Scar management

It’s been three months since I underwent an operation to have two titanium plates inserted into my left forearm. I’ve recovered so well that most of my friends and colleagues have almost forgotten that I broke my arm until they see the scars. And even then, they’re surprised at how well my scars have healed.

I’ve never heard of scar management until my physiotherapist told me about it after I had my stitches removed two weeks after the operation. I must admit I wasn’t sold on the idea immediately, thinking my physio was doing a sales pitch so he could make extra consultation fees off me.

It took me less than 24 hours to realise I do need that scar management consult. I woke up the next morning with a sore and stiff left arm which could only be relieved by applying adhesive heat packs. The tissue surrounding my scars felt hard and inflexible, and this sensation didn’t improve over time. After doing some research online, I picked up the phone and made an appointment to see my physio that Saturday.

My physio gave me the following scar management advice during our appointment:

Apply heat on the scars

He suggested placing a hot water bottle that wraps around my forearm for 10 to 15 minutes, making sure there was a layer of clothing between the hot water bottle and my arm, so I don’t burn my skin.

Massage

He prescribed three different types of massages to soften the scar tissue and release the tension in my left forearm:

  1. Using my right thumb, massage in strokes perpendicular to the direction of the scars.
  2. Using my right thumb, massage in small circular motions along the scars and the surrounding scar tissue.
  3.  This last massage required two hands which meant someone else had to administer it: starting with the wrist, hold my left arm with one hand and with the thumb of the other hand, push the soft tissue along my scar.

Living on my own, I’ve only been able to do the first two massages everyday since the consult, but they’ve provided much relief to the scars along my left forearm, particularly in the cold winter months.

Medication

My colleague recommended that I use Dermatix Silicone gel to reduce the appearance of my scars. I apply tiny amounts of the gel to my scars twice a day after massaging them. Here’s a video showing how my scars have healed over the last three months:

scar_recovery

To date, I’m quite happy with how my scars have lightened in colour and texture. People who saw my scars a month ago were surprised when I told them how recent my operation was. Apparently Dermatix works best on recent scars but will reduce the appearance of old scars as well, just to a lesser extent.

 

Convalescence

Click here for some background reading.

Waiting to be discharged

Instead of staying in hospital for two days as I originally anticipated, I ended up staying five days. I was kept in hospital for a day of observation after my wound was closed four days after my operation.

My stay at Oasis was generally very pleasant. I was one of three inpatients so the wards were quiet almost all the time, bar the muted sounds of nurses and doctors going about their work. The nurses got used to me shuffling out of my room and wandering aimlessly around the floor three to four times a day, getting my daily dose of exercise. I enjoyed my daily chats with the physio as he checked my progress and gave me more exercises to do with my left hand, wrist, elbow and shoulder.

Despite all this, it became general knowledge among the staff at Oasis and the friends I kept in touch via WeChat that I was desperate to be discharged. After months of exercising outdoors on a daily basis, being cooped up indoors for five straights days, even in conditions much better than my own apartment, felt like imprisonment. The temperature dropped drastically the week I was hospitalised, so the nurses were justified in denying my daily requests to go outside for a walk, especially before my wound was closed.

I’m a firm believer that God allows everything happens for a reason. In addition to a broken forearm, I was also nursing a cold while I was staying at the hospital. In fact, it was this same cold that fogged up my brain when I fell off my bike and broke my arm. If I’d just stayed home and nursed my cold that day, I’d still have an intact left forearm. If only I wasn’t so restless and easily bored…

Surviving in the real world

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Free from the cast, at last!

I was elated when Dr Miia announced I was well enough to be discharged from hospital on Friday morning, five weeks ago. The nurses were amazed at how quickly I changed out of my hospital gown into my own clothing without their assistance.

On the one hand, I was happy to finally be going back to my own apartment, sleeping in my own bed and regaining my freedom to roam aimlessly outside whenever I felt like it. On the other hand, the physical weakness of my left arm was a constant reminder that I’d had to make certain adjustments to my living habits to get by as much as possible with the use of only my right hand.

