My adventure with CuTS (part 3)
In the first few days after surgery I was mainly focused on discovering what I could and couldn't do one-handed. Eating wasn't too difficult, nor was brushing my teeth, but getting dressed and cooking breakfast suddenly became quite interesting. It was also a strange experience convincing myself to sleep only on my left side.
I started practicing again on the Thursday following the Monday surgery - mostly left-hand work, but a few minutes of slow, one-octave scales in my right hand as well. Moving the fingers was not difficult, but putting any kind of weight on them was another matter. I found that playing chords was very tricky, due (I imagine) to activating the muscles that my surgeon had manipulated to create the new tunnel for my ulnar nerve.
During the next three weeks I noticed steady, but slow, daily improvement. My range of motion constantly improved, my dexterity came back by the end of the second week, and by the end of the third week I felt quite comfortable practicing "light" technical exercises and repertoire (slow movements of Bach's Italian Concerto and Mozart's K. 333 were very handy). The tingling sensation in my fingers which had triggered this saga was now reduced to a nearly imperceptible sensation in the tip of my pinky.
By the fourth and fifth weeks, my full technique started to set in once again, as I could start to trust my arm weight enough to dig into some more virtuosic exercises. I still restricted myself to one or two hours a day, three or four days a week, with breaks every half hour or so. I also had several appointments with a physical therapist, who gave me several exercises (and silly putty!) to work on range of motion and grip.
By the time I had my follow-up appointment with my surgeon, I could barely notice any tingling anymore. He was very happy with my recovery to this point, and had no concerns at all about my returning to full use after six weeks.
As I write this, we are nearing that six-week milestone, and I have been practicing normally for the last two weeks (four hours on weekdays, breaks every 45 minutes or so). The tingling and numbness have all but disappeared, and I am playing more comfortably than I have for the past two years. I have planned next year's solo repertoire with familiar pieces that I have played for quite a while, so as not to overdo things during the remainder of the recovery period. No Prokofiev 6 this year, alas! Instead I'll be presenting the Bach-Brahms Chaconne for left hand alone, Mozart's K. 333 sonata, and the Liszt Sonata.
It has been a really exciting, worrying, invigorating, and ultimately satisfying journey to this point. I'll keep posting updates as things develop, and I will always be happy to talk about my experience, as injuries and recovery are still discussed far too infrequently in the music world. But that's a post for another time...
Finally, several thank-yous. To my surgeon, Dr. Anthony Echo, and his staff at Houston Methodist. To my wife, Sarah, and my kids for their patience and support. To my family, friends, and colleagues who have sent thoughts and prayers my way in the last few months. And most importantly, to my Lord Jesus Christ, Who created me and keeps me breathing through His mercy, and Whom I hope to continually serve through sharing His transcendent gift of music whenever and wherever I can.