After spending much of the last several years regularly updating this blog, it has been some time since I went a month with anything fewer than 5 entries. I love to ramble to the masses, after all, and make sure to post at least once a week whenever possible. So it would make sense, after this August came and went, that some people who have visited this blog would have one very important question to ask me:
Fair question, my imaginary audience, but no. And, while I didn’t die, I can see why you would wonder. It is true, for several weeks now I have been effectively dead to the world. In fact, after frequently making jokes I was a zombie fueled only by caffeine and calypso music, I finally found myself for the first time completely unable to raise my corpse to the challenge. Having resolved to use the month of August to get ahead of several projects so that I could enter 2018 with a fresh start and renewed drive, I ended up with one of the greatest pains I had ever felt in my arm and found it difficult to do much of anything with it. Had I broken it in some freak accident? Was I suffering some sort of traumatic disease which was stripping the use of my arm from me? Did I tear the muscles in some dramatic fashion?
Nope, I just pissed off mother nature by working at a desk all day…
Rising from my grave a few weeks ago, shambling for the nearest source of caffeine I could find, I came to notice a nagging feeling in my elbow. It had become tight, sore, and a little swollen, but not so much that I could not move it. I thought to myself, well that’s odd, I must have slept on it wrong, and went on my way as though there were nothing to worry about. However, over the course of the rest of the day it became progressively worse and activities I normally did were now a bit more difficult than they should be. Clearly, I had slept on it in some sort of advanced Yoga position that I could only achieve while asleep. And it continued to get worse throughout the day until the next day I found it was in a constant state of pain.
Though it wasn’t broken and had full range of motion (initially), the thing felt like a punishment from some higher deity I didn’t believe in. Over the next couple days I found that it ached constantly, throbbed whenever allowed to drop below a certain height, and could move but would make me pay for it later. By the end of the second day I had found that the arm wouldn’t be comfortable in any position other than what I had started to deem the “Rookie of the Year” position.
Aside from the fact it looked like I was constantly one step away from making a fist of solidarity with an unidentified movement or that I really wanted the teacher to call on me, the position prevented me from doing… anything. My right hand was effectively out of use unless I could find a way to get the keyboard to hang from the ceiling. I couldn’t exactly sit at my desk since even the arm of the chair aggravated it, and in my bed I required several pillows, a bandage, and pain medication. For all intents and purposes, I had to learn to do everything with one hand or not bother with it at all – including typing.
I’d always expected I’d someday find myself looking down the barrel of something like carpel tunnel. It was the boogeyman of my youth and everyone I knew feared getting it at some point. Though very few people I’ve known ever ended up with it, I was, by design, on the keyboard at my desk far longer every day than most of them. But I knew this wouldn’t have been carpal tunnel because the only thing on the damn arm that actually functioned was the wrist. And, considering it wasn’t my boogeyman, it was time to figure out just what the hell I’d done to the elbow.
It turned out to be everything.
Upon examination it became clear that I’d managed to inflame multiple tendons and even the bursa on my elbow through what appeared to be overuse. To put it simply, I’d gotten Tennis Elbow, Golfer’s Elbow, and a mild case of Student’s Elbow at the same damn time. Despite their more athletic names, the leading cause of Tennis Elbow and Golfer’s Elbow is frequent, repetitive motions with the hand and elbow – including those common in computer use such as using a mouse or a keyboard. In fact, Tennis Elbow is so common among heavy computer users that people have coined “Mouse Elbow” for the rest of us. Yes, while once upon a time such injuries were more likely to be gotten by professional athletes, now you’ll find they plague the eSports leagues just as often. Student’s Elbow, on the other hand, has long been associated with one thing.
Yes, Student’s Elbow, a form of Bursitis, is an inflammation of a fluid sac in your elbow called a Bursa. This inflammation is caused primarily by either hard blows to the elbow or, as the name would suggest, sitting at a desk or a chair with hard armrests for too long. Seeing that I’ve actually slept at my desk a few times, this made sense. And, unfortunately, despite the fact a lot of you are probably just hearing about it for the first time, the Bursa happens to be an important little bastard.
Your Bursa acts as a cushion between all the moving parts of your elbow and other joints so that you’re not constantly having to power through the agony of simple friction. But, due to the fact that it carries out this very important task, when a Bursa gets inflamed you start to find that the once friendly sac has turned against you. Extreme cases of Bursitis are actually so inflamed that people begin to demonstrate what is often known as the “Popeye’s Elbow”.
Fortunately, my case wasn’t quite that bad, and normally wouldn’t have even restricted the motion, but was currently happening alongside two other examples of overuse. The swelling of the three combined gave my now puffy elbow a fairly consistent appearance but meant that the damn thing ached almost constantly. All of them, thankfully, had a simple method of treatment of rest, ice, compression, and elevation. But, as a result, even if I could use the damn thing I wasn’t really allowed to do any keyboard related activities until it reached a more tolerable stage. You’d think this would have driven me immediately into a vacation, but that would require I wasn’t a stubborn dumbass.
For some years I’d been fascinated by the concept of voice-to-text but had never actually bothered to use it. Sure, I’d seen the commercials for things such as Dragon Speech Recognition and the like, but I never spend money on anything I don’t need. However, with the arm currently out of action, it was time to either figure out how to type at full speed with nothing but my left hand or finally give voice-to-text a shot. Fortunately for my wallet, this happened to be a function included with my cheap ass cellphone. To my surprise, despite being a piece of crap, the phone had a fairly good voice-to-text system that was able to make out everything I said with clarity provided I didn’t have a fan directly behind me. Unfortunately, I’m in a high desert, and over the course of my impromptu vacation the local temperatures frequently crossed the triple digits (hovering around 40 for you outside the states). Needless to say, the combination of fans, a swamp cooler, and my heat induced mumbling meant I had to yell at the phone like Jerry Maguire down to his last client.
This would have all been well and good but I soon realized the words the program struggled with most were the ones I least wanted to be yelling while pacing the room. I’m willing to admit my language can, at times, be colorful. I’ve never subscribed to the notion that cursing was an indicator of a weak mind because I found that generally the people most likely to curse in my life were among the smartest. Hell, studies have since shown that a vast knowledge of curse words is an indicator of a high vocabulary. However, my new writing assistant, Mr. Phone, was considerably more polite than I and had afforded me the benefit of the doubt more often than I likely deserved. Frequently it would detect an off-color remark and assume that I meant to say something less crude – auto-correcting to a cleaner and yet wholly out of context phrase that I’d have to go back and correct. And, seeing as typing with just my left thumb was a pain in the ass, I would generally resort to correcting this by simply repeating the offending word as loudly as possible until it got it right – only to find it edited with stars for the sake of modesty. I can’t remember the exact moment I realized this was stupid, but I do remember that I was starting to feel silly yelling “FUCK” at a phone with an arm raised over my head.
So I had no choice but to lay down and wait it out.
You rarely take into consideration just how often you use something until you’re unable to use it anymore. Over the course of several weeks I found that my arm was feeling overused for good reason as I realized that almost nothing I did day-to-day didn’t somehow aggravate the swollen elbow. Fortunately, my mother, caring soul that she is, was more than willing to step up and assist me in doing things such as wrapping the bandage around the elbow and opening pill bottles that I suddenly struggled to get through. Yes, she may have forgotten at one point why it was I had my arm raised and gave me a high five. But, hey, by that point…
I was recovered enough to walk it off.
(I write novels, dabble in screenplays, and complain about shit on twitter. None of which I kept up to date for the last few weeks.)