Minecraft, RSI and indispensability

Minecraft

This year I finally gave in.  I’m a creative sort of person, and I love Lego, and I love computer games, and I all too easily get lost in both of those pastimes.  So for the sake of everyone around me, I avoided Minecraft.  It combines many of the things I love most, and I could just see that once I started I wouldn’t be able to put it down.

It was when I saw my 5-year-old son playing Minecraft on my brother’s iPad that I realised I had to succumb.  It was so intuitive, tapping the screen and creating a world without limits, and Samuel loved it.  So, after much discussion with my darling wife, I paid for and downloaded Minecraft onto all my mobile devices, so that my kids could play it.  It is educational, after all.  And I’d need to be able to help them, so I had to force myself to play it too.  Poor me.

I have to say, it’s brilliant.  I love the flexibility, the way it encourages exploration and creativity and imagination.  The blockiness of it reminds me of the classic computer games I grew up with, so it’s somehow familiar.  So this year some of my favourite moments have been sat on the sofa, with a child on either side, all of us playing Minecraft together.  Bliss.

RSI

Well, it was bliss, until one evening when my thumb and wrist started aching.  That particular evening I had only been playing for about 45 minutes, but clearly it was enough.  The pain slowly spread up my forearm.  Stupid Minecraft.  I expect my general lifestyle probably contributed – I spend my working days frantically programming, and my weekends frantically strumming guitar strings, with the occasional bit of Lego in between, so my hands don’t exactly get much opportunity to rest.  But I’m going to blame Minecraft.

As the days and weeks rolled by, the pain didn’t go away.  I found myself unable to play musical instruments, and even typing and generally using a computer became a painful experience.  I tentatively self-diagnosed RSI (Repetitive Strain Injury), and bought myself a couple of wrist braces online (because at the time both wrists were suffering).  Rest, I decided was the best thing to do.

I did have a slight incident with Deep Heat, however.  You may have come across this product before – it’s meant to gently warm the muscles to relieve pain and help recovery.  I happened to have a spray version that I had bought a year or two ago when I strained my toe, and I figured it would work on my aching arms too.  So I sprayed it on.  And watched as both arms turned red and puffy and stung like crazy.  I bathed my arms in cold water, and after a couple of hours they began to return to normal.  A bit of a scare, I can tell you, especially because I was home alone looking after the kids with no transport.

Anyway, this week I finally got round to seeing a GP about it.  I described the symptoms, he pulled my wrists around a bit, and he prescribed me some anti-inflammatory pills and some hand exercises.  He ruled out Carpel Tunnel Syndrome (phew!), but didn’t think it was technically RSI; he thinks it’s probably just a muscle inflammation in the arm.  Personally, I still think there’s more too it, because it seems rooted in what I’m doing with my thumb, more than the arm itself.  Time will tell.

Indispensability

Last night my vicar prayed for me.  He prayed that if there was a lesson to be learned in this, that I would learn it quickly and then return to full health, and if there wasn’t a lesson to be learned that God would heal it immediately.  I’m deeply grateful to him for that prayer, because it got me thinking.  I wasn’t healed.  Others have prayed for healing recently too, and I wasn’t healed instantly then either.  So perhaps there is something for me to learn first.

At work, I am the only web developer.  If I’m not working, stuff doesn’t happen.  I’m indispensable.  Losing full use of one of my hands would cause inconvenience (and potentially worse) for the business.  At church, I’m the only guitarist, one of only three worship leaders (and the only one of the three that plays an instrument).  If I’m unable to play, it means all our music has to be played by one pianist, who is no longer allowed a week off.  I’m indispensable there too.

And that, perhaps, is where the lesson must be learnt.  I see myself as indispensable because I haven’t built up others to support me.  Work relies on me to be awesome, but there’s no one to share the awesomeness with, and no safety net in case I’m less than awesome.  Similarly, at church everyone relies on me to lead worship and play in the band, and there is no contingency if I can’t.  Maybe a lesson to be learnt here is to be more humble, and to actively bring others in to support me, maybe even replace me in the longer-term.  Nowhere should be so fragile that the loss of one person is crippling, and one person shouldn’t have that responsibility either.

