Carpal Tunnel Syndrome and Surgery - My Experiences
© joaniebaby 03/01/2013
This Hub will not be a medical textbook report but my actual experiences with Carpal Tunnel Syndrome and Carpal Tunnel surgery, and written in language anybody can understand.
After approximately thirty years sitting at a desk and typing, my hand and wrist developed carpal tunnel syndrome. Naturally, I should have done something about it many years ago but did not. Heed my advice: if you have a problem, visit your doctor and take care of it as soon as necessary.
I started typing on a manual typewriter back in 1946, then advanced to a selectric typewriter, and eventually the computer. Also back in 1946 I took a lot of shorthand from my boss and that is repetitive motion. Sewing, quilting, knitting, crocheting and woodworking all contributed to the damage in my palm and wrist. I suppose playing golf for years didn't help either.
When I was working in an office and using the computer, I developed symptoms of carpal tunnel and started using a wrist protector. That seemed to help and I ignored the problem. Of course, the protector didn't really help--it just disguised the discomfort--and the problem progressed. In 1993, I retired from being the bookkeeper in a law office and thought the symptoms would go away. But I still kept using my computer at home and at several part time jobs. So, naturally, that did not help. Also I started doing more woodworking, along with my sewing, quilting, etc., all of which contributed more to the carpal tunnel symptoms.
The carpal tunnel symptoms that I experienced were soreness in my wrist, my hand and fingers going to sleep, and tingling. The hands going to sleep would wake me up at night, and the tingling really hurt when the hands started waking up. It is like pins sticking you all over. If you have ever hit your "funny bone" you know what the feeling is. Also my thumb on my right hand started having less and less feeling in it, until it was numb all the time. I was unable to pick up small items, put my earrings in, clasp my necklaces, write anything legible, etc.
Actually, getting my hands tested for carpal tunnel was a coincidence. My visit to an orthopedic surgeon was for one of my hip replacements that was giving me problems. The doctor noticed my hands and asked me what problems I was having. After some minor testing and asking me questions, she felt I should be tested for carpal tunnel and made an appointment at a neurological clinic in a neighboring town.
It took about a month to obtain an appointment for the testing. The test is different than any other test I have ever had. I had no idea what to expect, so was quite surprised. The doctor, who was from Venezuela, came in and asked me questions. Then he sent his technician in to administer the test. She attached electrodes to the fingers of my left hand and sent an electric shock through them. Each shock was a little stronger, and one actually lifted my body an inch or two off the table. And the little finger on my left hand jumped off the table. Then she put the electrodes on my right hand, and even though the electric shock was stronger, there was not as much reaction. My right hand is the one that had the most symptoms of carpal tunnel. The test reminded me when you see people whose heart has stopped having shocks to start the heart again and how the body jumps!
After that the doctor came in and attached my hands, individually, to a monitor where he watched the waves go across the monitor, along with quite loud noises. My husband asked the doctor what that noise was, and he replied that my muscles were talking to him.
After the test I had to wait another two weeks or so for the results to be sent to my orthopedic surgeon and get an appointment with her to find out the results. Surgery here I come!
The morning of surgery, I was allowed a light breakfast and was to take my blood pressure pills. Since I had been taking a low dosage aspirin for years, I had to discontinue that ten days before surgery as the aspirin thins your blood. We had to check in at the hospital at 7:45 a.m. for surgery at 9:00 a.m. When we got to the hospital, I went to the registration desk where I had to show a photo ID and my insurance cards. After checking in, a volunteer took us to the third floor outpatient surgery prep floor and the nurse took me to my room and bed. There I had to put on the typical "hospital gown" and she took my vitals, etc. She asked me if I would like a warm blanket and I replied that I would and she gave me one of those "magic blankets." They are the best thing about being in a hospital. Around 8:30 she wheeled me up to the surgery holding area where the anesthesiologist and surgical nurse talked to me, explaining the next steps. Here again they gave me a cozy warm blanket. Then the doctor came, talked to me and said she would see me in surgery.
The anesthesiologist and doctor decided to give me a local anesthetic so they could put an antibiotic in it to help prevent infection. So I had to have an IV tube put in my hand. After asking me which hand they were operating on, the nurse marked it with a black magic marker. At this time my husband left and went to the family waiting room. Then they rolled me into the operating room where the anesthesiologist and doctor both talked to me again. The next thing I knew I was back in the surgery recovery area with a huge bandage on my right hand. Surgery took approximately twenty minutes.
There was my husband and the nurse talking to me. About fifteen minutes later they wheeled me back to my room on the third floor, took my vitals and gave me juice and crackers. Once they thought I was ready, they helped me to dress, wheeled me down to the front door and my husband and I were on our way back home, with one stop to pick up a prescription for pain pills. We were back in our home by 11:30 a.m. Now my husband gets to wait on me for several weeks!
My incision never was very painful but I did take two of the pain pills just to prevent any pain or discomfort. After that I took Tylenol only. Since the hand/wrist would throb if I left my hand down, I had to hold it up for the first two days; and also ice it two to three times a day to help with any swelling. My thumb and little finger showed signs of bruising, and my hand did swell for several days. But there was very little discomfort.
Expected recovery time is probably up to a month, but could be longer. Three days after surgery, I was able to remove my bandage and replace it with a smaller gauze pad and tape, and then a large bandaid. There still was very little pain, but I did ice the hand two to three times a day as that made it feel better, and helped keep the swelling down. I could take showers, letting the water wash over the hand, and then just pat the hand dry. Since I am right-handed and it was my right hand that I had surgery on, most activities were quite limited. There was never any trouble eating, but washing and brushing my hair, putting on socks, brushing my teeth, and cleansing after going to the bathroom were difficult, but not impossible. My husband did the cooking for several days and had to wash the dishes as we do not have a dishwasher. (He promises to keep up the good work!)
My one big question is: how long will it take to lose the numbness in my thumb? The doctor did warn me that my hand/wrist would not be back to 100% after surgery as I had the carpal tunnel syndrome too many years before I did anything to correct it. My arm and hand no longer go to sleep and that is a big improvement. The end of my thumb still feels numb, but not the whole thumb. It is still very difficult putting on earrings. Hopefully that sensation will eventually go away, too.
Two weeks after the surgery, I had my checkup appointment with the surgeon. At this time, the stitches were removed and my doctor checked out the incision. She questioned me about how I felt, how the hand/wrist felt, if I had much pain, was the numbness in my thumb improved, etc. Everything looked good to her, and her instructions were to protect the incision, leave it open to the air, avoid any heavy lifting, and after another week start massaging the palm and wrist. She was hopeful that after another month or two, the numbness in the end of my thumb would go away more--but probably not completely. It has improved but I do hope it will keep improving.
Once you decide on surgery, there is always an unease--will it help or won't it? In this case I feel that it was worthwhile and my hand/wrist will be back to almost normal with time. My plans are to wear my wrist protector when I am typing on the computer, knitting, etc. since I can't imagine giving up those activities. What would I do with all my spare time??????