Back in 2020 and 2021, Marjorie Kirk was busy. In two short years, she completed law school, passed the bar exam and started her career as an attorney with the State of California’s Department of Public Health. For some stress relief from all her hard work, and the isolation and anxiety of the pandemic, she took up rock climbing and gardening.
She soon found her hands weren’t just full, they were also hurting. Badly.
It was numbness in her fingers but also moments of sharp pain shooting through her hands, wrists and arms. At first the episodes were short. But then they began to last for days at a time, then weeks, then they were just constant. Often the throbbing was so intense she couldn’t sleep. The only relief she found was clutching frozen gallons of ice cream.
The low point — hugging ice cream cartons
“I remember feeling so helpless, holding those containers, eating ice cream and not knowing what to do,” she says.
However, her UC Davis Health doctor, Sabrina Silva-McKenzie, did. “She’s the perfect primary care physician, a double specialist in family medicine and psychiatry,” explains Marjorie. “She has just a great personality and really listens to her patients.” She referred Marjorie to another UC Davis Health physician, a plastic surgeon who specializes in hands, Dr. Andrew Li.
Personalized care is the best, hands down
When she met Dr. Li, Marjorie says, “he was so attentive and really listened to me.” Dr. Li’s exam and tests confirmed she was suffering from advanced carpal tunnel syndrome in both wrists, a condition in which the median nerve to the hand becomes pinched at the wrist in a narrow passageway comprised of bone and a ligament. The pressure on the nerve reduces its blood supply, causing numbness, tingling, pain, weakness and eventually, if left untreated, irreversible nerve damage.
“I was so surprised at how much damage had already been done to my hands,” says Marjorie. “I was already experiencing loss of function at 26 years old. It’s like a kink in a water hose, stopping the flow of water. No more blood flow, eventually no more nerves.”
Dr. Li explained all of this to her, answered all of her questions and provided options. She chose to have endoscopic carpal tunnel release surgery on both hands, during which Dr. Li would make two small incisions on each wrist and use a miniature camera to see inside while dividing the ligament on the roof of the tunnel with a special knife. This would open up space to relieve the pressure.
“Not only is there no more pain, but my hands are stronger than before, and I have more function. I don’t know why I didn’t go to my doctor sooner.”
Better than ever — literally
The surgeries were a glowing success. After two months of healing, Marjorie realized her pain had vanished. Dr. Li approved the resumption of all activities, including gardening and rock climbing.
“I couldn’t believe how quickly I recovered,” says Marjorie. “Not only is there no more pain, but my hands are stronger than before, and I have more function. I don’t know why I didn’t go to my doctor sooner. But I could have also easily let it go on, letting my nerve slowly die without even realizing it. I’m so lucky.”
Health care that sets “the standard”
For Marjorie, the experience was bigger than her individual health. Health as a matter of public policy is her job — her passion — and this was eye-opening for her.
“I had expert, multidisciplinary care from physicians who gave me their complete focus. So many people don’t have access to that. UC Davis Health is the standard.”