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Fixing Hands With Precision

Posted by admin On November - 23 - 2009  Print  Email  

By Susan Gosine

“I can make your hand better,” Dr. Michael Rettig said. “But you’ll need surgery, two surgeries. Therapy won’t do it, medicine won’t do it. It may ease the pain but it won’t fix the injury.”

It was my first visit to the esteemed doctor, who incidentally, was recommended by a brain surgeon, to whom my then primary care doctor had sent me for a wrist problem. Yes, a brain surgeon for a wrist problem, and yes, I have since found a new primary care doctor.

Orthopedic surgeon, Dr. Michael Rettig, explains my wrist injury.

Orthopedic surgeon, Dr. Michael Rettig, explains my wrist injury.

During the time I had spent between doctors, who cared more about the boost their office would enjoy from my insurance money than the wellbeing of my wrist, the injury had gotten progressively worst. At that time, I had to badger said primary care doctor to recommend an MRI to find out what was wrong with my wrist, since she claimed the x-ray had revealed nothing. And when the MRI results finally arrived, she had the gall to tell me, “I don’t know how you have so much damage in your hand.” That’s the same doctor who did not examine my hand but was treating me for something. She never gave me a diagnosis and never said what I was being treated for. I did ask.

She had also prescribed Arthrotec, a generic drug called diclofenac sodium with misoprostol. It is an NSAID (nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug) used to treat the inflammation and pain of arthritis. I am not a doctor, but I never had and still do not have arthritis. This medication has harmed me more than the pain I was enduring. So why was it prescribed?

That was also the same doctor who had recommended I seek therapy at a pain management clinic. I did, for a month, two sessions a week. There I met another doctor, who without touching my hand once, insisted I had Carpal Tunnel Syndrome, even though I vehemently protested. I had done research and knew from the symptoms listed that I did not have that syndrome and the qualified doctor did not. Once again, I was being treated with electrical therapy, ultra sounds and hand massages without an examination of my wrist or a proper diagnosis. Meanwhile, the pain worsened. My last visit to the pain management clinic was when they tried ice therapy on my wrist. I continued to maintain that I felt no improvement so they decided to switch treatment. Immediately the ice pad was strapped around my wrist, pain shot up my arm and down to my finger tips. I never returned. I’d had enough of experimenting with my pain.

So when I visited Dr. Rettig, an orthopedic surgeon, in the first week of April at his Manhattan office, and mentioned that I had been experiencing pain in my wrist for nearly a year, and the symptoms that went with it, he proceeded to medically examine my wrist and asked me to perform a series of exercises engaging my hand and fingers. He also gave my hand the weight test. It was a detailed examination and for the first time, I had found a doctor who was actually interested in what was going on with my wrist.

After that he sent me to another room for an x-ray. Within minutes the results were ready. And Dr. rettig, placed the negatives on the x-ray screen and explained very candidly what had gone wrong with my wrist. And why I was experiencing so much pain and why my wrist did not have the strength to lift a cup of tea, nor the mobility it once had. The fibro-cartilage was broken in two places in my wrist and “this white pool here,” he pointed to the x-ray, “is where the liquid is filling up in the hand.”

I don’t know if I was more relieved or shocked. All this was going on with my poor hand and none of the previous doctors suspected a thing. He explained that with time, what had been a tear had burst, completely. The pain I was experiencing in the thumb, he said, was from an onset of tendonitis.

Dr. Michael Rettig

Dr. Michael Rettig

“I can make your hand better,” he said, straight up, and explained about the impending surgery and what it would entail. He urged me to think about it.

“I don’t need to think about it. I’ve been carrying around this pain for a year; I need to get my hand fixed. How soon can I have the surgery?”

He explained that I could have the surgeries consecutively, when one healed or simultaneously. I opted to have them done at the same time.

“When can I have the surgeries?” I asked.

“Next Tuesday, if that’s okay with you,” he replied.


Seven days after that first visit, I was scheduled for wrist surgery at NYU Hospital Medical Center at 8 a.m. on Tuesday April 14. I was afraid, very afraid. Knowing this, Dr. Rettig and his staff at the operating theatre had taken the time to explain to me what I was about to experience. This, of course, being a first, and I hope, the last time I would have to face surgery of any kind.

Before I was taken to the operating theatre, Dr. Rettig came to see me. He sat and gently explained that I would have a “block.” That meant he would deaden my right arm, from the shoulder to fingertips. “We will put you into a deep sleep, don’t worry, you will not feel a thing,” he assured. And I didn’t, not even when I got the injection to put me to sleep. I had gone into the theatre with the assurance from my doctor that everything would be okay. I believed him. And I trusted him to make it so.

When next I opened my eyes, it was past midday. I was in the recovery room. My hand was in a cast and hooked up to my neck in a blue sling. I had no knowledge of any of this being done. I slept sweetly through it all. I was a bit concerned, though, when I saw my arm lying on my chest and I was unable to move it on my own. In fact, I was afraid to do so. It felt numb, lifeless, and weird. I had no feelings whatsoever in my arm. I touched it with my left hand and it didn’t know a thing, neither did I. My right hand was truly dead to the rest of my body. My left hand picked it up and adjusted its position. It felt like a fallen tree stump, heavy, and sluggish.

The life, Dr. Rettig, had said would return gradually, with tingling in the fingers. So I carried my hand home, slept off the anesthetic and woke up with pain. Life had returned to my hand. And it was letting me know that. Now I could look forward to recovery and to using my hand again.

When he had incised my wrist, the damage inside was more extensive than what was anticipated, Dr. Rettig, later explained. He had to shave off part of the bone and stick steel pins into the wrist to keep the bones apart to facilitate the healing process. The pin heads which protruded outside the hand, used to make me nauseated whenever he removed the cast to examine my hand during follow up visits.

Dr. Rettig had made a bold promise to me. That he would make my hand better. He had closely monitored my progress during follow up visits, always taking x-rays and making sure that my wrist was healing the way it should. Seven months later, while my hand is still undergoing therapy to restore its full function and mobility, I know, for certain, that he has kept his promise. I can do more with my hand now than I did before the surgery. And with time, he said, perhaps, eighteen months ahead, the pain I still experience, while not intense but still there, will go away. I believe him, too.

I look forward to that day, when there will be no pain and stiffness in my hand. I know it will come. So with precision, Dr. Rettig, has indeed fixed my hand. And my therapist, Carlos Martins, also recommended by him, is helping it to function again.

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Hi. My name is Susan Gosine-Herrera. I live in Queens, New York. This news blog is my way of highlighting all the interesting things, people and events I come across in this part of New York. If you have an interesting immigrant story or know of one or of an interesting immigrant, I will be happy to feature that story in these pages. Just send an email and I will be in touch. Meanwhile, live like a tourist, enjoy all you can, before you move on.

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