Coping with one-handed parenting after De Quervain’s Release surgery?
March 6, 2018 11:02 PM   Subscribe

How can I adjust to being a good Dad and husband without the luxury of using my dominant hand?

I’m a 46 year old guy who is raising an 8 month old baby girl with my wife, who is 36. I was diagnosed with De Quervain’s Tenosynovitis in my (dominant) right hand, back in November. After 13 weeks of physical therapy—while improving the pain a little bit (which was initially helped along with a Cortisone shot)—the level of improvement plateaued and actually started reverting back to the original levels of pain a few weeks ago. As such, the hand specialist recommended that I have the De Quervain’s Release surgery performed.

I have no fears or real concerns about the surgery. I am *much* more concerned about coping with my post-op lifestyle, namely, how the hell can I help take care of our baby, when I’m not supposed to use my right hand for at least 4 weeks?

My biggest concerns are about routine childcare things like picking her up, putting her in the crib at bedtime, comforting her when she cries, bathing her, getting her in and out of her car seat, and changing her diaper and clothing…which, by the way, has become particularly challenging in the last few weeks because after months of absolutely loving having her diaper and clothing changed, all of a sudden she now hates it with a white hot fury, and always insists on immediately rolling over on her tummy when we put her down on the changing table.

Part of the reason why my hand specialist recommended the surgery was because my lifestyle is such that it’s simply not practical for me to take time out of my day to do their recommended physical therapy exercises (30 minute stretching/strength-training/massage/ice-down sessions, three times a day). Having a needy baby, a busy career in video editing and visual-effects, as well as being the only cook at home also means that it’s extremely difficult to avoid doing things with my right hand that the physical therapist advises against. So I am worried that the realities of real life will still cause me to reflexively use my right hand, if only because I still feel the need to help my wife out with the baby stuff.

Unfortunately we don’t really have anyone who can come in and help us at home all the time, so that adds to the difficulty of this situation. Thankfully our baby is in full time daycare during the day, but there may be times when I have to be alone with the baby in the evenings or weekends because my wife has a work meeting or something.

So I’m looking for practical advice, tips and/or tricks on how to cope being an effectively one-handed Dad (and general human) during my recovery. Like, is it even possible to safely pick up/put down a wiggly, 15 pound 8 month old entirely with one hand/arm, and my non-dominant one at that? I have a huge amount of guilt that my temporary disability will be putting too much added burden on my wife, who already has her hands full with work, breastfeeding, pumping milk, and all the other household chores that need to be done.
posted by melorama to Health & Fitness (14 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Finding the time to do the physical therapy is going to take less time out of your life than trying to do everything one handed for a month & at least you’d be two handed the rest of the time.

btw. This:
I have a huge amount of guilt that my temporary disability will be putting too much added burden on my wife, who already has her hands full with work, breastfeeding, pumping milk, and all the other household chores that need to be done.
Is not a healthy way of thinking about the problem: Injuries can happen to any of us & coping with the consequences is part of life. Yes it sucks, and this is going to suck for your wife to, but every minute you spend feeling guilty about it is a minute you could be doing something constructive instead. There are permanently disabled people out there who manage parenting just fine. You can too.

A couple of practical thoughts:

1) You say you can’t afford 24 hour care, but could you afford get someone in to do, say, the housework for a month?

2) Eating ready meals for a month (you can find reasonably healthy ones if you look) isn’t going to kill you.

