In The Paddock Column

Michael Scott | January 6, 2021

In The Paddock


Marc And His Humerus — No Laughin’ Matter

The message didn’t quite come draped in tinsel or with flashing multi-colored LEDs but was about as plausible as a flying reindeer. It read: “Marc Marquez’s post-operative clinical situation has been deemed ‘satisfactory’ by his medical team in Madrid.”

Perhaps this is too flippant. “Satisfactory,” in medical terms, is a pretty flexible term. Trouble is, Marc’s upper right arm is also pretty flexible. In places where it was not supposed to be.

The upshot is no joking matter.

Marc Marquez
Photo by Gold & Goose, Courtesy of Red Bull Content Pool

In the worst case, it may even be career-ending. Certainly, the return of the current world’s best at full strength for the start of the next season is in grave doubt, and with it, also Honda’s prospects of regaining the pre-eminence he gave them, with all but one championship from 2013 to 2019.

It shouldn’t be like this. Orthopedic surgery, at least in the common mind, is a matter of sawbones carpentry. Straightforward, at least in concept. A bone breaks, the surgeon slices his way through the adjacent muscle, drills a couple of pilot holes, screws a titanium plate nice and tight across the fracture, sews it up again. And off the patient goes, good as new.

That’s usually how it works, for injuries like broken collarbones. Who can forget Jorge Lorenzo—still the only rider to have beaten Marquez to a premier-class championship—snapping his at Assen in 2013? He flew to what had already by then become the racers’ go-to option, Dr. Xavier Mir’s Barcelona clinic, got screwed together overnight, and was back on his Yamaha two days later, reeking of surgical spirit and riding to fifth place with a tear, a grimace, and the respect of all.

Doubtless Marc had this in mind after his nasty prang at Jerez in July at the belated round one. Clobbered by his bike, the upper bone in his right arm snapped clean in two. He too flew straight to Dr. Mir in Barcelona, had the carpentry, and was back on his RC213V at Jerez five days later.

It was heroic, but it was also too much. He managed almost 30 laps in the last two free practices but withdrew before qualifying. A couple of days later, it turned out that the titanium plate had become bent. Officially, it happened when he pushed a recalcitrant French window. If you believe that, you’ll believe anything.

Dr. Mir and his associates expressed surprise and regret at the failure and did it again. A new titanium plate was screwed into place.

Most expected he’d be back before the end of the year, perhaps in just a few weeks. But the waiting dragged on, and in the end, as we know, he didn’t turn up.

Then, just days after the final race, the bombshell.

Another operation, this one to treat “pseudoarthrosis” of the right humerus.

This, more understandably, is “a non-union fracture.” Where the two ends of a broken bone heal over independently of one another, with maybe just a bit of cartilage between them. You get a bendy bone.

Put your elbow on the table, raise your forearm vertically, then move it from one side to the other. As it goes over center, it flops across. There is play in the bone. It’s not pretty and not comfortable.

I speak from personal experience, which is why, at the start of this depressing Marquez saga, I wrote that he’d be lucky to return before the final races. I based that on his youth and fitness. It turned out to be hopelessly optimistic.

When I had a non-union humerus fracture, I’d also expected a simple recovery, However, I was twice his age, engaged in a sedentary occupation (journalism), far from athletically fit, and a heavy smoker. It took three operations, including two bone grafts just like his, and a full year before the bits of bone finally began to reunite. And that only after I’d given up smoking for six months.

I was treated by Britain’s National Health service, which is a marvelous institution, but essentially basic compared with the sort of bespoke service and specialist treatment Marc will have been getting. This has included something called specific shockwave treatment, as well as attendance by top-flight physiotherapists and so on.

With the same result for him as for me—failure—followed by a third operation, lasting eight hours, this time with a new medical team in Madrid. Like me, he had bone grafted from his hip, and a third titanium plate.

Which, if it works, will still require a significant convalescence.

So, while I’m being personal, kindly indulge me while I express to Marc not only sympathy but also empathy, and good wishes for a full recovery. He is still only part-way through a nightmare.

Send yours, too. He’ll need all he can get.CN


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Michael Scott | MotoGP Editor Scott has been covering MotoGP since long before it was MotoGP. Remember two-strokes? Scott does. He’s also a best-selling author of biographies on the lives of legendary racers such as Wayne Rainey and Barry Sheene.