Serving the GW Community since 1904

The GW Hatchet

AN INDEPENDENT STUDENT NEWSPAPER SERVING THE GW COMMUNITY SINCE 1904

The GW Hatchet

Serving the GW Community since 1904

The GW Hatchet

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Crime log: Subject barred after shoplifting at bookstore
By Max Porter, Contributing News Editor • February 26, 2024

Perspective: How carpal tunnel helped me appreciate my mom

I have a penchant for getting injuries in the dumbest possible way.

In middle school, I nearly lost my left eye from getting whacked in the face by a tree used in a summer camp theatrical production. A year later, I got a concussion from walking into a kitchen cabinet door. In my defense, it was early in the morning and I was tired — and who leaves a kitchen cabinet door open overnight?

Last fall, the trend continued: I developed a case of carpal tunnel syndrome. I’d be lying if I said I understood the science behind the whole shebang — the only science I’m familiar with is the political one. But my recollection of what various doctors told me is that carpal tunnel syndrome is a condition in which the tissue in one’s wrist swells to the point that the transmission of the median nerve, which controls the thumb, pointer and middle fingers, is blocked by the build up.

I first noticed symptoms one morning in mid-October, the second day of fall break. I was typing away, probably editing something for this very newspaper, and my wrist started to ache. Wanting to play things safe, I went out to CVS and bought a brace, hoping a little support for my wrist would make the whole thing go away. It didn’t.

My condition worsened as my fingers would swell and go numb as soon as I started to type or hold anything with my right hand. My life involves a lot of typing — classes, editing, writing for two jobs — a fact that random people in my life were all too happy to remind me of when they’d see my wrist brace.

A barista, my hairdresser and some random activist outside Whole Foods all saw what happened to me and immediately asked, “What happened? You type too much?” I didn’t exactly appreciate learning that the instant vibe I give off is of a frequent typer. Who’s to say I didn’t injure it rock climbing or some other cool way?

The whole situation, to put it bluntly, really sucked. I enjoyed these activities and writing, but my body was making them all painful to do. Even the most banal tasks that involved holding items, like peeling an orange or opening a bottle of Tylenol, became a struggle. I was able to get by enough — no right-handed person may be as talented at peeling oranges with only their left hand as I am now — but I was still battling the fact that typing or writing anything turned my hand into a tingly balloon.

So I did what I do when things aren’t going right in my life: I called my mom. I complained both about my wounded ego and wounded nerve transmission abilities. But these calls were a little different than whenever I called her to lament my latest failed romance — she probably understood the condition I was dealing with better than anyone.

While my mom has never had carpal tunnel, since the fall of 2019 she’s been dealing with a similar condition all over her body. After going swimming in the Long Island Sound that Labor Day, her body started behaving in bizarre ways. Her joints began to swell, putting her in excruciating pain, essentially a much more severe version of what was happening to my wrist.

For years, doctors have had no idea what’s happening to her. We know it’s some sort of autoimmune disorder, where her immune system attacks her joints and causes tissue swelling, but no one knows why. She’s an honest-to-God medical mystery. She reflected on the whole experience more elegantly than I could ever hope to in a New Yorker essay last year.

Her symptoms developed when I was a junior in high school, just a few months before the COVID-19 pandemic hit. It’s not that I wasn’t concerned about what was happening to her at the time, but it’s more that I was 16. Thoughts of getting into college, various crushes and my burgeoning love of fantasy football dominated my mind.

The other factor pushing her strange condition to the side of my mind was that she appeared fine. She took medication that helped reduce swelling, was on sabbatical to work on a book and it was the peak of the pandemic, so we didn’t really need to do anything. There were days when she wouldn’t be able to come on walks with our adorable new Goldendoodle puppy Scooby, but outside of that, it didn’t seem like the whole situation was as bad as it could’ve been.

I was concerned about her at the time, but I didn’t quite realize the extent to which every single task was made harder by what she was dealing with — until last October, at least. My wrist injury doesn’t have any connection to her autoimmune disorder, but dealing with a similar problem gave me so much more appreciation for how she was able to live a more-or-less normal life with her condition.

My wrist injury was less severe, more limited in scope, and, above all else, I knew what had happened to me. Carpal tunnel syndrome is common. There’s even a scene in “Mean Girls” that references it, much to the amusement of my friends when we watched the movie a couple of weeks back.

She didn’t have any of those benefits. Even now, she still hasn’t figured out much about what’s happening to her, whilst I’ve made progress with my wrist. It turns out the tissue inflammation is in my shoulder, caused by a summer of going to the gym without knowing, well, how to go to the gym. I guess it’s slightly less embarrassing than getting nerve damage from typing, but I’m not sure how much less.

Despite all of her pain, my mom still took care of me through COVID and the end of high school. She drove me all up and down the East Coast to do unsanctioned college tours that December. She’d go for walks through East Rock Park with me and Scooby almost every day. Maybe I didn’t totally appreciate it in the moment, but after my wrist gave out on me, I do now.

Nick Perkins, a junior majoring in political science, is the culture editor.

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