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I am now one week post-op from my ulnar nerve transposition surgery. I ended up with a lot more surgery than I expected. Although my doctor was honest with me about the fact that he wouldn’t know what type of surgery I would need until he opened my elbow to look, he expected, based on his clinical examination, to be able to do a simple in-situ release procedure. There were no outward signs of nerve subluxation (jumping from one side of the bone to the other), so most likely the nerve just needed a little more space. When I awoke from the anesthesia, however, the first words I heard were, “you had a sub-muscular transposition.”

I had read quite a bit about cubital tunnel syndrome and its treatment options before my surgery, but everything I saw said that if the nerve was subluxing and an in-situ release wasn’t possible, the alternative was a subcutaneous transposition. Basically, they move the nerve to the other side of the arm, but let it ride on top of the muscle. I did see references to the other possibility – cutting the muscle off the bone, sliding the nerve under it, and then sewing the muscle back in place – but it always said something along the lines of, “this is necessary for athletes, such as baseball pitchers, who place extreme demands on their arms.”

I am far from being an athlete. In fact, I am a weakling, and therein lies the problem. Apparently, a subcutaneous transposition doesn’t work when your arms are very thin. So, when the doctor released the nerve and saw it flip-flopping around the epicondyle, he had no choice but to give me the baseball pitcher version of the surgery.

Bottom line, I went in to surgery expecting a week of elbow immobilization and came out facing a month of full arm and wrist immobilization followed by a couple months of physical therapy. I will see the doctor tomorrow to learn more details. In the mean time I am mourning the loss of my summer as I try to learn how to get stuff done in work and life without the use of my dominant hand.

This was supposed to be a professional blog, but since I’ve neglected it for so long I thought I’d get myself in the habit of writing by posting about something more personal: cubital tunnel syndrome. Actually, since academics are prone to repetitive stress injuries from long hours at the computer, this may be more relevant to professional life than it first appears.

About one month ago I spent a weekend slamming out a project that had me on the computer most of Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. On Sunday night, just as I was going to bed with a clear conscience after finishing everything I needed to do, my fourth and fifth fingers started to tingle. I knew right away it was not good, because it was so persistent. When I had carpal tunnel syndrome several years ago I would get a lot of numbness and tingling, but if I shook my hand it went away for a while. The tingling I felt this time didn’t go away no matter what I did.

On Monday I took large doses of ibuprofen in the hope of calming the inflammation, but by the end of the day I realized my right had was quite disabled. I had trouble brushing my teeth, turning keys in locks, and using silverware. I was able to see my doctor on Wednesday, and he explained that my symptoms indicated the ulnar never was compressed or irritated. (Dr. Google had told me the same thing!) He prescribed 12 days of Predisone, but said if I wasn’t feeling close to normal in about five days I should call him back and he’d refer me to a neurologist for testing.

The steroids helped some but nowhere near enough, so I got a referral for nerve testing. Then I waited. The first two neurologists I contacted could not give me an appointment earlier than two months out – an eternity when your hand is partially paralyzed and muscles are at risk of atrophy! – but my doctor’s staff kept trying, and I eventually got in to see a neurologist last week. The ulnar nerve can get pinched anywhere from the neck to the wrist, so an EMG was needed to figure out where the pinch was happening. Mine turned out to be the most common case, impingement in the cubital tunnel of the elbow.

While I waited for the appointment, I switched my computer mouse to my left hand and started sleeping with a soft splint on my elbow so I wouldn’t bend it at night. (These ideas came from the Internet, not as direct instruction from a doctor.) These conservative measures have definitely helped quite a bit, especially for the three middle fingers, but my hand is still not working as it should. I can’t unlock the trunk on my car, for example, because I don’t have the thumb strength to turn a big key in a heavy-duty lock. Worst of all, I cannot play my flute, because my little finger doesn’t have the reach or strength to press down the low C key. The neurologist has referred me to an orthopedic surgeon to get the problem fixed, but he is also booked up for two weeks, so once again I wait.

The video below shows the comparison between my mostly healthy left hand and my weakened right hand attempting to abduct the fingers against resistance. Although this test looks much better now than it did a few weeks ago, you can see that my thumb and fifth finger (and the other fingers to a lesser degree) lack strength, and there are divots and wrinkles in my hand where a working muscle should be.

I really like this way of looking at people’s different approaches to web-based technology!

 

An article based on the qualitative component of my mixed methods dissertation study has been accepted for publication.