Anything you can do to make that space in your day for either 1) actually doing that physical therapy or 2) making space for all the extra time that doing everything one handed is going to take is going to make things much less stressful for both you & your wife.
posted by pharm at 1:35 AM on March 7, 2018 [3 favorites]

You have to take care of your hand before you worry about any other responsibilities for a month. This is classic oxygen mask. You really should pay someone to do the bigger household chores once a week and then let your wife do everything daily for the baby that requires use of your hand. You can of course help hand your wife things with your left hand while she does the major work, which is itself a big help -- she's not alone bathing the baby and suddenly remembering she has to get a towel by herself, for instance. She can hold the baby while you sing to her. But let her do the lifting. There are single parents (who also work) who do all of this every day and though it's certainly difficult, it'll still be easier for her than with no other adult around at all. Order food in, cook a bunch and freeze it now, and eat ready made meals, or if you have to do something simple, work together --
like you scramble some eggs with your left hand (but let her stand by you to pick up the pan.) You're both investing a month into healing your hand, and when it's better life will be better for you all.
posted by velveeta underground at 3:43 AM on March 7, 2018 [2 favorites]

Just a thought: have you googled "one handed parenting"? I've briefly looked up tips for one-handedness in the past, and there are sites and groups for that. A quick peek shows a book and a YouTube video that may or may not be helpful, but the search results seem pretty relevant and targeted towards doing diaper changes etc with one hand.

Sorry if this is included in the "no help".... Will insurance cover some home health care? I used to work for an agency in a non-clinical role, and maybe an occupational therapist could help you with strategies for doing things one-handed after the surgery. Home health agencies also have people to help with household stuff, so maybe an agency with pediatric staff could help with the baby, but that's gonna be way more expensive than hiring a father's helper.

Sympathies on the kiddo hating diaper changes! Mine is a month older and I've taken to putting a bunch of toys at the head of the changing table, gives him something to grab at.
posted by Baethan at 3:48 AM on March 7, 2018

Also - now is a great time to invest time and energy in finding some babysitters. Even mothers helpers/teenagers will do for now. Hire them for the nights your wife has to work late or any other time your household is under particular stress. You'll be glad you have a few babysitters after the four weeks are up -- it's also important to go out sometimes with your wife!
posted by velveeta underground at 3:53 AM on March 7, 2018 [2 favorites]

Simple but effective: tie your dominant hand behind your back or put it in a sling for a few hours a day, starting now. You may be amazed by what one-handed people can do, (e.g.perfectly tie shoes), but their main advantage over you is more practice.
posted by SaltySalticid at 5:29 AM on March 7, 2018 [1 favorite]

I had the release surgery this past fall and I STRONGLY encourage you to find the time to do the post-op PT prescribed. Yes, it's hard to find the time, but you will heal sooo much faster once you do it. I found that I was back to mostly using my hand 2 weeks post-op, so your recovery may be shorter than you think. It may be a bit more difficult to lift your daughter while you are healing, but I bet you can cook with your healing hand just fine.

As suggested upthread, perhaps this is the time to throw some money at your problem. Hire a new babysitter to give you both a hand for an evening or two - while you are both at home - and once you are recovered you'll hopefully have a new, trusted babysitter. Consider something like Blue Apron for your meals - the bulk of the prepwork is done, so you can still cook dinner. Good luck - you will feel sooo much better once you are healed.
posted by sarajane at 6:07 AM on March 7, 2018 [3 favorites]

Hey, sorry this is happening to you. Just remember that over a lifetime, your family (baby included!) will face lots of challenges like this together. I know everyone is sleep deprived right now but you are a team, and Team Family will get through it.

My husband and I call these times (and we've had a few!) "by any means necessary" times. The great news is, you have warning! So unlike a broken limb, you can prep. Here are a few suggestions, which of course will depend on budget:

Housework & cooking - it sounds like you have a few weeks' warning! But you are in pain and everyone is busy. However, this is a good time to throw many superfluous things in boxes or bins and put them in a closet, if you can, so that you don't have to take care of them during your month's recovery. Catch up on laundry like bedcovers, etc. And do some meal prep to stack the freezer -- make double batches of everything for the next two weeks, if you have room.

Stock up on essentials like diapers.

Wife care - if you can manage, and I know she's breastfeeding, arrange a weekend where other than the absolute bare minimum baby care, she gets to SLEEP, shower, read, watch Netflix, whatever, and you take over. This is NOT A FAIRNESS THING. This is about making sure she has the best possible running start, because she will have to do more for a period of time.

