That’s a big relief!

For those of you following the saga of my broken leg, I have an update for you.

medical-errors-cartoonIt has been 15 months since I broke my leg.

It happened on the first day of our vacation in Rome.  I have tried not to be critical of the healthcare I received in Italy, but, honestly, there were a few problems.  And, contrary to what some of you have suggested, my biggest problem was NOT a lack of internet access.  However, I won’t bore you with that.

The break was fixed with a rod inserted inside my tibia and held in place with two sets of screws.  Unfortunately, the screws were not positioned properly and for six months, the edges of the broken bone were held too far apart by the rod to heal.

The solution?  Remove one set of screws, so the bone edges could come closer together.  We did that in April 2013.  In the recovery room, I asked my doc if I needed to take any special precautions.  “No.  Use it.  Abuse it.  No problems,” he said.

It didn’t work out that way.

The rod was too long and the gap between my broken bone was still too great to allow the bone edges to come together.  Further, with the screws gone, the bone was no longer held in place.  I could no longer walk without crutches.

second-opinion-cartoonThis produced an interesting problem.  With every step, my weight went into the rod, which was bolted to the upper part of my leg.  Since the bone edges still weren’t touching, the rod ground it’s way down through the inside of my tibia.  In June, when looking at the x-rays, I noticed the rod was about to break through into my ankle joint.

The solution?  I changed doctors.

I spoke with several physicans about what to do when we have a non-union after so much time.  Most of them suggested the entire operation be redone.  This time, they would take out the rod, use a ‘scratcher’ inside my leg bone to make it bleed, and then put in a bigger rod.  I really didn’t want to do that again.

ist2_4605577-cartoon-doctorMy new doctor suggested that instead of redoing everything, we might try removing the last set of screws (the one that holds the rod tight to leg bone above the break.  He said the tibia in that region is softer than the ankle, and the rod will be able to move up toward the knee instead of down into the ankle.  I agreed and in July, we removed the last of the screws.

In October we did more x-rays.  To my relief, the rod was no longer moving downward.  To my disappointment, the bone edges, although now in good proximity to each other, were not showing signs of bone growth.  Admittedly, until July, the bones were never close enough to have done much.  However, in three months, we should have seen something.  To make things worse, I actually have a ‘butterfly fracture’ which involves more separation of the bones and is much harder to heal.

1787890-71808-set-of-different-radiation-signs-over-whiteWe agreed to give it another three months.  During that time, I asked for a ‘bone stimulator’.  This device uses electrical pulses and magnetic fields to wake up your body and get it to start generating bone matter.  (I’m glad I don’t plan on fathering any more children.)  My doc wrote the prescription and my insurance paid for it.

In the last three months, I used it every day.  I have also been walking on Marge’s new treadmill to further stimulate the bone growth.

Today was the big day.  Would the x-rays show that my bones were finally healing?  Or was it time to admit failure and schedule the surgery?

The answer is:  bone growth demonstrated.  No surgery needed.  Keep doing what you’re doing, he said.  Come back in 4 months.  Stay away from doctors in the meanwhile.

Mission AccomplishedOkay, okay.  Don’t give me a hard time for saying, “Mission Accomplished.”  I know it ain’t.  But it feels like I just passed a big hurdle and from now on, it’s much smaller steps.

Big Day.

Big Relief.

For those of you who have put up with me (and still have a few more months of having to do so), I thank you…


Our Italian Vacation

For those of you who haven’t heard, our trip to Italy did not go as planned.  On the second day, we were on a Hop On / Hop Off Bus taking us around Rome.  It was raining, so the next time the bus stopped, we decided to go down from the upper deck to the lower deck.  Unfortunately, I slipped and fell on one of the steps and broke my lower leg in two places, plus some radial fractures.

They rushed me to one of the Italian hospitals where I was admitted.  This was last Saturday.  They have a waiting list system here so I was given a bed and told they would get to me maybe on Wednesday or Thursday, although it might not be until the week after.  As a temporary measure, they drilled a hole through my heel, put a wire through it and then put a weight on the end of the wire.  The goal of all this was to keep the bones in my leg pulled apart so the broken edges did not clash together, which is where the real pain comes from.  Then, of course, you have to lay flat on your back day and night to make sure you don’t have any further aggravation of the injury.

Surgery was, thankfully, on Wednesday (only a four day wait).  It went well.  I ended up with a titanium rod inserted through my tibia (plus a couple pins to hold it in place).  The broken fibula apparently will heal itself as long as it has a nice strong tibia to support it.

To my surprise, I don’t have a cast.  Also to my surprise, my leg is very stiff (ankle and knee), and every time I get some mobility back in one part, I lose it just as fast in the other.  I have some crutches, the kind with the curved  grips around the wrists and I made excursions (hopping on one foot) to important places like the bathroom (a pure joy to be able to go yourself).

