Fighting Forty (pt. 3) - Waking up puking
Today we've got Part 3 in Kelly Cordes' series about the bout of injuries he's experienced this past year (here's the links to check out part 1 and 2). His most recent setback, a severely torn shoulder, happened shortly before his scheduled departure for a climbing trip to Patagonia. Part 3 brings us the details of the surgery and what it's like to start thinking about getting back into the ring. -Ed
Holy hell did I hurt. The sort of pain for which they had me on a morphine pump in the hospital when I had broke my leg. But this was just a shoulder. Damn, I wondered, how soft have I gotten?
I remember waking up in the recovery room puking. The surgery required far more than anybody had anticipated and, by all accounts, Dr. Hackett worked a miracle on my shoulder. I remember seeing him briefly – either in recovery or in the hospital room where they kept me overnight, I can’t recall – and he asked if I was sure that was the only time I’d dislocated it (I’m sure). “Because," he said, "it looked like a shoulder that’d been dislocated a hundred times. It was a mess.”
That was two weeks ago, in what now seems like a haze of puzzle-piece images. The next day I writhed in pain, trying to override it with my brain but resorting to double-dosing the painkillers.
[Scott DeCapio descends from the summit of London Tower, Ruth Gorge, Alaska, 2000, after his and Cordes’ new route, The Trailer Park.]
For some reason I thought back to my boxing days. Before falling in love with climbing, I was a competitive boxer. I loved the sport, an unbelievably technical affair that combines crucial technique with serious intensity. Maybe the recurring fuzzy-brain theme, but I think that’s where I developed a drive that transcended into love. I did it through college but not beyond – I remember being satisfied and not wanting to end up old and punch-drunk (considering what I’m starting with, I couldn’t afford to get any dumber). Indeed too much drive, not knowing how to let go, can be a dangerous thing.
Turns out shoulders are notoriously painful – they’re packed with nerve endings (it’s the most mobile joint in the body), and I had both a rotator cuff repair and major labrum work, each of which, independently, supposedly hurts like hell. And it so happens the nerve-blocking pain pump in my neck, which was to provide about half of my post-op pain management, had wiggled out, missing the nerve plexus. I’d tried not to touch it, but…
At the follow-up two days later, Hackett comes in, shakes my hand and looks at me like he’s studying me.
“Doing well,” I tell him, “but, the worst part is on my humerus, it’s like bone pain, like you drilled into my arm.”
He grins a little and tells me that, well, yes, that’s exactly what they did, to anchor the tendon repair to the bone. “We take this two millimeter drill bit – 2.3, actually – and drill a hole and then attach your tendon to it with a 3 millimeter screw. I literally take a mallet and whale on it. But that was the rotator cuff repair, which was easy, perfect. The labrum…” he shakes his head and tells me it challenged him. “You pretty much didn’t have a labrum left.”
I ask what he means, like was it an old tube sock with the elastic blown-out? He chuckles and replies, “More like a wet paper towel.”
Coming from a world-class surgeon, one used to working on people who go hard on their bodies, I’m overwhelmed. He describes how, to compensate for some of the instability, he snagged various parts of the joint capsule and stretched and stitched it over destroyed areas, bringing to mind the way I might patch a threadbare pair of old jeans.
And still, it came out well and my prognosis is great.
“Given my type of dislocation, you initially called the damage a ‘perfect storm.’” I said to him. “After being in there, do you still think that, or was it more of a time bomb?”
He didn’t take long. “Time bomb,” he said. “I’m going with time bomb.”
We’ve got our catchy sayings about age being a state of mind, and true enough. But it’s also true that parts wear out. Especially well-used ones. Some people’s bodies handle the pounding better, and other people are wise enough to find balance before they get here, though perhaps that, too, comes at a cost. I never could have comprehended any of this, but maybe that’s part of the beauty of charging ahead and thinking yourself invincible.
Damn. Being gimped-up makes me miss climbing. I’ve never known anything that makes me so happy.
But I’m far from done and there’s so much to do. If I’m good at one thing in life other than drinking margaritas, it’s rehab. And still, as I look forward to my return to the mountains, for the first time in my life I’m beginning to understand those punch-drunk old boxers, the ones who just can’t let go.
[Above, left - “Huh?” Kelly, a bit clueless at the post-op follow-up two days later. Above, right - Kelly, half a shaved chest from becoming a hipster (though he says they didn’t shave his back), just before surgery. Photos: Cordes collection]