What next?

I’m on a course of anti-inflammatory pills, so hopefully I’ll fully recover the use of my wrist.  And at that point I may begin playing Minecraft again, though perhaps for shorter periods.  In the meantime, I’ll need to put measures in place at work to find development agencies that can work alongside me on projects.  And at church we’ll need to put out another plea for more musicians.  And one day, just maybe, I’ll get round to forgiving Minecraft for being so addictive.

The day they took my wife apart

Some while back, at some point after Samuel was born, Ellie started getting pains in her chest.  It wasn’t too much of a concern to begin with because it didn’t always last long and didn’t stop her doing things, but gradually it became more and more of an issue, and eventually led to an ambulance being called out because she was in so much pain.  She was whisked off to Yeovil hospital where, after a fairly lengthy stay, she was sent home and told not to eat anything with any fat in it.  She had gall stones, and needed her gall bladder removing.

So today, finally, she had her operation.  She had to be at the hospital at 7:30am, which is a silly time in the morning, even more so because that meant we had to get up at 5:30am to be ready in time to leave the house at 6:30.  The journey in was pretty straightforward, little traffic to speak of, and we didn’t talk about the operation at all.  It was only when we got there and waited in the drop-off car park that we spoke properly about the op, and prayed together that it would all go okay.

And that was it.  I dropped her off and came home.  I wasn’t able to sit with her, or wait for her, or comfort her, or be around when she came round from the anaesthetic.  I felt quite helpless.

Samuel managed to stay awake all the way home, but only just, and went straight off to sleep when we got home.  Which was brilliant, because it meant I had time to go through the shower and everything else I didn’t have time for first thing.  He woke up eventually and we went to Tesco, and when we got back I phoned the hospital to find out what the situation was.  I spoke to the lady who was in charge of bed allocation, so she didn’t know exactly where Ellie was, but she said she’d give me the phone number for the ward where she’d be put after the op.  I went to fetch a pen, started writing down the number, and then my mobile rang – it was the ward I’d just been given the number for, telling me that Ellie was out of theatre and was doing well.  Talk about good timing!

I gave her a quick ring on her mobile, because the ward nurse had told me I was allowed to.  Ellie was compus mentus, which was encouraging, but she was understandably groggy so I didn’t keep her long.  Apparently she’d be let out later in the afternoon and they’d give me a ring when she was ready.

So Samuel and I played some more, and went to the park, and came back again.  And then I put Disney’s Lion King on, because I don’t think Samuel’s seen it before.  Not that he’s got enough of an attention span to watch it all the way through, but he did spend the first 20 minutes or so laid on his tummy underneath the coffee table with his eyes glued to the TV!

Finally, as I was giving Samuel dinner, Ellie let me know that she was being discharged and that she’d like me to pick her up from the hospital.  And so I bundled a load of stuff into the car and made the journey to Yeovil again.  I managed to find Ellie eventually, in a little ward in the women’s wing (I was almost surprised to be let in, maybe I just misunderstood the name…).  Curiously, there weren’t many staff around at the time.  In fact, because Ellie had already discharged herself and was just waiting for collection, I didn’t have to check with anyone that we were leaving, we just left.  It almost felt like I was stealing her away, as if we were sneaking out without permission.  It also felt odd that I hadn’t seen or talked to any medical professional the whole day – Ellie could have been looked after by gerbils for all I know.

Thankfully Ellie was in pretty good shape, all things considered.  She’d had the operation fairly early in the morning, and it had been relatively straightforward (it had taken about an hour in theatre, plus several hours recovery), and she seemed a lot more ‘with it’ than I had expected.  I’d forgotten to bring her squash though, which she’d asked for, but I don’t think she had the energy at the time to tell me off.  We talked about her experience most of the journey back, and when we got home my Dad had arrived and was getting dinner ready.