Surgery period:
1. Even if it's day surgery don't underestimate your need to sleep and recover. Plan for your wife to be solo parent for that 24-48 hrs.

2. Painkillers - I have recently been on them. Be aware that you may be spacey, etc. so try to have some babycare backup around for even longer than the sleepy period.

Recovery period:
1. Throw money at the cooking problem and eat simply. One handed options include frozen burritos etc. For dinner have bagged salad + pre-cooked chicken + garlic bread. Cereal. Scrambled eggs. If you invest in a can opener and don't mind the sodium etc. of canned soups, there are some options. Those frozen skillet dinners. It's only a month.

2. Periods you are alone with the baby - the baby most needs to be safe, changed, fed, and held. The one-handed parenting video idea is brilliant. And try it out. I think it's very doable, you just need to see where the roadblocks are. Make sure you have a safe spot to pop the baby (play pen - practice getting her out one-handed, I know I could but it took a bit of work - or a completely babyproofed room with a fence or one of those circle baby fences or similar.) Set up a change area on the floor in a corner. (Tarp! Not really kidding!) If you find you can't do a high chair with a wriggly baby, get one of those booster seats with the straps and put it on the floor so any sudden drop is non-catastrophic. If you have to buy gear you can resell it after.

3. Periods your wife is home, maybe the car seat issue etc. - your wife is going to have to do the heavy lifting. You need your hand for life! You can make this up later. Team Us.

4. Not injuring yourself - I hear you. I broke my leg in Dec and I'm not allowed to run, take heavy steps, etc. My 7 year old was running after a soccer ball towards this road this morning, guess what I did? My leg told me and now it hurts. Listen to your body, listen to your PT, do your best. It will be okay. If you need a reminder and a sling won't weaken other things, that might be an option.

5. Physio...hey no shame no blame but I have to tell you that physio is THE difference between straightforward and faster recovery, and longer recovery and potential re-injury. They will help you keep scar tissue loose (lifetime pain!), joints mobile (lifetime limitations!) and build any strength back so that it's done evenly. I am part of Cult PT. This is worth investing whatever you can in it.

6. Chores. If you can throw money at this, do it! If not, honestly...plan to muck out certain parts of the house later. With a crawling baby I realize you have to do floors but you can do a lot one-handed. If you haven't experienced the joys of a steam mop get one! Kitchens, bathrooms, etc. are the focus and a lot of that can be done one-handed too. Otherwise, once you recover, you and your wife can declare a weekend the All Chores Weekend and catch up. If you need help with your lawn ask a neighbour if you can trade - they mow your lawn during the surgery period, you mow theirs in August or something.
posted by warriorqueen at 6:33 AM on March 7, 2018 [1 favorite]

As a minor thing, if you have a baby who's going feral bobcat on the changing table, it's probably time to start changing them on the floor anyway, but definitely don't put the baby on the changing table while you're operating one-handed. It's a huge fall risk.

You can either move the changing pad to the floor, or just keep a towel / cloth diaper / similar handy that you throw under baby's butt when you're changing her.
posted by telepanda at 6:56 AM on March 7, 2018 [1 favorite]

Yep, I would consider this the same as when you had a newborn. Your job is to get through this with your hand healed and your family unit intact.

- Buy all the paper things - paper plates, napkins, cups, forks, spoons, etc. Use those and toss them.
- have plenty of easy snacks around for everyone. If you're really into homemade stuff then bake a bunch of stuff and freeze it (cookies, oatmeal bars, etc)
- if you don't have room in the freezer, if you can swing it, a chest freezer can be had for around $150 so that might be a good option. Freeze everything in single serving sizes so that you don't have to cut it up later.
- laundry won't get folded for a while but you can do all the laundry and toss it in drawers for now. folding can happen in a few months when things are back to normal (or never, really)
- look at every single chore on the list (things you usually do and also things your wife does) and ask, "can it be skipped for a month?", "can someone else do it?", "how little of it can we get away with doing this month?"

