My friend June English once wrote a book about the world’s most dangerous jobs. Not surprising, writer and editor were not on the list. I always figured these were jobs I could do my whole life with no threat of occupational injury, except maybe from my adventures as an intrepid researcher. But lo-and-behold, I had surgery last Friday for a threesome of injuries that were very much the result of my years at the computer: carpal tunnel syndrome, tendonitis, and trigger thumb.
As surgery goes, it wasn’t so bad. Half an hour in the O.R., followed by a few days of fatigue, and 10 days with a bandaged hand that I’m supposed to keep dry and use gingerly. There’s only fleeting pain when I move my hand the wrong way, but hopefully that will disappear once the incisions have healed. Likely to be more long-lasting is my diminished sense of invincibility. Suddenly I’m human just like everyone else. Despite 15 years of steady gym workouts, my 50+-year-old body is beginning to need tune-ups and replacement parts.
My hand really started bothering me in February, after I painted my dining room and spent hours polishing the long-ignored brass light fixture, but I’d been experiencing numbness and weakness in my grip for years. Once the problems were diagnosed, I invited my friend Robyn over to examine my work station. Robyn is an occupational safety and health expert who spends her career educating people about how to avoid work-related injuries. She took one look at me seated at my desk and shook her head. “This is all wrong,” she said. “The keyboard should be lower. The monitor should be higher. When you sit in your desk chair, you should sit up straight with your spine against the back of the chair. You need to change your set-up or the carpal tunnel will come back.”
It was a traumatic visit. I wrote close to a dozen books at my stylish oak and brass desk, but there’s no way it could be fitted with a computer tray and therefore, no way it would be up to Robyn’s standards. So I went shopping. I bought a Herman Miller ergonomic Mirra chair and an L-shaped desk with an articulating keyboard/mouse shelf. The Mirra does encourage me to sit up straight and fits me much better than my previous large, cushioned chair, though I’m almost sure it won’t be as comfortable to fall asleep in. The desk just came yesterday, so I haven’t tested it yet for comfort and functionality. My folks, who helped pick it out, certainly have high hopes. My mom already told me that with such a nice, new, large, expensive desk, I should be able to win a Newbery. (I told her a Sibert might be a more appropriate goal.) In the meantime, I just hope I can continue to write without re-injuring my hand. But just in case my new, ergonomic desk is more practical than inspirational, I’m hanging onto my old desk as well. It sits across the room, relegated to holding my fax machine and copier, a symbol of the reckless days of my youth.