I spy for the RSI
I have a twinge in my right arm, a dull, inconstant pain. It's been with me for about five or six weeks, appearing suddenly, no small twinges as precursors. It's a peripatetic pain: it appears sometimes in the upper arm, sometimes in the lower arm and sometimes towards the wrist. Sometimes present, sometimes faded for a while, it shows no signs of weakening since I left work two weeks ago and stopped the constant click-click-clicking of a mouse which used to be integral to my job for several hours a day and which I am sure is the long-term cause of a pain which is absent from my left arm but present, I pray not permanently, in my right.
I have moved the mouse to the left side of the keyboard: it is odd, unsettling, to try and move it with a hand that is not only weaker, but which moves it in the other direction from the one expected. The cursor slides off the screen and returns in a place I did not anticipate, and controlling it feels as if I was giving instructions to a third party: right, left, back a bit, you missed it that time, try again. The right-click and left-click too confuse me and I find myself closing down applications that I wanted and opening ones I've never seen before: but these are small inconveniences, the price of losing some functions of an arm for a short period. I hope, assume, believe that the pain will fade if I release the right arm from some of its duties for a while. I had, after all, already handed in my notice when the pain began (or, I suppose, when it first became strong enough for me to notice it, which is not entirely the same thing).
I had a lot of back trouble in the last few months at work, probably down to stress rather than a poor workstation, since mine was adequate enough. That longstanding problem seems to have left me for a while, but the newer problem remains. It is not intolerable - it is not even painful in the sense of something that would make you wince or grimace, let alone cry out. But it is uncomfortable and awkward and it is painful enough if I try to support myself with my right arm. It has once or twice disturbed my sleep and it disturbs my peace of mind. I can let it alone for a while, for weeks perhaps, for even longer if I feel it fading. But I shall become fearful if the pains remains, or becomes worse.
It is, I am sure, an RSI problem, and I know from the accounts of others that problems like those can stay with you permanently, rendering your hand unusable, or usable only with persistent pain. That frightens me. It is not what I expect to happen but it frightens me nonetheless, not just because it is possible but because assuming it is not how things turn out, it might have been nevertheless. Escape a serious accident, cross the road when you should not and hear the blare, too close, of someone's horn, and it is only when you reach the other side that you realise what you nearly did. That is shock: it gives you just time enough to get across before it lets you realise how you feel.
So I find myself thinking: Christ, suppose I had not stopped work? Even this month, when I am home but getting paid for it in a month of gardening leave before I am on my own, suppose that I had worked that month instead? Would that month have been enough to wreck my arm for good? How fast was I rushing towards the edge of the cliff and how close to it had I come? Once I start thinking that I've got away with it, the thought that I may, indeed, have really got away with it, maybe as close as a single page of a calendar, frightens me almost as much as the thought of permanent damage to the arm itself.
We work in pain much of the time, many of us. The body ages and the body gets damaged. It's understood. It may be the result of negligence or accident or lack of knowledge or simply age and the actuarial likelihood of something going wrong. It happens sometimes and we live with it, or learn to live with it. But the sheer fact that we do live with pain itself deserves restating simply because it is forgotten. Like so much else in a society which seems sometimes to be based on the denunciation of those weaker than us, the issues of sickness and sick leave are carried out against a tide of aggression in which sick leave is assumed to be excessive and assumed to be the product of malingering and assumed to be a cost which we need to cut down at the expense of someone else. Get 'em, get 'em, is the cry, even if it is not put in those terms.
But compared to what we hear about people who receive sick pay when they are not sick, what shall we hear about those who work when they are sick? Of those who are sick because they worked when they should not? I am fearful, sometimes. Sometimes, as today, I am fearful for myself. Sometimes, I am fearful and I do not know why. But sometimes I am fearful because so much that we do is stupid and malign and the consequence of malign stupidity is almost always the suffering of the weak.