Hands on Experience

My fingers seem to be tingling.

A lot.

It’s as though my hands have fallen asleep and are frequently stuck in the middle of waking up—that pins-and-needles sensation.

Oh, and there’s often decreased sensitivity too. It’s not that I can’t feel items as cold as an ice cube or as hot as a baked potato. I can feel those things, it’s just that the sensation is dulled. Like I’m wearing gloves.

And my hands are also apt to feel tight, like I need to crack my knuckles or give them a vigorous massage.

This combination of symptoms makes it challenging to fasten and unfasten the clasp on that Celtic silver heart necklace I inherited from my grandmother.

It makes it hard for me to sew up that nagging hole in one of my favorite sweaters—the red one that’s thin and works well with a number of outfits—because I am having trouble guiding the needle into the right locations, never mind the maddening task of attempting to thread the needle (for which I need assistance).

Peeling cucumbers and carrots for a salad and slicing onions into thin strips for a stir fry are tasks which now seem laborious and take a long time to complete.

“Is this a permanent state for my hands,” I wonder. Will my fingers and knuckles always feel as though they don’t fully belong to me? As with many of my relapsing remitting MS symptoms, will this constellation of symptoms ebb and flow over time, or are they indications of some kind of a transition in the disease?

I’m already anticipating that the next time I do that 9-hole peg test at my neurologist’s office—where he times me as I place plastic pegs into holes on a board and then return the pegs to their original spot—my performance will have slipped in comparison to several months ago).

I imagine what this situation would feel like if I was a surgeon, a pianist, or a painter, something where my livelihood depends on the full, expert use of my hands. My world and my view of who I am as a professional would be devastated. I would be devastated.

As a writer and university journalism instructor, a precise command of my hands isn’t mandatory for me to do my job well. I just have to be able to read, write and type on a keyboard (although, even as I type this very piece, my fingers feel foreign, making keyboarding harder than it used to be).

However, when I experience migraines, when I’m unable to concentrate, when I’m unable to read because my eyes ache and I am forced to wait (impatiently) for the symptoms to pass as they render unable to read or write, I can, perhaps, get a glimpse of what losing my finger function might be like for people whose hands are integral to their work: Terrifying.

For me, the difficulties I have with my hands is an inconvenience and a source of worry, something in which I’m struggling to try to find a silver lining.
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Meredith O’Brien

Meredith O’Brien is a Boston area writer and journalism lecturer. She is a die-hard Red Sox fan who has three college-aged kids and two noisy dogs. Her fourth book is “Uncomfortably Numb: A Memoir,” about her MS experience. Follow her on Twitter or visit her website.