The time I found out I have Carpal Tunnel

Friday, September 16, 2016

A few weeks ago, I noticed a tingling sensation at the tip of my thumb while I was shampooing my hair in the shower. Initially, I thought nothing of it—it was early in the morning and my hand was probably sore from sleeping on it funny. No big deal. Whatever. But when the feeling came and went over a few weeks, then became more persistent and gradually more uncomfortable, I went from totally cool, totally chill, “broke-the-same-finger-4-times-in-one-semester-and-never-did-anything-about-it” Mary Kate, to high-anxiety, freaking out, “there’s-a-chance-next-week-I-won’t-have-a-right-arm-so-I-better-make-this-week-count” Mary Kate. 

First, I was sure it was a pulled muscle. Then, I thought maybe nerve damage. I had a 2-day bout with cancer before realizing it was actually brain lesions, at which point I began to mourn the loss of my forearm altogether (and wallowed in self-pity that I’d be a writer who would no longer be able to write—I’m a terrible, horrible, dramatic person, I know). 

So when it became apparent I’d have a limp set of fingers hanging from my arm if I didn’t see a doctor, I gave into my parents’ requests and swung by quick care for a look.

The wait was surprisingly short, and my nurse was very sweet. She asked me to step onto the scale and I made the same dad joke I’ve made at every doctor’s appointment I’ve had for like, 7 years (“the worst is almost over!” Seriously, someone shut me up). We both laughed and I stepped off the scale, and she went into questions about my hand.

Any possible injury that you can think of? Where does it hurt? Are you taking any medications? Do you have diabetes? Do you have hypothyroidism? Do you do any street drugs? (Another bad joke—“that escalated quickly” Who do I think I am? Nurses hate me). 

Then, as she typed at her computer, she asked about my work.

“I’m in political communications. I actually noticed my hand was getting worse when I was addressing envelopes the other day.”

“Oh, so you write a lot?”

This is very sweet, I thought. She’s making small talk. I like her.

“Yeah, and type a lot. Always on my phone—you know, one of those people, ha.” *facepalm*

The nurse smiled and nodded knowingly, still typing at her computer.

“You know, come to think of it, I hold my dog’s leash with this hand. Maybe he tugged too hard and that’s why my thumb is hurting?” Mary Kate, shut up.

“Maybe.” She stopped typing and stood up. 

“It sounds like you might have carpal tunnel. The doctor will be just a minute and he’ll ask you a few more questions then.”

She was hardly out the door before I grabbed my phone and googled “carpal tunnel.” I became suddenly aware of how uncomfortable it was to use my thumb to scroll. I opened WebMD and read the list of related symptoms:

tingling, numbness, loss of feeling in thumb and index finger, pain in hand and wrist

And then, the causes:

repetitive movement of the thumb and index finger; typing

Oh Mary Kate, you can’t be serious, you’re thinking. You gave yourself carpal tunnel? You’re such a millennial! Always on your phone, always on social media, always on the computer… This is why young people need to get off their phones!

Yeah, yeah, alright. Hear me out.

Technology has always been sort of my thing. My parents got a computer while we were still living over by St. Francis on Whitney, and I used to spend hours upon hours playing some silly Atlas-puzzle-maze-game thing that I only remember enough to know I played it constantly. 

When Windows upgraded within a few years, Nancy Drew computer games were my jam. I don’t think a natural disaster would’ve torn me away from one of these games. The world around me did not exist when I was playing them, and my family can attest to this. I’d spend days researching walkthroughs and cheat codes before I even so much as touched a new game, and the new ND game release days were like Christmas in my house. (Ironically, though, these games also totally freaked me out and consistently gave me nightmares. Basically, I’m so confused why this was ever a phase in my life. I digress…) Point being, I was obsessed.

AOL Instant Messenger took that obsession with technology to the next level when it combined the incessant computer-gaming that got me in trouble at home with the incessant mindless-chatting that got me in trouble at school. That, and Xanga (arguably my first blog? Prolific) kept me glued to an old computer chair in my mom’s home office for a scary amount of time per week. My parents were thrilled by none of this; I was too engrossed to care.

