The Tale of the Carpal Tunnel

hand 1What a drag it is to have to rely on a machine to carry you about. I’m not talking about cars, bikes or anything like that; I mean the mechanical thing that’s worked by tendons, bones, muscles and all those other squishy bits. Most of the time it’s fine. When it’s been around as long as mine has, there are bound to be dents and scratches, but the drag is when bits go wrong. You can see which bit I’m referring to in the photo.

I’ve been waiting for a while to have surgery to relieve the compression on the carpal tunnels in my wrists, and the left one was done on Monday. The tunnels are another example of a bad bit of design by God. All sorts of nerves and things run through them, so when they shrink a bit, there’s pressure on the nerves and you get tingling in your thumb and fingers and some pain. The medics confirm that it’s carpal tunnel syndrome (rather than potentially nastier things) by administering electric shocks to places on your hands and arms. It can be caused by various things and the only one I’m confident doesn’t apply in my case is hormonal changes during pregnancy.

On Monday, then, from 11 o’clock onwards I sat in a comfortable chair in the hospital reading the excellent new anthology by Authors Electric, A Flash in the Pen.  (Here in the UK, and here in the USA.)  By the time it was my turn to go into theatre, there were only a couple of stories unread. (I recommend the book, the writing is superb and there’s a great variety of styles and genres.)

I don’t want this to be an exhaustive description of surgical and anaesthetic procedures so let’s dispense with those quickly.

  • Local anaesthetic in my palm and wrist.
  • Wheeled into theatre.
  • Left arm extended onto a tray-like thing.

A sort of tent over me stopped me seeing what they were doing. But sitting beside me, sharing the tent, was a man – presumably a nurse or doctor, or maybe some sort of decoy. I’m not sure, because all he did was talk to me about a new laptop he’d ordered and the sort of things he intended to use it for. While we were chatting I felt liquid being splashed on my arm (cold, so it wasn’t a fountain of blood), heard various clicks and noises from outside the tent and, after quite a short time, the surgeon took it away and I saw that my left arm had become a lollipop.

Everybody was friendly, efficient and professional and made the whole experience stress free. My wife came to take me home where the process of relearning the basics of living began. Deprived of the use of the hand, I started speculating whether it was possible to eat pizza through a straw, take a shower while keeping about 3% of my body dry, invent replacements for shirt buttons and shoelaces, and type a 90,000 word novel with one finger. The following day, I resisted the temptation to stay in my pyjamas, took what seemed like hours to dress, then prodded at the keyboard with one hand, stopping only to look out at the grass which was, malevolently, growing as fast as it could, knowing full well that I won’t be able to shove the mower over it for a couple of weeks.

I’m supposed to have the same thing done on my right hand in due course, but I think I’ll wait to see just how inconvenient it is to be unidextrous. Or maybe I’ll explore the possibilities of getting a new machine.

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