A year ago, a stranger — whom I did not realize was angry till he hurt me — permanently injured my right hand during a handshake. I immediately complained to the people around me, but tried to suck it up. Today I read a phrase that fits perfectly with why I did not go to the higher authorities immediately was thanks to “my working class background.” That is to say, no blood or obvious injury, so I must be okay. However, four hours later the pain was still so intense that I had to report it.
I was inspired to write this entry by a few libraryland posts I read this morning. I thought about only updating my Facebook friends on my progress. Then I recalled that a year ago, I could find no one else talking about a serious injury resulting from a handshake online. Was I freak? No one else was writing about it, so it must not happen. So this is my “you’re not alone” to anyone else who runs into a similiar issue.
How exactly was I injured, you may ask. My arm was not dragged up and down in a rough shake like a dog with a chew toy. No, it was more subtle than that. The person — once they had my hand in theirs — squeezed their thumb and fingertips together through the barrier of my palm. This is the “crush injury” the hand doctor later described to me. It was like my palm was trapped in a vice for a few seconds. To anyone looking on, other than the shocked expression on my face, it looked like a normal handshake.
The earliest appointment I could get with the hand doctor was a week later. He gently put pressure on my hand and flipped back and forth between my palm and the back of my hand as he prodded. “Does this hurt? How about here?” Then he put my hand in a small x-ray machine in the corner of his office. After examining the x-rays and looking at my hand again, he deemed it a crush injury. Basically, I just had intense bruising. Take some pain pills — but not too many as aspirin could get in the way of the healing. Take it easy with your hand for a few weeks till you heal. Easier said than done when I type for a living! However, it was worse than he thought at that time.
Writing this Book is Killing Me
Three weeks later, my hand was mostly working again. The swelling had gone down so I could move my fingers. Hurrah! However, there was a lasting side effect — if I used my hand for too long, it would spasm with intense pain. So I was careful, I was gentle, and everything seemed to be getting back to normal. Then my book deal came along. This meant that I would work on a computer all day at work then come home to type for six hours on the book after work. The pain was twofold: first, it felt like someone had grabbed hold of my pinkie and thumb and was pulling them as hard as they could in opposite directions. Second, throbbing red hot lances would pound in my palm as steady as my heartbeat. It’s agonizing. Relief only somewhat came by wrapping my palm in an ace bandage which squeezed the bones gently together somewhat. That would help soothe the pulling sensation. I tried to suck it up some more, but eventually I sucumbed and went back to the same hand doctor.
Bleeding and Scarred Muscles
He examined my hand again, listened to my reports, and then told me the bad news: the injury is permanent. He told me he could not be 100% certain without doing surgery, but he described what he believes happened. A/the (?) muscle in my hand was squeezed so hard that it bled, a condition called muscle haematoma. As the muscle repaired itself, it developed scar tissue. This scar tissue is what continues to cause me such severe pain. The doctor told me it was basically a case of managing the situation rather than fixing the issue: small 1 lbs weights, pain medicine, and not pushing my hand too much. Surgery could be an option to slice open my palm and try to cut away the scar tissue, but it is not a guaranteed cure.
A Year Later
I’m glad to report that most days my right hand is not a hindrance. I submitted my book for publication six months ago and have been lavishly taking it easy when I get home from work. Yet, my lifestyle has had to change to manage living with the injury. For example, I cannot type for longer than an hour. I have to give my hand frequent breaks and I can no longer type as rapidly (sorry, high school typing class teacher!) as I am accustomed. Then there is the kind patron who wanted to teach me how to knit. Within 10 minutes I discovered that my hand would start spasming. This experience terrified me that I would no longer be able to pursue a favorite hobby of mine: sewing. So I put it off for nearly a year before I tried to sew a simple vest. I can happily report that so far, this is okay. However, I have not tried spending time to rip out seams or do any other fine, tedious work like beading or embroidery yet. I’m just scared. Then a few weeks back I was tapping out “We Will Rock You” with my fist on the kitchen table. After a few average thuds, I felt the “pulling sensation” erupt through my hand. I ended up going to bed with plenty of pain pills and my trusty ace bandage wrapped around my hand as I tried to sleep off the pain. The most telling difference though is the stiffness in my hand. When I stretch my fingers out, I can feel the slow pull and extra work that it takes to move all five fingers. Too many of these stretches and my hand begins to ache. Finally, I suffer a flash of intense panic whenever anyone reaches out for a handshake. I’ve read about all sorts of ways to try and avoid handshakes in social situations, but the awkwardness is too much, so I push down my panic to shake hands. It hurts like the dickens every time.
You may have guessed correctly from this entry that I was injured at work. This is perhaps the worst part of writing this entry — it makes me nervous to admit that a patron hurt me. Others have urged me to press assault charges on that person. I did not — probably because of my working class background. My injury seems to be pretty rare and it is only because others in the library profession are talking about their own medical issues that I have gained the courage to write this post.