Friday, April 13, 2012

An Occupational Hazard?

The pain in my hand was excruciating. “Carpal tunnel syndrome!” I confirmed. I had already been warned, on buying a new desk and new computer, “You don’t want it… it’s incredibly painful!”

It struck while I was in a theater—my own second act problem. My left hand knew what my right hand was doing—screaming for help—and flew to its rescue, uselessly writhing with it. At curtain call, I couldn’t applaud. At dinner afterwards with friends, I couldn’t manage to raise a tea cup without supporting it with my left hand. People high on a good show don’t note much else, fortunately.

It kept me up most of the night. I couldn’t wait to get to my computer to learn from the Internet doctors what to expect next. If you’ve ever seen a schematic of carpel tunnel syndrome, you know it would be easier to interpret spaghetti. Mulling over lists of indications, I had enough to qualify, but somehow CTS (Any ailment reduced to capital letters sounds terminal to me.) was an uncomfortable fit. So, I deemed, was wearing a splint, or the discomforting alternative, severing the transverse carpal ligament to relieve a nerve. Unnerved about being surgically un-nerved, I foraged faster and vaster. I abruptly came to my senses at the point of reading, “Avoid sleeping on your wrists.” Who does such a thing, and why? I didn’t fit the CTS profile.

In two googles flat, I discovered what I was suffering from! My writers guild should have warned me. My writing colleagues never broached the topic. There it was, in plain cyberslang! a crmp r spzm o musls o fingrz, h& + 4arm wen rytng. I had rytrs crmp! [Translation: A cramp or spasm of the muscles of the fingers, hand, and forearm during writing.] Writer’s cramp!

Albert Schweitzer had writer’s cramp and a lousy handwriting, and he won a Noble Prize! Robert Schumann had a writer’s cramp physicians deferentially (and reasonably) identified as “musician’s cramp,” and should have won the distinction of having a disease named after him, like Lou Gehrig. If YouTube had existed in 1832, we could view the bereft virtuoso at the piano performing his extremely demanding, “Toccata Op. 7,” which the great composer constructed to be playable without the tragically impaired middle finger of his right hand.

I was unable to find any writers with a history of writer’s cramp. Surely in the days of longhand—ancient hieroglyphs, the Bible, Moby Dick!— feverish story-tellers on a creative tear, grasping sharpened stones, bone styluses, bamboo reeds, goose-feather quills (The left wing was favored! ns), pencils and pens, “callously” inflicted scratcher’s cramp, drawer’s cramp, chiseler’s cramp, eventually cursive writing (and keyboard cramp?) on their blameless writing hands!

I’d noticed my fingers were creating more tyops typos than usual. Then, that objects had been flying out of my hands, particularly late at night, when they fall louder. Knowing my infirmity was writer's cramp was immaterial. Learning something new—and sharing it with you—is anything but. Bet you didn’t know: writer's cramp generally occurs without family history, but “cases of inherited writer's cramp have been reported….” I remember my mother breaking a few dishes… does over her lifetime make a difference?

During the past two weeks, I wanted to write about something else—the Affordable Care Act and the individual mandate; about Justice Antonin Scalia (who gives me cramps) and broccoli (which doesn’t). Contemplating my eventual choice of words for my exasperation is therapeutic—my hand is already feeling better! The day I can use my index finger again for pointing and prodding (and the one next to it for an unseen obscene gesture) is near at hand.

Meanwhile, I’m left pondering this quandary: If Stephen Sondheim had a cramping pain or a spasm in his hand, would he have writer's cramp or musician’s cramp? Or both? It’s a handwringer.

Please note: The wonderful emoticon, above, was created by blogger Allie Brosh. Please take a look at more of her brilliant “Comprehensive Proto-Emoticon Pain Chart.”