I won’t give my right arm to become a one-armed blogger — updated

Update below

When I say War in Context is handmade, that’s not a figure of speech. Typing and cutting-and-pasting involve all sorts of precise flexions, animated by action potentials rippling at high speed down the median nerve which extends from the cervical spine to the hand.

For the last two months the root of my own right median nerve has been held in a vice grip — a high grade central canal stenosis, to be precise.

With physical therapy and narcotics, I’ve tried to ward off the evil effects of curse-inducing pain coursing through my arm — even though the pain kept repeating the same message. If there’s one thing that with absolute consistency aggravates this condition, it’s stretching my hand over a keyboard. The message is: stop typing.

A friendly neurosurgeon who I talked to for all of fifteen minutes, glanced over my MRI results and told me he’d be happy to slit my neck open and go to work with sharp instruments and power tools operating in close proximity to every major vessel that keeps me alive.

Afterwards he wrote (in reference to me):

I talked to him about the nature of the procedure, as well as the risks of bleeding, infection, injury to the trachea, esophagus, or carotid requiring repair, laryngeal nerve injury with hoarseness, spinal cord injury with weakness, CSF leak, and failure of bony union. We talked about the need for reoperation if this occurs. All questions were answered and no guarantees were given as the the outcome of surgery.

It’s true — he did mention the risk of hoarseness.

I’ll be sure to exhaust all my other options before I get this intimate with a virtual stranger — but that means I have to take a break from intensive blogging.

There are all sorts of things worth giving up your right arm for — except your right arm.

Meanwhile, I strongly encourage regular readers who haven’t already done so, to subscribe to War in Context by email so that I can alert you when this site and its creator are back at full strength. Prior to that, I will continue to post videos and probably the occasional must-read.

Update 4/15/11: Many thanks for all the expressions of support in comments and messages I’ve received over the last week. With the help of a naturapathic physician and regular restorative yoga and a prednisone jumpstart, I’m fairly confident I’ll be able to escape the knife. But after having done over 23,000 posts on this site over the last nine years, I’ll also need to cut back on the repetitive stress for a while.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

37 thoughts on “I won’t give my right arm to become a one-armed blogger — updated

  1. Óscar Palacios

    Dude, it sounds like you really need to take a break! I just recovered partially from a pain in the back that kept me in bed for almost one month. So take a break and recover fully, cause we need people like you to keep the rest of us properly informed.


  2. Ian F Clark

    Have you considered delegating to someone knowledgeable, say a retiree (or independently wealthy) who vcould carry out your requests? Have you considered using Dragon, or other speech system?

    Whatever the solution, take care of yourself. Is the service you provide worth the pain? Sell the blog to another reputable journalist? What about that awful Australian, Rupert?
    (just joking)

  3. Marc Estrin

    Having broken an arm, I started using dictation software to continue writing. Pretty astounding accuracy. I’m a Mac guy, so use Nuance Dictate. There’s even more mature Nuance software for the PC. Check it out. Sorry you’re suffering.


  4. Jill K.

    I’m so sorry to hear this. Take care of yourself. I have an idea that might help you blog, and that’s “writing” by recording yourself and having someone else do the typing. It might take a long time, but you could at least keep going with the blog.

  5. soundhunter

    Hi Paul, I’m a friend of your wife’s on twitter etc. I’m developing some sort of arthritis, and I’ve been prone to repetitivestress injuries in my hands for years. I’m considering the very real possibility that in order to keep writing and communicating through typed words, it is probable that a speech recognition program will become a tool that I depend on. If we used such a program to do the bulk of our typing, and used our hands primarily for editing the software errors then our hands could sustain minimal injury while we continue to “write” our words.

  6. Ju

    Very sorry to hear this. even if you do get back with dictation software. but if you don’t – catastrophe! It would be a major breakdown of insight / writing / links

  7. abracadabra

    Practice with your left hand. It’ll drive you crazy at first but it will really help. Otherwise if you want a helper then I fearlessly volunteer (I’m retired).

    Best to you,


  8. Colm O' Toole

    Awful news Paul hope you get better soon.

    Might not be you’re cup of tea, but I had a very good experience with Acupuncture. When I was 19 I was a health freak ran marathons with my father and was taking Karate and Jujitsu classes. Eventually I injured my back somehow had what looked like stretch marks running from my spine across to my waist. Also an awful darting pain that got progressively worse during the years.

