"Mind over Matter"

 Received with Thanks from -  राजेश निगम (प्रदेशाध्यक्ष, मध्य प्रदेश, भारतीय पत्रकार सुरक्षा परिषद)

देश के जाने-माने साइंटिस्ट एवं लेखक "मोहन तांबे" द्वारा प्रस्तुति 

     As I was walking to the hospital today, for another X-ray, I was prepared for the worst. It was now 15 months since my cycle accident which had broken both the bones of my right forearm. In the operation the fracture was reduced and held together by titanium plates. While in the following few months the ulna bone had healed, the radius bone was not showing any signs of healing – there was a 4mm gap clearly showing in the X-ray. We hoped that this was a case of delayed union. But after a year it was clear that this instead was the case of non-union of the bone. My surgeon had spelt out that a re-surgery for grafting a bone might be required. We decided to wait for another three months before taking the critical decision. Today was the day I was dreading. I decided not to kid myself, as magic was not going to happen in these three months, I had to brace myself for the inevitable. 

(Mohan Tambe)

     All this was completely unexpected. After the operation instead of a plaster, I had just a bandage on the right hand for covering the stitches. I had requested the doctor before the operation, to ensure somehow that I could use my fingers for touch typing on the computer keyboard – and I could do that. In fact, I was overjoyed with the natural movements I could do with my right hand, and even shot a dance video – showing that everything was like before. My earlier experience with cycle accidents had instilled the confidence that I will recover in at most two to three months. But that was not to be. Even after this time, both the bones had not shown any signs of joining. The ulna had some small callus formation, but the radius still had a clean gap. I was starting to worry.

     My worries were not unfounded. All my google search had showed that I was taking more time for healing and that was because of some problem in the body. Now I don’t have any medical problems, but there had to be some problem. My doctor made me undergo all the investigation for a suspected boundary thyroid problem – but that too came clean. I was on a diet of extra proteins and taking extra vitamins and calcium pills too – but all this was not helping. In between my doctor advised me to take a teriparatide injection which, like a diabetes self-injection, had to be taken daily for two months. I read on the web, about some of the serious side effects of it. But I was prepared to try out anything rather than face the possibility of non-union of the bones. But this injection too didn’t help. 

     By now (six months) the ulna was healing, but the gap in the radius was still there. Although if one looked carefully in the X-ray, there was a small callus formation discernible in the center of the bone. For me this was a sign of hope, and I sought a second opinion from some other orthopedic experts. The experts though were dismissive of this late forming callus and told me point blank, that a graft surgery was immediately needed. They warned me that sooner the better, as the titanium plates might get displaced. These experts were themselves keen on operating on me, but I kept postponing that.

     I had mentally decided to give my body a chance. I didn’t want to believe in the 60+ age factor aggravating the recovery. After all, I had another cycle accident three years earlier, where the wrist bones were held together by a K-wire, and that had healed quite fast. I was sure that the body had not slowed down. Perhaps, as some doctor friends had pointed out, the gap in the radius bone was much bigger than what the body could on its own bridge with calcium. Indeed, this seemed to be a common cause of non-union in most cases all over the world. A brother-in-law in the US, had this same non-union problem in his 30’s, and finally had to go through another operation. So it had nothing to do with age – but some obstacle which the body was finding difficult to surmount. What could I do to help the body?

(Mohan Tambe & Rajesh Nigam)
       While the orthopedist doctors always cautioned me against straining my right hand with any significant weight, I found an astute physio-therapist who held contrary views. During her practice in the US, she had found that actually the fracture healing improved with strengthening of the musculoskeletal system around the affected area. She maintained that the cause of the non-healing was simple: the bone was too securely held by the titanium plate and therefore it didn’t feel the need to bridge over the gap. Checking on the web, I found the same thought echoed by a lot of researchers. They found that the fracture joints held together by a plaster healed faster, because there was some micro movements occurring between the bone parts. This micro movement stirred up the callus in between and kick started the process of deposition of calcium on it. The natural healing would happen so long as the strain and the disturbance continued in that location of the body. 

     So one school of thought of the experts was to keep the hand as immobile as possible and the other iconoclastic view was to make it do as much as possible without, of course, aggravating the problem. I with my previous experience, believed in the latter and decided to try it out. This was also going to be a test of the “Mind over Matter”. One of the doctor friend had in fact advised to actively create the micro-movement between bones by using the vibrator of a body-massager on the bones (he confessed that other doctors didn’t agree with his view). My surgeon though agreed and asked me to try this vibration therapy daily. 

     Through my years of gym training I had known that the muscles and bones improve through micro-breakages caused by the impact of the weight lifting exercises. The rebuilding of the affected parts occurs during the following rest period. So I decided to continue my gym exercises with alternate days of rest – in the night I would keep the hand immobile with a plastic-wrap. My doctor had warned me not to lift anything more than half a kg. So if anything went wrong, I wouldn’t be able to show my face to him.

     So after six months from the accident, I restarted my gym rehabilitation program, especially for the right arm. Since I had a home gym, being regular was not a problem. I was starting from the state where even lifting a glass of water was an ordeal. I discovered that the accident had also crippled my right shoulder and I couldn’t even stretch my right arm upward. Some ligaments seem to have torn and self repair was going to take a long time. Anyway, one progressed through the weeks overcoming the initial barrier of being able to handle only very small weights. I always kept the other hand on the stand-by to help out. The gym exercises had always helped earlier and this time too I started seeing the results.

     I was surprised when I could handle a few kg with my right hand. I, of course, suppressed this fact from my doctor during my periodic reviews, as the bones had still not joined. In the coming months though my capacity increased up to 6 kg. Finally, I came to the point where I was able to lift 18 kg above the shoulder with the right hand (clean and jerk), a bit less than the 20 kg I could do with the left. I was also able to do the normal push-ups. My biggest satisfaction was from the fact that I could do the chin-ups again with my right shoulder recovering its full range of motion. But all this time I was dreading that the improvement may have nothing to do with the healing of the bone, it may just be the muscles and ligaments strengthening – I used to joke that this is my titanium power. 

     So while walking to the hospital today, I was prepared for the inevitable. I told my body, that you did the best in spite of the handicap. Doesn’t matter, we will go through another operation and regain strength once again – we are now used to it. 

     Got an X-ray done with equanimity. The doctor saw the X-ray, and his expressions changed. Without saying a word he made a gesture with closed eyes and folded hands. My fracture had healed - it was a big relief for him too. He, unlike the other surgeons, had advised me to wait and watch – that finally has paid off. Now finally I could tell him about the weights I had been lifting. I even showed him how I could do karate with my right hand on the wall. He, though objected to it saying that the boundary between titanium and the bone might still give way – wait for a few more months and we will remove the plates altogether so that you can do whatever you want. 

     Walked the way back from the hospital, with my feet floating in the air. Ran up the staircase to my 13th floor flat. The relief and catharsis had taken over me. Thanked through Whats-app the doctor and others who had inspired me. Prayed before the photograph of my Grandma, who had shown me the power of self-healing in her village - tears were rolling down my cheeks. Then I crashed on the bed for a few hours, just to get up again with an urge that I needed to share this story with others. Who knows who can benefit from it.