But as we all eventually did, I outgrew my dollz icon and color-coded away messages. Bigger and better things were in my future—namely, Facebook and Twitter.

Fast forward to 2016, I’ve made a reputation for myself for always having my (large) phone in my hand, sending rapid-fire texts that make The Iliad look like a bedtime story, and tweeting so much, so often (mostly about politics) that I’ve probably been muted by half the people who follow me anyway. Friends I haven’t seen in months make jokes about my long Facebook statuses and every once in a while, I’ll run into someone I hardly know who’ll say, “so… you still writing?” making it clear I’ve surpassed annoying just my own friends via social media and have moved into other circles.

I have to admit, though, that this bothers me very little. How could I ever pretend I don’t talk a lot, don’t have a lot to say, and don’t love social media at this point in my life? My mom often jokes that I “came out of the womb talking.” I literally started a blog so I could spend hours writing posts in which I’m, for all intents and purposes, talking to myself. Not to mention the fact that I’ve literally made a career out of this. So it should hardly come as a surprise to anyone that I’ve now physically injured myself by texting, tweeting, posting, phone-ing.

But all that being said, I do get it. And this has prompted me to take a step back and reflect. 

Technology has been a good in my life. It was something I enjoyed and was good at growing up. It gave me academic confidence in years I struggled with math and science, and has since given me a platform for my writing that, as an adult, I’m grateful for. My interest in it set me up to develop skills I never would have expected myself to, like coding and web development, and while I’m not an expert by any means, these skills have given me value in my job and it’s work I like to do. 

From a personal faith perspective, I absolutely love social media. I love sharing my life with the people in my life via posts and photos, and I love interacting with other people online—even people I’ve never met. I have connected with so many wonderful, faith-filled women (I wrote about this for the National Catholic Register, which you can read here) who have played a significant role in my spiritual growth these past few years—a role that I am sure will be ongoing. 

So, much good as come from this. Nevertheless, I see the bad.

Social media is a major distraction for me. It distracted me from my homework in high school (there’s an argument to be made that it actually contributed to my struggling with math and science), and distracted me from my homework in college. It has created an obsession with current events, news, and politics in me that I wholly admit broaches an unhealthy level, and that obsession does sometimes dictate my moods and demand my attention when it shouldn’t. It’s put up walls in my relationships when I’ve spent nights out with my family staring down at my phone, and I know I’ve had moments that texting has enabled me to say irresponsible things that could’ve been prevented had I simply made a call or had the conversation face-to-face. All of this, I know.

And now, social media and my cell phone have given me carpal tunnel. I am a living, breathing, millennial cliche. You may laugh.

It’s easy to blame work and say it’s in my job description to be accessible. It’s an excuse I’ve used since I graduated from college to keep my phone literally in-hand at all times, and for the most part, I’ve gotten away with it. But at what point is it too much? At what point has a line been crossed—when you find yourself in a doctor’s office, answering the question, “do you do any street drugs?” Is that the moment you need to look at your life and think, “maybe it’s time to make a change”? Lol. Probably.

The question I often ask myself in moments like this one is, “where’s the sin here?” It’s not like Moses came down the mountain and said “thou shalt not Snapchat an unhealthy number of times per day,” and yet, we still probably shouldn’t Snapchat constantly. So, what’s the sin? Where’s the line, and when did I cross it?

I’m still looking for the answer to this question. However, I do have a thought: it’s hard to live your life for God when you’re living it for the phone in your hand. It’s hard to listen for His voice when you’re listening for your text jingle or the Twitter ‘ding’ or you’re surfing Instagram memes at every idle opportunity. It’s so overused to refer to social media as “noise,” but it’s also appropriate because that’s exactly what it is—it’s noise. And every good Christian knows that where we meet God is in silence. 

St. Teresa of Calcutta (OMG I love writing that!) said this: “We need to find God, and He cannot be found in noise and restlessness. God is the friend of silence. See how nature—trees, flowers, grass—grows in silence; see the stars, the moon and the sun, how they move in silence... We need silence to be able to touch souls.” 

So, God slapped me with carpal tunnel, and it's funny. But I also know it means He’s calling me deeper—because He's always calling us deeper—out of the noise, and into the silence.

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