Friday, June 11, 2010
Physical Therapy – Episode II
When last we left the mangled remains of my least favorite finger, I was just beginning a series of at-home flexion/extension exercises designed to stretch the tendons and correct their structural displacement.
My first few days of self-imposed physical therapy were the equivalent of medicinal mutilation.
In a nutshell, my finger involuntarily bends down where it's supposed to bend up and bends up where it's supposed to bend down. My physical therapist recommended the application of pressure to keep one joint rigid, while (simultaneously) forcibly bending the other affected joint in the "right" direction.
Humor me for a moment and hold up your right hand with the palm facing away from you. Now, take the tip of your index finger and bend it backwards – towards you, opposite of its "natural" direction. This is the oversimplified equivalent of what I have to do, except I'm bending my finger in its natural direction. The thing is, it feels like I'm bending it backwards, as there's next to no give when I bend it the "right" way.
The alternating bouts of swelling and discoloration subsided by the third day and I eventually found a grip that made my whimpers almost inaudible. I was told that I'd be able to feel the tendons stretch (yup) and that the accompanying "pops" within my finger would be a little scary, but wouldn't hurt much (an epic underestimation on both counts, I must say).
Still, after two weeks on the program, it felt like I was regaining some movement in my loathsome left pinky. I attended my second official physical therapy session with an emotional cocktail of anxious knots and cautious optimism sitting heavy on my belly.
Once again, we began with the paraffin wax treatment. If you read my PT post from two weeks ago, you'll understand why I couldn't contain my giddiness in front of the female therapist who was assisting my regular guy:
PT: "Let's get you started with some paraffin wax."
Me: "This was actually my favorite part of my last visit."
PT: "Really? I've never heard that from any of our male patients before."
Embarrassing or not…I just made medical history! I also inadvertently touched the bottom of the paraffin cauldron during one of my hand dips. Here is a 10-second clip that reasonably approximates my reaction.
My waxy hand was again wrapped in hot towels and, while I waited the requisite ten minutes, my physical therapist offered me a small stack of Rachael Ray Magazines to read. Not sure if this was in response to my unabashed appreciation of paraffin wax, but whatever. I actually like Rachael Ray – and pretty much any cooking/recipe magazine – so the joke's on him. Uh, isn't it?
After the wax peel, we began a soft tissue massage. My finger was slathered with lotion and then hit with a handheld instrument – about the size of a bottle of cologne – with a tiny, rubber vibrating ball at the end. Glorious. In the hours after my visit, I gently scoured the entire internet looking for one of these. This was followed by an ultrasound which, for men, is required by law to be accompanied by a pregnancy joke from the PT.
Things were going fine until an enormous slab of a florescent yellow substance – with the consistency of Silly Putty – was placed in front of me. I was instructed to alternately put my fist in it, open my hand and then fan out my fingers. After 60-seconds of the goo's "natural resistance" to my injured digit, I was tapping out with my one functional hand.
So, were the last two weeks worth it? Well, I was told that I made "tremendous" improvement in and around the middle of my finger. I could only straighten it about 75%, but now – admittedly, with some effort – I can get it close to 100%. The top segment of my finger remains rigid and curved upward, but it showed a little bit of improvement, too. My PT was even more encouraging:
"With another month of treatment and exercises, you might be able to avoid surgery, altogether. Honestly, when I first saw you, I didn't think there was any chance you'd improve this much in such a short time."
Wait…how much of that was really encouraging?