BVT for hand injury

“This is an A+ recovery. We’re not talking B or C here. Considering the extent of the damage, this is an A+ recovery.”

These were the comments from my doctor at my final appointment for the hand injury that occurred in April 2005. I knew I had done something seriously wrong to my hand, but when I turned on the light and looked at my thumb, twisted and sticking up from the back of my hand, I almost passed out. At first I thought I could grab it and twist it back into position, but I couldn’t figure out which way to turn it. I knew I’d have to go to the emergency room. It was 1:00 a.m. I had run to answer the phone, tripped, and flung myself around my home office-not a smart thing to do. I know people will always call back, but with teenage kids and on-call duty for work, I had to answer the phone. I hit my hand so hard against the desk that I dislocated my thumb.

The ER doctor shot the hand full of Novocain, twisted the thumb back into place, and wrapped the hand and wrist into a cast. He referred me to a hand specialist, saying that I most likely would require surgery to repair the torn ligaments.

The hand specialist did an initial exam and then scheduled an MRI. The injury was described as a severe skier’s thumb injury or ulnar collateral ligament of the thumb. During the exam there was no pain when the doctor pulled, twisted, and pushed the thumb around. I took that as a good sign. He said it was a bad sign, because it meant that the ligaments were completely torn and I would need surgery to repair them. If the ligaments are completely torn they will not reattach themselves and heal; they have to be sewn back together. Fortunately, he decided to wait and look at the MRI results and let the hand rest before doing anything so intrusive.

At work I told everyone my story. I’m glad I did, because a colleague, Mark McWiggins, suggested that I try bee sting therapy, and the sooner the better. I was game: the doctors were looking at surgery, and that was the last thing I wanted. Mark introduced me to his wife, Kate. She started out by using arnica ointment to help with the swelling. Then we set up an appointment for the first bee sting. From my childhood experiences with bees, I knew I would not have a serious reaction, so I felt okay about getting stung. I was more worried about my doctor’s reaction to this. I did not want him to notice the bee stings, so I decided to have the stings timed between my appointments with him and my physical therapy sessions, to allow the swelling to go down. In fact, once I had received physical therapy a couple of times and learned the exercises, I canceled many of the sessions. The therapist wanted me to come twice a week, but I only went every two weeks. I did the exercises every day, because I knew this was one way to get full functionality back in my hand.

Kate was wonderful and came to my house to do the bee stings. During the first session, she explained all the risks and warned me about all the discomforts. I thought, “yeah, yeah, let’s just do this.” So she picked a bee and did a test sting on the arm that was not injured. I was surprised-I’d forgotten how painful that stinger is and I was amazed at how much the spot swelled up. So I realized that I should sit up and pay attention to Kate. I’m glad she was being cautious and taking it a bit slow. She then decided to do micro-stings on the injured spot. I’m glad she did that, too. When she stung the injured area, it was like a hot needle going into the joint. She applied liquid propolis (Glenn Perry’s aqueous solution), and that immediately calmed the injured area. An hour later, though, the area was swollen and itching. It was worse than annoying, but I kept reminding myself that this was the healing process and better than surgery. The hand was swollen, hot, and itchy for about two days, and then things settled down.

Kate was willing to come out to my house to do the bee stings once a week, but I felt bad because of the distance and time involved. I got brave and told her that I could do the stings if she would provide some bees. She brought me about 20 bees in a mason jar, plus the equipment. As a result, I was able to pick the bees up, and I did one more round of stinging. I was so happy to have my own bees. I kept them in a nice spot in a kitchen cabinet, and there they stayed for about a week. I thought it would be easy to sting myself, but I kept putting it off, waiting for the right moment. It was a bit harder than I’d thought.

I finally decided to give myself another sting, because after each session there was a noticeable difference in my hand and I wanted to continue that healing. This was about six weeks after the injury. Both my physical therapist and my doctor were impressed with how quickly I was getting motion back in my hand and thumb. By now the idea of surgery had been dropped, and now the therapist and doctor were focused on getting as much range in motion back into my hand as possible, considering the injury and my age (50). The therapist measured my uninjured left hand and set those measurements as the goals for the injured right hand. So it was easy to see progress, and this gave me an incentive.

Back to trying to do a bee sting on myself. It’s not easy. It was easy to take a bee in the tweezers, but to set the bee on my hand and to know that he was going to sting me and that it would hurt was another matter. I knew that I was thinking too much about the process, so I switched gears and started thinking about the benefits and how much better my hand felt after the stings. With that in mind, I was able to set the bee right on the most injured area. It took a lot of concentration to remove the stinger with the second set of tweezers to try to do micro-stings, as Kate had done. It really is painful, and it does not get easier with each time. I wish I had the skill to do the micro-stings.

So I continued with the bee stings and the physical therapy sessions, timing the events so that the therapist would not notice the stings. She was curious about the slight swelling, but she was so impressed with the progress in the range of motion that she concluded that things were fine. She said she did not have an answer for the swelling. I felt bad about not being forthcoming with the information about the bee sting therapy, but I believed that the members of the medical community see things only one way and would not be open to an alternative approach. It was a lack of trust on my part and on theirs.

Many people had told me I would never get the full range of motion back in my hand and that I would always have some pain in my hand after this type of injury. I’m happy to be able to tell them that this is not true! Two months after the injury, the doctor gave me an A+ for recovery, and I’m so glad my right hand is back to normal. Yes, the ER doctor was good when he initially set the thumb. And yes, the hand specialist was good; I’m glad he took a conservative view about surgery. And yes, the physical therapist gave me good exercises to do. And yes, I was determined to get well. But the bees did a tremendous job, too.

- Cheryl Sykes
January 07, 2009