I am going to write several posts on dealing with a traumatic on the job injury and my experience with Workman’s Comp. I am also going to talk about facing the end of a 20 year Truck Driving career, and the overwhelming problem of trying to figure out what new career to start at the age of 44 when you have heavy physical limitations.
On November 19, 2008 the day was going well. I had dropped and hooked in Orange, TX and was in Avondale, LA. I was going to drop that trailer and grab one going back to Pascagoula, MS. It was getting close to shift change and there were not many people around. I couldn’t drop my trailer by the steel office so I had to move around to the main road into the yard to drop. I loosened the binders and was on the last one at the front of the trailer. I am not real sure what happened next, but I felt myself falling from 7 to 8 feet in the air……head first, off the trailer. I tried to stop the fall, but couldn’t grab onto anything. As the asphalt came rushing closer to my face, I remember thinking, “Oh shit, this is going to hurt!”
I don’t remember putting my hands out to break the fall, but I guess I did, because as I lay there, not only did my face hurt, but my wrist were in great pain. I yelled, “Oh God, somebody please help me!” I could feel the blood pouring down my face and I could not see out of my left eye. I was scared to move! One thing I learned through a first aid class in college, and the training in Iraq, was to not move anyone with a possible neck or head injury. People rushed up to me. I remember many faces coming into my line of sight and them telling me to not move. I cried and asked, “How bad is my face?”, “how messed up are my wrist?”
The NGSS emergency people arrived, cut the glove off my right hand and tried to get the left, but it hurt to much and I screamed in pain and begged them to stop. Finally they immobilized my wrist. Every time they touched my arms I screamed in pain! It was the worst pain I have ever felt!! They put me in a neck brace, onto a back board, then on a gurney and loaded me into their ambulance. They cleaned the blood from my left eye just to have it fill again. My mind was reeling! I knew my face and my wrist were messed up really bad even though they kept telling me that it wasn’t. Tally, one of the guys from NGSS Transportation, told me that they had called Vern, my dispatcher, and would take care of my truck.
The NGSS ambulance took me to the front gate where the local ambulance picked me up and we started the long ride to the hospital. I asked how long the ride was after being in the ambulance for a few minuets and was told about 10 minuets. They couldn’t get an IV in my arm because of how the guys at the shipyard had immobilized my arms. The ride seemed like it was hours long even though I know it wasn’t.
Once at the ER, they went to work on me. I asked them to get my cell phones and call my Dad and a trucker friend, Walter. Both wanted more information than the nurse could give them at the moment. I don’t remember everything that happened in the ER. I remember a doctor telling me that I had a broken nose and he was going to stitch up my face. I got 5 stitches in my nose, one above my lip and 4 near the hair line of my forehead. The doctor told me that I had a hole in my forehead. That sucked and made me worry about how big of a hole it was. I barely remember them doing x-rays and a CAT scan. The only reason I remember the CAT scan is that they kept bumping my arms on the tube as they moved me into it. I guess somewhere in all the commotion they had gotten an IV in my right arm and given me pain killers.
I was told that they would set my nose in about 10 days and I would be having surgery on my wrist the next day. When I asked how bad my wrists were they told me that they were both shattered. I asked how many brakes and could I see the x-rays. I was told they couldn’t show me the x-ray and they wouldn’t give me a number. They just kept saying that they were shattered!
I was taken to my room and later that evening my Dad showed up. I was given the news that my surgery would not happen till Friday. I cried. I didn’t want to be in pain any more. I wanted my wrist fixed! I knew that once I had surgery, I would feel better and could start healing. I was in great pain and every time they took my blood pressure, it was high, way high! I was asking for something for the pain long before they could give me anything. I cried, I bawled like a baby.
Friday morning they did my surgery and I woke to pins in my hands and arms with external fixators and my wrists were wrapped with ace bandages. As my hands and wrist would swell, the tighter they got. Once again, I was in great pain, but from the pressure and no matter what I did I couldn’t get it to go down or to stop hurting. The nurses would not call my doctor when I asked them too and that added to the stress. I know it had to be hard on my Dad to sit in the hospital room and listen to me cry in great pain for several days. On Sunday, the surgeon came in and took off the bandages. What a relief! The pain eased right away and on Monday afternoon I was released from the hospital!
My Dad rigged things up so that I could do most things for myself. I had microwave meals and finger food. Dad had to come over and open my front door each morning because I could not turn the door knob. We went shopping and I picked up some clothes that I could get on and off myself. We got small containers that I could handle and he filled them up each morning for me. I did a lot of sleeping because the Percocet they gave me for the pain, knocked me out. I also fought infection in the pin sites for the full 10 weeks that I had them. I was board out of my mind and got depressed at times because I could not do much for myself. The feeling of being helpless is over whelming and depressing for someone such as me that is used to being very active.
I just about had my self weaned off the Percocet when I had surgery on my broken nose in January. He put me back on the Percocet since that was what I was already taking. Two weeks later he removed the 2 ½ inch long splints that he had put in both sides of the septum. When he removed them it felt like he was pulling my brains out my nose and I screamed and cried like a baby. Once again I started weaning myself off the pain killers. He told me that fixing the septum had straightened my nose but that I would have to see a plastic surgeon for the scars.
