Off Center: 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. Those that make riding impossible-profuse bleeding or a peripheral IV line, for example-are the most effective enforcers of medical advice. But what if riding is theoretically possible, except a certain member of the Arthro-scopy 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's my catch-22. Years of wrestling with motorcycles and computer keyboards finally touched off a few 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 last Tuesday, I'm looking at a 15mm incision inside my left wrist and three more weeks in the car.

But unlike the time I parted company with a 1974 Yamaha DT360A with 80 mph on the clock-touching down 92 feet later on my head in Uvas Creek-I'm perfectly ambulatory and the keys to various motorcycles are readily available. Accessible even. Nobody has to know. If I head out for a quick scrape in the twisty bits it'd 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 precedence 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 is the only part of valor. Even if it means 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 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've never been 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 is a nice change, providing a little empathy with the rest of the motoring public. Four weeks really isn't all that long anyway. No more numb, tingling fingers. It'll be worth it. I can ride till I'm 80. Sometimes a little creative rationalization comes in handy.

"Wrestling motorcycles and computer keyboards touched off irreconcilable differences between the transverse carpal ligaments and median nerves in both hands."