A couple weeks ago, I began experiencing numbness in the tips of my pinky and ring finger of my right hand. I had been spending many hours manipulating a mouse on several Powerpoint presentations, and the repetitive motions had caused a flare-up of a long lived spasm in the rhumboid muscle on my right side. I thought that was the cause; that somehow the tension in my upper back was now affecting my right hand. It wasn’t painful, so I pressed on. As it got worse, spreading up the two fingers and into the outside of my wrist and forearm, I joked that if it began to affect my sex life, I’d go see a doctor… That was the joke that masked the fear. What the hell was this? Some had speculated arthritis in my spine was closing down on the nerve. MRI’s were discussed… Cortisone shots… Epidurals to the spine… Surgery??? I thought about how Lou Gehrig’s demise began with mild symptoms… ALS? I got a little freaked. What would happen to my children? I hadn’t gotten around to getting that Will done… I made a doctor’s appointment.
As I sat in the examination room, I reflected on the options again. The nurse broke a cuff on my arm, then said my blood pressure was “very good” at 118/86. I waited. It was hot and humid and the air conditioner must have called in sick. I could hear the roofers outside applying an new coat of grey shingles. The doctor entered the room and greeted each other with a traditional grasping of hands. I’ve now known George for almost 20 years. He is a decent man. Very much a “country doctor,” one of a shrinking tribe facing extinction. He checked my neck, arms and fingers. He said, “You have two options.” I cringed. “One,” he continued, “is that I can spend a bunch of your insurance company’s money and do more tests to confirm my thinking, or you can buy and wear an elbow pad for about a month.” “Hmmm… an elbow pad” I mused. “I’ll get one just like Big Papi.”
Constant pressure on my elbow from working the mouse and striking “The Thinker” pose had compressed the ulnar nerve and caused the numbness. The “nervis ulnaris,” as we say in the Latin Club, runs from the spinal cord down the arm all the way to the fingers. When you hit your “funny bone” and find how not funny it is, that’s Mr. Ulnar saying hello.
I’m relieved and trying to think a little less…