Wrist surgery

So surgery was pretty hellish. I wasn’t nervous about it. I had Martin drop me off in front of the hospital, and I went in and changed into my hospital gown and waited. They monitored the baby’s heart for 20 minutes, took my blood pressure, hooked me up to an IV and then gave me a mild sedative. Two hours after I arrived, I was wheeled into the operating room where the anesthesiologist administered a block to my arm. The block was awful. It didn’t hurt much going in (she numbed my arm pit first), but when the drugs hit, they didn’t just hit my arm, they hit my whole body. I was lying there saying, “I can feel it in my head. Is that normal? I can feel it in my whole body. Is that normal?” and she was saying, “No.” It was like I’d been injected with speed. My heart was racing like crazy and my whole body was tingling. I was sure I was going to have a heart attack and both the baby and I were going to die. They put an oxygen mask on me and did who knows what else and after about five minutes my heart went back to normal and my arm was completely numb. They put a paper curtain over me—not vertically between my arm and me, but right over my face, so I asked them to move it halfway so I could at least see the ceiling. “You’re claustrophobic,” the anesthesiologist said. Well, not really. But when both my arms and my body are strapped down in a T like I’m on a crucifix, one arm is numb and the other is attached to a blood pressure cuff, a pulse monitor and an IV, my chest is attached to a heart monitor and there’s a big O2 mask on my face, I don’t really want to lie under a sheet of paper. So she moved it halfway so I could stare at the clock on the wall and the heart monitor.

The surgery ended at 5:37, about an hour after I got the block, and it wasn’t fun. Being pregnant, I’m not used to lying flat on my back for that long, and it was uncomfortable. My shoulder ached from I don’t know what. It felt like my arm was stretched out too far, but it was probably the tourniquet that made it ache. I was really sleepy, but paranoid that if I fell asleep I wouldn’t wake up, so I tried to keep my eyes open the whole time. I also noticed that the two times I did almost drift off to sleep, the anesthesiologist started asking me mundane questions about my tutoring, etc. I asked her a lot of questions, too, like why Blue Shield isn’t covering anesthesiologists at Alta Bates hospital anymore, and she said the company wouldn’t bargain with them.

The worst part of the surgery was when they used an electric screwdriver to drill a bunch of screws into my bones, and I could hear the whole thing. I couldn’t feel the pain, but I could feel the vibration in my shoulder, and I could hear the whole thing. At one point, the only male in the room—a nurse (my surgeon and anesthesiologist were both women) said, “Could someone get me a martini?” and I said, “Get one for me, too.”

Once it was over, they put a huge bandage on my arm (see photo), and since I had no control over my arm at all, they put it in this big yellow foam block that held it upright. In recovery I got some juice and crackers finally (after not eating since the night before) and a nurse from Labor and Delivery monitored the baby’s heart for another 20 minutes. After lots of questions and paperwork, the nurse helped me get dressed and called Martin to pick me up. Two hours after surgery ended, I was wheeled downstairs to the car. The freaky thing was carrying my left arm with my right. It was dead to the point that it felt like it had come unattached, like I was carrying someone else’s arm. I had to check my shoulder from time to time to make sure it was still connected. It was such an awful, creepy feeling that I actually said to Martin that I thought the pain would be better than not being able to feel my arm. Ha!

We raced to the pharmacy to get my Vicodin and antibiotics before it closed (arrived exactly at 8 as they were closing the doors), then to Gregoire (my favorite carry out restaurant!) for a steak and au gratin potatoes for me, veggie pasta for Martin. While Martin ordered the food, I waited in the car. I started to be able to wiggle a few fingers, and the block completely wore off. It was the worst pain I’ve ever felt—worse, or at least as bad, as breaking it. I started sobbing and took a Vicodin, then another, but they didn’t kick in for a while. For about an hour, I couldn’t stop moaning and crying and saying, “Why did they send me home? I should be in the hospital on morphine!” Halfway through my steak at home (which Martin had to cut for me), I told Martin to call the surgeon to see if I should go back to the hospital. He had her paged, but by the time she called back, the Vicodin had kicked in and I was starting to float. I continued on two Vicodin at a time for the entire next day (which made me sleep all day), then cut back to one at a time the day after. By Sunday (surgery was Thursday) I was taking extra-strength Tylenol, and after a couple of days on that, I went off it completely. My wrist still hurt now and then when I was out of the house a lot, but after icing and elevating it for five days, the pain was pretty much gone.

