Brooke of the Broken Hand

I only gave this post that title because it sounds like the name of a terrible martial arts epic.

But in truth, my right hand is well and truly busted. I did …. something to it while I was learning a Rachmaninoff prelude during January and February. By the time we went to Mexico, the big joint on my middle finger hurt and could not close into a fist.  The injury had happened so gradually, I didn’t even realize it was happening.

I had a strong suspicion as to what caused it — the fast, free-form section of the Rach. I decide to stop playing that one section.

It did not help. I began to wake up at night, my finger aching.

I have to tell my teacher, Jensina, that I should probably stop the Rach altogether. We are both very upset. So much work for nothing.

The quarter ends, the pandemic begins. I’ll take a break from piano between quarters, I think. No practicing, no advanced repertoire at all. Just easy stuff, church music on weekends. I can do this for a week or two.

It does not help. Suddenly all church meetings are cancelled. I order a finger splint off Amazon. It made the joint ache more, pulled into a stiff, unnatural position. I put the splint away.

Rest, rest. Surely this will all end soon. The kids are home from school. I begin a new knitting project to relax; in the middle of a row, my hand suddenly cramps and seizes up. No more knitting, then. Very little piano. A few hymns on Sunday. But even this causes the tendons to ache, that buzzy pain that feels like a touched nerve.

I begin to Google “left hand piano repertoire.” It leads to a lot of boring waltzes.

I talk to Jensina on the phone. She thinks I should rest the hand until at least April 15 — six weeks! She also recommends a Scriabin etude that can be played with left hand only. I begin to learn it, my right hand curled uselessly in my lap, like a bird that flew into a glass window and stunned itself.

All the stores are closed.  During General Conference, I attempt to take notes, writing by hand in a notebook, and a dull ache takes over, shooting pain up to my elbow. I bury my hand in ice. More rest. Rest. Can’t go to the doctor now, I’ll get sick. Brian begins working from home. I order special little ice packs that can Velcro around my fingers.

A week later, we take a drive to a favorite bakery, and when I go to write the check, sharp shooting pains run down my fingers. I flinch and try not to show any discomfort as I quickly sign the check and pass it through the window to a cashier sitting behind a pane of protective Plexiglass. We are all wearing masks.

No more handwriting, then. How will I do my music theory homework?

First Zoom lesson with Jensina. The Scriabin is coming together. What a great opportunity — every pianist wants to be ambidextrous! Have I tried taping my fingers together? I buy reams of medical tape.

Eleanor, depressed from the school closures and cancellations, begins to refuse food, staying in her room during breakfast and lunch.

Some time later, the same sharp pain occurs when I type. When I scratch my leg. When I casually flick my fingers over a touchpad.

My right hand should do nothing, then. No music, no writing, no knitting, no art. No kneading bread or pruning roses. My right hand is quarantined.

Brian offers to be my scribe for music theory but I find this impossible and write it myself anyway. More ice. Brian researches tendonitis and discovers that ibuprofin inhibits collagen repair. No more painkillers. I buy a big bottle of collagen supplements and swallow them down, one horse-choking pill at a time.

Eleanor does not eat for three days straight. I make panicked calls to the pediatrician and set up appointments with a therapist and a nutritionist.

I also, finally, set up a telehealth appointment for me.

“What was the piece that hurt your hand, anyway?” my PCP asks.

“A Rachmaninoff prelude,” I reply. Her eyes widen. At least the one saving grace in all this is that it at least sounds impressive.

She sent me off with a referral for a hand specialist. I make the call right away.

I need to wait three weeks until my appointment.

The left-hand Scriabin is joined by a left-hand Gliere and a left-hand Czerny. I’m playing full-throated music with only my left hand. My family says they wouldn’t be able to tell if they didn’t already know. William hums quietly along while he does his homeschool assignments. But the music doesn’t satisfy me. It feels like a parlor trick. Not art.

I miss my repertoire. Playing inspirational music on Sunday. Church hymns on the organ. Jazz standards after dinner in the evening. Disney and showtunes for my kids to sing along with. Choral pieces with Brian.

A few weeks ago, I accidentally flipped my music bag open, revealing the Hayden and Bach and Chopin that used to be my meat and bread. How big my sounds were, how tender and passionate. I immediately remembered playing these pieces in the college practice rooms, in my teacher’s office, on the baby grand in the performance space. Impossibilities. All of it. It felt like a bag of ghosts had fallen into my arms. And truly, isn’t that what music from 200 years ago is, anyway? Something gone, that doesn’t exist until we think about it, from a time long, long ago. And also from the time of Before. And there’s no point in running your tired, overwashed, taped-up fingers over the things you simply cannot have.

I slowly put the music back and zip the bag firmly closed.



2 thoughts on “Brooke of the Broken Hand

  1. Losing the function of my hand was truly demoralizing. I had had no idea how much I had depended on it. Even now, semi-healed, it is awkward and I am aware of it in ways that I never was before.

    I hope you get answers, Brooke!

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