Recovery Week #6: May 8-May, 15, 2013

Week Six:  May 9 - May 15, 2013

“Our greatest glory is not in never falling, but in rising every time we fall.” -  Confucius

I was able to play my flute three times for five minutes!  The vertical head joint is strange, but I’m so grateful to have it.  It was made by Sandy Drelinger and so graciously loaned to me by Alexa Still.   There is a thumb rest piece that attaches to the foot joint for the right hand thumb, similar to oboe, clarinet and saxophone.  The clamp that attaches this to the tube is extremely difficult for me to close since it requires pressure from both hands.  There’s a left hand support piece that I’m not using because I don’t want any extra weight on my left hand index finger/thumb. There’s a plastic key extension, also a Drelinger creation, which snaps onto the rods for extending the first finger down the tube.  So my index finger is closer to the middle finger than a regular flute set-up.  This is a good thing because I’m still working to regain full range of motion with my interosseus muscles which spread fingers apart.  The key extension is on a higher plane than the other fingers, which is also a good compromise for now.  The right hand thumb rest piece also has a bit that rests on your knee, so in theory, your leg should be supporting most of the weight of the instrument.  My new flute weighs 2 pounds, 3 oz, which doesn’t seem that much.  In reality, that’s significant for a surgical reconstruction.  Again, it was interesting to observe how things that happen to you change your perspective.  So, with this setup,  the base of my left index finger doesn’t contact the tube at all!  Perfect for now.

Due to the way flutes are designed, the left index finger is down for all but 8 notes in a 3 octave range.  It doesn’t take much for to close the key, but the issue is that it has to remain closed.  Press and hold, as opposed to press and let go for typing on a computer.  My index finger started to wobble at shake, which is a sign of weak muscles trying valiantly to do what is asked of them.  There was no stabbing pain, just slowness, clunky movement and stiffness, all of which are normal for this point in time.

Boring old long tones never sounded so good!  Except it sounds weird.  The new headjoint and the sound coming from in front instead of right side are both strange, plus it’s the brand new flute anyway.  I can’t complain though.  It’s a start!

I’ve learned to use how well I can feel the vibration of the flute under my fingers as a way to monitor the coordinated use of my whole body.  When one clamps down on the keys, like when a fast, notey, scary part is coming up, you can no longer feel the vibration.  With the vertical setup, I don’t feel the vibration in my right hand ever.  Perhaps that’s a function of the way the thumb rest piece attaches to the tube.  So, I did a little test.  Put the regular flute headjoint on, took the other stuff off, added a chopped up piece of clear plastic water hose to increase diameter of the tube for base of index finger and played an F.  Hallelujah!There’s my flute sound, my left hand can do it and vibration of the tube is restored. It was only a test, BeepBeeBeep.

The other therapy exercises were fine.  Trying to do the dexterity balls with my palm down was difficult at first.  I figured out that this was also causing my hand to hurt.  When middle finger goes up and index finger goes down (and vice versa) it was hurting in between the two knuckles.   I dutifully did my bicep curls and tricep extensions with my 1 lb. weight.  I tried with my 2 1/2 lb. baby plates from my weight bench, but the way I was holding it (middle finger down, first finger up) was no good.  Still stuck in the buddy wraps and can’t wait to be free of them!

The swelling in my finger is down a lot, but it makes the joint look like a golf ball in comparison.  More ice throughout the day seems to be helping.

May 15, 2013 - OT#7  I hauled all the flute pieces/parts into the office for therapy and my formal appointment with my surgeon. I realized that hand therapists don’t necessarily know and understand the specific needs of a flutist.  Their job is to get my hand back to functioning.  My job is to be very clear with what I need my hand to do.  All of the therapists came to check out the vertical headjoint and all the other ergonomic bits.  All were amazed at what professional flutes cost (they asked and I told them. One said, “that’s more than my car.”  Umm... yeah.)  In fact, one of the therapists wanted to know if I had a piccolo and if I could play the thing from Stars and Stripes next week.  My response was “Are you kidding?  Next week?”  I said that I’d love to play it in another month or two and would happily march up and down the hallway annoying everybody in the immediate vicinity.  I was given more exercises for active strengthening of my finger itself and my whole arm, which I’ll write about in next week’s  post.  The doctor was pleased with what he saw.  The annoying ache between middle and first fingers was normal for this point in time, same thing for the places along the incision line where adhesion is still a problem.  My flexion at MP joint was up to 90 degrees!  Dr. H. said I can play vertical headjoint or regular as long as I “don’t be crazy and stick with baby stuff, not notey flute stuff with low load/high frequency.”  Translation - 5 minutes at a time throughout the day.  The ideal would be to leave the flute on the flute stand, come by play it and put it down.  Come back the next hour and repeat.  I can’t do that with an expensive flute and 2 young children in the house.  And the final bit of good news, the buddy wraps are history!  I no longer need to wear them unless I’m doing something where I need extra support, like raking in the garden.  That was the example my therapist used, why would I want to use my fledging hand skills for garden raking?  Sorry, garden, it’s not going to be your year.

Key things I learned during this stage of my journey:

1)  Even my children noticed the lack of flute playing in the house.  Maybe they noticed because of their mother's grumpiness?  My older daughter came downstairs one day when I was doing my 5 minutes and said “That sounds good, Mom.  I haven’t heard any flute since Halloween.  Hey, why’s your flute look like a clarinet?”  Cool... she actually remembered what a clarinet looks like.  Maybe the world is really missing my flute playing.

2)  Returning to flute playing is scary.  Random thoughts like “I hope this isn’t going to hurt” and “Is this hurting or does it just feel weird since I haven’t done it for a long time” and “How about now?”  Trusting myself is difficult because the desire to play the instrument is so high.

3)  Recognizing, yet again, the importance of my iPhone in my healing process.  At first, the alarm was set for 3 AM so my husband could get my pain meds out of the bottle, so I wouldn’t miss a dose.  As if my hand would have let me miss, ever!  Then, the timer was used for icing purposes and then for timing the hot/cold water soaks with the contrast hydro-therapy.  Also using calendar to keep track of therapy, chiropractor and acupuncture appointments.  I’ve used Siri to input much of these posts into notes which I then email to myself and cut/paste. Now the trusty iPhone keeps track of my time and I also recorded myself one day playing one of the Trevor Wye’s long tone warmups.  It’s not pretty, not in tune, and not especially musical, but to me, it’s priceless.



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