I did something really stupid last Saturday: I was having a picnic with a bunch of friends at the house, and, trying to do two things at one, wasn’t careful when I went inside to get something, tripped over the edge of slip-on sandals I was wearing for the first time this year, and took a dive onto my living room floor.
After a stunned second – I hate falling – I looked at the parts that had hit first, and was horrified to see that I had dislocated my right pinky finger in two places – at the hand, and the next joint up. I looked so WRONG, back and forth in a Z. I reacted instinctively. I carefully checked to see if anything seemed broken, and pulled the finger back into alignment, knowing I had seconds before the whole thing would swell up. I still can’t believe I had the presence of mind to do it.
I didn’t want to spend the day at the ER – ERs are notorious for long waits if you aren’t dying. ERs are completely exhausting for people with CFS who already have no energy. I’d spent over three hours many years ago (with my 6-month-old and a friend) in the ER waiting for them to sew back on the top of a finger I almost sliced off. In that case, there wasn’t anything I could do by myself.
But this time, once I had the finger straightened, I moved with speed. I filled a sandwich baggie with crushed ice, took two ibuprophen for their anti-inflammatory effect, and spent the next hour icing the finger – while listening to my friends sing. I asked people to help – several pitched in and did the small number of necessary tasks, and kept my ice bag filled. The finger was swollen, and somewhat purple at the base, but because I reacted fast and got the ice on, didn’t seem to be getting worse.
I felt it gently over and over to make sure there wasn’t anything obviously broken – pain and loss of function would have to be the indicators that something was broken (or that I had put it back together wrong).
I did it so efficiently – still surprised about that – that several people at the picnic asked me why I had a bag of ice – they thought it was for my soda!
After the picnickers left – I accepted all offers of help! – I taped the little finger to the ring finger, being careful not to tape it too tight, and started moving it gently.
I kept it taped Sunday, and found you can actually do pretty well as a nine-finger typist: the little finger has ‘p’, ‘;’, and ‘/’ on the unshifted keys, and I could do those with the taped finger pair.
I started moving the fingers together, doing very gentle stretches and isometric pushes. Two more ibuprophen as anti-inflammatories.
Monday I took off the tape: the finger was a little sausage-like, but the purple was already receding. I continued stretches and pushes, putting all the fingers through complete range of motion exercises.
I kept checking to make sure nothing was getting worse – nothing was. The pain was minimal in most positions – if there had been anything else going on finger and I would have headed for the doctor’s office to get an Xray.
And today, Tuesday, though the pinky is still 30% fatter, and doesn’t fold quite all the way down to the palm, nor stretch back quite as much as the other one, I am typing with all ten fingers!
This evening the pinky touches the palm by itself (I’ve been doing my exercises all day).
I KNOW the hand exercises they would have given me if this had gone the medical route – and I know how much of my life would be consumed with PT and doctor and ER visits. I do them for my thumbs (found them myself online), the thumbs the orthopedist said would have to be operated on because they had a limit of three cortisone injections. Needless to say, I never had that surgery.
I think knowing how much physical energy it would take me to do this the ‘proper’ medical way was what pushed me into making the decision to do it myself. With the CFS brain and energy limitations, I just couldn’t face losing so much time.
I think the key was 1) reacting quickly – before the joints had a chance to get locked into their dislocated positions by swelling, 2) getting ice on the repositioned finger for over an hour, and 3) NOT sitting in the ER with a dislocated finger waiting for three hours. And, I’ll have to admit, 4) knowing I had medical backup if I really needed it.
Foolhardy – maybe. But I think it was the best thing to do, and I’m so glad I did it myself, and that it has gotten better every day.
—Updated Aug. 3, 2013: It’s been two months – and the finger I was so proud of fixing myself 1) still types fine, and 2) still hurts some (but no worse than on Day 1), and is 3) still bent.
Sigh. I am going to have to do something about it – as soon as I get around to it – it isn’t getting worse. But sometimes you do need to let the professionals in. I’m not sure when – every doctor’s visit takes several days out of my life – and it goes on a long list of other routine medical maintenance visits I need to make – but I will. Soon. I promise.