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I am attempting to write a story and am stuck on a question of medical significance.

Can anyone describe a health issue for which a proper treatment might require bandaging / immobilizing one or both hands for a period of not more than two weeks? Ideally, the affected appendage would be basically unusable during the recovery period.

I realize that this is vague, but that is because I do not know what I am talking about.

Bonus points if you can get it by doing something stupid or otherwise embarrassing.

Thank you in advance for taking the time to think about this.

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    I have a few thoughts, but first can you clarify how immobile? Can they wiggle fingers or does it need to be completely still? – DoctorWhom Sep 16 '17 at 2:19
  • @DoctorWhom Wiggling fingers might be acceptable, so long as it's not possible to use the hand for any of the things for which one normally uses it. Should be highly inconvenient. – gorcq Sep 17 '17 at 3:21
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Fractures would be a good reason to be fully immobilized in a cast (after the first 5-10 days in a splint to allow swelling to go down) but they usually take at least 4-6 weeks to heal enough to remove a cast/brace (one sources says maybe 3 for a minor fracture in a finger).

For your character to have around 2 weeks of immobilization, a few ideas:

Suggestion 1: A grade 2 (moderate) sprain is an incomplete tear of a ligament and usually involves a week or two of immobilization with a brace. There are recommendations to start physical therapy early on, so it would be removed for short periods of time to do gradually increasing exercises to strengthen and rehab. Rest, Ice, and Elevation are the other treatments involved. You can sprain things by over-extending past its usual range of motion. To sprain the back of the wrist/hand your character could fall onto the hand when it's flexed (the opposite direction of the photo in that link). I've seen it happen from a motorcycle fall. At 2 weeks they may not be at full function, however, they may still need to continue physical therapy for a while and be careful.

Suggestion 2: If your character sustained a partial thickness (second-degree) burn on their hand/wrist, the healing time is around 2-3 weeks in most cases. He/she could have burned themselves on fire, the stove, hot metal or chemicals. If the burn is extensive, especially on the fingers or back of the hand (where there is higher tension on the skin), the doc may apply a semi-immobilizing brace to hold the hand in a neutral position, to prevent the person from flexing the digit/hand and breaking apart the healing skin. Burns are treated with specific creams and bandaging to protect from infection, so the brace is usually removed once or twice a day to change bandages. Burns can, though not always, leave pretty impressive scars.

Suggestion 3: Sutures for lacerations on the hand are usually removed at 10-14 days. Not all lacerations are treated with sutures, but if they are deep OR on the back side of the hand (where there is higher tension on the skin) it is more common. It the injuries are extensive, especially if it's across a joint line (like the wrist or knuckles), then after suturing and bandaging they may apply a similar brace. Note that unlike burns, you usually don't keep a bandage on after a day or two. If they had to leave a brace on, they may just use a non-stick bandage between the sutures and the brace and make sure it's not too tight.

It's pretty easy to find an embarrassing way to have this happen, it all depends on the situation and the character. There are a thousand ways to fall, cut yourself, burn yourself, or otherwise hurt a hand. I've certainly done it. We tend to stick them out to protect ourselves whenever we're falling, to shield ourselves from oncoming harm, or to stop other people/things.

  • One more question. I think the burning option my have the most potential for my purposes. Is this something one could do to oneself with a waffle iron, presuming one was particularly stupid and/or intoxicated? I have read online that waffle irons generally cook at 300 to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Is that enough heat for a severe 2nd degree burn? – gorcq Sep 18 '17 at 17:08
  • It's temperature and time dependent. Yes, that's hot enough to take less than a second. For your purposes, make sure the character has solid contact with it not just barely brushing against it. Like if the lid falls down onto their hand, they'd have to push it or pull it back open - that's enough time and pressure both. If it crosses their knuckles, it'd require significant bandaging and likely bracing. I'd stick with at least mostly second degree , maybe with some areas of third if you want, bc large third degrees may require skin grafts and are more complicated. – DoctorWhom Sep 18 '17 at 19:03
  • That's pretty much the answer I was hoping for. I'm going for the kind of incident that's over almost before you realize what's going on, and then you have no choice but to deal with the results. So, less than a second of actual waffle-iron contact is pretty optimal. Thanks again for your help. I think I have a much better idea of where my story is going, now. – gorcq Sep 18 '17 at 20:33
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A fractured wrist1, radius or ulna2

This is the story of my 11 year old self. I played soccer, was the goal keeper, tried to save a ball and broke my wrist. Simple as that3.

The standard treatment of bone fracture is immobilisation of the bone. Either an orthopaedic cast or splint might be necessary, and maybe even a nail if the wrist is messed up really badly. This renders both arm and hand pretty useless, the affected appendage would be basically unusable during the recovery period. The cast will have to be in place until the bone fully healed, which would have taken 2 weeks, if I had listened to the doctors.

If you need a longer time of immobilisation, consider the following: My 11 year old self really wanted to go to my best friend's birthday party. That took place at a swimming pool. Obviously, at some point I had to fall into the water, and it was quite embarrassing telling the doctors that I did not follow their instructions (which was a pretty explicit "Do NOT let water touch your cast), and the cast had to be redone because it partly dissolved.

Embarrassment

I'll leave this up to you. Personally, I find my story pretty embarrassing. Maybe because it happened to me. A few other stories are compiled in this reddit thread. There are so many ways one can break bones that anything is realistic. It's worth asking a few friends of yours. Fractured bones are so common you will get quite a few good stories from them.


1: A wrist cast will render moving of the hand impossible, but wiggling of fingers is still possible. Further reading for broken wrists: WebMD.

2: Broken radius or ulna will make the arm (to which the hand is attached) not movable, but you could still twist your wrist and wiggle with your fingers depending on the cast.

3: Caveat: It might be a bit simpler for children to brake their bones than adults because children's bones are still developing.

  • This could be good. I was under the impression that a fracture took longer than that to heal, but perhaps I was thinking of a proper break. And there are any number of embarrassing things that could cause an unusual amount of pressure to be applied to a wrist or arm. – gorcq Sep 17 '17 at 3:18
  • @Narusan-in-coma Actually, fractures all take longer to heal than 2 weeks. I'm not sure if sometimes they remove a cast in 2 weeks but I've never seen it. A wrist (e.g. ulna or radius) is usually 4-6 weeks. It's only 2-3 weeks by the time you have to have a thick soft callus form. – DoctorWhom Sep 17 '17 at 4:25
  • From the first source, average healing times of common fractures: phalanges: 3 weeks; metacarpals: 4-6 weeks; distal radius: 4-6 weeks; lower arm: 8-10 weeks; humerus: 6-8 weeks; femoral neck: 12 weeks; femoral shaft: 12 weeks; tibia: 10 weeks – DoctorWhom Sep 17 '17 at 4:32
  • @DoctorWhom One could resort to greenstick fractures ten. They tend to heal a lot faster. – Narusan Sep 17 '17 at 7:56

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