*For those who have enquired, no, the featured photo isn’t of my cyst.
Ah, my old nemesis, the ganglion cyst had returned.
If you’re not familiar with this particular ailment, it’s nowhere near as gross as the regular puss-filled cysts that viewers love to watch people draining on Youtube. While harmless, a ganglion cyst can leave you with a freakish looking bump near a joint, commonly the wrist.
A ganglion cyst is a small sac of fluid that forms over a joint or tendon (tissue that connects muscle to bone). Inside the cyst is a thick, sticky, clear, colorless, jellylike material. Depending on the size, cysts may feel firm or spongy. One large cyst or many smaller ones may develop.
I developed a visible one on the back of my wrist in 2003 when I worked as a temp at the Mesa Southwest Museum (now the Arizona Museum of Natural History). The museum had decided to retire a small manmade waterfall and we needed to move it down the street on a dolly. Five of us tried to keep it stabilized as we rolled it down the sidewalk. Suddenly, it started to tip off balance. Of course, the only dumbass without health insurance (me, the temp) tried to stop it from crashing to the pavement — everyone else just got the hell out the way. I jammed my wrist and the waterfall still ended up on the ground. I bitched about the lack of effort on everyone else’s’ part, but my buddies all laughed because we were trashing the waterfall anyway.
The advent of the cyst
A week later, I started my new gig as an instructional designer at an online college and almost immediately, my ganglion cyst started to grow and became very noticeable. Now, for a confirmed hypochondriac like myself, who believes I contract every disease I read about, I was surprisingly calm about my new bump. That’s because I knew I had a ganglion cyst — it had just never been visible before. When I worked for an airline back in college, typing 8-hours a day on a keyboard that qualified as a torture device, I developed hand issues. The occupational therapist treating my carpal tunnel syndrome and tendonitis told me I had a ganglion cyst as well. But it wasn’t visible and didn’t cause any pain yet, so she didn’t refer me to a doctor. I could only surmise that jamming my wrist had caused some internal trauma that caused it to accumulate more fluid.
I am not a monster!
So I became fascinated with the enlarged, tumor-like bump on my wrist that made me feel like some kind of mutant from a science fiction movie. Broke as hell, I still had no health insurance to take care of it because my new employer classified me and other new hires as contractors. (One coworker finally turned them into the IRS for incorrectly classifying us as contractors and the company finally converted us to employees.)
Every day, the damned cyst seemed to grow bigger. It started to remind me of the boil from the movie How to Get Ahead in Advertising where the protagonist, an advertising exec, has a crisis of conscience over the immorality of advertising. He develops a boil on his right shoulder that comes to life with a face and voice. Lacking a conscience, it eventually replaces his head and takes over his life. I thought about naming my oppressive cyst. While sitting in my cubicle, I even took a Sharpie and drew a circle around the circumference of the cyst and turned it into a sad face.
It became apparent to me the cyst was winning the psychological game. Obviously, I had to do something about it before its power grew too great.
So, how do you treat a ganglion cyst?
Well, if you have a ganglion cyst and you want to get rid of it, you have a couple of options.
You can go to your doctor and have her insert a hypodermic needle and draw the fluid out (or if the cyst has grown fibrous, she might have to surgically remove it).
Or you can have a buddy take a heavy object, typically a big-ass book, take aim and smack the shit out of it. That’s how the doctor treated my Nanna Davoren’s ganglion back in the 50s. This breaks the capsule under the skin and the fluid drains out. The body reabsorbs it with no muss or fuss.
You may have recoiled in surprise at the second option, but ganglion cyst bashing is a time-honored treatment. In days of yore, the book of choice for bludgeoning the cyst out of existence was typically the heaviest book in the house — the family Bible (or possibly the only book in the house). In fact, people still refer to a ganglion as a Bible bump or a Bible cyst. Until the past few decades, 10 out of 10 doctors recommended cyst bashing as their treatment of choice. My friend, James the Annoyer, worked as a medical courier back in the 1990s. When he showed his ganglion to a crusty old physician, the doctor went old school. He literally pulled a Bible out of his old-fashioned black doctor bag, like the ones they used to carry on house calls. Then he told James to hold his hand out and *wham!* Goodbye cyst.
You’ll be glad to know that the medical profession no longer recommends this treatment. Apparently, more enlightened doctors frown on people whacking the shit out a patient’s wrist with a heavy object because it can cause other injuries like a fracture. Either that or they’re annoyed with people stealing money out of their pocket through self-treatment.
Of course, this doesn’t stop people from regularly employing this tried-and-trusted method.
It’s go time!
As for my cyst? Back in 2003, finally, I’d had enough. I didn’t have the money to go to a clinic to get a doctor to aspirate it with a needle. But I did have one tool handy that might work. Advanced Financial Principles, a thick, heavy textbook that would get the job done. So one evening, I took the book home with me and held it out flat in front of me, cocked my wrist to give the cyst maximum exposure to the impending blunt force trauma, and then I swung my arm sharply upward. Man, it hurt like hell with no visible change, so I did it again. Almost immediately, I noticed the cyst start to deflate like a leaky balloon. Soon, it was completely flat. My wrist felt weird and a little puffy but the cyst had disappeared.
When I told the Houseguest (well before her present role as a renter), she wrinkled her brow and said, “That’s disgusting.”
When she told her dad, an anatomist, about my home remedy, he asked her if I was an idiot. Was I offended? No. As my regular readers can probably surmise, it wasn’t the first time I’ve heard someone ask that question.
But I didn’t care. The wicked cyst was gone and I didn’t have to pay a bunch of money to have someone remove it. After a day, my wrist no longer felt fat as my body reabsorbed the gel. The cyst did try to come back a few months later, but I bashed it again and it meekly disappeared.
The ganglion cyst returneth
All was good for the next 16 years. Then, after its long hiatus, the cyst made its return. It was time for Round 3.
This go around, the cyst was a lot smaller and didn’t seem to be growing very fast. At first, I only noticed it as a slight swelling with minimal pain and only visible when I cocked my wrist. Unlike the previous version, this one was not really pliable. It felt more like a hard rubber ball with barely any give to it. A tumor? Probably not — the gel in old cysts can thicken up, which makes them harder — or impossible — to aspirate. I felt a little concerned that it would have to be treated surgically by a doctor.
However, I tried the book solution again. Holding a tome out parallel to the ground, I drove my cocked wrist sharply up and into it. Holy mother of God that hurt! And the cyst just sat there defiantly. So I tried again. Owwwwww! No sign of it deflating. I either hadn’t hit it hard enough to rupture the cyst capsule or the cyst had solidified. Afraid I’d break my wrist, I decided I’d have to go to the doctor. Of course, I kept putting it off, and then I lost my job a few weeks ago, so I didn’t have health insurance. The only thing I could hope for was that it didn’t get any bigger or more painful.
The situation resolves itself
The cyst did feel mildly painful, probably because it annoyed me and I kept messing with it. I couldn’t stop pressing my thumb into it hour after hour, day after day, and week after week, manipulating it. I kept thinking that once I got new insurance, I’d have to see about getting it treated.
And then today, I noticed a large red spot on my wrist and the hardness was gone and the skin was flat. I’m not sure what happened, but the cyst appears to have disappeared. Maybe all that pressing with my thumb finally ruptured it? I have no idea.
But anyway, I’m glad it’s gone.