Elbow Revision–Part I

This is gonna be a tough one to write about – but hopefully it will be cathartic. Although I’ve shared the details with my family and close friends, it’s still hard to relive it again. Red wine is poured — here we go…

Going into my elbow revision surgery on January 9th I wasn’t too phased or worried, I just wanted it over and done with so I could be back home, recuperate, and get back to life and painting again. Afterall, this would be my 10th surgery related to my arthritis/autoimmune issues– I could practically sail through it in my sleep – or so I thought.


Prior to the 9th my doctor was concerned about an infection being the reason for the loose components, even though I shared with him that I had probably caused it from overuse and lifting over my limit of 10 pounds. I had preliminary blood work done to check for any signs of infection — all cultures came back negative. We had talked about the possibility of a two-part surgery; the first to remove the damaged components while antibiotic spacing beads would secure the arm and the second, a month or so afterward, to place the new components. Needless to say, I was less than thrilled with that idea but agreed that we needed to do what was best. On the day of surgery, he proposed a revised plan.

On the 9th, while in pre-op, Dr. Brett and I discussed the surgical plan. He would remove the components today, place the antibiotic spacers, run more tests to be sure I was infection-free, and if all went well I would have the 2nd surgery in about 5 days. All while I stayed in the hospital. I agreed that this was a much better plan and we proceeded.

The first surgery went well. He was able to remove the components and place the antibiotic beads without trouble. I did learn however, afterward, that the anesthesiologist had a difficult time with my airway. I was not surprised, my neck is severely limited and this wasn’t the first time I’d heard this. I did tell him this fact on the pre-op screen, but it was more difficult than he’d planned. So, now officially I have, “A Difficult Airway” going forward. Just great… Another thing to add to the list…

My surgery was a bit delayed, so by the time I was out of post-op and in my room it was evening. I don’t know if my nurse was new or just bad, or both, but it’s really not the sort of thing you want just after surgery. She kept referring to my “shoulder replacement”, would forget things I asked for, and never seemed to be available when I needed her.

And maybe I’m hypercritical or spoiled because for all my other surgeries at this hospital my stepmother was the well-liked and well-respected CNO (Chief Nurse Officer) for the entire hospital system – I was treated very well! She retired last year and still had many friends, but the hospital had recently gone through many changes. I still had a private room and a few of her friends came to check on me – but it didn’t feel the same this time.

Anyway — besides my first nurse being a complete ditz, the hospital didn’t have my main anti-inflammatory medication on formulary and worse yet, an anti-inflammatory wasn’t even listed on my post-op orders. If you’re not familiar – things move very slowly in a hospital. It took many hours before I had my medicine and at the next shift change — I had to go through it all over again! It wasn’t until a few shifts later that they finally got it right!!

If you have a small bladder like me – make sure you get a catheter or bring your own Depends because it takes the nurse or assistant F-O-R-E-V-E-R to come once you press the Call button– If they come at all!

Here I am, drugged up and being pumped full of giant bags of antibiotics (just in case) and medicine intravenously, I’ve got the “sucky-blowy” anti-blood-clot things on my legs, IV in my left arm, giant heavy splint on my right arm with attached drain port to a machine on the floor, and I have to pee every freaking half hour! It sounds comical now, but believe you me, it was anything but funny at the time. Eventually I got the hang of doing it all by myself — I had to — there was no other option!

The food wasn’t too bad, once they got my order right! For the first 2-3 meals I was sent up a tray that I didn’t even order. And I was starving!! Again – someone screwed up! My order had gotten put in the system twice or something screwy like that – anyway – again, it took forever to get that corrected! And speaking of food and eating – do you know not one person – nurse or assistant – offered to help at least cut up my food? I know it sounds petty, but when you have surgery involving your dominant arm/hand/elbow, wouldn’t you think they would make a note and at least offer to help the patient? Again – I managed to figure it out by myself. Of course my food was always cold and kind of gross by the end – but I managed.

About 3 days after the surgery, the splint/bandage began to really hurt and feel as if my circulation was being cut off around my wrist and hand. A PA on the floor was able to loosen the contraption for me and it felt much better for a while.

Oh, I almost forgot to mention, just so you get the full picture here – I was having full blown awful hot flashes during this time — like every hour out of the blue I would be drenched in sweat. They were able to provide me with a small portable fan that I kept on and I had turned down the room temperature really low just so I could survive. Every time someone came in they’d say the same thing, “It’s freezing in here! Are you O.K.?”


Going a Bit Stir Crazy

Between cat-naps, daily blood draws and Heparin shots, gallons of IV fluids, 5 a.m. doctor rounds, and a gazillion bathroom trips, I eventually fell into a bit of a routine while waiting around for my next surgery. My family and friends visited and would bring me real food and Starbucks and I even wore my own comfortable clothes from home. I caught up on a few movies on my IPad and watched the HBO docu-series Chernobyl. (Outstanding, by the way, if you haven’t seen it, please do!) All my results were coming back negative for infection, as I knew they would, and things were looking good for the second surgery.

