What Are You Doing?

While I was working as a waiter I developed what was called carpal tunnel syndrome – or a very sore wrist. There was little I could do with my wrist, particularly in a restaurant, that did not cause pain. Carrying trays of cocktails, delivering heavy dinner plates, even opening wine brought a shot of pain from my wrist to my elbow. Even when I was not working the wrist bothered me. If I slept wrong, it hurt; if I waved good-bye wrong it hurt. I took measures. I wore a heavy black brace to work. I massaged it. I iced it. But it never got better. Day by day, month by month, and then year by year it only got worse. I never went to a doctor, never even considered going to a doctor. That was how I was. The pain was mine to bear. My attention was always on it in one way or another. The pain in my wrist was gradually becoming a part of who I was.

In the back of my mind was the notion that if I could just get out of that job, quit carrying those trays and delivering those heavy dinner plates I would heal. Or, barring that, the pain would become so great I would simply have to quit. This life was grinding me down. My wrist had once been strong, but now it was weak. It had once been healthy, but now it was broken.

And then one day, in the quiet hours between lunch and dinner, I was chatting with the hostess. While we talked, I massaged my wrist. It’s what I did. And as I stood there chatting and massaging, Michael, my General Manager, wandered by, looked at me and then at my wrist, and said, “Bill.  What are you doing?”

I felt as if I had been caught talking to myself. All at once, I was sick of my wrist brace, of icing my wrist, of massaging my wrist. I was sick of living around this pain. I took my heavy black brace and threw it in my workbag. I decided the pain didn’t matter. I decided I would work regardless of the pain, that I would make no allowances for the pain. If I was going to have to work every minute of every shift in pain, so be it. I couldn’t control the pain, I couldn’t seem to stop it, but I could choose not to care about it.

Two days later I was standing in the waiter station folding napkins. My wrist brace was at home.  Folding napkins was another one of those repetitive chores that irritated my wrist. On this evening, I was midway through my stack of fifty napkins when I noticed something unusual: My wrist didn’t hurt. I paused for a moment. When had it stopped hurting? I couldn’t remember. The wrist had hurt me for two years, and yet I couldn’t remember when the pain had ceased.

You would think I would be relieved, overjoyed even—but I wasn’t. It was as if I had just noticed that a small scar had healed. I went back to folding my napkins, feeling as if, in some strange way, the wrist had never hurt at all, as if it had never been broken.

If you like the ideas and perspectives expressed here, feel free to contact me about individual and group conferencing.

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You can find Bill at: williamkenower.com

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