Category Archives: Injury

Still Casting About (One Thumb Up, Continued)

As I walked to the car, carrying my raincoat because my new cast wouldn’t fit through the sleeve, I considered what a luxury it has been, throughout my many years of life, to take for granted the use of two opposable thumbs.  Especially that on my right, dominant hand. 

Could I drive? I wasn’t sure.  I’d parked in a distant spot, as is my habit, where the lot had been nearly empty.  But by this point, it was full. I was dismayed to see my vehicle tightly hemmed in. Because of an as yet un-repairable recall on my little Beetle, I’ve recently been driving our much larger old Acura MDX.  The ignition requires an actual key, which I managed, with difficulty, to turn with my left hand.  I was able to maneuver the steering wheel, but it was awkward.  I was just starting to reverse carefully, when an enormous SUV zoomed up, looming, asserting its bulky presence.  Its driver sat somber and stone-faced. I held up my cast, pointing to it with my left hand, hoping for a nod or a trace of a smile.  No reaction.  I continued my slow progress.  At last, out of the spot, I opened the window and called out, “Sorry to keep you.  First time driving with a cast.”  Still nothing.  Don’t judge, I told myself.  We were in a hospital parking lot.  Mr. Stone-Face or a loved one might be staring down some frightening health news. But clearly, he’d never had a thumb cast.

I soon learned that many formerly simple tasks could be managed, but the process would have to be rethought and reworked.  I’d need to summon patience, and to be satisfied with slow-motion solutions. Hurrying doesn’t help, I realized, on my first attempt to tie my shoes. I tell myself that for now, I have one fully functioning hand, which is a blessing. And I have one hand that can offer only limited assistance. Which is much better than nothing.

Cooking, I knew, would be a challenge.  I typically do a lot of chopping, much of which would have to be avoided. Opening sealed plastic food packages was more difficult than I had anticipated.  After unsuccessful tries with scissors, and then nearly slicing my good hand with a knife, I realized I needed a pair of left-handed scissors. The can opener was a complete no-go.  Fortunately my mother is nearby and still able to work this device.

I’ve learned that I can create a poor approximation of the thumb grasp by holding an object between my body and my right arm.  Pull-top cans may be opened this way.  But when they contain any amount of liquid, spills are nearly impossible to avoid. I discovered this one morning, when, experiencing an intense and unusual breakfast craving for Chef Boyardee Mini Ravioli, I doused my shirt sleeve and much of my cast in tomato sauce.  Good thing I chose the waterproof option.

My left hand has proven to be a slow learner. I’m all too aware of this every time I sit down at the PC and use the mouse. Or attempt to hold a fork like a human, or use the curling iron, or even brush my hair or my teeth. I remember how my father could play tennis, ping pong or darts so well with either hand. Had he been just as ambidextrous when it came to daily tasks? I wish I’d noticed.

There are definitely some good things about the cast. In the first few days after my fall, the slightest motion in my right hand resulted in sharp pains. The cast put a stop to all that. I’ve felt none of the itchiness typically associated with traditional casts. The interior material is smooth and non-irritating. The cast’s protective shelter is actually comforting. Even cozy, at least when I’m not using the hand. And not having to cover the cast in plastic wrap before showering or immersing it in water is one less injury-related inconvenience to deal with.

I return to the doctor in a week. If the bone is healing well, the cast may be replaced by a splint for an additional three weeks. My husband, ever the realist, reminds me that the splint will bring its own issues. I’m aware. I know that some of my favorite activities, including painting and playing the piano, will yet have to wait. Until then, I’ll try to focus on what I can do. And sometimes, I’ll enjoy the freedom to relax. Because I lack two well-functioning thumbs, I can’t start a new project. Since the injury, I’ve found the occasional nap to be especially compelling. A little extra sleep to hasten the healing process? Sounds justifiable.

