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#2986: Willa Cather to Roscoe Cather, Carrie Miner Sherwood, and Elsie Cather, December 6, 1940

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My dear Carrie3 and Elsie4 and Roscoe5:

This tiresome letter of explanation must serve for all three of you. I had a forlorn hope that in spite of many difficulties and obstacles, I would get home to Red Cloud6 for Christmas. My three nieces7 will remember that when they lunched with me two weeks ago, I told them I was very much bothered by a sore right hand. A few days later it became so painful I had to take account of it. I saw two surgeons and my general physicain8. I will give you their report and your local doctor can explain the situation to you fully.

The tendon of my right thumb, which runs up above into my wrist, is very much inflamed, with consequent swelling of my thumb, etc. Of course, I wear my hand in a sling and use it as little as possible, but it becomes a little more painful all the time. Your doctor will tell you that there are only two remedies for this. One is complete immobilization of the hand for a period of two or three weeks. The other is an operation on the sheath of the tendon, which means two or three weeks in a hospital. For that matter, complete immobilization of the right hand means a stay in the hospital for the same length of time. Some years ago, when I was finishing "Lucy Gayheart"9, I had an inflamed tendon in the thumb of my left hand and although it was bandaged against a flat wooden mitten for about six weeks, I managed to get about, take some exercise, and finish the book. But when a right hand is thus rendered useless, one cannot get on at all outside of a hospital. Of course, the medical men urged me to go into the hospital at once, but I have determined to nurse the thing along in a sling until after Christmas, if possible. I will be very inactive and will keep my hand tied in a splint at night and for a part of the day, in order to rest it as much as possible. Of course eventually, I will have to have the thing attended to properly, because a permanent inflamation there would make any future writing out of the question. The doctors tell me that this is not a very uncommon affliction. The people most liable to it are washer women, and people who do fine mechanical work which necessitates the repetition of small and careful movements of the hand. Writers seldom have it nowadays, because most writers use a typewriter altogether.

I hate to write in such detail about a physical ailment, but I want you to understand why it is impossible for me to travel under these conditions. (Just begin some morning and try to do everything with your left hand, and you will find out just how impossible it is.!) I can use a pen for about five minutes without much pain. I autographed a book for Carrie Sherwood today, and I hope to be able to write sign a few checks for dear friends at home before my hand is out of commission altogether. The final blow to my thumb was caused by my autographing 520 copies of a special $10 edition of "Sapphira"10, which Alfred11 put out when he saw that the book would go well. He advised me to autograph only 100 a day, but I had found so much awaiting me after I got home from Canada12 that I felt I could not spare five days. My apartment13 wasn't settled and I had to shop for the house and for myself, so I autographed the whole 520 in three mornings. The next morning I had a lump on my wrist.

I know this is tedious business to read, dear friends, but it is even more tedious to write it. And to live with it is as dreary a thing as I can imagine.

Willie per B.14