Disclaimer: if you’re squeamish, you may not want to watch the wound healing time-lapse video at the end. Not gory, but I realize that it’s not everyone’s cup of tea.
As I’ve mentioned previously, my journey into research started with injuring my wrists during nursing school. By the time I was diagnosed with ganglion cysts I was in so much pain that it was impossible for me to do clinical nursing work.
For you non-medical folks, ganglion cysts are basically noncancerous lumps that grow out of joints like little malevolent jelly-filled balloons. They can fluctuate in size, and often go away on their own. Usually they aren’t a problem, but doctors can suck out – or aspirate – the fluid with a needle if a cyst becomes troublesome.
My case was more complicated. My cysts – whom I dubbed Theodore and Franklin – wanted to be an interesting educational opportunity for med students and surgical residents. They got stuck under my tendons, hardened, and wreaked havoc on my wrists causing pain and reduced range of motion.
They were misdiagnosed for a couple of years. Tendonitis. Plain ol’ scar tissue. A bad case of I dunno-itis. Early on I suggested that they could be ganglion cysts, but the presentation was atypical since the cysts were stuck under tendons. It wasn’t until I showed a hand surgeon whom I worked with that I got a correct diagnosis.
My surgeon initially tried aspiration, but it didn’t work and was incredibly painful. So we went the surgical route. While surgery on my right hand has been a success so far, I ended up requiring a second surgery on my left.
Surgery During my PhD
I only had one week’s notice for last year’s surgery. Since this is a quick surgery, I was fit in between other cases. It was great because I really only waited a few weeks for surgery, but it also meant that my surgery was during my courses. This was necessary because I was experiencing chronic pain that typing exacerbated (not good when you’re in a PhD program!) but the timing wasn’t ideal.
After surgery I quickly decided that the makers of Percocet needed to update the warning label. Forget operating heavy machinery and alcohol consumption: Percocet and grad school should only be mixed with extreme caution and under the supervision of a responsible professor. When I wasn’t sleeping or bazooka barfing (as my father calls it), I was crafting some rather eccentric papers. In one paper I may have compared myself to Bilbo Baggins and my coursework to destroying The One Ring…
Can you guess what I was binge-watching post-op?
All joking aside, it was difficult trying to do coursework while recovering. While I found the recovery to be quicker and easier this time, I was absolutely exhausted and my mind was cloudy. I was back in classes the following week, but I was pretty uncomfortable and would need to nap after a three-hour class. The general pain in my wrist subsided quickly, but moving my fingers (especially typing) hurt because the back of my hand was so badly bruised. Fortunately (unfortunately?) I’m somewhat of a pro at this surgery, so I foresaw this issue. I rushed to draft a lot of my assignments right up until when I left for the hospital. I also did a lot of dictating afterwards to minimizing typing.
The Art and Science of Healing
As I indicated earlier, my case became an interesting educational opportunity for a number of medical students and residents. But as a health professions education researcher, my dedication to education and general nerdiness knows no bounds. I decided to photograph my wrist every day for 50(ish) days and a couple of times weekly beyond that. As a researcher and former nurse, I found it interesting to see the wound healing progress. As a patient, the photographs were reassuring because I could see how my wrist was gradually improving.
I’ve compiled these photos into a short video below for any fellow healthcare professionals, nerds, and students of life who are interested in the healing process