Thumbs Up for Resurgeons

Many of you heard or read the story of my fall. Not the season; the incident involving two dogs, one leash, a fire hydrant and Hailey. In that story, I try to emphasize the uplifting encounter with Hailey and downplay the injury to my thumb. In this installment of the story, I will also attempt to focus on the positive outcomes of spending nearly three hours at the doctor’s office.

First, the nurse asks what happened, and she takes notes on the intake form on her clipboard. I tell her about the fire hydrant and how tightly I grasped the leash to protect Luna. I give her the DVD with my X-rays from the emergency room, and she leaves to upload them. Another nurse arrives to take me for new X-rays. In my whole life, I haven’t had any X-rays other than at the dentist, but in the last three months I’ve had close to ten. After the X-rays, the Physician’s Assistant comes in and asks me to repeat the story. I try to tell her the same details I told the nurse, even though she is neither consulting nor taking any notes. The PA tells me the doctor is reviewing the X-rays and will be in shortly.

I have a fair amount of anxiety about this appointment. I am certain, four weeks after the fall, that my thumb is broken. The knuckle is still swollen and it hurts when I bend it. I’ve heard countless stories of broken fingers misdiagnosed as “severely sprained” in the ER from friends who needed hand surgery and months of physical therapy to recover.

The hand surgeon has a gentle manner, even when he asks me if it hurts as he is putting pressure on the side of my knuckle. I tell him I think the other side hurts more, and he patiently demonstrates my misperception. Since he saw the X-rays and knows where the fracture is, this seems like cheating, but I’m willing to overlook it when he tells me I don’t need surgery.

He takes out a pen and draws a crude sketch of the two bones of the thumb, holding his clipboard so that I can see what he’s drawing.

“This is your thumb,” he tells me, as he adds a wide outline around the bones and a half-moon nail.

“A tiny piece of the bone chipped off on this side, but you’re lucky because the ligament is attached here,” he explains. “As long as you keep it completely stabilized in a splint the bone chip will fuse here and heal.”

I’m so relieved, I almost don’t hear the part about having to wear the splint for four weeks, and I forget, momentarily, that this is my left thumb. No writing, no drawing, no painting, and probably no clay. My follow-up appointment is already scheduled for December 7th.

He invites me out to the nurse’s station to view the X-ray, which looks remarkably like the drawing he gave me, so I compliment him on his sketch. I think I achieve a lighthearted tone when I tell him he has ably demonstrated what I won’t be able to do for the next four weeks–no drawings in the studio or on the whiteboard–but I must seem deflated, because he comforts me. Gently patting my right shoulder, he reminds me I’m lucky about that ligament and reiterates that he expects it to heal in four weeks.

Then he sends me upstairs to the hand therapist, who creates a custom splint for me. She explains that I can remove it after a shower and demonstrates how to hold my thumb hyperextended while I dry the splint. When I ask her if I can get it wet in clay, she offers to create a second splint for me to use in the studio.

It’s been nearly a week, and I’m learning to manage. I quickly trained myself to hit the spacebar with my right thumb, and I somehow managed to zipper the lining into my raincoat. I’m choosing to look at the benefits of mindfulness–there are so many tasks that require two opposable thumbs and I have to devise workarounds or ask for help–and patience, because everything I do seems to take twice as long as it did when my left thumb wasn’t immobilized.

I’m practicing gratitude, every day, for the expertise and kindness of the medical professionals caring for me, and for my family and friends who are helping me when I need a hand.