My recovery from surgery

In my last post I wrote about my surgery.  Literally the day after that post, Christmas eve, I began to play again.  It was the best Christmas present in the world!  I began playing in increments of 15 minutes at a time, a couple of times a day.  I was amazed by several things.  First of all, I had no endurance, and no strength.  Moving the middle finger across the string was like lifting a heavy weight, and the little movements involved felt like I was really stretching my tendon.  The 15 minutes were all that I could take without being in pain, and pain is never a good thing when you are playing!  (As opposed to physical therapy, where if you aren’t in pain you aren’t doing it right!)

Over the course of the week I was able to increase the number of times I practiced to 3, then to 4 times, and felt pretty good. By New Years day I felt confident that I could increase my sessions to 20 minutes at a time.  The additional 5 minutes made a difference; I could definitely feel more fatigue in my hand, but there was no pain involved so I kept it up.

The following week I was out of town at a conference of the Florida Music Educators Association, where I had students performing, and where I presented a session geared toward helping classroom music teachers with no real guitar background, but who found themselves having to teach guitar.  Because of the exhausting nature of conferences, and because I knew that my entire schedule would be upset I didn’t attempt any changes in my practice routine.  In fact, although I stuck to my 20 minute limit, I was not able to get to it 4 times every day.  I was surprised that I had any time to practice at all!

January 13 I tried to increase my practice time to 25 minutes. At the very end of the first 25 minutes, my hand began to cramp, so I backed off to 20 minute sessions for the rest of the day – still keeping them to 4 total.  The next day I tried 25 minutes again, but made a point to pay close attention to my hand and keep it very relaxed.  I was able to do the full 25 without any pain, and repeated it 3 more times.

My plan at this point is to try for 30 minutes, which has been my normal practice session for many years now.  I’ll do it 4 times a day this week, and try increasing it to 5 the following.  If that works out well, the week after that I can try 6, which brings me to the normal amount of time that I practice while school is in session.

My goal has been to be back up to speed by February, and I’ve been particularly motivated because my new CD will be released then.  I have been planning to have a “release party” – more concert than party actually – at the end of the month.  I’m feeling pretty good because I seem to be on target so far.lomestre

And, of course, I would be remiss if I failed to mention that I’m already selling copies from my website, and I’d like to invite all my readers to consider purchasing a copy by clicking the link below:

orange_buynow

My Surgery

I debated long and hard with myself as to whether or not to discuss this publicly, but in the end decided that I would, so here goes.

Last month I had surgery on my hand.  It began late last spring or early last summer when I developed a “trigger finger”.  The correct term for this condition is stenosing tenosynovitis.  What happens when one develops this problem is that the finger gets stuck for a fraction of a second on contraction and extension, and then snaps into position.  It is caused by a narrowing of the sheath that surrounds the tendon of the finger that gets stuck.  The number of remedies available is limited – either a cortisone shot into the sheath, or a minor surgical procedure in which the sheath is severed.

In my case, it was my right middle finger that was the problem.  The point at which it would stick in contraction was not problematic because it occurred after the string was already plucked, in other words, in the follow through.  The problem was that in re-extending it would also stick, and it was interfering with my timing because the finger wouldn’t get out quickly enough.

So in the early fall I went to a hand specialist who gave me a cortisone shot along with a warning that the effect would be temporary, and that I would be limited to 3 such shots in my life.  This, of course meant that surgery would eventually happen.  I went for a follow up a few weeks later, and the shot had not completely eliminated the problem.  Surgery was the only solution.  A few other factors impacted my decision to have it immediately.  I had a gap in my performance schedule that would allow for recovery without having to cancel any concerts.  Furthermore, I was getting ready to sign a contract with Price Rubin and Partners artist management, and did not feel that I could in good conscience sign such an agreement until I was ready to perform without any encumbrances.

On November 22 I had the surgery.  It was an out-patient procedure performed in a hospital under general anesthesia.  I was told that I would not be able to play at all for about 6 weeks, and could lift “nothing heavier than a cup of coffee” for that period.  I awakened from the surgery to find my hand bandaged very heavily, so much so that it actually looked as if I had a cast on my hand! A couple of weeks later I had the stitches removed and was given a referral for physical therapy.

I am writing this a month after the surgery, and my PT is going very well.  There was very little pain after the procedure, but the PT is a whole different story!  The main objectives of the therapy are to regain full range of motion and to prevent any internal scarring.  The exercises designed to stretch my tendons are only a little painful, but the deep massage required to break down scar tissue is pretty painful.

I have been allowed to move my fingers lightly, tapping on the strings delicately in playing patterns.  This helps my dexterity, and makes me feel like I’m practicing at least a little.  My therapist has told me that she believes I’ll be able to play by Christmas.  I won’t be able to dig in and play hard, fast, or long, so everything will be adagio and pianissimo, but at least I’ll be playing again.  This is the longest I’ve gone without playing in over 40 years!

I’ll have to admit that I’m pretty upset by the idea of having surgery on my hand.  Right before the procedure I told my wife that open heart surgery would be less scary for me!  And I’m a bit bothered by the fact that my hand stopped working the way it should.  But I suppose that at the age of 60, and with half a century of playing behind me, a certain amount of wear and tear is somewhat inevitable.  However, the main thing for me now is that I believe I have sufficient movement to be able to play anything, and that I have full sensation in my hand and fingers.  I’ll post follow-ups as I begin to regain my  playing.