Column: Effects of Grind

by Ronnie Pine


“X-ray of a skull, in profile,” (1915). Photoprint, from an x-ray. 18.7 x 18.3 centimeters. Courtesy Wellcome Library, London.

Column: Effects of Grind

My Career Aptitude Test Told me to Give Up

Carpal Tunnel

I am Martha’s carpal tunnel. Nine flexor tendons and the median nerve pass through me, connecting the wrist to the forearm. I am narrow, but essential to the movement of Martha’s hand. If any of my tendons swell or degenerate, I narrow further, constricting Martha’s median nerve. This event is commonly referred to as “carpal tunnel syndrome,” although it’s simple cause and effect, peristalsis in action, mathematical as a sinusoidal wave. Martha, who is a reasonably healthy 43-year-old, works as Marketing & Operations Assistant for a midsize investment consulting firm outside Minneapolis, Minnesota. She spends her day updating and managing the Safeforce CRM database, planning (but not participating in) events for clients and prospective clients, and assisting the CEO (who Martha often fantasizes [her limbic system tells me] would skid off the highway in his Mercedes E-Class and die a fiery, agonizing death) with business development strategies. Martha sits in a one-size-fits-all desk chair for at least seven hours every day, typing and moving her mouse in the same Y-shaped pattern, inflicting stress on me, causing me to narrow further and further. Soon, she will begin to experience burning sensations and shooting pains in her forearm. Eventually, the muscles in her palm and the base of her thumb will atrophy, rendering the hand useless. By the time Martha is forced to retire, she will lack the financial freedom to enjoy herself, and the physical as well.

Heart I am Franklin’s heart, and I’ve had a tough run. He’s never taken me into consideration, first of all, eventhough I’m the one keeping him alive. Yesterday, he took me to Wendy’s for lunch and ordered a Baconator with fries. I almost ended things right there.

Franklin works too hard. His nebulous job title is “Quality Assurance Specialist” at a subsidiary of a for-profit education organization. He checks the spelling of online textbooks, carefully reading and rereading hundreds of pages a day. The deadlines are tight, and his supervisor is merciless. Basically, the cards are stacked against us—Franklin with his everlasting stress and growing waistline, and me, the heart that sits in his chest like bruised fruit. He hears ringing in his ears, gets winded tying his shoes, and feels dizzy and lightheaded far too often. The other night, his wife asked whether he wanted to watch the new Adam Sandler movie or an old Adam Sandler movie, and he burst into tears.

We’ve had some good times, Frank and me. Falling in love, watching his son grow into a man. But his wife is distant, and his son is too busy to pick up the phone.

It’s Wednesday. Franklin, struck by a sudden romantic impulse, searches online for a weekend getaway, some stab at emotional rejuvenation, physiological decompression, a last-gasp attempt to melt the freeze points of his workaday grief. He imagines a beachside stroll with his wife, recalls fidgeting at the alter like a gangly adolescent at his gangliest as she approached, radiant, callas quivering in her hands. Franklin needs to rekindle that, and he will stop at nothing to do so.

His supervisor appears and asks that Franklin come in and work this weekend. Franklin nods, solemnly, predictably. And, although it literally breaks me to do so, I kill him.

Back Pain I am Jefferson’s back pain. I aggravate 24 interlocked vertebrae and their surrounding area, literally affecting the “backbone of the human.” That was a joke. I’m told I have kind of a dry sense of humor. Anyway, I afflict that dude who keeps you upright, together, all your wobbly bits inside you. The spine is a cocoon of the spinal chord and keeps all the bones and muscles working properly. Literally: if the Brain is the White House, the spine is the Capitol Building. But I’m seriously popular, I affect about 80% of the U.S. population, whether chronic, as in Jefferson’s case, or acute, as in almost everyone at some point in their lives. It’s not likely I’ll kill you with any immediacy, or even in the end, though I may cripple you into sedentary depression, but that’s later. For now, Jefferson hulks over his desk each day; type-type-typing away on his PC, and slouches because he thinks it relieves his pain. It’s actually just stretching his ligaments even more. Spinal disc herniation, postural kyphosis, tears, sprains, and strains are all my really close bros. Soon, the pain will be overwhelming and Jefferson will get surgery, but chances are he’ll need second and third surgeries. Later in life I’ll debilitate him, and poor Jefferson might as well be a chair himself at that point.