Carpal Tunnel Chic (or, “Where I’ve Been These Past Few Weeks”)

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All of the wrist braces available on the medical market today could really use a makeover: I’ve been wearing these dudes nonstop for weeks now, and would welcome a little variety.  Why doesn’t anyone design cute, colorful braces for carpal tunnel sufferers? It’s not like I mind looking like Asami from Legend of Korra wearing her Equalist glove-weapon all the time, but I would go for a pastel pink or rainbow wrist brace in a heartbeat. Hey, if I’m already going to have people openly staring at me and asking what my problem is, I might as well look nice, right?

As it turns out, hands are pretty important–especially if you’re a writer/snail mailer/person who needs to cook and clean for herself.  In her amazing piece “The Girl Without Hands: Writing, Carpal Tunnel, and Silence,” author Catherynne M. Valente perfectly captures my experience with CTS, which struck me a few weeks ago and has kept me in constant, horrible pain ever since:

And when I tried to lift a book to read, my hands crumpled. I didn’t even have the strength to hoist a paperback. I burst into tears. You use your hands for everything, everything.

I have never felt so helpless in my life. And embarrassed. Humiliated by the failure of my body to keep being a body, to keep being useful, to keep being good. I felt inhuman–our opposable thumbs, our ability to manipulate objects, use tools, affect the materiel of our environment, is a defining characteristic–what we get to play with in the animal kingdom instead of claws or razor teeth or spots or tails or exoskeletons. And I couldn’t even feed myself.

Reading this piece (which I printed so I wouldn’t have to worry about scrolling through it again and again online, feeling the numbness shoot through my fingers with every downward motion) was one of my few comforts during the worst of it, when even brushing my teeth or pouring a glass of water to take my painkillers made me feel like Frodo Baggins when he’s stabbed on Weathertop.*

*Chronic pain tip: compare all of your experiences to injuries from Lord of the Rings! It might make you feel braver, or at least glad that you don’t have to wield Sting while you’ve lost the ability to grip things.

Suddenly losing the ability to care for yourself is eye-opening and terrifying, and something I think only people who have experienced loss of physical ability can understand fully. Ultimately, when you’re in constant, awful pain–whether it’s something isolated like CTS or recurring, full-body aches–it’s impossible to do anything. The world keeps expecting you to bounce back when it’s a struggle just to get out of bed each day without succumbing to the pain and crying.

Anyway, the reason why I’m writing this is because I have kind of returned, after a fashion: thanks to Siri’s dictation capabilities, I’m going to do my best to post again this week. I have lots to share–museum reviews galore from my trip to DC, some thrifting hauls, and letters beyond belief. (Reading letters from my pen pals is one of the few things I can convince my hands to do: I hope this week sees an even fuller mailbox!)

For now, though, I’ll keep this quick and rest my wrists: but if you’ve suffered from CTS and managed to defeat it (or at least tame it), please leave me a comment! (If you are lucky enough to have avoided this fate…heed my words and demand that your office workspace at your place of employment is made more ergonomic.)

Heed my words, children! Beware the CTS!

4 thoughts on “Carpal Tunnel Chic (or, “Where I’ve Been These Past Few Weeks”)

  1. Hey you really have a good insight back there 🙂 i am an occupational therapy student and i think CTS are common in the clinics, and yeah we do give a lot of splints. Anyway, what you said was kind of true even though new materials used in the medical field are more durable and innovative, it still lacks a sense of style and fashion if thats what you call it. I saw a picture one time while looking for splints that a client kind of glued beads that look like diamond to her splint and it was so fabulous!!

    • Hey, thank you for your comment! (Somehow it got sent to my spam folder and I didn’t see it for two weeks, so sorry for the late reply!) Trust me, I am so glad to have such durable new materials to work with–the splints I have are actually quite flexible, even if blandly colored, and perhaps I should try decorating them with some beads or gems 🙂 Also, I have so much respect for your field of study after this whole ordeal; occupational therapy has been incredibly helpful in my recovery process!

    • Thank you! 🙂 After days of using Siri as my stenographer, I’m finally able to type again–never thought something so simple would feel like an accomplishment, but it really does!

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