Handy Man

Just for the record: I am now officially glad I had surgery on my thumb.

My first symptoms were in 2001. The problem persisted and worsened, so that for a couple of years now, I’ve been slipping button-up shirts over my head pre-buttonted and buying slip-on shoes to avoid tying laces. Gardening had become more pain than pleasure. I experienced intense (but brief) pain at rest, pain at night, and progressive weakness secondary to disuse because of pain–a vicious cycle of disability and whining.

On April 1, I had the LRTI surgery–ligament reconstruction tendon interposition for basal joint arthritis. A wrist bone (trapezium) was removed, and a forearm tendon (flexor carpi radialis) was used to create a new “joint” and to stabilize the thumb bone of the hand (first metacarpal.)

To my great surprise, I suffered no post-surgical pain at all. A fiberglass cast replaced the surgical dressing on April 11 and it came off May 9. Then the real fun began, with, as I expected, more weakness and loss of motion related to a month of immobilization than to the effects of the surgery. The hand was pretty much a useless appendage those first couple of weeks out of the cast. There was some pain, but it was not the sickening, bone-on-bone pain like I’ve had.

I now have very little pain at all, and almost 100% normal range of motion in my wrist. But I’ll never be able to hitch-hike with my left thumb again (lost the ability to “back-bend” the thumb) but I’ll just show my pretty legs. My left forearm is still the 98 pound weakling on the beach, but it’s gonna kick sand in yer face one of these days, dude.

Without thinking, I find myself doing things with my thumb that I’ve avoided for years. The threat of pain no longer has me mitten-handed for daily activities for which a thumb is just the right tool. I’m back in the game! Gardening is not torture. Maybe, someday, I’ll pick up the guitar again?

Knowledge of this course of recovery is a great thing to have, because the right hand knows its time is coming. And when it does, we’ll know just what to expect, and expectations will be high!

BTW, I attribute a good bit of recent improvement to the regular use of Theraputty–which I would have had weeks earlier if a local PT clinic had sold me a small amount. They refused, stating their supplies were only for patients. As a former clinic manager, I consider this a poor decision for PR in a small, word-of-mouth community. But that’s just me.

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Fred First holds masters degrees in Vertebrate Zoology and physical therapy, and has been a biology teacher and physical therapist by profession. He moved to southwest Virginia in 1975 and to Floyd County in 1997. He maintains a daily photo-blog, broadcasts essays on the Roanoke NPR station, and contributes regular columns for the Floyd Press and Roanoke's Star Sentinel. His two non-fiction books, Slow Road Home and his recent What We Hold in Our Hands, celebrate the riches that we possess in our families and communities, our natural bounty, social capital and Appalachian cultures old and new. He has served on the Jacksonville Center Board of Directors and is newly active in the Sustain Floyd organization. He lives in northeastern Floyd County on the headwaters of the Roanoke River.

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  1. Awesome results!! And that right thumb won’t drag its heels near so long, now that it knows how good it will feel.

  2. Well… there you have it…old man…
    It’s good to know that all is going well for you. Just imagine what all the old timers had to go through…without all the medical advances at our disposal today! It’s good to know that you’re back out in the garden and enjoying those pleasures in life again. It was good to hear from from you, we’ll be in touch.