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Fracture sites shown by the yellow lines

After five weeks, the splint on my left arm was removed. While my left arm was immobilized, my muscles had deteriorated so much that I could barely move my wrist in any direction. I could make only a “claw” with my hand even though I tried my best to make a fist. I couldn’t even reach to touch my face! The doctor said, “Work on moving it as much as you can.” “Even if it hurts?” I asked.

“Yes, even if it hurts.”

“Wait, what?”

Moving my left wrist and hand over the next few days hurt indeed. “Ugh, why isn’t it moving that much?!?!” “Relax. It’s only Day 2,” my husband told me.

Since my relatives didn’t have any specific recommendations for me as they’ve never done any physical therapy, I looked online for various clinics nearby. There was one a five-minute drive away, but it had mediocre reviews. One clinic in particular stood out from the rest, although it was a 25-minute drive away in the city of Brea. Coury & Buehler Physical Therapy had stellar reviews – five stars from 42 reviews!

This place is truly as great as everyone says. I was beyond amazed at the level of service I received here this past summer.

The therapists are all extremely knowledgeable and qualified, so I knew I was in good hands. My PT was awesome. He was great at explaining everything and I always felt really comfortable asking him questions. The aides are great too. They made sure I was doing my stretches right but they were also good company. Thanks to all of you, I am now pain-free~

I would recommend this place to anyone in need of physical therapy. Go here… seriously. You won’t regret it.

I was initially skeptical because I’m usually against chains (a rant for another time, I suppose), but I didn’t regret it one bit. Because I was paying for my therapy out-of-pocket as my travel insurance covered only the hospital stay, I intended to go there for only one month and then carry on with the exercises on my own. My positive experiences there led me to stay for one month… then it became two, and then I stuck around until the very end when I left California.

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The people

I worked with Jonathan Ebert, PT, DPT mainly.

I also worked with Sharon Ho, PT, DPT when Jon was sometimes unavailable.

At my first appointment with Jon in his office in early June, I told him everything that had happened which led to my broken left arm. The larger issue was obviously my broken neck in the halo brace but I needed to work on my left arm for now. I started to recount the story like it was no big deal, but I suddenly felt so emotional that I began to cry. “I know it’s a lot to take in right now,” he consoled me. In order to have a baseline with which to compare my progress, we took some measurements of the range of motion in my wrist and elbow. What we had to work with was pitiful, but Jon remained understanding and eager to work with me.

We moved to the communal therapy and exercise area. He handed me over to his aide Maranda who walked me through the set of exercises I would do to rehabilitate my entire left arm.

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Together we worked through the exercises for about an hour. I needed to learn to do them properly as I would do them at home too. Usually patients receive heat or ultrasound modalities at the end of their treatment to further relax their muscles, increase blood flow, and help heal tissues in their injured areas. My wounds had not fully closed at the time, but I began receiving heat perhaps two weeks later.

The exercises

Ugh. They were incredibly boring, but I had to do them.

These aren’t the exercises I was prescribed, but here are just some very basic examples. I had a lot more (at least 10 different ones) and they increased in complexity and difficulty every couple of weeks at a time. Some involved equipment like a web, a light stick, and would you believe it, a box of rice grains.

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From Oxford University Hospital

Depending on the exercise, I went through the motions ten times each or held them for one minute each. Two sets of the exercise program took a bit more than an hour and I performed three to four sets per day. I did my first two sets after breakfast or lunch (depending when I woke up 😊) while watching a movie or a show. My third set was done during my daily walk around sunset. My last was in the evening while watching a movie or a show or reading in bed (honestly I was often too tired or lazy to complete the last set 😕). It was important that I maintained such structure in doing these exercises so I wouldn’t fall off the wagon. Some people who go for physical therapy don’t even bother doing the exercises at home. The therapists and aides just know if you’ve actually been doing them.

No matter how boring or tedious it became, I just told myself, Seriously, just do all these exercises and you’ll get your arm back in a month or two. Once I complained to my husband and he retorted, “You love to exercise. This is literally what you love to do.” This wasn’t the same kind of exercise that I loved pre-accident, but he was right. I carried on without further complaints.

My progress

At first holding a small yogurt cup and cutting my nails using my left hand were HUGE accomplishments.

After three weeks of therapy, I could open and close my hand more and (kind of) make a peace sign. In the splint I couldn’t even make a pointing finger (even though the splint itself didn’t restrict such movement).

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After a month and a half, I became closer to making a full fist and flexed and extended my wrist more substantially. I used my left arm more and more with daily activities such as opening and handling things, holding the shower head, and brushing my teeth. (I now brush my teeth solely with my left hand out of habit!)

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When my left arm had at least half of its functionality back, I finally began to cook again. My grandmother took total control of the kitchen and no one wanted me to do anything taxing around the house, so I only made a grand total of three dishes 😛 Of course all of them have photographic evidence!