So all’s well.  God has looked after us all, answered our prayers, and will undoubtedly continue to work his little miracles as Ellie’s body heals itself from the ordeal.  We’re also really thankful for all the various family members who are looking after Samuel for the next couple of weeks, which means Ellie doesn’t have to and I don’t have to take time off work.  It’s amazing how things pull together!

Feel free to send chocolate, she can eat that now.

The mundane and the ordinary

I’ve been using Twitter for some time now, both for personal and professional purposes.  When I was running my own business and operating as a freelancer, Twitter became an extension of my online identity and advertising; I used it to promote my business, show off work I’d done, and generally try to show myself to be a really clever bloke.  My personal Twitter account was more for family and friends.

Now, just recently I’ve not been all that active on Twitter or Facebook.  Life has just been too hectic, and having spent all day working at a computer actually the last thing on my mind when I get home is “right, I really need to sit in front of a computer for the rest of the evening”.  I’ve also had very little to say for myself, so even when I do find myself sat at a computer in the evening, I can rarely think of anything worthwhile to say.  The same goes for this blog, which hasn’t really been regularly updated in yonks.

A few days ago I was chatting to two of my best friends on Skype, catching up on stuff.  It was wonderful to see them both, and it reminded me just how much I miss them, and how irritating it is that Colchester is just so far away.  Whoever decided that 200 miles needed to be such a long distance clearly needs their head examined.  In fact, it occurred to me that Anne-Marie and Sarah are still my closest friends (apart from Ellie of course), despite the distance and the shameful lack of regular conversation.  We really ought to keep in touch more often.

And then it hit me – I’ve been doing Twitter all wrong.

For some time now I’ve been operating under the mantra that “no one wants to hear about what you had for breakfast”.  It’s been drilled into me that Twitter is meant for sharing important and useful information, and that you have to offer something unique and intellectually valuable for people to follow you and retweet your ideas.  Well, if the goal of your existence on Twitter is to attract clients and do business and generally be seen on Twitter as a minor celebrity, then yes, by all means, that’s exactly what you should do.  But that’s not me any more.  The only people interested in following me now are my friends and family.  I’m not interested in anyone else.  And I don’t have to prove my intelligence to my friends, they already know my foolishness, they don’t want to hear about the latest trends in website performance or PHP coding.  My Twitter followers are like Anne-Marie and Sarah, who want to hear about those mundane everyday moments that often get missed even in a Skype video call.  True, they may still not care what I had for breakfast, but there are other parts of my life that they will be interested in.

I’ve found my purpose again.  And hopefully, with that newfound confidence in my own online existence, you should hear more from me in future.  And if not, feel free to shout at me in the comments to tell me off.

Home improvements

One of the joys of living in rented accommodation is that if something breaks it’s not up to us to fix it.  For instance, a couple of things have gone wrong recently, and both have involved calling someone out to fix it, at no charge to us.  That’s not to say that either couldn’t have been done in-house, either by me or by calling upon the vast skills of various family members, but in some cases it’s just more convenient for someone else to do it for us, especially if we don’t have to pay for it.  Even more so because I’m at work during the day and shattered come evening.

The first man to call was the handyman.  He’s been before.  He knows us.  He was called in because we had a draft in our downstairs cloakroom.  The rubber seal around the bottom of the window frame had begun to perish, leaving a visible gap where it had cracked, letting cold air through from the outside world.  He stripped out the old seal and whacked in a new one.  Job done.

Then, yesterday, the plumber came.  We’ve had issues with the heating since we moved into the house, in particular with the front bedroom not getting very much heat through the radiator.  That being Samuel’s room, it’s actually been quite a concern, so much so that it’s taken us well over a year and a half to get round to doing anything about it.  Ahem.  Basically, even when the heating had been on for several hours the radiator in that room didn’t get more than luke-warm.  And that’s no good at all, even if your name is Luke.  I had also discovered that several of the radiators couldn’t be adjusted because their valve controls had seized.  So the plumber came to sort it all out.