Please make time to do what the PT tells you to do. You need to take care of yourself so that you can take care of your family for many years to come. My mom never does what the PT says and we all end up taking care of her, taking her for more doctors appts and surgeries, etc. It puts a burden on us that only she can alleviate by just doing what they tell her to do in the first place.
posted by dawkins_7 at 6:57 AM on March 7, 2018 [1 favorite]

I’m definitely a strong believer in the “throw money at the problem if it saves you time and energy” mindset. But considering the fact that our daycare costs us $1700 a month, that’s a bit of a hard sell right now.
posted by melorama at 8:16 AM on March 7, 2018

This guy has only one arm, and a baby, and has videos demonstrating how to do things like pick the baby up, change nappies (diapers) etc.

(Sorry, I can’t vouch for their efficacy, I watched them to research something I was writing, but he seems to get by pretty well.)
posted by penguin pie at 8:18 AM on March 7, 2018 [1 favorite]

I developed De Quervain’s on both hands postpartum, and had to have the surgery on both hands when my baby was about 6 months old. Sorry, there is no easy solution to this problem, and it's going to suck for you and your wife for a month or so.

- Expect a hardish cast/support brace to stay on for three or so weeks, giving you no flexibility/movement in your wrist or thumb and limited movement in your fingers. You can sort of prop the baby up against the brace for a two armed carry, but it's not super secure, and the baby will need to rest on your upper forearm to avoid putting pressure on your surgery point. For me there was a fair amount of pain and swelling for the first week, less so for the second and third weeks before the cast came off. After the cast comes off, the hand/arm will be very weak, maybe badly bruised, and hurt like it did immediately after surgery for a few days as you slowly start to use it more. So the first week post-surgery & the first week after the cast comes off will be the most limiting, in terms of what you can do with the hand & how you're generally feeling.
- Contact your local support network, and see if anyone can come over on the weekends or evenings to give you and your wife a hand with the baby. If that's not possible, perhaps a mother's helper in the shape of a neighborhood teenager who wouldn't be too expensive.
- Order take-out/delivery, or grab easily reheated pre-made meals from the grocery store. Do the bare minimum to keep your house from being uninhabitable. Think back to the newborn days, and go to that level.
- Figure out what you CAN easily do for the baby one-handed. If the baby is on a mat on the floor, you can hang out & entertain the baby or feed a bottle. If the baby is in a high chair, you can feed the baby. If the baby enjoys going on walks in the stroller or a baby carrier, put your baby in there and get out of the house to give your wife a break until you need to come back . Etc. etc.
- I watched one-handed videos, but since I haven't been one-handed for a significant period of time, I found that I couldn't easily do much of what folks who have been living with the disability for awhile can do. Hopefully you'll be better than I was, but I wouldn't bank on it. This might mean that, particularly in the first two weeks and immediately after the cast comes off that you honestly can't watch the baby on your own. Either your wife or another pair of hands might need to be there to help you, which sucks.
- Even if you can't take care of the baby's day-to-day needs, you will be able to save the baby in a bad situation, so don't worry about that. It hurts like a bitch, but you CAN safely pick up the baby if it's absolutely necessary (baby about to roll of the couch, fire, whatever).
- Even though I'm sure your wife is awesome, you're both going to be resenting each other. She'll be having a tough time because she's handling so much more, and you'll be having a tough time because there's so much you want to do (or want to do differently), but you can only tell her to please do it, and it sucks to be in that position of quasi-ordering your spouse around because you see a need but can't solve it yourself. Plus, you know, you're healing, you're both still getting over the sleep deprivation of the early days (or still dealing with it), and you're also dealing with the transition to being parents. Try to be as gentle with each as possible, expect more friction/arguments, and remember that this is ONLY A SHORT PHASE AND IT WILL GET BETTER.
- Go to PT after the surgery at whatever frequency your surgeon suggests. I think I went 2 -3 times a week for the first month, then once a week for another month. It'll help immensely with the healing and building back hand strength.
- For me, the De Quervain's was actually kicked off by some acute inflammation in the base of my thumbs (which was probably kicked off by the pregnancy). Just mentioning this in case there's a similar underlying issue for you. The surgery 100% solved the De Quervain's problem, but it didn't help the inflammation that still kept me from comfortably using my hands/thumbs. After the surgery I found a very skilled orthopedic acupuncturist (on my orthopedic surgeon's recommendation), who treated the inflammation with electroacupuncture once a week for about three months, reducing down to a couple of times a month, and eventually once every couple of months (where I'm at now, about 15 months post-surgery). She also helped with the pain that was caused by the scar tissue in the surgery sites (100% gone after 1 treatment - pretty amazing). This was expensive, painful treatment, and generally sucked, but it sucks more to be in constant pain whenever you use your hands.
- Feel free to PM me if you have any specific questions about the surgery or recovery or whatever.