Monday (this week), I got my bandage and stitches removed to reveal a Frankenstein-like scar beneath. I could hardly move my wrist at all, but my fingers have loosened up a lot since I started typing with two hands. Tomorrow I start physical therapy three times a week for eight weeks—right up until my due date. I think once I start exercising it, it will loosen up a lot. Right now I can’t rotate it much, or bend it at the wrist. I have a Velcro splint that is comfortable and removable, which makes life easier, but I still can’t lift or pull anything with my left hand. About all it can do so far is type, which isn’t a bad thing to be able to do.

It hurts a little more now that I’m using it, but nothing compared to what it felt like after surgery. I’m glad I decided on the plate so that I could go to physical therapy right away. With screws I would have been in a cast for the next two months and had no strength at all when the baby was born. The worst is over at this point—and I can even take my splint off to take showers!



Filed under Pregnancy

29 responses to “Wrist surgery

  1. it sounds horrifying…and I am really glad you took those few days off to just be drugged and recover.

  2. Rich

    Great post – I just had a wrist plate put in on Friday, and Im glad I am not alone with the awful pain after the block wore off. I was saying the same exact things about going back to the hospital for morphine! looks like you’re going on a year – how is your wrist now?


  3. I guess it has been almost a year! I get a very minor pain in my wrist pretty regularly, but nothing to complain about. I can rock climb; I can do ashtanga yoga (which is a LOT of weight on my wrist) and it’s fine, and I have 100% motion back (I was very diligent about doing my physical therapy and after four months I could move it better than my good wrist.) I can feel the corner of the plate and one of the screws through my skin, which is weird, but I don’t think it’s worth getting the plate removed. Anything to avoid another surgery! Good luck with your wrist!

  4. Mary

    I know that pain too. It definitely was the worst pain I have ever experienced. After the surgery I didn’t take pain medication I just kept it numb with ice packs for 2 days until the hurt went away. But initially after the block wore off I almost passed out from the pain. It was definitely worse than the break. Today I was the first time in over a year that my wrist and hand felt wierd, shooting pain and tingling fingers, but maybe it’s because it is cold out. All I know is that I don’t ever want to go through that pain again.

  5. I had a baby after that surgery and my doula told me giving birth without drugs would feel as bad, or worse, than my wrist felt that night. Giving birth was horrifically painful, but not as bad as the wrist. Thank God for Vicodin.

  6. Mary

    Yikes! I am having my surgery on Wednesday. I will start taking the pain meds before the block wears off!!! Any suggestions on what to do in advance? Should I pre-cook some meals? Have things pre cut and frozen? How long before you could use your arm again? Damn, I am nervous now.

  7. Are you having a block instead of general anesthesia? I think with general anesthesia it wouldn’t have been so bad. As for preparing meals, etc., it was my left arm, and I am right handed, so I managed to get along okay. I can’t remember how long I had the splint on, but the key to recuperating was to do the physical therapy as often as possible at home. In the end, my left wrist was more flexible than my good wrist! I still feel a little pain now and then (exactly two years later), but nothing major. I can do yoga and rock climb on it, but then sometimes I’ll feel a pang while doing small things like driving. Overall, it’s in great condition.

  8. Mary

    Glad to hear it. Thanks for the reply. I doubt General will even be offered to me. That is something that seems to be happening around here. The Insurance companies will not pay for general anestesia. If they pay, I am going general. If they don’t, then I have no choice but to go with what they pay for. Even my daughters wisdom teeth, I had to pay $450 out of pocket for her to be put under to have 4 teeth pulled!

