Thumbs Up: One Year Anniversary

A year ago this hour I was getting a new thumb joint. Some of you will remember.

After putting off the inevitable for too long, the dreaded surgery turned out to be a minor agony (no post-op pain) and a relatively minor inconvenience of showering with a plastic bag over my left hand for a month and using Dragon Dictation for all but the simplest hunt-and-pecking.

A year later, except for a frozen joint where the thumb would bend backward to hitch-hike, everything is normal, with some mild pain in other joints on the left, and moderate to infrequently severe pain in the right.

In case you’re having thumb problems and putting it off, mine was “basal joint” arthritis and the surgery was an LRTI: ligament reconstruction tendon interposition. A relatively expendable tendon from my forearm was “harvested” and used 1) to create a spacer between two bones of my thumb and another piece of it to anchor the thumb to the hand. (The muscle attached to the missing tendon still cramps at times, when something I do–like drying off in the shower–makes the muscle contract and there’s nothing to pull against. It’s a minor discomfort compared to the agony I was in a year and a day ago.)

If you’ve been needed to have this done, my experience was a good one, and like so many patients I saw as at therapist who finally had this surgery, I wonder why I waited so long.

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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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