    Doctors and Spinologists looked at it, took x-rays, but couldn’t see anything wrong. Then in college I was living across from a Mall which had a Eastern remedies/herbal store and got some herbal teas for a bad case of hayfever at the time. I noticed that they did Acupunture and so mentioned my back pain.

    Went in not really expecting it to work but within a few months the marks on my back had faded alot and while it didn’t fully cure the pain the darting feelings occured probably 80% less and were not as painful. They told me to come back for another session but I never got around to it. But it certainly gradually faded away by the time I finished college.

    Acupunture is supposed to have the most success in nerve problems. Some recent studies have found that the needles release opioid peptides into the system which is a chemical that controls the nervous system.

    Also by the way the herbal teas that I bought for hayfever didn’t do a thing 😀 So I’m not fully onboard the whole “Eastern medicine” concept but certainly the accupunture did help allieviate the shooting nerve pain whenever I moved within days.

  9. John Robertson

    And I thought I had it bad with an Achilles tear!
    Paul, you’ve done truly heroic service for so many, and for so long, and I can hardly find words to express how much your efforts and commitment have meant. But your job now is to mend. So, get well . . . and be well. Wishing you a speedy recovery – and all the very best!

  10. Aliza Keddem

    I learn a huge amount from your posts and will definitely miss your perspective, but you must take care of yourself. I have no suggestions so you can go with your work, but read some good ones above.

    Be well!

  11. Steve Ward

    Hope you feel better soon. I’ve had the same problem which disappeared without surgery.

  12. Lysander

    Best wishes Paul. Take care of your health above all else, though your posts will be missed.

  13. Christopher Hoare

    Sorry you haven’t found anything to improve the condition. Did I mention Bowen treatment and acupuncture together? My first ND was a whiz at both and the conditions she treated me for have stayed away these past 12 years or so.

  14. Ian Arbuckle

    Paul, lots of good advice already imparted by those above including acupuncture, and having had a collapsed disk a while back I too know that although pain is in the mind it is real enough and requires to be managed with great care. I went with drugs, serious pain killers and anti-inflammatories, just for a week with complete bed rest to manage the screaming jeebies, then physiotherapy, and exercise, and I’m about 85% now, 18 months later. For me anyway, I won’t let them near me with a knife if I can help it. I’ll try anything twice before the surgeon gets me on his table.

    Anyway, your “pains taking” efforts on War in Context” are noted and are always highly appreciated especial in adversity, but first take care of your health. Get well soon and if it takes a wee while longer, enjoy the break, we’ll always be here with our attention and comments, for what they are worth, when your digits want to dance on both hands again over the keys to cover the horrors of man’s inhumanity to man. Unfortunately all of that will still be there even if we all took a rest from scrutinizing it.

    My thoughts are with you, all the best. I await good news of your full recovery.

  15. Daphne

    If it were carpal tunnel syndrome, you would really need to rest that wrist that causes pain to shoot down the hand and arm. Try positioning the computer keyboard in an oblique angle so that you wouldn’t have to twist your wrist to type, and have a sort of “pillow” underneath the wrist to cushion it on the table. But you would really need to rest that wrist. I’ve been there and it’s awfully painful. Please take a break and get well soon!

  16. Alex Bell

    Like everyone else I’m so sorry to hear of your distress. I don’t always agree with you, but I admire the amount of work you do and your passion for justice, and will certainly miss you.

    But you have carpal tunnel syndrome, and must stop typing NOW.

    Regards, Alex.

  17. Ingolf Eide

    Amen to the many expressions of sympathy and thanks for all of your efforts.

    If you haven’t already, do look at speech recognition software as a possible solution. I’ve used Dragon Naturally Speaking for a couple of years and it’s great. Dead easy, and very effective.

  18. eatbees

    (What I’m tripping on is that the image that goes with this post didn’t just happen, it was crafted in several steps!)

    I’ll certainly miss your finely honed and astute commentary on the events of the day, but your well-being is the priority, so take care of yourself first.

    I’m sure you’ll find some balance among all the suggestions above, that will allow you to keep working when you truly feel the need, but at a slower pace.

    Meanwhile, thanks for all the fine work you’ve done until now, and best wishes on your recovery.

