My arms and me

How is it that in over a decade of blogging, I have never written about my arms?

I searched. Nothing.

That’s very strange, because my arms and I have an unusual relationship, certainly worthy of some commentary.

It started out in the ordinary way. For about 30 years of my life, my arms were just there, doing their normal arms’ things, and I was here not thinking a lot about them.

Then, in the summer of 2001 I started digging. It was more like scraping. In preparation for a retaining wall, I scraped a 30 foot long, 1.5 foot deep trench through some of the worst “soil” imaginable. There really wasn’t much soil about it. It was mostly rock and garbage, embedded in hard pack clay. Yes, garbage. The former owner of our former property had been the town garbage collector and, well, he kept a few things.

Then he forgot about them. They got covered in dirt, and rock. Years later, I was pulling out radiator covers and 7 foot, steel poles, along with rocks of all sizes, some I could barely lift.

I did this for several months. A couple hours of work left my arms throbbing. Stupidly, I thought this was good. “I’m getting strong. I can feel the throbbing!”

Actually, this was very bad. I was ripping countless micro-tears in my arm tendons. They scarred and inflamed and, sure enough, within a few months I could barely type without discomfort. Tendinitis. The proper medical term is “terrible tendinitis of everything in my arms.”

This was bad. It lasted years. It affected everything. Even three years after I inflicted the damage, I struggled to hold and feed my first child.

I iced. I did tai chi. I stretched. I rested. I got a funny shaped keyboard. I tried voice recognition software. I struggled with this problem for years. I spent a lot of time encouraging my daughter to walk when all I wanted to do, and all she wanted me to do, was carry her.

I pitied myself. When my arms were really bad, I remember looking at another man’s arms and thinking, “His arms don’t hurt. He can do whatever he wants. That must be nice.”

Just as with my back in the 1990s (sciatica from a herniated disk — I could barely walk), it took about a decade to feel fully “recovered.” Still, my arms require management. The tendons feel it when I swim or work out too hard. Typing is still hard on them. A topical NSAID works very well.

My arms now rarely significantly alter my life, but they do exert influence. Their most frequent disruption is to limit my writing. There is writing I would have done, that I’d like to do, that I don’t because my tendons can’t take it. Long before my brain is ready to quit, I stop working on a computer due to my arms.

Here’s the most interesting, and sort of wonderful, thing about my arms though: they tell me when I am stressed before the rest of me knows it. It’s probably the cortisol, which can produce an inflammation response.

When the first squirt of it hits my arms, the tendons inflame. I’ve felt this just playing a board game, if I’m really into it. I’ve felt it in conversations, if they get heated. I don’t have to be using my arms to feel them telling me something is wrong.

I’ve learned to calm down, just to keep my arms happy, which is surely best for the rest of me too.

I listen to my sensitive arms. I have to. It’s not a relationship I would have chosen, but it’s one I’ve got.


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