Wrist surgery to finish my PhD

So... how did I end up here?

Blame having quick reflexes, perhaps. In January 2016 the shoulder strap on my (admittedly overburdened) laptop bag broke as I was walking. I had two laptops in it a the time, my own and a lab one. I reflexively tried to catch it, my thumb hooking onto one of the handles.  Unfortunately, rather than successfully catching the bag, I succeeded only in badly spraining my thumb and wrist.

The first round of medical treatment was a standard sprain protocol: My wrist was x-rayed (no apparent fractures), splinted, and I was advised to ice and elevate it. But unlike a standard sprain, the pain didn't subside--in fact, it actually continued to get worse. However, I was told that soft-tissue injuries take time to heal and that I should expect it to take a minimum of 6 weeks and up to 3 months before it was better.

It didn't get better. I would wake up in the middle of the night because my wrist and arm hurt so badly. The second opinion I sought out prescribed a custom-formulated topical painkiller and we started to discuss cortisone injections and physical therapy. The doctor said I likely had tenosynovitis, which is an inflammation of the tendon sheath. The first cortisone shot provided a great deal of pain relief and I started on physical therapy. A dozen sessions, with iontophoresis to administer dexamethasone treatments, improved things a lot and the physical therapy helped me regain strength and range of motion. By then it was Summer of 2016 and probably one of the greatest benefits to my wrist was taking some time off work to heal. By August of 2016 I was functioning fairly well without my thumb-spica splint.

Unfortunately, this status deteriorated as work demands resurged with the Fall 2016 semester. I was teaching an online course in addition to two 10-hour-per-week teaching assistantships. Most days I would work until the pain in my wrist became unmanageable; at night I would ice it and use a topical painkiller/anti-inflammatory cream. This continued through the winter session, as I taught another online course.

In Spring 2017, during a period of heightened work activity (12-16 hour workdays) my wrist got abruptly much worse--to the point where it was as bad as after the initial injury. My primary care doctor referred me to a physiotherapist, who told me that this particular condition--De Quervain's tenosynovitis--is associated with repetitive strain (sometimes following an initial traumatic injury). His prescription to me was to stop working. Stop using the computer. I was back in a wrist splint by this time, but the doctor told me I should be wearing a thumb-spica splint 24/7. [Note: I can't type while wearing a thumb-spica splint.]

The 2016-2017 academic year was supposed to be the final year of my PhD, so I told the doctor I didn't think not working was possible. He then said that we could try another cortisone shot, but if that failed, I would likely need wrist surgery to release adhesions from the original injury.

The second cortisone shot didn't work. Although the mandated rest and ice after it helped to decrease the swelling in my wrist, the pressure on the nerves in my hand got worse. I haven't had normal sensation in or use of my thumb since the second cortisone shot. I can only work a few hours on the computer before my wrist starts to swell; at the end of a normal-length work day I can barely use my right hand at all. I wear the a thumb-spica splint (pictured) all the time, except when I'm typing (and wear a wrist splint without the thumb support) or in the shower... My wrist is now chronically swollen. I barely made it through the end of the Spring 2017 semester. I made very little progress on my dissertation. Attempting to wrap up grading for the semester left me unable to use my hand/wrist for nearly a week.

What do I need?

I need to be able to stop working for a period of time (2-8 weeks) in order to have surgery and allow my wrist to heal properly.

Complicating factors

Complicating this? I have no summer funding. I am teaching one online course this summer, but only 3 students signed up, so I am making far less than I anticipated and it was already going to be a very tight summer. My summer course ends next week and I have no other income. My savings is already drained. I have been applying to all kinds of jobs, but there are a lot of things I simply can't do with this wrist injury (e.g., wait tables, bartend, type...). The injury itself seems to be a major turn-off/disqualifier for employers, even when I downplay its severity. I'm very worried that no one is going to hire me. I'm continuing to apply for jobs, but even if I get a job, all it will do is continue to aggravate my wrist and make it so I can't take time off for surgery.

My wrist and the financial stress (combined with teaching and other work-related responsibilities) have made it really hard for me to progress on my dissertation. I just really want to finish my degree so I can move on with my life. I already have a fantastic postdoctoral position lined up--I just need to finish my degree first. 

My request

95% of my current problems would be solved by enough money to live on while I have wrist surgery and recover from it. I do have insurance, so I'm only responsible for 15-20% of the surgery out-of-pocket. 

If you are able, what I am asking for is any contribution toward medical and living expenses. I would be so incredibly grateful for any help.

I love my research. I am overwhelmingly excited about the postdoc job I was recently offered (and that I can start once I get my degree). I really just need some help to get through this challenging period so that I can finally begin this next phase of my life and my career.

Thank you for reading this far. Anything helps!

P. S.

I am a real person. And I'm actually (normally) a fairly productive scientist and scholar!

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Tara Dennehy 
Amherst, MA