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Al Martinez

'I'm already experiencing mental confusion and blurred vision.' : Revenge of the Machines

March 23, 1987|Al Martinez

I have a bad elbow. That's no big deal. People all over the world have bad elbows. They have them in Boise and they have them in Addis Ababa. Fishermen on the Caspian Sea are known for their bad elbows, and bad elbowism is endemic among the heavy drinkers of Cleveland, Ohio.

My bad elbow is unique because it was caused by my computer, a condition that has become known as repetitive-strain injury. What enemies of the pig press have never been able to accomplish with invective, RSI might achieve with physical pain. It is wiping out America's journalists, joint by joint.

RSI affects the ligaments of our arms. Or maybe it's our nerve endings. At any rate, it has put enough people in slings and braces to be classified as a work-related injury, although detractors believe it might have more to do with emotional instability than honest sweat.

I'm not sure that anyone knows exactly what's causing the outbreak. Some suspect it may not be our computers at all.

There is no doubt in my mind, however. I have not trusted the satanic machines since we began calling them word processors. To regard writing as word processing is to regard sex as pleasure programming. Well, it is if you're a writer.

But that isn't the topic of today's column. The topic is the treatment I am undergoing. Everyone can relate to pain. Limp along as best you can.

My elbow has been hurting since we were given computers, but it wasn't until a few months ago that the ache became unbearable. I went to our medical people who suggested I might be a victim of mass hysteria, and then to our Workers Compensation rep who said she'd get around to verifying my injury in a few months.

A few months? By then my elbow could turn to stone. The process, however, was speeded up when someone realized that if my elbow did go out, I would go with it on sick leave, a situation not without its alluring aspects for the sickee.

I was therefore sent in for medical treatment that includes bracing and electric-shock therapy. To my elbow, not my brain. I can take that. But then they gave me some "non-steroidal" anti-inflammatory pills . . . and a warning sheet.

It's the warning sheet that has me worried, and is the very reason I have not taken the pills.

On the plus side, I am pleased that they are non-steroidal. A positive steroid test could disqualify me from writing a column for the remainder of the season. Back to first-day-of-spring stories in metro. God, how I hated first-day-of-spring stories.

But I'm worried about the drug's side effects. Cloudy urine, for instance.

"The doctor wouldn't give you pills that might hurt you," my wife said. "He doesn't know you that well."

"They can't tell who's allergic," I whined. "It's a crapshoot. Listen to the problems the pills can cause. I read directly from the warning list: black stool, cloudy urine, blurred vision, swollen feet, hives, mental confusion, muscle weakness, yellow eyes and an inability to breathe. The damned things are deadly."

"Who was that boy we knew in college with yellow eyes?"

"Never mind him. Those are only the severe side effects. Check the 'mild' ones that do not require medical attention: stomach pain, vomiting, bloating, dizziness, diarrhea and insomnia."

"You have never reacted adversely to medication in your life."

"I'm already experiencing mental confusion and blurred vision."

"You haven't even taken the pills yet."

"I know," I said. "Imagine if I had been taking them. Black stool, cloudy urine . . ."

"Don't be disgusting."

". . . diarrhea, vomiting . . ."

"Stop!"

"You wouldn't want to be anywhere near me if those things suddenly hit."

"I'm not sure I want to be near you now."

"There's another problem," I said.

"I'm sure."

"I can't remember when the nurse said to take them, before or after meals, or whether she said do not drink alcohol within a half hour after taking the pills or a half hour before. "

"You don't listen."

"She was talking fast. Women all tend to do that. It has to do with a genetic tendency to chatter."

"Watch yourself, Elmer."

She calls me Elmer because I slur my name and it comes out Elmer Teenez.

Then she said, "I can see your hang-up now. You're afraid that if you take a pill and have a martini at the wrong time, you've had it. Done in by your closest friend."

"It's possible."

"Take the pill."

I finally agreed and took a pill up to the bathroom for water. A few minutes later, I shouted to my wife, "Guess what!"

"Cloudy urine?" she called back.

"God's will. I dropped the pill down the sink drain."

The sink hasn't worked since. Lord knows what might have happened to me. Cloudy urine could be the least of it.

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