Messy Faith,  Music Ministry,  Personal and Spiritual Ramblings

My rogue pinky: lessons in gratitude, music, my gifts, and kitchen safety

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On November 27 of 2021, I made a stupid decision that forever changed the course of my life. I picked up a butter knife with the intention of separating two chicken breasts that were frozen together. It was nearing dinner time and we had been engaged in festive activities all day. I was trying to put a rush on dinner. I pushed too hard and my hand slipped right along the edge of that butter knife, slicing the inside of my pinky.

I’m no stranger to accidents, even stitches. It was a little cut. Yes, it was deep. But what clued me in that something was seriously wrong was when I started feeling symptoms of shock – the shock I used to feel back when I was incredibly slim and had to get blood taken: woozy, lightheaded, blood pounding, and nauseated. I had to lie down.

Russ and I both looked at it, bandaged it up, and figured it was okay. But by the next morning, we decided that 1) I couldn’t play the piano for the service and 2) I should get my pinky looked at.

The next day, the doctor at urgent care told me that I didn’t need stitches, but that I should follow up with a hand specialist. Feeling my fears alleviated, I took the overdue tetanus shot and promised to follow up with the hand specialist.

HPI she comes in after inadvertently slicing her right little finger on a butter knife. She cleaned it last night and her husband applied over-the-counter liquid skin closure. She is not had any trouble with it but does have concerns and that she cannot completely flex the finger. She denies numbness or tingling. She has not had a tetanus for as long as she can remember.

My rogue pinky: lessons in gratitude, music, my gifts, and kitchen safety

Assessment 1. Laceration of right little finger without foreign body without damage to nail, initial encounter Plan Tetanus booster was administered. I have made a referral to the orthopedic hand section for further evaluation and treatment recommendations. She is to do no strenuous activity and continue to use the finger passively.

I wish I had known then what all those little acronyms mean, particularly that DIP one.

I don’t know why my next appointment wasn’t until December 9th, or why my hand specialist appointment wasn’t until December 14th. Maybe it was a scheduling issue, or maybe I put it off because it was a busy time of year. Regardless, here’s what my primary PA-C had to say:

1. Hand issue
-cut right pinky finger with butter knife on 11/27/21
-went to UC the following day and cleaned the area and gave Tdap
-still having pain and nerve issues
-thinks she hit a nerve or muscle
-went deep
-no numbness
-some tingling
-whole hand was tingling while coloring
-not really painful
-pain on the tip of the pinky
-church pianist
-able to play without pain
-lack of control in the right pinky while playing
-trouble with accuracy
-has big concert coming up

That “big concert” was our Christmas Worship Service, set for December 19th. My PA-C prescribed me Gabapentin and sent me home with more referrals – this time to OT:

2. Decreased range of motion of finger of right hand
Acute, new problem with unclear outcome. Unsure if patient damaged a nerve or tendon. Referral to OT to help with ROM and accuracy since this is patient’s biggest concern. Will try on nerve medication. Dosing instructions and side effects discussed. Encouraged supportive care of rest, heat/ice, antiinflammatories, etc. Follow-up as needed.

Between appointments, I continued to play for services. The first Sunday, I tried to use my finger #4 (the ring finger) in place of finger #5 (the pinky) where possible. This meant eliminating most octaves. When I attempted octaves, it was nigh impossible to play accurately. The flat pink would inevitably hit the key next to it, causing dissonance. It was mentally challenging eliminating notes on the fly, but I was still able to play. Not many people would be much the wiser.

Then I began experimenting with ways to keep the pinky in the flexed position. The winning approach was a tiny hairband twisted around the finger in two places, with the tension pulling the pinky into a curve. This was bad for circulation, obviously, but it seemed to almost work. It gave me both a curve AND flexibility. The band just didn’t stay in place well.

