Help me adjust after wrist surgery!
March 10, 2011 7:39 PM   Subscribe

I just had surgery yesterday on my wrist. I've never had surgery before, much less something that basically left me helpless, and I'm having some trouble adjusting. If you've had surgery on your arm/wrist, I would appreciate any advice as to how you got around/functioned/dealt with needing other people's help.

I had surgery yesterday to remove a ganglion cyst in my wrist (that AskMeFi helped me diagnose here). I've never had surgery before, other than getting my wisdom teeth removed. I was given a nerve block in my shoulder yesterday, then put under general anesthesia. I woke up with my arm in a sling and my hand/wrist wrapped in a splint, lots of padding, and covered up by an ACE wrap.

Luckily, this was my non-dominant hand. I had absolutely no problems with the anesthesia, although my fingers are still tingling from the nerve block wearing off. I have Percocet for the pain..

To the point: I can't do anything! I feel completely helpless, I've been asking my family to help all day, but tomorrow I'm going back to school 6 hours away. How do I function without the use of my hand for at least the next 15 days? Am I really stuck wearing tank tops and yoga pants because I can't put any other clothes on? How exactly am I supposed to shower/shave for the next 2 weeks? Do I need to sleep with my arm elevated every night?

Basically, if you have any tips/tricks for doing ordinary things, I would appreciate it (for example, it took me 15 minutes to cut an apple. I'll be buying pre-sliced apples from now on, but I won't always have someone to cut my food up!). Bonus: if you've ever had this kind of surgery, what kind of recovery did you have after you splint/wrap/cast was taken off?

Also, I know I sound like a baby and this is just a major surgery- but I'm normally very active and independent and I hate feeling completely lost!
posted by kro to Health & Fitness (22 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
You're currently missing the use of a hand; things will be harder and different for a while.

You can shave one-handed, either in the shower or over the sink. You can also use an electric razor if you find that easier. Or you can go to a barber. It's all about adjusting to this new state.

With many things, you won't be at 100% at them, so accept that your shave (or other task) won't be perfect without practice, and accept that life will be different.

re: arm elevation - didn't your doctor tell you? Call them.
posted by zippy at 7:52 PM on March 10, 2011

I had surgery for SLAP and Bankart tears in the shoulder of my dominant arm about eighteen months ago. I had to borrow an automatic car after a couple weeks - the first two weeks the orthopod considered me pretty fragile and didn't want me driving at all.

The short answers are: yes, you are stuck with tank tops and yoga pants; you are going to play hell making food for yourself and you need to start using an electric shaver. Yes, you should make a little mound of pillows to put your arm on when you sleep. Yes, you should chill the site and you should take your pain meds even if it makes you cross-eyed and stupid.

Eighteen months on I am climbing at about the level I was before the surgery. I have full mobility and no pain. There are odd, painless groans in "the rigging" now and then but those are to be expected.
posted by jet_silver at 7:54 PM on March 10, 2011

A friend of mine had a stroke, and lost the use of one arm. He had a wooden chopping board which had three nails put through it, in the corner. He could use his good hand to impale fruit and vegetables on the nails, to keep them in place while he chopped them.

Re showering - I had a cast on my arm for three months. I used to put a plastic bag over my arm, secure it at the top with a rubber band or a hair-tie, and keep my arm out of the shower as much as possible. It worked OK. I used a long, tubular bag which the newspapers used to come delivered inside on rainy days. Have short showers so that your arm doesn't get all sweaty.

Brushing teeth - just put the toothbrush down on a flash surface and put the toothpaste on the brush.

Shaving - you can shave one handed. nothing the eletric razor.

Don't freak out about clothes. You can do up buttons with one hand. It just takes a bit of practice. Plus it's only two weeks.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 7:58 PM on March 10, 2011

Response by poster: Oops, should have clarified...I'm female, but have to wear skirts/dresses for work and my hair grows insanely quickly- shaving my legs, I wish I could just go without but it's not an option. An electric razor won't help my right arm reach my left leg, sadly. It's only 2 weeks for now, but I will have limited wrist use for at least 1-2 weeks after that.

That chopping board idea is brilliant.

Will be calling my doctor tomorrow, these questions didn't pop up until after the office had closed for the day.
posted by kro at 8:03 PM on March 10, 2011

My typing sucks. flash = flat. nothing = nthing.

It's still winter where you are, right? Stockings could take care of the unshaven legs.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 8:13 PM on March 10, 2011

I second the plastic bag and rubber bands for the shower.

I had surgery on my wrist and elbow and had a cast from my hand past my elbow.

You'll underestimate how tired you'll be from all this - your body is busy healing AND you're trying to figure out how to navigate without the use of that hand - that's exhausting. Don't be shy about asking for help for the smallest things because they add up in terms of energy expended.

I too was wearing skirts and dresses. I couldn't always fasten buttons or reach the zippers so I often went to work only partially dressed under my coat and asked a colleague to help me once I got to work.

As for having a hard time shaving your legs - can you just wear tights for the next two weeks? Or splurge on waxing?
posted by paindemie at 8:13 PM on March 10, 2011

Maybe you could look into getting your legs waxed? I think it generally lasts longer than shaving, and someone else can do it for you.

