Aug. 30, 2017 - Alex Rosenberg
This is the story of Alex Rosenberg—one of the top youth orienteers in Cambridge, and a graduating student from CSUS. Here he describes a traumatic event which occurred during the US Interscholastic Championships, and the hard work he put into recovery so he could return to the world of sports.
Feb. 2, 2017—This is the weekend! I’m going to Texas for my second national event. Little did I know what laid ahead…
Saturday: The day of the first race—
I start at 11:51; the last one of our group. Halfway through the race and I’m dominating. I feel confident. Calm, cool, and collected. I even start thinking about giving Keegan a run for his money. Control 5 to 6. Easy enough. Just follow the fence, take a right with the fence, then take a left to a path and I’ll be there. That is what my coach Ethan said to do. Take a simple route, and hit it hard and fast. There in my path was a downed tree. I thought nothing of it, and I jumped. The next second I was on the ground, pain shooting through my arm; I knew instantly knowing it was broken.
Considering my situation, I don’t find it unusual that I decided alert nearby people of my condition: “HOLY S**T I BROKE MY ARM! HELP MY ARM IS BROKEN OH MY GOD! AGGGGGGGGGHHHHHHHHH!”
I look up from my agony, and see a fellow orienteer running her race. “Help! Please. My arm is broke”. She slowly backed away, turned, and ran off. At that moment the shock was wearing off. I decided it would be a good idea to assess my wound because I was going to die alone in the woods. I looked over, and my arm was bent in the wrong direction. I instantly had a flashback to the scene in Harry Potter where he broke his arm and Gilderoy Lockhart tried to fix it, resulting in Harry's arm bending the other way. At this point the shock was totally gone. All of a sudden there was a voice behind me.
“Are you okay? Do you need help?”
“Yeah. I think my arm is broken.”
“Okay. Can you get up?”
“Um, I don’t know”
“Can you use your other arm?”
“Oh yeah. I can.”
This boy helped me up and started walking with me to the nearest control. I made small talk and asked him his name and where he was from. I commented on the state of my arm which was hanging painfully at my side. Then I remembered I had a phone in my water backpack. He helped get it out, and I used siri to call Ann-Marie (Keegan’s mom) who said that Keegan and the US national coach would be running out to get me. She also put me on with the EMTs.
“Hey buddy what’s going on there?”
“My arm is broken.”
“How do you know?”
“You should see it.”
In the inside part of my arm I could see the imprint of bone through the skin.
“Okay then, can you describe your pain level on a 1-10 scale?”
“Bro this f***ing hurts.”
“Alright bud we’ll be with you soon.”
As we walk to the control, I call my mom and my dad to let them know what’s going on, assuring them everything would be okay. We got to the control, and I told the boy that he should continue his race. I was standing there there dealing with the pain when Adeline, from my own team, ran to the control.
“My arm’s broken.”
“Oh okay.” (Apparently she didn’t believe me)
“So how’s your race?”
Then she ran off. A few minutes later Keegan and Erin—the US team coach—arrived. They said we were going to walk out of the woods through unmapped private property to a road where we’d meet the EMTs.
40 minutes. It took 40 minutes to get to the road. We crossed unter two barbed wire fences to get there.
The EMTs weren’t there, so we walked to the ranger station. They had me sit in the main part, but they moved me to the back room, probably so I didn’t scare customers. I cracked a couple jokes waiting for the EMTs. When they arrived, they put my arm in a cardboard stabilizer and got me in the ambulance, where I was promptly dosed with morphine. At the hospital I got an X-ray and a CT scan where they confirmed my arm was, in fact, broken. They prescribed a painkiller, got me in a splint and sling, then sent me on my way.
On Monday, after I returned to Boston, I went to the doctor who said I would have surgery that Tuesday. They would put a screw in the bone that broke to attach it back to my elbow.
The next day I went in for the procedure. I don’t even remember falling asleep on the table, but I woke up with a new cast on my arm, and a screw successfully drilled into my elbow. I was released from the hospital that day, and came home to a comfy house. I curled up on the couch and watched war movies with my dad.
This isn’t bad. It’ll be a breeze.
Hindsight can be quite ironic. My week was anything but easy breezy. I was prescribed OxyContin, which is a powerful but scary drug—considering the current opioid crisis. I was supposed to take it every 4-6 hours if I felt pain. Even with all the pain, I only took one a day— generally at night—and had advil in the day. I’d like to tell you that the doctors overprescribed, and I was fine with what I was taking. I’d be lying. Constant pain durring the day, and intolerable pain at night. I’d often sleep only 3 hours. I’d also have these crazy dreams where I was in WWI fighting in the trenches. Needless to say I didn’t go to school that week.
After one week with my cast, I moved into a brace. The doctor seemed pleased at how it looked and gave me the ground rules for using the brace. Keep it on during the day, sometimes air it out, keep it on while I sleep, and take it off to shower.
Then he said, “Alright, we’ll see you in three weeks when the blood has liquified and we can see if you’re ready for PT.”
“Sweet sounds good. Hold on a sec… did you just say ‘when my blood has liquified’? As in my blood is not currently liquid?”
“Right now your whole arm is essentially in on big hematoma. That’s when the blood is in more of a gel state than a liquid one.”
Sure enough, from almost my armpit to my wrist, my arm was purple and swollen. I pushed on the back of my forearm, and it was like memory foam. There was an imprint of my finger in my arm!
The doctor also told me I needed to start stretching my arms range of motion. I tried testing it, and could only extend or retract my arm about 20 degrees. He said I should put my arm on a table, hold a can, and let gravity stretch it. I also figured I could use the locking mechanism on the brace to push my limits farther. I knew how horrible this could be, and I was certain this wasn’t going to be pain free.
Three weeks later I was back at the doctor’s. I was pumped to start PT so I could get back into normal life. This was now my obsession. It had been more than a month since I broke my arm, and I was positively craving sports. Unfortunately, I wasn’t even permitted to go on runs because my mom said I would fall. In gym class we were in our volleyball unit, and every class I would beg the teacher to let me play one-handed. Denied at every turn, I dedicated myself to getting my motion back. I would spend entire class periods grinding my teeth because I’d locked my arm brace 10 degrees more than what I could push my arm to naturally. But this wasn’t enough. At the edge of going insane, I snuck out to the basketball court—snow still melting—and I played. It was wonderous, feeling the ball on my hand; hearing the sound of the net. I don’t even play basketball, but this was a godsend. I snuck out every other day until my next appointment. I was ready.
“You’ve made tremendous progress on your range of motion. We’ll start you on PT next week just so we know you’re healed enough.”
A WEEK? I didn’t know if I could make it. The only thing that made it bearable was a definite date. I was starting in a week!
“Wow this is amazing. We don’t have to do any flexibility work. We’re going right to strength.”
Finally my hard work was starting to pay off. My range of motion was normal, and I did it all by myself. Next I was going to demonstrate how effective I’d be with real physical therapy equipment. We used stretch bands, and the therapist showed me the exercises I needed to do. I came in once a week, though I did the exercises every day. I started out with a 2-inch deficit in muscle mass in my left forearm. By the end of PT, I was at 0.5in.
I was cleared by my doctor Tuesday, May 23, 2017. I played my first baseball game of the season that Wednesday. Finally. I was back.