prosthetic flute thumb in action

Got a UCL tear?  No use of your thumb?  Can’t stop playing traditional Irish flute because your need to do so is a compulsion bordering on addiction, the cessation of which would cause a debilitating self-identity crisis?  No problem!  At least not if you have the following:

1.  Access to a great hand specialist practice.  I highly recommend Lamont Cardon (MD) and Broheen Elias (PA) at Alta Bates.  Competent and accommodating, they respected my professional needs and supported my decision to continue playing flute during the healing process.

2.  A solid cast to protect the injured ligament, one with extra wiggle room for four fingers.

3.  Prosthetic materials/supplies:  plastic coat hanger, ace bandage, scotch tape roll, OTC wrist support brace, duct or teflon tape, hot glue, patience, a sense of humor.

4.   (and this is critical…)  Indomitability.

5.  Optional: bottle opener fixture and epoxy to adhere.  I decided this was important because what could be cooler than opening someone’s beer with your prosthetic flute thumb?

CONSTRUCTION INSTRUCTION

Remove layers of scotch tape until the outer diameter of the tape roll fits into the inner curve of your coat hanger hook.  Glue the scotch tape roll into the curve of the coat hanger.  Use duct or teflon tape adjust the inner diameter of the scotch tape roll — it should fit snugly onto the bore of your flute, right at the point of desired support.  Optionally, attach bottle opener to the distal coat hanger arm using epoxy.  Here’s what it should look like so far.

coat hanger with scotch tape roll attached

bottle opener

Now work out how you will put the coat hanger on in a way that is comfortable and stable.  I used a simple velcro wrist brace to support the distal end of the hanger, then an ace bandage to hold the hanger in place against the cast and keep it adjacent to my forefinger.

Now your thumb is on, and you are ready to hit the seisiún.  Attach flute.  I play a keyless split-body (four piece) Olwell and designed the scotch tape roll to fit at the proximal end of the third section, right up against the silver tenon ring.  Wherever you choose to attach the hanger, the instrument should be held firmly in place, just as if you were supporting it with your previously-functional thumb.

A scrappy plastic thumb that can open beer bottles is exciting, I know, as is playing again for the first time since your big injury.  But be mindful of the medical situation and your (dis)abilities.  Muscle fatigue was a problem for me, as were hand tremors and spasms.  Be gentle with yourself and play only to tolerance.  Long term healing is critical, so construct your project with safety in mind — run the basic design of your prosthetic by a hand specialist.  That’s one of the reasons you went to the trouble of hiring a hand specialist, right?  Utilize his/her expertise.

For longer performances, detach the flute from the hanger to take a break and socialize.  But I suggest leaving the prosthetic attached for the whole evening, partly for convenience, but also because it is a great conversation starter.

Over time, make flute body alignment and ace bandage wrap changes as necessary.  As your fingers grow stronger and the swelling goes down, you may need to make minor adjustments to get the instrument in the right place for your healing fingers.

coat hanger thumb in action at the starry plough

an earlier version (pre- scotch tape ring) where globs of hot glue supported the bore

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Wednesday, February 2, 2011. Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . flute, music, sculpture, traditional music. Leave a comment.

ms. hickory nut ponders songs and places

ms. hickory looks cleverly in her book

if a hickory nut faced woman were to study songs and their places of origin, what would that look like?

songs and places, the study of

• antique camera found on travels • photo of traditional irish musicians, one known one unknown • arm of an uncomfortable couch • hickory nut woman from Grandma Dot’s old shelves • afternoon light from generous living room window

Tuesday, August 24, 2010. Tags: , , , , , , . music, photography, sculpture, song, traditional music. Leave a comment.

flight of two biths and a hammerhead

in december i boarded an airplane

and bumped into two marvelous friends, co-creator-musicator-collaborators of the Star Wars Cantina Band Reborn

yes, a Bith and a Hammerhead were on my very own southwest flight to chicago

in my delight, i hastily scribbled a score, a duet for two Bith musical minds

little did i expect these friends, plus other beloved fellow space creature collaborators , to bring my creation to life.  blind composition turned quirky performance.  thank you so much jD (hammerhead), Logan (clarinet), Deb (flute), and David (filmmaker)!

Friday, June 18, 2010. Tags: , , , , , . music, traditional music. Leave a comment.

Star Wars Cantina Band Reborn: Our Humble Salute to Figrin D’an and the Modal Nodes

My light-and-gourd-adorned C whistle and I joined forces with other galactic instruments in an Earthen tribute to Figrin D’an and the gang.  On Halloween night we roamed the Mission and burst into restaurants and bars playing Modal Nodes classics.  And as if Bith masks and light up instruments weren’t fun enough on their own, we were accompanied by the groupie presence of many Lucas-like creatures and other unexpected assorted characters such as Giant Cockroach and Kenny G.

See other reports from Laughing Squid, Unnecessary Umlaut, and Arugula Designs.

Sunday, November 1, 2009. Tags: , , , , , , . flute, music, traditional music. Leave a comment.