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Modern Medicine and Life

Updated: Jan 15, 2020

It occurred to me in the somewhat miserable first couple of days immediately following my recent Carpal Tunnel Release surgery that, in many cases, medical practitioners must inflict significant injury to cure you. A hip replacement requires that they open you up via massive incision and use a saw for goodness sake to essentially cut off your leg and hammer in a new joint. Such was the case with my little surgery as well, though no sawing or hammering were involved. I went in with characteristic numbness, tingling and pain before the surgery that comes with Carpal Tunnel Syndrome as it's called, knowing that without treatment it would get worse and possibly become irreversible. My poor medial nerve was being squished. When she laid eyes on the thing, my surgeon described the nerve as, "pissed off!" To remedy that squeeze, she started with several long-needled injections to numb my wrist and hand. They did not, not hurt. She then cut open the base of my hand. There seemed to be some additional wrestling with my appendage that I could sense but not really feel, and a super tight tourniquet of sorts was applied to reduce bleeding. Once the hand-wound was inflicted, she inserted various tools of her trade - some sort of scope and something sharp - and cut the transverse carpal ligament that spans the bones on the palm side of my wrist. Yep. Cut. Snip. Gone. Rendered useless. You may be asking what I asked: Isn't that ligament there for a reason? Don't I need it? The answer is yes, but not as much as I need to feel my fingers and prevent permanent damage to my medial nerve.

Now four weeks out, my hand is regaining function and mobility, but it's still weak, stiff, and a little sore. It will likely take a few months to regain full function and range of motion, and maybe up to a year to regain strength. Right now, it feels worse than it did before the surgery, and will for awhile.

In medicine, as in life, it seems making things better, or at least not worse, and in some cases just getting by, demands trade-offs.

If you want to play the ukulele and don't want to permanently lose your ability to feel the strings, we're going to need to cut you up a bit.

If you want to shrink that tumor, we'll need to poison your entire body, make you lose your hair and feel like shit for awhile. You'll be even sicker from the medicine we give you than you are right now in the hope that we can kill those rogue cells without killing you in the process.

If you want that great job that you've dreamed of your whole life, or to own your own a home with a nice little yard, you may have to move to someplace flat and brown with a horrible climate and no beach or mountains, where homes are cheap and the locals' politics don't jive with yours.

If you want to be an artist or journalist or teacher rather selling out to some soul-sucking-but-high-paying administrative or managerial career, you'll have to resign yourself to living modestly and maybe never realizing (the mythical anyway) "American dream."

Trade-offs. The trick, I think, is to view them as a means to what's possible, rather than as a sacrifice.

As I recover, I've become keenly aware of all my dominant hand does for me that I've long taken for granted. The top five things I found hardest to do with my non-dominant hand:

5. Open a can

4. Button the top button of my jeans

3. Brush my teeth

2. Start the truck

1. Wipe my ass

Happiness comes from appreciating the little things, doesn't it? A cleaner ass, and the promise of trade-offs.

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