The Problem With Elbow Celebrity… (Part Two)

…is you kind of forget the rest of your body is attached. And whatever fate happens to the elbow? It happens to YOU.

*If you missed my elbow’s 15 minutes of fame.

My first visit with Dr. God:

Typical exam room, if we ignore the stunning photographs of men and women free climbing. Little rocks like El Capitan in Yosemite.

Free climber credit
copyright: Corey Rich

I’m distracted by the free climbing photos.  Free climbing: a human with talc on their fingers and good climbing shoes, going up, oh I don’t know, a granite slab the size of two Empire State Buildings stacked on top of each other.

To get an idea of scale:

The yellow dot is a helicopter.  about an inch about are two small bumps.  Those are tents (portaledges)  specifically made to dangle off a sheer cliff, so you get a good night's sleep. Since you have at least 5 more days to go...
The yellow dot is a helicopter. about an inch above it, on the rock face, are two small bumps. Those are tents (portaledges) specifically made to dangle off a sheer cliff, so you get a good night’s sleep. Since you have at least 5 more days of climbing to get to the top. If the weather holds.

See? Distracted. El Capitan is one of my favorite rocks. We visit Yosemite often.  Why would a neurosurgeon have free climbers in his exam room?

Enter Dr. God.

I don’t want to talk about the lump.  I want to know about the photos. It would be impossible for a surgeon to be a climber (one look at a climber’s fingers and you understand).

My ability to ask intelligent questions when denial is already onboard, and I’m flummoxed by photographs of climbers? Out the window.

He jumps into the gap.

“So! Hi. I’m Dr. God.”, big, honestly friendly smile, “whatcha got there?”

I like him immediately. He wants to know the answers to all kinds of unreasonable questions I never considered: when did it appear? How fast would I say it’s growing? Does it roll around, or is it immobile?

“Uh”, I say.

“Results are back from the MRI”, he says, “it looks like it’s growing on an offshoot of the Ulnar nerve.”

It really is on the last nerve of my funny bone. Oh. My. God. That’s hilarious!!

He rolls the lump around as far as it will roll. “Does this hurt?”

“Nope”, I say.

“Any numbness?” he continues.

“Only if I do this?”, I say, holding my arm up in the air. I add, hoping to show I’ve paid some attention to myself, “…but I have to hold it up there for a while.”

“How long?”, he asks.

“About now”, I reply.

Nice.  That was all of two seconds. Could I look ANY more moronic? NO.

“Here’s what I think we should do…”, he says, conversationally, “I want to take a deep tissue biopsy of the lump. It’s surgery, we knock you out. We’ll biopsy it while you’re on the table, and if it’s cancer, we close you back up.  If it’s not cancer, we take it out.  If we just want to be extra super SURE it’s not cancer, we close you up, and send the sample to a special lab for extensive testing. Then if it comes back benign, we reschedule another surgery, go back in and remove the lump.”

What I hear: “lalalalalalala TWO SURGERIES  lalalalalala”.

What I deduce from what I hear: Any surgeon who says “super sure” while describing their surgical plan, is a keeper.

Oh, whoops. He’s still talking?

“I called a surgeon friend at Sloan-Kettering. He’s the head of Surgical Oncology, and I ran it by him. Sent him the MRI and Ultrasound. He thinks we’re on the right track. I think we should just go for it.”

His tooth twinkles reassuringly.

I do not want to know the worst case scenario. I want the Disney scenario. I search for a reasonable, but innocuous question.

“What is it?”, I ask, finally, “a tumor?”

“I don’t know”, he says, “Probably. Could be cancer, could be benign.  We really won’t know until we get in there. I’m hoping it will be a benign nerve sheath tumor.  If that’s what it is, you will probably lose feeling in your arm here…” he taps my forearm, “and depending on how invasive the roots are, you might lose some function.”

That’s the Disney scenario? I rearrange the songbirds and ribbons. Numbness? Fine. Loss of function? I can ride Hudson one-handed. Better than it not being benign.

I’m onboard. I nod.

“Okay. That’s all doable”, I say, making him a very relieved surgeon.  I’m not going to freak out.

I get it, suddenly. We’re free climbing here.  No helmet, no ropes, no clips. Nothing but his incredible skill, good shoes and a chalk bag. He’ll get in there, follow the best route he can find, and follow it to its hopefully butter cream outcome.

(I resist the urge to tell him my “frosting tumor” theory.)

“Why can’t you just take it out?”, I say, “I mean, you could just take all of it out and then biopsy, right?”

He breaks eye contact with me, and backs away. Folds up my chart. Moves to a chair on the other side of the room. WHOA. What did I do?

There’s a long silence.

In a slow and deliberate tone, he says, “If it’s cancer, we can’t take it out.”


“I guess you should know”, he says, unhappily, “it’s a possibility you’ll have to face.”

I wait.  He folds his arms and becomes very still. “We would close you back up, and tell you to go live your life. There’s no survival rate.”

WHAT?! I feel FINE. What does “no survival rate” mean? A month? A year? He sees all this go across my face. In that moment, I felt really bad for him. Who wants to be the person that has to say this?

Then I see a hopeful thought go across his face.

He brightens up. Uncrosses his arms, smiles kindly. “That’s the worst case scenario. Probably not what’s going to happen. But, you do need to be prepared. You know, if that’s where we end up, I could buy you some time.  I can remove your arm.”



Outcome: I have both arms! 

