In autumn 2009 I slipped on a frosty stair and broke my left humerus. Before the accident my left arm had an angle of 20°, meaning that when it was fully extended it reached 160° instead of the normal 180. When the dust finally settled after my injury — including one botched healing attempt — the angle of my arm had increased to 50°, thus my range of motion had decreased to 130.
I lived with this decrease until two years ago when I underwent Botox treatment to see if, among other things, we could re-establish some of my former range of motion. There was some progress, but Botox works by weakening targeted muscles and overall, the benefits did not justify the costs. So I opted for surgery instead.
In late January 2015 I went under the knife of Dr. Bertrand Perey, who cleared some detritus from my elbow, in hopes this would allow my arm increased flexibility. I had my first physiotherapy session about a week and a half after my surgery at the Thomson Centre on Hospital Road. I was disappointed when my arm was measured by my physiotherapist, Graham, only to discover that its angle was identical to the pre-surgery angle.
I was put on a strict arm-splint regime whereby I wore a brace while sleeping. My first such brace was created by my friend, Lauren McClintock, an occupational therapist. She made a highly personalized arm-holder for me by melting medical-grade plastic in near boiling water and then molding the malleable plastic around my arm. Then it cooled and solidified, holding its shape and matching my arm perfectly.
I wore that brace at night for a week as it gently stretched my arm. When I showed up for my next appointment, my arm-angle measured 42°, an improvement of eight. This time Graham had a Robocop-esque arm-splint for me to try. This new tool was made of two plastic parts connected by a hinge. One half braced my forearm, the other half braced my upper arm, and the hinge allowed the angle of extension to be expanded or contracted as needed. This was adjusted by twisting a green knob.
I sat and watched episodes of The Sopranos while slowly increasing the extension of my arm, until the point when I was nearly in pain, and then I backed off a bit. I did this at least one hour every day, and still wore Lauren’s brace at night. When I showed up for my next physiotherapy appointment, the angle of my arm was down to 34°, another weekly improvement of eight.
With Graham’s encouragement I became even more diligent re: my daily stretching routine. I just had my latest appointment today, and my arm clocked in at 27°, a mere seven from where it was in 2009, before I broke my arm. Hopefully next week’s appointment will reveal that I have closed the gap further.
Sustained, empirically measurable progress in some aspect of one’s life is a rare, existential luxury. Appreciate it when you get the chance.