Dupuytrens Contracture - Healed

Healing My Finger
Dupuytren's Contracture

April 04, 2017

Sometime in 2003, I damaged the little finger on my left hand. At least, at the time, I thought I did. Over the course of about 3 years, my little finger closed over like it was gripping something invisible until it was flat against the palm of my hand. I couldn’t open it by will power or by pulling on it! For most of 2016, my guides were telling me it is important to get it fixed so that energy can flow through my left hand freely. They recently ramped up their requests saying to get it done by February. My friend and doctor approved. Seizing the reigns, my daughter, Heidi, booked me in with a hand specialist.

I had researched what I’d endure. I expected the doctor would operate to fix the issue, and I expected pain! However, when the doctor examined me, he explained that I had an hereditary condition called Dupuytren's contracture. I wasn’t sure I believed him but if true, it meant I hadn’t damaged my finger! That is unless you count picking parents with that gene! Operating on my hand was still an option, but he suggested trying a new treatment that involved injecting an enzyme (Xiaflex) into the affected spots on my hand and finger. In theory, the enzyme would dissolve the Dupuytren's tissue and not harm the tendons. If the tendon got damaged or the injection didn’t work, he’d then do the operation. I debated, in my mind, the merits of going straight for the operation. It would cost me less and definitely work, but in the end, I opted for the injections.

The pharmacy I ordered the Xiaflex from had ‘speed’ in its name. Ironically, speed is exactly what they lacked. Two months later, I switched pharmacies and my doctor had it the following day. The injections were scheduled for March 8th and the ‘hand manipulation’ set for two days later. I still worried that the injections would be ineffective. That worry was mostly alleviated when I received an email from my sister. She informed me that my brother had seventy-eight stiches from an operation to free the little finger on his hand! I guessed it was the hereditary condition after all. The following day, I grimaced through the injections, consoled at the thought of the seventy-eight stitches I could be avoiding.

My plan was to work as normal until the hand manipulation, which was on Friday, and then have the weekend off to recover. Boy did I plan that wrong. My first clue should have been how much the doctor wrapped my hand. The second clue was less subtle. While sitting at my keyboard I felt a tingle in my left hand. I instantly thought that was great, because it meant the enzymes were working. It’s hard to judge how long a thought takes to form, but my thought wasn’t fully formed by the time the tingle turned into pain and I realized I was on the upward curve of a pain wave. That realization was because of how my thoughts lagged reality. By the time I’d mentally asses the pain, the pain had moved further up the curve. Over the space of five seconds my thoughts were,

“Oh, that tingles. It must be the hereditary … Oh, that’s getting painful. I’m glad I took Tylen… Oh, shit. That’s really hurting. I won’t be able to work with this … Oh, Good God! I should probably bite down on the handle of the broom and brace for my hand to explode!”

Yep! I actually thought my hand might explode. Not my whole hand. Just where I got the injections! The severity of the pain ebbed away and I moved to the couch clutching my arm. I laid down with the full realization that I was not going to be working for the rest of the day! There was no doubt the enzymes were eating away at something. This pain cycle repeated itself about eight times over the next twenty-four hours.

On Friday, I arrived for the hand manipulation. Sandy accompanied me. I was very eager to see if this was it. Would my finger straighten or would I still need the operation. I was quietly confident. The doctor administered a local anaesthetic. The anaesthetic syringe was huge. My hand swelled like a balloon. I don’t think it was a reaction – it was the contents of the syringe. He left a little bit in the syringe. I wondered why.

The doctor expected me to watch him do the manipulation but there was no chance of that. I turned the other way to face Sandy but immediately realized that wasn’t going to work. Her face morphed into the pained expressions mine would have shown, had I been witnessing the manipulations. I added closing my eyes to my defense but that didn’t block out the interrogation Sandy was subjecting the doctor to. Indeed, it heightened my sensitivity to her questions and his answers. “Is there any chance this won’t work? Can there be lasting damage? Can he lose use of that finger? Could sensation in his hand be lost?” I couldn’t focus on calming my mind! I told Sandy to ask the doctor if the remaining anaesthetic would work on her lips! Her laughter was better. Seconds later the doctor announced that my finger was now completely straight. What a relief. For one second.

