Iron Man: My Journey Through Heaven & Hell with Black Sabbath - Tony Iommi, T.J. Lammers (2011)
Chapter 89. Not a right-hand man
Throughout the years I have been very unlucky with my right hand. First of all I had my fingers chopped off of it, but that was only the beginning of a whole series of bad things that happened to it. In 1995 I had an operation on my right wrist for carpal tunnel. And when we did the Ozzfest in 2005 my arm really hurt. I did get cortisone injections for it, but the effects didn’t last long. I thought, what the bloody hell is this? I had X-rays and they said: ‘You’ve broken three tendons in your right shoulder. Three ligaments.’
They put them back together and it was fine until about three years later. I was in New York, we were doing a gig on the night and I did some exercises with weights. You’re supposed to exercise to strengthen your arms, but I probably did it a bit too much and I heard this sound, like the snapping of an elastic band. I had broken another one in the same shoulder. My arm was shaking, I couldn’t control it and I thought, oh, no, it’s gone again!
They gave me a cortisone shot and some painkillers to go on stage and I played the gig that night, but it was bloody painful. Fortunately it was the last gig of the tour. I had it checked out back in England and the surgeon said: ‘To be honest it was in a state when I repaired it last time. They were frayed really badly and we were lucky to be able to repair it, but I don’t think we can do it again. And also it’s wrong now. The tendon has shortened too much to reconnect.’
Maybe a top specialist would’ve been able to repair it, but I just left it. It does affect me when I’m lifting stuff above my head. If I have to put a suitcase in the overhead locker in a plane, for instance, that’s when I notice it.
I’ve also been bitten badly by Rottweilers on my right hand and arm. I had four Rottweilers the first time this happened. About five years earlier we had ten pups and I gave a friend of mine one of them. When he went through a divorce he said: ‘Could you look after the dog for a while?’
We had the dog back, a big bitch, but my dogs didn’t get on with her. They started attacking her, which was pretty brutal. I had to pull one of my dogs off her. His collar just came off in my hand and he dived back on her again.
I couldn’t get him off and he was ripping the dog apart, so I got one of my big coats and jumped on top of the bitch, covering her up with it. My dog stopped then and Maria managed to get him inside, but the bitch was in shock and as I had her covered she turned around and ‘maw-maw-maw’: in a matter of just a few seconds she bit two fingers, the side of my hand and my thumb. She obviously didn’t know where she was; she was just in total shock after my dog had set on her.
I thought, oh, fuck! Blood squirted all over the place and Maria shouted at me: ‘You shouldn’t have done that, you shouldn’t have risked it!’
I just went: ‘Quick, get somebody to bandage my hand up!’
Both of us shouting at each other, it was completely silly. I had to go to bloody hospital, off to surgery again, to get it checked and have rabies shots. They bandaged it all up but they couldn’t stitch it, because they said you can’t do that with bites. So I had to leave it, just cover it, put stuff on it, and that was it.
I got bitten on that arm again on another occasion. Maria was doing some work for the RSPCA, finding a home for animals. We had a big dog pen in one of our fields at the house and she brought a dog back to keep for a few days, while we looked for a new owner. It was a lovely Rottweiler that had been mistreated. Maria said: ‘Don’t go by the dog. Leave him alone for a bit.’
Of course I took no notice.
‘All right, all right.’
I went to dog: ‘Hello, hello …’
I reached out to stroke it and ‘wraauw’, he caught my arm. Then he looked at me … and bit me again more or less in the same place.
They are so bloody quick! The dog just grabbed my arm and it was only a warning as well. If he had wanted to, he could have ripped the bloody thing off. But he was frightened and he didn’t know me from Adam. It was my own fault. I shouldn’t have bent over. You’re not supposed to do that. And he probably smelled my other dogs on me as well.
