Tiny but Mighty: What I Learned Fighting a Finger Ulcer
I pleaded with my doctor. “I want to chop off my finger! Please help me!” With pity in his eyes, he said, “It’s an ulcer. It’s common for people suffering from Raynaud’s syndrome.”
Looking down at my throbbing pointer finger, I asked why it was black. That was the moment I learned what necrotic meant. My finger was dying from a lack of blood flow. Similar to frostbite, the pain was unbearable, even though the ulcer was only the size of an M&M.
This ulcer, my very first one, started in 2018 — four years after my diagnosis. I simply woke up one day to a painful white dot at the tip, just below the nail. Day after day, it got deeper and wider. It changed from white to pus-filled yellow, and ultimately morphed into black. Like someone had torched my skin until it was charred.
It was disgusting to look at, but that was not as much of a bother as the pain. It was very painful. The slightest touch felt like someone was smashing it with a hammer. I couldn’t sleep or focus. Heat helped just a tiny bit, so I wore a loose, fluffy sock over it that stretched all the way up to my elbow. As ridiculous as I looked, I couldn’t bear to wear a glove. The fabric sliding across my dying skin was torture. And without the extra layer of warmth, the throbbing pain and stinging lightning bolts were constant.
I was desperate for relief, so I sought out support groups, conducted research, and spoke to multiple doctors, and learned some tips for caring for a finger ulcer, and what can be done about one.
Keep it warm
Find something comfortable to wear that will keep it warm. Raynaud’s constricts the blood vessels, making it difficult for blood to reach our digits and toes. The heat helps dilate, or open up, those blood vessels so oxygenated blood can nourish the injured area.
Keep it protected
Since we use our hands to do so much, banging the ulcer against something is inevitable. I found that loose-fitting finger splints add a layer of protection that diminishes the intensity of those blows and limits how many times I fall to the floor screaming in pain.
Keep it clean
If the finger ulcer gets infected, that definitely warrants talking to a doctor. Yellow pus or black areas are a sign of infection. Without adequate blood flow, our body needs help to clean out the area. I use high-quality bentonite clay, which consists largely of montmorillonite. I make a paste using water, cover the area, bite down on a towel to absorb my horrendous screams, and suffer until the clay fully hardens. As the clay dries, it draws out the infection. Afterward, I run my finger under warm water until it washes off. Doing this every day bought me time — it kept the infection under control and prevented my finger from being amputated.
There are many creams and pills that can help restore the blood flow to the affected appendage. These are controlled substances, so they must be prescribed. My doctor prescribed Revatio (sildenafil), which I now take regularly. It helps keep my digits pink and healthy.
When all else fails, surgery will be needed to keep the dead tissue from consuming more flesh. It’s also necessary to make sure the infection doesn’t spread to the blood or bone. I found an amazing hand surgeon who performed a digital sympathectomy. To put it simply, he cut open my hand and cleaned out the arteries responsible for cutting off the blood flow to my finger. After this procedure, the ulcer began to immediately heal, and my finger was saved.
Ulcers are not for the weak. Battling one takes a warrior’s strength. The incision from my surgery was 3 inches long and the entire width of my hand. Yet, the wound felt like a paper cut compared to my pea-sized ulcer.
To avoid the torture of a finger ulcer, be proactive. Avoid stress, stay warm, and act fast if a sore begins. Wearing winter gloves at a fancy restaurant is far less embarrassing now.
I’ve been fortunate to only have had a few tiny ulcers form since that first one in 2018. By acting quickly and diligently, none of them progressed into much more than an uncomfortable white dot that looked and felt like an indented pimple. I have a new ulcer forming right now, and I’ll be crossing my toes that the treatments I listed can once again keep it from becoming the monster I know it can be.
Note: Scleroderma News is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Scleroderma News or its parent company, BioNews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to scleroderma.