I recently visited my awesome hand doctor for a follow-up to the carpal tunnel surgery I had back in June. As I’ve mentioned in blog posts before, my decision to have carpal tunnel release surgery was based on the fact that I couldn’t sleep through the night due to numbness in my hands waking me up every hour on the hour. People with diabetes are at about a 20% increased risk for carpal tunnel than your average person, and of course at higher risk for nerve issues in general. The surgery I had made more room in the tightly wound bundle of my carpal tunnel nerves, and I have been overall pleased with the results – the numbness is occurring less frequently and less intensely at night, and I’ve gained enough strength in my right hand to get back to kickboxing 2-3 times a week. Overall, this surgery has worked really well.
For my thumb, index and middle fingers that is. My ring finger and pinkie seem less cooperative. I’ve still noticed some numbness in those fingers, usually early in the morning and especially when I sleep on my sides with my arms tucked up near my chin. I asked the doctor about this at my follow up visit last week.
“I’m still getting some numbness in some fingers” I said
“Really?” he asked, looking surprised. “Well which fingers?” he said.
“Uhhh, pinkie and ring finger I think…does it matter?” I asked him.
“Yeah it matters, that’s a different problem, give me your hand.”
The doctor took my middle finger in his hand and held it up, so that my arm dangled in a U-shape between us, bent slightly at the elbow. He tapped lightly on the inside of my elbow.
“Any tingling?” he asked
“Yes, pinkie and ring finger” I told him, amazed at the simplicity of the diagnosis.
“Yep, that’s what I thought. Your ulnar nerve, which runs all the way from your shoulder down to those two fingers is irritated for some reason. When you bend your arm when you sleep, it gives that nerve 50% less room and is causing the numbness. This is different from carpal tunnel though, ok?”
“Uhm. Ok.” I said, a little nervous about the next thing he was going to say.
“Ok, this treatment is going to sounds really goofy, but it works, so hear me out. Here’s an ACE bandage. Tonight, I want you to ball up a sweater or get a really small pillow, and ACE bandage it to your arm, so that you can’t bend at the elbow.”
“Seriously?” I said dubiously.
“Yep, seriously,” doc responded. “Trust me, it works.”
“Ok. Umm, Dr. is this, uh, you know, uh related to my diabetes?” I bit the inside of my cheek, blinking back the tears as my mind filled with terrified thoughts of amputations and a fingerless future.
My doctor leaned in closer and looked into my eyes, “Of course it’s related, it’s a nerve issue and nerves are related to diabetes. But you are going to be just fine, this is nothing to go home and worry about.”
The doctor’s words soothed my mind and heart. After everything I’ve been through with this doctor, I knew he was right. I knew this was nothing to worry about and that this wasn’t a sign I was going to end up with no feet in a wheelchair. It’s hard not to jump to the terrifying Land of Complications when certain buzz words come up. I’m 16 years in to living with this disease and have so far dodged all complication bullets.
“Thanks,” I said, feeling myself relax. I went home that night and slept with a sweater bandaged to my arm. And guess what? It totally worked. No amputation required.