For many people, an essential part of the day is spent at a computer typing. This daily act never seemed to be difficult for Katie Hetrick until January 7, 2017 when she broke three of her fingers on her left hand after she slipped on her gravel driveway.
After staying up all night trying to convince herself that her fingers were not broken, Katie decided to go to the emergency room the following morning. When the hospital discharged Katie, they instructed her to set up an appointment with a hand specialist.
Katie began frantically calling around to set up the quickest appointment with a hand specialist. Katie’s family physician got her an appointment with OrthoIndy hand surgeon Dr. Heather Williams.
The diagnosis-broken fingers
“Katie had multiple proximal phalanx fractures which were considerably displaced and angulated,” said Dr. Williams. “A single phalanx fracture can already compromise function in the hand, but several of them can be very difficult to recover from. She had tremendous swelling in the hand and an obvious deformity in the involved fingers.”
When the fingers are deformed or rotated, it is usually necessary to perform surgery in order to correct the alignment and apply the internal fixation.
“I went to Dr. Williams by default because she was the first person who could see me after I broke my fingers. Boy, am I glad she was!” said Katie. “I never felt like she was in a rush when I would have appointments with her. She took the time to explain why and what she wanted to do, instead of just telling me I had to have pins put in.”
Depending on the fracture pattern and degree of displacement of the fingers, the fractures are treated with either splinting, percutaneous pins or plates and screws internally.
Due to the severity of Katie’s fingers, pins were the only option for her. “In order to heal properly, getting pins put in were really the only option,” Katie said. “Otherwise, I would have had to have my hand X-rayed nearly every day to make sure the bones were healing correctly.”
Luckily, Katie’s bones did heal properly.
“Dr. Williams was always truthful about how things would go so I never had unreal expectations,” Katie shared. “She has a great bedside manner and I am very glad she was my physician.”
Katie wore a cast after her surgery for about a month. “After hand injuries, there is generally quite a bit of swelling and stiffness in the affected part and even the area around it,” said Dr. Williams. “Hand therapy is usually needed to help decrease the swelling and increase the range of movement and strength in the hand.”
Hand therapist use household items during therapy to help patients progress, so then they can get back to their daily activities.
Life after surgery
“Rehabilitation from hand fractures typically involve several weeks of supervised occupational or hand therapy, followed by weeks to months of home exercises to restore full range of motion and strength to the hand,” Dr. Williams said.
Daily life was a struggle for Katie without the use of her left hand. “The worst thing was that it prevented me from was typing. I had to learn how to type with just one hand. Aside from typing, I couldn’t open bottles, shower properly or apply makeup to my face.”
Katie’s fingers were stiff for a while after she had her cast taken off. However, after weeks of physical therapy, Katie said, “my fingers are just about back to normal.” Katie’s family and friends were impressed by how quickly she had regained the use of her left hand and fingers.
Katie attended occupational therapy for a little over two months, twice a week. “Being in the cast for over a month made my fingers extremely stiff,” Katie shared. “The therapy wasn’t dealing with the break, but dealing with the stiffness and swelling resulting from being in the cast.”
Now, Katie’s fingers bend almost as much as the right hand and with one more month of therapy, Katie is confident her left hand will be completely back to normal.
Katie’s next adventure is to travel more with her husband. The two recently returned from a vacation in Nova Scotia. Katie and her husband are already planning their next big trip. “I am glad to be able to go through security and not set off the scanners with my metal pins anymore,” said Katie.
To schedule an appointment with Dr. Williams please call 317.802.2419 or learn more about hand, wrist and arm treatment at OrthoIndy.