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Hand therapy - Susan Akers

When it got to the point where she really couldn't lift the pinky and ring fingers of her left hand, and the curious bumps that had appeared between her fingers were getting bigger and bigger, Susan Akers decided to have surgery.

Called Dupuytren's contracture, the syndrome with no known origin is supposedly hereditary among Northern Europeans - mostly men. Essentially, the skin becomes entangled with the ligaments and pulls the fingers down. The syndrome usually appears in both hands. For Akers, it was just her left hand. But it was bothersome enough that before she left Connecticut for Pebble Beach, she chose to have surgery.

To allow her fingers to move freely once again, her doctors in New York cut tissues in her hand that had become tangled, removed the nodules, and placed her hand in a splint to heal. But before the procedure, when the anesthesiologist gave her an injection in her shoulder, it hit a nerve, causing a kind of electrical feeling to shoot down her arm and into her ring and pinky fingers.

It was a feeling that would come and go all the time, all day long and into the night.

Six months later, Akers, who has been working with hospital occupational therapist and certified hand therapist Amy Britton, says it's finally under control.

"They have these great exercise machines," says Akers, 68, "that have helped rebuild the muscles in my hand, which had atrophied first because I wasn't using them, second because of the surgery, and third because of the nerve trauma. I also put my hand in a tub of warm wax so Amy - who is terrific by the
way - can massage my hand and soften the scar tissue. Amy has really kept me going. And that's so important in rehab because you just feel like crying sometimes."

Akers also remembers a day when she felt as if she wasn't making much progress and her spirits were buoyed by a kind gesture. "One of the last times I went to the hospital, I was asking 'Why is it that every time I take a deep breath, my fingers tingle?' I felt like I was going backward. And then a man (Alain Claudel, director of Rehabilitation Services) came out of his office across the hall, got a book, read it to me, and copied the page that explained what was happening. He didn't have to do it, but he did. It was so caring."