4

My Wrists are Making My Head Hurt

 

I got my new job stocking overnight.

 

My hands and wrists started to hurt a lot more.

I went to see the hand surgeon.

 

The resident told me that the reason my thumb hurt was because of arthritis due to my age.

 

I said that the x-rays didn’t show any arthritis.

 

He said everyone gets arthritis in their thumbs.

 

I said the x-rays didn’t show arthritis.

 

He said he hadn’t looked at the x-rays. He asked who read the x-rays.

I told him whoever worked in his clinic.

 

He said it didn’t matter, we were there to talk about my hands.

 

I said that I wasn’t comfortable with him.

 

He said we were there to talk about my hands.

 

I told him I wasn’t comfortable talking to him.

 

He told me that he was fully trained in the functions of the hands and the surgery.

I told him I didn’t want to talk to him.

 

He stalked off.

 

The surgeon came in.

 

He talked really loud.

He said the test results said that I had mild to moderate carpal tunnel syndrome, but that he would say it was probably moderate based on the readings.

 

I said that the doctor had said the same thing at the time of the test.

 

He looked at me. Who did you talk to?

 

I wanted to tell him, “The man who came in and introduced himself as the doctor in charge of the department.” But that doctor was really nice, and I didn’t want to make him sound obnoxious. I said that I talked to the tech and then the doctor came in.

 

The surgeon said OK, I agree. That test was done in 2014, so things are probably worse by now. We should do the release surgery as soon as possible to prevent any more damage. You’ll have to be off work for two weeks and on light duty another two weeks.

 

By the way, most people do get arthritis in their thumbs when the ligaments stretch as they age.

I went to work and explained the situation. My supervisor told me that he would tell me a good time to take off.

 

My husband told me that he might lose his insurance in June.

 

I told my supervisor. He said to go ahead and schedule the surgery for the end of April.

Three weeks later the time off request was still pending. I asked if he had changed his mind. He said I hadn’t made the request in the system. I said I had.

 

He called me in the floor. Didn’t realize I would be off that long. The store director would have to approve it. Had I spoken with the third-party administrator (TPA)?

 

The TPA can’t help me. I haven’t been with the company for a year and am not eligible for an official leave.

 

How long have you been here?

 

Six months.

 

Oh. I thought it had been a lot longer. I have to talk to the store director.

No response a week later. I ask if they have talked.

 

Yes, we did. The store director makes these types of decisions. The answer is no.

 

My head started to hurt.

7

I Can Type Ten Words a Minute!!

Actually that’s probably an exaggeration unless it’s something like “The Cat in the Hat”.

If you are a fan of old movies, you might remember the stereotype of the star reporter with a hot story. He (remember, it’s an old movie) types furiously with two fingers, finishes in a couple of minutes, tears the paper out of the (manual) typewriter and hands it to the errand boy. I am soooo jealous of that reporter right now.

I taught myself how to type on a 1903 Royal typewriter (with its corresponding manual). No, it was not a current version. It had been my grandmother’s and was old then. It’s one of those machines that allowed solicitous men to say that women could not be secretaries because their baby fingers were not strong enough to push the end keys. It probably would have been an excellent thing to drop on the heads of those men to show how wrong they were about women’s strength.  It was made out of iron. I recently saw a relative at a museum (I still have mine).

Anyway, you would be amazed at how much faster you can type on an electric typewriter (to say nothing of a word processor) if you have strengthened your fingers on the manual one. (The men were right about that – the keys were hard to push at first, especially if you’re a preteen.)

Aside – I do not want to hear from you if you do not know what a manual typewriter is. Look it up on Wikipedia. Or Google/Bing it.)

The point of all of this is that I have been reduced to typing with two fingers. As you may recall, my doctor (the one with the recessive bedside manner) ordered an EMG. It showed mild to moderate bilateral carpal tunnel syndrome. So she sent me to a medical supply store to get two cock-up splints. I only needed one since I had gotten the spica splint for my thumb a couple of weeks earlier. (My insurance company loves me.)

I sent her an email after about a week asking when they would start making my hands feel better rather than worse. I guess it was supposed to be sooner than a week because she referred me to an orthopedic surgeon and an occupational therapist.

I can’t see anyone in ortho until September. Guess summer’s not a good time to see someone who can take multiple weeks of vacation. Went to see the occupational therapist on Wednesday.

Apparently the good news about medical-supply splints is that they are relatively inexpensive ($100-$200) and fairly comfortable to wear (soft felty material with metal bars to hold your wrist in place). And I only had to wear them at night. It really only impacted the cats who do not like to be petted with soft felty material (no one attached a warning to the cats, so I had no idea).

