Derailed by Injury

Derailed by Injury

It's been a hot minute since I've written out a post even though I've come up with some good topics to cover in the future. The problem is that I've been unable to type for extended periods over the last month or so.

Without going into much detail, I tore a ligament in my left thumb playing baseball. It's a pretty common injury actually, and one that affects professional players. I've heard it called "captain's thumb" and "catcher's thumb" in the past, though it's often just called a thumb contusion or sprained thumb in the injured list descriptions.

Posey (thumb) exits Giants’ win; X-rays negative
The X-rays on Posey’s left thumb were negative. Manager Gabe Kapler said the catcher could be available off the bench vs. the Cardinals on Monday.

I've had mild versions of this injury in the past. But this one put me out for weeks. I functionally couldn't use my left hand, which is a problem because I write and eat left handed. Even motions that you wouldn't think would use your thumb muscles (like typing) will often cause your thumb to brace, which would cause my injured tendon to twang in unhappiness.

For a few weeks I was almost one handed. I could type for 5 to 10 minutes at a time, and only for a few hours in the day and I couldn't write. I couldn't play video games and I couldn't even cook or clean very well.

What to do when you can't do anything

I watched a lot of videos on the internet. After all, my mouse hand was still alive and well.

I watched some replays from the summer Olympics that finished recently. I got excited about the Super Smash Bros. Melee competitive scene. I binged a few shows on Netflix. I've probably doubled the number of YouTube channels that I'm subscribed to. I was reasonably happy in my consumption.

I tried working out other parts of my body. But I couldn't put weight on my left hand, so lifting weights or riding a bike wasn't an option. Stretching was hard because lots of stretching involves pulling yourself into positions. Even the jostling from running would cause me pain, but I did manage to get out a few times. Still, I primarily sat at my desk and watched videos on the internet.

I know that I wouldn't have consumed all of this content without the injury. I tried doing "the right thing" for a bit, like watching videos on programming paradigms or reading about new technologies. I tried reading books, and even made it through The Fellowship of the Ring, though at great cost to my willpower. But without the ability to try out the new technologies or attempt to improve my code, it felt like I was wasting my time. I wouldn't be able to give these things a fair shot, and so I felt like I shouldn't try at all.

This was not the right approach, though it did feel good to mindlessly consume for a few weeks.

Read it later

About 2 weeks into the injury, I decided to take back some of my creative time. I missing coming up with new ideas and discovering new things. I felt like I was slowing emptying out as I consumed mindlessly and I wanted to change it.

But I still couldn't really type outside of working hours, and even then my typing was still a bit limited. Instead of reading articles and testing out their ideas, I started saving articles and videos to Instapaper. There are many ways to save off articles or tweets or videos, but Instapaper is what I use. And for the first time ever, I was saving off 10 or more pieces of content every day.

The last few things in my Instapaper inbox: an article on improving soft skills, a productivity tool review video, popular configuration options for a text editor, and some software security news.

It was strangely comforting to triage all of my learning for later. There was some feeling that I was doing something with my time, even though I really wasn't: I was scanning headlines and saving off any that looked remotely interesting, and in the end I only finished reading a few dozen of the articles I saved off.

But when I was ready to use a keyboard like I had before, I had a lineup of things that were less intense than writing a blog post or working on a coding project (my thumb is actually getting unhappy as I type this). I could jump into the shallow end of the life that I wanted to be living and do some physical therapy of sorts on my habits. And now, a month of excess consumption in the books, I'm ready to get back out into the deep end and start writing and reading like I had before.