Yesterday I went for a hike with the Santa Ynez Valley Women Hikers, a group started thirty-five years ago by the amazing Lloyd Mills. It was fun being with such a spirited group of women -- I must say there are some impressively fit walkers among them, and they’re not exactly young, either. It’s wonderful how well these ladies know the Santa Barbara backcountry and how seriously they hike, but at the same time how much conversation and laughter happens along the way, and how they look out for one another.
We did a popular walk in the Santa Ynez Mountains: the trek up Snyder Trail to Knapps’ Castle, which is really the ruins of a 1916 lodge that burned down in 1940. Stone chimneys, arches, and segments of walls and foundations remain, and there are beautiful panoramic views. It was a flawless spring day, just breezy enough to refresh our faces as we ascended; a few white clouds and wisps of jet trails contrasted with the bright blue sky, and the trail was sparked with wildflowers: poppies and lupine of course, but also fairy lanterns, globe gilia, purple fiesta flowers, sticky monkey, and patches of white popcorn. The earth had that warm dusty smell to it, and sometimes there was a vague hint of sarsaparilla, which I cannot explain.
One of the ladies was turning 60 and a few members of the group had gone up earlier with a birthday banner, lunch and cupcakes, and a jug of iced tea. And there is no climax to this story other than getting to the ridge-top and lingering there.
On the way down, though, I slipped on the gravel. I instinctively put my right hand down to break my fall and of course I strained my bony wrist. By evening it was hurting; Monte was advocating Advil and ice, and I was taking my usual approach, i.e., complain and do nothing. But I have been experiencing other issues with this hand lately and I was starting to feel a little vulnerable. The problem is a certain finger that sort of curls up into fetal position of its own volition and gets stuck there. Then I have to forcibly unsnap it, and it’s quite unpleasant, and I’ve been wondering what’s going on but hoped it would just go away on its own. It's a little limiting -- my flossing, for example, is suffering, but aside from the now-and-then pain of those popping moments, it seemed to be a handicap I could endure. Now, though, with wrist and finger hurting in concert, I decided maybe it was time to have my hand checked out.
And that’s how I came to discover that I have stenosing tenosynovitis -- trigger finger! I never before thought about the mechanics involved in the movement of one’s fingers. Turns out it’s an impressive little pulley system involving tendons that slide through a tunnel or sheath. If the tendon gets inflamed and thickens, or if the tunnel that surrounds it gets irritated and constricts, the tendon gets stuck at the mouth of the tunnel as the finger is extended. As it slips past that tight area, it pops. Ouch.
The condition can be indicative of something worrisome, like arthritis, or it can be caused by repetitive grasping action. (Sitting at this keyboard, I see clearly that I am a guilty of repetitive tapping, but I'm not a grasping gal.) Occasionally, though, a one-time trauma can cause trigger finger, and I should be ashamed to admit it, but I believe I traumatized this finger when I stuck my hand too snugly into the mail slot at the Lompoc post office. (Why, you might ask, did I stick my hand in the mail slot at all, let alone too snugly? There is no easy answer to this. It has something to do with a neurotic desire to ensure that the letter was safe and deep within.) Embarrassingly enough, my hand became securely wedged, and the more I pulled at it, the more tightly it was stuck, just like with those Chinese finger traps made of straw – remember those? Anyway, I don’t know why I’m telling you this…
“So…are you experiencing any other aches or joint pain?” asked the doctor. (Actually, she was a physician’s assistant, but good enough for starters.) I pondered the fact that I lately hesitate before sitting down on the ground because of the daunting effort I know will be required to get up again, but I decided this was too generalized a condition to mention here. I also happened to be preoccupied by the fact that now that I had taken my hand and its troubles to a health clinic, my wrist no longer hurt. I tried twisting and pressing on it to see if I could make myself wince. “Maybe you should leave it alone,” said the physician’s assistant. She recommended an Advil regime (sounding very much like Monte), and then instructed me to make an appointment for an x-ray and a visit to a hand specialist, where legend holds that one simple injection of cortisone will cure my trigger finger. I’m looking forward to that.
In the meantime, I feel formidable, even dangerous somehow. I’ve got my walking poles, and a big felt hat, and for now I've got a trigger finger too. You just don’t mess with a woman like that.