Archive | February 2020

Managing without one Hand

Towards the end of November (November 25 to be exact), I had surgery on my left thumb/wrist to relieve the pain of arthritis.  Both thumbs are affected – but better to start with the left one first and see how it goes.  The surgeon was Dr. Simon Chan, a plastic surgeon who specializes in hands and wrists.

For those who are interested – the actual procedure is/was called a Trapeziectomy with Ligature Reconstruction.  In lay terms, they cut a slit at the side of the bottom of my thumb where the wrist creases, took out a piece of bone (that was rubbing on another piece of bone), then harvested some tendon from a bit further up my arm and somehow used that to hold everything together.  When I looked it up on the Mayo Clinic website (the only site I’ve found that explains things in very simple terms), it said this could take as many as 6 months to heal completely.  Yikes.

Well – for the first 2 weeks I had a cast on my left hand.  My fingers were available and it went about 6″ up my arm.  I was told not to drive.  I couldn’t really use it and it wasn’t too painful being held tightly in place as it was.  Once the cast came off, my protection had skipped town and it was all trial and error from then on.

I’m sure there are things I’ve already forgotten, but here are the challenges that really stuck out for me:

  • In order to shower, I had to get my left hand and arm encased in a plastic bag with an elastic on to keep water out.  Try doing that with one hand.
  • The next challenge was doling out the shampoo.  The norm was to squeeze the bottle with the right hand into the left hand.  Instead I had to squeeze the bottle directly onto my head – no control over quantity.  I think I used half a bottle of shampoo in the first week.
  • I was able to use my right hand to wash under my left arm but not vice versa.  The flow of water would have to suffice.
  • On the first or second shower day, I tripped getting out of the shower and of course put out my hand to steady myself – the wrong hand.  That hurt….a lot.
  • Then there is trying to get dried off – a thing one usually does with two hands and a large towel.  Air drying works, folks.  It just takes a while.
  • How do you usually squeeze your toothpaste tube?  I normally hold the toothbrush in my right hand and squeeze out toothpaste with my left.  Putting the toothpaste tube on the bathroom counter up against the sink and squeezing with my left elbow worked just fine.
  • I could only get deodorant under my left arm.  Either my friends are very tolerant – and polite – or deodorant really doesn’t do much anyway.  Nobody complained or suggested I could use some pretty smelly stuff.  Same thing with cream – only on one arm – the other had to stay “unmoisturized”.
  • Ever tried blowing your nose with one hand?
  • Next, I had to get dressed.  The bra went by the wayside for a few days but then I learned how to do it up and put it on over my head as one would with a pullover sweater or t-shirt.  It wasn’t perfect, but it did the job.  I already had practice getting pants and stuff on after 2 knee and 3 hip replacements.  Shoes and boots had to be slip-ons.  The left hand had to go un-gloved if I had to go outside.  Nothing would fit over the cast.
  • Cooking and eating was another challenge – for the cat as well as for me.  I had to ask friends and neighbours to open several cans of cat food when they visited, covering them with slip-off lids or saran until needed.  They had that funny little pull tab on the top.  Just pulling doesn’t work unless something is holding the bottom of the can.
  • Using both a knife and fork was out of the question.  I could eat with my hands, sorry – my hand – or only make mushy stuff that didn’t need any cutting up.
  • Straining veggies in a pan – out comes the collander.  Washing dishes had to be done the same way – put a mug on the floor of the sink and hope it doesn’t move around too much while you clean it…..or use the dishwasher – for everything.
  • How do you change the sheets on your bed?  Even more difficult – how to you fold those sheets after they have been laundered?
  • Kind friends and neighbours took me to appointments and grocery shopping, or added my shopping list to theirs and delivered! – Others had to do up my seat belt for me like they would for a small child.  I could pull it out with my right hand but I couldn’t manage to click it into the waiting slot on the left.
  • Help was needed to get a glove or mitten on my good hand and, once the cast was off, definitely a large mitten on that hand.
  • After 2 weeks, cast comes off.  Can I drive now?  Doc asks if I could control the car with both hands should something happen.  Nope.  Another week of being totally dependent on others.
  • How do I play bridge?  I found a very neat gadget made of wood, curved with a slot running along the top to hold  my cards.  Whewwww!

Here it is almost 3 months since I had this surgery and I still have swelling and pain in my left wrist and thumb area.  Last check-up (mid Jan) I was told it would probably take another 2 months and I was to keep on trying to use it.  I am doing just that.  Sometimes I overdo things and it really hurts and sometimes it simply tells me that what I’m trying to do or carry is just not going to work – yet.  There is light at the end of the tunnel.  It is improving and I’m able to do more and with my left hand as time goes on.

My right hand needs the same surgery.  It hurts now, though not as bad as the left one did – maybe I’ll continue trying the cortisone injections for a while longer.  It’s hard to pick the right time to go through this again – I’ll have to put my big-girl pants on one of these days!