But then things took a turn for the worse…

Bad News

By this time, I had been painting for two months, at least 3-4 days a week outside of the classroom plus class time. When I paint at home I usually start in the evening and paint into the wee hours of the morning. My right arm— fingers.. hand.. wrist.. elbow.. neck.. shoulder— were all getting very sore. I carry my supplies in a Husky roll-cart which is very light on wheels to pull around. However, once full, it is very heavy for me to lift into/out of trunk (I’m limited to lifting 10 pounds per elbow due to my replacements). I thought I was being careful, but not careful enough.

In mid-November, I noticed a small protruding bump about three inches below my elbow that was painful to the touch. I made an appointment the next day to see my orthopedic surgeon. He confirmed what I suspected; a small fracture of the radius bone. What I was not expecting to hear was that both components of my elbow replacement were loose! Dr. Michael Wiater passed me over to his brother, Dr. Brett Wiater for the revision process; apparently he had more experience in the area. From here on out, Brett would now be my surgeon. I would have to have my elbow redone or “Revised.” Since it wasn’t painful and the fracture would probably heal on its own, we set a surgery date for January 9th, 2020 — my 21st wedding anniversary!

Well, at least it’s something you can use! said my friend when I told her I was getting a new elbow for my anniversary.


Needless to say, I had to leave Nancy’s class and slow down — again. I was very disappointed and depressed. Once again, I felt like my body let me down and fucked me over.

Right Elbow

In November I had my right elbow replaced by the same orthopedic surgeon that did the left in 2016, Dr. Michael Wiater. My right elbow has been bent ever since I can remember. Looking back at pictures of my childhood, it probably began at age 4-5. I remember doing physical therapy for it as a kid. I was very stubborn and didn’t follow up with the home exercises as I was instructed. It never hurt too bad, and as a kid, I probably didn’t pay too much attention since my ankle pain overtook everything else. Eventually, it continued to restrict and stayed in @ a 45° angle. Over the last few years, it really began to hurt and I became more self conscious of it, especially in short sleeves, summertime, etc. I knew this one would be much more of a challenge, but since the left elbow surgery was a complete success, I decided to have the right one done as well.

Dr. Wiater had a much more difficult time in the OR with this one. Usually it can be done in about 2 hours — it took him four! Apparently, my bones were very hard and even after the new elbow was in, the joint could not be fully straightened– probably due to the soft tissues. Needless to say, I was in more pain afterwards and recuperation took a bit longer. Physical therapy helped regain function and it doesn’t hurt anymore, but my arm may never be completely straight.

After this surgery, my painting life slowed way down and eventually came to a standstill. I found other creative outlets to keep busy and after a while I was afraid to paint. It’d be two more years until I would pick up a paintbrush again.

Portraits, Progress & Pain

I have been distant from WordPress and blogging for quite some time. Life has been hectic but progress has been slow.

The boys are both back in school and into the swing of things, my husband has been traveling internationally for work, and I’ve been recuperating from my left elbow replacement surgery on the 19th of September and a pinched/aggravated ulnar nerve in the right arm due to overcompensation.

Once again, my mom has been a Saint helping me with household chores and the boys – I couldn’t do any of it without her💕.

Walter White
Breaking Bad’s Walter White

Thank God for Netflix; with two “gimpy” arms, there’s not much else one can do! I watched the entire series of Breaking Bad over a three-week time period, discovered Versailles on the Ovation channel and watched several docudramas to learn about the French Monarchy from Louis XIV to XVII.


Prior to my surgery, I started a Portrait Class at the BBAC in the hopes that I would only take a few week hiatus to heal. After all, it is my non-dominant arm and I’m quite the pro by now at this surgery thing – I never anticipated my painting arm to be affected! I started PT this week and am using my at home TENS machine for the nerve. I’m hoping to get back to class next week. Fingers crossed.

I had also taken on a commission for a friend of mine that I began in September. I am working on it from time to time when I feel well enough. Thankfully she’s being completely understanding. It’s a double full-body painting of my friend and husband based on a candid photo taken during a professional outdoor photo shoot. It’s proving to be quite the challenge, but I am gaining on it, “elbow-it” slowly…

Lost and Found

The next few years would prove to be a very difficult time both physically and emotionally. I had two growing, busy, little boys and my arthritis was rearing its ugly head once again. I was having a lot of trouble with my lower back and the nerve block injections I’d been receiving for two years weren’t working anymore. My ankle joints had been completely shot for a long time; there was no cartilage left and the pain was getting worse. To make matters worse, I developed severe colitis that landed me in the hospital on Ethan’s second birthday. Needless to say, I fell into a deep depression…

Over the course of three years, it took a therapist, one GI Doctor, two incredible Orthopedic Surgeons, my loving family, and a fuzzy orange tabby, to put me back together again!

In March of 2010 I had my left ankle replaced using the (STAR) method. I had my right one done 14 months later. My surgeon, Dr. Gregory Berlet is a leading expert in the field and had been involved in a variety of clinical trials. He is a remarkable man and a terrific doctor. My life has been forever changed because of him!

X-Rays
New Ankles_2011

In between the two, I had back surgery. After meeting with several disappointing doctors, I found Dr. Mick Perez-Cruet, another lifesaver! He literally “wrote the book” on minimally invasive back surgery and is also a wonderful, kind man. In December of 2010, I had a lower lumbar fusion. He discovered that the cartilage had worn completely out, thus causing my agonizing pain. Once fused, the pain was gone immediately! Compared to the ankle surgery, this one was a piece of cake! I was up and “running” in a few weeks.