Hand surgery

This is admittedly a slow time in the shepherding year, but there is never a good time for hand surgery. I’ve noticed over the past few years that more and more often, my hands have been going numb; they check out just when it seems I need them the most. The problem has been much more obvious in the winter, when I am hauling hay bales and placing them into feeders and while carefully trying to guide stuck lambs into the world from their mother’s womb. For the past two winters, I’ve had to work creatively, trying to do with my eyes what I used to do with my fingers: looking rather than feeling for the twine that holds the bale together or grasping the front hooves that I can see but not feel.

At the peak of numbness last winter, my doctor diagnosed carpal tunnel syndrome and suggested surgery — although we both knew it couldn’t happen then. I had hay to haul and lambs to deliver, with little downtime for incisions to heal. He gave me a cortisone injection to get me through the worst of it, and we looked toward surgery sometime during the summer, my slower time of year.

I had the carpal tunnel of my left hand released on June 7th in a quick surgery using only local anesthetic. The hand healed fairly well, especially considering all the activity it probably shouldn’t have done in the early weeks after surgery. But I realized I was running out of time to fix the right hand. If, like last year, we didn’t have to feed out hay until December, I’d have enough time to heal up. Yet I know the reality is that by mid-October, we usually begin to supplement our pastures with some hay bales. This means that to have two months of recovery, I needed to have my surgery before the middle of August — and that’s right around the corner!

So we scheduled the surgery for yesterday, Tuesday, August 2nd. Until the moment I was finally in the surgical suite, I was worried. I wasn’t worried about the surgery itself — I worried about it not happening, despite the fact that it was scheduled. My surgeon refuses to do the surgery if I have any marks on my hand — any breaks in the skin, bruises, etc. I need to be clear here: I ALWAYS have marks on my hands! After all, I work with my hands! If they aren’t cracked from constantly being in and out of waterers, I skin the knuckles on the ground as I pick up heavy grates or I get kicked by a sheep when I put on a leg strap. I’m not sure I can remember what my hands look like with no marks!

So for the past week or two, I’ve been really careful. I’ve worn thick, cushy gloves — which are incredibly hot in the summer. I’ve called on people to move our washer and dryer back into the laundry room that we have been remodeling. I’ve used my newly fixed left hand for lots of stuff that it probably wasn’t ready for — but that way, if it got whacked, it could have the marks that the right hand absolutely could not.

As a result, I had the carpal tunnel release on my pristine right hand yesterday. That hand is no longer unmarked — it now has a 1-2″ incision that matches the pink scar on the left hand. That incision is still covered by layers and layers of gauze and wrap, making it nearly unusable, plus lots of numbing meds that make it even harder to do anything — which is probably the point.

I’m happy that I got the surgery during my off-season and now have time to recover. I am trying to ignore the fact that I am now essentially useless: my left hand is still recovering and will give out if I lift too much weight. My right hand is even worse, as it’s limited to five pounds for the next four or five weeks. Yet I’m already looking forward to having both hands back: feeling the twang of the twine as I grab a bale of hay, or reaching in during lambing to help deliver a stuck lamb and feeling the position with my fingers — and knowing I can help without seeing what is wrong. I won’t have to see, since I will again be able to feel with my fingers.

Yes, it will be good after I’ve had a chance to heal!

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  • Jane Meyerhofer says:

    Saint Luke and Saint Rafael….

  • Erika says:

    Take care of yourself and give your wrists time to heal! It is too easy, when we start feeling better, to do too much and set back the healing process.

    • Dee says:

      Thanks! I’m trying to take it easy, but I’m starting to think I need physical therapy since now that my primary hand is out of commission, my left hand is cramping. I’m not doing much (as compared to usual), but obviously more than my left hand is comfortable with…

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