If I said to you that I was following an exercise program with discipline, eating food of the highest nutritional quality, making sure that I’m getting lots of sleep, doing lots of body care, and seeing progress each day, what would you conclude? I suspect most followers of this blog would say that I was training for a mountain. I haven’t been getting ready for a mountain (but am just starting back to training for our climbing in Mongolia in August) I have been getting ready for, having, and now am recovering from hand surgery. Out for a walk today, I realized the process of getting ready and going through hand surgery has mirrored getting ready for a mountain, writing my book, making my high school soccer team, and finishing my Ph.D and so many other things in my life.
Eight years ago, I had a surgery date for my left hand for carpal tunnel syndrome. I elected to put it off, deciding at that moment, the risk/benefit analysis favoured trying to manage my condition with body work, posture, good hand position, and an occasion anti-inflammatory like Vitamin I. I had ups and downs with it but overall, managed pretty well. Last summer, in the lead-up to our Paddle2Peaks expedition, I managed to flare my carpal tunnel in both hands, get a trigger thumb in one hand, and De Quervain’s syndrome in the other. Those carpal tunnel flares and new hand challenges really took their toll and I was a hugely humbled by them in Labrador-especially when I had to sit out a day’s paddling to give them a break.
When I got back from the expedition, I sought out my hand team and we worked to get everything settled down-which with the help of a couple of steroid injections and some time, I got my hands back. During that same time, I had nerve conduction studies done again and found out that my left hand showed a decline from mild impairment to moderate. I was counselled to consider surgery before I hit severe nerve impairment and permanent damage.
I was offered a surgery date and I thought long and hard about whether to take it. The surgeon asked, (knowing my expeditionary lifestyle), “Is this a good time?”
I replied, “When will it ever be a good time for me?”
He said, “It’s not usually a question of if, but when.”
I remembered the agony of paddling last summer and having to stick my hands in the ocean every few paddle strokes to get relief. I said, “OK, Let’s do this-as I have a bit of a window and my next expedition is leg-based.” I’d already successfully paddled this spring and I wrestled with the decision of giving my “perfectly good hand” to the surgeon to cut into. I worried about a 1 in 100 complication rate, loss of hand strength, and recovery time on one side and the risk of permanent numbers/tingling and eventual strength loss on the other.
I got the letter with an early June surgery date. I gulped. I sighed.
I made the decision to climb the mountain. I had four weeks to get ready.
The first thing I did was totally re-arrange my course syllabi (as I teach with my hands) for my two intersession courses to ensure the classes I would miss would be covered.
The second thing I did was started doing push ups, grip strength , and other upper body exercises to build some strength so I could lose it again during recovery.
The third thing I did was learn what vitamins and other nutritional support a body needs to heal an incision and make nice scar tissue. I obtained those supplements and made a focused effort to eat really good, really nutrient dense food.
During the four weeks I had to stew about it, I just kept repeating, “permanent nerve damage” to myself and would go do more push-ups whenever I felt scared about the surgery. I cleared my schedule for the surgery date and the next three days afterward. I wanted to be able to sleep lots right after to help with healing. I also watched lots of videos about exercises I could do post surgery to help with mobility and strength-rebuilding.
The surgery went well. The surgeon and hospital staff were very kind. It took about 20 minutes and the decision was permanently made the moment that ligament was cut. Second guessing myself would no longer make any difference and I could focus 100 percent on recovery.
I’ve had no apparent complications and healing is progressing faster than anticipated. My incision is almost sealed up 100% and I can start scar massage as soon as it welds yet. I finished surgery at about 9 am on the day and by 9:30 am, I was already starting my rehab exercises 🙂 A little early in some people’s books but I remember the first time I had a knee scoped, the Orthopaedic Surgeon gave me some exercises to do and said, do them as soon as you wake up from surgery…so I’ve done taken his advice with every surgery I’ve had. Use it as soon as I can.
Of course, with this surgery they were “breaking” something, so there was not really any harm to be done 🙂 . My hand surgeon said that as long as I didn’t cause my incision to open (which he told me was pretty hard to do unless you fall on it) or get it wet, I could do anything I tolerated.
The first two days were a bit of a painkiller stupor but by day three my hand started to want to get back into life and I even helped out a bit in the garden that day. Since then, I’ve been gaining strength, mobility, and function with each day…and resting and propping my hand up when it needed that as well. Each day I see the incision get an increment better and the view of it changes. Just like the view changes with each step up a mountain.
This mountain has been both a long time coming and a rather short adventure. It’s going so well I’m considering having my other hand done as well this summer. I’m just waiting to see a) if that possible in the time I have before Mongolia and b) how the hand functions a little further out (from what I understand, it takes 14 days to heal the incision and about 42 days to totally heal all the internal structures.
So, it was interesting today when I was on a training walk with Marian and reflected on the past two weeks and realized it was a lot like climbing a mountain. I’ve appreciated my focus on all of my healing tasks (exercises, hand massage, good sleep, good eating, outdoor time, compassionate mind, etc.). After a year off from training, (both because of trying to get my hands to settle and because I needed to take a break after training last year for Everest), I was ready for a little “Discipline, Great Vision.”
One of my favourite quotes is, “How you do anything, is how you do everything.” So in reflecting on my experience of hand surgery, I might update that quote to “How I climb anything is how I climb everything.”
Thanks for all of your kind thoughts and support this past while. It’s been much appreciated.
(Building Lego this week is part of my hand therapy and I can see my ability to do it improve each day).