On January 30, 2009 Dr Waguespack removed the pins and fixators from my wrists and once again I was back on the Percocet. Each time I had to wean myself off the pain killers was worse than the time before. I went through painful withdrawal symptoms that made me sick to my stomach and greatly depressed. Some days I would just curl up on the couch and cry off and on all day.
It has now been a little over a year since my fall off the flatbed and Dr Waguespack told me at my last appointment, October 19, 2009 that my right wrist bones are 100% healed and the left are 90 to 95% healed. She also said that I am at MMI, maximum medical improvement. There is still the issue of not being able to lift anything more than about 20 lbs and the almost constant pain I have when using my hands for any length of time. (This story was written over several days due to pain when typing for long periods.) The doctor did not give me a disability rating yet, but she says that my limitations are: no lifting of anything over 20 lbs and no tedious or repetitive work with the hands or wrist.
I told her that the Vicodin that she has me on for pain is not working any more. Instead of taking it every 6 hours on days that I hurt badly, I have to take it every 3 to 4 hours to get it to dull the pain. Since the weather has turned cold, I have been taking it every day. She put me on Celebrex twice a day and told me to continue the Vicodin for days that the pain is really bad. I see her again in January 2010 for medication refills.
I got a second opinion in October and his findings were the same. He suggested I get a FCE, Functional Capacity Evaluation, but Dr Waguespack says that I do not need it. She told Angela, the Workman’s Comp field nurse, to give her a list of jobs that they will retrain me for that I am interested in doing and she will tell them if I can do it or not. Angela wanted me to see a hand specialist and I agreed to go. That was the third opinion.
While Angela was getting approval for me to see a hand specialist, Dr George, in the New Orleans area, I had surgery on the scars on my nose November 2, 2009. Dr Miller, the plastic surgeon, said that this surgery would only reduce the appearance of the scars, not remove them. I went into the surgery with great hopes and anxiety. The stitches were left in for about a week. When he removed them I was very please with the looks of the scar on the bridge of my nose but not to happy with the one toward the end. It looked better before the surgery, but I won’t complain. Having the scar on the bridge of my nose look as good as it does now is a blessing. It looked very bad before. Luckily, after the plastic surgery, Dr Miller didn’t give me Percocet or Vicodin. He gave me Lorocet. I am still worried about becoming addicted to the pain pills and the problems that will bring if I do.
I had an appointment with the hand specialist, Dr George, on December 3, 2009. Unlike the second opinion, Dr George took his own x-rays. When he walked into the room he looked at them as he made his greetings. Then he said, “I can see the damage”, as he sat down, and asked me why I was there. Angela and I told him that we wanted a second opinion and we briefed him on what has been done so far. He told me that doing surgery on them would not benefit me enough to be worth it. That is when he gave me news that to this day, makes my stomach catch when I think of it. My radius bones have healed at an angle, the right at 5% and the left at 10%. He went on to tell me that he would have put plates and screws in to make sure the bones would have healed straight.
Unsuccessfully I fought the tears as I asked him, “If we had come here right after the fall and you had put in plates, would my wrists be in better shape?” He said that Dr Waguespack didn’t do anything wrong, using pins and external fixators are good for retaining the bone length. But as badly shattered as my wrists were, he would have used the plates.
He then asked about my range on motion. As I showed him how much I could move my wrist in different directions he said that he was impressed. He would not have expected for me to have as much as I do with the damage that he can see in my x-rays. I told him that I have worked very hard on it but the problem is that I still can not bear any weight. Dr George said he could see that I have worked hard and the reason that he is surprised is that, “Most people would just do what they have to do to get by”. He said that the only thing he could recommend doing now, a year out from the injury, was work hardening. “You will still never drive a truck again, but work hardening might get you to a place where you can lift more weight.” He told Angela and me that he would recommend 6 to 8 weeks of work hardening and then do an FCE. At that time, I would be MMI.
As Angela and I walked out of Dr George’s office, I looked at her and made the comment that we had talked about this the first time I talked to her after my fall, I wanted to go to a hand specialist and someone that was closer to where I lived. (Dr Waguespack’s office is 2 ½ hours away.) She told me that AIG wanted me to stay with the doctor that did my surgery and that they would pay me a millage pay for driving back and forth. So I stayed with Dr Waguespack. Don’t get me wrong, she is a great doctor, but her specialty is with the spin.
Since we did not switch my care over to Dr George, Angela had to go back to Dr Waguespack to get the orders for the work hardening. She got the orders December 10th and I started work hardening therapy on Monday, December 21, 2009. The work hardening will be three times week for eight weeks. It started with two hours of various weights, resistance bands and the elliptical machine. The goal is to be doing this for 8 hours each session in week eight. To do that we will have to add 1 hour each week. After 2 sessions, I am not sure that my wrists and hands are going to be able to handle that fast of a pace. My hands and wrist hurt so bad that I am back on the pain pills on a regular basis. It has taken those and several ice packs to get through the typing of this story.