Mommy Thumb

How writer Joe Donatelli got “Mommy Thumb.” Which is an actual thing.

My baby son is a large boy. If he was on a baby football team, he’d be a fullback. No neck. All torso and thick legs. Stout. He will probably be bigger and taller than me as an adult, which is both awesome (for sports purposes) and terrible…

Son: I would like a third steak.

Me: But we only borrowed enough money from the bank for you to eat two steaks today.

Son: Then I will gnaw on the credenza.

After months of feeding and holding the boy – and his twin sister – I began to notice a dull ache and then a sharp pain in my left thumb.

Like any guy I did the smart thing and immediately ignored it, knowing it would get better on its own through MAGIC. The magic of me. Illness and injury is something that happens to other people, not me, because, in my narrative view of the world I am the central character, and the central character does not get a hurty thumb from feeding babies. Well, after a few weeks I was unable to lift either baby without grimacing, which is when my wife nudged me towards the doctor’s office. And this is when I finally accepted that my injured thumb was not something to be ignored but rather was a very important medical development to be explored and written about because it was a thing that was happening to me.

I called my primary care physician, and I was referred to Dr. John T. Knight of the Hand and Wrist Institute in Beverly Hills. I felt relieved. I wasn’t being shuffled off to some lame doctor in the Valley. I was going to an institute, which sounded very official, the type of place where they probably heal you and also set national hand and wrist policy.  The fact that it was in Beverly Hills also set me at ease. There are two types of doctors in Los Angeles – doctors who are so excellent at doctoring that they can afford Beverly Hills’ sky-high rents and doctors whose doctoring errors maim and kill so many patients that they cannot afford a practice in the 90210 postal code.

The walls of Dr. Knight’s office are covered in classy art of hands and wrists. A clip of Dr. Knight making an appearance on “The Doctors” is shown on a loop on a flat-screen, all of which has been placed there to subtly remind the patient, “This will be expensive.”


I was taken to an x-ray room, which I thought was odd because no one asked me if I wanted to be x-rayed. I was told, “Please come this way for the x-rays.” I could have objected, but when someone in a doctor’s office thinks I should be x-rayed, I go because I am not smarter at medicine than someone dressed in scrubs.

The x-ray tech was very nice, and he made the type of comforting small talk that’s necessary when a patient is asked to drape a lead blanket over his genitals, like that’s a normal thing we all do every day—protect our reproductive bits from being radiated. The tech took several x-rays, none of which I ever saw (for all I know there are no x-rays and the whole thing is a scam by Big Lead Genital Blanket), and I was taken to another room to await Dr. Knight.

Dr. Knight was a very nice man. One gets the sense he sees many, many patients, which explains why my appointment to see him was at the very specific time of 3:50 p.m. After bending and twisting my thumb and asking a few questions and me telling him I had twins at home, one of whom was the size of linebacker Von Miller, Dr. Knight determined that I had “mommy thumb.”

Dr. Knight: We see it all the time, usually with moms. It’s called de Quervain’s tendonitis.

Me: I had no idea this was a thing.

Dr. Knight: You can call it daddy thumb if you want.

Me: No. Let’s use the official medical terminology: mommy thumb.

If you’re wondering how to avoid mommy thumbs: 1.) Keep your thumbs and fingers together in a cupped fashion when handling the babies – don’t splay your fingers 2.) Rest the babies on your body – your forearms for example – and not your hands 3.) Have children in your 20s, when you will be less likely to become injured by a 12-pound human being.

I was given a shot of cortisone and sent next door to have a brace made for my thumb and wrist.


The brace drew a lot of attention in public and in the office because human beings tend to fixate on physical maladies so that they themselves can learn something from your poor health so they can stay healthy because it’s never about you, the injured party, it’s about the other person whose health is perfectly fine, because we’re all selfish and terrible.

“What’s wrong with your wrist?”

“I have mommy thumb.”

Then I would explain what mommy thumbs were, and I could see people tuning out when I got to the part about how it was caused by my twins, which are a set of people most others don’t have in their homes and thus cannot relate to.

So I started mixing it up.

“What’s wrong with your wrist?”

“Mommy thumb. It’s from picking up my kids.”


“Do you have kids?”

“Yes, but I never got mommy thumbs.”

“I guess I just love my children too much. Well, see you later.”

It took a few weeks – I reinjured my thumb (heroically) playing softball, necessitating a second cortisone shot – but my mommy thumb is better and the brace is off, joining Das Boot in The Hallway Closet of Honor.



Author: Joe Donatelli

Joe Donatelli is a writer in Los Angeles. He publishes The Humor Columnist.