Name Withheld at Patient Request
I began waking up some mornings to numb hands. Occasionally, the left hand joined in on the fun, but usually it was the right hand that was numb. As I stood in my bedroom flinging my hand and arm about in an attempt to wake them up, I concluded that I must have slept on my arm wrong. Although this was not a constant event, it was certainly an annoying start to the day. There would be long periods when there were no ‘numb-hand” mornings, and this seemed to confirm my hypothesis that I must, occasionally, be sleeping in a position that caused the numbness. Carpal tunnel problems never entered my mind, because I had heard only accounts of carpal tunnel patients experiencing terrible pain in the hands along with tingling and numbness with major emphasis on the terrible pain.
Then, one day, I painted some French doors. I spent many hours painting the narrow mullions between the small panes of glass, using constant, repetitive, small motor-activity wrist motions. The next morning, I woke up to the mother of all numb hands. My right hand and forearm were numb and felt big and thick, like they belonged to the Pillsbury Dough Boy. My fingers felt like Italian sausages and were sending a message that it would be impossible to bend them; however, even as the nerves told me the fingers would not bend, my eyes could see the fingers obeying my brain’s command to bend. I flopped and flexed and jiggled my arm for many minutes before the waves of cold, hot, prickling and itching sensations began. Then I was treated to an hour of a cavalcade of these sensations before my arm and hand felt normal and I was confident that I had regained total control over my hand.
After this event, the light went on and I figured out I had a carpal tunnel problem. I made an appointment with Dr. Haynes.
I want to share some of the things I experienced while I was waiting for the appointment. It is important to make the point that not everyone has the same experiences and sensations; therefore, it is beneficial to be exposed to many possibilities in order to avoid the mistake I made because I was familiar only with reports of horrible pain with tingling and numbness playing a minor role.
I am living proof that it is possible to have carpal tunnel problems and experience little pain. I experienced numbness, tingling, and most of all, itching. The sensation depends on what message the nerve is disposed to send. The very real sensation is there, but there is no visible or conventional cause for the sensation. I explain it to myself this way; upset nerves tell lies and their lies are very convincing.
There were several activities in my lifestyle that brought out the essence of carpal tunnel in its full flower.
One major offender was using the computer. Although keyboard use was a minor problem, it was manipulating the mouse that really lit my fire. During the computer sessions, I was constantly forced to hang my arm over the side of the chair and wiggle and swing it until the itching and numbness subsided. Then I was good for another five minutes or so before I had to do it again. Another problem area was cursive and manuscript writing. I could actually see deterioration in the quality of my handwriting while I was waiting for surgery on the hand. The happened in the summer, so I was canning and freezing produce from the garden, a project that involved a lot of peeling and dicing. I found I had to resort to the same arm dangling and shaking precipitated by computer use. (It is interesting to note that gardening work itself did not create problems with my hand; nor did house work) I also encountered a lot of frustration when decorating cakes and painting decorations on cookies for special occasions. I had one major cake decorating disaster that I blamed on carpal tunnel, when the horse ranch cake I was making suffered a collapsed barn disaster an d the horses looked like they were sinking in the quicksand. Hand sewing, knitting and crocheting also brought on the numbness. I concluded, that in my case at least, minute motor activity stirred things up while gross motor activity didn’t seem to be a problem.
During daily tasks, I became very adept at timing the swinging and flinging and flexing in order to forestall another serious numbness event like the one following the French door project. I also discovered that sleeping on my left side and keeping my right arm on the pillow beside my head with my hand open and flat on the pillow sometimes would fend off the numbness. Of course, that was far from foolproof, and I lost sleep during this time. First, I did not sleep well since my brain was programmed to stay alert to force myself to stay in the prescribed position; and second, because if I did have a numbness episode in spite of my vigilance, once I woke up with the numb hand and went through the swinging and flinging routine; I was wide awake.
By the time I had my appointment with the doctor, I was ripe for a resolution of the problem!
Once surgery had been scheduled, I began to contemplate steps I needed to take to prepare for being winged on the right side, which my dominant hand. I was not worried about the surgery itself, but I was concerned about the potential of having to eat my husband’s cooking for days after surgery. That thought terrified me, having once been served one of his meals after returning from the hospital after an earlier surgery. That meal did more to get me back on my feet and into the kitchen than all the treatment, medication and physical therapy I had received.
As the surgery date approached, I called a nurse at the doctor’s office and explained my phobia surrounding my husband’s cooking. She assured me that I would be able to leave the surgery center with enough use of my hand to manage in the kitchen. She told me my hand would be lightly numb and wrapped in an Ace bandage; however, my fingers would be available for use. I felt better after that; however, I did prepare several meals ahead of time to be popped into the microwave at the proper time-just to be safe.