You can do quite a bit with only one hand--just try a few times and you'll get used to it!
posted by that girl at 8:15 PM on March 10, 2011

How about simply sitting down to shave your legs? A dry shave on your couch would be easy enough with one hand, especially if it's only for two weeks. You'll be surprised also how quickly you'll adapt to having use of only one hand.
posted by banannafish at 8:18 PM on March 10, 2011 [1 favorite]

Yes, waxing! It usually lasts for about 2 weeks, so would be just right. Your hair needs to grow out to about 1/4 inch length to do it, so maybe you can wear tights (although I don't think I'd want to put tights on with one hand...) or longer skirts, or even pants (surely your work will understand dress pants, given recent surgery?) until you can get your legs waxed.

You can ask for a half (up to the knee) or three quarter (half way up the thigh) leg wax to cut the cost down a bit.
posted by equivocator at 8:30 PM on March 10, 2011

You have painkillers, so yeah, pop one half an hour before you get your legs waxed if this is your first time. To maintain the smoothness afterwards if you get visibly hairy too soon, you can try very fine sandpaper (500-600 grit ) while sitting down with your leg bent and your foot on the sitting surface, or sitting at a desk with your leg propped on the desk. You can't cut yourself with sandpaper.

Other womanly stuff: Is your period imminent? You may be able to use tampons one handed, but I'd advise keeping a good supply of pads on hand just in case.
posted by maudlin at 8:36 PM on March 10, 2011

Response by poster: You people are brilliant. I've been so worried/obsessive that waxing never occurred to me. I won't be back to work/classes til Monday, I'll schedule an appt for Sunday. (Unfortunately, it's been up to the 70s/80s in Florida the past few days).
posted by kro at 8:36 PM on March 10, 2011

You don't need to sleep with it much elevated, but keeping it above the body helps minimise discomfort. As said above, be prepared to be quite exhausted - your body is going to be in recovery mode for some days.

Be warned that there's a likelihood of recurrence, especially if your wrist gets flexed hard backwards (if it's a dorsal ganglion - I don't know if it's the same for a ganglion on other parts.) I've had the thing operated on three times, and it's returned for the fourth time (over twenty years) because I fell and my hand pushed back hard.

After the splint was removed my wrist was quite stiff; I think it took four or five months to become fairly flexible again (but that may be exaggeration; I just don't recall.) I do remember I wasn't able to get my left hand into position to play guitar for a while.

I'm sorry not to have any handy hints but you'll adapt quickly, though it's certainly not convenient to have only one functional hand. I had a toddler and seven just-mobile kittens to manage after surgery one time.
posted by anadem at 9:19 PM on March 10, 2011

I had surgery on both my elbows and wrists (first one arm and 8 weeks late the other) and you'll be so surprised at how much easier things will get in the next few days. You're only a day in, you've still got a bit of leftover block AND you're on painkillers! It's HARD the first few days!

Ice is your friend. It will help reduce the inflammation which will speed healing. Take your pain meds - don't chase your pain.

Wax your legs! Wear slip on shoes. If you can, wear bra tops / shelf bras because while it IS possible, it is a pain in the ass to snap a bra. The deli counter/prepared foods section of your grocery store is worth the slightly higher cost. Figure out now if you can manipulate your wallet - if not, have someone transfer the contents to a small pouch- it can be hard to get at your credit card one handed. Washing my face was my issue (I'm a splash rinser) but te Olay wet cleansing cloths made life easier.

It will get easier over the next week. You'll figure out hacks for your own personal situation.

Ice, ice, ice. Did I mention ice?
posted by PorcineWithMe at 9:46 PM on March 10, 2011

Apologies for assuming you were a guy and this was a question about face shaving. For a leg, can you ask a friend to do it for you?

This is the time when you get to find out who's a true friend - you're recovering from surgery, and the good ones will help you out if they can: Getting groceries, cutting up fruit, even shaving, are all things you can ask for.
posted by zippy at 10:22 PM on March 10, 2011

I don't have a lot to add - but this time a year ago I had surgery on my right hand. I was told I wouldn't be in a cast - but of course woke up in one. It really just sucks - and yes, you'll be exhausted all the time just managing. But it does end. Get your legs waxed (still have my day2 shaving scar), buy pads or do anything you can to skip your period (tmi? You'll wish you'd thought of it ... believe me). Shelf bras can be your best friends. I swear girls have it worse here. Local pharmacy should sell cast shower protectors, which really are better than plastic bags.

Pizza only requires one hand and ice cream sticks to the spoon (very helpful when good hand becomes your bad hand) - no spilling. Grapes!

Take care. Ugh.
posted by crankyrogalsky at 12:38 AM on March 11, 2011

Oh, stay ahead of the pain the first few days. I had very different surgery under very different circumstances - but when the nerve block wore off I was very sorry I hadn't taken meds yet.
posted by crankyrogalsky at 12:41 AM on March 11, 2011

I've had the same surgery also on my non-dominant hand. It will be OK. I promise. I had the pain blocker but not general anesthesia when my surgery was done. The pain blocker wore off before they stitched me shut and I let them know I could feel it again. Fun stuff, that.

