BOUNTIFUL -- Last December, Jim Dickson suffered a fall that resulted in a shoulder injury.
The 63-year-old former head football coach for Davis High School and current driver's education instructor, said he didn't feel any pain, but discovered he couldn't lift his arm above his head.
"Of course I'm right-handed and it's my right shoulder. Go figure, but at least I've still been able to grab the steering wheel from my students with my left hand when I need to," Dickson said.
Doctors informed Dickson he had torn his rotator cuff and would need surgery to repair the injury. The surgery couldn't repair all of the damage, so on Wednesday morning Dickson headed to Lakeview Hospital for shoulder replacement surgery.
Before going into the operating room, where orthopedic surgeon Dr. John Edwards would replace his shoulder joint, Dickson was given an interscalene nerve block, a procedure that heavily numbs the arm. The block isn't new to the medical field, but some of the technology has been updated. Ultrasound can now guide the physician to the exact bundle of nerves where the anesthesia from the block is to be given. Those nerves lie between two of the scalene muscles, hence the name.
"There are some really great benefits for interscalene blocks," said Dr. Tory Hinkle, an anesthesiologist at Lakeview Hospital. "The block decreases the amount of general anesthesia we have to give to the patient. It also helps with nausea. The patient is able to wake up faster and doesn't have that cloudy feeling."
In addition, Hinkle said, the need for narcotic painkillers is also greatly decreased.
"The block can last anywhere from 16 to 18 hours and sometimes even up to 24 hours," he said. "That's really nice, because it helps get the patient through that first day of pain, which is usually the worst, so the need for narcotics is lower. It also takes away a lot of stress on the body."
Hinkle said the block is used for surgery on the extremities, and while not every anesthesiologist performs the procedure, patients can ask if they qualify and request a physician who can administer the block.
"The nerves work like an electrical system," Hinkle said. "When you administer the medication along that nerve pathway, it blocks the pain message from going to the brain."
According to the Utah Division of Aging and Adult Service, between 2010 and 2020, the baby-boomer generation is predicted to increase by 51 percent. In the year 2015, one person in Utah will turn 65 years old every 23 minutes. This generation of people is very active, especially in Utah, Hinkle said, and with that activity joints are wearing out, causing them to turn to surgery to replace those aching knees, hips and shoulders. Many people take narcotic painkillers to numb the pain, and some go on to become addicted. Nerve blocks help to greatly prevent that from happening.
Dickson said he received an interscalene block during his first surgery as well, and was pleased with its effectiveness.
"It was great, because I really didn't need any pain medication after the surgery," he said. "They gave me some in case, but I just didn't need them."
Hinkle said while the procedure is safe, everyone has different experiences.
"I've had patients who absolutely love it and others who wouldn't do it again," he said. "I had it done myself about six weeks ago when I had shoulder replacement surgery, and I would do it again."