The day of the surgery went smoothly. My time in the surgery center was pleasant and comfortable. I felt relaxed and peaceful throughout. I was told to be at the surgery center at 10:30 in the morning, and by 3:00 in the afternoon, I was back at home and preparing a meal. I popped lasagna in the microwave and made a salad. I felt good. There was no weakness or nausea. Pain was very well management by the medication. The right hand was awkward doing some tasks, but they were completed, maybe not with my usual finesse, but for the most part, they were accomplished.
Surgery was done on a Thursday. Thursday evening and Friday I loafed, watching TV and reading books. Other than dressing, washing up and brushing my teeth, the only other tasks I accomplished were preparing meals and washing dishes. Even though it would not have been absolutely necessary, I was glad that I had done the major portion of the work preparing meals ahead of time. It was ice to just make a salad and microwave a main dish already prepared. I recommend that anyone who is the family cook; who has a mate with questionable culinary skills; and who is contemplating carpal tunnel surgery do as I did and prepare ahead of time.
On Saturday, the Ace bandage was removed and a tiny incision on the inside of my wrist was revealed. This little incision and a bruised palm and wrist were all I had to show for the surgery. (What an improvement over the long incision on the palm and the long recovery period of earlier carpal tunnel procedures! We are so blessed to have access to these modern scope and camera procedures.) On Saturday, in addition to meals, I did the laundry, changed the bed linens and gave my floors a quick vacuuming. My husband did help me with the bed linens by lifting the mattress as I tucked in the sheets and blankets.
From Saturday on, I experienced a rapid return to normal. It seemed that each day I could not a return of strength and stamina in the hand.
This is not to say there were not some bumps in the road. There were some situations and tasks that presented problems during the first weeks of recovery. Probably the most pronounced difficulty was “wrap rage”. I am so old that I can remember when cellophane packaging could be torn easily with the hands – or in extreme cases, with the teeth. Perhaps those memories make me less tolerant of modern packaging. I am convinced that only those with experience in safe-cracking are truly capable of opening today’s packaging with ease. This “impossible-to-penetrate-under-the-best-of-circumstances” packaging raised my ire on more than one occasion during the recovery period. If you are contemplating carpal tunnel surgery, recruit someone, recruit someone-preferably someone with experience compromising bank vaults-to be your official opener.
Running a close second to “wrap rage” was “manual can opener fatigue”. I discovered quickly that turning the handled on a can opener was a mission impossible during the first week. I devised a rather awkward-but-effective method of using a crossed-arm position and running the handle with my left hand. It was not pretty to watch, but it worked.
Hooking my underwear was another problem. I finally resorted to hooking in the front and then spinning the hooks around to the back and sliding in. I am sure it was not poetry in motion to watch, but then no one should have been looking anyway.
There were a few other tasks that slowed me down. Although I had no difficulty using the canister cleaner, the upright cleaner was very difficult to push around with my right hand during the first few weeks. Also, moving the plastic apparatus on my mop to wring it out proved a difficult tasks. Using my hand to write was clumsy6 for a few days, but that cleared up in a week. Brushing my teeth was also clumsy. I tried using one hand, then the other. Neither one was very satisfactory, but that cleared up quickly as well. IK got my teeth brushed, but it was not pretty to watch. I did not try this, but I do not recommend trying to wriggle into your pantyhose shortly after carpal tunnel surgery. Give your socks and slacks a chance to be seen and used.
It is apparent that these hurdles I faced were very minor – and in some cases rather humorous, when one compare this litany of difficulties with those faced during recuperation from most surgery, there was not much to overcome during the recovery period. And it is fair to say that most seem more like material for a comedy routine rather than an account of dire adversity. Truthfully, there was nothing to endure during the recovery period that was serious threat to the average American lifestyle. If you were a Wild West gunfighter, you would have a problem!
I have taken the time to describe my experiences because I am sure my pattern of behavior does not deviate much from that of most. It is not the surgery itself that puts me off, but rather it is the logistics and annoyance involved in planning and arranging for it and the irritations, inconveniences and loss of productivity during the recuperation period that get my goat. My objective is to help potential carpal tunnel patients prepare for the surgery, to know to expect while recuperation and reassure them. Coping with this one relatively easy.
All things considered, it was not a bad experience. The preparation, the surgery and the recuperation all together were far less troublesome to me than the nasty “numb-hand” experiences prior to treatment. Less than two months after surgery, I am back to normal and the only remnant of my carpal tunnel problems is a tiny scar on the inside of my right wrist. The surgery was well worth every temper fit I had trying to liberate some object form a plastic bubble super-glued between two like-iron sheets of cardboard and every awkward can opening event. Having the surgery has freed me from the prospect of greeting the day with the shake rattle and roll routine necessary to wake up a numb hand and arm. It is never smart to ignore an angry nerve. They can be very unforgiving.