Marge has been a great help during all of this.  Providing me with moral support, canceling parts of our trip, arranging for faster return home, and much more.  We met some local people who have been terrific in helping with translation issues and transportation.  One of them even brought in some non-hospital food for us to share.

I was discharged on Friday night, and one of our new friends took us to the hotel.  He will pick us up Sunday morning and transport us to a new hotel closer to the airport.

Marge managed to get our flights changed to Monday, so we are just waiting for the flights.  She managed to get them upgraded to first/business class which is critical because I have to keep my leg elevated whenever possible.  The second I lower it in the direction of the floor, it fills with pain and starts swelling up like a sausage.  My doctor said he wrote this requirement into my treatment plan.  Do you think Blue Cross will cover it?

We have had several volunteers (Jerry, Ken, Dad and Roger) to help get us from Grand Rapids back home for which we are very grateful.  Not sure what that plan looks like but I know they were talking about it.

I am grateful for all the prayers and well wishes and good vibes being sent my way.  Thank you all for your support.  We both appreciate it very much.



Our Chariot Awaits…

Marge and I are joining Jeff and Peg for a Mediterranean Cruise.  We will be in Rome for 3-4 days before boarding the cruise ship for a 12-day trip that will take us from Italy to Greece to Turkey and back to Italy.

I tried to arrange a trip to see the ruins of Troy.  There are several trips offered out of Istanbul, but every one of them would fail to return before the ship sailed again.  Looks like my quest to explore Troy will have to wait for another time.

We also checked trips out of Athens that would take us to see Delphi (where the famous Oracle predicted the future in the Temple of Apollo).  Same problem.  We can find the tours, but none of them will get us back in time for the ship’s departure.  I have been there before, but Marge wanted to see this one.

But there will be lots of great places to see:  Rome, Colosseum, Vatican, Naples, Pompei, Herculaneum, Athens, the Acropolis, Mykonos, Santorini, Istanbul, Ephesus, and much more.  It is a good thing we have digital cameras now because I don’t think I could afford all the film.   😉

We will back in time for Trick-Or-Treating.


China Trip

Marge and I had a great trip to China (April 13 – April 27, 2012).  It is an amazing country and many of the pictures in my head were totally outdated and/or wrong.

I would like to share some of our experiences here.  The goal isn’t to produce a travel log, but rather a series of insights and observations.  First the disclaimers:

    • Our tour was with Viking River Cruises, which is first-class all the way.  Almost all the excursions were included, and we stayed in excellent hotels with excellent service.
    • The trip began in Beijing and ended in Shanghai.  Our travel was by jet between the cities except when we were on the river cruise when we were on the boat for six days.
    • The tour guides were outstanding (they worked for Viking).  Our guide particularly so; he kept us entertained and laughing and touched by his candor about his own life story and what it was like for him growing up in China.
    • We were kept busy almost all the time.  We did not have a lot of time to wander on our own.  I can’t say we saw the “raw underbelly” of China; we didn’t.

Some of the things that were absolutely impressive:

