Hand Fashion

Hand Fashion

Removable, with wiggle room, and white which goes with everything.
I had a green one just like this but it didn’t last long.
The ugliest of all, but very utilitarian.

I don’t blame anyone for not being interested in the various splints and casts that can be worn connected with CMC arthroplasty – medical speak for fixing an arthritic thumb joint (although I KNOW some who aren’t interested now will be in the future… just you wait.) I mean to finish this expose for those of you who are interested.

I am now in my second month of recovery after this major reconstruction of my hand. The doctor was fairly accurate in saying I would hate her for the first month. It’s been painful, awkward, inconvenient, and at times depressing. I’ve gotten a whole different way of viewing those with this kind of handicap.

Last Thursday the second of the hard casts was removed. The pin, the one that I was sure was causing most of my pain, was removed. It had worked its way out nearly an inch farther and was lying flat under the cast. At least that made it easy to remove. I didn’t take my phone/camera with me for this procedure. I was glad not to have it when I saw what skin looks like after a month of being wrapped up with no air and no washing. Gross.

I then got fitted for a new splint. It’s plastic that softens in warm water and was molded to the inside of my thumb, wrist and arm. Thankfully, it can be removed by simply undoing Velcro strapping. It is less bulky than the casts. I can wear my long sleeved shirts and my coats again which is great because it’s gotten to be winter up here.

I wish I could say that the pain was gone. It’s not, but the pain pills are. Ice bags have become my best friend. It seems that cold not only reduces swelling, it causes a distracting pain of its own which is much more tolerable than the pain it is covering up. The scar is especially sensitive with a burning pain that I attribute to nerves that are trying to heal. We’ll give them one more month…

I get to start occupational therapy tomorrow, at the crack of dawn. By 7:30 I will be doing thumb exercises which I’m sure will be quite strenuous. The whole imperative of not using the hand to do any lifting or thumb to finger pinching is hard for me to follow. Now that I don’t have to worry about getting a cast wet, and my fingers are more free, I find myself breaking rules all the time. I’m even typing with both hands now, in spite of it being a little uncomfortable.

I go back for another check-up December 19th. I am glad that the worst of this is over, although I’m warned that the second month is still not a “picnic”.

Give Me a Hand, cont… Distractions

November 1, 2, and 3, 2019

Life was going on smoothly with my new, blue cast, for a few days at least. We had a good, but short visit from the North Carolina daughter and another surprise visit from a distant cousin. Events like this are good distractions and I am easily distracted when pain is chronic and below a certain level. And then came Friday, with a totally new distraction.

I had an early morning appointment with the ophthalmologist (tempted to just write eye doctor) and was surprised to see the husband up and reporting to me that his leg had bothered him during the night. He thought it was swollen and felt different. I often don’t agree with his assessments, but I always check to make sure. It did look a little swollen and was slightly warmer. I sent a quick email to our doctor and she recommended we come to the clinic and see what was up. So we were there by 11:30, the husband being examined by a PA.

There was the possibility of a blood clot, a DVT, short for deep vein thrombosis. She ordered an ultrasound of his left leg and we set off down the hall to radiology. Halfway there, Dennis could not go any further. He was leaning against the wall and holding on to the handrail, looking scary. I ran for a wheelchair and helped him sit. He was weak and sweaty. At radiology he was feeling better so the ultrasound was done. I watched the screen as the tech worked and although I find it hard to know what I’m seeing, it was evident that something wasn’t right.

From there we were ordered directly to the ER and met with a whole squad of RN’s. They hooked him up to EKG, put in an IV and started monitoring his vital signs. It didn’t help that his blood pressure was 200/104. The ER doc sent him for a CT scan of the lungs and it showed multiple clots in both lungs – significant was the word they used, as opposed to massive. He was started on anticoagulants and admitted to the hospital. That’s where he spent the next two days until his blood pressure stabilized and his blood thinners had reduced the risk of additional clots.

