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.

Dog Therapy

Five days to go, then the adventure starts. I’m worried.

It’s another rest day, with only about 4,000 steps. My legs are feeling tired very quickly and there’s a hint of shin splints. I’m worried that this will continue, or that I’ll do something unwise like switch my shoes out, or forget something important, or get sick.

For some reason this is also the week when we have meetings with a lawyer to get our wills settled (a two hour trip to the city), and the week when paperwork for our house sale closing is being mailed back and forth, a physical exam for a new life insurance policy, and the week when youngest daughter is flying here to be with her dad while I’m gone. There is a lot going on. A lot to get ready for.

Yes, right around that ear, and don’t stop.

That is why I took time yesterday to run away to the empty sun porch over at my brother’s house. It was a time to just sit, do some journaling and thinking. It was a time for “dog therapy”. Scruffy came and sat on my lap.

Scruffy and I have gradually gotten used to each other over the last few months. I sometimes take him for a walk, and I’m usually along when his mom and dad take him for a walk. I always pet him and try to make him feel special. He didn’t always come up and want to sit on my lap, but we seem to have bonded now.  I pet him, and since he can’t really pet me back (but I think he would if he could) he licks my hand. I think that’s dog language for “pet me more”.

Scruffy and I have things in common. For one, we have hair the same color. We both love to go for walks and are easily distracted when we are outside. We’re both a bit aged. I could think of more, but that will do. All this to say that when we sit somewhere together and just chill, it is relaxing, for both of us, but especially for me. I think I worry about more things than Scruffy does. Dog therapy is quite effective since I take my cues from him and don’t worry about anything except whether my lap is comfortable for him to lay on. He is most definitely a lap dog.

Cricket, Ellie? Hope you’re having a good dog day!

Scruffy says hi to Cricket and Ellie and wants them to know he enjoys their astute comments. Dogs really have it together. Just sayin’…

Hands Speaking

My hands are telling me things lately. They are tired of being cut, scraped, banged up, painted, scrubbed… Most of all they are tired of hurting. The stiff and swollen joints still have to pull, pry, twist and grip in order to survive. My hands talk about pain and its very real presence. 

“Pain is like an angry neighbor. He is not moving away anytime soon. He is constantly looking over the fence and his stare, his piercing eyes, can be felt following our every move. Sometimes he scowls, sometimes he kicks the fence, sometimes he gets really confrontational and yells at us. Often he goes back in the house, angry, pouting and sits, but even then we can feel him looking out his window at us, wishing us ill.”

“But he is a neighbor and it’s better to get along than not.  we’ve gotten used to him. We know his name, his whereabouts, his nature, and generally how to pacify him.  We think we prefer him to others who are nastier, and more deadly. He is OUR pain, like him or not.”

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Health Advocate: Regenexx Procedure

Being your own health advocate means searching and researching. I’m following this new trail hoping to keep my hands functional for a few more years. 

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Needles, pain. I was all prepared for it. July 11, 2017 I was scheduled for my Regennex procedure on my thumb joint, left hand. I felt a little like a guinea pig, but this whole area of the body healing itself really appeals to me. As I said, I was all prepared for an afternoon in the recliner, watching NCIS reruns through a narcotic induced aura.

I arrived ahead of time and did a few inches of knitting in the waiting room, followed by a few inches of knitting in the procedure room. Next, I was ushered out of the procedure room and did another inch or two in another room while an emergency fluoroscopy on someone else happened. Then I was taken back to the procedure room and “laid out” next to a tray of needles and syringes. I laid there listening to the sound track to “Sense and Sensibility” for close to an hour. I practiced my deep, slow breathing which I supposed would keep me calm.

And then in they came, two nurses and the doctor. I told them I was driving myself home, didn’t want a nerve block, and to go ahead and hurt me. When asked, Dr. L said he frequently did thumbs, so I relaxed and let them position my hand and start injecting. He was very good with the local anesthetic. Those tiny needle pricks were really the only “hurts” I felt. The rest of the injections were more about pressure as the platelet infused plasma filled the joint spaces. And then it was done.

I drove myself home. The local anesthetic wore off and it still hasn’t started hurting. I think I’m in the clear. Now to wait and see if healing takes place. The only thing that bothers me is that it was supposed to hurt… and what if “no pain” means “no gain”?  Just sayin’.

