Score one for the compassionate conservatives, otherwise known as the corporatocracy, currently in charge of running our country. Congress’ recent major legislative “accomplishment”? Voting to repeal recent workplace rules aimed at curbing repetitive-motion injuries.
Sure I’m ticked off. So are Democrats and organized labor. You should be concerned, too, because as a computer-user, your body is at risk. Yes, this repeal means big business will save megabucks — the Occupational Safety and Health Administration originally issued the regulations in the last days of the Clinton administration to cover 102 million workers at 6.1 million worksites. That’s a hefty buncha bodies for bosses not to have to worry about anymore — unless the workers slip and fall or cut off a bodily part, losses still covered by regs.
A banana peel, anyone?
Many of those workers indentured to a keyboard belong to the so-called Pink Ghetto — women — clearly expendable to the Republican agenda.
Anyone who’s ever suffered from repetitive motion-induced Carpal Tunnel Syndrome knows it’s one of Dante’s Nine Circles of Hell. Shooting pains, soreness, inflammation, paralytic numbness, loss of sensation, dead fingers, frequently resulting in a complete inability to use your hands, which often feel like they’re on fire. What you face, according to conventional medicine, are cumbersome wrist splints, forced temporary immobilization, costly and intricate corrective surgery, or, in some cases, permanent disability, if, for example, you use a computer for a living.
CTS seems a verifiable diagnosis — unlike that subjective medical miasma, Attention Deficit Disorder, for which doctors typically prescribe the amphetamine-like Ritalin, making admittedly scatter-brained sufferers into the moral equivalent of lifelong legal speed freaks, when instead a little harmless but powerfully effective
Biofeedback or other benign alternative remedies would go a long way to bringing folks back into focus.
Meet “Annemarie Wylde,” not her real name, 39 and exasperated, a former $50,000-a-year Colorado technical editor, unable to work for the past two years because of job-related RMS or “Cumulative Trauma Syndrome,” one of the conditions covered by the new OSHA regulations until the recent repeal. “My first reaction was, ‘Of course. Why protect workers when we’re all so expendable and replaceable,’” she declares. “Sucks, doesn’t it? The Repubs were concerned it would put businesses out of business.”
After working 50-hour weeks for mandatory overtime on a big project deadline, she developed RMS and saw at least seven doctors. She suffered “awful pain,” she reports. “So bad I couldn’t open a door. Horrible. I couldn’t bend my wrists. Swollen thumb pads. Had to wear splints.”
Her acute suffering lasted “about a year and a few months,” she recalled. “You can’t do things. You can’t sleep. You get depressed.”
Yo, Congress, guess what: workers compensation is not necessarily an adequate safety net. “It was a nightmare. First I was treated improperly. Then dismissed (from coverage). Then a year later, reinstated, finally got some decent treatment, for a change. The root of the problem was identified and treated. It was coming from the neck, shoulders, and upper back. All the leaning over to edit. So I have some supposedly permanent damage.”
Furthermore, Annemarie Wylde contends the existing RMS medical treatment guidelines are inadequate. “The doctors are insurance-company whores. They must follow strict guidelines — number of treatments, kinds of treatment allowed, etc. — or they will be dumped by the insuring parties. … Even an independent doc admitted to me they all work for the insurance companies. And if they didn’t, they’d never be used.”
Alas, healing-by-number is not one-size-fits-all. What was most helpful to her — deep tissue massage — wasn’t even covered by workers comp. She had to pay for that herself, several thousand dollars out of her own pocket. And when her physical therapist practically begged for some further anti-inflammatory treatments, the workers compensation physician overruled them.
In its infinite wisdom, oh-so-modern managed care promoted use of some bizarre do-jiggers. “You’re supposed to ‘manage your pain.’ So they give you this electrical zapper thing to use. A little electrical box thing. You put these clear plastic things on you. And you zap yourself with electricity,” she said, adding, “You also get a TheraCane, this big shepherd-crook type stick thing you use to gouge away at the knots and muscle tissues in your neck and back. It’s made of hard plastic with knobs on it. Except it hurts your hands to use it, too.”
Naturally, Chiropractic — which could achieve and surpass the same objectives as these medieval torture devices — is not usually covered by health insurance. “I wasn’t allowed to see a chiropractor,” she said. “Don’t get me started, I’ve finally let go of that anger. It really was a nightmare. The whole thing. Dealing with the workers comp docs. Dealing with lawyers to get reinstated. Fighting to get treatment. And then realizing the system stinks and I’d be better off without them.”
What would she say to Congress? “I think most of these injuries could be easily prevented. … at least in the computer field. Ergonomic workstations are a must. Mindful supervisors. Reliable and frequent breaks. Stretching breaks. Mandatory. The law could have been refined. Employers could have been given time. Tax incentives. The workers compensation system stinks!”
Finally, her symptoms have subsided, and she’ll be looking for a new job fairly soon. “I’m better. But I’ll never be able to do the things I used to be able to do. I don’t have strength in my hands. I may never be able to type like I used to without pain. Any major activity can trigger a flare-up — cleaning, packing, lifting. Typing for long periods. Cooking. I used to be very strong,” she recalls. “I was raised on a ranch, always did a lot of physical work.”
FYI, it’s not only digital office workers who get RMS. Even the work done by A.S. Byatt, an upper-crust British barrister’s daughter who happens to be one of London’s leading literati, has done her in. It’s manual labor of a sort, rather rewarding in the sense that it has brought her estimable prizes and global acclaim, but so densely embroidered and minutely imagined, such an impenetrable thicket of detail, that when I interviewed her back in the 1990s, she was in bondage for her art. Cumbersome wrist-splints shackled that pudgily pretty, seasonally gloomy, inexorably asthmatic matron, clad in a thickly vegetated floral challis dress.
Yes, despite her privileged circumstances, A. (for Antonia) S. Byatt is a writer who uses a computer, and she has CTS, the pain and tingling and numbness of which she suggested is largely “curable with 500 milligrams of vitamin B6 daily.” Further, she speculates, the reason turn-of-the-century author Henry James “dictated all his last novels” was that he, too, suffered from the disorder.
If anyone knows, Byatt should. The formidably intellectual, Cambridge-polished Victorian scholar, literary critic, and best-selling novelist further informed me the Vitamin B-6 regimen was suggested by the inventor of the CTS surgery, who reportedly claimed taking the vitamin obviates drastic the surgical intervention he said he’d never have devised had he known of the vitamin’s effectiveness.
So, for writers, typists, secretaries, transcriptionists, CTS is a catastrophic occurrence, often necessitating a radical career change.
As for Congress, it’s clear they’re heartless. Since I presume they must still have wrists, as far as I am concerned, they can go slit them.