Dorothy’s Special Thumb

When Dorothy was a baby I noticed something different about her left thumb.  We were taking part in a baby signing class and helping the little ones to give a thumbs up.  Dorothy’s left thumb wouldn’t straighten.  She hadn’t hurt it, there were no marks, but it was completely bent.

Convinced that this must have been the case since birth, I was riddled with guilt that I hadn’t noticed sooner.  But now, so many years down the line I can appreciate that straightening your baby’s left thumb isn’t high on the agenda when welcoming a new addition to the family.  Anyway, I HAD noticed it now.

A quick visit to the GP and we were referred to Royal Manchester Children’s Hospital‘s orthopaedic clinic.  Dorothy was diagnosed with trigger thumb.

We were told to do nothing and wait.  In some cases the problem rights itself but if not, if her thumb was still stuck in a bent position by the time she was starting school, they would perform surgery to release it.  They said they’d like to avoid surgery if at all possible, so as long as we saw improvements over time, they wouldn’t consider it.  We visited yearly to check her progress, and progress was good.

Dorothy’s thumb is much more mobile now.  It doesn’t hurt her unless she bangs it or ‘snaps it straight’ which hurts her A LOT!  This has happened every couple of months, usually when she’s tripped and broken her fall with her hands but occasionally when an unknowing child (and once or twice adult) has forced it straight.  When this happens it takes around 10 minutes to settle back into it’s normal position and stop hurting.  But she’s able to straighten it almost completely now, so that’s good.

Well I thought it was good.

What was once a familiar environment for Dorothy is now a strange place.  We haven’t seen the specialist during the pandemic as Dorothy’s ‘special thumb’ was understandably low on the NHS’ priority list and yesterday as we walked down the now forgotten corridor towards the Children’s Hospital, she started to panic.

I’ve seen this panic in Dorothy many times since our brush with Covid last Summer – she’s getting so much better but the challenge hasn’t disappeared.  The improvement in her thumb has been so significant, that I felt emboldened to tell her that we may be discharged at her appointment.  “One last visit Dots” I said.  I was wrong.

Colouring in the waiting room

While Dorothy’s thumb is now able to straighten a lot more, the nodule that’s formed on her joint is actually beginning to force her thumb sideways – something I hadn’t noticed.  Guilty.  And that nodule along with the remaining bend in her thumb is affecting her ability to grip – something that I hadn’t realised until she explained to the specialist how frustrating it is when she’s climbing.  Guilty.  If this isn’t addressed then it will likely get worse and impact the way she uses her hand.  So Dorothy hasn’t been discharged and in fact they’re getting her in for surgery as soon as they can, in order to prevent further impact to the function of her hand – something I’d pretty much just told her wasn’t going to happen. Guilty.

I feel so guilty.

I’m sure that in a few years I’ll look back and remind myself that Dorothy’s thumb did look so much better and that reassuring my anxious child, so that I could actually get her in to the clinic was my priority.  But right now I feel so bad that the thing I said wasn’t happening, is happening.  Mum guilt – the gift that keeps poking you.

So of course I’ve now promised her the moon in a stick as compensation!

I’ve promised so much that once or twice Dorothy has sounded like she’s actually looking forward to surgery.  Naturally there will be a new toy, stickers for her bandage, a balloon, flowers, grapes and anything else that she’s ever seen someone on the telly receive while in hospital.  She’ll need new pyjamas of course (though she’s unlikely to stay overnight), magazines (how much!?!), and we’re to round off the first annual ‘Thumb Day’ with a trip to McDonald’s.

The doctor told Dorothy that once she’s had the surgery, she’ll be even better at climbing than she is now.  And he’d better hope that she true or she’ll be knocking in his door demanding stickers and balloons and McDonald’s from him too!

Trigger thumb effects around 3 in every 1000 babies.  Children aren’t actually born with it and the cause isn’t known.  It isn’t due to injury or overuse – it just kind of shows up, usually before their first birthday.   If you think your child may have trigger thumb, try to speak to your GP or paediatrician.

We’ll keep you up to date on ‘Thumb Day as I’m sure you’re all as excited as we are to see Dorothy’s ‘special thumb’ become her ‘super thumb’!

Love Rachel ❤



  1. Aww! Don’t feel guilty. I think we have all been through things like this with our kids. I hope the surgery goes well and Dorothy enjoys all of her treats x

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