  19. Norman

    Thank you Paul for this blog, of which is one of my daily must read/comment sites. Will miss your insight, hope for a speedy recovery with no complications, no matter how long it may take. A.I. is one you might give serious thought too, perhaps as a supplement? Thanks again, it’s going to be like losing a friend, hopefully only for awhile.

  20. Tony Litwinko

    You’ve provided a valuable and influential service to the US civil society, a balance to the overwhelming gunk of the major media and the propaganda machinery of both parties. I do hope that some friend or apprentice is able to fill in for the ailing armature and follow your instructions. “Where there’s a will there’s a way,” as momma used to say. I’m willing to put up a donation for some voice activated software. Let me know.

  21. esteban

    first there is the thought
    or first there is the wind
    second is the sound of words
    on which these hopes are pinned

    third there is reflection
    like the moon upon the sea
    fourth there’s realization
    that all this speaks to me

    a whisper in my ear
    a little light ahead
    there is nothing
    i can’t endure

    i’m sure that’s
    what’s been said

    be back soon

  22. M J Fink

    Sorry to hear about this.

    I had exactly that issue about 4 years ago. My C6 & C7 cervical vertebrae were
    compacting my left median nerve. The pain was excruciating and there was little
    I could do about it except gobble (too many) painkillers.

    After visiting numerous specialists and a couple of MRI’s I was getting near to
    deciding whether to have that same surgery but the descriptions and warnings
    I got from doctors and articles I read online were making me very very hesitant.

    My physiotherapist then suggested home traction using a very simple and inexpensive over the door pulley weighted traction device… just a halter that holds
    your head while a counterweight puts about 10-15 lbs of lift on the head.

    I used it for a couple of weeks and it did little but then I decided to modify the system.
    Instead of sitting in a chair upright I got a friend to help me rig it so I could use it lying down in my bed which allowed me to relax while using the apperatus. Basical I made a small hole in the headboard and strung the string through it to a single pulley to the weight bag. Using about 15 lbs of weight I could now lie down and let the traction gently pull my head while I was in a completely relaxed supine state.
    I could even fall asleep while lying there.

    I did the procedure at least 3-4 times a day for about 20-30 minutes and after 6 weeks I started to notice considerable improvement. Within another 4 weeks I had no pain whatsoever and still have had no recurrence even 4 years later.

    No guarantee it would work for everyone but it’s a very inexpensive and easy thing to at least try for a few weeks.

    This is the type of device I used-


    Feel free to ask if you want any more details.

    Best of luck 🙂

    Mark Fink

  23. peter storm

    Take care. I will miss your posts (with which I often disagree these days, but they help keep me sharp as well), but it is not worth all the pain it’s inflicting on you now. And I would be especially careful with that “”occasional must-read”: before you know it, you again type more than your arm will be pleased with… Anyway, all the best!

  24. Renfro

    Sorry to hear this Paul.

    Take a total break from repetitive motion and the tension of computer sitting.

    I have/had a similar problem…… had to have my forearm muscles gutted like a fish from elbow to wrist and replaced with half my litmus doris back muscle…causing all sorts of back and neck pain…and lost of use of the fingers on my left hand…so all my typing is one handed. I’d offer my services but think I’d be a bit too slow in typing department for you.

    BUT…..the good news is I control it with stretching exercises every am and so function pain free and at 90% at least…except for the typing.

    So…try laying off and exercise before you decide on any surgery.

    Fink’s suggestion is good.
    Dragon Speak is good and take up some offers of help from your readers.

  25. Bruce Wolman

    You must take care of your health first, of course.

    But your blogging will be surely missed. You were a daily read, which kept me better informed on international affairs than any site out there. Truly a tour-de-force for one person. No wonder your arm finally revolted.

    Please take the necessary time to completely recover. We will eagerly await your return in whatever capacity makes sense going forward.

  26. MB

    Your page is very very much appreciated — I subscribe to many news sources and yours is without question the one I ( and clearly many others ) really value.

    Please take a good rest and thanks for your outstanding research and for your sharing of your insights.


  27. Mike Murray

    Your neurosurgeon was required to list the potential complications of surgery. You might want to ask him what the incidence of those complications is. If you are disabled and in great pain you may wish to reconsider.

Comments are closed.