The Hand Report – Blaugust 8

This morning I went to another doctor’s appointment, the fourth one in the last nine days. This time I went to see a hand specialist, as I had been referred from my primary care doctor. I was amazed to be able to get an appointment to see him two days after calling.

It’s interesting to see the kind of people you find in waiting rooms. Based on my meager experience the last couple of weeks, doctor’s offices seems to be the social hotspot for people over 60. Today an entourage of four older folks were in the waiting room to help one of their number with an appointment for an injured arm. I listened to them talk amongst themselves about how to fill out the medical history forms. “She has trouble with depression doesn’t she? She doesn’t want them to know about that though. How much does she weigh?” This and many other very private subjects were broadcast throughout the waiting room for anyone to hear. It was quite funny. Waiting rooms: Great places to hang out if you want to steal identities.

By the way, those history forms were Scantron forms that you had to fill in with a number 2 pencil. First time I’ve seen that in a doctor’s office.

The most obvious symptom I have right now is the inability to bend my left thumb very much. That’s where the doctor focused his attention. It’s better now than it was several weeks ago: I can bend the first joint a bit now (closest to the nail) but the second joint, closest to the base of the hand, remains stubbornly stiff and I can’t make a fist. The doctor poked and prodded and much to my personal amazement, when he bent my thumb, it didn’t hurt too much. He seemed fairly unimpressed with the severity of the problem, actually. (Would that I could have shown him what it was like about three weeks ago.)

However his manipulations did cause a fair amount of tingling in my thumb. He also tapped (ie. hammered) with his fingers on the inside of my wrist (Tinel’s sign, if I had to guess) which caused tingling throughout my whole hand. He asked if I ever wake up with my hands fallen asleep, which has actually happened quite a few times in the last couple of months, depending on my sleeping position.

He ordered some x-rays though he correctly surmised they wouldn’t find anything. They actually did the x-rays in-house, and he was able to confirm there was nothing wrong with the bones or joints in my hands. I’ve personally been worried about arthritis in my hands for years because my mother developed arthritis at a fairly early age, but he said there was “nothing significant,” which was a big relief.

If it’s not the bones or the joints, he said that only leaves nerves or tendons. He suspects tendonitis but he ordered a “nerve test” to rule out problems there (ie. carpal tunnel), in case going down the tendonitis road turns out to be a dead end. My own personal opinion is that it’s probably a combination of both, given my history of using my hands and fingers and thumbs for pretty much everything I do all day every day in my adult life. I’ve felt like a number of different overlapping problems have hit me all at once in the last couple of months.

If my reading of the Internet is correct, carpal tunnel (nerve) problems are usually corrected by “lifestyle changes” (ie. stop doing the thing that causes the problem) and/or splints and/or surgery. Tendonitis is apparently corrected with physical therapy exercises, which is where I’m hoping my solution lies. It would be nice to be able to play a game without two months of incapacitation afterward.

The nerve test, which is actually called an EMG or electromyography, is scheduled for later this month. In the meantime, I’ll be continuing to avoid doing anything to make my hands worse. At least I can type a lot more comfortably than I could a few weeks ago, but I’m still not going to touch a controller and I’m still avoiding any games that require holding down the WASD keys to move (especially any games that require pressing the spacebar with my left thumb to jump).

The photo above shows my decrepit ‘93 Stratocaster, an example of something I can’t use right now because of my hand. I spent about an hour today preparing the image for the post, doing a “photo shoot” of the guitar outside, then some “artistic” manipulations on the image so all the dust and pet hairs that I thought I’d carefully cleaned off beforehand wouldn’t show too much. It was a ridiculous waste of time for one blog post and I don’t recommend it.

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