How I developed radial tunnel and lost the ability to play the violin

Five years ago, possibly owing to my Type A personality and absurdly high expectations on myself, I lost one of my biggest passions at the time, which was the violin.

Starting at the age of 16, I decided to pick up the violin again after a hiatus of three years. I auditioned and started taking lessons and playing in an orchestra at the Royal College of Music in Stockholm. I quickly picked it up again, and starting from playing in the furthermost row in Violin 2 in my orchestra, the following year I was playing in the front row beside the Concerto Maestro in Violin 1. The College also allowed me into their violin vault filled with priceless violins to pick one for myself. After going through several priceless violins, I picked a Danish violin from the beginning of the 1800s. That moment I chose my violin is a very special memory for me, which I can most closely describe as like when Harry Potter chose his wand from Ollivander’s Wand Shop.

Harry Potter chose his wand at the Ollivander wand shop

My teachers at school found out I play the violin, and so apart from the pieces I played at the College, one could see me with my violin at assemblies as well. For all these pieces I was expected to play, I practiced at least 4h a day, especially during concert season nearing the summer. People had very high expectations on me, and my expectations on myself even higher. I had my violin with me everywhere, we were inseparable.

Nearing the end of concert season right before the summer of 2011, I suddenly would start getting severe shooting pain and numbness/tingly feelings in my fingers in my right hand/arm. My doctor told me I needed to rest and was referred to a physiotherapist. But no. I was going to finish concert season.

I would hide my wrist splint prescribed to me by the physiotherapists every time I came to the College, so my teachers won’t know I’m actually not allowed to play. Eventually my arm got the best to me near the end of concert season, to the point I couldn’t move it for an entire month. I skipped exams as I couldn’t write anymore (I’m right handed and that was where I got injured), attended my medical school interviews wearing a wrist splint etc. It was very hard on me physically, but even harder on me emotionally. But somehow through it all, I managed all my concerts.

At the end of concert season, I told myself I need to rest my arm. I rested it until I moved to university in St Andrews. I started playing a little for myself there, but I still kept getting pain. Now the pain was persistent every time I used my arm. I lost the ability to play the violin.

https://www.instagram.com/p/JDtd-roN9x/?taken-by=fileea

The following years, I sought healthcare back and forth in the UK with no result. I started getting physiotherapy including ultrasound (or what my teacher calls whale song therapy) and was prescribed NSAID anti-inflammatories. I started getting tested in various ways such as X-ray, MRI, electrophysiological tests you name it. I was given different diagnoses all the time and met various doctors constantly. Carpal tunnel, tennis elbow, repetitive strain injury, tendonitis… but none of them were correct until I came back to Sweden after four years in the UK.

I was referred to see a hand surgeon who happens to be a lecturer at Karolinska (my friends remember him and said that when they came out of his lecture everyone wanted to be hand surgeons!) and within 30min of hearing my story and examining me, he decided that I was to be operated. I was finally diagnosed with the correct diagnosis – radial tunnel.

It has gone three weeks since my operation and right now I’m on my way to Stockholm to see my hand surgeon for the first time since. We’re finally removing the steri-strips (the protective layer applied on the surgical site during the operation) and I’ll be seeing my surgical scar for the first time. Or my battle wound as I’d like to call it. My violin battle wound.

Soon I can play the violin again. Soon I can return to one of my passions. Soon. ❤

girl with violin from the Royal College of Music in Stockholm

This is a photo of me and my precious violin from the Royal College of Music in Stockholm five years ago when my problems started. This was the last time I could properly play the violin. My violin was repaired in 1862 by a Danish instrument maker named G. Enger in Copenhagen.

Five years later, I’m finally getting operated on

Five years ago I had to give up one of my passions which is playing the violin. It was not only because I was moving to the UK, but also because of a chronic injury on my wrist/arm.

Throughout elementary school and gymnasium, those who knew me always associated me with the violin. I even had the nickname “Violin Sam.” I used to say that the violin was like an extension of my arm. It was a part of me.

I was 17 years old when I got my injury, originally diagnosed as a Repetitive Strain Injury. I couldn’t move my hand/arm for a month and was in so much pain. I was devastated. A part of me was gone all of a sudden. Nevertheless I still kept playing as much as I could, at least to finish the concerts as well as I could. On a positive note I was allowed to skip my Physics final exam because I lost the ability to write – and my grade was pretty much set anyway.

I learnt to live with the pain and occasionally visit doctors and physiotherapists. During my entire time in medical school, I have always used a computer to write my exams. I wanted to be a surgeon back in the day, but quickly ruled that out as I can’t do surgery if I get constant pain every time I use my arm. Goodbye surgeon dream, goodbye violin, goodbye writing and drawing. Oh well.

 

me with my violin from the royal college of music in stockholm

This photo was taken on the day I returned my violin to the Royal College of Music in Stockholm in 2011, a few months after my injury. This was one of the last times I played the violin.

Years passed, and during my first clinical placement at Manchester University, I spoke of my problems with one of the doctors who was my supervisor. Intrigued with my story, he suggested for me to revisit my problem and get examined once again. I followed his advice and went to a doctor.

The constant visits to doctors began. During the entire year I was in Preston, I was examined by various orthopaedic surgeons, underwent MRI, X-Ray, Neurophysiological tests you name it. They didn’t even finish examining me within a year. I was told they couldn’t find anything wrong. When I moved back home, I decided not to give up and continued my examinations here in Stockholm.

I was referred to see a hand surgeon who turned out to be an anatomy lecturer at Karolinska. Within the 30min that he met with me, he diagnosed me with an unusual condition called Radial Tunnel Syndrome. I will have a nerve decompression surgery at the end of April/May.

For an entire year in the UK if not longer, I had to undergo so many tests when the diagnosis could’ve been made within a few minutes.

In other words, I could’ve been okay by now.

NHS, after being both a medical student and a patient in your system, I don’t doubt the abilities of your doctors but rather the system itself. I agree with the headlines – NHS, it’s time for a reform.

I can’t wait to return to playing the violin once again! 🙂