The ambulance arrived at Mercy hospital in Miami and I was admitted to intensive care on the 4th floor of 4 Carroll. Once I was hooked up, Dr. Eduardo Gonzalez-Hernandez from Miami Hand Center arrived along with Dr. Scott McDonald. Thankfully my doctor in Colombia knew Dr. Gonzalez-Hernandez, a hand specialist, and had contacted him to ask if he would take on my case…for this I am forever grateful. Doctor Gonzalez-Hernandez enlisted the help of Dr. McDonald, a plastic surgeon, to help in my leg and arm reconstruction.
At this time my hand was intact but not in great shape. My first surgery was there and then in my room as both doctors set about the debridement (removal of foreign material and dead tissue) of my arm, strange to feel them cutting away the dead tissue…no pain, just a sensation of tugging & pulling.
It was still unclear as to the extent of my injuries and to ensure the best chance of survival for the remaining tissue in my arm and leg I began hyperbaric treatment at the Hyperbaric and Problem Wound Center in the hospital. If you’re a scuba diver (as I am) then you’ll be familiar with Hyperbaric treatment for divers suffering from decompression sickness or “the bends”. It is now also used to treat wounds, allowing patients to breath 100% oxygen at a depth of 10m which saturates tissues with oxygen and speeds the healing process. My initial treatments were in the Sechrist, a single person chamber pressurized with 100% oxygen…no smoking allowed!
I got to meet some really caring people during these treatments, who truly helped me get through my 6 week stay in Miami, I was to continue hyperbaric treatment throughout my 6 week stay.
Within the first week it became clear that the prognosis for my hand was not looking good, despite the continued debridements and hyperbaric treatments. It was time to face the tough decision. My doctor explained he could continue trying to save my hand, but given the extent of the damage it was pretty uncertain how functional it would be and the process would likely be long and arduous as he attempted to reconstruct what he could and risky as necrosis set in, leaving me prone to infections that could kill.
After having prayed and hoped that my hand would be OK the time had come. It was probably harder for my wife than me, she’d been through so much, pushed so hard, and kept hope alive for the both of us…thinking back on how strong she’d been causes my eyes to mist even now. I believe that at some level I’d already accepted the outcome…I remember thinking before the second surgery in Colombia that my hand would probably be amputated, quite matter of fact.
My wife fought so hard to save my hand, but in the end I remember saying to her that we had to let it go. I wanted to get better, I wanted the uncertainty to be over, I wanted the never-ending surgeries to end. There really was a sense of relief for me, I didn’t look beyond the amputation or think about the consequences, this was just the next stage in getting back to a normal life…a mindset that stayed with me throughout my recovery – to think too far ahead was to be overwhelmed. I can’t imagine how this must have been for my wife, no friends for support and nothing but an empty hotel room to go back to, since we live in California!
And so my hand was amputated…