I’ve always had music. To listen to when I was very young and to play, later on in life. No matter what happened or how I felt, I could always turn to my guitar or my song-writing to ease or acknowledge my situation. I have been taking this for granted my whole life up until about 2 months ago, when I had, what I thought was a minor accident. I was cutting at a cable tie, to release a canoe from a roof rack, with a brand new and flame sharp, bright lime coloured knife, and accidently bore into my finger. My index finger on my left hand to be precise, and as any guitar player will tell you, probably the most important guitar playing finger. It’s the most active finger in chord playing, and also the one you bar with.
I could feel the knife scraping the bone, and probably pricked a tendon and I developed some scar tissue and ended up with tendonitis. So, what it is, is the inflammation of the tendon, and ironically enough this condition usually develops from over play or over use, and athletes and musicians are no strangers to this, but even after playing constantly for the most part of the last 20 years, mine develops from a cut. I’ve had it previously in my shoulder blade years ago, I know realise, but then I thought it was just a stiff muscle.
The trick with tendonitis is, it’s persists, and again, ironically enough, the body thinks it protecting you, and who knows, maybe it is, but the inflammation does not dissolve easily. And it is a strange and complicated situation to understand, I think even for Doctors and Physios. Some believe it’s best to move the finger, keep it moving, keep it working, others say, rest it. If you develop it from overplay, that might be the best thing, but if it is from a cut, and you have some tissue build up, the finger gets stiff if you do not move it. Out of my experience, it feels like it is a contradiction in itself. Moving the finger helps with flexibility, but it might increase the inflammation, resting the finger helps with the inflammation but it stiffens the finger. And then there is the issue of power, strength of the finger, same thing, the pain in the tendon wants rest, but to rest it weakens the finger. And I say all of this with one thing in mind, to still be able to play the guitar.
I’ve put all my eggs in one basket, because I saw musicianship, and mostly playing the guitar, as an extension of myself, but now I realise, it is an attachment to me, and not me. If I played the keyboard, this finger would not have been such a pressing issue, because the most definite point of pain and irritation lies in the bending of the finger, and that is exactly what this finger does on the fretboard. An extended finger will not get too angry, and a finger that could just hang around while its carrier works a computer the whole day could take a long vacation. But an acoustic guitar player. Eish.
So, what do I do? Freak out, first and foremost, if I don’t play, I don’t get paid. Spend a lot of money on advice and pills and sessions. Google and ask for just about every second person’s advice, and finally, calm down, and start taking the situation into more aware and patient hands and mind-set, my own. And the first thing to accept, is that this will take time, so patience is the most important thing. And I still struggle with it every morning when I wake up, and the swelling is back, because, see, throughout the day you can work the finger into a relaxed state and there are days when it feels like you’ve won it, but during the night, the little devil returns. Stop the chemicals if need be, or at least take breaks. My body did not react well to the meds I was given and the way I argued this was, I do not want to deal with even more body shocks than I already have, and the type of medicine that comes with chronic inflammation is strong and scary, to be honest. Get the right alternatives, cut the poison, alcohol I do not have a problem with, but, I love the sugar and the coffee. And apparently food is medicine, so I eat what has a good reputation for busting tendonitis.
Jogging seems to be the most effective ways to loosen up the finger and get the blood and energy flowing to a place in the body where it seems like a miniature world, where blood supply can be restricted.
Messaging the scar tissue away is my favourite, especially, when somebody else with magic hands gets in there.
I stay away from negative people, with bleak outlooks, who can can stifle my healing process, negativity and stress can have a real psychosomatic influence on me, and with an OCD prone mind like mine, mind/body health is really important. I’m accepting and working pro-actively at my challenge, positivity is the only way to go.
And taking about challenge, so here is my real challenge, re-inventing my guitar playing. I am learning to play my guitar without this finger,(someone suggested I turn my guitar around, as if that would be easy) I now have the option to rest the finger more, and so far, it has been an interesting journey with alternative tunings, electric guitars and slide style playing. So far I have a whole set that I can do without using my index finger. This makes me happy, and I am learning some new guitar tricks here.
All of this because of a cut. I have new respect for my index finger on my left hand, I cannot believe how I never realised how powerful this little body part is. And I also realise that we, as musicians need to take better care of our hands, call it hand hygiene. Now that I am actually aware of my fingers and hands, I can feel how stiff I am, and this was also a wakeup call to keep my hands flexible and healthy for the future.
And most importantly, I’ve had a small taste off what life can be like with a chronic disease. Waking up every day and fighting something alien in your body, or living without something you used to have before. I have great empathy and respect for people who face big physical challenges, and a sadness that healthy people take their own bodies for granted. Diseases can be humbling, and to be humble is to understand the gift of life.
On a lighter note. If this incident eliminates me as a performing Artist, I can always go study to be a Psychologist, and I’m sure I will qualify to get my tertiary education for free, thank you Mr Zuma, I’ll take a Huisie by die See with that, who needs bread if they can have cake!