My dad has something called Dupuytren’s Contracture. Most people have never heard of this condition, but it is pretty evident when someone has it. According to the Mayo Clinic’s website, Dupuytren’s “is a hand deformity that usually develops slowly, over decades. Dupuytren’s affects the connective tissue under the skin of your palm. Knots of tissue form under the skin – eventually forming a thick cord that can pull one or more fingers into a bent position.” (See attached picture of my dad’s pinky finger)
In the past my dad has had a few surgeries to open up his bent fingers, but the effects wear off after a while. The disease fights right back and takes over the hand again. Kind of like if you had braces on your teeth but did not wear a retainer afterwards; the teeth would shift right back out of place.
For whatever reason Dupuytren’s is common in those of Northern European descent, hence my Polish grandmother and most of her siblings had it as well. My dad and his brothers inherited it, and now my brothers and I sit in modest fear that we too will have mangled hands. My eldest brother convinced himself that if he kept bending his fingers (i.e. contorting them in a way to make us all cringe) he could stave off the disease. He self-diagnosed himself as having “Reverse Dupuytren’s”.
So, like any good little smart-aleck Polish children would do, my brothers and I deal with our fear by making fun of the disease. Consider it our warped terms of endearment. I take you back to the 1980’s, when we rolled with laughter at Great Uncle Bernie’s picture in the paper as he was being sworn in as an alderperson. There he was, holding up his right hand with his other hand on the Bible. Only it was more like a fist with one finger he was holding up, thanks to Dupuytren’s. This influenced our popular “sign of peace”/handshake tradition during Catholic mass. Well, our handshakes are more like “Uncle Bernie shakes”: fingers crumpled under, one finger pointed outward. It’s really a true sign of affection though. If you join the family and you get the Bernie shake, you know we like you. If we can’t reach you because you are on the other end of the church pew, then you get the “Bernie wave”.
There is good news for Dupuytren’s sufferers, however. A new laser surgery was recently approved, and it promises to have long-lasting and obviously less invasive effects (believe me, you don’t want to see the post-op pictures of my dad’s hands). In the meantime, Dupuytren’s, thanks for the memories. You have brought a Polish family together.