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RSI log: three months later

June 24, 2009

My Doctor began mobilizing an A-Team to resolve the pain and diminished use of my hands due to a repetitive strain injury three months ago this week. I put up with my symptoms for a couple of months before checking in, because other health care providers had been cavalier about the same symptoms in the past. This time, the pain was much worse, and much more limiting than ever before. I had the bonny notion that I had finally arrived at a sufficiently heroic stature to volunteer for carpal tunnel surgery. But I was mistaken; the EMG revealed no nerve impaction, and therefore no carpal tunnel syndrome, and therefore no surgery, and therefore no assurance, however qualified, of resolution.

I wrapped up a few weeks of physical therapy today. My therapist taught me to do nerve glides, which sometimes relieve the pain in my elbows. She did some muscle stretches in my neck, because she felt my system was too sensitized for trigger point work. Muscle contractures in my neck are the source of the pain and burning in my arms and hands. Today was my final scheduled appointment, and I decided, that rather than accepting a referral to another therapist, I would retire to our private practice at home. She agreed that was a good plan. My husband will proceed with trigger point work, using Claire Davies’s book as a guide, and I will faithfully execute to the best of my ability the neck stretches the therapist sent home with me.

I have made sufficient gains in the past months that ibuprofen actually is now helpful. It didn’t begin to touch the pain just a few weeks ago. Gains are slow with repetitive strain injuries. Symptoms like mine, with arm pain and burning hands, can require months, and even years, to resolve to a point where most activities are again possible without pain. Many people never type again, but rely exclusively on voice-recognition software, and I suspect that I will be one of those people. The software can be wretchedly frustrating at times, but what in life isn’t…. I suspect that many of us who acquire RSIs have a — er — low frustration threshold, which might have something to do with the origin of our injuries. We want it perfect and we want it perfect now, and if it’s not perfect now, we’ll pound away until it is.

I was talking with a friend about how easy it can be to use illness — and I mean illness in the broad sense that would encompass pain, disease, or any other physical limitation — sinfully. Think of all the excuses we can invoke to avoid people, places, tasks, and obligations. If we don’t use illness to avoid things, we may fall into sinful guilt over our honest inability to perform normally. If we don’t do that, there is always self-centeredness and self-righteousness, and the demands spawned by those states of mind that everything in our environment change.

There is certainly an upside to respecting one’s own limits. If we don’t, we take longer to heal, discomfiting everyone in our sphere. And there is much to be gained from advocating change in the environment. That is the wellspring of ergonomics, especially the incredible development of voice-recognition software. It sometimes seems like cuneiform, but when I think about it, the ability to dictate written copy into a computer is of no less magnitude than a manned moon landing. It certainly affects my life more on a daily basis.

Stewardship requires that we evaluate what is effective and what is not, and that we allocate resources accordingly. At some point, it has to be time to concede that if we are over about 35, we may never feel perfect again — if we ever did. We can’t perfect ourselves or the world; what’s it worth to us to keep trying? I think it’s good to have some kind of limit in mind.

I favor simple remedies and I favor remedies that I can do for myself over those for which I have to turn to others. I was thinking about Elisha, and his remedies for drastic problems. For poison in the pot, he used a pinch of flour. For bad water, a pinch of salt. To retrieve a sinking ax head, he tossed a branch in the river. I have no exegetical basis for this, but it does seem that these simple elements — salt, flour, and a branch — might be Christological and ecclesiological symbols: salt, the church; flour, the bread of life; and Christ, the Branch of Jesse. God moves in mysterious ways, his mercies to perform.

But we do not live in an age of signs and miracles, and we should avail ourselves of what is available. And we should know when to stop availing ourselves of what is available. Medicine is no different from shoes: it’s a lust-driven marketplace out there.

The bottom line is still a little wavy, but I’m beginning to discern that RSIs are like most other injuries: they do get better instead of worse. They take time and they do not always get all better. But better is better.

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One Comment
  1. heidi permalink
    June 25, 2009 3:40 am

    Lauren, these thoughts have much of ‘virtue and praise’ in them and I will be thinking on them today.

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