Release the Nerves

Carpal Tunnel Release Surgery

As I mentioned briefly in this post, I had carpal tunnel release surgery the week that we were treating Leeloo for what we thought was a fractured tooth issue. I first started having carpal tunnel symptoms in 2019 when we moved to our new house. At the time I had the torture procedure done where they shock you send small electrical impulses down your arm to determine if you are really dealing with carpal tunnel or if there is some other issue at play in your neck or shoulder. The test results indicated then that I had mild carpal tunnel. Surgery was an option then already, but I opted to try physical therapy and lifestyle changes first. The physical therapy included finger exercises and nerve glides. The lifestyle changes included a new ergonomic mouse that sits on its side, moving my keyboard to the edge of my desk so I can’t plant my wrists when I type, and wearing a brace while sleeping so I can’t curl my hands and wrists into tight little balls which is apparently my preferred sleeping position. Those things worked well and kept my symptoms at bay until last summer when all the work of getting our place ready for horses sent my carpal tunnel symptoms into overdrive. After doing another round of physical therapy this fall that didn’t offer much relief Nate and I decided I needed to move on to the next step and have the surgery. The surgeon told me I would only need a few days of rest to let the incision heal and then a few weeks to get my strength back. Nate thought I would need a few weeks of rest and months to get my strength back. We opted to give me a week and a half “off” from chores so we scheduled the surgery for a time when Nate could take off of work for that long, which ended up being the beginning of May.

The surgery itself went fine, they keep you awake for the whole thing and just numb your wrist and hand. I will go into more details below for people who are interested. So far healing has also gone well, despite not resting it nearly as long as planned due to the circumstances discussed in the last post. I had my full range of motion back within a day, strength is slowly returning, and at the follow-up appointment one week later they said the incision itself has healed up really well. My task now is to massage the incision area to help reduce the scar tissue, otherwise the scar tissue itself will end up putting the same kind of pressure on my nerves as the overly tight ligament was doing. I also need to continue to work on rebuilding my strength in that hand. At the end of the procedure the surgeon said that I had a really thick ligament and wasn’t surprised that I was having carpal tunnel symptoms but that those symptoms should clear up immediately and he was right. Though the incisions is still a little sore, as is the heel of my hand where the actual ligament that he messed with is located I have not had any tingling, numbness, or other nerve pain since the procedure. Every day my hand is getting stronger and the remaining soreness is lessening. Overall I am really happy I had the procedure done, and if you are dealing with carpal tunnel or other nerve pinching related pain I would highly recommend talking to your doctor about whether such a procedure might work for you. I would not, however, recommend driving five hours to Wisconsin with a manual transmission car until after you have enough strength to shift into fifth and sixth gear without having to take your left hand off the steering wheel to help.

Okay – now for the in-depth, possibly cringe-y, details of the surgery for those of you who are curious. 

They start by confirming that the surgeon is in fact looking at my right, and also correct, hand. And yes, that is my right hand, and yes the nurse confirms that it is my right hand. And yes, we all agree this is my right hand. Then they stab a needle into one of the nerves in my wrist. That first jab was the most acutely painful part of the whole thing because they have to get it in the right spot to work. Apparently if you can feel anything in your fingers it is in the wrong spot. Keep in mind they are jabbing me in my wrist and I’m feeling it all the way up into my fingers as the surgeon played hide and seek with the proper nerve. It was not fun. It took him three tries to get it in the right spot. After that there are five more pokes all along that nerve while they inject whatever it is that numbs everything. Then I had to sit for half an hour as my hand swells up like a balloon and my fingers turn into fat little sausages and my whole hand goes pins and needles.

Once my hand was suitably numb, they wheeled me into the surgery suite and got me ready for the actual procedure where again we all confirm that yes, this is my right hand, and yes this is the hand the procedure is supposed to happen to. And yes the nurse agrees, as does the other nurse, as does the technician, as does the surgeon. I understand that this is because there have been some very tragic accidents where the wrong limb was operated on and in some cases that operation was an amputation and that is truly terrible and I would not wish that fate on anyone, but that doesn’t stop the actual double-quadruple confirmation alternative from feeling a little absurd. Once we are all in agreement that we are all looking at and working on my right hand, and that is the hand that is supposed to be operated on, they held my arm up in the air and tried to squeeze out some of the fluid that has turned me into Sausage Hand. Once they have as much fluid squeezed out as they can they put a tourniquet on my arm to minimize the blood to the incision site. Supposedly the tourniquet is the part most patients think is the worst. I am not sure who those patients are, but they are wrong. At this point they draped me so I can’t actually see what is going on, but they just let your arm, hand, and fingers rest of their own volition on the special table. Nothing is strapped down or held in place and I spent most of the procedure afraid I’d twitch and move a finger that would move something inside my wrist at just the wrong moment and they’ll accidently cut something important. Though they keep saying your hand is numb, it still feels stuff, just not sharp pain. I definitely felt when they made the incisions to get in, and I felt when the scope and the tools went in, and I really, really, felt it when the tool goes under that ligament and pulls up on it like a rubber band and then scrapes back and forth and back and forth and back and forth like they are trying to scrape the paint off of something. I definitely feel that. That was the point where I had to close my eyes and do some deep breathing. The nurse asked if it hurt, I managed not to swear at her, but I did say “it sure doesn’t feel good” in my most acerbic tone.

After that they slip everything back out of my wrist and sew it up. The sewing up part isn’t fun either, you can’t actually feel the pain of it but your body knows that something is jabbing at it and pulling through it and I did not enjoy that either. They put on a special waterproof bandage that was supposed to last four days (it lasted two) and then sent me on my way. Nate and I went to get all you can east sushi as a reward, didn’t really think through the chopsticks with a useless hand though. Luckily no one was there to judge me as I used my fork or in many cases just gave up and used my fingers.