(For folks who might find this Ask later - if you need to have surgery on both hands when you have a baby, just get them both done at once, rather than staggering. You can still, like, hold a spoon with the cast on and do other self care items, but you can't do much with a baby, so it's better to just get it all done at once. I staggered mine three weeks, and that just made it worse.)
posted by Jaclyn at 10:02 AM on March 7, 2018 [2 favorites]

I developed De Quervain’s when my baby was an infant, and almost had the surgery until I moved and saw a new doctor, and he said it would go away once I stopped breast feeding, because it was related to the hormones. Have you considered waiting until your wife stops breast feeding to see if it goes away? (Joke.) Aside from that, my doc strongly cautioned against getting the surgery for a number of reasons, and you might re-consider the decision to have it. At the very least, get a second opinion.

If there's post-surgical PT, and you can't handle the PT now, surgery might not even work for you. In my experience, my husband's help with the baby was so valuable that I would gladly have given up 30 minutes of his time for him to do PT, even three times a day. I'd just try to time it during breast feeding.

I found that heat, not ice, helped immeasurably, and specifically that sleeping with a heating pad on my arm helped. I wore a brace that had been molded to my hand and arm, and that helped too. I talked to my doctor about heat vs. cold, and he said nothing about heat treatment made medical sense. But there was no way I could get out of bed in the morning without first warming my arm on a heating pad until the white-hot pain went away. It hurt even to move before I'd had about 10 minutes of direct heat on my arm, and then I was pretty good to go for several hours.

I had maybe 3 or 4 cortisone shots, which each worked wonders, but my doc said that any more could do permanent damage. But if you've only had one, you might ask about having another one.

To actually answer your question, when the pain was especially bad, I did everything with the baby on the floor ... diaper changes, naps, feeding, playing, you name it.

At about the same time, we discovered that our baby needed Naked Time every afternoon for about an hour, and we'd put her on an absorbent pad and let her wiggle and kick, and that made virtually everything easier with her. I point this out not to say that your baby will specifically be easier to change if you do this, but that sometimes there are tricks that your baby is trying to teach you by, for example, rolling over to avoid having a new diaper put on, and it's worth experimenting to see what she might be trying to tell you. Maybe she doesn't like the specific diapers you're using? Or she's needing to be FREE!!! for a while? Or something else?

Best of luck, and I hope you find a good solution.
posted by Capri at 10:08 AM on March 7, 2018 [3 favorites]

I'm a dad and developed De Quervain's when my son was around your child's age. I'm very sorry you're going through this - I know how all-around rotten it is. I ended up with 2 cortisone shots - the first helped somewhat for about a month and the second one was somewhat more effective. If it hadn't been, it would have been surgery for me as well.

During the months that I was suffering with it, I learned to do a number of things one-and-a-half handed. For example, lifting with one hand and a forearm under the armpit to rest the baby on my bad forearm allowed me to hold and feed unassisted.

Nothing much to add beyond that except to agree with everything said upthread and to offer whatever I support I can to a fellow 40's dad. MeMail if you'd like.
posted by bluejayway at 12:19 PM on March 7, 2018

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