As far back as she can remember, she knew she wanted to be a dental hygienist. Although she had her mind made up in high school, the road to her career was a difficult one. “I had to pay for it myself and worked two jobs and lived with various family members to make it work,” said Olivia, whose name we changed for privacy purposes. “I started my family about the same time as I obtained my license, so I worked full time from the very start. I made very good money and it helped us get our first home and provide for our family in ways that I never thought possible.”
When she was pregnant with her third child, Olivia found herself waking up in the middle of with numbness in both hands. Because this pain was something she read about in pregnancy books and later confirmed by her OBGYN,Olivia didn’t put too much thought into it and assumed it was pregnancy related. After the birth of her son, the pain went away but came back one year later. “This time it was accompanied by pain in my right wrist, which fortunately was my retracting hand,” she said. “I was in denial, and it seemed like something I could live with, and I was able to still function in my everyday activities, so I just ignored them and continued on with my life.”
Over the next three years, however, the pain in her wrist became unbearable. “This is 12 years into my dental hygiene career. It was all I could think about,” she said. “The throbbing and constant pain. That is when I went to see an orthopedic doctor, who confirmed my suspicions. I had Carpal Tunnel Syndrome.”
After much discussion with her husband and prayer, Olivia filed a workman’s comp claim, which would not only generate money for medical bills, it would also allow Olivia to take time off for work from surgery. After filing the claim, she followed the protocol of healing herself with anti-inflamatories, a wrist brace, nerve condition testing and steroid injections. None of it worked.
Olivia eventually had surgery for Carpal Tunnel Release, returning to work 6 weeks later. “The numbness was gone, but the pain returned almost instantly after returning to work,” she said. “Numerous visits to the doctor and physical therapy made it clear that this may not ever go away and it appeared that may to leave the career that I worked so hard to achieve.” After hiring a lawyer who specialized in workman’s comp claims, seeing two additional doctors, taking several other tests and a trip to a physical therapist, Olivia was told she’d have the pain as long as she was a dental hygienist.
For the next five years, Olivia tried different things to make a living. After resigning and taking her settlement from the dental practice she was working at, she bought a small dental-related franchise and opened up an insurance office. When she realized neither was working out the way she wanted to, she have up the dental business and sold the insurance company. “The job market was not great for a former Dental Hygienist that cannot work clinically, and has an insurance license. I decided then that I needed to obtain a four-year degree, so I enrolled in college and took a job working for the insurance office that bought my book of business.”
She then received a call from a dentist asking if she would consider helping to grow his practice as an office manager. Olivia jumped at the chance. “A year-and-a-half later, our Dental Hygienist was out on maternity leave and the replacement could not work all days needed,” she said. “The doctor asked me if I would like to work occasionally as a hygienist. I did and there was no pain! My wrist had rest for over six years and now did not hurt.”
Olivia’s patients loved and requested her so much, the temporary fill-in job eventually led to a staff position change. “FIve years later, I have now completed my BAS in business management and supervision, and I’m looking to expand my 26 years of experience and education into other aspects of dentistry, such as consulting or teaching,” she said. “It has been a long tough road. If I had to do it all again, I am unsure that I would have filed a Workman’s Comp Claim. The way the office acted toward me following my departure was devastating. I was not discriminated in anyway but I do think they thought of me differently following.”
Many people in the dentistry field suffer from carpel tunnel and hand pain just like Olivia, and we are happy hers had a happy ending. Check back for a second blog on hand pain and other ailments that can cause it.