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Regaining Hand Function After Injury

Thanks to an occupational therapist, I was able to type this, as well as articles I write as a newspaper reporter, with both hands.

Stacey Stockunas, OTR/L, of Signature Rehab in Beaver, Pennsylvania, came to my rescue after what I considered a minor injury suffered in a fall led to a nightmarish experience that robbed me of the use of my dominant hand for 2 months.

Within days of falling, a searing pain began radiating up and down my left arm. As the pain intensified, routine chores became challenging, and I began relying solely on my right hand to function.

Unable to move my fingers, I couldn’t grab a bar of soap or clutch a washcloth. A numb, tingly feeling prevented me from touching my other arm without pain. I searched for ways to dress and undress so clothing would not press against me.

A veteran of sprains and strains, I once hobbled on crutches for weeks after chipping a bone in my ankle, but nothing was as painful as this. My arm felt as though it was in a pressure cooker. I kept applying ice and running my hand and wrist under water, as though dousing a fire.

The symptoms were so bizarre, I hesitated seeking medical treatment. “If I tell a doctor I feel as though my arm is going to explode, he or she is going to think I’m crazy,” I thought.

Eventually, an x-ray revealed a small fracture in my hand, disproportionate to the pain I was experiencing. Six weeks of occupational therapy were prescribed.

Suspecting reflex sympathetic dystrophy syndrome, which I knew nothing about, Stockunas, in a gentle and good-humored way, worked with me 2 to 3 hours a week to restore movement in my hand and wrist. I have returned to normal typing speed and can do everything again with my left hand, including writing and eating.

I'm expected to make a full recovery. But if there is a flare-up, I won’t delay treatment.

To an occupational therapist I will return.

Author anonymous, by request