The bad news is that the reason they are so comfortable is that they really don’t do a very good job of keeping your wrists in place. And an even worse job of keeping the thumb in place. The pain in my thumb was getting better, but I was having a lot of trouble with my wrist. Turns out the tendonitis had just moved to  better neighborhood.

You may know where this story is going. The therapist made me two custom rigid splints (more good news for the insurance company). It was really cool to watch. They take some kind of heavy fiber board and put it in a steamer. Then they mold it to your arm so it fits. Once it cools off, it doesn’t move (hence rigid splint). I was supposed to wear it 24/7 for two weeks, then only at night.

OK. The sensible person would think: Rigid split. I need to modify how I work. Not so sensible person: Rigid split. I can work the way I usually do, and the splint will set the limits. Guess which side I fell on. Rigid means that in a contest between your body and the splint, the splint wins. Hey, I’m not an engineer.

After 2 1/2 hours, I was so sore I had to go home. I called the occupational therapist. She said I was working against the splint. (It only took her 1.5 minutes to figure out what I was doing wrong.) She said to wear the soft splints during the day, and the rigid splints at night. It worked really well yesterday.

Not so much today when I took the wrong soft splints to work. That’s what happens when you don’t take the old splints upstairs when you get the new splints (they all look pretty much the same). I gotta tell you – having a semi-disorganized brain is a pain. I never know when it’s gonna flake.

The old splints were worse than no splints. Don’t ask me why. I have no idea. So I iced my wrist when I got home. And got the right splints. Much more comfortable. But still detrimental to typing. Thus the two fingered typing. My brain is going crazy. Some of my best snarks are getting lost in the time lag. Don’t feel bad for me – I’m enjoying them even if you’re not.

I wonder if any of those old newspapermen would be willing to come out of retirement?

 

5

Some Doctors Should be Researchers

I finally went to the doctor yesterday for the numbness and pain in my hand and arm. I had an appointment with my own doctor last week, but somehow thought the appointment was at 3p when it really was at 2p. Unfortunately, it isn’t one of those places where you always have to wait 45 minutes so I had to reschedule.

But my doctor is on vacation this week. And she’s really busy next week because she’s on vacation this week. I had the same problem when I was sick awhile ago. She’s pretty popular. I think she’s really in the office, but they’re trying to give patients to some of the other doctors. The one I saw yesterday could use some help.

She walked into the room and asked if I had seen her before. She said she thought I had. I had no idea who she was, but said I wasn’t  sure. I felt like a bad first date. But it had only begun.

She asked why I was there. I don’t know if she didn’t read the intake the medical assistant had done 3 minutes earlier or wanted to see if I gave the same story twice.

So I told her about the numbness in my hand and the pain in my thumb. Her first question was which one I wanted her to treat. I’ve never had a doctor imply that they would only treat one of a possible number of problems. I didn’t bother telling her about the recurrence of tendinitis in my shoulder.

So I explained that I had had the numbness for several months but when I tried various braces they had caused pain in my thumb. The first one I tried is something they call a cock-up splint (that name has always embarrassed me). It forces your wrist to bend up slightly and is used for carpal tunnel.

She asked why I tried it. I told her that when I previously had wrist pain it had helped. Oh, OK. I don’t know if she’s had patients who used it for illicit purposes or what. Maybe there’s a black market.

It caused my thumb to hurt so I tried a regular brace from the store. Same result. She feels around the base of my thumb. It’s tendonitis and arthritis.

How long have I had the numbness? About six months. Which fingers are affected? All of them. That doesn’t make any sense. Each of the fingers has a separate set of nerves. I’m not sure what to say. Maybe I wasn’t paying enough attention. She gets irritated. We can only work with the information you give us. In that case, believe me when I say that all of them get numb.

She says that it sounds carpal tunnelish, but that usually only affects some of the fingers. Do I want an EMG? Do I know what an EMG is? Apparently she didn’t really have an opinion.

We can’t treat the carpal tunnel until we fix the tendonitis. So she orders a thumb spica splint. (Who names these things?) I should take anti-inflammatories and apply ice.

I tell her cold make it hurts worse. She asks me if I mean that it makes it better. I say no, worse. Am I sure? Then apply cold. Cold makes it worse. It shouldn’t. Are you sure it doesn’t make it better? I work in a cooler. Trust me. Well go as cool as you can. ??

I ask about work. She says not to worry, it will keep my thumb stable. I mean I use my thumb at work. Well, you’ll have to make accommodations. Gee, thanks.

You’ll need to use the split for several weeks. Let us know if it doesn’t work. Really? You don’t believe that all of my fingers are numb or that ice doesn’t work. Do you think I’m really dumb enough to tell you the treatment doesn’t work?

