Thursday, July 27, 2006

Evolution has failed me

I'm double jointed at the base of my thumbs. Double-jointed is a funny term, but what it basically means is that the ligaments in my thumbs are loose enough that my thumbs constantly dislocate themselves. Since this is not at all painful under normal circumstances, I was completely unaware that my thumbs were different from anyone else's until I was in my last year as a research tech (about seven years ago) when I started to have symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome. Since I was a research tech in cell biology and using a micropipetter was part of my everday existence, I was not surprised to get a repetitive motion injury. And, since it seemed to be getting worse, my doctor sent me to the orthopedic hand surgeon to get steroid injections, and he got to the root of the problem. It wasn't CTS at all, it was my thumbs. I will never forget him coming in with two or three residents (a resident saw me first but couldn't identify the source of my problem) and then sitting there moving my fingers and my thumbs into odd positions until he finally said, "there, look at that!" The residents were now staring at my hand with a sort of sick fascination. I looked down at the position he had pushed my thumb into and asked, "what's wrong with that?" To which one of the residents replied, in a tone of revulsion, "normal people's thumbs don't do that!"

It was then explained to me that I had "loose ligaments" in my thumbs, that my thumbs constantly dislocated themselves, and because I was over-using my thumbs (pipetting--as though I had any choice about that!), I had finally irritated a nearby nerve and that was mimicking CTS. I got braces made especially for my thumbs (to keep them from dislocating themselves) and had to wear them everyday (but not at night, fortunately) and after a few months, things were better, although I was still careful and had started using my pipet with my index finger instead of my thumb. The doctor had told me I should probably eventually have surgery in which they would, "use a scalpel to rough up the ligaments," in my thumbs. *shudder* No thank you. That just sounds a little too scary for me.

So, everything continued just fine until about two weeks ago when I had a flare-up. Suddenly, I was back to wearing those damn braces and everything I did irritated my thumbs. Do you know how hard it is to do anything productive and not use your thumbs? I began to envy monkeys with their non-opposable thumbs.

The only thing that did not hurt was knitting. It was a mystery why until I really looked at my hands and saw that I held my needles in such a way that my thumbs were in their sockets exactly the way they were supposed to be. I think this may be God's way of telling me to quit science and knit for a living.


  1. See, now I want pictures, because I'm trying to imagine what mangled position you might be getting your thumbs into. :)

    When I took guitar lessons, I learned that the tips on my fingers are double jointed - when I pressed down on the strings, I bent my fingertips back at the first joint. I had no idea it was weird until my instructor noticed and freaked out.

  2. Ah, knitting for a living sounds lovely :) I'm very happy for you that even if all normal, productive functions are compromised, you still have knitting! See you Monday