Finally, I got into the hand specialist on December 14th, where I received devastating news:

We informed the patient, that considering the symptoms, the clinical examination and the diagnostic is

Laceration of right little finger FDP zone II

We provided treatment options at this point, we discussed the benefit advantages and disadvantages of surgical and conservative treatment and considering that the patient is pianist we recommended primary repair of the FDP, but patient decline the proposed treatment and was referred to OT to see the possibility of fabricate a thermoplastic ring split to keep the DIP in flexion when playing the piano

Patient understands that after 3 weeks the possibility of primary repair become more difficult or not possible, we also discussed about other options of treatment if she decided not to have surgery now such as tendon graft or DIP fusion

In English, here’s what this meant:

I lacerated a flexor tendon in my pinky. This tendon is responsible for flexing (tightening) the joint of the pinky closest to the pinky tip.

I explain it to people this way: Stand up and put your hands gently by your sides in a relaxed position. Look down at your hands (or in a mirror) and you will see that they hang naturally in a slightly curved position. See Stock Image Dude – Exhibit A:

The flexor tendon is what makes it do that. More specifically, the FDP (flexor digitorum profundus) – the blue-green tendon below:

pinky flexor digitorum profundus FDP

Even though I cut it at the base of my pinky, the resulting damage is that I can no longer bend my pinky at the knuckle closest to the fingertip.

If you look at my right hand, you can see my pinky sticking out, rather than naturally flexed.

The hand specialist gave me more information. This tendon is part of ZONE 2 of flexor tendon injuries, historically known as “no man’s land” due to its poor surgical outcomes. In other words, it’s the hardest part of the hand to operate on. Surgery in ZONE 2 is also best undertaken within hours or days of the injury, not weeks. When I learned this news on December 14th, I was over two weeks post-injury, and was supposed to play for the upcoming Christmas Worship service on the 19th (in 5 days). The specialist told me that there was about a 25% chance that the surgical repair would be a success, about 25% that it would make things worse, and about 50% chance that it would need multiple corrective surgeries to fix the problem. The other option was to fuse the joint in a flexed position.

I didn’t like either of these options.

I went out to my car, called my mom, and sobbed. I didn’t know what to do, but the sinking gut feeling I had in my stomach anytime I thought of surgery terrified me. It was just too risky.


I tried to be positive and hopeful. I had an appointment scheduled with occupational therapy in 2 days – December 14th. I still didn’t quite “get it” – the extent of the injury. I knew that the tendon was cut, but I thought that maybe with occupational therapy, I might be able to strengthen the muscles AROUND the tendon and still get it to work.

The OT quickly dispelled that notion. Nope. It’s cut. There’s nothing you can do. I then explained to her that I was a pianist, what I needed from my finger to play, and what I had been doing with the hair tie. I asked her if there was a way I could splint the pinky when I played. She got up and gathered some materials and went to work, trying a few different things before fashioning a custom orthotic out of low-temperature plastic material that she moulded to my finger.

pinky brace

She then wrapped the split around my pinky using Coban tape. I pressed imaginary piano keys on the table between us, and it held the correct position. I think this will work!

That turned out to be the best $35 co-pay I ever spent in my life. When I got home, I played through a song and my brace did its job – it held the pinky in the right position. Granted, it wasn’t as good as a functioning flexor tendon, but it was good enough.

pinky brace with coban tape

That was over two years ago, and I’m still playing weekly. I still struggle with accuracy, particularly with octaves and big chords. This means I have to practice more and be painstaking in my technique. The result has been better, more refined technique. And because I’m practicing more, everything else has improved – accuracy, confidence, and touch. I’ve tackled harder and harder scores, (thank you Dan Kreider) and it’s rare that I have to alter from what’s written because of the injury. In short, the injury has forced me to be a better pianist.

pinky brace with coban tape
Photo Credit: Renate Reiner

Is it a pain to have to wrap a brace around my finger? Sure. Although I have figured out how to wrap it in such a way that I can slide it on and off my pinky instead of having to re-wrap it each time. I get about a week’s worth of wear out of it before it’s either too loose or too dirty to continue.

