TV Journalist Miles O'Brien: From 'Flesh Wound' To Amputation

Chances are you've seen television journalist Miles O'Brien on the air, whether back in his old local Boston TV days or covering space and aviation for CNN or lately for PBS.

And chances are you haven't heard of Acute Compartment Syndrome. But because of the mishap-turned-medical disaster that Miles O'Brien just endured, now you will.

On his blog here, under the headline "Just A Flesh Wound," he shares a classic medical nightmare of a seemingly trivial bump — his forearm was hurt by a falling Pelican case, one of the hard-shelled cases used for heavy TV tech gear — that went horribly wrong.

He writes:

The doctor told me he suspected that I might be having an Acute Compartment Syndrome. I had to Wiki it, but in essence it is an increase in pressure inside an enclosed space in the body. This can block blood flow causing a whole host of serious, life-threatening consequences.

He had me admitted to the hospital. Over the next few hours, I endured probably the longest, most painful experience I could ever imagine. My forearm developed some dusky discoloration, but more alarming was the numbness. I could not feel my forearm!

The doctor recommended an emergency fasciotomy to relieve the pressure. This is a gruesome enough procedure on its own, but the he was clear that the problem was progressing rapidly and there was a clear and present threat to my limb.

Read the full blog post — which O'Brien says he typed one-handed — for the full story, admirably told and even limned with humor: "Life is all about playing the hand that is dealt you. Actually, I would love somebody to deal me another hand right about now – in more ways than one."

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Carey Goldberg Editor, CommonHealth
Carey Goldberg is the editor of WBUR's CommonHealth section.



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