Elmo, Beorn, and the Ferengi's ear

(Part whatever of Saving Elmo)

>>>Elmo, Beorn, and the Ferengi’s ears

If you’re wondering what’s up with The Leg: We’re hanging in there. LOTS of other stuff has happened that’ll show up here as I get time to write, but mostly? We’re hanging in there.

Scratching your head, saying, “What leg?” Here’s the scoop: I shattered my femur in a really dumb fall last September. You can get the full picture by starting at the beginning: Saving Elmo: I fight concrete…and lose.

Grass grows faster than my bones, apparently, because we’ve passed the four-month mark and there’s still not so much as a sprout at the fracture site. (Or at least, not one the radiologist can see. My surgeon THOUGHT he saw one a couple months back, but it turned out to be wishful thinking)

You play this waiting game when you break a major bone: It gets six months on its own to heal before it’s officially declared “nonunion,” allowing more adventurous solutions (wouldn’t the AFL-CIO love THAT?). Every month I get bungeed into the back of a van and hauled down to the hospital for x-rays and exam, awaiting one of three outcomes:

  1. It’s GROWING! Let’s make wheelchair exodus plans!
  2. Diddly squat. Come back next month.
  3. Uhm…well…the fragments are shifting around and we’ve officially failed. Bye, Elmo. Sorry.

So far, #2 has carried the day, but at last Monday’s visit I got tough: “Look, Doc,” I said bluntly, “This wait-and-see stuff is nice, but I’ve got a house to get back to, cats that need apologetic groveling, and an office at work with six inches of dust on the desk. Can we PLEASE set a date for normalcy here?”

“March 9,” he said simply.

“I just can’t take…Huh? Really?”

“If we haven’t seen growth by March 9, we’ll schedule your next surgery, ” he said.

Wait. “What kind of surgery?” I said suspiciously.

“Bone graft. We’ll dive into your abdomen, rip open your iliac crest, and suck out marrow and stuff like an anteater. We’ll spit it out into a Cuisinart, toss in a little freeze-dried cadaver, dug-up dogbones, demineralized fossils, add a couple of calcium pills and a little olive oil. Puree, then pack the whole mess into that gaping hole you call a distal femur. And start over.”

(OK, so that’s not EXACTLY what he said, but it captures the flavor.)

Short anatomy lesson (I looked it up): Your pelvic bones look like a big-eared child (or maybe the Ferengi Quark) with a spine sticking out of the top of his head. The ileum would be the top part of Quark’s ear, around to the back. It’s apparently rich in red blood cells and marrow, frequently used for harvesting stem cells and whatnot. It’s the site of choice for autologous bone grafts.

“It’ll be a little painful, because we’re cutting abdominal muscles, so if you’d rather, we’ll take material from the good leg.”

Uh-oh. A little painful? The last time my pain was 8 on a scale of 10, they called it “discomfort.” Do I really want to experience “a little painful?”

“Maybe that leg option…” I began cautiously.

“Of course, it’d be kinda hard to get around on that leg for awhile after surgery, so you want to think about that,” and he grinned, “Besides, the material that usually grows best with your kind of fracture comes from the iliac crest.”

Object of the game: Make bone grow. “I can take a little pain if it’ll get me out of this wheelchair,” I say with a gulp, “After that…the clock starts over?”

“All over. Rehab center, then we go back to monthly checks. But YOU,” he said decisively, “Are not going to need it, because now that you’re using the stimulator, your bone will GROW.”

He was talking about Beorn Bonegrower, above, a nifty little electromagnetic device that goes over my bare thigh every night for thirty minutes of…nothing. Apparently it’s sending pulses through the fracture site, encouraging my osteoblasts to get with the program.

I can’t feel a thing, though; I just pop the device on, push the button until I hear a beep, and wait for it to give me a double-beep and shut down. The tech who showed me how to use it warned me that I could only push that button once in a 24-hour period, because after that it will ignore me until its 10PM reset.

“That’s to prevent people from just keeping it on all day long. You’d be surprised how anxious people can get when they use these things,” she said.

Surprised? Not really, no.

Beorns are said to be marvelously effective for growing “nonunions.” Supposedly it takes at least 30-40 sessions to see results; I’m on #24 tonight.

“On March 9,” he said, “You’ll come in here, and that bone will be GROWING, so we won’t need another surgery. But just in case, we’ll be ready.”

Hey Beorn! Yo, osteoblasts! Hear that? It’s your cue: Get busy. 

The Saving Elmo series covers my adventures after crashing to the ground on Elmo, my replacement knee, sustaining an “open, comminuted fracture of the left femoral shaft.” It’s a tad more dire than it sounds; if my bone doesn’t grow completely back and return me to normal function, there’s a new, more painful, less effective femoral replacement in my future…with eventual amputation.

If you want to follow along on the journey, try these posts:



  1. Gordon Yutzy March 2, 2017 at 7:32 pm - Reply

    Cynthia, you don’t know me and I don’t know you, but I have read your writing for nearly five years. I am a fused glass artist (and engineer) and my wife is an accomplished professional metal clay artist. I really enjoy your attitude when it comes to glass. I totally appreciate the way you experiment with technique, always asking the question, ” Wonder what happens if I try this?”
    The ordeal with Elmo must be humbling, terrifying, and uplifting all at the same time. Honestly, I check my email hoping that we will see another blog on your progress. I really enjoy the subjects that you write about and the way you present them. Carry on.

