I've ruined my hands gripping my weapons of choice—a weeding knife, shop vac handle, and paintbrush—too tightly and too long since moving to the Pacific Northwest, developing a condition called tenosynovitis, commonly known as trigger finger, where one's fingers are not able to fully bend or extend without tendons getting caught in the sheath opening along the finger joints, making mundane activities like pulling down a window shade, or tugging up one's undergarments painful.
Annual cortisone shots were no longer effective in treating my symptoms, so I finally opted for a permanent fix and I had surgery on three fingers on my left (dominant hand) last Thursday.
It was an outpatient procedure, done with only local anesthesia. I was fully conscious, and despite my attempts to be calm, my blood pressure spiked beforehand, then dropped precipitously during. I hyperventilated trying to breathe deeply and think of my cats, instead of the tugging and deep pressure in my hand that felt brutal although I couldn't say it hurt.
I wasn’t always so wimpy. In high school I had my four wisdom teeth pulled from my jaw during Easter vacation. I was conscious, but disassociated, floating above myself, curiously listening to the crack of bone and scrape of tools as though tuned to a radio station. That same year I dissected a huge tomcat in science class and delighted in disturbing my mother at dinners by naming the muscles and bones of the chicken she served.
Years later, giving birth to my daughters without drugs, I tunneled deep inside myself instead of floating, becoming nothing but sensation, my eyes clamped shut, the nurses, doctor, even my husband reduced to disembodied voices whose instructions and comfort swam to me muffled and from a great distance.
Without the herculean work of labor, without my own unearthly calls joined by the response of a slippery and squalling infant, this descent into sensation that both knit me to and divorced me from my own body seemed fruitless and unwelcome.
What was the point of being conscious when I couldn’t answer questions—"Cathy are you okay? Do you want some oxygen?"—or follow instructions, “Make a fist now, Cathy.”
When we first discussed surgery, my kind and genial doctor described the procedure as so simple and easy that I could drive myself home afterward. I never seriously considered driving 40 minutes home one-handed, but I wanted to think my history of needing valium and nitrous for root canals wouldn’t transfer from my mouth to the rest of my body. I hoped that the whole thing would be me for me, like it was for the surgeon, no big deal.
Visiting me in the recovery area, my surgeon’s first words were, "Next time we'll use sedation." It’s a relief to know that next time I’ll receive the gift of amnesia about the procedure itself because the next time will be soon: the trigger fingers on my right hand are symptomatic, flaring up as I favor them post-surgically while my left hand heals.
As I ice my swollen hand and swallow regular doses of ibuprofen, I recognize that my body has undergone trauma, that I willingly subjected it to trauma in the desire for healing, and that the healing will result in scars, some visible, and some under my skin, never seen, maybe never felt.
Until the day comes when our physicians can heal like Jesus with words and spit alone, or like the Vulcan Dr. Spock, with the gentle laying on of hands, we live in brokenness, and our need for healing whether it be physical, emotional, or spiritual, requires painful choices and loss.
On the continuum of human pain and suffering, my trigger finger surgery barely registers on the scale, is hardly worth mentioning, except as metaphor to illuminate greater truths and the bigger picture, and to express gratitude that I am able to have them fixed.
In the months to come I will be able to knit again, to dig in the soil, to transform a home with paint, and to type my way into deeper understanding. May my hands remain useful and occupied, extended to others, and raised in thanksgiving in the years yet to come.