I was on vacation in Cuba, hiking, horseback riding, snorkeling, drinking mojitos, smoking cigars, and having a grand time. After a lunch of Cuban sandwiches in Vinales, a small village in the “mountains” west of Havana, I was walking to the baseball field to give MLB baseballs to the children playing there. Baseball is the national sport of Cuba.
The streets and sidewalks are uneven surfaces and a mixture of dirt and cobblestones. The front of my sandal caught on a stone and I literally flew to the ground and tried to instinctively break my fall with my hand as I crash-landed on my left arm. My new camera was lodged between my arm and body and produced a bruise the size of a grapefruit. I was unsure of the rest of the damage, but knew everything hurt from my bruised and battered elbow to my wrist.
I broke the smaller bone, radius, in my forearm near my elbow, called the radial “head.” Radial head fractures are common injuries, occurring in about 20% of all acute elbow injuries.
I learned later about the most common symptoms of a radial head fracture:
- Pain on the outside of the elbow
- Swelling in the elbow joint
- Difficulty in bending or straightening the elbow accompanied by pain
- Inability or difficulty in turning the forearm. I could not turn my palm to face up.
I did not go to the doctor in Cuba. Cuba has the highest number of doctors per capita in the world, 67 for every 10,000 people, but I was in a village where no one speaks English and my Spanish is basic.
I waited to see my DOC orthopedic surgeon in the states a few days after the fall. This fracture is classified by degree of displacement. The radial head in my left elbow had a crack clear across, but the bone still fit together, which was all very visible on the X-rays. The prescribed nonsurgical treatment includes a sling for four weeks, with X-rays again in two weeks to be sure that nothing shifted and the bones are still in alignment. The surgeon advised me to include gentle, gradual elbow and wrist movement, depending on the level of pain, to avoid stiffness.
I was told that even the simplest fractures might result in some loss of elbow movement. In four weeks, DOC will recommend exercises to restore movement and strength so I can resume full activities. I plan to hike for two weeks through the Alps this summer. I will need to be able to hold and put weight on my hiking poles for steep descents. I’m hoping for a fast and complete recovery.