After Arm-putation, Looking on the Bright Side

miles o'brienEver heard of compartment syndrome? I thought it was something where you get antsy after sitting through a long car ride. I don’t think that PBS correspondent Miles O’Brien had heard of it either-until he developed compartment syndrome after a minor injury and had to have the lower half of his left arm amputated. As a journalist, he might have expected carpal tunnel syndrome on the job but I doubt amputation was ever part of the job description.

Back on February 12, 2014 O’Brien was just finishing up an assignment through Japan and the Philippines when he was stacking equipment onto a cart. The cases fell onto his left arm which according to him hurt a little but didn’t warrant any further medical investigation.

In his blog post recounting the event, O’Brien said, “Ouch! It hurt, but I wasn’t all “911” about it. It was painful and swollen but I figured it would be okay without any medical intervention. Maybe a little bit of denial?”

As the days went on the pain and swelling got worse. On Valentine’s Day he finally went to the doctor who said he may have “acute compartment syndrome”. This starts with more pressure than usual in the muscle compartment, then since all the layers of fascia and nerves around muscle tissue do not expand, the pressure increases more and more, constricting blood vessels and disrupting proper blood flow. Doctors usually see this after a major crush-type injury, maybe after heavy debris fell on a person from an earthquake or after a very serious car accident.

They did an emergency fasciotomy to try and relieve the pressure which snowballed into a difficult procedure that ended up in a lot of blood loss and complications. If the muscle tissue dies; it could potentially release harmful toxins into the bloodstream which could lead to kidney failure. The surgery was not going well so the doctor had to make a call of literally “life or limb” and amputated O’Brien’s arm above the elbow, which is what O’Brien woke up to after surgery.

He has continued to work after the incident and says he sometimes feels “phantom limb” syndrome where his arm was just days ago. This was not something that O’Brien ever expected to happen to him, and it all happened within just a sudden and short time frame.

One of O’Brien’s closing statements in his post was, “But I am alive and I’m grateful for that.”

That’s the thing about injuries at work, or even just injuries in general. While they are all tragedies and unfortunate cases, it is important to remember that some people do not come home from work because of injuries. He may have lost his arm but he did not lose his life.


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