Thursday, August 19, 2010

1.5 centimeters

A dozen years ago, when my son was 11 years old, one fine spring afternoon during a little league game, J slid into second base and hurt his left shoulder.  He came home from the emergency room with his arm in a sling.  Two days later, on his way out to recess, someone tripped him, and he hurt that shoulder again.  When we took him back to the doctor, it was revealed that he had what is called a 'buckle-fracture' high on that left arm.  The orthopedic specialist gave him a sling, which he wore for weeks, but that left shoulder just kept popping out of joint.  Hurt like crazy every time it did, too. We took him to the University of Washington where a doctor asked J if he could pop the shoulder out any time he wanted.  When J showed him, the doctor almost hit the ceiling and told him never to do it again.  He produced a sling with a pillow which J had to wear for months.  At the end of that time, when there was no real change in the looseness of the ligaments, the specialist told us that J should not be allowed to play any contact sport until the shoulder could be fixed, because with every jolt, every sublux (as the popping out of joint is called) makes those ligaments looser. But the surgery wouldn't happen until J and his shoulder stopped growing.

You have to understand that our son had been an athletic little boy.  One who never went anywhere without a ball in his hand, without looking forward to the next sports season, whatever it would be.  Basketball, football, baseball, soccer: he loved them all, and wanted to play them all.  And in one motion--that slide into second--and one word,  J's life was changed.  And it was hard.  I'm telling you, it was really, really hard.  J didn't know who he was, who to be without athletics.

He changed.  Learned to be a different kind of person with different interests.  And it was ok, though he surely missed playing sports.  Of course he did.  And we counted the days until he was old enough to get that shoulder fixed because sometimes (more often than you can imagine!)--while lifting a heavy box, for instance--that shoulder still popped.  When J was 18, we took him back to that U of W specialist and found out his growth plates were still open.  When he was 20, we returned to that doctor.  This time, the doctor told us that  he didn't think it was worth it to try and fix J's shoulder.  He recommended that J simply learn to live with his shoulder.  At that point, J said, 'what the heck?' and decided to play every sport he'd ever dreamed of playing.  And for the last three years, that's what he's done.  He's shot basketballs, played touch (and tackle) football, slid into base after base playing baseball, and generally enjoyed all the sports he's always loved.

Then, several months ago, when he hurt his knee at work and had to see an orthopedist, Beve took him to the best in Bellingham.  When Dr. Thorpe walked in, he said, "I don't know what we can do about your knee, but why hasn't anyone fixed your shoulder?"

So today, more than 12 years after J first hurt that shoulder, Dr. Thorpe cut a 4 inch incision into the back of his left shoulder and carefully looked at the ligaments.  Discovered they were 1.5 centimeters too long.  1.5 centimeters.  Doesn't seem like much, does it?  If you looked at a ruler, you could cover that much with the tip of your little finger.  But that much extra 'play', as he told Beve, made those ligaments pull the joint out of place so often there was a deep bruise on the bones where they'd hit each other.  1.5 centimeters isn't much to the human eye maybe, but thank God, this good doctor sees in tiny increments. 1.5 centimeters will mean all the world to my son.

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