Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Insult to injury

Mmm-boy! I love me some a yer fancy modern pharmaceuticals!

In the last few weeks, I've had the last fifteen years of typing every day catch up to me in the form of severe pain in my hands, which matches all the descriptions of "computer elbow". This malady is one of those repetitive motion injuries you hear about, that can include actual tiny tears in the muscle tissue, as well as nerve pain as the damaged muscles pinch the nerves that run from your elbow to your hands. It feels like someone is more or less constantly hitting me in the funny bone.

And as a bonus round, it is aggravating the neuropathy caused by the chemo that was better for a year or so, but is now back in a most vengeful way, like a jilted lover. Oh, how well I remember that lovely combo of the feeling like my fingertips are on fire and pressure in the hands and lower arms that builds up until it feels like my fingers are going to explode. Ever get your fingers caught in a door jambe? (Cringing a little now?)

I spend about three minutes in every ten holding my hands above my head and shaking them to try to get the pressure to go down.

It makes touching anything hard, like turning a key in a lock, zipping up my jacket, handling metal cutlery, opening the fridge door, and of course typing, a uniquely penitential adventure.

While there is no cure for the chemo-induced neuropathy except time and luck (with some people it never goes away entirely) there is something to be done about the repetitive motion injury: stop doing the thing that caused it. For at least two weeks, to give the damaged and inflamed muscle tissue time to heal. I suppose eating properly and getting a lot of exercise to boost the body's immune and healing systems would also not be a bad idea.

I've been trying various stretching exercises, which help temporarily. You sit on the sofa (or the pew) with your hands flat on the seat on either side. Then turn your hands around so the fingers are pointing backwards with the palms still down and flat. Now lean slowly backward so the fingers are pushed backwards in an L shape. Then slowly back again. Do this several times during Lauds, Vespers or Mass.

To get the full Crazy Lady effect, do the other stretches in between during the standing parts of the Mass, putting your hands and fingers behind you into weird contortions, then shaking them vigorously. Doing this during the Consecration is especially effective.

Yesterday I realised I would have to do take a break. I was writing an email to a friend back in BC, and the only way to do it was to hold my arms perfectly straight out, with my fingers splayed out like a starfish, and wrists held in a perfectly flat plane with my arms, no twist. I could type, very slowly and winceingly, with my thumbs.

Right now, I'm busily making things worse by taking strong painkillers, which work well enough that I can forget that it's actually just masking the symptoms enough to send me back to the keyboard so I can continue to do the thing that caused the problem.

I've already injured my way out of one promising career. I'd still be slinging bread dough if I hadn't been stupid and slipped a disk when I was 32.

Maybe it's a sign from God. Maybe it's just plain time to give up the internet entirely. Somehow.



Anonymous said...

I suffer from a similar ailment, but have found great relief by using a pleasantly reliable dictation program called Dragon Naturally Speaking.

Happy to help if you decide to put out a bleg and try it.

- Brian

Steve T. said...

I am a dedicated fan of Dragon. I've found it very useful, and I suffer from bilateral carpal tunnel.

Romulus said...

I started mousing with the other hand. That helped a LOT -- I had been at the point where I was avoiding using my right hand as much as possible, and dreaded having to shake hands, as it was torture. Now it's fine.

Also, I prop up my keyboard so that the side closest to me is high than the opposite side. It tilts away from me as I type. I find this greatly helps my wrists in not having to strain themselves to an unnatural angle.

Finally, I got a new office chair that's sufficiently high so that my feet hang almost free and are not bent or tucked beneath. This has helped greatly with some near-crippling foot pain I was experiencing a year ago.

I despise fads, but ergonomics is a real thing. The motions of desk workers are so unnaturally limited that repetitive stress injuries are practically inevitable. Change the way you do things. Every one of the adaptations I mention above resulted in near-total relief. It takes time.

Tina said...

I agree with Steve T. and Brian that Dragon is a good product. I used it in its earlier incarnation of Dragon Dictate where you had to speak slowly. I think that the software has improved since then. I would recommend it.

I would also suggest that you look on your computer's OS for an Accessibilty or Ease of Use feature. I have one on Windows 7 and it too is a speech recognition engine that you train with your voice and then are able to operate your computer's functions with your voice. This may help.

My prayers are with you.

Hilary Jane Margaret White said...

Yes, I considered voice recognition software, but I'm afraid it would be more or less useless. I don't write by starting a complete thought at the top and working to the end. My brain simply doesn't work that way, and since I could only articulate with my voice a single line of thought, instead of the multilayers that I write with, the only way to do it would be to finish the article, perhaps by longhand, and then read it out loud into the microphone. Just flatly impossible to do the news this way.

Anonymous said...

A B-Complex vitamin could help with some of the pain and inflammation (I think it's specifically B-6, but I can't recall). If you have wrist braces, use them, even in your sleep. My chiropractor told me that when we sleep, we tend to bend our wrists, and she recommended I continue to wear the braces at night, just very loosely. I tend to use them for a few nights whenever I feel the pain returning (after several days of lots of typing), and it prevents a full flare-up.

I am in HR, and I ordered ergonomic studies for all our employees a few years ago. We were one of the few groups in my organization with no repetitive-motion injuries, despite the workload, which was entering checks by hand into accounts.

Lorena B

Charmaine said...

I don't suppose they have prolotherapy or trigger point injection treatments where you live?