today marks 1 week since surgery, and it has been a tough week. thankfully, it hasn’t been particularly painful, but i was specifically instructed to not do any physical activity, and to make sure my arm stayed elevated (elbow above my heart 24/7) for the entire week. so the physical discomfort and mental fatigue/boredom from that definitely took a toll… i literally did nothing but lie down, eat popsicles, and re-watch game of thrones in its entirety. none of that is as fun as it sounds.
the surgery itself was a little more intensive than expected, and it’s clear now that this was a really bad injury. in total i fully severed 8 tendons in my wrist, an artery, my ulnar nerve, and partially lacerated my median nerve. the surgeon was able to repair 7 of those tendons, and repair the nerves with the help of a nerve graft taken from my lower leg. i came out of surgery with a huge, heavy cast/splint to fully immobilize my hand, and my lower leg fully wrapped in bandages. apparently the incision needed to harvest a healthy nerve from your leg is no joke, because there are now staples in my leg.
the healing and rehabilition for all of those separate repaired parts have different timelines and different success rates, so it’s hard to pin down a timeline for my return to work. with careful management, the tendons should all be healed easily enough in 8-10 weeks. with occupational therapy i should be able to gain a lot more functional movement once those have fully healed. nerves, though(especially nerve grafts), are much trickier and recovery rates are less predictable. after about a month of healing the initial cut, they begin to regrow and “innervate” your hand at a very slow rate… about an inch a month. from the point of my wrist where it cut, it’s a good 8-10 inches to my fingertips. that means it’ll be about a year before full innervation, and even then it is unlikely to reach the same level of sensation that it previously had.
some muscle groups in your hand are triggered by nerves, and if they are “unplugged” from the nerve for too long those muscles can atrophy and you can lose the ability to perform certain muscle contractions and move your hand/fingers in certain ways.
as it is right now, i can’t feel much of anything in my pinky or ring fingers, or anything along that side of my hand. my middle finger has about 50% sensation(nothing at the tip). i can maybe make 25% of a fist. i can’t spread my fingers at all, as that is a function performed by nerves that still have to heal and re-grow. some of these hand functions will come back, and some won’t. some of those functions are necessary for tattooing, and some aren’t. i will have a new hand on the other side of this, and i’ll need to learn to use it.
my hand therapist says things are looking good and that i am in an optimal place to be starting my recovery, considering the injury. i don’t have any doubts about my ability to return to tattooing eventually… i can expect to be back at work within a year from now. the question is at what point do i regain enough functional movement and strength to tattoo with? i’m guessing it’s gonna be about 6 months. november/december is probably the earliest realistic possibility of taking appointments again… but it might not be until 2022 or later. we just have to wait and see. i am on no other timeline besides that.
in the meantime, i’m fairly debilitated and pretty fragile until september-ish. i have a splint to keep my hand from moving in certain ways, and i have to keep that on for the next 7 weeks. this next week i’ll still be fighting pain and swelling and will need to keep my arm elevated. but the sutures/staples come out next week and then at least i’ll feel a little less like a shambling frankenstein and can use my arm a little more normally, if not my hand. i hope to get into some paintings right around then, because now i’m feeling eager!
i have lots of painting ideas that i’ve wanted to get on paper for quite some time now, so while this injury crap is obviously a bummer, i’m grateful for the opportunity to focus on painting with minimal distraction. i should have a few prints up for sale within the next month, and more and more from there. if you’re interested in supporting my recovery and aren’t into the gofundme thing, keep an eye out here and my instagram for updates on new prints/shirts available. soon!
thanks again to everyone who has contributed and/or reached out. it means a lot to me right now!