The Thumb……

Most of us were blessed at birth with two healthy thumbs.  The Master, when He was toiling over his blueprint for the creation of man, applied nearly infallible engineering principles to the design of the thumb, the opposing appendage that makes our hands far more useful than something to wave with at a parade, or occupy space in a pocket.  I am guessing that He did not anticipate each and every abuse that man could conjure up to wear this magnificent joint out, trusting us to maintain an activity level that would not reduce, significantly, the utility of the thumb.  He probably, for instance,  did not anticipate such things as “Handgun Retention” , the art and science of maintaining control of your handgun when someone else has an interest in it.  

Years ago, I was tasked with the responsibility of teaching this science to the officers in the Highway Patrol as well as a number of other departments in and around Missouri.  Police officers are indoctrinated with a “must win” attitude infused with a competitive spirit.  A good number of them don’t just want to understand the technique, they want to test the maneuver for effectiveness.  I left many, many training sessions with hands that hurt like hell…..particularly the thumbs. This two year experience was not in the best interest of my hands and now comes the time to pay the piper, as they say.  I would not change a thing, and heredity certainly contributes to this quandary, but, it is time to repair the damage.  Osteoarthritis of the basal joint the docs call it, and in a week or so, I have an appointment with a hand mechanic who is going to work his magic.  Although both thumbs are troublesome, it is the right thumb that is hell bent on aggravating me to no good end. 

On February 9, Dr. R. Bradley Wyrsch, MD., a bear of a man with a congenial approach to his patients is going to perform a Ligament Reconstruction and Tendon Interposition on my right thumb.  This LRTI, as it is referred to by the big boys, involves utilizing a tendon in the arm that is passed through a hole drilled into the end of the lower thumb bone (metacarpal to those interested in the proper name).  The remaining tendon is then rolled “like an anchovy” and placed in the hole that is left after all or part of the trapezium (the bone in the wrist that forms the base of the thumb) is removed.  This little procedure should result in near normal strength and full motion in my thumb for 15-20 years.  The alternative to this procedure is the fusing of the trapezium to the metacarpal, however: my ability to tie on a crappie jig would be seriously impacted as a result of the lack of thumb mobility.  This is NOT an alternative for me!

I am no stranger to the knife.  As it is, a variety of offending body parts have already been discarded or repaired.  Hernia repairs, gall bladder and appendix removal as well as big league open heart surgery are already on my resume’.  My concern, at this point is the necessity for a rapid recovery, the fish are biting earlier every year, and a shortening of the thumb, which could pose a problem when lipping a fish or manupilating the throttle on an airplane.  One has to get his priorities in order.  The LRTI is a technique that has been around for 30+ years and has a 96% success rate….provided you are in the hands (so to speak) of an experienced hand mechanic.  Dr. Wyrsch is said to be just the guy……

In closing this piece, I want to give a shout out to the troopers and one reserve deputy (a chiropractor in his day job) who put me to the test when teaching handgun retention.  I will never forget your bull like strength and “show me attitude” when we latched on for the hand fight.  I’ll still wave when I see you and should be easy to recognize, despite my smooth headed appearance.  I’ll be the guy waving with the short thumb… took awhile, but you finally beat me!

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