Winning Hands

It’s official. I am image 475 out of 1,073 images, as of this moment, on http://www.showusyourhands.org/interactive-collage/. It is humbling to see all those hands, a testament to what inflammatory disease cannot do to us. It cannot stop us completely, though it can and does give it its best effort. Together we are more powerful than it.

The images that touch me the most are the hands that are ace-wrapped or braced. I can feel the pain through the computer screen, a telepathy of sorts. I know intimately how that feels, and how difficult it is to do the wrap yourself, one-handed, and sometimes with the wrong hand, the non-dominant hand. On really bad days, one must needs wrap or brace both hands.

For the longest time, I was reticent to ask for help. Afraid to telegraph how ill I felt or how much agony I was in. I feared that would make me look weak. Maybe I didn’t want anyone’s pity or having them think less of me. But thinking back, I can see the pity in my staff nurses’ eyes as they opened a bottle of lemonade for me. I could not do it; I could not twist the cap off. Not only did I not have the strength to grip it, but the pain screamed at me if I deemed to even try. But even so, RA did not prevent me from running a department, and I can tell you, being a Nurse Manager is not for sissies.

As RA did its insidious work, it was the little things that affected me most, the little things that affected the big things. I had to give up my work at the bedside and the twelve-hour shifts, that turned into fourteen-hours at the whim of the wind. My feet burned after all those miles, my head hurt after all those hours, my belly grumbled having to make do with a liquid lunch on given days. Those parts of my body notwithstanding, I could take it and performed both as caregiver and resource. It was my hands that did me in.

When I first started out in my career, I worked in a surgical intensive care unit. Part of my uniform was the hemostat that I clipped onto my green scrubs, as were my stethoscope, scissors and surgical tape. You never knew when you were going to need those tools and could not waste time running to get them. Along with a pocketful of band-aids and alcohol wipes, we were good to go, ready for anything. At that time, the hemostat hanging from my scrub top in plain view did not bother me.

Fast forward about twenty years and I find myself reliant on that hemostat to perform various functions, like separating IV lines to change them. Even gripping their connecting ports with gloved hands gave me no leverage; my hands were gradually losing their strength and dexterity. That hemostat multiplied by two, one for each hand. Where before I wore the one proudly, now the pair shamed me and stayed in my pocket until I needed them.

This was before my nemesis had a name. By this time, my hands had a secondary problem. After all those years of scrubbing-in with a scrub brush, constant hand washing or cleansing with an alcohol rinse, and the wearing of latex gloves, they could no longer withstand the assault. I knew I had to move on and felt a deep sense of loss as I drove home after my last shift.

I soon dusted myself off and went to work in an office environment where I worked with fax machines, telephones and computers. I still delivered nursing care but by remote. It was while working there that the primary problem with my hands was diagnosed. I would have no further need for hemostats. And anyway, they were useless to open my lemonade with, so I asked one of my staff to do it. And they did, kindly.

***Above is an image from Wikimedia Commons of a curved tip and straight tip hemostat.

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