And today is Friday. That means Mama will likely be watching the all-day UnXplained marathon on the History channel. Hosted by her favorite nonagenarian cutie-pie, William Shatner, the show deals breezily with a wide variety of mysterious occurrences and odd legends. It never fails to inspire us to interesting and humorous conversation. Today might be a good day to rest my hand and enjoy a relaxing visit with a best friend who also happens to be my mother. That certainly sounds justifiable.

If you’re able to use these items without giving them much thought, chances are you have two working thumbs. Congrats!

One Thumb Up

A couple of years ago, during one of the covid winters when our family was together non-stop, my husband and daughter undertook a drastic pruning of the ancient azaleas in front of our house.  They’d grown long, leggy, unruly and generally unattractive. Several rejuvenated nicely.  Others did not. We replaced some of the shrubs, but a grouping of the biggest, barest stumps remained. 

This spring, we bought four new azaleas to fill in some of the last empty spaces. I advised on positioning, but my husband did the hard work of digging and planting the first three. The final shrub was destined for the spot occupied by the largest and boniest of the stumps. 

It was a Sunday afternoon, and H had had enough gardening.  Other home-improvement projects required his attention.  In and around our old house, and my mother’s next door, there is always something to be fixed. 

I eyed the dead plants.  They looked like old bones protruding from the ground. Unsightly. It was really time for them to go.  I could dig, right? So I dug.  And dug, and dug.  I successfully extracted two of the stubborn clumps. I was working on the third, almost finished.  I tugged hard on one of the thick branches near the base. It broke, and I pitched forward suddenly.  To prevent possible impalement on the remaining branches, I caught myself as I fell, landing hard on my right hand, stretched wide.

Ow!  Ow! Ow! Gosh, that hurt.  But my hand seemed intact.  My thumb, though throbbing with pain, wasn’t loose and dangling.  Probably just a sprain, I assumed. And the stump, that offensive thing, still sat smugly in the ground.  I would not leave this job unfinished.  I continued digging until I could lift it from the soil.  With my left hand, of course.

I iced my hand and avoided using it.  Which made the most basic activities awkward, of course. A couple of days later, my husband expressed concern that the thumb could be broken.  He thought it looked alarmingly swollen.  I thought he was overreacting.  But I made an appointment with an orthopedic group for later in the week.  By that time the swelling had lessened considerably.  I’d get it checked out, I expected, and would be potting my extensive array of annuals by the afternoon.

Much to my surprise, x-rays showed a small, wedge-shaped fragment at the base of the thumb that had cracked away from the rest of the bone. I was even more surprised when the doctor said “We would cast this.” 

“Cast it? As what?,” I thought, not yet comprehending.   Then it hit me: Oh.  Put it in a cast.  Wow. I’d never had a cast. And I didn’t expect to be getting one last Thursday.

I was given the option of a waterproof cast, which I readily chose.  I recalled the difficulties involved in keeping our dog Kiko’s splint dry when he injured his leg as a two-year old. We were advised to cover the splint with an IV bag adhered with duct tape.  This method was inadequate, to say the least, and led to much frustration, both canine and human.  See here.  Last week, during the casting process, several young technicians gathered around to watch. Evidently broken thumbs had been rarely seen recently in the practice. “Where are you going that you need a waterproof cast?,” asked one of the group, likely imagining some tropical paradise.   

“Well. . . home,” I replied, envisioning the kitchen sink.  “I’m just thinking about how to manage cooking, cleaning, the usual household stuff. Washing my hair.”

Especially since my thumb is wrapped up right to the tip, I thought, watching as the technician set it at a prominent angle relative to the rest of my hand. Before the cast, I could manage some movement in my thumb. Now, there would be absolutely none. I guess that’s the point. 

I know I’ve been fortunate never to have broken a bone before.  I know I’m lucky that in my fall, I broke only my thumb.  Not several fingers, not my wrist, or worse.  But still, what would I be able to do, and not do, with only one working thumb?

I realized that I wouldn’t know until I tried.