'I don't recognize my hand:' Injury plagues Winnipeg pianist months after lung biopsy

Ron Butterfield has been living with a painful, deformed hand and no explanation ever since waking up from a lung biopsy at the HSC in October.

Ron Butterfield says he can no longer play the piano or write

Ron Butterfield says he suffers from pain, numbness and reduced strength in his right hand ever since a lung biopsy at the HSC (Lyza Sale/CBC)

Ron Butterfield has been living with a painful, deformed hand and no explanation ever since a lung biopsy at Health Sciences Centre in October.

The former concert pianist can no longer play the piano or write.

"I'm not a doctor; I couldn't tell you neurologically what happened. But they damaged it, they changed it," he said.

"I went in there totally pain-free, normal, and I came out … injured," he said. "You feel it every second; it's a pins and needles numbness and it's there day and night."

Butterfield visited the thoracic clinic at 9 a.m. on Oct. 4 for the operation, which was to determine whether he had lung cancer. The 73-year-old has since been diagnosed with prostate cancer.

He said in the pre-op area, a student nurse took four "deep jabs" in the space between his right hand pinky and ring fingers when attempting to start the IV.

"Ugly, brutal attacks; it was very un-gentle," he said. A trained nurse then "swooped in," he said, and started an IV easily, and he went for his procedure.

But after recovering from the anesthetic and once home, he noticed something was wrong.

"The whole hand was black, and I'm numb, totally in this area," he said, pointing to the top of his ring and pinky fingers on his right hand.  
Ron Butterfield says he hasn't received any therapy or explanation for a hand injury that happened after a surgical procedure. (Lyza Sale/CBC)

"As a public pianist and as a writer, and still writing, it has really compromised my future. It's constantly throbbing; it's just a nightmare."

He went to his family doctor a few days after the biopsy. He said the doctor told him the injury could be related to his positioning during surgery, and damage to the ulnar nerve, which gives sensation and feeling to the pinky and half of the ring finger and runs from the neck to the hand.

Butterfield said he gave him Tylenol 3 and told him to wait to see if it improved, but it didn't.

He showed the problem to his surgeon at the one-month checkup, who also could not explain the injury, he said, but advised him to return in a month.

The pain and stiffness was worse when he saw him again Dec. 27, he said, so the doctor referred him to the Pain Clinic.

"I'm dealing with the cancer. But making me deal with this is far, far worse," he said, lifting his hand, which now curls like a claw.

"It looks horrible, it's misshapen, I have strength to lift up and down, but I don't lock my door, I don't lock a door because I have no strength to move sideways, and even with two hands. I don't recognize my hand."

'Potential' critical incident

A spokesperson for the Health Sciences Centre said Butterfield's incident has been reported as a potential critical incident.

"We are very sorry that he is experiencing pain. We will continue to work with the patient and the care teams involved, to both understand what happened and to treat his current symptoms," wrote the spokesperson.

"If it is declared a Critical Incident, the review will follow the legislated Critical Incident Review process," wrote the spokesperson. 

A Winnipeg man says the hand injury he got at the Health Sciences Centre is worse than his prostate cancer. Ron Butterfield went for a biopsy in October. When he got home, he'd lost sensation in two fingers and had a great deal of pain in his right hand. He can no longer play the piano or write, something he says is worse than his recent prostate cancer diagnosis. 1:00

"If it is not deemed to be a CI, it will be investigated as a safety event. Both processes involve chart reviews, interviews with staff directly involved in the patient's care, etc.," she wrote, adding Butterfield's concerns about the IV initiation process will be included in the review.

The spokesperson wrote the patient relations office has been in touch with Butterfield. On Jan. 10, they told him his appointment with the Pain Clinic is at the end of the month.  

'Fix my hand'

The cause of Butterfield's injury remains unknown, though he blames the painful IV experience.

But several recent articles highlight the anesthesiologist's role in positioning the patient during surgery to avoid injury to the ulnar nerve.

"You come out of an innocent biopsy for lung, and you come out and your hand is permanently damaged?" he asked.

He does his own daily exercises in water to try to regain his strength and takes a painkiller prescribed by his neurologist. His oncologist also made a consultation for him to one day see a physiotherapist.

"They're all worried about this cancer I got and maybe I should be too … but fix my hand!"

Butterfield recently went for dinner with friends who have a piano.

"They say, 'Oh Ron, just play something," he said. "I cannot do it."
Ron Butterfield went into the HSC for a lung biopsy in October, but came out with an unexplained hand injury. He's lost sensation in two fingers and had a great deal of pain in his right hand. 1:41