Learning to Listen

Doctor's Orders

Ride a motorcycle long enough and somebody with M.D. after his name will say you can't. At least for a while. Such Official Admonitions are sometimes imposed by more compelling things than a prescription and that look they only teach in medical school. Excruciating pain. Mothers. Fathers. Older sisters. Significant others. Sutures. Self-tapping surgical pins. Or riding gear that won't fit over that gigantic cast.
But what if riding is theoretically possible, but a certain member of the Arthroscopy Association of North America, and the American Society for Surgery of the Hand thinks it's a really bad idea for a month or so?

That was my catch-22. Years of wrestling with motorcycles and computer keyboards had finally touched off irreconcilable differences between the transverse carpal ligaments and median nerves in both hands, putting my fingers to sleep and making throttle/brake/clutch maneuvers extra dicey. Dr. Auerbach calls it compression neuropathy. That’s carpal tunnel syndrome to you. So, after running a gauntlet of tests and an outpatient medical miracle called endoscopic carpal tunnel release, the only evidence was a 15mm incision inside my left wrist.

But unlike the time I parted company with a 74 DT360A with 80 mph on the clock – touching down 92 feet later on my head in Uvas Creek – I was perfectly ambulatory and the keys to various motorcycles were readily available. Accessible even. Nobody had to know. If I head out for a quick scrape in the twisty bits and it’d just be our little secret. Therapy. Good for the soul, you see. I have a black belt in expedient rationalization. If my parents hadn’t sold what was left of the 360 before I had the chance, replacing it with a 74 Dodge Colt, that sort of covert flyer would have been a no-brainer: that’s what I was as a high-school sophomore. Motorcycles took precedents over everything but certain female high-school sophomores. My medical modus operandi came from On Any Sunday. Break something? Soak the cast off in the bathtub and get back on. Thanks to the grace of God, some clever orthopedists and developments in waterproof casting materials, all the parts still work pretty well anyway.

Keeping them that way while you ride motorcycles for a living means discretion really is the only part of valor. Even if it meant suffering through Los Angeles traffic in my Honda Element, which really doesn't split lanes all that well. I want to keep riding motorcycles for a few more decades. And like any other crucial piece of kit, the human body works a whole lot better when you actually listen to the mechanics. It's not like I do everything the doctors say, mostly because a few less enlightened ones figure we'd all be better off strapped into heavily padded Volvo sedans. It's a quality of life thing, and at this point motorcycles are a big part of maintaining the quality of mine.

I'm still not all that good at delayed gratification, especially when it’s applied to motorcycles, iTunes or Ben & Jerry’s Cherry Garcia ice cream. But since I’m even less enthusiastic about ending up broken down, broke and morbidly obese, I’m working on it. The Element turned out to be a nice change, providing a little empathy with the rest of the motoring public. Four weeks really wasn't all that long anyway. No more numb, tingling fingers. Looking back, it was worth it. I can ride till I’m 80. Or 90 even. Those creative rationalization skills still come in handy.