Shifting Focus


Whenever I take a photo, I take moment to move the camera from side to side, higher and lower, deciding where, what or whom I want to be the focus of the photograph. The point is to capture the moment so I can recall the experience and how I felt at that moment when I look at the photo in months or years to come.

The focus of our lives is also adjusted. Not only left or right, higher or lower but sometimes we have to turn around and look through the camera in an entirely different direction. Sometimes we don’t like what we see through the lens. Other times, we’re delightfully surprised. We can be curious or resigned or even angry about our current view. But no matter what, we have to live with that view – even momentarily – until we can move on to another place, with different views.

Since March, when I was no longer able to work, the view through my life camera has been fuzzy most days, terrifying for a few days and confusing almost all the time.

Lately, though, it’s come into focus. I no longer think of myself as a music teacher. The mission that directed may life for all those years has been set aside. What’s emerged is a woman who recognises her gift for teaching and her talent for hand work – more specifically, embroidery. When asked “What do you do?” I now answer, “I’m an embroiderer, a teacher of embroidery and I teach piano to a few students.” It feels great!

About 6 weeks ago, something happened that meant my image of the new me is going to develop using time-lapse photography. For over a year (including the time when I was struggling so much at school and this probably contributed to my burn out, on retrospect) I’ve had pain and lost strength in both thumbs. For example, I couldn’t carry a cup of coffee with balancing it on the palm of one hand while holding it with the other.  Finally, I went to the orthopedist who took X-rays. She sent me to a therapist. She sent me to a surgeon who told me clearly that my thumbs simply didn’t work any more. The osteoarthritis in both thumbs was a Level 4 – the worst possible. There is no cartilage left. No wonder I had pain and couldn’t function! Even inserting the needle through fabric was painful some days.

Fortunately, there is a solution that will give me “thumbs as good as new” according to my surgeon. Well, maybe with only 80% of the strength I had as a young adult, but compared to the strength I have now, it will feel like new!  (The surgery is called CMC Arthroplasty or, in Germany, Epping Plastic.)

The first surgery was in late November on my left thumb and went really well. Very little pain, a comfortable hospital stay and, because German health care covers all the cost, no financial worries. The second surgery will be in late February on my right thumb. After each operation will be months of physical therapy so I can learn  how to use my new thumbs.

So, the focus of my life has again shifted from creative endeavours through embroidery to hard work healing my thumbs. Am I happy? Well…sort of…yes. I am very thankful I’m here, where the health care is excellent. I have complete trust in my surgeon and therapist. I have time to care for my hands. I have a husband who loves me so much he’s will to do all the things for me that I can’t do for myself right now.

Am I frustrated and bored? Absolutely! But that all part of life’s rich pattern. I may not like what in the foreground of my life’s image, but in the distance, I like what I see very much!



3 thoughts on “Shifting Focus

  • Dear Kathy,

    Best of Luck with your surgeries and recoveries. I can completely sympathize. In July, a month before I left Toronto to fly to England to attend Jenny Adin- Christie’s five day class at the Bath Textile Summer School my right thumb started to lock. I went to my GP about another matter and she said it was my ligament going. I went to Jenny’s class, but couldn’t stitch as much as I usually do and had to ice my hand every night. When I returned to Toronto in September I got an appointment to see a Hand Specialist in November, but was told not to stitch, as I was doing my hand harm. I saw the Hand Specialist on November 16th and he was very interested that I was an Embroiderer and insisted that I start stitching again. Also wanted to know all about my RSN experience and techniques. I have my Certificate and have started on my Diploma. He told me I have a Triger Thumb, which is not as bad as Carpel Tunnel. He has had a custom hand brace made for me, which I wear at nights and would have given me a cortisone shot, but I am allergic to them. I see him again in January and he will then decide if he needs to operate or not. So I fully understand what it is like not to be able to do what we love to do STITCH. I am now back stitching, but have to pace myself; because my hand does ache after an hour or two of stitching.

    All the best for a full recovery and my thoughts and prayers are with you.

    Sue Knight
    Toronto, Canada

  • Kathy, I wish you all the best for your up-coming surgery and the months of therapy to follow. You are highly motivated and that means success will be yours.
    I have had a chronic pain condition for over thirty years and in that time treatments have changed a great deal. For more than twenty years I have been on morphine and now the time has come to change that, but the physical dependence that builds up means that I face months of withdrawal. During this time I can barely type on the computer, writing is difficult, food tastes awful and I feel very ill, but like you, I know it will end some time and I have supportive doctors too.
    I will follow your progress with great interest and empathy.

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