I don’t remember thinking much about my hand the whole time this was going on. That is not to say that I’m recommending medical emergencies as therapy for chronic pain.

Give Me a Hand, continued

10-24-2019

Ten days after surgery I went back to have the splint exchanged for a fiberglass cast – the next step. The cast tech told me the thing I thought was a suture was actually a metal pin, holding bone and ligament in the right places and coming out of the skin in the shape of an L. Normally they stick out above the skin but my pin had migrated, moved, and was embedded in my flesh. A felt pad meant to keep that from happening had slipped out of place. He didn’t seem alarmed and said that it wasn’t uncommon and was probably due to my being more active. I got another 30 seconds of doctor time and then the head of the pin was pulled out slightly, cushioned with felt again and the cast was applied.

Hmm… there was a piece of metal in that hole.

This cast was less bulky and easier to live with than the splint. But a few days later I was still feeling that burning pain almost constantly.

10-29-2019

I decided to send the doctor a note about the unsatisfactory pain level and it was agreed that I should have the cast checked. It happened that I was going up to the medical complex anyway, for Mom’s dermatology appointment so they agreed to fit me in. Most of our specialists work in a city about 90 miles away so logistics are always in play.

The same tech who put the cast on greeted me with “So, what’s wrong with the cast?”, in a somewhat defensive manner. I told him it was the pin I was feeling mad at, not his cast. And sure enough, when the pretty Packer green cast was sawed off we saw that the pin had rotated again and was making another dent in my skin. The doctor didn’t look at it this time – just told him to put it back in position and wrap it up again. He labored over finding a way to keep the pin out of the sore spot. Vaseline gauze, felt padding and layers of cotton batting went on, covered by the last layer of fiberglass – denim blue this time, which I like better (no offense to the home team). I went home hopeful, but worried because it still hurt from having the pin moved. I was beginning to wonder about the wisdom of putting a pin under a tight cast that will always be putting pressure on it. Does that sound like a recipe for pain?

Such a pretty blue – goes with so many of my outfits.

To be continued…

Give Me a Hand

I realize that I completely dropped the ball (and the story) after the big build up about my surgery. The truth is I haven’t felt much like writing since then. Everything in life has become a one handed task, which makes typing pretty slow. But, it’s now time to complete the record. I just wish someone would give me another functioning hand…

For the record: (typed with one hand)

On the 14th of October, after weeks of anticipation, I had surgery on my left hand to relieve arthritic pain in the thumb joint. The hospital experience was very good, almost amazing. The only thing missing, in retrospect, was a detailed explanation of the process from the doctor. She came in to put a mark on my hand and was out again in less than 30 seconds.

I left several hours later with the hand wrapped in a bulky splint and totally numb due to a nerve block. The block took care of the pain for nearly 24 hours and then I began taking the prescribed pain med.

That first week I had far less pain than I had expected. It was similar to the way my thumb felt before the surgery. I even began using that hand for simple stabilizing tasks, even though the splint made it impossible to hold things. I remember one time when I was trying to get comfortable in my recliner and used both hands to push myself back. There was a significant jolt of pain that took several minutes of recovery time. After that I gradually became more aware of an annoying burning sensation under the many layers of cotton padding and elastic bandage.

I finally got curious enough to look underneath it all. It was uncomfortable to the degree that I thought a re-wrap might help. The incision appeared to be healing well but there was a single spot of inflammation farther up the thumb that looked like it had a very thick suture drawing it in. “What on earth is that?”, thought I. That is definitely the place that hurts.

Sorry if you find this too graphic. I’m a nurse so I’m immune.

To be continued…

Writing and Discouragement

I love writing. It’s like talking to people, except I don’t have to find someone who has time to listen to me. Much easier. I enjoy being a blogger.

Last winter and spring, my writing path led me to join a community of writers for encouragement, support, direction, all that good stuff.  I had no clarity about what might be next.  I wasn’t sure being a personal blogger was the endpoint for me. It sounded like hope*writers could help me sort that out. I got pretty excited about moving ahead – enough that I made a commitment to attend a conference. I actually bought the ticket and made a hotel reservation months in advance. Did I do this just to make sure I would go?  Not consciously.