Here’s a list of bits and bobs that helped me get by in the real world:

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Kipling Keiko Crossbody

An impulse purchase at Kuala Lumpur International Airport to replace another broken Kipling bag, it turned out to be my lifesaver. I never appreciated compartments, smooth zippers and practical design until my life literally depended on it. It was big enough to hold my purse, keys, Iphone 6, headphones, office access card, transportation card and my compact cosmetic bag, yet small enough so I couldn’t overload it with things that were non-essential and overload my left shoulder.

Transportation mobile apps

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Didi Chuxing 

Uber’s strongest competitor in China, Didi’s affordable fast car  (快车)  services have been my lifesaver when I’ve taken a little longer getting ready for work and needed a ride to the office. The 15-minute ride from my apartment in Dongzhimen to Beijing Fortune Plaza typically costs between RMB 8-15, depending on traffic and weather conditions and the time of the day.

  • Chinese only interface
  • Payment method: Only accepts WeChat Wallet
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Shenzhou is the app I turn to when I can’t get a ride with Didi. Shenzhou provides chauffeur-drive cars and employs their own drivers so naturally their services are much more expensive. I started using their services when they launched the introductory offer of getting an extra RMB 100 for every RMB 100 credit I transfer into my Shenzhou account. That offer ended in September, but they still give you RMB 50 credit for every RMB 100 you transfer into your Shenzhou account.  But as I was telling a friend, when you desperately need a car to take you home on a cold, rainy night, money becomes the least of your concern. It’s reassuring to know that even if I miss the last bus, taxis are scarce and no one’s responding to my Didi request, I can always get a Shenzhou car to take me home.

  • Chinese only interface
  • Payment method: WeChat Wallet, Alipay, Jingdong Wallet, debit and credit cards issued by China banks.

Food ordering app

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Baidu Waimai

Cooking was out of the question for the first week after I was discharged from hospital. When I didn’t go out to eat, I ordered meals using Baidu Waimai. They have a huge range of restaurants, provide discounts if you pay by WeChat Wallet, Alipay or Baidu Wallet and often waive or charge a meagre delivery fee (RMB 5-7). If the food was delivered later than the time they originally estimated, they refunded 50% of the price of the meal.

  • Chinese only interface
  • Payment method: WeChat Wallet, Alipay and Baidu Wallet

my forearm fracture adventure in Beijing – day 3 – the path to recovery

Click here for Day 1 and Day 2.

post-op

My first sleep post-surgery was interrupted every two hours by hazy trips to the bathroom. The nurse heard me go the first time and rushed into my ward to see if I needed help. I was already halfway to the bathroom, so she insisted I keep the toilet door slightly ajar just in case. Her request made me feel like I was a four-year-old all over again, but I obeyed nevertheless.

I woke up at around 7 am and couldn’t go back to sleep. I ate a banana that the church couple brought the night before while watching CNN and waiting for breakfast to be served.

Dr Miia came into my ward a little after 9 am. A Finnish lady of few words, she told me in as many words that as the operation went ahead at 4 pm instead of 12 noon, my left arm had swollen so much it was impossible to sew up the incisions on my arm after she put in the titanium plates. In order to reduce the swelling in my left arm, she told me to open and close my left palm by moving each and every finger one at a time, using my right hand to help whenever I had difficulty moving my fingers.  This was easily one of the hardest things I had to do in my life, as my hand had swollen to three times its normal size and each finger felt like it was made of hard, inflexible rubber. She then informed me that the physio would be visiting me later in the day to prescribe me with more exercises to help me recover the use of my left hand, and she’d be back the next morning to see if the swelling had reduced enough for her to sew me up. She wasn’t optimistic about the swelling reducing that quickly though and she was not going to discharge me with an open wound. That meant I was staying in the hospital for at least a couple more days.

I spent the rest of the day doing exercises with my left hand, mobilising my left elbow and shoulder, taking frequent naps, watching TV and fielding calls and messages. As I don’t subscribe to cable TV at home, it felt like a treat being able to watch CNN and flip to other foreign channels initially but the excitement quickly wore off. I began checking and replying to work emails. When my colleagues informed me they were coming to visit me in the evening, I asked that they bring my work laptop so I could do some work while at the hospital. I never felt work was so essential to my sanity and overall sense of well-being until that day.

