I had just been given the go-ahead start to physical therapy and resume normal activities (following extensive surgery three weeks ago that affected my shoulder and neck)…when I got another surprise last Friday.

I injured my finger blocking a kick while sparring in Tae Kwon Do a month ago. Turns out I have a
mallet fracture
of my ring finger. (That’s not my finger in the image, but it sure looks a lot like mine.)

If I want to retain as much mobility in my finger, and avoid as much future pain as possible, I have to have surgery immediately. Like, tomorrow.

Several thoughts are running through my head the last few days:

I’m afraid.

When the physician’s assistant told me the prognosis, I burst into tears. Of all my injuries I’ve incurred in the martial arts, I never thought I might impair my hands. I’m deeply rattled, to put it mildly.

People can be kind.

The PA snagged the hand surgeon, who just happened to be in on his day off. And he agreed to see me right then and there. And he got me into his surgical schedule immediately.

And when the PA came back to tell me, and saw how upset I was, she hugged me.

I’m afraid.
When I heard the details of the surgery, I just about threw up. (I admit it, I’m a wuss.) It involves resetting, and pins, and 4-6 weeks of recovery, and I am not to move my finger at all.

He said I could be awake for the surgery if I wanted, and I said, “Thanks, but no thanks.”

I’m afraid.
I’m already dealing with how to get meaningful exercise while I recover from my shoulder/neck surgery on my left side. Now I can’t use my right hand fully, or get the bandage wet for over a month. There goes swimming, climbing, riding, most of what we do in Tae Kwon Do. I can’t even belay. I may not even be able to do yoga. I still have injuries that make it hard to walk long distances.

I’m not sure what’s left. If only sleeping were a sports activity!

I’m afraid.

What does this mean for making my art?  Heck, for living my normal life?  I have a feeling I’m in for a lot of (unpleasant) surprises in the weeks ahead.   (For starters, I was told to “bring a top with sleeves I can get my hand through if I were holding a softball”…  Huh??)

I’m afraid.
Should I even consider returning to the martial arts? This makes two knee injuries (resulting in two knee surgeries), a torn hamstring, a compromised Achilles tendon and now hand surgery. Is the universe trying to tell me something here??

I’m moved.
When the surgeon told me how serious the injury was, I said, “But I need my hands to do my work.” I added thoughtfully, “I guess everyone says that, huh?”

And he said yes. Everyone says that.

I thought about that when I got home. Why did I say that?

1) Because in my sad little way, I was signaling him to take extra care with me during the surgery–reminding him I was a person. An artist. Someone whose hands should be considered “special”.

2) Because as much as I think about all the things I am grateful for (and having working hands is one of those things), as Joni Mitchell says, “You don’t know what you’ve got til it’s gone…” When you hear you may not be able to assume you have the full use of your hands, it’s frightening. I “called out” in protest–because I could not face the possibility of losing any function in my hands.

3) Because, as I’ve written many times before, what makes us human is our minds, and our hands. No matter how removed from “hands on” we might think we are, what we do with our hands defines us–even if it’s transmitting what our heads do into visible form (like….typing a blog essay!)

In the end, I had to remember–the guy is a hand surgeon. This is what he does. Presumably, this is what he loves. I’ve heard he’s really, really good, too, which is reassuring.

And as he held my hand to examine it, I suddenly realized that to him, all hands are beautiful. Chapped, chubby, bony, bruised, ragged cuticles and all. To him, they are a work of art. And his surgery, helping people regain or preserve as much function and strength as possible, is his art.

It’s a struggle, but I can hold on to these thoughts:

Livelihoods are not lives.

It’s just my finger I’m fighting for–not my life, as some of my readers are doing.

If things go wrong, I will figure something else out.

If I have to do something else about the martial arts, well, I’ll figure that out, too. Maybe it will be as simple as “no more sparring.”

And as I look at my chapped, chubby, cuticle-impaired, broken hands today, I am struck anew at how beautiful they are.