Hospitals with Anvils

You wouldn’t think that a hospital would be the kind of place you would find an anvil. Indeed the presence of an anvil at the bedside would terrify most of us. This morning, however, I got to see the Queen Elizabeth Hospital’s anvil, and I was glad for it.

Ever since I typed the names, addresses and products of 5,000 suppliers to the crafts industry into a database back in the early 1990s (while sitting on a chair that was too low, using a bad keyboard and an awkward mouse) I’ve flirted on the edge “repetitive stress injury” or “carpal tunnel syndrome.”

At its worst — thankfully not for 10 years or so — this has meant night pain in my wrists and a constantly sore neck. Otherwise it’s meant a near-constant “tingle” in both hands, more sensitivity to cold, and, when I work too much under too much stress, little tremors in my thumbs.

Fortunately, I’ve learned enough about how much I can work, and when to stop, and how to sit, and what keyboards and mice work for me, that I’ve been able to manage pretty well, and not plunge myself over the cliff into “you need a wrist operation” territory.

In recent years I owe a lot of thanks to Marie Brine, who’s helped my ergonomics situation. But back at the very beginning, when I first started to have symptoms, it was the Physical Medicine Department at the QEH that really, really helped me out.

I was referred to them after firing one family doctor (“just take lots of Aspirin and the pain will go away”) and replacing him with another, who was smart enough to give me a referral. After an assessment there, I was outfitted with a custom-molded plastic wrist brace for my right arm, and it’s that brace that has allowed me to continue typing all these years.

Over the years, though, the “hook and loop tape” that holds the brace onto my arm had become frayed, and the brace needed a renovation. With Marie’s assistance, I scheduled an appointment with Physical Medicine to get an updated assessment, and went along this morning, brace in hand.

The friendly and talented staff there gave my condition a once-over, decided with me that my fraying brace was doing its job and just needed to be refreshed, and then proceeded to do exactly that, reaming out the old rivets with a drill, attaching new “hook and loop” with new rivets, and generally making everything ship-shape. That’s where the anvil came in handy — they used it to finish up on the riveting (over 10 years, by the way, rivet technology seems to have come a long way, as the new ones the installed are much snazzier than the old ones).

The Physical Medicine Department is a hackers wonderland: they’re set up there to “make stuff to help people,” and can whip up all manner of braces and supports to help arms, legs, fingers, and hands work better. They’ve got chop saws and sewing machines and rivet guns and mold making ovens. And anvils. And some talented people who know what needs to be known.

When you walk in the main entrance at the QEH, it’s likely that you see the department’s big physical therapy room, with its big picture windows looking over the parking lot. Give them a wave; it’s likely you’ll be needing their help some day soon.

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