Thompson, P. (in press). How digital native learners describe themselves. Education and Information Technologies.

This article reports the phase of my study where I talked to eight university students about how they think technology affected their learning, and what they think of the popular discussion of them as “digital natives.”  In a nutshell, I would say that even when outward behaviors seem to conform to the popular conceptions of digital natives, the processes going on inside the learners’ heads is a lot messier and more complicated. The students I talked to were cognizant of both the benefits and the risks of ubiquitous communication technology, and they took a fairly strategic approach to integrating it into their lives and their learning. I will post the full reference information once the article comes out.

Under construction

I plan to do some remodeling on this site over the next few days. The layout and content will be temporarily in flux, but when it’s done it will better reflect my current work rather than the work I completed as a graduate student. Maybe after I’ve cleaned up the clutter I’ll be inspired to blog a little more frequently. 🙂

The first journal article based on my dissertation research is now in press:

The digital natives as learners: Technology use patterns and approaches to learning

This article covers the quantitative portion of my study (a self report survey), and in a nutshell adds to the growing body of evidence that the claims often made in the popular press about the “digital native” generation are oversimplified. Immersion in digital technology certainly has some influence on how people think and learn, since everything we immerse ourselves in changes us in some way, but that does not mean that a whole generation has exactly the same technology exposure or is influenced in precisely the same way, or that technology use is the only influence on their development.

Now that the first article is out I’ll be hard at work writing up the qualitative component of the study, where I had the opportunity to talk to a few digital native college students and let them tell me how they think technology use has influenced them.

On another note, I will soon be revamping this whole website, as it is still currently organized around showcasing my graduate school work. I’ll be streamlining this one and integrating it in some way with the faculty web site that our department webmaster will soon be providing.

Practicing in Public

This week I ran across both a published scholarly article and an insightful teacher blog post that addressed the topic of kids living out their turbulent adolescent identity searches in public online spaces.  First, a Facebook friend drew my attention to John Spencer’s entry on a blog called Stories from School. He talked about how his #SaidNoTeacherEver hashtag, originally created to express his own reflections on his profession as a teacher, was picked up by his students and used to reflect their perceptions of teachers. The student posts progressed from crude humor to complaints about homework and finally to painful reflections on instances where they felt teachers had failed to acknowledge them as people.

Then today I read Neil Selwyn’s 2009 article on students’ education-related use of Facebook.  Selwyn did an ethnographic observation of some undergraduate students’ public Facebook pages, and found that one of the purposes Facebook appeared to serve was as “an arena for developing disruptive, challenging, dismissive and/or unruly academic identities” (p. 172). The posts he quoted consisted of profanity-laced whining and boasting about how little the participants cared about school. They were, in a word, adolescent.

My reaction to seeing these quotes was similar to the reaction Spencer had to his students’ tweets. I was initially shocked and dismayed by what I saw, but then I began to remember.  I remembered discovering sarcasm when I was 13, and being genuinely mystified when my unskilled attempts to use it as humor earned me a sharp scolding for my “snottiness.” I remembered dropping a whiny profane rant in an anonymous comment box in the dormitory cafeteria my freshman year of college, prompted not by genuinely bad food but rather by the fact that I was living away from home for the first time and thus had more freedom to “try out” the coarse and defiant personality I was never allowed to try out at home.  I only hope the unfortunate person who read my comment understood adolescence well enough to resist letting it ruin his or her day.

I’m certainly glad I didn’t have a public, archived medium available to me when I was practicing tricky humor and experimenting with disagreeable attitudes and personalities. Some forms of social media are very public (e.g., Twitter), and even when there are privacy options adolescents will not always make wise decisions about how to use them.  One of the things that surprised me most about Selwyn’s study was that 694 students at the university chose to make their Facebook profiles completely public!

For me, these two articles, and the reflection on my own adolescence that they prompted, made the importance of teaching media literacy much more salient.  We, as adults, need to teach kids how to use social media appropriately so that it can be more of a safe “identity playground” and less of a public archive of all the obnoxious personalities they briefly try on for size and then, in many cases, quickly discard.

 

References

Selwyn, N. (2009). Faceworking: exploring students’ education‐related use of Facebook, Learning, Media and Technology, 34(2), 157-174.

Spencer, J. (2012, September 9). A Highjacked hashtag and student voice. Stories from School (weblog). Retrieved from http://www.storiesfromschoolaz.org/2012/09/a-hijacked-hashtag-and-student-voice.html.