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Climbing was my social life, my source of pride, my passion. My climbing crew offered a seat in the car as they headed south for a bouldering trip. I became obsessed with my lost muscle tone, watching my lats collapse like folded wings, my shoulders shrink, and the corded muscle in my forearms vanish.

Unless I opted for another surgery, I would never have full use of my left hand again, with almost no proximal strength in my thumb. It was clumsy, weak, and lanced with pain from damaged nerves. But by late spring, my long-suffering occupational therapist told me that if I wanted to, I could try climbing again at the most beginner level.

After my meltdown on the V0, my roommate, friends, and climbing partners told me to snap out of it, work harder at my OT exercises, and find ways to occupy myself as my hand continued to heal. It was astonishing, really, and it took their tough love to pull me out of my pity party. I was lucky to be alive, and I had to move on from there. There were more tantrums in the coming months, frustrations at the limitations of my busted hand. But things got better, as they tend to do, and five years later, I've come a long way—and I'm happy to report that climbing is still a huge part of my life.

Injuries are extremely challenging, especially the ones that prevent you from doing the things you love.

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Whether you were in a car wreck or other accident or are suffering from an overuse injury—it all sucks. Constantly lamenting about your injury or situation is damaging to your psyche, prevents you from moving forward, and will certainly not make you the lift of the party—just ask my friends circa The faster you accept what happened and how it affects you, the faster you can start staying occupied with other things, and hopefully get on the path to recovery.

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New skills can give you some much-needed confidence, and if they involve other people, it will help snap you out of your solo pity party. Join a book or knitting club. Try baking bread. Whatever it takes to get you off the couch and into a new mental space—find it and do it. I had a friend literally throw a pair of snowshoes in my face and tell me to go in the woods and stomp around for a while. Did I enjoy snowshoeing? Not at all. But it was a distraction, and it was something I could do while I waited on my hand.

At the Immigrant's Table: Losing a hand

But my joy quickly turned to horror as I gazed down upon my left hand. I screamed to the attending nurse, "Where's the rest of me? My once perfect hand, the pride of my arm, was missing a finger. God turned His back on me that day, and I realized at that moment, I was only Without a finger, my life was utterly ruined. I was mutilated almost beyond recognition.

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My finger, gone. And not just any finger. It was one of my favorites. Back in a more innocent time, I used to pick up all sorts of things: pens, cans, glasses. You name it, I would pick it up, if it weren't too heavy. Now grasping even the simplest of objects is a painful reminder that I used to have 10 fingers to pick things up with, even if I didn't use them all to do so.

Maybe I can get a prosthetic finger. Those have come a long way since the days when they were just little hooks. The top-of-the-line models look almost lifelike. No one would ever notice. Oh, who am I kidding? You can spot those things from a mile away.

Partial-Hand Amputations

My only hope is to conceal my hideous disfigurement with one of those hand covers. And what happens if someone wants to shake my hand? There's a chance that someone will perceive where my finger once was. The researchers speculated that a stronger grip indicated more muscle mass, which in turn results from increased activity and overall health. And healthier people in general have lower risks for heart disease and stroke.

Grip strength also may predict your future loss of mobility.

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A May study in The Journal of Gerontology Series A: Biological Sciences and Medical Sciences analyzed data from more than 20, adults ages 65 and older to evaluate the link between weak grip strength and lack of mobility, in this case slow walking speed. Among the men in the group, those with a weak grip—less than 26 kg using a dynamometer—were seven times more likely to be facing mobility issues compared with men who had normal grip strength. You can take steps to improve grip strength and possibly avoid problems down the road.

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  5. The following exercises work on strengthening your fingers and thumb, improving hand strength, and increasing wrist flexibility and range of motion. They can be performed in just a few minutes. Do them two to three times a week with at least a day or two of rest in between. Squeeze a soft stress ball between the fingers and thumb of one hand. Hold for 30 to 60 seconds. Repeat with the other hand.

    Cloth wringing. Wet a small towel or cloth. Then use both hands to wring out the water. Repeat several times. You can determine grip strength by how easily you perform daily tasks, like opening a jar, turning a doorknob, opening and closing self-sealing plastic bags, using a screwdriver, or lifting a pot from the stove.

    Another way is with a hand dynamometer. Squeeze it with your dominant hand as hard as you can for 10 to 15 seconds and note the highest number reached.