And then life happened. Summer took some unusual turns. For weeks my husband struggled with his diagnosis of Lewy Body Dementia. The anxieties and fears he battled had us moving from place to place. I didn’t stop blogging, but I did stop listening to the podcasts, doing the writing exercises, connecting with my support group. There wasn’t a lot of time for that and, honestly, I just lost heart. It’s been hard.

As summer faded off, I found I was having a lot of pain in my hands, especially the left thumb joint. Arthritis had been coming at me for a while, but now it was time to stop living with the pain and regain use of my hand. I had surgery a week ago and have at least six weeks of recovery, in a cast, before I can start therapy.

Back to the writing conference, which is now only two weeks away. The deadline for selling my ticket to someone else has passed. I’m now contemplating whether it is even possible for me to get to Charlotte, NC to attend. The expense of travel, my impaired condition, my husband’s need for help, all seem like hurdles, like roadblocks. Will it be worth the effort to make this happen? I don’t know. It’s not like me to throw away an expensive ticket for an event  I was once pretty excited about.

Believe it or not, i can still type with a few of these fingers.

So, my hand is starting to hurt again as I peck away with two fingers on my computer. I’m feeling a little teary, but I know I have to write in order to think things through. That’s what writing does for me, and that’s why I love to write. Does anyone out there understand this?

Yes, It Hurts

10-09-2019

A good part of my life has revolved around music and playing the piano. For a few years I even taught beginning piano students and had a studio in my home. A friend and I were pianists for our church as well. Many times she would say “You play today. I can’t do it very well when it hurts this much.” I was in early stages of arthritis in my fingers as well, but I couldn’t imagine how the hurt could be bad enough to keep me from playing. Playing piano didn’t hurt at all, really.

Now, I get it. The last couple of months have been the worst ever. I’ve had flares at times when one or two joints would swell with inflammation and be tender, but lately it’s more than that. My left thumb is the upcoming surgery site, but the right hand is equally painful in the fingers, not the thumb. One finger is swollen so much that I had to go to a jeweler and have the ring cut off of it. Almost everything I do with my hands has some degree of pain associated with it.

I’ve read that the 50% of the hand’s work is done by the thumb. My left hand knows that very well because it’s pretty much useless for holding on to anything that requires thumb opposition. But fingers are so important too. Unfortunately, I don’t think there are good surgical fixes for finger joints. Right now it hurts to:

⁃ manipulate, or lift pots and pans in the kitchen. They are heavy and have to be grasped.

⁃ Fold laundry, especially little movements like turning socks right side out.

⁃ Put on socks and shoes, especially pulling ties tight or pulling zippers on boots

⁃ Hold small objects tightly, goodbye any kind of handwork

⁃ Type, even on sensitive keyboards like my iPad

⁃ Pull the sheets and blankets when making my bed

⁃ Open lids of jars, milk and juice cartons. Most any kind of packaging is not my friend.

Most of the time I plow through these activities anyway because the pain of movement is short lived. But I have progressed into a different stage now where pain occurs out of nowhere, without movement. It is more constant and has a “burning” nature. All of this just emphasizes to me how important hands are to life.

I’m sure having my left thumb fixed will eventually make things better. My doctor said that I will hate her for the first post-op month, dislike her for the second month, and thank her after the third. Reports also say that this surgery is long lasting with good function up to twenty years later. So the countdown continues, five more days.

Countdown to Monday 10-14-2019

It’s evening and I’ve just finished watching a video of a surgery that I’m going to have next Monday. If you faint at the sight of cutting and bleeding, don’t click this link Basilar Thumb Joint Arthroplasty with LRTI, but know that it is a good surgery with a high success rate. It’s also probably the most common surgery done worldwide. It is called CMC arthroplasty and ligament reconstruction. Simply put, if all goes well, they are fixing my painful thumb joint.