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Finally my left elbow bent down far enough that I could drink from a water bottle or glass. I could feed myself nuts or popcorn. I could also wash my face and put contacts on! Before my range was so limited that I could not reach far enough to do any of these things! I reveled in my successes in the simplest of activities.

Here is a summary of my progress report after two months:

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Even with certain limitations, it was extremely motivating to see myself progress. When my husband saw me again after three weeks, he was surprised with how much I improved.

At present I:

  • Have 100% range of motion in my elbow (i.e., I can reach the back of my neck).
  • Can make a full fist, though my pinky doesn’t go all the way down (only 60% of full flexion), thereby affecting the extent of my full grip.
  • Can flex my wrist to 95% of its full range of motion. I’m practically good here.
  • Can extend my wrist to 80% of its full range of motion
  • Can turn my palm up and down, but only to around 65% of its full range of motion (apparently some permanent limitation would be expected here because of the hardware)
  • Feel that I am 100% functional to work in an office or kitchen. Maybe 90% to work back in the mine at this point. (This is just about the dexterity in my left hand since I’m still in a neck brace and can’t lift things.) If I have issues with my left hand, I can always use my right.
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See my left pinky?
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Wrist extension – barely any difference
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I almost have the normal range for wrist flexion
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I still have trouble and pain with fully turning my palm up

What helped

Aside from my own willpower and determination, the staff of Coury & Buehler became a large part of my recovery. I went there three times a week in my first month, and two times a week in my second. Each session was about an hour and 45 minutes, which included me doing the exercises (the same ones I did at home but some needed additional equipment which I did not have), Jon mobilizing the tissues around my arm, and getting heat on my arm at the end of my treatment.

Jon was just awesome. He was so fun, friendly, and knowledgeable. (He also reminded me of my former co-worker and camp bestie Liam, maybe that’s why I liked him so much!) We would talk about everything under the sun during my treatment. I’m the type to ask an endless number of questions until I understand something 100%, and he always explained his answers clearly and competently. Jon provided me with incredible support and encouragement throughout as he saw my progress week after week.

His aides (assistants) were equally a joy to be around. They made sure I performed my exercises properly and were always glad to answer any questions I had. I’ve had some great conversations with them too, which included which shows I should watch and books I should read. (Remember when I said the exercises were boring?) I had at least five different aides during my entire treatment there, each showing genuine compassion and willingness to help me with my recovery. Even those at reception and modalities who were not directly involved with working with me treated me with the utmost kindness and respect.

But don’t even ask how many times people asked me “What happened?” – staff and fellow patients alike 😛 That halo was hard to miss!

So wonderful was my experience with their staff that I actually cried on my last day there. My aide on my first day, Maranda, turned out to be working that day. It just took me back to my first day when I started from literally nothing, and there I was – almost fully functional again. I definitely agree with what they claim on their website:

Our approach to treating patients is unique but simple. We treat people, not just their pain. At Coury & Buehler Physical Therapy, we specialize in targeting affected areas with the latest, most advanced therapies – and healing the whole patient with our extraordinary level of compassionate & individualized care.

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Me and my PT on HAWAIIAN SHIRT FRIDAY. Patients are encouraged to wear a Hawaiian shirt every Friday to enter a draw for some gift cards! I wanted one from Trader Joe’s but I never won 😦

Both Jon and Maranda commended me on my excellent progress and willful attitude, wishing me all the best as I returned to Canada. I told them I would send them thank you cards when I got home, but they said there was no need. I still will though, hehe.

What’s next for me

When I had my halo removed, my entire upper body was stiff and sore because of the lack of movement while in the brace. For example, I barely raised my arms before my shoulders ached terribly! I began therapy for that area with them and I am currently continuing this with my new physical therapist here in Canada. My shoulders have improved quite a bit (their range of motion is now at 85 to 90% bilaterally), but I am still tense and continue to experience pain in some areas like my traps. While I am focusing mainly on my upper body, I still do some hand and wrist exercises from time to time during the day. Cooking once again has made for great exercise for that… especially kneading homemade pasta dough and mixing muffins by hand!

I am dreading for the big one though, which will be the incredible amount of therapy I will require for my neck when my brace comes off in two months. By then, it will have been seven and a half months since it moved. Now my wrist was immobile for five weeks in the splint, so consider how much damage over six months on my neck would do! I am terrified of when I turn my head for the first time and see how stiff my neck will be. But I guess there’s no use in worrying now – I’ll cross that bridge when I get there.

I know physical therapy will continue to be a big part of my life for the next several months. Luckily my PT experience has been staggered – first my left arm, then my shoulders, and finally my neck. I could not imagine how much work I would have to do if I had to do them all at once! It would take me two hours to finish one set!

I was fortunate to have that kind of expertise and support from Coury & Buehler in rehabilitating my left arm. Now that I know what it takes to get entire body part to function normally, I’ll be back to my pre-accident self before I know it.

Proud of those battle scars!
Proud of those battle scars!

The Brea office of Coury & Buehler Physical Therapy is located at 1800 E. Lambert Road, Suite 220, Brea, California 92821.

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