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Trigger Finger, a Ganglionic Cyst, and Two Rubber Balls

Hands on


The world cares very little about what a person knows;
it is what the person is able to do that counts.
(Booker T. Washington)

 Thanks to the J. J. Newberry department store, I avoided hand surgery.  Twice.

 Newberry's, in Batavia, NY was a creaky wooden-floored, tooled iron-ceilinged five and dime. From the worn chrome lunch counter, selling hot dogs that mortals dared not eat, to the claustrophobic basement, where the pet department housed the iguanas, every trip to Newberry's was a trip back into the forties. Friends and I made a pilgrimage to the store every time we were in town.

 I'd been having some trouble with my left hand. A chiropractor friend of mine told me I was developing a trigger finger, and he was correct. Whenever I curled my hand, my ring finger locked in the "down" position. It was especially disturbing to me because both my mother and father have had surgery for trigger fingers, in my Dad's case, nine such operations. Oh, great, I thought. My turn now, at age 30, in graduate school.

 But sitting through a three-hour evening statistics class can make anyone try anything. Math and I are not especially good friends. No doubt one of the several factors that kept me from getting into medical school was my "D" in freshman calculus. To say that I worked even for that grade would be accurate enough, although I did not understand the work that I did.

 So there I was in statistics, front row center, successfully trying to stay awake. I have developed a system to do so. First, sit close to the instructor. His proximity and your self-consciousness about it will combine to keep the adrenaline flowing. Second, ask a question every 20 minutes, whether you give a rap about the subject or not. Framing the question in your mind will take time and getting up the nerve to voice it and waiting for the right moment will keep your attention. Asking the question itself gets you another rush of epinephrine, which will keep your heart rate up for at least ten minutes more. As you come down from the participatory rush, you can begin thinking of your next question, and start the process over again.  Incidental to all of this is the fact that you might also get a higher grade, being pegged by the lecturer as a "genuinely interested" student. No one has to know the truth.

 Of course, you also might learn something.

 One evening, my hand was aching and locking so that I wiggled and squirmed such that class members probably thought I had to go to the bathroom. I flexed my hand, stretching and curling it. I cracked my knuckles (silently) and bent my wrist. Hmm. It all felt a bit better, but nothing remarkable. This went on sporadically, stimulated by the dullness of standard deviations, two-tailed T-tests, and chi squares.

 Then I grabbed my wrist with my other hand, and turned it forth and back a bit. Repeat, opposite hands. I felt a pull, then a clunk, in my wrist. I grabbed a thicker part of my arm, closed my hand and curled my fingers around it, and it happened again.

 By now I'd nearly lost track of the lecture, just like everybody else, but for a different reason. I left off my experimenting and hastened back to notes and question-forming.

 So back to Newberry's, the five-and-ten, remember? It was a Friday evening, about 5:30. I was squeaking my way around the store, bargain hunting. By the cash registers, there were 8-track tapes for sale, two for a buck. In a corner shelf, way up the wall, were 8-track players for $29.95. At this time, late 1980's, 8-tracks were as rare as coelacanths, those prehistoric living-fossil fish that southern hemisphere native fishermen pull in from time to time.

 "10,000 Items for Under a Dollar!" proclaimed Newberry's garish chartreuse signs.  Probably.  Down one shop-worn, war-torn, metal shelved isle, there were some three-inch diameter hard rubber balls.  They were probably designed for playing fetch with your favorite medium sized dog.  They were solid rubber, unpainted, and three for a dollar.  I summoned up unknown instincts, took the plunge, and bought two.

 I still had the trigger finger problem. And, I had pocketed the experience from statistics class that grabbing something, curling my hand and stretching my fingers got me a clunk in the wrist and some relief. Holding one of the balls in my hand, I began to do the same procedure. I found that if I grabbed the ball with my fingers only (no thumb) I could roll the ball from finger tips to my wrist, bending my hand more and more as I went. Furthermore, if I braced my wrist with the other hand, I could choose where the hand and wrist actually bent and stretched the most. The tangible rewards were straightforward: a clunk in the wrist and relief in the hand.