I’ve encountered a number of people who have arthritis in the basal thumb joint so I know it is common, especially among women. I want to do a few posts on this experience, mostly to inform, but also to work out the pain of the recovery period. Writing is helpful to me when I’m in pain or stressed because it ascribes purpose to what I’m going through. I hadn’t heard of or considered this surgery until a couple of months ago and there might be others, in the same situation, who will find my account helpful.

It’s not known why some people get this problem and others don’t. My thumb pain started several years ago. I have treated it with NSAIDs, with cortisone injection, and with platelet rich plasma (PRP) injections (a precursor in the stem cell therapy family). Of all these, the thing that has been most helpful is the thumb brace recommended by the PRP therapist.

A large part of my problem has been the loosening of ligaments that normally stabilize the thumb. Loose ligaments have allowed more movement and that causes more pain. The Push thumb brace holds my thumb firmly in place and keeps that joint stable – it’s been protecting me from the most unbearable pain for two years now. I have recommended it to others and they have also loved it.

Unfortunately, the pain is now more constant and not only the result of movement. It is time for a more permanent fix. The surgery is outpatient, but it will be with general anesthesia. I’m not allowed to drive myself home so my youngest daughter has generously arranged to come and help with the day of surgery and the first week. I’m hoping the fun of her visit will greatly distract me from what my poor hand will be feeling.

Check back tomorrow and I’ll describe what medical science has come up with in this remarkably successful procedure.

Six Communication Tips (Help Me Remember!)

8-26-2019

Communication is so important. I am drawn to think about it this week since I have been twice (that I know of) in situations where my communication was less than sufficient or completely missing, forgotten. In my world of “communication rain”, it was pouring!

And if I could just read people’s minds, and they could read mine, miscommunication would not be an issue. But I guess, or assume, and things go awry.

I forgot to invite a family member to a family gathering. And when I did contact them late, I neglected to find out if they knew where the gathering was. I neglected to exchange cell phone numbers in case plans changed. I spent half of the family picnic feeling worried about why they weren’t there and wondering if they had gotten lost. I couldn’t call them to find out. I felt the guilt. It was the hardest thing ever to pick up the phone later that evening and find out what had happened.

The very next day(!) a series of late decisions and wrong assumptions led to disappointing some friends and leaving them waiting at a restaurant for us to meet them for dinner. Mom was in on this one and her observation was that her aversion to talking on the phone often kept her from necessary communication. We could have just made a call, earlier than we did.

Realizing that I have caused someone inconvenience or emotional pain/upset is stressful for me. I don’t need more stress! And I don’t want friends, family, or anyone for that matter, to feel confused, unloved or unimportant. That is stressful for them. So, thought and prayer brought some things to mind. From now on I will tell myself:

Shirley, listen now,

1. If you are in doubt, pick up the phone and find out! People don’t have to answer if they are busy. They will know you cared and will call back when they can.

2. Let people know that you don’t mind being called. They might have that phobia or aversion to calling. I always feel cared for, not bothered.

3. Text, if they use texting enough to be familiar with it. Be sure to SEND the text after writing it. (Yes, that one is for me.)

4. Call sometimes when there isn’t a pressing reason. This is how to make sure you have the correct contact information, home phones and cell phones.

5. Realize that it’s hard to over communicate. Talk plans through if you make them in person, and agree to confirm later if needed.

6. Probably the most important thing, pray about any plans, that they would be under God’s direction. Even if things seem to be going wrong, if he’s in charge, he is working something out and he isn’t expecting you to worry about it.

Take Me Out (to the ball game)

7-27-2019

It’s a beautiful morning in North Carolina.

I’m thinking about the fun time I had last night at the baseball game. Normally, baseball is not one of my passions. As far as watching the game, I put it a notch above golf on the excitement scale, which is why I have only gone maybe three times in my life. However, the whole ambience is interesting and attractive – the crowd, the camaraderie, the food, all that.

