Breaking my Finger as a Professional Musician...
This is more of a personal post (and possibly a rather long one), but I hope you forgive what will hopefully be of interest to any musician who has suffered an injury to their hands - our most precious resource!
A couple of months ago, incidentally a few weeks before my wedding day, I decided it would be a good idea to keep fit and healthy to cope with the inevitable stress leading up to the day itself, and therefore to start running a bit more regularly than I did before (i.e. never). My (now) husband and I jogged over to our local park, intending to do a couple of laps and go home. In the park there were fleets of young kids going to school on those little scooters, their parents trailing far behind. I decided to avoid and run round them rather than try to run through them, but in doing so managed to trip, falling on my hand. I sat up, looked at my hand, and saw that my left little finger was a horrible angle and clearly broken. In complete shock, I didn't feel any pain, and we ran straight home, booked a taxi to A and E. I calmly packed a bag with everything I needed for a long hospital visit. All I could think was, 'Thank God it's the one finger I don't use to play the recorder'. Little did I know how wrong I was...
We got to A and E, and I was seen pretty quickly. X-rays, and then 2 attempts under gas and air by the Senior nurse to get my finger back into a straight position using brute force. The second attempt was successful, and my finger was put in a small splint, and off I went home. To cut a very long story short, around two weeks later I had an appointment at the Fracture Clinic, and I noticed that the finger wasn't straight any more. I could see this on the X-ray quite easily, and asked why - the radiographer also commented on this. I was told that it was fine, and that nothing could be done further at that point. I made it very clear that I was a professional musician, and that my finger had to be straight. My concerns were dismissed completely. Overall, my treatment at this clinic was terrible; the clinic was running an hour late, and I was left in a treatment area for half an hour alone waiting for the registrar (the consultant was ill apparently). I was seen for around 5 minutes, and it was clear that the registrar did not have enough time to concentrate on his job, (he was very vague throughout) and wanted to move on as soon as possible. He also didn't know what a flute or woodwind instrument was, which worried me... I left the clinic in floods of tears (completely unprecedented for me as I usually find medical environments very reassuring). I was convinced that my treatment had been mismanaged. Yet many people around me (quite naturally) basically felt that it was unlikely that I had had bad treatment, and told me that it would be fine the long run.
However, I was convinced something was wrong. After the wedding, I decided to consult a private hand specialist, and thank God I did. He looked at my X-rays in great detail, and informed me that I should have been operated on when I turned up in A & E, and that at the Fracture Clinic, they similarly should have sent me to surgery straight away. My fracture was completely unstable, and didn't have a hope in hell of staying where it was with just a splint. My finger was now (one month later) healing in a position around 20 degrees out, and with a degree of rotation as well. My suspicions had been completely correct, and I felt rather relieved that I hadn't been imagining it all. The specialist recommended that I do intensive hand therapy for a month, to see whether I could cope with the finger at this angle permanently; so I booked an appointment at the physiotherapist next door. My NHS hand therapy appointment was still 3 weeks away (I should have had therapy within a week, but the waiting list was a month)... So off I went, and spent every penny I had that month on 3 private intensive hand therapy appointments. I worked incredibly hard, and at the end of 3 weeks, I recovered full flexibility in my finger, far more than anyone had expected.
The day after my appointment with the specialist, I also went to my GP, explained the situation, and asked for a referral to the hand team at Chelsea and Westminster hospital for a second NHS opinion. He was brilliant, and sent it off immediately. 3 weeks later, I'd heard nothing, and it was getting to the point that I needed to make a decision. It was clear that, despite the success of the hand therapy, that the bone angles were not good, and was (and still is) affecting the balance of my left hand negatively, making trills and fast passages (particularly with forked fingerings) very difficult and uncontrolled. A month after my 'urgent' referral, I got a letter from the NHS giving me an appointment on the 22nd January. Now given that I had been advised that I needed an operation asap, this was as much use to me as a chocolate teapot. So I gave up on the NHS and booked another appointment with the private specialist (outgoings on this now over £600..) He advised me that at this point he would not rush into surgery, but that I should wait for the NHS appointment, and use the time to judge whether or not I could cope this the angle long term. He understood that I had basically come to ask him to do the operation himself, but - and I respected him a great deal for this - he didn't just agree to take my money, but recommended a course of action that would be possible for me financially and medically.
I left his surgery much comforted, and picked up my phone to call my wonderful mum. A missed call, and a voicemail. Strange happenings - it was the Chelsea and Westminster hospital: a consultant had read my notes, and fast-tracked me. I had an appointment the next working day. I was relieved, but terrified. I have rarely been as anxious before a medical appointment - so much so that I couldn't sleep or concentrate on anything but the possible outcomes for the weekend beforehand. I was terrified they would send me away; that nothing could be done. I needn't have worried: the consultant was wonderful: it was as if she had absolutely nothing else to do in her day except listen to me. She confirmed that my initial treatment had been completely inadequate, and that I should never have been put in this position. After some more X rays, and a long discussion about the potential risks of surgery, I opted for it, signed the terrifying form. The consultant assured me she would do her best to do the surgery herself, rather than allowing it to go into the 'pool'. She was interested in my career (I took my recorder along to demonstrate!) and was incredibly supportive. I left the hospital after two hours, drained, and walked aimlessly through Chelsea for an hour, finding myself eventually at Peter Jones, where I browsed large glittery Christmas animals in a vague manner for 2 hours. For some reason, I needed a dose of unreality.
This nightmare has lasted two months, and still isn't over by any means. I am currently on the waiting list for an operation to re-break my finger, put in a titanium plate, and then do the hand therapy again for another 2 months. But I don't know how long the waiting list is... I can't really accept concert offers for the next few months, as I simply don't know whether I'll be able to play. I have had wonderful support from my husband, my family and friends, but the past 2 months have been a emotional rollercoaster. The following emotions predominate a lot of my thinking:
First, anger (at the kids in the park, my own stupidity, occasionally at God for allowing it to happen, also a good few days' anger at the current government for allowing the NHS to get into the state it is) - and to be honest, I am still residually angry off and on. After a good few years working so hard on my performing career, I am angry that something so avoidable could be threatening it.
Second, frustration at the NHS's inadequate treatment, and the fact that, had I gone to Chelsea and Westminster A and E in the first place, I would not be in this position now. How was I to know that the nearest hospital isn't always the best?!
Thirdly, fear, and this is obviously the big one. I have been understandably anxious about the long-term implications of this. The decision to have surgery was a very difficult one. If I were to leave my finger in its current position forever, the balance of my left hand would always be like this, and I may not ever be able to play to the same standard as I have done to this point, which would frankly break my heart. And yet, if the operation doesn't go well, if the tendon sticks to the plate, I could lose mobility in the finger, nerve damage, pain, the works. And then my career really is over.
And last of all, guilt. Guilt that I should be worrying so much about something that is, in fact, comparatively minor. My life isn't threatened; I have had the most wonderful support from friends and family (thank-you!) and I am incredibly fortunate in so many ways. I have had teachers and mentors who have suffered similar and much worse hand injuries, and have recovered, and I am positive now that I will too. So there... that's the whole story. And if you're still here, well done, and thanks for reading!