Does Having An Artificial Elbow Make Me a Cyborg?


I have an artificial part of my body — a marvel of engineering, science, and medicine that allows me to function almost as though the accident that pulverized my elbow had never happened.

(“Pulverized” was the actual word used in the medical report, not a word you like to see associated with some part of your own anatomy.)

Do you wonder how I came to break my elbow? Apologies if the answer is negative, because I’m going to tell you anyway.

It was early morning and I was just about to head out for my morning commute to work. It was the day of the monthly managers meeting, so I made an effort to dress a little more executively than my usual. Part of this corporate climbing the ladder ensemble was a new pair of dressy sandals, which I had not worn before.

As I was just about to pull out of the driveway, I glanced over to the passenger seat and noticed a bag of remains from my fast food lunch of the day before, which I had grabbed while on the road between appointments. It had not been a satisfactory lunch and just seeing the bag annoyed me, so I put the car in Park, although still idling, and took the bag to the garbage can at the side of the house and then, because I was now running just a tiny bit late, was loping back to my car at a fairly high rate of speed. Just as I was at the end of the walk one of the soles of my new sandals, NOT made for jogging apparently, folded under my foot and caused me to turn into an airborne, human projectile.

I recall noting while airborne, that I was going to come down and come down hard, right onto the concrete driveway and had some concerns that I was going to land on my head and perhaps knock myself unconscious or fracture my skull, so I think that I attempted to shield my head before impact. I hit the ground with almost the entire force of collision concentrated onto my left elbow.

You know how cartoons always show someone seeing stars after they get hit? I am here to say that there’s a reason that is a trope, because I did see stars or flashes of light as my brain was trying to comprehend and assess the pain that was now coursing through my body, emanating from that elbow.

I was laid out prone on my driveway on my stomach and realized I was near the rear wheel of the still running car, which I thought might somehow throw itself out of Park, and as we were on a slight incline, finish off the job and run over me. I pondered how my looming demise was the result of cheap nutrition, litter, and poorly engineered footwear imported from some multinational conglomerate sweatshop.

If I did succumb to my injuries, the death certificate should correctly read Primary Cause: Killed By Poor Consumer Choices, assuming the post mortem team managed to put together the timeline of events that led to me lying dead in my driveway. Contributing Factors would be: Habitual Borderline Tardiness, and Running In Heels.

In order to avoid the threat posed by the car and its fumes, I managed to crawl off into the lawn, where I wondered how long it would be before someone noticed me prostrate in the grass. Too long as it turns out, as we lived way off the road. I collected myself, got up and stumbled to the car and reached in and turned off the ignition and then lurched towards the neighbor’s house, cradling my left arm. I did not know the extent of my injury then, but I had a fair idea it was pretty bad, bad enough to suffice as an adequate excuse for missing the managers meeting, anyway.

The neighbor was at home, realized I was in a bad way and drove me to the nearest hospital emergency room while his wife called my husband to let him know where I was. My husband worked very close by and turned up at the emergency room just moments after I arrived, so that was good. What happened next was not good.

I was taken immediately to X-Ray where a very young, very clueless lab tech put my arm on the table under the x-ray and told me to straighten my arm. Which of course I couldn’t, because the natural mechanism allowing this, the joint known as the ELBOW was pulverized, although we didn’t know this at the time because the x-ray revealing this vital information was not yet in existence.

I said “I can’t,” to young Bambi’s or Brandi’s or Candi’s request to straighten my arm, so she smiled and said “Okay, I’ll help you” and yanked, yes, yanked, my arm to straighten it out.

My husband said that my scream could be heard through that entire floor of the hospital and probably to the floors above and below and most likely throughout the entire hospital complex.

It’s very unseemly to shriek like you are a participant in the Spanish Inquisition in a modern medical facility, since it shatters the illusion that everything is under control and all those white-jacketed professionals are competent and know exactly what they’re doing. The anti-shriek squad converged from all corners of the building to the X-Ray lab where my med-tech Torquemada and I were located. My knees were actually buckling and I was going to pass out when I heard a nurse say “She’s going into shock!” and plunged a hypodermic needle filled with some kind of pain-killing substance into me, which I have to say was quite effective and probably way better than an ether soaked rag like in olden times.

Somehow, an actual X-Ray was taken which showed that the usual L formation of the elbow joint was now a T formation, thanks largely to the helpful ministrations of the x-ray technician which had shoved one of the connector bones past it’s usual docking space in the socket. It was now just loitering around uselessly unconnected to anything and surrounded by bone fragment rubble.

This story has a happy ending, believe it or not. They make replacement elbows, just like knees and hips. Who knew? They are not in frequent demand since fractured and/or demolished elbows are rather rare. The well-known orthopedist was quite excited to get a chance to do an elbow which was nice, because it is much better to have an excited and alert surgeon than a jaded and bored one and the physical therapy team was also jazzed.

My physical therapist had actually invented a brand new device to increase the range of motion for an elbow injury so that I wouldn’t freeze up and have to hold a pen all the time like Bob Dole, or have my arm set at an angle like Les Paul. His contraption was a large jointed plastic cast that had something like a pinion and flywheel that could be turned and locked into an ever increasing angle from 90 to 180 degrees in order to bring me back to straight when my arm was hanging and at rest, and it worked! My range of motion is just very, very, slightly less than what it was before my accident.

What can we learn from this tale?

  1. Clean out your car daily
  2. Beware of flexible soles on shoes that can trip you up
  3. Don’t leave your car running, even in your own driveway
  4. Always wear clean underwear
  5. Beware if your med tech looks like their previous employment was babysitting