Free the Finger! Cast-free after 9 weeks

I was very apprehensive and so excited to see my doctor at OAA today to get my damn cast off for an evaluation of my mallet finger.

The teenager texted me as I sat in the exam room.

“Free the finger!”

They had a devil of a time cutting it off— apparently after even five weeks in the same cast it was firmly on.

Both the hand/orthopedic specialist and the hand rehab office it’s unusual for patients to maintain a finger cast for so long. That doesn’t make sense to me, because why wouldn’t you do everything in your power to maintain agility and strength in your finger?

Free the Finger!

the Teenager

And don’t give me that “it’s too hard” or “I need my hand to do stuff.”

I work in the Stitch Fix Bizzy Hizzy warehouse folding clothes. And after my brief stint on short term disability to deal with my balance and hip issues stemming from cerebral palsy (and made more complicated by now not being able to rely on the left side of my body with this temporary injury), I went back to work and performed at 100% and higher with my finger in a cast and restricted hand movement.

That finger had so much caked dead skin and here’s the really fascinating part— my knuckle no longer has wrinkles because it has not bent.

In the beginning of my treatment, I found my doctor cold and impersonal but as he gets to know me I like him more and I get more personable interactions from him.

He told me I should gradually increase my finger flexibility with care not to hyperextend it (otherwise known as don’t bend it backwards) and splint it at night. For the splint, I could take my cast back. And tape it in at night.

“It’s cheap, but it’s dirty,” the doctor said.

Yeah, no thanks. I lived with that grimy thing long enough.

“The other option is to return to the Hand Institute and they’ll make you a splint.”

(Which, coincidentally Cigna, my insurance, does not cover. But as I do not cheap out on my medical care, I will pay for. Because right now my HSA is empty because having a disability and doing everything you can to keep yourself ahead of that disability is expensive. So please, consider this and how lucky I am that I can support myself because if I had to really on family and government benefits to subsidize my care, I’d be crippled.)

I imagine there’s a third option— buy an over-the-counter splint. And I was going to consider that. But to me, the cost of the custom splint comes with the knowledge and enthusiasm of the people at the Institute for Hand and Upper Extremity Rehabilitation. These people love and know hands.

And if I can only teach others one concept about your health, it is this: invest in yourself, meaning, find the right medical providers for your team that understand your needs and share your personal philosophy and concerns. This requires being vulnerable in a way that might be uncomfortable and it might mean having difficult conversations with people you don’t like. But it may also lead you to better understanding of yourself and of those people who seemed like callous know-it-alls disinterested in you.

I peppered my hand specialist with questions today— rapid fire as he typed my splint referral into the computer. And he respected them. The questions.

How much movement is okay? What should I watch for? I pack boxes and fold clothes and put things on conveyer belts. Should I splint the finger at work if it starts to feel weird? Is there certain motion I should avoid?

“There are no rules,” he said. “Just be careful and the occasional splinting wouldn’t be bad. I’ll see you in a month.

He made eye contact with me as if to say, “you know your body. Follow your gut.”

But he also knows I’m the patient who kept a finger cast on longer than the average Joe. So maybe, just maybe, he trusts me.

For previous installments on my finger injury: click here.

Also: a YouTube video

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