plates! He’d also pieced together my ulna to ensure it healed properly.
But then he told me something that made me nauseous. The MRI hadn’t picked up the ligament damage, and what he had found had been quite a mess.
‘Hamzah, it’s pretty serious…all your ligaments from the front and back were shredded off the bone, so I had to use sutures to get them back the best I could. That’s what took so long…it was the ligaments.’
Dr. Robinson explained to me that I’d be feeling some nerve damage because he had to move them out of the way to operate on me, but I should get feeling back soon. He pressed against my fingers one by one and I didn’t feel a thing. The only movement I had was some slight movement in my pinky. He checked me over once more and said I could go home for some rest, and I thanked him for operating on me.
I was instructed to come back in 1 week for a final X-ray, as my body needed time to recover from the operation. That week was really tough…you don’t want to move your arm too much, but at the same time you want to test it every day to see if there’s been any recovery. After a few days I could feel my fingers again, and ever so slowly, they started moving. Every day showed a little more movement, with my index finger taking the longest to start wriggling.
I was given some pretty strong painkillers, which helped quite a lot with the general day-to-day pain. One massive inconvenience though was showering- I had to wrap my arm up in a bag and shower at a weird angle, which was super annoying. I drank lots of turmeric milk to help the healing process for the wound, and also drank lots of water to stay hydrated.
So 1 week later I went back to the hospital, where they did another X-ray. When they took off the cast, I saw my scars for the first time, and the nurse had to remove some of the little sutures with some tweezers. I couldn’t help but laugh at how big the scars were…they looked like I’d been mauled by a tiger, which is what I resolved to tell anyone who asked about them.
I’d also been told I wasn’t out of the woods yet, as the X-ray could show my bone hadn’t been set properly, or the screws were causing some issues.
I was relieved though, when I sat in the waiting room, straining my ears to hear the consultant next door, who was commentating on my recent x-ray.
‘Operation has proven to be fully successful, and patient should make a good recovery within 12-18 months.’
I sighed with relief and thanked the doctor when he told me the news again in person. I asked how much extension I’d end up having in my arm, and he said I’d never ever extend it fully again, and that it would never be as strong as it used to be, but I’d be able to live a normal life otherwise. I also asked him about the ligament damage, and he said with physio and a good diet, the ligaments would repair. He said he was ‘pretty sure’ my elbow would go passed 90 degrees, but the recovery would be a slow, very painful and arduous process.
After this, my arm was put in another solid cast, which would be taken off in 2 weeks. They wanted to let the broken bones heal, but they also didn’t want something called ‘muscular atrophy’ to set in, which means your muscles start deteriorating because you haven’t used them in so long. I wanted a blue cast, but they had to put this ugly beige skin on it to stop it from moving around too much. I hadn’t done anything with my left arm for over a month at this point, so I was happy with the 2 week window.
Those 2 weeks were the slowest 2 weeks of my life. I had bought myself some playdo to keep my fingers moving, but my hand was still so weak I could barely make a dent in it, which sucked. Instead, I played lots of PS4, which I usually never got time to do, but in this case ended up helping me move my fingers, which was great. Oh, and I totally binged on Brooklyn 99, which is the BEST COMEDY SHOW EVER.
Recovery and physiotherapy
After 2 weeks, I went back to the hospital and had my cast removed. My arm looked swollen and misshapen, and I couldn’t move it at all.
My scars looked really shiny, and had mostly healed on both the top and bottom. My fingers were somewhat back, but I still couldn’t open a door or pour myself a glass of milk. The thing that disturbed me most was that because my wrist had been in a cast for so long, it had totally locked in place, so I couldn’t rotate it at all. The doctor assured me that once I started the physio, it would ‘remind’ my wrist how it’s meant to move, and the movement would slowly return.
My physiotherapist was called Pat, and she was absolutely amazing. She explained the exercises I had to do, and I made a note on my phone, adding an alarm so I did them twice every hour. At the beginning my arm didn’t move past 90 degrees, and my wrist didn’t rotate at all, so I got to work straight away.
Here’s my physio routine, which I did twice an hour, unless I felt too tired:
Squeezed a stress ball 15 times, took a break, then 12 times, took a break, then finally 8 times.
I squeezed a bit of playdo as hard as I could for 30 seconds straight.
I had a small hammer that I held in my hand and gently let fall left and then right, to loosen up my wrist movement.
I lied down and held my left wrist in front of my face, and slowly extended my arm using my right arm. I did this for 10 minutes.
I tried to pour a can of Pepsi using only my wrist. (I refilled the pepsi with water afterwards)
I got into a boxing stance and slowly jabbed in front of me with my left arm, pushing a bit further with every punch. (I did this just a few times a day)
I touched the tip of every finger with my thumb.
