By Cory Bilton
In mid December, I injured my arm while I slept. I’m sharing my experience getting medical treatment, going to physical therapy, and working to regain function in my left arm and hand. You can read the first part of my experience here.
In the weeks after I injured my left arm, I continued to experience constant pain and discomfort, particularly in my wrist and hand. I Googled my symptoms. Everything I read seemed to point to the idea that I had a pinched ulnar nerve in my left arm. For anyone that has had a pinched nerve, I have great sympathy for you. It has been incredibly uncomfortable for me. For anyone who hasn’t had a pinched nerve, it is painful and annoying. The worst part is that the sensations pulse through your arm. These are not good sensations, either. I frequently felt like my hand was on fire. Then the sensation would cool until it felt like electricity flowing through my arm. Sometimes these sensations came on so quickly my arm would recoil reflexively. In addition to these sensations, I had constant numbness and a “pins and needles” sensation in my pinky and ring finger.
Over time I realized that if I was physically active, for example if I was folding laundry, I noticed the pain and discomfort less. It was still there, but the volume was turned down. The flip side of this was that if I was sitting or lying still, like trying to do work at my desk or trying to sleep at night, the burning and sharp electric sensations were difficult to bear. Functionally, I noticed that my two little fingers were not much use to me. I had trouble gripping anything with my whole hand. The two little fingers stopped typing while the other 8 hummed along. My left hand as a whole wasn’t completely useless, but it was definitely a liability.
Finally, My First Doctor’s Visit
Even though I knew the doctor wasn’t going to have any magic cure, I was really looking forward to my first visit with the hand orthopedist. I think I was just hoping for reassurance that I would eventually heal and return to normal, though I wasn’t sure how likely that was. After what seemed like an eternity, the calendar rolled over to the date of my first visit.
My appointment was at 8 in the morning. Per the instructions I was given, I dutifully arrived 20 minutes early with all my “new patient” forms filled out. I was told to take a seat and wait to be called. As I waited, I thought to myself that it is interesting that doctors expect patients to arrive so early and just sit there. I know I don’t expect that of my clients. If I am scheduled to meet with someone at a given time, I don’t tell them to show up 20 minutes early. But, I’m a good patient, so I waited.
I was still waiting 30 minutes after my scheduled appointment time. I was thinking to myself, “It’s 8 am, how backed up can this doctor be?” And then I thought this is ironic, I could have shown up on time for my appointment and still been more than 20 minutes early for the time I was actually called in.
Eventually I was called out of the waiting room. I was shown into an examination room where an assistant took my blood pressure. She confirmed that it was my left arm and hand that was giving my trouble. Then she left the room and I waited for the doctor to come in. As I sat there, I noticed that the doctor’s schedule was on the computer screen right in front of me; 6 patients an hour in 10 minute intervals. So even though it was only 8 in the morning, I was the 7th patient the doctor had seen so far.
After another 5 minute wait, the doctor came in. He asked for confirmation that it was my left arm that was bothering me, specifically that my pinky and ring finger were having issues. He asked me to hold out my hand and move it in a couple of specific motions. He pressed against my hand and had my push against his hand. Then he turned to the computer screen and said he was sending me for a nerve velocity test and prescribing me physical therapy. He informed me that an assistant would give me the necessary paperwork. The entire encounter lasted about 4 minutes.
I was ushered towards the exit counter, where I paid my copay for the visit. I received my prescription for physical therapy and the nerve velocity test. I scheduled a follow-up visit for 4 weeks away. Then I was back out in the waiting room area. I spent about 60 minutes at the doctor’s office all together, of which about 50 minutes was in the waiting room.
Next up, nerve velocity tests are psychological torture…
Please read my disclaimer.