Being My Own Health Advocate: Stem Cell and Platelet Therapy

Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all of your might… Ecc. 9:10

That’s been my mode of operation for physical activity pretty much all my life. As a result, I have hands that are wearing out a little faster than the rest of me. I didn’t realize how serious a matter this was until recently when both of my hands were too painful to use for much regular activity. Count the number of joints in your hands and fingers and that’s how many sources of pain you can have if those joints are inflamed or worn. We use our hands for nearly everything we do and yet hardly ever give them a thought, until they hurt. Even something simple like holding a book and turning the pages can be too painful to bother.

I am aware that I must be my own health advocate, and I’m trying to encourage others to do the same. I’ve been researching what’s new in treatment of joint pain. Since I view surgery as a last resort, and never without its own bad consequences, the new information on stem cell therapy caught my attention. I’m convinced it’s worth a shot and I want to share the information with any readers who struggle with any level of arthritis or joint damage.

I’m scheduled to begin therapy next week, and I’ll be recording what happens as the days unfold. It’s not an immediate process since it involves healing over time. Here’s the basic outline of stem cell therapy, as I understand it without getting too technical.

We all have stem cells, lots of them when we are born and fewer as we age. They are produced in bone marrow and that’s where most of them are concentrated. Adult stem cells are the template from which other more specialized cells are made. The body signals when and where stem cells are needed to regenerate and heal damage. It’s pretty simple and it’s part of the awesome way we were designed.

These are not stem cells from human embryos, and no babies will be harmed in the publishing of this post. Much controversy has been raised over the use of embryonic stem cells, and rightly so. But, as I said, we all have our own stem cells and don’t need to use anyone else’s.

I happen to live in an area where there is a stem cell therapy practitioner. I had an initial appointment where my hands were tested and viewed with ultrasound. I am a candidate – both of my thumb joints are lacking the lining that makes things move smoothly. I have chosen the first level of treatment, mostly because it’s the one I can afford right now. Because this therapy is new, my insurance does not cover it. Technically, it’s better to call it PRP or Platelet Rich Plasma therapy.

I will go on Monday to have blood drawn, and they will extract my platelets from the blood. On Tuesday those platelets will be injected into the joint, guided by ultrasound for accuracy. Platelets in large numbers signal stem cells to get on the job. Hopefully I have enough of them to respond and make a difference. Meanwhile the doctor has recommended a new brace for me. I have had it for several weeks and it has made a lot of difference – the best one I’ve ever tried and I recommend it highly.  It is small enough to allow full use of my hand, doesn’t have to be removed when I’m doing wet things, and can be washed easily.

After treatment I will be sore for the rest of the week but that will wear off. The hoped for results are that the joint will be strengthened, and possibly some of the lining will be restored. I do want to tell about the other two levels of treatment too, but not today. Check in again for tomorrow’s post. It’s fascinating stuff.  More information at this link Regenexx.

 

 

It Happened So Fast

wp-1475003441376.jpgThoughts at the beginning of what would have been a bike ride…

(Early morning, September 26, 2016)

No! What’s happening?! The pedal is flipping and I’m off balance. I’m going down hard. The handlebar is going right into my neck. Bad place to hit.

It’s over, that was quick. How suddenly things can change. Hurts, hurts.  Is there any way this could be fatal?

Don’t panic, you are still thinking, for the moment… That’s a good sign. Hold still, wait.

That was quite a poke in the neck, really hurts. Hope no major vessels were torn.

My hand on my neck might be stabilizing something, I’d better not move it yet. Wait.

It’s really peaceful and still, just sitting here. Look how nothing else has changed. Sunshine, trees, a butterfly. I’m not losing consciousness, must not be bleeding internally. I am so aware of still being alive and so aware of how quickly I could have been dying. God, thank you and please help me not be injured badly.

(3 minutes)

It must be okay to move. I can’t feel anything changing in my neck. I can feel the abrasion now, stinging. Swallowing hurts a little. I suppose I could worry about my airway, but I don’t feel swelling. Not yet. I’m going to stand up.

I wonder what this looks like, need to go in the house and look. Hmmm… right over the jugular. How did that not tear something? Thank God for skin and a tough body.

I feel funny, rattled, sort of fearful. Is this a fear I should conquer by getting back on the bike right away? I should at least pick it up off the driveway.

The wheel won’t turn and something is bent. (Thank God, I can’t ride it!)

Why did this happen? What will I do differently if there’s a “next time”? There’s no one else at fault, just me. I think I was moving too fast – just didn’t see that the pedal wasn’t flat before putting my foot on it. Need to check everything deliberately.

Is there any way this could mean I’m getting incapable? I’m not used to accidents. Have they been happening more often because of changes in me? I’ll bet that thought will occur to others. I’m going to put it on hold for now.

