Back in the saddle…

September 2, 2009

This afternoon, in a few moments, after a few false starts in past weeks, I will be back in the shop and at full production.  Heck, you might not have even known I was gone.

It all started before the Chicago show when I noticed a significant pain in my left wrist.  I did the show and came home thinking that the pain would get better, but it didn’t.  Work continued as the pain was mostly evident after I was done for the day.  I had to go more slowly but it didn’t affect my work otherwise, and thank heavens for that.  But, I was worried.  Any artisan who works with his hands, doing repetitive motion, has to worry about carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS).  With CTS if you don’t take care of it the game can be over.  I know people with CTS that can’t even hold a jar of pickles.  There is surgery, and that is a godsend, but I really didn’t want to go there.  So, I started altering how I did things and started taking Ibuprofen and vitamin B12, all things aimed at controlling any CTS condition.  Things got better, but working while recovering wasn’t getting me anywhere too fast.

 Then, one day while going up stairs to the loft to go on the computer I recalled another day when I actually fell up the stairs catching myself at the last moment falling directly on…you guessed it, my left hand and wrist.  It all started to make sense.  The thing that had been bothering me was that my pain and the location wasn’t consistent with CTS.  I had put the fall out of mind, but was fooled as it often takes such an injury days to show symptoms, something that I know from my days as a personal injury lawyer.  And, as I looked back on it, the pain did start shortly after I fell up the stairs.  So, I had been treating the wrong problem with the wrong solution.  Ibuprofen is fine, but what an injury like that needed was rest.  CTS is a chronic injury, and this one was acute.

So, I took some time off, and, lo and behold my hand healed, for the very, very most part.  Things went along fine until one day in the shop I got stupid.  I was drilling a relief hole in a piece of Caneel for a very unique tamper called “WaterDance” and didn’t follow standard procedure.  I didn’t clamp my work down to the drill press table.  Just as the ¾” inch drill bit was about to break through the sheet, safe and sound, the bit caught on the material jerking the sheet from my hand.  Never wanting to abandon a sinking ship, and like a 100% idiot, I grabbed back at the oddly shaped sheet and followed the now spinning piece of Caneel as it flew upwards.  This caused two things to happen in a split second.  Three sharp edges that would soon be very cool contours gouged long wounds into the back of my hand.  But worse yet, as the Caneel spun to the top by the chuck, my thumb was bent back towards my wrist far more than I though possible without the sound of a “snap”.  How I didn’t break my thumb is a small miracle.  I stood there by the drill press evaluating my condition, offering thanks for my dumb luck.   Artisan tip #717: never shortcut procedures.  Always clamp your work no matter how small the task seems.

As it turns out, I didn’t re-injure the old injury.  Thank heavens for that.  But, I found myself with a brand new injury to the left thumb and wrist.  Like the first injury it allowed me to still work, but at a good bit slower pace, and not super hard materials like aluminum.  And, like last time I didn’t do what I should have done which was to give it complete rest.  So, things dragged on.  Finally, in the past three or so weeks I decided that it was time to do the right thing and rest the hand.  The timing was actually good as a family health issue required me to be at doctor appointments (all is well!) and I was going to be driving my daughter back to college.  So, I basically took my three week annual vacation resting my hand, taking care of business and adding some tooling to the shop, and doing a little manual work even though I shouldn’t have been. 

It was a wise move.  As today my hand is as fit as a fiddle.  This afternoon I will descend into the shop and continue making fun things for wonderful, patient folks who have been very understanding about delays.  The health of my hands is incredibly important and I’m relieved that I’m back.  As an attorney a wound to the hand wasn’t debilitating in the sense that it prevented me from doing my job, but as an artisan, like a surgeon, you have to protect your hands.  That reminds me of my Dad.  He was a dentist and an oral surgeon.   He (and I) also used to fly radio controlled airplanes.  When we would break in a new engine for an airplane we would have to run it a good while before trusting it to flight, so we would run it in the back yard bolted to a saw horse.  Starting the engine back in those days required you to flip the propeller, quickly getting your hand out of the way.  A propeller could take off a finger, or very nearly so.  Well, my Dad used to get a little careless when things weren’t going right, and most times he would end up with a gaping would to his hand.  I well recall my Dad, in brown Bermuda shorts, sandals, and white tee shirt, with his bow legs, dancing around the driveway holding his hand with blood squirting like a Wes Craven slasher film.  And then, invariably, my Mom would come running outside shouting “Chuck, what do you think you’re doing, your hands are your living…”  She was right, of course, but my Dad never learned.  I’m learning.

So, I’m back in the saddle again, healed and re-invigorated. Stay tuned for the best yet to come.    

 

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