I extended my fingers and bent them quickly for 30 seconds
I held a squishy ball in my hand, squeezed it, and bent my wrist down, and then up, for 30 seconds.
I held my wrist down and massaged the ball of my wrist, which hurt at first, but worked well.
I put my hands together like I was praying and pushed my right hand against my left, pulling the ligaments a little.
In terms of resting my arm, the following REALLY helped when massaging it right after physio:
I used arcene oil in the morning, rubbing it into my arm and pushing against the scar tissue, which helped break it down. It also made my arm more supple and sped up the healing process. I used smooth circular motions over the scar, using a generous amount of oil every time, and focused on the stiffness just below my bicep, where it joins my forearm, so on the opposite side to my elbow.
In the afternoon I used lemongrass oil, which was AMAZING, and showed positive results within one week. It helped with my extension, loosened up my wrist and helped me extend my fingers fully. I know it wasn’t all down to this oil, but it did help make the healing process less painful and elongated. It smells lovely too, and is perfect when used in the evening before bed, as I would wake up and my arm would feel that little bit more flexible.
I also sat in my car when I could and just put the handbrake up and down, which startled the neighbours, but did wonders for the stiffness in my bicep. It was less about massive breakthroughs every day, and more about exercise little and often, so you just slowly get your motion back and feel the stiffness leave your arm.
Now at first all of the above seemed totalyl pointless. I would push as hard as I could and get no movement at all, or maybe just a degrees or two. I’d be frustrated and tired many days, and think it was pointless, as my arm seemed to have just ‘stalled’ in its healing process. But through doing my exercises every day, it very slowly gave my arm the strength it needed to move again- so if you’re doing physio and getting frustrated, just stick with it. It’s not magic, it’s just science.
I did find this process useful, as every week I got a little more movement back, but there was also pain. On the 5th day after having my cast removed, I felt like my arm was being pressed by an invisible hot poker. It was on fire, and even an ice-pack didn’t help. I called the hospital and they said it was quite natural, as the nerves were making new pathways and getting back into action. It was the weirdest contrast being in such insane agony, and a calm voice on the phone saying ‘this is totally natural, just ride it out and you’ll be fine,’. I took some strong painkillers and after a few days the pain slowly subsided, although one morning I woke up and realised I’d probably had too many painkillers, as I could open my eyes, but couldn’t move my body much.
After a few minutes though, movement returned, which was a relief.
Over the next few weeks some motion returned to my arm, and I could even sleep with one arm under the pillow again, which is such a luxury now. After another few weeks, I could drive again, but I kept my physio up to ensure I wasn’t falling behind. Pat, my physio also helped tremendously, using massage milk on my arm to loosen it up and helping me move my wrist so it gained more motion. She had a very gentle approach, but she was so strong when she was moving my arm, and every time I went to her, I learned I wasn’t pushing quite hard enough with my physio at home. She was an amazing physiotherapist, as she had this blend of being between empathetic and reassuring, but could also be very frank and no-nonsense. I had a few painful physio sessions with her, and my elbow is all the better for it. She retired at the end of January 2018, and I took a picture during our last physio session.
This bit is nasty, so if you’re of a sensitive disposition, just skip it.
So I was putting on my shirt, having gone back to work, and I felt this wetness near my elbow. I had a look and there was this tiny hole where one of the stitches had split.
Wonderful, just what I needed.
I popped into the walk-in centre and they put a patch on it, and I went about my normal day. The next day, I took off the patch and that little hole was now a gaping wound, where I could easily slip two fingers.
My stitches were opening up. I went to the walk-in centre again and they packed it with this weird woolly material made of seaweed. It essentially helps the wound heal from the bottom up and just dissolves in your body naturally. I went to the doctor every week for about a month whilst it healed, as it kept splitting open again.
Just when I thought it had all but healed, at work I swivelled in my chair, and the edge of the table collided with the scab, opening it up again. The blood spread through my shirt and I was back to square one. Due to how deep the hole was, healing took absolutely ages, as my body had to ‘pad out the active site’, which i guess means fill the bottom of the wound and then work upwards.
This was by far one of the most important aspects in my recovery. I experimented with different foods, and found the following really aided my recovery and helped my ligaments repair themselves:
Salmon fillets (grilled) – I had this once every 2 days from Waitrose.
Water – literally no coca-cola or fizzy drinks, I stuck to water as I didn’t want anything to detract from my healing.
Turmeric Milk – I had turmeric milk, so my mum got some turmeric, mixed it with warm milk, put a drop of honey in it and gave it to me. This was AMAZING for healing my wounds from surgery…within just 10 days they’d closed and scars had formed. I had a glass of turmeric milk twice daily.
Nuts and berries – Rather than snack on chocolate and sweets, I stuck with nuts and berries, which helped me sustain my energy levels whilst I did my physio routines. It also helped me stay at a solid weight during my months as a couch potato.
