I dive into things, try the first thought that comes to my mind and then step back to evaluate. I started my hand project by building a few prototypes but they have been dismal attempts.
So I stepped back.
I stepped back and did two things. The first was to see if there is a product on the market for situations similar to mine — which there is — and the second was to investigate the exact science behind my injury. A large cotton harvester fell on me and now I don’t have some of the muscles on the right side of my body and can’t open my right hand. But what exactly happened inside my body during the accident?
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I began by finding a family doctor. In Canada’s publicly funded health care system, everything starts with your GP. They are the hub of all your medical needs and are required for referrals to specialized care: in my case a neurologist.
It was here that I had two tests administered on me. The first, a nerve conduction test. It consists of manually manipulating the nerves in the area of my injury and seeing how they react. The examination was a combination of being shocked up and down my arm at increasing voltages followed by having needles stuck in to the arm’s nerves.
Next was the MRI. During the scan, I had to lie on a bed while a noisy machine around me created a 3D image of my upper body. This wouldn’t have been a problem had I not been battling a cough at the time. Each images takes about 10 minutes and I needed to be as still as possible for the clearest picture. I tried not to think about coughing … so all I could think about was coughing.
What did I learn?
When the accident happened, the impact of the large cotton picker landing on me ripped one of the rootlets off of my spinal cord and overstretched 3 other nerves. More specifically, it tore one of the rootlets at the C7 section of my spine and the overstretched the nerves from C4 – C6. The overstretched nerves explain why I have little to no pec, lat and tricep muscles. The nerve attached at C7 is in charge of feeding the and extensors in the hand. (I am over simplifying so to learn more about the human spine, check out this Wikipedia article.)
I tore one of the rootlets at the C7 section of my spine which is in charge of feeding the triceps and extensors in the hand.
Our nerves are in charge of sending signals to our muscles to activate. The brain says “hey, do this,” the nerve relays that command and then the muscle does as asked. Like most humans, the muscles in our bodies only do the bare minimum required and if they aren’t told to do anything, they wither. Because of the tear and only being 3 years old when it happened, the tricep and extensors in my right arm have never grown.
What can I do moving forward?
I could get surgery. But the procedure would not be to reconnect the torn rootlet to my spinal cord, it would be be taking the bicep nerve in my right arm and attaching it to the tricep nerve (who’s rootlet has been torn.) The bicep nerve would be doing double duty and have to learn how to feed multiple signals throughout my arm. This is a highly specialized surgery and would require intense rehab. Because this accident happened so long ago, my neurologist adamantly discouraged this procedure.
So having learnt all of this, besides doing stretches and strength building exercises, the only remaining option is to continue working on building the assistive device I am calling “My Hand Project.”