I really did not know much about the nuances of play and the organization of the teams and leagues but luckily, daughter Julia’s special friend Kevin, was a baseball player in a semi-pro league. He was the host for this night, and through family connections he had tickets to a box suite. It is a whole different experience to have a choice of air-conditioning, or outside balcony. Add in free popcorn and peanuts and it becomes a place I could take for several hours whether there was a game to watch or not. It was also informative and entertaining because Kevin’s three children were along, getting tutorials from dad on the plays.

I once did a stint working refreshments at several baseball games in Florida. I didn’t get to watch those games but I did learn that people spend way more on refreshments than they do to get into the game, in most cases. I didn’t need a hot dog or other food but I was thirsty enough to order a souvenir cup of Dr. Pepper for $ 6.50. This will help me remember the experience.

Greensboro Grasshoppers souvenir cup

Another reminder will be the picture that the kids and I had taken with the team mascot. You wouldn’t be able to tell, so I will inform you – he’s supposed to be a grasshopper. He wanders about, with an escort to help him see where he’s going, getting pictures taken with youngsters. I kind of snuck in there. It’s not every day I get photographed with an insect.

The Grasshoppers are the local team in Greensboro and, fortunately, they won by a healthy margin. The league is entry level professional and most of the players were right out of college, or even high school. All those long breaks waiting for the pitcher to decide to throw the ball were filled with chants, cheers and commercials over the loud speaker and on the giant screen at the back of the outfield. There was also pure silliness going on from time to time promoting the game sponsors. These cows came out and danced the chicken dance – thank you Chick Fillet.

In this league, occasional heckling and teasing was allowed but kept nicely in line by an announcer who led everything with sound effects and cheers at every opportunity. Nice idea and it worked.

And there were fireworks. Impressive ones.

Great night, beautiful stadium, family friendly atmosphere (including a real live rendition of “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” by the announcer and some kids) – all the things baseball has been and should probably be. The one sobering moment was at the gate where, as times require, my purse was searched and we had to go through metal detection. I had to take my jacknife back to the car. Oh well, …

Grand Canyon Leftovers

Yes, leftovers. These things I’ve written about my adventure hiking in the Grand Canyon have probably not taken you more than 2 or 3 minutes to read, on any given day.  When you consider that the whole experience was six days in the happening, you know there were lots of things I did not mention, yet.

There are some significant things I want to record for my own sake, and maybe for yours, dear readers.

I want to remember:

  • The El Tovar Hotel. Specifically, the ice cream shop and the booth where my brother sat as a teen and was encouraged to apply for summer work at the Canyon. He did, and that started his GC experiences and led to mine. Beautiful hotel with such a history.
  • Our knowledgeable, personable female guide, Nina. Her German heritage came out in her motherly care of us, her enthusiasm for beer, and her down to earth “so who needs a swim suit to go swimming” philosophy.
  • That it’s very handy to have an empty plastic Mayonnaise jar in the tent with you at night, ladies. Thank you again Nina.
  • How big, beautiful and dangerous the Canyon is.
  • That people are built to walk up easier (and longer) than to walk down.
  • That trekking poles are lifesavers when you are tired. Four points of balance are so much better than two.
  • That I can live through pain, and that pain’s memory fades (as in childbirth and hiking the South Kaibab)
  • That with enough rain, the desert can look so green and full of flowers.
  • That even in a place stamped with billions of years of time, the fact that I can see it, marvel at it, and wonder about it, means I am uniquely created to enjoy it in my brief span of time. Time is not the only measure of significance.
  • That I am truly blessed to not be living like I’m camping all the time, but that I get to camp out when I want to.
  • That you can get to know complete strangers pretty easily when you camp and hike with them, and most serious hikers are nice people. I enjoyed getting to know you Michael, Marlene, Steven, Mike, Bob and Kim.
El Tovar main lobby, from second floor balcony
El Tovar, second floor lobby near guest rooms