March 12, 2005

Frazzled Nerves

Well, we postponed our trip up Mount Hood. I’ve been hacking and weezing all weekend, fighting off the Hood River Plague, which has since reached legendary status. I’m still waiting for them to send in the CDC and quarantine the town, close down I-84, and pitch a couple napalm missions just for good measure.

We’ve always been told that the Air Force tests bombing runs against the Hood River Toll-Bridge because it’s been outfitted with sensors and makes a great practice target. Now we know that they run these missions just in case an outbreak like this happens, and they need to seal off the town in a smoking crater.

I say if they’re gonna do it, they’d better hurry up. Do it before I file my taxes. Hell if I’m gonna take the time to give the government money if I’m gonna be vaporized in the next week.

The doctor said I have a broken funny bone. Seriously. After two years of building websites, and four years of college, and umpteen years of playing video games, I’ve toasted my ulnar nerve. The nerve runs close to the surface at your elbow, fits in a little groove right there, so when you bump it you get a particularly exhilarating feeling in your arm.

Well, even if you try to do everything right, and you take frequent breaks and you stretch your joints and flex your muscles and don’t rest your wrists on the desk and avoid carpel tunnel, you can still suffer from an irritated ulnar nerve. It’s your typical repetitive stress injury, which turns the means of production for the 21st century into your personal gambit of pain. Such joy.

That being said, we still pretend to be surprised when we hear that the human body wasn’t built to hold the same position for eight or nine or twelve hours a day. And if you’re the poor guy who works at Sprint, which sometimes enacts mandatory twelve-hour work days, your body goes to hell in a hurry.

And sometimes, even though the company makes a suspiciously huge effort to improve the ergonomics of your workspace and allow you to work twelve-hour days, your body still can’t handle it. You are still in pain and visit the doctor again and again. Meanwhile, the company keeps fixing your workspace, as though they have something great and horrible to prove, until all alternatives are exhausted. Finally, the company agrees to cut back your work hours, and you never need to visit the doctor again.

To be sure, that’s not me. I am willing and able to cut back my hours, and I’ve already felt an improvement in my condition after doing so. And really, that’s about all I can do. Surgery is rarely considered for ulnar nerve complications. You can’t immobilize a nerve with a wristguard, and you can’t stretch it with exercise. What’s more, anything I do to my ulnar nerve will do nothing to improve the tendonitis I’m developing in my double-clicking finger. You see, this thing just keeps getting better and better.

When it comes down to it, the only solutions are moderation and lifestyle change. Fortunately for us, these are the two solutions that I am most willing to embrace. I would be overjoyed if I could find a profession that minimizes my time in front of the computer. I prefer tactile work. I prefer contact with people over contact with microchips. I’d rather read a book than read a website. I’d rather climb a mountain than play Warcraft.

Irregardless, my lifestyle will be kicked off its heals in two months. I’m trying to figure out what I’ll be doing in six, but it’s difficult to plan anything with such a huge gap of experience between now and then. Perhaps after a summer in the woods I’ll be more than happy to curl up with Grand Theft Auto after a long day of staring at screens and writing code.

Maybe the geek inside needs the meathead, just as much as the meathead needs the geek. Maybe. I wouldn’t bet on it. But maybe.