Coping with change

Yes, yes, I know.  It’s been absolutely ages since my last blog entry.  And I’ve not been particularly active on Twitter lately either.  Nor really on Facebook, for those of you who know me there as well.  But there is a reason for that.

Thing is, now that I have a ‘real’ job, working in an office 9 till 5 every day, I have very little time or energy for much else.  I come home in the evenings and have very little enthusiasm for staring at another computer screen for the rest of the evening.  I check my emails for anything important, but things like Twitter just get pushed aside: “I’ll do that tomorrow”.

I did try to remedy that not long ago by installing Flock, which is a social media browser based on Chrome with a funky sidebar linking into Facebook and Twitter and suchlike.  That gives me a constant feed of what’s going on in the online world, which is nice.  If nothing else, it’s a useful reminder that the online world is still there, waiting for me to participate when I finally think of something to say.  But that’s part of the problem – I have very little to say at the moment.  I read other people’s Twitter feeds and Facebook statuses, and feel I ought to say something in return, but I can’t find the words, so I remain silent.

I feel like I’ve lost part of that creative spark just lately.  My current job is more technical at the moment, more to do with programming than visual design.  Which is a shame, because I really enjoy that side of things.  These days I seem to think in terms of data flow diagrams and entity relationships, in PHP and Javascript and any other code I happen upon.  I don’t think in colours, or textures, or typography.  I miss that.  And it’s almost as if that change in focus has stopped me being quite as creative in writing too – even this blog post doesn’t feel like it stands up against some of my others, it doesn’t seem to have much of a plot to it, nor my usual eloquence of language.  All this coding is making my brain numb.

I guess what I really need is an artistic outlet of some sort, to keep my mind active in the evenings.  I ought to spend some time working on the album I was recording last year.  I should dig out a sketch book and some pencils and do some still life drawings.  I should invest in an Airfix model.  I should get my Lego out and build something monumental.  Any or all of the above.  And maybe that will give me the stimulus I need to share my creativity with the world, to get on Twitter again properly, to make sure my brain doesn’t resign itself to a future of endless coding…

Still broken

Five months.  That’s how long I’ve been incapacitated so far on account of my own body.  To start with it was just a pain around my belly button that wouldn’t go away.  That turned out to be an umbilical hernia.  I lived with that for a few months before I had an operation to put it right.  Then followed a lengthy period of recovery from the operation, a period that seemed to go on far longer than I was expecting.  As it turns out, I’m still not fixed after all that.

To explain, let me share with you a little of the detail of what they actually did when they operated on me (I’ll try to keep it brief for those who don’t like watching Casualty).  The problem was a small tear or hole in my abdominal tissue, just under my belly button, which was allowing the fatty tissue underneath to poke through and get slightly strangulated, causing some considerable pain.  I was under doctor’s orders not to lift anything, not to do anything strenuous, and basically to take it easy and do a little as possible until it was fixed.  The operation involved a general anaesthetic, a small incision above my belly button so they could get to the hernia, a few stitches to close up the hole, a few more stitches to close up the hole they’d made, and a hefty dose of painkillers to see me through the ordeal.  Simple.  Except that more than two months down the line I’m still in just as much pain and discomfort as I was two weeks after the operation.

In his father’s footsteps

Apart from his delivery date, Samuel has always been early.  He was wide eyed and taking things in right from the very start.  He was on his tummy lifting his head fairly early, relatively speaking.  He was sitting early.  He was standing early.  He was walking his way around the furniture early.  It’s as if time just isn’t moving quickly enough for him.

I say “early” – that may be a slight exaggeration.  In the grand scheme of things he’s not altogether ground-breakingly early, he’s just right at the very early end of the scale for each of those developmental milestones.  Physically, Samuel is hitting his targets earlier than most of his contemporaries, which makes me very proud.

