Dealing with a major finger injury (thenar flap)

On July 24th 2017, I injured myself on a household appliance. The injury was quite severe – it was a fingertip crush injury and ripped off the top segment of my right hand index finger. I went to the hospital immediately and got a surgery for fingertip repair called a Thenar flap. At this time of writing, I am still recovering but the outcome is good, and better than what I could have ever hoped for.

I don’t enjoy sharing personal details of my life online, let alone information about my health and medical information. But during the first two months of my recovery, I couldn’t find many people sharing their story online about their experience and recovery. I really wished I could hear from other people who went through something similar.

If you’re reading this, and you are going through a similar experience right now, I hope this gives you faith that it gets better. It may be a few months or more than a year, but it will.

Here’s an album of pictures of my injury, surgery and recovery. Please be warned the images are incredibly graphic and have blood/injury.

If you’ve got a fingertip injury, you might have two surgeries:

  1. A surgery to attach the injury to a “host” – an area with undamaged healthy skin (the “flap”), so the injured part gets new skin. Typically the injured part is stuck in place until the flap attaches.
  2. A second relatively minor surgery to cut the flap from the host.

Timeline of my experience:

Week 0 to Week 4 (flap growing stage):

  • Significant amount of pain
  • A strong sense of frustration because one entire hand was unusable and my finger was bent and kept in place.
  • Complete inability to type since I could use only one hand.
  • Flap division at week 4

Week 4 to Week 8

  • I could use the other fingers but had to regain dexterity since they weren’t used for a month
  • Significant pain and stiffness but improved in 2 weeks
  • Could type very slowly but not enough to work. Would accidentally hit a key with injured finger leading to significant pain.
  • Bandages removed after week 8

Week 8 to week 10:

  • Injury still has a wound, no pressure can be applied but is healing
  • Trained myself to type with 9 fingers
  • able to perform basic tasks more comfortably

Week 10 to now:

  • No sign of wound/scab/etc but skin graft clearly visible. Pain if pressure applied
  • Very little sensation. The doctor said it takes a year or more for the nerves to re-attach. It feels like wearing a thick rubber glove.
  • Can comfortably type and work with 9 fingers. Causes extra strain on wrist to compensate and extra movement but that’s ok.

Even after healing, the sensation and usability will never be the same, and it’ll be permanently 1/3rd of an inch shorter, but I’m just glad I got what I could.

If you are going through something similar and want to talk about it, you can email me.

Update Dec 2019:

It’s been over two and a half years since my injury. Here are some long term healing notes. Here’s a picture :

  • I haven’t had any pain or discomfort of any sort since my finger healed.
  • There’s still a noticeable difference in the skin and the finger is slightly visibly deformed
  • When I use my hand to pick things up, for example, a spoon, I instinctively don’t use my index finger, gripping things by my middle finger instead.
  • Sensitivity is about 50% of what the other fingers are, I doubt it’ll get much better. But it’s good enough for most tasks.
  • The one thing that is a major discomfort is writing things using a pen for longer than 20 min, luckily, this is something I rarely do.

However, not a day goes by when I don’t notice it, and I’m grateful that I managed to get out of the situation without any significant negative impact.

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