The Pinky Story

Back nearly to the trailhead on my hike to Upper Diamond Lake on the 1st of September, I slipped and fell. It was a fairly hard fall, forward. Going down, I landed left knee, left hand, right hand, and left shoulder, in that order, before I came to a rest. The bruise on my shoulder took over three weeks to fade, the swelling just above my left knee was gone after a few days, and there was no bruise. The heel of my right hand was slightly bruised; tender for a week or so.

My left hand took the brunt. The heel was badly swollen, and it took on a tinge of yellow bruising. Pinky, ring finger, and middle finger were swollen and stiff. The pinky moved okay, so I thought I didn’t break it. The swelling in the middle and ring fingers slowly subsided and the soreness went away, but the pinky wasn’t getting much better.

After three weeks, I called the doctor. Earliest appointment was five days out.

The doctor I’ve been seeing for fifteen years retired and I’ve only been to this doctor twice.

He looked at it, pressed gently here and there. I showed him the range of motion, talked about the level of pain.

“Do you want me to take an x-ray? X-rays are expensive.”

“Do I need an x-ray?”

“It won’t change my advice to you. I’ll send you to an orthopedic doctor. You should put the finger in a splint.”

It’s five more days before I can get in.

The doctor is Dan, and he has his assistant Ann taking the notes. The first thing Dr. Dan asks is, “Why do you have a splint on it?”

“Because Juenemann told me to.” Clearly, this is a topic for further discussion next time I see him.

They take some pictures. The pinky is broken, and it’s pretty much already healed and everything is in the right place. When discussing how many times he’d need to see me, I couldn’t resist using my standard joke about doctors and boat payments. “Just kidding!” I said. It was not well received. A minute later, I felt compelled to pile on, and suggest instead of a boat, it was a Porsche. “Just kidding!” On the way out of the exam room, I couldn’t help but see a big picture of a guy on a racing kart. Not Dr. Dan.

“I’ll send you the the therapist upstairs.” That’s seven days later.

I’ve done physical therapy twice now, with one more scheduled. Each visit starts him measuring my range of motion with a sort of protractor. Then I put my hand in a bag of molten paraffin. It was hot not quite to the point of pain. He massaged my hand for a while and when I took my hand out of the bag, it came out clean. I’m sure a lot of people are familiar with the stuff, but I found it … unexpected. Next, he massaged the finger some more, without the unexpected paraffin, but with the expected lotion.

He gave me half a dozen exercises to do, five sets of ten each day. On the first visit, I got a yellow sponge to squeeze. He also gave me some compression tape to work on the swelling, but didn’t tell me when or how often to use it. I did it overnight because I was exercising the thing all day.

The second visit to the doctor, I saw Val rather than Dr. Dan. I told her my therapy regimen.”You really need to keep moving it. Don’t use the compression tape. And I’m concerned with its movement this way.

At the second therapy session, I mention Val’s concern about its movement this way. The swelling needs to go down further, he says. He measures my movement. I’ve improved everywhere, all is good.

“Did I give you a yellow sponge last time?”

“Yes, you did.”

“You get a pink one this time.” And he showed me a couple of different ways I should be squeezing it.

Then I get my first bill for the therapy.

Evidently, my health insurance company doesn’t think my pinky has anything to do with my health. The first therapy session, less than an hour, will cost me $553. Insurance covers none if it. There’s no discount. At the next therapy session, I’ll ask for another sponge and decline to make any further appointments.

The finger is much improved. Range of motion is getting better faster now than it was.

Runing through the exercies with the therapist, the exercises made sense to me: a systematic flexing of all the muscles in the finger. Left to my own devices, had I never had the therapy sessions, I’d have exercised the finger. But I’d have missed half of them and I’m pretty sure I’d not have done them as often as recommended. Would it have ever healed properly?

That insurance doesn’t cover therapy for a broken finger boggles my mind. “Your finger isn’t worth a plug nickel to us. We’re not paying for it.” Our healthcare system is badly broken.

At least I have a cool $1500 sponge collection.