I was being drip-fed a small dose of painkillers and a healthy dose of antibiotics, so even going to the bathroom required advanced planning as I had to unplug the machine from the power socket, tidy up the cables and push the tree trolley with a machine and bags of medication with my hand in the right position so I wouldn’t set off the alarm warning the nurses my drip wasn’t working.

The physio, Jason, came by at 4 pm. I showed him what my left hand was capable of after eight hours of doing Dr Miia’s exercises. Then he showed me how much more I could do with my left hand, pushing my fingers out and backwards when I opened my left palm and pushing them all the way in when I curled them into a fist. I felt the first bout of pain post-surgery and he encouraged me to up my dosage of painkillers if I needed to. I didn’t know what I was trying to prove but I decided not to do so, preferring to grin and bear it. He told me to do ten repetitions of the exercise as often as I could manage.

After dinner, I received a stream of visitors, with the last one leaving at about 10:30 pm. After seeing him off at the lift, I dragged myself back to my ward and promptly collapsed into bed, dozing off almost immediately. I hadn’t felt so exhausted in a very long time.

 

My forearm fracture adventure in Beijing – Day 2

Click here for Day 1.

Pre-surgery dramas

Considering I didn’t sleep well the night before, having to adjust my left arm throughout the night to relieve the pain, I woke up early the next morning relatively refreshed and energised. As requested by the orthopaedic surgeon, Dr Miia, the night before, I arrived at Oasis before 8:30 am, armed with my medical insurance card, Iphone, Kindle, clothing for two days and my X-ray from SOS packed in an overnight bag. She’d informed me that she hoped to operate on me latest by noon, the operation would take a couple of hours and I’d be discharged latest the next morning. Little did we know that things would turn out completely different as the day progressed.

After reporting at the clinic, I was first taken to the third floor to choose my ward. Thinking I was only staying for one night, I took one look at the two rooms that were available and chose the smaller one without thinking twice. It was only after the nurses helped me change into my hospital gown did the reality of my impending surgery and hospitalisation finally sink in.

The nurses then took me to get X-rays of my left arm, then I was brought back to my ward. They then proceeded to take my temperature and my pulse, and gave me some painkillers to tide me until my operation. Then I was left alone to wait for my operation. I took this opportunity to reply to WeChat messages from the few friends I’d informed about my accident and impending surgery.

At about 12:30 pm, a hospital admin staff came into my ward to inform me he was still waiting for the insurance company to provide authorisation before I can undergo surgery. Dr Miia was concerned about my left arm swelling too much if the operation was delayed for much longer and she wouldn’t be able to close my wounds after putting in the titanium plates. The hospital admin staff suggested I contact the insurance company directly to chase them and then left my ward.

By this time, I haven’t had anything to eat or drink for over 12 hours, apart from sips of water when I took painkillers, and naturally my throat was hoarse and I felt tired and weak. I felt so uncomfortable, I wasn’t even able to nap, let alone calling up the insurance company. But as minutes then hours passed with no further news, I became concerned if the authorisation would arrive at all.

At 3:30 pm, I decided it was time to make the call. I prayed silently to God for strength and favour and made the call, unsure of what to expect. The lady who took my call was surprised to hear from me, as she said they were still waiting for information from the hospital. She promised to look into my matter immediately and call me back. To my relief, she did call back after five minutes to say the authorisation had been sent to the hospital but the hospital’s phone line was engaged. I got out of bed immediately after hanging up the phone and walked to the nurse’s station to relay the message, forgetting I could summon a nurse into my ward just by pressing a button.

Within an hour, I was wheeled into the operating theatre, transferred to the operating table and put under general anesthetic. I remember thinking then, finally I’ll get some much needed rest.

Post-op

A post-op selfie taken at Oasis Hospital
A post-op selfie taken at Oasis Hospital

When I finally woke up around 7 pm, I was back in my ward with my left forearm wrapped in what felt like a ton of bandages and my head still feeling the effects of the general anesthetic. I was glad to see a couple I know from church who were in the ward waiting for me to come around. I chatted with them between sips of water while waiting for dinner to be served, but they could tell I was exhausted from the operation and from not eating anything for the last 20 hours so they left after about an hour. Despite my extreme hunger, I managed only to eat about a quarter of my dinner, preferring to drink water and fruit juice instead.

After having my fill, I dozed off in exhaustion…

(To be continued)