hand surgeon dr Peter Hahn: “Our hand makes our culture”

Bad Rappenau hand surgeon Dr. Peter Hahn enjoys riding his motorcycle privately and finds Gunther Stilling’s hand attractive in front of the Neckarsulm Adult Education Center. Photo: Andreas Veigel Photo: Veigel, Andreas

Hands grasp, feel, strike, strike. The hands can grasp delicate objects from the ground, practice a craft, use an instrument, shake, or hold another hand.

As a diagnostician and surgeon, you deal with your hands every day. When did you become aware of your hands?

Peter Hahn: Like when I was four or five years old, when I moved large stone slabs, which my parents did not like at all. They have to stay there.

Did you see your hands as something powerful and effective at the time?

Taps: Yes. I have relatively large hands – and I have always had excessive hand strength.

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What relationship did you have as a young doctor with your hands?

Taps: In 1982, at the end of my studies, I decided to do something manual: namely surgery. The Greek word Cheirurga means to work by hand. I went into plastic surgery after general surgery and have been doing hand surgery exclusively for 31 years already.

As a plastic surgeon, have you realized that a functional hand is more important to a person than a beautiful nose?

Taps: You have to be careful: plastic surgery is not just plastic-aesthetic surgery, it is also about restorations. This is a big topic. But I’m a person who thinks bio-mechanically – and the hand with its movements and dynamics was closer to me.

What are human hands to you?

Taps: In terms of motor and sensitivity, the hands make the greatest demands on the brain. This shows their extraordinary position. Our hand constitutes our entire culture. We need them for technology, mining and precision engineering. Often we are not even aware of what we use our hands for. You treat an egg differently than you would a hammer: If you applied the same force each time, the hammer would either fall out of your hand – or the egg would break. Look at a small child. One of the first things he does: he starts to get caught. The hand is an organ with which the child makes early contact with the environment. It takes three years for the thumb movement to be fully connected to the brain.

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You do not even understand this!

Taps: But we need to know because we need to rebuild the thumb in babies born without the thumb. If you then make a thumb out of the index finger, you need to know when and how long it will take for everything to connect to the brain.

Which of our fingers is actually the most important?

Taps: The thumb, however, is not the finger because it is structured completely differently and has a different function. For reconstruction after an accident, for example, we need a thumb, if possible two functional fingers, everything beyond that is almost a luxury.

Does this mean you can restore quite a few functions through one operation?

Taps: This is our main task in conjunction with hand therapy, these are specially trained physiotherapists and ergotherapists. Complex interventions do not work without them.

You found a medical home in Bad Rappenau 20 years ago. You started as a lone warrior at the Vulpius Clinic. How has your department developed since then?

Taps: Our hand surgery is one of the five to ten largest departments in Germany. We perform about 2,600 surgeries a year and see about 5,000 outpatients. Here we cover all hand surgery – from congenital malformations to osteoarthritis in old age. One of our specialties is wrist and wrist disorders. Patients come from all over Germany. Wrist wear caused by injury is also a big problem for us. And then of course we do a lot of Dupuytren, this is my specialty, connective tissue layers are formed in the palm of the hand. This is largely hereditary. And the further north you go to Europe, the more common it is. Ironically, the people of New Zealand also have it, so we know the Vikings found the sea route there very early on and left their genes there.

Are there any surgeries that you say have particularly affected me?

Taps: It touches me when you have a supposedly hopeless situation, but then finds a solution.

Are there a fixed number of different hand disorders?

Taps: There is no landline number. But I can refer to the standard work for hand surgery: It is in two volumes. We have nine flexor tendons, a bunch of extensor tendons, an infinite number of bones, ligaments, nerves, small and activating muscles – and each of them can have a disorder.

The rarer a disease is, the more experience a doctor needs to know it?

Taps: That’s right. You must have seen a lot about this. And I know a lot because someone told me once. If something comes up, which is rare, Kiloh-Nevin syndrome or a congenital malformation, I always call all my employees who I know have not seen it together.

Have you benefited from a good teacher yourself – and do you want to pass on your knowledge in the same way?

Taps: Yes of course. Here we have trained nine hand surgeons, about 20 to 30 inhabitants. Since 2006 I have also taught as a professor at the University of Heidelberg.

Are there any injuries that are particularly bad? Do you like to cut your finger while cooking?

Taps: There is a festival in America where avocados are eaten – and people regularly put knives in their fingers when they take them out. American hand surgeons always warn in advance: Caution, do not cut the hand! Hand injuries from New Year’s explosions were very common, so I saw very bad things. And what is a bad thing is the scaphoid fracture in landing because it is often overlooked. It then tends to heal incorrectly – and then you have osteoarthritis in five to ten years.

What good can you do for our hands?

Taps: Use them actively, use them actively.

For the person: Professor Peter Hahn has been the Chief Surgeon of the Hand Surgery at the Vulpius Clinic in Bad Rappenau since 2002 and has been a Professor at the University of Heidelberg since 2006. Since 1992, together with Prof. Ulrich Lanz, he set up the Hand Surgery Clinic in Bad Neustadt / Saale. Hahn worked as a plastic surgeon until 1991. He qualified as a specialist in surgery in 1989 and completed his specialist training after studying in Bad Mergentheim with Prof. Helmut Schaudig. Peter Hahn studied in Antwerp and Heidelberg. He is 65 years old and lives in Bad Rappenau

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