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    Mothers attempting to balance parenthood and academics.

Mothering at Mid-Career: Occupational Hazard
March 4, 2013 - 8:56pm

Twice a week for the last month or so I have driven to an anonymous looking glass and brick building. Automatic doors slide open to admit me and I mount the stairs to a large open space filled with machines, tables, and various exercise implements. It’s not a regular gym; I’m here for physical therapy. After some months of mysterious, on-again, off-again (mostly on-again) pain in my left arm and shoulder, I received a diagnosis of “frozen shoulder” and a prescription for a course of physical therapy, so I now join athletes, post-operative patients, and a number of other folks who look a lot like me as we go through our various paces, trying to rehabilitate shoulders, knees, and ankles.

I’m not entirely certain what brought me to this place, but I can guess. Last summer and fall I was particularly productive, writing almost daily. I began to notice the pain in my arm during a period when I was traveling a lot and exercising less than usual. It felt a bit like carpal tunnel syndrome at first, and I dealt with it as I have before, trying to lay off the typing a bit and wearing a wrist brace. That didn’t help, and the pain got worse. One doctor called it tendinitis and gave me a cortisone shot—that didn’t help, either. And through it all I kept working, writing and reading pretty much as I normally do.

Finally the pain became almost unbearable. Massage wasn’t helping; neither were anti-inflammatories. Another orthopedist gave me the bad news: occasionally tendinitis doesn’t resolve with rest and a cortisone shot but freezes up this way instead. My mobility vastly decreased, my pain almost constant, physical therapy was initially more painful than the condition. Sitting still and typing, however, was even worse. I had already begun to seek out work-arounds—propping my laptop on ever-higher surfaces to mimic a standing desk, moving around in class, making sure I took plenty of walks. All of those helped, and the physical therapy slowly increased my mobility as well.

It’s not all the way back, and I’m told it may still be another few months. There are good days and bad. Even typing this, I need a break every few lines. I’ve been able to get back to yoga, though there are still poses I can’t do. I stretch frequently, and I stand instead of sit when I can. That last feels particularly ironic to me—I’ve spent the last twenty years quite deliberately pursuing a sedentary profession, and now in order to keep it I need to spend as much time as possible standing!

This may be further evidence that sitting is the new smoking, though I can’t tie the problem only to sitting; in any event, the solution is certainly to sit less, among other things. So in order to do the job I love, to read and write and think about the reading and writing that others have done, I need to find ways to do a little less of it, and a little more moving around. So far it’s helping.


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