    I bought some frozen food stuff to make some easier meals. As much as I prefer fresh, this will be ok for the first 3 days or so. After that I should be able to get about. Or at least get a friend to come home and help me cut up veggies.

    Wish me luck…

  9. I had a lot of problems getting my insurance to pay for the anesthesia, too. It was a nightmare. And GOOD LUCK!

  10. Mary

    So the surgery seems to have gone ok. The pain after the block wore off sucked. That hurt like nothing I’ve experienced before and I have 4 herniated discs in my back! I am in a removable splint that I have been able to take off while at home. My range of motion is a far cry from where it use to be, but the swelling has reduced to where I can now see my knuckles again. I have heard other people mention they can feel the plate after the sugery, that I can live with. What about the scar? Has anyone any suggestions about what to put on that to lessen the appearance?

  11. Mary, I was wondering how your surgery went. I had the removable splint, too. I could hardly move my wrist at ALL when they first asked me, too, but with tons of physical therapy (doing a lot of it at home on my own), it was eventually better than my good wrist. My scar is visible, but not too bad, a white line that falls right on my tendon. I’ve heard that Mederma is best for scars – better than vitamin E – and I can feel the corner of my plate through my wrist (and a screw on the other side), but they don’t bother me enough to have removed (I do NOT want to go through that surgery again!) I get mild wrist pain at weird times, like driving or lying on my arm while sleeping, but then I can rock climb and it’s fine. Go figure.

    • peggy

      had wrist surgery in a cast for 7weeks. now in OT cant move my wrist at all how long did it take to move your wrist. now 5 days in to ot can t barely move wrist feel like I need superman to put pressure on it to move it a millimeter

  12. Mary

    It’s all good. I am a big fan of Vitamin E and will try that first. I have been keeping the splint off most of the day and doing some of the PT exercises I found online. My Insurance will not cover PT!!! Pisses me right off. Tonight I folded a load of clean towels. It took forever. Things are moving along, not hot rod fast, but slow and steady.

    Thanks for all your input. I’ll send you a note in a couple of months. Your blog has really helped me through this procedure. Who would have thought of a blog being a random act of kindness. 🙂

    Warm regards,


  13. Mary, I’ll see if I still have the sheet with the wrist exercises on it, but they probably have everything you need online. I think you just have to do them 3-5 times a day for a quick recovery. Good luck!


  14. Brenda

    Ifractured my wrist over 7 weeks ago my doctor put a cast on.I went back 4 times to have the cast changed because, of pain and swelling.My pain still feels like it did from day one,should I ask for an MRI because all the doctor did was an xray?I was told I have a closed distal fracture.

    • Mary

      Get a second opinion. Most insurance companies will pay for that. Call your Insurance provider first and make sure it’s covered. It’s gone on too long.
      Best of luck in this. Please keep us posted of your progress.

  15. Brenda, I have no idea if you need an MRI. I had several x-rays and then they sent me for surgery. I never had anything else. Strange that they can’t figure out what’s causing the swelling, though. Is it staying in place? Mine wouldn’t set, which is why I needed the surgery. Good luck!

  16. Anna

    I Broke my left wrist (radius) on May 22. Doc did some reduction and had cast on until June 19. It’s been a week after I get my cast off. My strength is increasing, got really good movement. However, my ulna, which was not broken felt sore and looks a bit bigger than the other hand. I also can’t fully rotate my hand. From palm face down, rotate counter clockwise, it only goes up to 90 degree (thumb towards 12 o’clock) on June 19. Now it’s getting more degrees in rotation (thumb towards almost 10 o’clock).

    I was wonder, how long did it take you to get fully rotation on your wrist?

