16 November 2021

Checking for nerve damage in my arms

The last time I had seen my physiotherapist, she had suggested and it might be a good idea if I would have my nerves in my arms checked. She had wondered if my posterior interosseous nerve might be in trouble in the Arcade of Frohse. Google it if it means little to you! One day the letter came that invited me for the appointment at hospital. That was great! So one Wednesday morning I drove down (I was teaching afterwards so there was no time to bike).

After a while a man called me in, and asked me to take a seat. He asked me what the issue was. Then he proceeded to start with the investigation. He had some sticky pads with electrodes, and a handheld other electrode, and started to send currents through my arm. My sister had warned me this is awful; she had undergone the same thing some 10 years earlier. It didn't start out so bad; he started with very low currents. But then he cranked it up. And up. So it went from barely perceptible to rather unpleasant to making your arm twitch and you making involuntary sounds to actually jumping up from your seat screaming. My sister was right: it is awful! And I had no idea what the graphs on screen he was generating meant.

At some point I was glad to notice he know enough. Enough, at least, about what happens if you send a current through my arm. He wasn't entirely done, though; the second part of the investigation involved sticking a needle in my arm and measuring the natural electricity. When he brought the needle out he said that at that point, British people tend to run a mile. I said I wasn't British, and he suggested that therefore was more pragmatic. I suppose I might be; I was very aware of the big difference in discomfort between being electrocuted and having a relatively modest needle stuck into your arm. So I didn't mind at all him perforating a bit!

When he was done he said that he had seen I surely had nerve damage. This didn't mean the hypotheses of the physiotherapist was correct, though; the issue was that he detected it both below and above the elbow. I have no symptoms whatsoever above the elbow. Any nerve damage there is probably entirely unrelated to my RSI! So now what? The physicians said that if you have the damage that high up in your arm, the problem is often in your neck, where the nerve comes out of your spinal cord. He was going to suggest a scan to see if anything was amiss there. I have no idea what they can do if it turns out that that is the case. But a scan; well, if it doesn't do any good it also doesn't do any harm. Maybe they find out something useful.

I then went home. This day hadn't gone how I hoped it would go! I didn't understand my RSI any better than before, and I had fresh memories of very unpleasant treatment. But well, sometimes medical treatment is bit of a case of trial and error. That's just the way it is! I will just continue with the exercises my physiotherapist gave me. If I just do that I hope I will end up back to normal eventually anyway…

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