I should put an ice pack on my neck and forget exercise for today. Going to take it easy, just sayin’…

 

#atozchallenge: Turmeric

I know we take Sunday off each week in our atozchallenge, but yesterday when I was due to write about T, I was instead taking the opportunity for a long horseback ride through the woods of Pumpkin Hill Preserve (click to see).. What a great Florida park! The schedule gets to forgive me.

The T word is turmeric, a plant which has come to the attention of the health world in the west because of its anti-inflammatory properties.  It is raised commercially in India and other Southeast Asia countries.  The specific chemical in turmeric which helps reduce inflammation and pain is curcumin and if you take it as a supplement for pain, that is the name you should look for.

Turmeric, the spice, is made by taking the rhizome of the plant and drying it, then making a powder from it.  What you have at that point is the spice that you find in many Indian and Asian dishes, yellow in color and having some warm, spicy tones.  Because of its color it’s also used as a dye, something I noticed when traveling in Cambodia and seeing the Buddhist monks in their bright yellow-orange robes.  The spice has long been a part of religious rites in the countries where it is raised too.

Back to curcumin, it comprises only about 3% of turmeric which is not really enough for effective pain relief.  That is why curcumin is concentrated as a supplement.  It is also not utilized easily by the body but when combined with piperine, one of the constituents of black pepper, it’s uptake and utilization is increased by 2000%! Supposedly eating two or three black peppercorns with your curcumin supplement is all it takes.  I have not verified this but it doesn’t sound dangerous to try.  This is a very interesting supplement with other properties as well as the one I’ve mentioned.  Check it out if you are looking for something with anti-oxidant, antimicrobial, and anti-inflammatory properties.

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My daily dose of curcumin (from turmeric). Nice color, isn’t it?

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The Value of a Hard Day

Every hard day I go through becomes a part of me.  I think back on the recent hours of physical pain and ask myself what is different about me now?

I am much more aware of my mortality. Reminded of how little control I have over the complexities of this body. How little it takes to bring on a crisis.  I sat and wondered how much pain it takes to make a person pass out, not able to take any more. I thought of others who endure more pain over longer periods of time, in prison perhaps with no care at all to help them. But I thought more about my own pain and what I might possibly do to lessen it, make it go away.  I mean, how could there not be anything?

I made some promises to my body.  I realize pain is a message of sorts that my body gives me to tell me valuable things. I need to listen better. I need to keep times of pain in mind when I choose activities, work, play, eating.  I haven’t been totally negligent all these years but I do wish that the awareness I have now in my 60’s had been with me in my 20’s and 30’s. I could have been listening back then too.

I have reviewed what I know about God’s view of my life and my pain. I know by now that I can’t expect the laws of the universe to be superceded to produce miracles for me. I believe that happens but I don’t understand  why sometimes and not others. I know Jesus’ heart in the matter because he healed everyone who came to him. I think he has that same compassion for me. Sometimes my prayers for relief are answered quickly, other times not so quickly.  When the answer has been “no” I can usually see that there is benefit for me.  I know that my spiritual healing is the most important thing to God and the answer to that has never been “no”.

I have friends.  When they know that I have a need, love is poured out so generously.  I feel God is in that.  It’s part of that body metaphor where other parts feel the pain when one part hurts. I was encouraged and blessed and I’m told lots of good brain chemicals are released in that.  What a wonderful built-in response to love.

I learned that the husband can make really good sandwiches, and he is attentive and caring.  I knew that before but it’s kind of rare that I need this kind of attention so I forget. He gave up most of his day carting me around to medical care and waiting, waiting…. going for my prescriptions, making me comfortable.

I learned once again how wonderful it is when pain stops.  What relief.  What rest.  A new and joyful appreciation of pain free moments is mine.  I’m flooded with gratitude – more good brain chemicals.

One more part of my body taking on a troublesome behavior could cause a bit of dread, fear, uncertainty.  But today I was reminded in Proverbs 1:33 that listening to the Lord’s wisdom promises me that I will live in safety, be at ease and not have to dread disaster.  Disaster might come, but I don’t have to dread it.  My days are numbered by the Lord, not by circumstances of accident or disease. And thinking back, I wasn’t afraid.  But gosh, the pain was awful.

And so it becomes part of my past and part of me. I’ve seen pain make some people more beautiful.  Isn’t that kind of an exciting concept – that you can do something with pain and use it?  That I might become more beautiful, even stronger, in character is growth. I love that kind of growth!

I don’t wish hard days on anyone but I’m just sayin’, if you have one, it can be valuable.