 There are over 50 bones between your two hands. That's about one quarter of all the bones in your body. Your wrist is made up of many small bones, which a complicated robotic system of nerves, blood vessels, ligaments and tendons must pass by or through. The idea of physiotherapy for carpal tunnel syndrome and other repetitive motion disorders is hardly new, but such an approach for trigger fingers was never offered to anyone I've ever met.

 Bottom line was that it was completely successful. Over a period of not more than three weeks at most, all the triggering went away. No pain, soreness or stiffness. No locking. Just a 34 cent (plus tax) ball from Newberry's, used a couple of times a day.

 Newberry's has since gone out of business, but there's more. During my once-a- decade physical, I asked my doctor about a lump on my wrist. It was small and hard, on the outside wrist two inches south of my thumb. 

 "Ganglionic cyst," he said.

 "What should I do about it?" I asked.

 "Well, if this were the old days, I'd go get the biggest, thickest medical text book I could find." I was in the process of figuring it to be such an uncommon condition that he'd have to look it up.

 "Then," my trusted doctor added without cracking a smile, "I'd have placed your hand on the table and whacked your wrist with the book as hard as I could."

 I thought he was kidding, but he wasn't.

 "That was the time-honored, old-fashioned way to get rid of a lump like that," he concluded. "Would you like a referral to a surgeon?"

 Comparing my choices did not take me long.

 "Yes," I said.

 Prima dona doctors are here to stay, and I met yet another one after a very long wait in a very well decorated, and very crowded, series of waiting rooms.

 "HELLO!" boomed the great man with the million-dollar smile, upon entering the examination booth.  He introduced himself with flourish. He was not just a surgeon, but a surgeon specializing specifically in hands. I wondered: Could all of those people out there really been needing hand surgery?  Were there that many people in the state who did?

 Those were some of my mental questions, but the one I was actually about to ask was this: What are you going to do?

 He beat me to it, immediately telling me how he would set out my arm like this, use an anesthetic like so and cut off the blood supply here, and open an incision there. More details followed, which made me squeamish.

 "What will happen if I don't choose to have the surgery?" I said.

 "It might get worse; it probably won't get better," he answered.

 I was instructed to stop and schedule a date for surgery on my way out with one of a pack of office assistants, but I kept right on walking. I wasn't sure I wanted to go through all of that for such a non-life-threatening condition as a wrist lump.

 I continued to use my exercise ball a few times a week to keep any chance of the trigger finger from returning. 

 Time passed.

 One day I noticed that the wrist lump was gone. Nobody hit me with Gray's Anatomy, and nobody operated, either. The lump has never returned, no it never returned, and its fate is still unlearned.

 Newberry's saved my insurance company a pile of money, saved me two surgeries, and I get to keep the balls. Total cost of my therapy: 67 cents.

 Plus tax.




Nancy Watson Dean (age 90-plus) of Rochester, NY writes:


“I have just experienced such an amazing relief from this condition, which came upon me about a year ago, in the shape of hands tingling and hurting more often as time went on. I presently realized it was carpal tunnel, when shooting pains hit both hands.


“I knew Vitamin B-6 would help, and it did, but only a little. So remembering a paper by the Texas doctor, John Marion Ellis, M.D., who said that large amounts didn't seem to bother him in any way, I pulled out all the stops and increased it to 200 milligrams 4 times daily. I

also stopped eating salt. The carpal tunnel disappeared.


“I am thrilled, out of pain, and the hands are growing stronger by the hour.


“This is a very widespread ailment. Perhaps the maintenance and attacks of the condition are entirely individual: just find the amount that 'cures' you. Wouldn't the medics hate that idea!”



Copyright  C  2004 and prior years Andrew W. Saul. 

Andrew Saul is the author of the books FIRE YOUR DOCTOR! How to be Independently Healthy (reader reviews at ) and DOCTOR YOURSELF: Natural Healing that Works. (reviewed at )

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Andrew W. Saul


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