While preparing for an Eastertime visit to Israel two years ago, my friends asked if I was afraid of perishing in a terrorist attack. While that alarming scenario had crossed my mind, I gave an emphatic, “No!” I was much warier of the erratic behavior of my wrists.
Six months earlier, while performing at a concert in Devon, England, the music folder I was holding suddenly seemed to contain 25 pounds of lead, rather than a dozen pieces of paper. As I sang, my left wrist started to spasm, my thumb and index fingers tingled. I worried that I would drop the folder and disturb the performance. These concerning physical sensations continued throughout the rest of the choral tour, and upon returning to Helsinki, I visited my doctor at the public clinic.
After a physical examination of my hands and wrists, Dr. Toivanen told me she suspected carpal tunnel syndrome, a medical condition that results from compression on the wrist’s median nerve. The tingling I was experiencing, especially in the morning, was a telltale sign. The repetitive movements I’d been making for years as a pianist and writer were the most likely culprits. Oh, no! My mind went numb thinking of my beloved piano and the memoir I’d been working on for years that I’d hoped to publish. She ordered blood tests to rule out rheumatoid arthritis (all negative) and nerve conduction studies to gauge how quickly impulses traveled through my nerves. Those showed moderate impingement on the right side, which seemed odd, as the left wrist was more bothersome.
Dr. Toivanen promised to put me in the queue to meet with a hand surgeon but told me it could take “three months” for an appointment. In the meantime, she recommended using splints at night to keep the wrists in a neutral position while sleeping. She also insisted I limit my time on the piano and computer, sounding the death knell to this musician-writer.
As I waited in the queue, I noticed that my hand grip was weakening; even putting a cup of tea to my lips was a strain. Likewise, I could only use my iPhone if it was propped up or carry groceries if they were in my backpack. Thankfully, my husband pitched in and took over all household duties. Realizing this couldn’t continue, I visited a physiotherapist, but the exercises did not help; nor did acupuncture treatments.
As weeks painfully went by without any relief, I sought a second opinion from a hand surgeon on the private side. After examining me and my medical papers, he advised me to have carpal tunnel release surgery as soon as possible—on both hands. He explained that during the procedure, he would make a two-inch incision on both wrists and cut the carpal ligaments, freeing up more space in the carpal tunnel.
The thought of having my wrists cut open made me lightheaded, as did his “reassurance” that I would be awake the whole time. I left his office feeling helpless and hopeless, especially because, like all medical procedures, risks were involved. Clearly, I needed surgery, but did the benefits outweigh the possibility of permanent numbness and nerve damage? The thought of not fully recovering was a huge concern. Would I ever play a Chopin Nocturne again? Should I delete my memoir and find another creative project?
As our trip to Israel approached, so did my appointment with a hand surgeon in the public clinic. She echoed the same sentiments as the private doctor and entered me into the surgical queue with a target date in August. Since that was four months away, I decided to shelf the decision regarding surgery until July. In the meantime, I would focus on making the best of our trip to the Holy Land, even if my wrists ached nonstop.
I had first visited Israel in 2002, while participating in a three-week Liturgical Festival with the Budapest Academic Choral Society (BACS). At the time, I was living in Hungary and jumped at the opportunity to sing Bach, Rossini, Mozart, and Fauré in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv during Christmastime. In between rehearsals and concerts, my singing mates and I explored Jerusalem’s Old City, marveling in the riches of the Arab markets; collected olive branches in the Garden of Gethsemane (before it was fenced off); and lit candles at the Abbey of the Dormition. After the tour ended, I dreamed of returning one day with my future husband—whoever he was. Thankfully, “he,” my husband Otto, was also enthusiastic about celebrating Easter 2019 there.
When we arrived at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre on Easter Sunday morning, it was already packed with pilgrims from Ethiopia and Tunisia, Copts from Egypt, and Catholics from Rome and Poland. Orthodox Christians from Russia and Greece waved palms, as they celebrated Palm Sunday one week earlier. In the following days, we crisscrossed the Mount of Olives multiple times, stopping at the Tomb of the Virgin Mary at its base, then huffing and puffing our way up to Dominus Flevit Church, where Jesus had wept over the fate of Jerusalem before entering the city.
Near the Church of Saint Peter in Gallicantu (“cock’s crow”), erected on a steep hillside over the supposed spot where the Saint had denied Jesus three times, we trod on the ancient rock pathway Jesus would have walked on as he left for the city. After stopping at the Coenaculum, site of the Last Supper, we dined on lamb and meze platters at my favorite restaurant in the Armenian Quarter.
As the week progressed, my wrists were improving considerably, although I barely noticed, the process was so subtle. I no longer needed my splints at bedtime; I could carry the breakfast tray to the table by myself. I didn’t realize the extent of my miraculous recovery until Otto and I returned home, and I received a phone call from the hand surgeon’s office. There had been a cancellation. Would I be able to come in for the procedure two days later?
Caught off guard, I held the phone in one hand and flexed the other. “I don’t think I need surgery at the moment,” I told the stunned nurse. “I can’t explain it, but my wrists are much better since the trip.” She told me let her know if/when my condition worsened. After the call, I sat back in my chair and tried to remember the exact moment when my wrists had healed. Was it during our visit to the church built over the spot of Joseph’s carpentry workshop in Nazareth? Or Lazarus’s Tomb in Bethany? (https://lindajamsen.com/2020/04/26/the-light-in-lazaruss-tomb/) How about that dip in the River Jordan? I wracked my brain but could not pinpoint an exact moment.
Now, two years later, my wrists are still as flexible as they were upon returning from Israel. I am playing piano again, and my memoir, Odyssey of Love, will be published in June—something that had seemed impossible earlier. (You can read about my book here: https://lindajamsen.com/odyssey-of-love/) While celebrating Easter this year, now the second during the Covid-19 pandemic, I have been revisiting the Holy Land in my mind. For me, it continues to be a sacred place where miracles still happen. This Easter Monday, it feels right to finally get my words of gratitude down on paper, especially now that I can.
Happy Easter Monday!