Friday, February 6, 2009

Sense of touch

I lost some feeling in my hands and feet due to the various chemotherapy drugs I've taken over the past five years. I also lost my fingerprints thanks to Xeloda, which irritates the palms and soles in a reaction called hand-foot syndrome.

When I went to Disney World in 2007 I found that the entry gates use fingerprint scanners to ensure that the person using an electronic ticket is the same one who registered it. The scanner choked when I tried to register and an attendant had to override it. I bet that enough of the population has similar issues that it's in their training manual. I suppose it also means that people like me are a headache for anyone else trying to use fingerprints for identification.

Some of the numbness is nerve damage, particularly from the platinum-based drugs. The nerves do slowly heal, so I am getting some feeling back. In fact, now that I've been off of systemic chemo for four months I have enough feeling to realize that I lost more than I appreciated. Except for a period after a massive dose in 2005, the numbness hasn't been enough to interfere with tasks like holding a pen or buttoning a shirt. It's just been a dullness of sensation.

Today I learned that there's another explanation. According to research published in Science, fingerprints enhance the sense of touch. The ridges vibrate as they encounter bumps on a surface and transmit stronger signals to the nerve endings. So part of my numbness to texture is not just the nerve damage but the lack of fingerprints. I wonder if they, too, will regrow over time.

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