a story about my wrist

once upon a time, i worked in a stained-glass studio.

over the years, i’ve realized that people have certain ideas about what that means.

the vision usually involves romantic notions of creative craftsmanship and the traditional skills associated with glass and metal, a space in which classical music played in the background while sensitive and passionate minions such as myself worked painstakingly to create great works of art that were viewed with reverential awe by all who came into their presence.

sadly, this was hardly the case. instead, i made tacky crap for tourists, to the sound of top 40 hits, in the company of five homophobic, racist, and mysogynist young men. two of them were the sons of the business’ owner, and the others were their best friends. they were there because it was a job that didn’t require much thought or education.

which isn’t to say that they weren’t good artisans: they were. they produced quality product at a steady pace. so did i, after i graduated from my original task of stripping the plastic coating from household wire. when i was first hired, that’s what i did all day: stripped wire, wrapped it into a coil around a dowel, then cut the coil with wire snips to make hundreds and hundreds of small rings that were then incorporated into glass images of sailing ships. i did this for 40 hours each week, and made $8 per hour, under the table. i didn’t get a raise when they moved me up to actual glass-work, but at least it wasn’t so repetitive.

working with glass came with other risks, however. i developed the worst asthma i’ve ever had in my entire life, which was debilitating to the point that walking was difficult and cycling, near impossible. i know that was at least in part due to emotional/mental health issues, but there’s little doubt in my mind that my lungs were also under attack from the fumes in the studio. our ventilation consisted of an open window and an electric fan. leaning closely over a delicate soldering job, i had little choice but to breath in the smoke from the flux as it burned on my iron. i eventually got myself a filtration mask, but that was later, after the asthma drugs stopped being effective and i’d begun drinking coffee non-stop because the rush of caffeine opened my chest and made me gulp down air.

the other risk was the glass itself. i constantly had small wounds all over my hands. some were cuts from the sharp edges, and the rest were cracks because my skin was so dry. glass is a liquid, my boss told me, a very very very slow moving liquid. that’s why old glass windows develop vertical streaks: because the glass molecules are obeying gravity as much as they can. apparently, it also absorbs moisture from its surroundings, including the hands that touch it. that’s what the boss said, at any rate, when i mentioned my cracking skin. of course, it could have also been the chemicals.

we used a lot of chemicals: fluxes, waxes, patinas, and cleaning solutions.

we didn’t wear gloves.

i never read the labels.

in fact, i kinda floated through a lot of that experience. i was not dealing with anything in my life in any sort of a present, autonomous, and responsible fashion. looking back, i’m not sure what the fuck i thought i was doing, but it seems i was on a break. i wasn’t really there.

with that in mind, please understand how it could happen, that one morning i stabbed myself in the wrist with the triangular point of a large piece of glass. please know that i am as shocked as you are, to hear that i not only followed my boss’ advice to take off the rest of the day (with pay!) but also his advice that i not seek medical attention.

i really really really shoulda gone to the doctor. or maybe the hospital.

the wound was small but deep and painful, right in the creases where my arm met the base of my palm, and it bled for a long time. it made me light-headed. after it finally stopped bleeding, it ached. my wrist ached for ages, and the scab didn’t fall off for months.

luckily, the scar is small and blends in with the craggy skin around it.

in fact, i’d pretty much forgotten about it, and the entire incident, until my acupuncturist was examining me. oh yeah, the carpal tunnel syndrome? that’s the same wrist. she asked about the scar. when i told her what had happened, her wide-eyed expression made me get defensive. “i was 22 and stupid,” i told her. “i wasn’t thinking!”

the second doctor, the one who was good and thorough even though she scoffed at the necessity of massage therapy, was also shocked by my story. both of these health practitioners think that the carpal tunnel syndrome is being aggravated by scar tissue from the accident, because the wound is in the perfect spot to wreak havoc on my tendons and nerves. apparently, it’s a miracle that i didn’t sever anything. let’s look on the bright side, shall we?

the acupuncturist says that needles can break down scar tissue.
the doctor says that surgery is needed, to remove the scar tissue.
the massage therapist, whom i saw last weekend, says that massage can rearrange scar tissue so that it’s smooth instead of lumpy.
also, she pointed out that it’s illogical to cut me open to remove the scar tissue because the surgery will create more scar tissue. good point! she gets a star for that one.
the laser therapy specialist wants me to consider getting zapped with a laser.
four of these people have said that i need to focus on reducing my stress levels; i’ll let you guess which one didn’t.

i haven’t made any big decisions yet, except that surgery is a last resort.

meanwhile, the pain comes and goes, and i’m learning to work with it. for instance: all the typing has been a bit much, and so now i’m going to sort my laundry.


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