David Nelson Hand Surgery Greenbrae Marin hand specialist surgery of the hand orthopedics San Francisco



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Patient Statements
Tendon Surgery

This page has been written by patients of mine who had surgery and who wanted to share their experience of surgery with other patients who are thinking of having a similar surgery.

The statements are unedited except for spelling or grammar (if requested by the patient). No two patients will have identical experiences, so expect some variation. However, I thought that you would like not only MY perspective on what you might experience (I have told you this during your visit), but also THEIR perspective on what they actually experienced. If you have any questions, please let me know. - Dr. Nelson


Hi, I'm a 37 year old Father of 2, husband, hairstylist and hobby carpenter. My extensor tendon was severed by a piece of metal flashing one day. After a trip to the emergency room and a week of recovery, I was unable to extend my thumb. I called one doctor's office and was asked several times which insurance company I was with and if I could fax them a copy of the front and back of my card. It seemed as though my injury was far less important then them being assured of being paid. Told I had to wait 3 weeks on top of feeling like a $.

I decided to expand my search to another hand surgeon. At last I called the office of Dr. David Nelson. "Hello" he answered the phone. Thinking I dialed the wrong number, I said I was calling for Dr. Nelson. He said "This is Dr. Nelson." He explained that the office was closed but he happened to be in doing some paperwork, he then asked me what my situation was. After explaining myself, he said I should be seen Immediately and he would wait in his office for me. Needless to say, there was a noticeable difference compared to the other doctors attitudes towards helping patients.

He examined my hand and told me I needed surgery. He told me that my recovery would be hard, that I would be in a splint and I would have to baby it or I could rupture the sutures and need surgery again. I didn't care what it would take, my hands are my life. I told him how much I needed my hands and he told me that everyone says that, made sense although I still felt I needed mine more then anyone else. He was extremely thorough, superb attending to detail and seemed to care about me as a person (not what you hear about surgeons). Fast forward to surgery day, I was scared...even wrote the "In case I die letter" to my wife. Hell, I've heard about anesthesia...that's where people die. Well I must say that the staff at Marin General where amazing. It was like being at the Ritz, my surgery went well, I awoke (which is crucial) and my wife and I drove home. The next day was Saturday and again Dr. Nelson surprised me with a call to see how I was doing, "Numb" I said...no pain...yet. I stayed home from work for a couple of weeks, life seemed to stand still. I started physical therapy after 5 days...time seemed to stand still there as well. I would barely move my thumb and they would massage it and tell me how careful I needed to be. I got a rash on my hand from the brace, and I couldn't seem to get that funky smell to stay away for long. By week 3, I was going crazy. "See," I thought to myself, "I really do use my hands more than anyone because I am going crazy." By week 4, I started to feel a strange feeling that I realized was DEPRESSION! I don't get depressed, it was so hard to deal with. I couldn't change my baby's diapers, I was severely limited at work, no blow-dries, no shampooing and cutting took long time....I was borderline worthless, the only thing I was still proficient at was running my mouth...which thrilled no one. I didn't feel I deserved to be depressed, it was only my thumb, my cousin is a quadriplegic. I had no right to be depressed...which made me more depressed because I was again limited, couldn't use my thumb and I couldn't complain about it, I had no where to turn. No one picked up on it or offered any sympathy. Maybe because I didn't want them to think I was a big baby, man what is going on with me, I'm not like this.

Well around 6 weeks, I still could hardly bend my thumb, I was depressed but not allowing it and was starting to think I should have just dealt with not being able to straighten out my thumb. Then I had my visit with Dr. Nelson. As I filled out the questionnaire that Westine consistently hands out and he consistently reads, I found myself writing about being depressed...my last cry for help? As our appointment started, I heard myself apologizing for being such a wuss about the whole thing, then I felt some tears welling up. I was getting extremely embarrassed about showing my weakness. I also thought hmmm...surgeon...no emotions...this guy is going to walk out on my and tell me to suck it up.

Instead, he empathized with me and told me that it is normal to feel this way, how hard it was on me and so on. I now understood the whole thing about women explaining how they don't want to be fixed, just heard. Wow, all this from a quick cut...what a journey. To make a long story not longer, I am now at 11 weeks after surgery and I feel so much better. I'm not sure if it is just that after going through all that anything will feel better by comparison. I am using my thumb now and it is bending quite well. I can't say enough about Dr. Nelson, he is an amazing human. He has been there for everything and he only thinks about what he can do to better himself as a surgeon and a person. Damn, I'm feeling emotional as I write this, just thinking about how gracious he was/is to me. I say to all of you reading this, you are as lucky as I was, happening on to Dr. Nelson. He is a credit to his profession. Best luck, hang in there, you will heal and the bad times will soon only be a faint memory. Most importantly, you will have the use of your hands back...even though you don't need them as much as I need mine. kidding of course.

Dr. Nelson, you have my permission to post and/or print any part of this message if it will benefit you getting your word out.


March 26, 2004

Dr. Nelson responds: Thanks for the kind words, Ed. Tendon injuries are very difficult to recover from. They take a lot more therapy and and a lot more dedication on the part of the patient than they ever realize pre-operatively. Overall, however, the results are good.

The main theme of your message, Ed, should not be missed: recovery from a hand injury can be very psychologically draining as well. We really identify with our hands: they are how we work, make love, express ourselves, see ourselves. A hand injury is very threatening to all of this. It is important that the psychological issues be faced and discussed. They can only be made worse by ignoring them. The issues are different for each person, but some generalizations can be made. Men in our society have a hard time if they can't work, be the support for themselves and their family. It is common for men to become depressed, to feel that they are a failure if they can't work or if they complain about pain or the limitations in their life that a hand injury creates. They often get into fights with their wives, and don't even realize that it is their depression and their hand that is doing it, not their relationship. Women usually are better about talking about their feelings of helplessness or depression, and usually don't have the macho issues of "take it like a man". They often have more body image issues, but all these issues affect all of my patients to some degree. If we talk about them and get them out on the table, they can be addressed and usually resolved fairly easily. If we realize IT IS NORMAL to feel depressed, scared, angry with fate, in pain, fight with our spouse, etc, it is much easier to deal with it. Thanks, Ed, for the opportunity to discuss this. Dr. Nelson