This Too Shall Pass

This Too Shall Pass

13 Jun 2021
RSI, faith

It’s cliché at this point to say that 2020 was a rough year. I’m grateful in that I and my wife were relatively unscathed by the pandemic. I had some personal health issues however that by themselves made 2020 a bit of a struggle. I learned some important lessons.

In February I had a big choir concert. That same weekend I had a large project for one of my CS classes due. I got an extension on my CS project so I could sing in the concert; but despite the extension, I was rushed and I spent an unusually long time in front of my computer working on my project after the concert was over.

Due to the nature of the project, I had to use a mouse for much of it. The strain of pronation1 for such a long time did something in my right forearm. The next day I felt an ache every time I tried to turn my hands downward: even with a 15° tent on my split keyboard, I couldn’t lay my hands down to type. I felt a burning along the inside of my forearm whenever I tried. My grip was shot as well: I wasn’t able to open any tight jars, and I had to use my left hand for a lot of things that I normally would use my right hand for.

I, at age 23, had developed a repetitive-strain injury.

I went to a physical therapist. An ultrasound revealed no issues with my nerves. I was really happy about that because it meant that I didn’t need surgery. But I did need some non-surgical intervention: after many weeks of rest from work and several visits to a physical therapist, my hand started feeling a little better.

After a month or so I was able to start going back to work. I started at working a few hours here and there, and over the course of a few months scaled back up to something close to what my hours normally were. I was extra-vigilant in doing my stretches and exercises that I had gotten from the physical therapist. Things were looking up.

Then it started hurting again.

It didn’t take much: just a small deviation from my workout and a little added stress on my hands sent me back to the doctor. Some more deep-muscle massages and another break from work helped me to get back on track. But I was feeling shaken and a little depressed.

This cycle happened again a few more times. Each time, I wondered if I would ever be back to “normal” when I didn’t have to worry so much about my hands.

I had been on the mend for a while and was feeling pretty happy about where I was. I invested in a new split keyboard that had more buttons for my thumbs which took the strain off of my pinky fingers. I switched to Vim-bindings in Emacs2 and made a concerted effort to avoid the mouse.

Then I started running.

I found a trail close by to where I live: it’s shady and pretty level. Running had always been my least favorite form of exercise, but I discovered that I actually enjoyed it.

After just a few days, I noticed that my hands were feeling better than they ever had before. I think the cardio helped my hands get some more blood that they had been missing. My hands still feel great. Some days I don’t think about the fact that they were injured, which is a miracle.

Then, after my first 5k, I got a bad case of runner’s knee.

I’m still feeling it. It’s been a few days, and even walking has been has been a little painful. I think I pushed it too hard too quickly. I’m not great at this physical training thing.

I’ve lost (temporarily) the form of exercise that I was just starting to enjoy. But something that I’ve learned from cycles of health and injury is that bad times come… and they also go. In the case of my hands, it took well over a year for me to feel like I was in a more normal place. I still feel like I’m on the mend—I still have a hard time using the keyboard on my laptop—but I’m optimistic that this time the worst is behind me, at least for the next few years.

I’m still young, and I’m only just getting used to the idea that injuries don’t heal as well as they do when you’re a kid. It’s been a bit of a struggle to come to grips with that idea, but I’m getting there.

It’s always the best of times, as well as the worst of times. I’ve watched my wife, parents, and friends go through similar seasons of difficulty—sometimes spanning years of distress—only to emerge triumphant in some cases, or adapt when the difficulties never pass fully.

I believe there is hope. I’m thankful for my family and my faith which helped carry me though these hard times. I know more will come, but I know I will make it through.

  1. The motion of turning the palm downwards. Opposite of supination, which is to turn the palm upwards. ↩︎

  2. Yes, Vim-bindings! That’s a post for another day. I started using evil-mode and I can now say that the best text-editor is Emacs with Vim-bindings enabled. ↩︎