    • The streets are wide and clean and the traffic is mild by USA big city standards.  I was expecting an overwhelming number of bicycles and motorbikes, but we did not see them.  Apparently, the bikes don’t dare go on the roads and the motorbikes are restricted in the cities (at least in the big ones).
    • Everything is on a scale of grandness unlike anything I have seen before.  The streets are very wide, the sidewalks are very wide.  The buildings are all new and shiny.  Almost all the buildings are multi-story structures.
    • The buildings are unique.  They were designed by different architects from all over the world with what appears to have been a nearly unlimited budget.  They are amazingly unique and elaborate structures.  And on certain buildings, you will hear about things that had to be changed or done differently because the architect simply didn’t understand the feng shui.
    • The only duplicated buildings we saw were the high-rise condos that were everywhere.  You see clusters of 4-8 condo buildings that look the same; next to them on all sides are more clusters of condos with their own style of building.  Most of the the buildings were 10-20 stories, but a few were as short as 5-8.  These buildings were not as “pretty” because, even though they are new, the air conditioning units are installed outside the buildings.  And you often see laundry hanging on the balcony to dry.
    • We saw huge swaths of bulldozed land.  At one end, you would see the bulldozers sitting idle.  In the middle, you would see what looked like a flat tilled field full of broken concrete and other building materials.  These were the remains of the houses that used to be there.  The government has a program that knocks down your house, gives you a certain amount of money for it (a little more for larger houses), and then sends you to the bank to arrange financing for a condo.
    • Condos are build by private contractors.  You have to pay them in advance for your condo (and then hope they don’t go bankrupt and you lose your money).  The buyer is subjected to various up-sells by the contractor for extras (tiled bathrooms, American toilets, carpeting, non-toxic paint, etc.).  The mortgage rate our tour guide got on his condo was 7%.
    • Energy use is a big concern in the country.  On the outside of condo buildings you can see panels of lights.  There is one light for every unit.  If you turned up your air conditioning unit too high, then you get a ticket for over-using the energy.
      • We went into an amazing indoor shopping mall.  Surprisingly few people there.  The biggest surprise is that it was around 80 degrees everywhere inside.  The second biggest surprise is that all the posters with people modeling clothes, holding up products, etc. were all Western.
    • The Chinese people we met were very friendly; they seemed very willing to go out of their way to be helpful.  I got separated from our group once and had no problem finding someone who made phone calls to get me back to them.
    • Chinese have a reputation for very bad manners.  Things like blowing your nose (two finger style), spitting on the floor in restaurants, etc. were supposed to be common.  We didn’t see any of this.  Apparently Chairman Mao introduced and popularized these bad manners as a way of showing disregard for the rich folks.  China over the last few years told its people to improve their manners because the tourists don’t like it.  Apparently it worked.
    • It was very easy to get around with English.  Children study three subjects in elementary school:  Chinese, Math, and English.  There are more people in China who speak English than the population of England.
    • The Three Gorges Dam project (done to generate electric power) displaced over 1.3 million residents.  The government built new homes for them.  In some cases, we even saw where the government moved topsoil higher up the mountains so the farmers could continue farming.  Can you imagine a project in the USA that would move 1.3 million people?  It would never get approval.
    • Some of the older people don’t like “the new ways” and having to move.  There is a family value that says it is very good to live and die where you were born (and where your parents and grand parents lived and died).  Displacing people who believe this is hard on the people.
    • We saw a huge number of gigantic monitors everywhere.  Imagine Times Square and all the electronic screens there.  Now imagine it everywhere you go.  Some of them are government displays (like the gigantic one we saw in Tieneman Square) that carried the latest government slogans.
    • Western franchises and branches were everywhere.  You can go to McDonald’s or KFC or TGI Friday or Subway in all the cities.  You can find all the big name extra fancy stores there too.  And the GM and Ford dealerships.  They don’t discount their prices either.  But you will also see lots of non-American brands there too (lots of European and Japanese brands).
    • Pollution is a problem (and a growing one).  Half way into the trip I had to get some medication to supress an alergic reaction that had been building up since my arrival.
    • Our guide told us to be careful when buying things on the street.  He was primarily concerned about toxic materials in the products.  Avoid things that come into contact with your skin.  Avoid things that might give off odors in your home or other closed environments.
    • Religion is an interesting thing.  I know China had been largely Buddhist before Communism, but I had read that almost none of them were considered Buddhist any more.  I was surprised to see the few temples we visited were full of young Chinese people.  Our guide said most people practice a blend of Buddhism and Taoism and ancestor worship.  Somebody is going to have to do another count, because it is definitely higher than what was reported a few years ago.
    • I have to say something about the Great Wall.  You can’t climb it without being overwhelmed by the enormity of their task:  building a gigantic wall over 3,000 miles long.  It is hard to imagine the amount of work that went into this.  Up and over mountains and any obstruction in its way.
    • The government seems to understand capitalism.  They created three state banks and they compete with each other.  So do the 2-3 state owned airlines.  And lots of other companies.  Lots of the businesses we saw are locally owned and operated.
    • People work for private companies where their wages are not uniform.  Some pay much better than others.  If they get fired, they can get government assistance until they find another job.  However, there is great reluctance to doing this because it can affect your credit rating (yes, that is right).  The government doesn’t always know when you are working, but it always knows when you have drawn assistance.  Because the banks have access to this info, it can show them that you may not be credit worthy.  So people usually rely on family or savings during these times.
    • One child per family.  If you have a second one, you don’t go to jail, but you do get fined.  You could also lose your government job.  You also have to pay for your child’s schooling by yourself.  And more.  In spite of this, according to a Pew Research survey (2008), 76% of Chinese support this policy.
    • It is the male child’s responsibility to contribute to the retirement needs of his parents.  But what happens if you do not have a son?  Even having only one son to take on full responsibility for the parents can be a lot of pressure.
    • One child per family has also produced significantly fewer female children (abortion, etc.).  This changes the marriage dynamic since the guys are in competition for fewer mates.
    • Education is very important.  And it is competitive.  The kids study hard to qualify for advanced education.  Our guide told us he studied 16 hours a day to pass the entrance exam to get into high school (otherwise he would have gone to trade school – and his dad would have “killed him”).  He said the only TV he watched was the one hour news show because current events were on the exam.