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Brother, can you spare a hand?

Since September 2013 I’ve had a problem with my left hand. My pinkie, ring finger, and half of my palm have been numb most of the time and hypersensitive the rest. I figured it was a RSI of some sort and set about figuring out how to fix it. I Googled around and found some information on my exact symptoms. I thought if I followed the exercises it would fix itself.

You’re going to need surgery

In November I finally went to a doctor, yes, I waited two months, I wouldn’t recommend doing that.

I was sent to a Neurologist. She performed a nerve conduction study. Ever have one of those? I wouldn’t recommend it. The doc pokes little probes into your skin and sends a current into it. It made my hand and arm jump about, but not as good as it should have. Her conclusion? “You need surgery. You have severe nerve damage.” Swell. She goes on to tell me the damage is in my elbow, my ulna nerve. She asked how I damaged my arm. I have no idea how it happened, it just happened.

Let’s try therapy

I was referred to a surgeon. You know what surgeons like to do? They like to cut. They are a hammer and everything is a nail.

I met with the surgeon in early December to figure out my next steps. I liked this guy instantly. He has a great bedside manner, very personable. His assistant took pictures of my hands and took my vitals, this is something they would do each visit.

I gave the doc the lowdown and he talked to me about the results of the nerve conduction study and decided to give me a steroid shot, directly into my left wrist in hopes my symptoms would clear up. It could have been swelling, and this approach may fix it. Great!

A couple weeks later, I was back for my follow up. No change in symptoms. Bummer. We talked for a bit and the doc had a recommendation before going the surgery route. “Let’s try therapy.”

When do you want to have surgery?

I like therapy. I learned how to sit properly and how to adjust my workspace so I wouldn’t develop other physical issues. I purchased a new hands free headset, I spend a lot of time on the phone, and purchased a GeekDesk so I could set my desk at the proper height and work standing up once in a while. I propped my display up to the proper height and stopped using my laptop keyboard.

I went to therapy twice a week for a month or so. I learned how to do all sorts of exercises to deal with my condition. It was all about realigning, or freeing up, my ulna nerve so it wouldn’t be pinched and my symptoms would disappear. I even changed how I sleep. Moving from sleeping on my left side to my right.

It didn’t work. I met with the surgeon and he asked, “When do you want to have surgery?” Truth be told, I didn’t. I tried to talk him into waiting until July. “July? Why July?” I explained I was busy at my day and night job. He explained that I risked further damage to my ulna nerve. The worst outcome? Losing the use of my left hand. Clearly I didn’t want that to happen. We scheduled surgery.

Let’s make a smily face

March, 25. That was the big day. Surgery. I’d finally get this darned thing fixed. The day came. I was in pre op and the doc stopped by. He asked which arm we were working on, he knew of course, but he had to hear me say it. I must have been asked that question a dozen times. He took out a Sharpie said “Let’s make a smily face” and proceeded to draw two points about five inches apart on the inside of my elbow, and placed his initials on the inside bend of my elbow.

That was around 4PM. I woke up at 7:30PM. I was groggy and my throat was a bit sore. They had to put me fully under. Apparently I started wiggling a bit during the surgery. I was supposed to receive a nerve block and be put into “twilight sleep” a wonderful concoction of drugs that leaves you awake, with no memory of the event. I guess I needed a bit more help. The nurse said the doc had to go a bit deeper than expected, I have no idea what that means, but there you go.

Back to therapy

It’s been a week since my Ulna Nerve Transposition (NSFW). I’m pretty excited to get the splint off my arm, it’s a real pain in the butt. Therapy starts Friday and I get to bend my elbow, with my newly relocated ulna nerve, for the first time in a bit over a week.

I’m hopeful my hand will return to normal in due time. It can take up to a year for the nerve to fully repair itself, and after all this there is a chance it may never repair itself.

Only time will tell.

UPDATE (02/04/2014): Yes, this post was written with one hand, on my iPhone using WordPress for iOS.

By Rob Fahrni

Husband / Father / Developer

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