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.