Go back and read the papers from your surgical discharge, it will have some helpful information that may not have sunk in when you were there.

In a couple of days, you may find you have some strength in your fingers to hold small or light things. Just having this much grip helps tremendously. Just don't over do it.

As people have mentioned, shower with a bag and rubber band or hair scrunchy.

Cook things that don't need a lot of chopping or buy bags of chopped vegis to get you through the next couple of weeks.

If you can't get your legs waxed before going back to work, consider just shaving from the knees down. Your skirts and dresses will hide the rest.

I remember the wrist being achy for a while, but I don't remember much about the two weeks being terribly difficult. Pantyhose was the most difficult thing to deal with. I do remember that.

Don't be afraid to ask people for help. They'll see the sling and be very understanding about it.

Also, don't be surprised if people make some inappropriate comments. When I was recovering, I actually had a couple of coworkers ask if my husband had broken my wrist in a fight or something. I was horrified when I realized they weren't joking. I set them straight immediately.

Memail me if you have specific questions if I can be of assistance.

You'll get through this and then later think it wasn't a big deal after all. It is inconvenient, yes; but not a big deal.
posted by onhazier at 6:19 AM on March 11, 2011

I had the same surgery in September. I had the nerve block but not the general anasthesia. I felt great the first day -- the nerve block only wore off the next morning. That's when the painkillers came in handy!

There is a lot of good advice above. One thing that was very useful for me was wearing a splint (actually a pretty cotton scarf wrapped around my arm and neck) longer than was actually necessary. People knew to look out for my arm, not to bump into me, and I got a lot of help from people in stores and on public transit.

I took the next week off work (I figured I wouldn't be able to type, but that actually came back pretty quickly), and I had partial use of my hand about 6 days after the surgery. Mostly I stayed home because the recovery was exhausting, not because I couldn't use my hand.

Feel free to MeMail me if you have other questions about the recovery. My ganglion cyst ended up coming back a few months later (grrrr), but I'm in the minority.
posted by OLechat at 9:30 AM on March 11, 2011 [1 favorite]

I had the same surgery a couple of years ago on my dominant hand. A couple days afterwards, I flew back to college and had to drive my stick-shift car, which was an interesting proposition.

Don't hesitate to ask for help. It'll make it a lot easier and less frustrating. With a cast/etc on your hand, people will totally understand and will be willing (even eager) to help.

You've gotten a lot of good mobility suggestions up-thread, especially the plastic bag and rubber bands idea.

FYI, be prepared when you first take off the cast: your hand will look terrible. They used iodine to wash mine and it had bruised, so when I first took it off it looked like a zombie hand.

If your insurance covers PT for your wrist, DO IT. I regained a lot of mobility by going through the therapy that I wouldn't have if I hadn't. Do all their exercises as much as they ask you to - your future mobility is at stake.
posted by bookdragoness at 11:20 AM on March 11, 2011

I broke both hands at once. Twice. (Does that make sense?) I've also had a few random hand fractures and surgeries including two ganglion cyst removals. So, yeah.

First of all, everything will get easier as the surgery pain subsides. You'll start using your gimp hand as a bumper, a stopper, and a hold-this-while-my-smart-does-the-work. In a few days you'll master shoelaces, jeans zippers and cutting apples. Just don't panic and approach tasks as a puzzle.

I assume you're in a short-arm cast (doesn't cover the elbow) and your fingertips are exposed. Short-arm casts are easy! For showers, cover the cast with a grocery bag (trash bags are too big!) Twist the end and tuck it into the elbow-end of your cast and just keep your fingertips above your elbow to keep the water out. I'm unclear why you need two hands to shave your legs; step out of the water, soap, shave and rinse. You'll probably need to dry-shave the armpit of your smart hand, since you can't hold a razor with a baggie-clad hand.

Once the OMG I'M A CRIPPLE! thing passes, you'll be surprised how well you can get along in the world.
posted by workerant at 1:26 PM on March 11, 2011

I've broken both hands several times and I used to go through days at work using one arm to spite a "crippled" co-worker.
Stop thinking of yourself as helpless and you'll get over it pretty quick. Once the pain goes down you'll be surprised by how much you can do with your elbow. For the apple (or whatever) if you have a sizable chef's knife an initial ninja chop gives you a nice flat fruit half that wont move off a cutting board. And it's fun!
posted by gally99 at 4:49 PM on March 11, 2011

Response by poster: Thank you all again, I really appreciate it! I don't know that I ever though of myself as "helpless", but I was kind of thrown into this...I was originally under the impression that I would have a few dissolve-able stitches and an ace bandage, and instead got a bunch of stitches, a partial splint, and a club arm due to some unforseen issues during surgery. I kind of freaked myself out thinking about how little I could do after surgery compared to what I thought I would be able to do. I'm still having some mobility issues due to more after-surgery pain/soreness than anticipated, so this has been a giant help!
posted by kro at 9:19 PM on March 15, 2011

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