It immobilised my arm, so it was off to the surgery again, to the same doctor. He must’ve thought, what the hell is going on there? And once again it couldn’t be stitched. We had a tour coming up and I thought, oh, for Christ’s sake, just typical, that is. My arm bothered me for a good few weeks, but it healed eventually.
Maria had a go at me: ‘You’re a silly bugger for doing that. I told you not to!’
But I did go down to see the dog again the next day in the pen, just to face my problem. You can’t be terrified forever. I was a bit overpowering with him the first time, so now I went to introduce myself properly. I opened the pen and went in there with a couple of biscuits. He stood there looking and I thought, don’t go for me again, please. But he was all right, he was great after that. We had him for about a week, until we found him a home.
He’s probably killed the new owner by now.
The worst thing that happened to my hand is the cartilage disintegrating in the thumb joint. I had already had problems with that joint for a couple of years. I had steroid injections, but they were just sticking the needle in roundabouts and some of it didn’t hit the right spot. Eventually I heard of this place in Birmingham called The Joint Clinic. This doctor called Anna Moon is a specialist in hands. She injected me under X-ray, so that she could see exactly where the needle went in, which was brilliant. I had steroids first, and then I tried this new stuff, like a jell that they use on knee joints. It looked like glue and I had to have three injections in between my joints over the course of a week. It basically buffered the joint like an artificial cartilage and stopped the bones from rubbing against each other. It was all right but it still didn’t work properly. My hand swelled up from all the playing and I had to put ice on it and take anti-inflammatories and painkillers all the time.
Eddie Van Halen had problems with the joints in his hand as well and he saw this doctor in Germany, Dr Peter Wehling from Düsseldorf, who does stem cell treatment. It’s the only place that does this kind of treatment. Eddie told me it really helped him, so I went to see this chap. I did four hours of all different sorts of X-rays. They checked everything because they can’t treat you if you have any other kind of problem. On the X-ray they found a white mark in my joint and they said: ‘I don’t think we are going to be able to do this. If that’s what we think it is, you are going to be on antibiotics for six months.’
I thought, oh, for Christ’s sake, and said: ‘What do you think it is?’
‘We think it’s fluid in the joint.’
They checked again and found a hole in my joint where one of the doctors had at some point injected a steroid right into the bone. That’s why I was getting a swelling in my hand. They said: ‘Now that we know what it is we can actually go ahead with the procedure.’
They took blood from my arm, sent that to the lab overnight and grew new cartilage from it. Then, a day or two later, they injected it back into me wherever it was needed. The doctor changed his surgical gloves about three times in the course of the five minutes it took to give me the injections: that’s how clean they were. I had to be there at the clinic for a week. Go in the morning, have the injections, and then back to the hotel. They took quite a few big files of blood in case I needed a top-up later, which I did. They grew the cells and I went in every day for that week and the difference was amazing. It really, really helped. I wasn’t getting any pain any more.
I did have to go back to see Dr Wehling again a couple of months later, because the next joint up and also my left hand were playing up. I had a full body scan as well to see if there were any problems anywhere else. There was just a little bit at the base of my spine and at the top of my neck, in between the neck joints, but that was just normal wear and tear.
All these guitar players, like Jimmy Page and Pete Townshend, used to jump up and down and roll on the floor on their knees. Years later you really feel that. Like footballers, they get these joint problems because of all the abuse. I just stood there with the guitar for forty years, but you’re standing funny when you’re playing guitar, so all that gradual wear and tear and putting more weight on one leg and all that caused back problems for me. Dr Wehling gave me injections in my back as well and after about four days of those I never had another problem there again. All the pain disappeared. It’s great.
The last time I saw him, he said: ‘It should be growing all right now.’
They didn’t even X-ray it to check it; he just knows that it’s growing now. He said to keep him updated about what’s going on. It does hurt a bit in certain places now, but it’s nothing at all like it was. When I’m playing for a bit, I forget about it. Since I’ve had this stem cell treatment I haven’t felt the need to take any painkillers or anything. It’s just been brilliant.
Until something else goes …