  17. Gerri

    I had surgery on August 18 and it is now Oct. 12; i just got the cast off after 8 weeks. I had the cast on an additional 6 weeks before the surgery. What a nightmare…I was in tremendious amounts of pain the entire 8 weeks and istill am even with the cast off…i can’t move my fingers and wrist at all…i have gone to two ot appt., no chage; i am so depressed

  18. Gerri,

    I’m so sorry it took me three months to respond to this! I haven’t blogged here since September, as you can see. I’m anxious to hear how your wrist is doing now. Mine is fine and rarely gives me any pain. When the doctor first took the cast off, I could hardly move it at all, but with lots of physical therapy, I regained all movement (to the point that I had better movement in my broken wrist than in my good wrist!)

  19. AndrewP

    This thread has given me a lot of comfort.

    I shattered my wrist in an accident almost 2 months ago and needed emergency surgery (which went as well as it could) and had the cast removed last week. I am still in pain however and am weaning myself off painkillers (paracetamol) with a view to cutting them out over the weekend.

    It makes a real difference to know pain is normal at this stage and things will get better.

    Thanks all

    • Andrew – I’m sorry your comment was lost in my spam folder all this time. How is your wrist doing now? Sometimes mine aches for no reason (it’s been two years now), but nothing too terrible. And I can feel the edge of the plate and one screw through my skin (plate on one side, screw on the other), which makes for good show-and-tell.

  20. I too had a plate and screws in my left wrist! I know all to well about the comments above! May 16 accident May 18 surgery! This has been a living Hell for me as a professional guitar player! Would love to chat with others and help them or they help me! God Bless you’ll! Lee

  21. M

    I had my wrist plated yesterday morning and after the block wore off; OMFG. That pain is the boss! 10x worse than the fracture, and mine was a bad one as a result of a motorcycle crash. I was maxed out on Co Dydramol and Ibuprofen but that seemingly did nothing. It was so bad I had to visit A&E and was given as much pain releif as it was possible to give orally, including Oramorph (Oral Morphine) They even gave me the rest of the bottle and a a scrpit for another one! When I woke up this morning the pain wasn’t so bad but I have been hitting the Morphine as it’s still the worst pain I’ve ever felt. Anyone reading this that’s going to have the surgery, I’m not trying to scare you, but be prepared…

    • I agree. I don’t understand why they didn’t send me home with drugs. I made it to the pharmacy about five minutes before closing time to pick up my Vicodin (bawling the whole way because my block wore off on the drive there.) If I had missed it, I would have had to have returned to the hospital. And one Vicodin wasn’t enough. I needed two to get through the night. The pain does lessen after a couple of days though!

  22. su su

    oh my, I feel for each and everyone of you who had gone thru wrist surgery, as I had gone thru the same thing thou mine was some what different .And this was my second wrist brake, 1st was in 1990 just had to have a cast on where as this one was this past february 2012 and it was so bad, oh yea the first broken wrist was my L hand and now its myR hand which is what i use, now since, feb i haveven”t been back to work, nor will i because i lost my job and my insurence, all because i had been off from work tooo long, i at first was on FMLA[family medical leave act] which they only give you 12 wks, ok then after my 12wks they put me on some other medical leave. I work at a hospital, been there 5 yrs. and now have no job, but heres the thing, i really dont know if i could do my job duties cause i can’t pull or lift anything tooo heavy now, i had gone thru my therapy, and was to go back to the orthepedic dr. aug 1st, but thats not gona happen now, I have so many bills coming in yea even thou i had ins. it only covers so much , this wrist surgery is costing me a lot, I am married , and my husband is working thank goodness but now i have to figure out what kind of employment i will do. My husband is wanting me to get back to work, and so am i, but heres the thing also, my wrist still has pain, even though its been 5 months, and that i cant lift or pull anything to heavy, i’m still doing my exercises, but i never thought it would last as long as it has till now its crazy, living in florida

    • su su, I’m surprised your wrist still hurts after five months. Mine aches from time to time, but rarely. I can rock climb, do yoga, carry things no problem. And it only took a couple of months to heal. Here’s hoping that your pain goes away soon. And good luck with the job hunt and the medical bills. No fun.

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