My GP has referred me to Addenbrooke’s Hospital and I believe my right hand will be out of action for at least 3 weeks…I suddenly realise in a very personal way what a handicap is like: the terror of not being able struck me today as I try to do all the things that will need a right hand to do and do them before my op. One last thrash on the guitar, one last kite flight…clear the sink, shave, hoover the carpets…you name it I’ve thought of it.In the film ‘Cave of Forgotten Dreams ‘ there is a sequence where Werner Herzog shows us a panel of 30 thousand year old red hand prints in the Chauvet Cave from which the height of the painter (5’10”- I’m 5’11”) was deduced…and that the little finger on the right hand was crooked. In the dark of the cinema at that moment I felt a connection…I have that hand too.
06.01.2012 :12.00 I recall when I was assessed back in November I asked Mr Cormack, the specialist, ‘Why do I have this?’ to which he replied: ‘We don’t really know but there is a correlation between male middle age, alcohol use and Scandinavian decent, it often occurs after trauma to the hand.’ So I thought back and realised this was the hand I’d got trapped in my kite line and numbed the finger for a week, the feeling returned but a month later the contracture began. My Mother’s maiden name is Scandinavian in origin …and yes I like a drink too- all 4 boxes ticked! He then took the crooked finger and yanked it straight…the pain was unbelievable. He then told me to flex the finger as much as possible before the op to increase the chance of success- I have obliged him but its still not straightened out. I think I might have gained about 25deg more extension by doing this daily over 8 weeks. How much is this going to hurt?
13.45 I report as directed to Clinic 7 early and to my horror I’m whisked straight to the operating room, there’s no putting this off now!
18.00 So now I’m back home and typing with my left hand…the procedure was almost painless and the discomfort of sitting for 45mins with a mumb arm trying not to think about what Mr Cormack and his team are doing (I overheard requests for unfamiliar tools: number 5 hook please…pass me the dental syringe…where’s the lead hand?) …until he abruptly asked me to see how the finger now worked..to my amazement I was able to move the finger again! Instant success was not what I was expecting from a hospital visit and sure enough my newly restored finger was bound up securely before I was sent home…suddenly the weeks of nervous anticipation were over and I began the awkwardness of working out how to do life with one hand……and discover I’m pretty well off : sure it hurts but this is temporary. By the next morning I can use my thumb and 2 free fingers to tie my own shoe laces without feeling the stitches pull.
09.01.2012:11.00 My complaint is a common one, I was the 2nd one done that week. 36 hours after the op I was back to get my dressing changed: it’s healing up well and I am advised not to use the finger until the wound is healed. That’s going to be the hard part: I have photos to shoot, metal to bend and work to do!As a right-hander I’m very aware of the 10% loss of grip my crooked 5th finger caused me: hauling line is a daily task for me not to mention using spanners, tin snips, hammers and the like and of course it is this utility that has put my hand at risk from damage. I have already adopted some safer line handling techniques when flying big kites: always use a fixed point as an anchor and walk the line down when the wind rises- NEVER let a turn around the hand constrict! . As my finger knits back together I feel very privileged to have my hand restored by Mr Cormack and his excellent team, he asked me if I was happy with the proposed procedure back in November and my reply was ‘Well no! I don’t like the whole finger cutting idea at all …but if thats what it takes…’ 13.01.2012 This looks a great deal worse than it is. 2 weeks after the op and I can almost move my finger to touch my palm ..just! Every day that passes it is less painful to move and I find it easy to forget about the injury. So easy that I made the mistake of accepting a hand shake from a client; it hurt!
24.01. 2012 3 weeks post op. I have almost full use of my right hand now, it’s painful to squeeze my hand in to a fist but I can use a spanner, allen and spoke keys now. The finger is very susceptable to cold and feels oddly numb when it is. The skin feels tight when I try to bend the finger to try touch my palm.
30.01.2012 4 weeks post op and I’m using my hand without being aware of the injury, I still can’t quite forget it’s there and it’s very sensitive to the cold and touch (like tapping the edge of my hand on the table) or stretching the finger out flat as far as it wll go. As it heals I get a lot of ‘pins & needles’ sensations and numbness. I still can’t form a fist easily but I can grip a broom handle easily now.. I can do the washing up, clank out a few chords on the guitar and soak in the bath without keeping my arm in the air now.