And now he’s started to walk.

The waiting game

The body is an incredible invention.  I’ve often marvelled at its beauty, its intricacy, its delicacy, its toughness, and above all its ability to heal itself.  It’s that last one that I’ve been wondering at most recently, in light of the little umbilical hernia I managed to get and the corrective surgery that followed.  Perhaps I put my body’s healing abilities on a pedestal, or maybe I was just impatient, but I found myself surprised that well over a month after the surgery I’m still having problems with it.

The surgery itself went very well.  Not that I remember very much of it, of course.  Apparently when I came to after the operation I turned down a cup of tea three times before accepting, and had some garibaldi biscuits, none of which I have any memory of whatsoever (and yes, I still feel cheated because of that).  After the op I spent a lot of time lying down, resting, not doing very much, giving my body all the time it needed to get itself straight again.  Well, I say “all the time it needed”, in fact I was back at work the following week, because I’d convinced myself that sitting at a desk didn’t constitute effort.

Camping in the slow lane

The girls' team winning the tug of warThere’s something about young people that fills me with optimism.  Perhaps it’s their all-encompassing world view.  Maybe it’s their insatiable love for life.  Or possibly even just because I remember being a young person myself and how crucial it was in my development.  Whatever the reason, I’ve discovered I all to easily agree to help kids in all sorts of ways, keen to teach them something new, point them in the right direction, prod them into thinking about things in a new way, and then shove them off a cliff to see how far they fly.

I guess it’s partly with that in mind that I and my wife are leaders each year on a Christian youth camp.  I say ‘partly’ because the other half of the reason I go is that Ellie asked me to, and since we were engaged at the time (the first year we went) I felt I ought to say yes.  Since that first year we’ve both made ourselves quite indispensible, doing lots of stuff, leading lots of things, running hither and thither to help out wherever we can.

This year was slightly different for both of us, for different reasons.  The main difference for me, as you may have read, is that I’ve had a hernia.  I was under doctor’s orders not to lift anything heavier than a kettle, and not to do too much walking around either.  Ellie’s time was also eaten into by the attention of our baby Samuel, who had his first experience of exuberant teenagers this year.  Camp this year was tough on all of us – physically and mentally.

All patched up

Good news folks, I’m on the road to recovery following my hernia operation.  I won’t bore you with the details… oh, who am I kidding, this is a blog after all.

Friday didn’t feel ominous or troubled at all.  There were no dark clouds, no rumblings of thunder, no vultures perched on the lampposts.  It was just an ordinary summer’s day, with blue sky and wispy white clouds and birds singing in the trees.  And, quite honestly, I wasn’t worried one bit.  Ever since I had been given the diagnosis I had remained calm and philosophical about the whole thing.  People had reassured me that it wasn’t scary or dangerous and they were sure I’d be fine.  I could have told them that.  It wasn’t until the night before that I had wondered why people seemed so intent on reassuring me, that perhaps I had been too blasé about the whole thing and actually there was something to fear after all.  But no, I pushed those thoughts aside, took a deep breath of clean morning air, and walked confidently – if slowly – into the hospital.

I was met with a look of surprise when I announced myself at reception.  “Hello,” I said, “I’m here for an operation.”  I had so wanted to walk up to reception and declare at the top of my lungs “They’re going to take me apart!”  But I muffed it at the last minute.  How boring.  “Okay,” the receptionist replied and, looking round me said “and… are they with you too?”  Yes.  My support crew.  My groupies.  My dedicated followers.  Or, to be more precise, my wife (who would be coming in with me), my son (who wouldn’t be), my chauffeur (because I wasn’t allowed to drive myself home), and my hanger-on (whose job it was to entertain Samuel).  From the receptionist’s expression, clearly I was the first person ever to have day-surgery who came with such an entourage.  I felt at the same time guilty and proud.