Chicken – grilled mostly, once a week.
Raisins – Great for slow release energy throughout the day.
fish oil – This stuff was INCREDIBLE. It tastes absolutely rancid, but the results were miraculous. The image is below, and it made my joints and ligaments really supple and strong within a few weeks. 10/10
Fruit – Apples, oranges, grapes, anything to stop me eating doughnuts or junk food, really.
After 6 intense months of the plan mentioned above, I’m pleased to say that I am pretty much back to normal, and that my elbow causes me no bother anymore.
I saw Dr. Robinson and my physio, and they were both pleased and impressed at the progress I had made, with my physio shrugging her shoulders and saying she isn’t sure how the recovery happened so fast due to the nature of the injury, but it’s testament to a solid physio routine and good diet. Before I couldn’t do my top button up or put my tie on, but now I have no problem with it, and can do things I used to like play badminton, with no issues.
There’s zero pain now, and the only minor issue I have is that after an intense gym session, the next day my elbow is a little stiff, with random pangs of pain up and down it. However, whenever I want to use a weight machine at the gym, even guys 3 times my size just glance at my scars and nervously shuffle away, which is lovely.
I now go to the gym, I box, do my push-ups, drive as I used to, randomly punch walls because I’m weird, and generally don’t even notice my injury. I ended up getting 90% of my movement back in my arm. Upwards moving my hand towards my shoulder is 100%, but downwards it stops maybe 10-15 degrees off being totally straight. When I walk however, no one can tell whatsoever. The feeling in my elbow came back after a while, although some of it will always feel a bit tingly, due to the invasive nature of the operation. The main symbol of the operation are the two massive scars, which I’ve been told can be sorted with some bio-oil, but the immature part of me just wants to keep them so I can make up stories about how I got them when random people ask.
Tips if you break your elbow
If you’re reading this and you’ve broken your elbow, I’m sorry you’ve hurt yourself. However, just keep the following in mind:
- Don’t overexert yourself too early. I tore my scar tissue and popped some stitches because I was moving too fast- let every day show small steps of progress, and have patience that your body will heal itself.
- Eat well, it makes a huge difference.
- STICK TO THE PHYSIO. This might seem like an ‘extra-curricular’ thing, but it’s the key to getting motion back. You need to teach your elbow and arm how to move again, and get those fibres back to optimum condition. Even if it hurts like hell- do the damn physio.
- Don’t feel sorry for yourself, get off your ass and stay active. The healing process takes ages, so don’t become a couch potato
- Massage your arm regularly with oils, and be patient with yourself…on some days you’ll make no progress at all.
- When showering, be super careful stepping in and out of the bath/cubicle. I nearly slipped a few times and that would have been super awkward.
- Sleep well, but make sure you don’t roll over in the night onto your arm. For me, I slept on a corner sofa, meaning I didn’t move around much and damage my arm in the night. I also kept my arm elevated on a few cushions throughout the night.
- Stay away from Ibuprofen- it has this chemical in it that slows down bones when they’re healing.
- Turmeric milk is amazing if you’re having an operation. Drink it.
- If you’re going out, wear your sling to make it evident to others you’ve hurt yourself, and if it’s cold wear one of those sport bands, as it traps the heat. I used this hot pack, and warmed it up every night to keep the blood circulating through my arm, as the nights were really cold.
I feel blessed to have escaped my fall with just a broken elbow, but feel even more blessed at everyone who helped me out along the way. A special thank you to:
- The Elban Ambulance team for such professionalism and courtesy
- The Elban Doctors and Nurses for popping my elbow back into its socket, and generally looking super charismatic
- The taxi driver who helped me with my bags on the way back to the hospital
- The random lady at the Pharmacy who just handed me lip repair cream when she saw the state of my face the next day
- The ice-cream vendor who offered me a free ice-cream when I struggled to get my change from my pocket
- The barber who I had a good chat with whilst getting a fresh cut (his shop looked like it had been open for years, and he’d just opened that week!! It’s called thesaltymanelba on Instagram)
- The random American couple from Colorado who helped me with my bags and even paid for my bus fare when I struggled to find loose change in my pocket.
- The train conductor who stopped everyone so I could get on first and not smack my cast into anything
- The airport attendant at Pisa who offered to help me board the plane
- The random girl next to me in the plane who offered to help me with my bags
- The lady in costa who gave up her seat for me back at Stansted airport
- The two nurses who plastered my cast both times, and the nurse who chased me down at full speed before I left the hospital because I had forgotten to get the cast properly secured.
- Nikki, for letting me borrow some PS4 games to keep me busy whilst I recovered.
A Special Thank You To:
- God, because He decided to give me a second chance.
