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.

Author: Luann Udell

I find it just as important to write about my art as to make it. I am fascinated by stories. You can tell when people are speaking their truth--their eyes light up, their voices become strong, their entire body posture becomes powerful and upright. I love it when people get to this place in their work, their relationships, their art. As I work from this powerful place in MY heart, I share this process with others--so they have a strong place to stand, too. Because the world needs our beautiful art. All of it we can make, as fast as we can! Whether it's a bowl, a painting, a song, a garden, a story, if it makes our world a better place, we need to do everything in our power to get it out there.

18 thoughts on “OUR BEAUTIFUL HANDS”

  1. This is a very open (emotionally speaking) entry–I was quite touched. Good luck with your surgery, and remember above all else: one day at a time. You will know what direction to go with your martial arts, and your art, as each day passes. You can’t do any more than that. I have a feeling you are quite a determined person, and you’ll make a way for yourself in both aspects.

    Here’s to a speedy recovery.


    1. I am facing carpal tunnel surgery on both sides. Have also broken a finger and my left {thankfully} arm. It was tough,but I made it through. I was so overwhelmed by the loving care I received from my husband. So, I understand. I worked right through all of it and plan to work hrough the carpal tunnel surgeries. It will force you to look at things differently. You can’t keep a good woman down! My thoughts are with you. ❤


  2. Say, I don’t have an image on my screen of the finger that is not yours. I wonder why?

    Joni Mitchell sang You Don’t Know What You’ve got til it’s Gone? I’ve only heard the Joan Jett version. : )

    On to more serious matters — I too had a painful time when I couldn’t use my right hand — man it was awful. I thought I would have to stop jewelry making entirely. Luckily, that wasn’t the case.

    I really understand what you mean about taking our functioning bodies for granted.

    Best wishes for your surgery and recovery.

    My tips for making a hospital stay more bearable — take a laptop (okay, this may be hard with your hand wrapped up) — many hospitals have wifi now, ask. You may need assistance getting logged in.

    Bring funny DVDs/VHS tapes to watch — find out what kind of players your hospital has. Even better, bring your own laptop with DVD player, or portable DVD player, in case theirs is broken.

    Line up lots of good help at home for after, and accept all offers of help and dinner.

    Want something nicer to wear at the hospital? Check out http://www.hospitalgowns.com for more stylish options.

    Stay ahead of the pain on your pain meds and remember the hospital social worker is available to you for whatever kind of help you might need or want.

    Take care!

    Oh, and a great program for dictating speech to a computer, and having it type for you, is Dragon Speaks Naturally. Works really well!


  3. Great post, luann…and you seem to have begun to deal with the shock really quickly!
    When I had carpal tunnel sugery on both my hands (a month apart), I didn’t know how I could manage not to work for so long, but I got through it and so will you.
    We’re amazingly adaptive animals….and as you say, it’s not a permanent ban on work…that makes a huge difference!


  4. Ouch, that’s not fun. My dad can totally relate to what you’re going through. A few years ago (just a couple days before Christmas) he slipped on some ice, tried to catch himself, and broke both wrists instead. He had both arms in casts for a good six months and had a rough time of not being able to do hardly anything except sit around and watch TV. Thank goodness it’s just your right hand.

    Maybe making the decision to stop sparring is a good one. After all, you can still work on the forms (is that the right word?) and keep excercising that way. However, it seems like all this hand-to-hand combat might be a little too rough on your body.

    I’m sending good thoughts your way. I hope your recovery goes smoothly.


  5. Wow! Okay, let me try to catch up to all your wonderful comments….

    To all: Your faith in my ability to deal is incredible! Except now I can’t just goof off for six weeks…. :^)

    Allthingsmetal, I found an error in that link *after* I published the entry. I’ve corrected it, but for some reason, some people can only view the “original” post I make. Here’s the link again: mallet finger x-ray

    Ali, you had me looking for ten minutes for *my* typo before I realized you were referring to *your* typo! :^D

    And again, thank you all for your kind words. You remind me to be as brave as I think I can be.


  6. You will do well, but the time off will be difficult. Perhaps it is time for you to write a book, get voice recognition software if necessary.

    Yes, it is time for you to give up the combative martial arts. Maybe tai chi? If it’s not a contact martial art.


  7. Very touching entry! I wish you the best. I had carpal tunnel surgery on both wrists at once, so do know what it’s like to not use hands. Difficult…but doable…especially since it’s not forever. Then in ’06 I severely broke my ankle in 3 places in a fall. So, yes, I know how scary the surgery is. I have a metal plate and screws and pins, but get around absolutely fine now! So, there is light at the end of the tunnel! I would seriously think about giving up karate, though, if I were you.


  8. Oh, Luann! Well… drat.

    Sending a giant cyber-hug your way…

    You know, I second the tai chi idea… I love my irregular practice… very centering.

    I guess lunch is off for Thursday…? 😉



  9. Luann,

    Just wanted to wish you luck for the surgery and your recovery. Your blog is always a great inspiration, and I’ll definitely be thinking of you tomorrow!


  10. Hi Luann. Wow. I knew the moment I read the title of this blog it would be moving. You are a brilliant writer as well as an extremely talented artist. First, I wish you complete success with your surgery. I love your art and your blog and all the things you do with those hands. I would be afraid too.

    Second, I love my hands. I have big, scarred, short-nailed, ugly hands by most standards… but a few years ago, I created a journal entry where I traced my hands and took a moment to appreciate them, because in spite of the fact that I am no hand model, I have always had great dexterity — talented hands that could pick up tiny little things and execute tiny little details, and open jars and do just about anything else hands were made to do… until last year… at first I thought it was carpal tunnel, but it may be rheumatoid arthritis, (I will find out soon) and I am also facing fears about losing some of what my big, ugly wonderful hands can do.


  11. Oh Luann! When I read your comment I had to write. I’m a clay artist and Jeweler. I had a similar thing happen to my little finger. I had a bone tumour and kept breaking it. Unbelievably one surgeon suggested amputation and he and one other surgeons told me I would loose mobility and the nerves!! I know the importance of our hands in what we do. I went to 3 surgeons and the young plastic surgeon I saw did a bonegraft by taking a splinter from my wrist. My finger was immobile for 6 weeks in a cast. Then came physio and am VERY HAPPY because although the finger won’t completely cooperate making a fist, its close and I have all the feeling. I wish you all the best outcome!!!


  12. wow,Luann. I would be wondering what the universe was trying to tell me too. I think we all feel your fear and pain…We love our hands – we’re makers. And makers treasure their God-given tools. I hope it helped to have all the good wishes during the operation.
    But, I think it’s time for you to forget that resolution about whining and throw a major tantrum! I mean, down on the floor kicking and crying and snotty nose and all. Get it all out, it can be very cleansing. And then settle down to self care. You were going to take some time for study, right? Well, you’ve got time now. And once you’ve had that hissy fit, you’ll see more clearly.
    Chin up. we’re all pulling for you.
    xxx ooo Loretta


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s