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Carpal Tunnel?

Categories: MFA Confidential Blog.

Last summer, I started experiencing numbness and loss of control in my hands and fingers. I was worried, and since my medical expertise was limited to the dissection of a fetal pig in high school Biology, I turned to WebMD to diagnose myself. With this helpful tool, I was able to narrow down my symptoms to one of the following: alcohol-induced nerve damage, arthritis, Parkinson’s, or mild stroke. Panicked, and flapping my numb hands like a barnyard hen, I finally went and saw my doctor.

It turned out that I had developed Carpal Tunnel Syndrome. I was overjoyed, and not just because I’d worked myself up into a hypochondriac frenzy only to discover that my “illness” could be cured by a pair of fifteen dollar wrist guards from Walgreens. In my program at Columbia, we are expected to produce a page count of 70-90 pages per class, and that doesn’t include the endless rewrites and work that gets started but dead-ends and never gets turned in. But even so, I always worry that I’m not writing enough. Any free moment, I tell myself as yet another hour of watching Lifetime on the couch drifts by, is a moment that I should be writing. But now, I realized, I could go finally go easy on myself. The proof was there in the doctor’s note: I was such a dedicated writer I actually had gotten a disease from it. I sort of felt like the hockey player who gets his first tooth knocked out; the boxer with his first black eye, the preschool teacher with her first bite mark—my handicap had totally legitimized me!

My mom, though, had a different theory. She thought that I got carpal tunnel not through prodigious bouts of fiction writing, but through what she considered to be my severe addiction to text messaging. “You never put that thing down!” she accused, as I sat hunched over my phone’s keyboard, my wrist splints slowing me down only slightly, as I fired off an important emoticon-filled commentary about the latest episode of Bachelor Pad. Hurt, I insisted she was mistaken—I am a writer!-I cried passionately, and not even physical debilitation will keep me from my art!

That summer, despite my “condition”, I continued typing away, wrist guards and all. I was proud of myself, because even though I wasn’t in class and didn’t have the deadlines and page counts that help me to be productive during the school year, I still wrote a lot. All told, I probably wrote about 100 pages of new material.

*Also, according to my Verizon Statement, I sent an average of 1,673 text messages a month. But I really don’t see how that’s relevant!

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6 Responses to Carpal Tunnel?

  1. Kristan says:

    Well I’m glad it wasn’t Parkinson’s or a stroke, but carpal tunnel isn’t a joke… Many writers have to have extensive, expensive surgeries and treatments, and/or change their whole writing setup, and/or limit their computer hours. Be very diligent about how/where you type, and do exercises, and take breaks. I’m lucky to (so far) only have Repetitive Strain Injury (RSI = Carpal’s baby brother) but I’m definitely watching out, because nowadays Carpal (and other joint/muscle problems) really ARE hazards to the writing profession!

  2. Katie says:

    I haven’t had any issus with carpal tunnel yet… but I’m a writer, a signer (American Sign Language), and a texter, so it’s only a matter of time…

    Katie

  3. Kasia says:

    Ha Ha, its probably a combo of both!

  4. PacRim Jim says:

    Get the Microsoft Natural keyboard with a split keyboard. It lets the arms assume natural angles. I was getting CTS until I started using a split keyboard. Haven’t had any problem for 20 years.

  5. Linda says:

    I’m not so sure carpal tunnel results from writing. In September, I had surgery on both hands for carpal tunnel syndrome. I was told I had the most severe cases the doctor had ever seen, yet I never showed many symptoms. I was first diagnosed in 1987, but never needed wrist guards. The reason for testing resulted from a car accident in June 2009 that left my left elbow sore. I didn’t miss any work after either surgery; I typed with one finger on the wrapped wrist while the other was free. Some folks have said it comes back; my doctor says it won’t.

    When first diagnosed in 1987, I had played handbells for 15 years, that seemed to create the problem; by then I’d already been writing for 20 years without issue. Since then I hadn’t been writing all that much but my carpal tunnel grew worse. I’m convinced it was other things besides writing and text messaging.

    My doctor knows I’m a writer. He didn’t have any concerns with me continuing my profession. Since my surgery I’ve done more writing than before without issue. What makes my wrists and hands hurt is vacuuming, lifting heavy objects, driving, raking leaves, and turning on water faucets. Carpal tunnel is associated with writing, but I’ve been a writer over 40 years and never had any issues or symptoms until after a car accident and a horse-related accident that hurt both shoulders and elbows. I’m more convinced it’s related to those things than writing.

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