I began freelancing more than 10 years ago, and using my laptop, happily pounded out endless newspaper articles. That was before my first novel published and I was writing manuscripts in addition to paid assignments. I loved the laptop portability and wrote anywhere: back porch, sofa, stretched out on the floor. Fast forward to a year and a half ago: my wrists, thumb joints, and forearms began to hurt, bad. Then came the prickly numbness. I massaged my forearms and bought wrist braces and a gel wrist pad. Soon I was dunking my forearms in a big pot of ice water, the same pot usually reserved for cooking pasta. When I made the trip to a recommended orthopedic specialist, he spent five minutes with me before declaring that only surgery would fix my carpal tunnel syndrome. Did I want to go ahead and schedule the first hand on my way out?
NOT! What a jerk, I thought. I figured that CTS would be the diagnosis, but I also assumed the doctor might offer options. Chiropractic or meds or something besides surgery. The thought of the down time, not being able to write, freaked me out. I went home and logged on. It was time to do some research.
In pain and frustrated, I tried various home remedies, such as flax seed oil to reduce inflammation. Some helped, but the pain and numbness continued, especially in my right hand. Finally, I got serious about WHERE and HOW I wrote. I bought an adjustable chair and a desk with a slide out tray for the keyboard. I elevated my laptop by putting it on top of a box. I never turned on the computer, not even to go Internet surfing, without sitting in the correct position at my desk: back straight, elbows bent at a relaxed 45-degree angle. The CTS symptoms subsided and became tolerable. But they were still there.
Then everything changed. I bought an ergonomic mouse and keyboard. Not one of those curvy things you'll find at Best Buy, but a true body-friendly variety. The left and right hand placement is split by about 7 inches from the index fingers, and the finger wells are curved. (Which makes perfect sense, since your fingers are different lengths.) My 3M mouse is like a joystick. (Which again makes perfect sense. Imagine shaking hands.)
There are several such keyboards on the market, so shop around before opening your wallet. Mine is a Kinesis Advantage Pro. When I first got it, I cussed like a sailor for the first two or three days. Then something clicked in my brain and my fingers started hitting the correct keys again. The carpal tunnel symptoms? GONE! Within a month after buying my keyboard and mouse, I became pain free. I also type faster, I think.
I'd recommend such a keyboard to everyone, and I can't emphasize this enough. Sure, I fondly reminisce about the evenings when I took my laptop to bed and, propped up on pillows, wrote until I drifted into dreamland. Sort of like an ex-smoker might think about their last pull on a Marlboro. The craving always remains. But just like quitting smoking, an ergonomic keyboard is just plain smart.
T. Lynn Ocean
author of Sweet Home Carolina
and Southern Fatality (a Jersey Barnes mystery)
look for Southern Poison coming this fall!
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