While it was shocking to go from “hey look a lump!” to “one-armed Jane” in a single sentence, the tumor ended up being the no-way-do-you-have-this, impossibly rare, non-cancerous wacko tumor. Thank you, God. 

I found out later (when he threw himself on me post-op in a giant bear hug, crying.) he was fairly certain it was cancer. Thus the call to the expert at Sloan Kettering. 

The tumor grew from a single cell that lost its marbles, and multiplied like crazy, a very fast growing tumor mostly on the nerve sheath. Even more lucky? The tests couldn’t show exactly where it attached. Once inside, he found instead of being on the ulnar nerve, it was growing on a small branch of the radial nerve. That’s the nerve that sends messages UP your arm, not down to your fingers.

The ONLY removal side effect is occasional..wait for it…waaaaait for it…put down hot beverages…

armpit numbness

…until the nerve regenerates. Of all the terrible things that could have been, it only left me a little numbness in my armpit. If I’d been asked where I’d choose to be numb, it would not have occurred to me to think “I know, let’s go with the armpit!” while cataloguing body parts as locations for potential numbness.  

I have angels, with a terrific sense of humor, watching out for me.

(El Capitan with no gear.)

32 thoughts on “The Problem With Elbow Celebrity… (Part Two)

  1. Thanks for the hot beverage warning.

    You might have added that I should also finish chewing/swallowing the bagel. Just a hint.

    Fiddle says that a little armpit numbness should not slow you down if you want to come ride her. Just bring a ladder for mounting/dismounting and everything will be fine. Alternately, you could bring enormous heaps of carrots and cake, and then you could both just stay on the ground and eat.

    1. Fiddle: I will bring heaps of carrots and cake and we will ALL stay on the ground and eat ourselves into a coma that can only be relieved by lots of riding. Hudson sends his regards, and can’t wait to complain to you about his human’s total disreguard of horse dignity, and her refusal to stop squirting nasty nasty stuff in his mouth. Aarene: Whoops, sorry about the bagel! I assume Santa was around to give you the Heimlich? FYI, blogger hates me trying to comment from any device that is not plugged into a socket, be prepared for a marathon of commenting when I can sit down in front of the comptuer, instead of laugh myself silly, staring at my phone in the barn aisle.

  2. oh thank heavens it wasn’t serious. You had me at the ‘go live your life’.
    I’m wondering if you could use the numb armpit in a useful way? you like-
    “I’d love clean the bathroom but I can’t because I have a numb armpit”

    “while having dinner with you and all four of your children under the age of 5 in a fancy restaurant sounds like fun I’m afraid I’m not allowed to- I have this numb armpit’


    “dear Hudson, you have to do all that I ask you, even if I ask you wrong, because I have this numb armpit…”

  3. So glad all is well. A numb armpit, temporarily… oh well. My son and DIL went through something similar with my grandson as a 2-year-old. What the docs feared was a cancerous mass in his arm was a hemangioma (hope I’ve spelled that right.) It is downright scary when they are preparing you for the worst.

  4. 1. So glad it turned out to be a funny story about an odd growth in the end.

    2. The surgeon bear-hugging me afterwards and telling me how relieved he was would have given me retroactive anxiety I think.

    3. How long did you have to wait from the “it-might-be-nothing-or-it-might-be-the-end” conversation until the biopsy? Because I’m sure that was a fun wait.

    1. Luckily, I was completely unconscious for the wait for the biopsy thing. Dr. God ran the sample out of the operating room, and he and the pathologist took turns looking at it through the microscope while I was knocked out on the table. He later told me they grabbed each other and whooped they were so happy.

      I did have some strange retro-anxiety when I finally understood the consequences if it had been what was expected. I had to keep saying to myself “you never had that, Jane, it was always fine. You just didn’t know it yet.”

      1. Hmmm, that is a safety issue. Luckily, it is completely possible to consume cake with a spoon and I’m concerned that your caretakers allow you to have sharp objects — do they not know you??? ;-P

        1. Ha! Obviously not well, or I would have eaten nothing but smooth soup in a coffee mug. Sandwiches are surprisingly messy, even when sliced in half. The Earl of Sandwich must have eaten with both hands?

  5. OK – I held my breath, for far too long, right after the “can’t remove it” part. I am soooo glad you have a body with a sense of humor, and that it was just a funny-funny ha-ha moment.

  6. Jeeze, what a scare! So thankful it all turned out as well as possible. It IS kind of cute that you and Hudson had matching elbow lumps… Best wishes for your full recovery, Jane!

    1. It took the “identify with one’s horse” thing a bit too far, but was funny until I got a dose of This is Serious Jane, Pay Attention. Since I’m perfectly fine, it’s funny again, whew!

  7. OH MY LORD. I thought for sure right after the “Remove my arm?!” line you were going to tell us to stay tuned. I am so happy it was a wackjob tumor and not cancer. I was going to tell you to talk to MugWump Chronicles as she rides with one arm. I’m so glad you are fine! I’m sure Hudson felt bad too – he might have had one less hand to get carrots from. 😦

    1. I promise I will never ever scare you with a “stay tuned” on anything serious. I’m totally fine, could care less about the numbness, in fact it’s just…FUNNY…to me. I’m a lucky woman!

      Somehow I missed that about Mugs? Makes her accomplishments even more impressive.

  8. Thank heavens for unique tumors and GOOD surgeons! And juist think — when Hudson gets the better of you, you can blame it on your armpit numbness …

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