I once had an experience that viscerally underlined how losing normal mobility in just one hand suddenly makes nearly every task you can think of extremely difficult, if not impossible.
One summer years ago, throbbing pain in my right hand woke me in the night. When I turned on the light, I could see the entire hand had begun swelling. It also felt feverishly hot to the touch. Over the next several hours, as the hand started resembling a rubber glove that had been blown up like a balloon, the pain and burning became so agonizing that I found myself lying on the cool, tiled bathroom floor to get a tiny amount of relief. For reasons I don’t remember, my husband was out of town — otherwise, I’m sure he would have insisted I go to ER, rather than wait to call my own doctor’s office, which I did in the morning.
The cause of this episode remains a mystery. While I had been outdoors that day, there was no evidence of a sting, or a bite, or wound or even a break in the skin. My doctor first prescribed naproxen for pain, with instructions to return if the swelling didn’t start going down by the following day. He also sent me to have my blood tested for West Nile virus, mostly for want of anything else to do, I think.
Thankfully, the medication made the pain less excruciating, but by the next day, my hand was nearly unrecognizable as a human appendage. It looked like a special effect right out of a David Cronenberg movie, with the skin stretched so tightly I expected it to split open any moment.
Over the next week or so, the course of Prednisone my doctor had prescribed slowly began to do its magic and my hand gradually deflated. But during much of that time, I couldn’t even crook my fingers, much less grip an object. Touch typing was out of the question. It seemed like every two minutes, I had to call out to my husband or one of my kids for help. Open a can of tomatoes? Impossible, at least without an electric opener. Even tasks I could awkwardly carry out demanded careful thought and problem-solving.
And I know that what I experienced over that seven to ten days was just the tiniest taste of what life must be like for people with conditions that cause pain and mobility problems in the hand and wrist. (I got a similar lesson a few years later when I broke my ankle, and had to spend weeks on crutches, with my leg in a cast, then an air boot.)
So it was with even keener interest than usual that I approached this health feature I wrote for Good Times’ April 2015 issue: Get a Grip: You Needn’t Simply Put Up With Hand and Wrist Problems.
A big thank-you to the interviewees who so kindly shared their time and expertise:
- Dr. Bin Siang Gan, a hand and wrist surgeon at the Roth/McFarlane Hand and Upper Limb Centre at St. Joseph’s Health Care London, and an emeritus professor of surgery at Western University’s Schulich School of Medicine and Dentistry in London, Ont. Dr. Gan is also co-director of the Roth/McFarlane Cellular and Molecular Biology Laboratory.
- Dr. Thomas Goertz, an orthopaedic surgeon (sub-specializing in hand and upper extremity surgery, microsurgery and trauma) with the Vancouver Upper Limb Centre in Vancouver, BC.
- Dr. David O’Gorman, PhD, a research scientist and co-director of the Roth/McFarlane Cellular and Molecular Biology Laboratory at St. Joseph’s Health Care London in London, Ont.
- Joey Pipicelli, an occupational therapist and certified hand therapist at the Roth/McFarlane Hand and Upper Limb Centre at St. Joseph’s Health Care London in London, Ont.
- Craig Sully, a physiotherapist and certified hand therapist with Kootenay Health Services in Nelson, BC.