From being closed over for nearly fifteen years, the skin on my finger had tightened and ripped when it was straightened. That may sound bad but that’s only because it was! Yikes. The doctor did warn me just before it happened. Afterwards, I wondered if I’d moisturized would it have torn. Heck I’d have worn eye shadow and lipstick if I thought it would have helped! The doctor was afraid I’d need a skin graft but wouldn’t know until he saw how my hand would heal. The good news was that since he could see my tendons we could tick the box that they were undamaged! Yay! A silver lining to tearing a hole in your skin!

I went from there directly to my new physiotherapist, JoAnn. She applied a dressing and made a custom mould to hold my little finger and ring finger straight-ish. We couldn’t straighten it fully until the tear healed. The good news is that within 2 weeks it had and I didn’t need a skin graft. She changed the shape of the mould to be more straight. A week later I progressed to a small device that just fit over my little finger. I asked if there was a pot of molten lava into which we could throw the old mould. She nodded towards the regular garbage. Hmmm. That wasn’t justice.

The new device was spring loaded and applied pressure to straighten my finger. At the time, my finger still was closed over 25 degrees. For the glass half full readers – that means it was 155 degrees open with just 25 degrees to go! I was on cloud 9. However, by the time I’d walked from her office to my car, my finger had become soooo sensitive from the pressure of the spring that I could barely get the device off. Over the next few days I put it on and off. I could only suffer it for a few minutes. I nicknamed it “The Cheese Grater”. I needed to work up to wearing it for 2 hours before I could wear it at night. That’s when it would really shine.

The first time I could actually wear it for 2 hours was on the day of my next visit to physio. Even with only occasionally wearing it, there was progress. I was now down to just 18 degrees to go. One week later I hit the magic zero. Finger fully straight! Although clearly effective, the device was still excruciating to wear at times. Molten lava won’t do for this. This needs to be thrown into the fires of Mordor.

Proud of my achievement I casually commented to JoAnn that we bought a play set for my grandchildren and I was going to dig a level spot in the garden for it. Her response was not to directly call me a moron but to subtly let me figure that out. She told me that I’d have to hire someone as I would damage my hand if I did anything like that within two months. She asked me how long I could endure the putty squeezing exercises she gave me. I told her I was managing 3 minutes. She then asked me if I felt I could jump from 3 minutes with putty to 8 hours with a shovel? Point taken!

She reminded me that my hand was still swollen. I agreed. I said I’d tried to put my wedding ring back on that morning but it still wouldn’t fit. She advised I leave it off for a while longer as the transverse pressure it would apply to my tendons would block healing. I told her she could get me in trouble. Hire a labourer to level my garden instead of doing it myself. Don’t wear my wedding band! I said, you better not tell me I need to go to Las Vegas to relax or Sandy will totally flip out! I think she’s starting to get my humour!

That’s my tale so far. I will have to wear the cheese grater on and off for 3 months and then I’m done. Would I recommend this procedure to others? Yes! In a heartbeat! I can already use the left pocket of my jeans. With a little luck, I’ll find money or a misplaced lotto ticket in a left pocket as I cycle through my clothes. All kidding aside, the flow of energy in my left hand is vastly different from the moment my finger was freed. It didn't even need to be fully straight. That is what my guides were after. The left side of the body affects the flow of female energy. Not surprisingly, for three nights in a row, my dreams focused on issues I picked up in the womb. The new energy flow is allowing those to be released.

Postscript: The clinic I'm attending for physiotherapy is Hands For Living in Lynnwood. It is is owned by JoAnn Keller. While the doctor who performed my hand manipulation expected I'd need a skin graft, JoAnn approached it differently. She dressed my wound and built a custom hand splint that kept my finger in a position that promoted self-healing. In just a few days it was clear her approach was working. That was a huge relief to me and my doctor! I highly recommend Hands For Living because of my first hand experience (pun intended!) of the amazing work they do!