Monday, November 04, 2013

Just a minor medical ailment

Up until now, I have been relatively healthy physically. Like everybody else, I have had the odd share of the sniffles and the runs. Yet nothing too drastic warranting a major intervention. The only major medical ailment I had was as a child, when I was hospitalized for five days for a fever. The doctors had difficulty finding out what was the cause. In the end my predicament was due to an urinary tract infection and there was no permanent damage. Since then I have been relatively lucky

(I'm glossing over the factor I have major depression, since I'm talking about physical complaints and most people have difficulty comprehending psychiatric illnesses as being major conditions.)

So some part of me was glad when I got injured in September. I know that last sentence sounds weird but something inside wants to boast I had a scar or a major surgery performed. I haven't even had appendicitis before and most people seemed to suffer that.

I was volunteering for Hong Kong Dog Rescue, a dog charity I frequently help out. I was about to finish up, when one of the dogs (I cannot remember which mutt was responsible now) had escaped from his pen. I was trying to retrieve the dog and I thought I had him cornered. He suddenly rushed passed me and, in an attempt to stop the canine, I reached out with my left hand. He banged quite hard on my hand and he was eventually caught.

The dog was guided back to his pen eventually but there was a problem with me. My left ring finger was twisted and was pointing towards my left little finger. I knew I had either dislocated or fractured my finger. If the digit continued to be in that position, I was worried that was going to be permanent damage.

So I twisted the finger back into place.

There was a large crunching feeling to accompany it. I really don't know if that movement caused my finger to become even more broken but I wasn't going to risk it. Whenever I tell people I set my finger back into it's original position, there is always that reaction associated with being kicked in the genitals. People wince at when I say I twisted my finger back into place, thinking there was a large amount of pain. To be frankly honest, there was so much adrenaline pumping through my body, it was less painful than I anticipated.

After making sure my finger was as straight as possible, I drove myself back home so my dad could drive me to the hospital. The drive home was just full of constant swearing and making sure I didn't crash, causing further injury. My father thought it was just a simple finger sprain but I knew something was wrong when I started to feel numbness in that finger. Never argue with a doctor regarding medical conditions!

I waited for about 45 minutes in the Accident and Emergency department before I was eventually seen. Before people harp on about the long waiting times at Casualty, I accepted I would be seen a little later than expected. I was in pain but I wasn't dying. There are more pressing patients requiring attention. Sometimes you just have to accept the situations that arise.

I was eventually seen by a doctor who let's just say his bedside manner wasn't the greatest. He was surprised, bordering on impoliteness and rudeness, that I knew I had to explain my condition in medical terms and that I was a doctor. He didn't even examine me at all. All he did was give me a provisional diagnosis of a sprained finger, order an X-ray (the first thing he did right) and said if there was nothing wrong with the X-ray he would just give me some painkillers and a few days sick leave.

You know there is something wrong if the radiographer who takes your X-ray says, "Your finger is completely shattered!" The Accident and Emergency doctor, after seeing my X-ray, finally physically touched me and admitted me into hospital - the second thing he did right.

I got to see the doctor on-call, who didn't recognize me but I did recognize him as an old medical school classmate. Probably I've gained so much weight since we last met he didn't notice the change in appearance. When he told me I might not need surgery, I would be put in a slab and will be seen by the specialist on Monday morning, some part of me was a bit disappointed. I wanted to have surgery to show I had something physical wrong with me. I know I'm weird thinking these thoughts.

So I was put on a slab, attended my "Diploma for Advances in Internal Medicine" lectures the next day before returning to the hospital on Monday. After I was assessed by the specialist, they said performing an operation wasn't going to help much, so they decided to let the finger heal by itself and I was put on a splint for the next ten days.

Woohoo! Time off work! Not that I spent the free time lounging around. My professional examinations were just around the corner and I used the extra time studying. Yes, doctors are boring since they used their spare time in books. I had already planned to take a few days off to study anyway, so I was thankful towards my department secretary in cancelling that scheduled leave.

The specialist followed me up ten days later, saw that I was healing nicely with minimal displacement of the fracture and very little rotation of the finger. She thought I could go back to work. At first, I was a little shocked I was going back to work so early. It usually requires four weeks for the fracture to start properly healing. I was still in some considerable pain. On second reflection, it was better that I returned to work as soon as possible. I still had nine other digits which still functioned normally. All I had to do was adapt my routine, take regular painkillers and ask my supervisor to cut the amount of patients I needed to see.

I'm grateful I have a sympathetic supervisor, who cut my patient quota more than the recommended amount that was set by the occupational medicine doctor for the first few days I was back at work. The main worry was typing, which most doctors in the general outpatient clinics do. Initially there was a great deal of pain, having rested that hand for ten days and having to move the left hand around the keyboard to compensate for the lack of use by the ring finger. I forget my painkillers on the first day back to work. After just half hour of typing, there was considerable amount of pain warranting an immediate prescription of ibuprofen from the clinic.

There was a lot I couldn't do apart from typing. Whenever I had to examine someone's throat, I had to switch the torch and the tongue depressor around, since I could press the tongue down with my left hand. Examining major joints was a bit of hassle, since I couldn't grip the limbs properly without wincing. Driving was mildly hampered since I couldn't pull the handbrake. So I had to keep my foot on the brake when waiting at the traffic lights. Cutting anything was a knife and fork resulted in an ouch, since I couldn't properly grip the fork in that position. It resulted in me having to ask my mum to cut my bacon - not the proudest moment of my life.

Eventually life has returned to normal. I took my professional examinations without too much of a problem. I don't need to see the orthopaedic surgeon anymore, since I'm no longer in pain and there is nothing they can really do. There is a mild bending in the finger, since the affected area has been shortened, and a minimal of rotation of the finger. Otherwise most functions I can do normal. I'm still on a reduced patient quota, which means I don't have to be as frantic seeing patients.

Being ill can be a disturbing experience. Yet sometimes is not as dramatic as you think.

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