- Angelo, for running over when I had just fallen splat on the road
- My mum, dad and sisters (Nayab, Tooba and Masooma) for looking after me so well and tending to my every need, from helping me off the sofa when I had cracked ribs, to making me turmeric milk at 2am when I couldn’t sleep from the pain.
- Dr. Paul Robinson for being such a legend at fixing elbows
- Pat my Physio for pushing me harder every week in how far I could move my arm
- Dr. Kate Thompson for changing my wound dressing every week and cleaning it for me.
- Everyone at VBD for their support and encouragement, during my time off and when I got back. (Big shout out to Amelia Costanzo for being such a brilliant digital marketing assistant)
And lastly, I’d like to, from the bottom of my heart, thank The NHS for being so amazingly supportive, professional and compassionate during every step of my injury. If I ever become wealthy enough, I’m definitely donating a ward to them. Screw Marvel- these guys are the real superheroes.
31st January 2019:
So today I went in to get the final screws removed from my elbow. Dr Robinson had assessed me a few months back and asked if I was happy leaving them in, but I wanted to know there wasn’t any metalwork in me. Just personal preference.
I went into hospital on 31st January, and was out by the end of the day. It was a quick operation, where they made a small incision in the top of my elbow and used a super small screwdriver to unscrew the screw.
I woke up and the pain wasn’t too bad at all, but I was sent home with a cool cast thing and one of those blue arm support things I’ve become so accustomed to the smell of.
The good news? Within a week, I had a bit more rotation back in my arm! It was sore as hell and kind of tender, but I could rotate my arm a few more degrees than I could before. I’m going to be doing my physio again and pushing hard to get more motion back while my arm heals again!
2 Years Later…
Okay, so it has officially been 2 years today since I went in for my operation. A lot has changed since then, and I feel like a totally different person, as cliche as that sounds. My personal and professional life is incredibly different, and I’m working harder than ever to achieve my goals.
My elbow? Well recently I’ve taken up powerlifting at the gym, and my arm has given me no trouble at all. Today it was push-ups, pull-ups and deadlifts in the gym, and I honestly felt stronger and faster than ever.
I have no pain at all, and my movement and rotation has returned to about 98% of what it was before. Considering I was hyper-flexible anyway, this means pretty much a straight arm entirely. I don’t notice my elbow during the day or night, and my preferred arm has now returned to being my left again. It took time, but my previous strength, flexibility and endurance has pretty much returned.
Because of the power-lifting, diet and the physio, my arm is now stronger than it has ever been, even before the accident. For a while I didn’t trust it not to give way when I exercised with weights, but now I treat it just like I used to, and it never lets me down.
Oh, and whenever I’m waiting for someone to get off a machine in the gym, I just very casually run my hand through my hair and they glance at my scars and nervously walk away, which is pretty convenient, because I genuinely wouldn’t stand a chance against most the massive lads I work out with.
I feel insanely blessed that this was my outcome, because I can imagine scenarios where I landed on my neck, broke my back, shattered my hip or even worse. I’ve realised the biggest blessings in the universe are faith and patience. Together they can defeat any barrier.
I do have scary flashbacks sometimes, especially when I’m standing somewhere high, or look up at a tall building, but I’ve learned to steady myself and take a deep breath.
On a personal level, I’ve truly realised those who care by the people who asked about my arm, and were concerned when I was in pain. It was a great insight into friends who actually actively made an effort rather than send me supportive memes now and again.
On a professional level, because I’ve pushed myself through this, the business world doesn’t daunt me anymore. I have the confidence to launch new businesses, create new products and build my companies with passion, courage and focus. My accident helped me realise this, because when I was falling, and totally out of control of everything, I realised every other seemingly impossible situation in my life had been solvable with a bit of perseverance.
The insane pain I felt during the fall, the operation, recovery and physio has really conditioned me to keep on going through discomfort, and now when I hit a barrier, I naturally want to keep on going, because I know there’s a positive outcome on the other side of pain. My businesses are more successful than ever, by the Grace of God, and my company now employs 25 people worldwide.
I’m also utterly unfazed by investors, big clients and fellow entrepreneurs…not because I don’t respect them, but because when anyone tries to intimidate me, I just think back to the feeling I had when I was splattered on the bottom of a cliffside in Italy, utterly alone. If I got through that, nothing else can break me. I’m also more open with my heart, because I realised that for all the worldly successes, if I had died and not shared my heart with those who matter, it would all be for shit anyway. So now although I’m generally a bit quieter, I know the people I would give the time of day to.
Oh, and for those who are fantasy fans, I’ve also published a book! It’s called Arias Archer & the Shadow Cloak, and it’s a dark fantasy about a brother and sister who find themselves stranded in a fantasy world called Falasia. It has 5* reviews, and if you love Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings or Narnia, definitely give it a go. 🙂