    Gordon Yutzy

  2. KaCe Whitacre January 31, 2017 at 9:21 pm - Reply

    Despite the topic of your knee being so dire, your humor makes me smile. Your rye wit and sense of humorous comments keeps all of us engaged. I thought I saw the light at the end of my recovery-tunnel, when I got a cold. (I know just when too… at the Stomp Concert the lady behind me hacked the whole time!) I’ve been in bed for 8 days! I still cough, have mucus and feel no different than day one. This virulent virus is ruining my plans. I had hoped to be back to doing work in my studio, but as it is unheated and I must exit the house to go there, I am stuck in bed until I get rid of the cough and phlegm. I am inspired by your PMC projects. I’ve made some items… all be it years ago. There is a shop here that teaches metal working for jewelry. One of the classes they are offering is making your own tools. (I thought that might have at least two applications: glass and PMC) Then BE has screen printing again. I took it before. but I need to really make the process mine, and not just a classroom experience. There’s so much to learn… and while in bed I’m watching Lynda.com and learning about css and html5. I may look into WordPress…gotta keep the mind active. Oh, about approved medical equipment… the need to be referred and to have tried unsuccessful treatments before one that is known to work… my husband must endure two months of PT for a hip that has degenerated… he needs a replacement. But he can’t get in to a surgeon until after he has had 2 months of PT. What a waste of everyone’s time, money, energy and resources. I really get your frustration. I’m glad you’re already on day 24… in less than a week you should see improvement. here’s to you.

  3. Island Fused Glass January 30, 2017 at 5:40 pm - Reply

    You are totally accurate on the timeline=pain levels, and level of tolarence. I have faith that the beorn will work for you. It is a long somewhat lonely journey.

  4. Diana tillotson January 30, 2017 at 11:45 am - Reply

    Cynthia, I’ve wondered how you were progressing. Praying for the stimulator to work its magic . Your sense of humor is amazing. Look forward to the next post saying its growing.

  5. ellen abbott January 30, 2017 at 7:25 am - Reply

    why didn’t they slap that thing on you to begin with?

    • cynthia January 30, 2017 at 11:43 am - Reply

      This is a pretty good question. I think (think) the answer is that insurance won’t authorize it until you’re officially “non-union” unless the doc goes to bat. He did in this case, I’m getting it two months early. I honestly don’t know why they don’t just start you out with these things when the consequences of non-union are fairly dire, but I have read that sometimes bone-growing goes nuts and causes other problems. Dunno, maybe they want to wait to make sure you’re not one of the overgrowing type.

  6. Sandi Uhlman January 30, 2017 at 6:10 am - Reply

    Cheering bone growth on!What strange new things we have learned from you!!!
    Just had a knee replacement last week,mine is named Nina. When her brother comes he will be named Neil? I must say this is the most painful surgery ever and I am in awe of you for keeping your sence of humor!!! hang in there Sandi

    • morganica January 30, 2017 at 5:02 pm - Reply

      Nina and Neil, I love it! If you had the surgery last week you’re starting week 2, the very worst week of knee replacement. Goes like this: Pain, swelling like a balloon, you’re supposed to be starting the PT but don’t see how you can move, let alone exercise, and the bloody therapist wants you on a BICYCLE? Are they KIDDING? This will NEVER be over, it was a MISTAKE, and I am crippled for life. I want my knee back! Now!

      My knee PT group had people at all stages, working out together (which is terrific if you can get into one, we all share), and you could always tell the twosies by the tears. I saw strong men broken down by week 2.

      Hold onto this thought: Week 3 is wonderful. You’ll get a handle on the pain, you’ll realize you can DO this therapy crap, and your swelling becomes manageable. You literally see the light at the end of the tunnel. You’ll seesaw back and forth after that–for some reason all my odd-numbered weeks were up, the even a bit more down–but it will never be as bad as week 2 again.

      Just keep doing the exercises, focus on regaining range of motion, and work toward that glorious day when you pedal ALL THE WAY AROUND on that bicycle. (that was one of the greater victories of my life, I swear)

  7. taigarazz January 30, 2017 at 5:53 am - Reply

    It will grow!. Electricity to bone is great!
    Hang in!

  8. Teddy Devereux January 30, 2017 at 5:42 am - Reply

    Hi Cynthia, I’ve been following your blogs about glass and your leg. I’m so sorry that things haven’t been going well. Hopefully the little electric pulses will stimulate your bones to grow.
    I met you at BeCon a few years ago with Sally and Rinee. I will be teaching a short class on making “jelly rolls” and “crazy quilts” at our local glass hobby store in a few weeks as I did a couple of years ago too. I really appreciate all the method blogs you did a few years ago. You have a great gift for writing.
    I’m cheering for you – full recovery soon!
    Best regards,
    Teddy Devereux

  9. Cheryl Sattler January 30, 2017 at 5:39 am - Reply

    What crappy luck. I want to say – at least you have your sense of humor- but that’s more fun for me than you. Go Bjorn or whatever it’s name is!!

  10. Susan January 30, 2017 at 5:36 am - Reply

    Go, Bonegrower! Cynthia, I sent this to Florence, who just published about her dad’s 685 Vmails home during WWII. Love and best wishes!

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