Monday, November 26, 2012

My Hands

I'm slowly losing the use of my hands, at least when it gets cold, say under 50 degrees, and especially under 40 degrees. It started in the winter of 1990 doing field work for the U.S. Geological Survey, a short biography, for the Tacoma, Washington office.

I transferred from Phoenix, Arizona to Tacoma, Washington in January 1987 after nearly 5 years in Arizona and 4 years in the Eugene, Oregon office. It's a long story about being forced transferred from Oregon to Arizona (all illegal then and now) and then recruited to Washington (questionable but not illegal).

Anyway, my first job here (Tacoma) was what I always did for the USGS, field work as a hydrologic technician and then hydrologist (different Civil Service job title based on experience and education). I did the range of water resources field work, mostly stream gaging, and other work such as geophysical field work setting dynamite charges.

I was assigned the "old man's trip" which was the southern Olympic Peninsula and southwest Washington. Despite the majority of the time for this trip which normally took 7 days was spent driving  to all the gages from the Naselle River near Astoria, Oregon, to the Quinault River north of Aberdeen, Washington.

During the winter of 1990 I was doing a wading measurement  on Big Creek after servicing the gage when I first noticed the problem. There was about a foot of snow on the ground as the whole area and Olympic Peninsula was hit with a December snowstorm.

I had set up the tagline and went about wading across making the individual section measurements of depth and velocity. When I got to the end of the measurement I went to release the clasp end of the tag line to let it float away to reel it in when I got back to the other bank, I couldn't open my left hand around the wading rod.

The fingers would not open and the hand was in a open fist position. I managed to slide the wading rod out but the finger still didn't move. I got back to the other bank and found the fingers of my right hand wouldn't move much if at all. They were, as the fingers on the other hand, locked.

I finally got all the gear back to the truck. I started the truck, turned on the heater on high and full blast. It took 15-20 minutes to get my fingers to move enough to continue work. The rest of the day and the rest of the field trip, the fingers on both hands hurt and wouldn't fully function.

And during the whole time and afterward for weeks the hands were always cold and the fingers slow to move in the morning. Well, I went to the doctor with the old line, "Doc, my hands don't work when I do field work.", to which, you guessed it, he said, "Well, don't do that."

Yeah, old joke but so true. The problem is that if you're a field technician in the USGS, you work year-around, no excuses, no matter the weather. You don't like it, find another job in the USGS. I did find another job about a year later with a promotion, ending my 13+ years of field work for good.

Anyway, it was the start of my permanent condition of Raynaud's Syndrome which now plagues me almost all year from living in the Northwest the last 25+ years now. It starts in October and only lessens during the summer of June into September before returning again in the fall.

[Note.-- Raynaud's Syndrome is a reaction to the ambient air temperature where the body reduces flow to the extremities to preserve heat in the torso and organs. It's an automatic response which can't be controlled by anything. It also produces the same effect when holding anything cold, like a glass of ice drink, something from the refrigerator and especially the freezer. You get less than a minute before your fingers start to feel cold and begin to lock.]

It has hampered any photography field work where I get 10-15 minutes using a camera before I have to stop and warm my hands before the fingers lock in the position of holding the camera. At least doing large format photography I can work because there's not much continual holding anything and I can keep my fingers moving.

I have tried a variety of gloves (I have a box full of them) trying to find ones I can wear and still work, but none really work since to keep my hands warm, they're bulking and to work I need either light gloves or fingerless gloves, not conducive to keeping them warm.

And now this winter another problem started last week on top of this condition. I hold my hands, wrists and forearms flat and level with working at the computer, which I thought helped against Carpel Tunnel Syndrome.

"Not so fast Grasshopper.", as they say as this last week the thumb and index finger of my right hand suddenly felt dead and heavy while holding the mouse. It comes and goes, but mostly stays once I start using the computer and holding the mouse.

And yes, it's Carpel Tunnel Syndrome. I'll have to find a wrist brace or something now to see if it helps. So that's the new thing about getting old. Beside it sucks, it only gets worse because you can't fix anything, you just adjust living with it.

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