When this happened, it occurred to me that elite level gymnasts wrap and unwrap their wrists and ankles multiple times in a single competition. If Simone Biles can handle that, I can surely handle wrapping my pinky once a week! 

Last summer, I was even able to purchase a new-to-me piano – a Baldwin (which is the same brand I play at church) – from a local piano tuner. It wasn’t an opportunity I was seeking, it just came up when he came out to give my Kohler and Campbell an overdue tune. I had received that piano as a gift from my parents when I was 14, but there were some chipped keys and at least two strings that needed replaced. Buying this used piano cost less than the work mine would need to keep it in good condition.

pinky brace coban tape piano
This picture was taken in my piano tuner’s studio, the first time I had a chance to play it!

I continue to be pain free when playing the piano. When I go more than a few days without playing, I do experience stiffness around the top joint, which seems to be easily remedied if I remember to manually flex the joint I can’t bend.


The injury impacts my daily life in a few minor, annoying ways. For example, I never realized how important the pinky is in washing one’s hair! Also, because my pinky regularly sticks out, I do occassionally jam it on things – particularly when opening doors.

I’m a lot more careful around knives and sharp objects now. I’m also more careful using objects not intended to pry things apart in the act of prying things apart. I slow myself down when I realize I’m doing something risky. I ask Russ for help, even for tiny things I probably could do. It’s just not worth risking another fall, fracture, or cut.

My symptoms of carpal tunnel have worsened drastically, with tingling and numbness overnight and upon waking, pretty much every night. I try to wear wrist braces, but I take them off in my sleep. I also experience numbness when using writing utensils, such as when I’m writing notes or letters or doing Bible coloring. I have to constantly shake the numbness out, which is a pain. Thankfully, the numbness seems only limited to those settings, and I have no numbness when playing the piano or typing. (I have no idea how long this blessing will last.) I honestly don’t know if it impacts my typing accuracy. I type as I did before. I guess that the configuration of a computer keyboard doesn’t need as much flexing of the pinky. Also, you can’t backspace when you are playing the piano like you can when you type!

I forget about my injury most of the time that I’m not playing the piano. Occassionally, I’ll see a photo or video of myself where the injury seems (to be) painfully obvious and awkward. My pinky just sticks out funny, and that bothers my vanity.

When I’m eating or drinking a beverage, though, I just look posh. (At least pretending so makes me feel better!) Trust me, I’m not doing it conciously. I was thrilled to know that they made a tea just for me, though!

Pinky Up tea

Recently, I’ve had the opportunity to take Ezra to several local symphony orchestra concerts at a reduced cost under a student membership. Watching professional musics play Beethoven and Dvorak has been rapturous, but seeing all those functioning pinkies leaves me a little wonderstruck. It occurs to me that if I were a string player, I don’t think my current solution would work. I still would not have enough tension in my pinky to hold down the strings against the frets. I breathe another prayer of thanksgiving.

I’m thankful that I didn’t risk the surgery. I’m thankful that we found a solution that has allowed me to keep doing what I love and to keep worshipping using the gifts God has given me. I’m thankful for occupational therapists and Coban tape. I’m thankful for the lessons that this experience has taught me. I’m thankful that this has made me a better pianist.

For those few brief days, I had to accept the reality that I might have to stop playing. I’m still kind of in awe that I’ve been playing the piano for over two years now with a cut flexor tendon. I don’t think I ever sit down to play – either at home or at church – without feeling gratitude.

Often at church I receive compliments after a worship service. I often reply with, “It’s truly a gift to be able to do this.” I don’t say this to be demure – I say it because it’s true.

pinky brace with coban tape
Photo Credit: Renate Reiner

BONUS: Here’s a throwback to when I was skinny, wore jean jumpers, and had a functioning pinky!

functioning pinky flexor tendon

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