03.02.2012 5 weeks on. Grip and mobility are much improved now, I can use an axe, hacksaw and file easily. A strange numbness to the edge of my hand and some ‘ring like’ constriction to the finger when forming a fist persist. Occasional deep pain in the hand (enough to wake me at night) and still very sensitive to the cold. I can carry kit in a bag without discomfort.
11.02.2012 6 weeks post op. The biggest problem I have is pain in the finger when its cold. The edge of my hand has a tingling numbness. There is a single pressure sensitive spot on the palm at the base of the finger. I have some constriction (scar tissue I suppose) at the first joint when forming a fist, if I squeeze my fist it’s painful but light pressure is fine. I can grip tools and line easily now.
17.02.2012 7 weeks on. The edge of my hand is numb and sometimes sensitive and I’m aware of some constriction around the 1st joint of the finger when I form a fist. Some pain when my hand is flat on the floor for press ups. Sensitive to cold.
25.02.2012 8 weeks post op. Full movement without pain, some stinging along the edge of the hand on contact with objects and still some sensitivity to hot water. Faint tingling sensation when squeezed. My grip is back to where it was, some constriction to folding the finger to the palm.
Looking back I had no need to worry, but worry I did!
So, dear reader, why am I sharing this with you?
First of all I want anyone else who suffers from this to have no fear of the surgery. If you are like me and feel faint watching medical procedures on TV, value the use of your hands or is simply interested in how the National Health Service (NHS) deals with non urgent minor surgery: take it from me it’s ok- I have received the best possible attention from the best possible professionals and my National Insurance payments are worth every self employed penny I pay.
Second I want to share how lucky I am to live at a time and place when public service extends to looking after me like this. To date since 1948 the NHS has supported 4 generations of my family and I wouldn’t have it any other way. The NHS has been there for us : births and deaths with calm, dental care, broken bones at all hours, chronic asthma episodes .. and now fixing my hand. The spirit of public duty embodied in NHS is something I can remember from my mother’s pride at working as a State Registered Nurse (she trained at Addenbrooke’s in the ’50s). As an institution it can seem vast and uncaring; all desolate linoleum lined corridors and hours of desperate waiting for news or impenetrable paperwork but I have always found that the front line staff are calm, well informed, professional, considerate and caring.
I grew up in a world where there seemed to be a public institution for every aspect of life: the Post Office, British Railways, the Gas Board, the Water Board, the Public Library, the Milk Marketing Board, The National Coal Board. They all stood for reliable, safe, good services and a source of pride in achieving a society where the basics of life were provided at a universally affordable cost because public ownership was seen as a public benefit. A healthy society is a productive one. As a principle it seemed to work pretty well, yes there were mistakes made (trying to save failing manufacturing by ‘nationalisation’ for one and a false sense of world excellence in home grown technology like the ‘Advanced Gas Cooled Reactor’ (AGR) for another) and yes, the nation was in transition from wartime but somewhere, in the pursuit of profit, we have lost the value we once placed in public service.
At a time when public services are being cut to pay for the bank bailouts it’s easy to be nostalgic for a post-war idyll where the fear of unemployment and the insecurity of a debt-laden housing market was far away but it seems madness to expect a society without basic support for the weakest to have a stable and productive future.
FDR declared his second bill of rights on January 11th 1944:
The world listened and, although at war, Britain voted for the idea when peace came in 1945. On 11th January 2012 it seems we are just about delivering on 4, 5 (although my state pension seems to be ever smaller and ever more remote now) & 6 (with further education getting very expensive all of a sudden) and the first 3 have been left to chance. My experience of ‘socialised’ medical care has left me reminded of just how good public services can be and just how threatened they are, I might be lucky to suffer a minor complaint and live in a post code with good provision but the basic idea of paying National Insurance at £220 per year for health care free at the point of provision seems good value to me. We don’t want to loose this!