She can’t decide whether she needs a hand x-ray. Decides to go with the EMG and splint. Tells me to talk to the receptionist about how to get them. Thank goodness we’re done.

Definitely should have double-checked the time on the original appointment.

 

6

In Praise of Thumbs

No offense intended to the rest of the digits, but thumbs definitely rock. I guess it’s their opposability. (WordPress says that isn’t a word, but play along.) That and their ability to play well with others.

As usual with these things, it came to mind because one of mine is being difficult. As you may have guessed, hauling boxes of cheese around and putting it on hooks is kind of physical work. Thankfully I haven’t had any trouble with my back. (Leg and abdominal muscles also deserve a round of applause while we’re at it.)

Not so much luck with my right arm. The current issue (hence the title) is my thumb. I’m not sure if it’s tendons, joints, muscles or whatever. It kept me awake a couple of nights. Yesterday it was awful. Today it felt like something snapped a few times in my hand/wrist and it’s much better. I think it’s some kind of evil spirit.

Some days I have almost nothing to think about at work and my mind wanders. It’s been like that for years, but is much less disruptive without the job requiring thought. Unless you count matching the colors on bags of cheese as deep thought. In which case we should probably talk about the viability of your own blog.

Without further ado, here are some of the things thumbs don’t get much respect for:

It is almost impossible to zip up jeans without using your right thumb. It is particularly an issue if you have gained weight since the last time you wore the jeans. Or are in denial about the true size of your body.

Pulling open potato chip (or other unhealthy) bags. It seems like such a failure to need to resort to scissors. Besides, it’s pathetic to need something like that so badly that you can’t wait. Go with an ice cream cone.

Holding an apple while you eat it, even if you slice it. Or French Fries. Or pickles. Some things just can’t be held like a cigarette, and a lot of them are food. Do you have any idea how silly you would look holding a pickle spear between your first two fingers when there is no obvious reason for it?

Doing dishes. I admit it. We are also the only family in suburbia without a dishwasher. Holding soapy dishes without using your thumb is most useful for getting rid of the hideous dishes someone gave you for your wedding but you haven’t ever gotten around to sending to charity.

Holding your cat while you try to brush the winter furs out from the spring ones. One one cat seems to be a cross between a Siamese and something that lives in the Arctic circle. Gorgeous soft fur that sheds and sheds and sheds.

Peeling vegetables. Probably less of an issue for those of you who live at Taco Bell or PF Chang’s. Or have a significant other who cooks. Or children who could be coerced into doing it. Or use frozen vegetables.

Writing by hand. It means taking a pen or pencil and making marks on a piece of paper that someone else can look at and see meaning. It is a relative of texting and email which are also more difficult but don’t require grasping a small round instrument to do. Also crossword puzzles.

Opening pill bottles to get at the pain relievers that are supposed to make it easier to do things with your injured thumb. You need one hand to hold the bottle and the other to push down or line up or whatever to get the bottle to actually open. Both jobs require thumbs.

Forks are really difficult. Chopsticks are impossible. Of course, it takes me several bites to remember how to use chopsticks anyway. You can’t even pick up the food discretely in your hand. Forget eating that really excellent chip dip at the party unless you want to have your date feed it to you. Don’t do that unless you are still in high school or it is your wedding.

Shaking hands. You will feel like the dog when he puts his paw in yours and you shake it up and down. You will have no control over how long or hard it is shaken. I do not recommend growling to get it back.

Holding the shampoo bottle while you are pouring some into the other hand. Same problem with controlling the force of ketchup. Pump bottles start to look better.

Using a corkscrew. I guess you shouldn’t be drinking alone in the first place, so this issue can probably take care of itself. Let’s hope they remember to take the cork off the pointy thing after it’s out of the bottle.

Turning the key in your ignition. Unless you have a button ignition. In which case, you probably have one of those gear shift levers on the floor that you have to press with your thumb to release it for the rest of your hand to pull back. Once you get moving, you’re fine.

Scraping the snow from your car. Never mind. We won’t think about that.

Snaps, hooks, buttons. Tying your shoes. Might work as an excuse to go to work in your pajamas. Doubt it, but you never know. Going in naked is an even worse option.

Of course, you can also perform most forms of housework and lawn maintenance poorly. Unfortunately it’s sort of a mixed blessing since you’ll have to fix it all eventually. You may have the same issue if you get your spouse or children to do it for you.

On the bright side, there is more white space and fewer words in my post. You should be able to get through it more quickly.

(Correction to previous post: Dick and Jane’s cat is Puff, not Fluffy)