I woke up, shut off my alarm, and started to get out of bed. I noticed that for the third straight day I woke up with a numb left hand. The week prior to that I had dealt with a slight tingling sensation, but it usually wore off throughout the day. But now it was preventing me from functioning.
Given how much people use computers today for work, school, and leisure, it makes sense that carpal tunnel syndrome will only become more common. Even so, it’s one of those things you never expect to happen to you. I was beginning to feel a little frustrated that this problem wasn’t just going away on its own. I took my one functional hand and ran a quick internet search, and it seemed to confirm my fears. Later in the day, in much worse pain, I decided to do a more thorough web browsing. I had noticed that it was not my index finger, middle finger, or thumb that hurt so much, but instead my pinky and ring fingers. I discovered that I had cubital tunnel syndrome. My ulnar nerve was compressed or pinched, most likely in the elbow joint. This is the same nerve that gets struck when you “hit your funny bone.” So imagine having that feeling for hours at a time, and the only “relief” you get is when your hand finally goes numb.
My internet search returned loads of valuable information. Between YouTube and websites devoted to free health information, I discovered that this is usually caused by pressing your elbow against hard surfaces. So those of you sitting at a desk, with you right hand on the mouse and your left hand propping your head up, pay attention! That left elbow is not supposed to support your weight for extended periods! But I noticed I had a few other bad habits as well. I realized I had been sleeping on my left arm, and I soon discovered my arm and elbow were pressed against the table whenever I would write with a pen. I decided to monitor and eliminate these few things, throw in some stretches, and see if I improved.
Using my computer, internet connection, one functioning hand, and fifteen minutes of my time, I had diagnosed myself, determined the causes, and sifted through some treatment options. I knew that just seeing a physician would cost too much. I also knew that the problem is sometimes solved with surgery, which would break the bank for someone like me. The fact that this problem had persisted for so long meant that I was at risk for “wasting” of the hand, meaning bone loss, permanent nerve damage, and the like. After two days of minimal computer use (who can cut it out completely?) and trying to sleep correctly, I wasn’t improving very much. No matter what I did, I would end up sleeping on my arm. So I borrowed one of the recommended treatment options mentioned online and decided to do it myself. I built a sleeping cast to fit my arm using scissors, tape, and an empty rolled oats tube. It prevented me from tossing and turning onto my arm, and also held it straight all night. Between that and diligent effort to keep my elbow off any solid surfaces, my symptoms got better over the next week.
I am now completely recovered. The reason I tell this story is two-fold. The first is to encourage you to take full advantage of the information age in which we find ourselves. For most of the problems you will experience in your life, the solutions you need are freely available online. The second reason is to be suspicious of the government-medical complex. With the state-endorsed AMA monopoly, there is one way to become a physician. And that includes undergraduate study, where students often take on tens of thousands of dollars in debt, and spends half of his or her time studying subjects that have nothing to do with practicing medicine. Students then take on much larger sums of debt in medical school, spending four years studying topics that are more applicable to health care than undergraduate science, but far from an efficient use of time or effort. Finally they get to spend three to five more years actually learning their trade. It’s no wonder people get duped into unnecessary surgeries and medications all the time. Physicians have to play financial catch up.
I look back now and feel only a sucker’s first choice is to see a doctor. For the price of a few pieces of tape, and the time it took to learn basic arm anatomy, I was able to avoid a several hundred dollar consultation, and thousands of dollars in surgeries. When the road to physician-hood is muddled with the deplorable inefficiencies of the state, some of the costs get passed onto the consumer. Avoid supporting this state relic whenever possible, because it’s easy to do, and your bank account will thank you for the effort.