Friday, January 4, 2008

Rage Against the Wii

Guitar Hero 3 has ruined my life. If not my life, then definitely my arm.

Oh, I still love it. Playing that has been the highlight of my Wii-owning experience (though I do love me some Dance Dance Revolution, too.) Many a Saturday night has been spent rocking out on my fake little "Gibsun" with my alter ego, the blue-haired, guitar-throwing Judy Nails. And even when I'm not actually playing the Hero, I'm enjoying the music; just this morning I heard Rage Against the Machine's "Bulls On Parade" on the radio and found my fingers trying to find the right buttons for the "WOWOWow WOWOWchucka chucka chucka" guitar part.

The addictiveness is exactly the problem. It's not that I play it too much and let it get in the way of, you know, parenting my child and taking care of my personal hygeine. I play responsibly. The problem is that it's made my left arm swell like a boiled hotdog.

I don't talk about it much anymore, but I have a condition called lymphedema. It's a little leftover from my lymphoma and my cancer treatments; those rare times I feel like a completely normal person and forget I had a life-threatening, soul-altering illness, it rears its ugly little head and sings, "Don't you...forget about, no, no, no!" And then my left hand puffs and looks like a blown-up surgical glove, and I remember that, indeed, I have very few healthy lymph nodes left in the upper half of my body, and lymph tissue doesn't regenerate.

Lymphedema is basically a plumbing problem in a limb. When lymph nodes get removed or damaged, either by surgery or by radiation, your lymph channels, which carry protein-rich disease-fighting lymph fluid out of your extremities, get clogged and harden. All that fluid your body produces to fight infection when you get a cold or a cut or scrape pools up at the lowest point in your arm or leg and has nowhere to go. Your circulatory system keeps bringing it in, but it can't get out. It causes the limb to swell, and can cause serious infections because the fluid is so rich in protein that it's a bacterial nursey. Lymph nodes do not grow back, and the lymph channels can't repair themselves because the nodes they used to connect to are gone. There's no cure; you just have to learn how to manage it. And I've learned that playing Guitar Hero for hours with your bad limb is not a very good way to manage it.

I'm supposed to wear a compression sleeve and glove every day. When I was first diagnosed, I was really good about it. But the sleeve is made out of a heavy, stretchy, surgical-stocking-like material, and the glove is like an Ace bandage, and it's hard for a 30-something, slightly vain female to stomach the look of it every single day. Plus, it's hot. And itchy. And expensive. And it has to be hand-washed and dried every evening. Having lymphedema is a huge pain in the ass. So I play the role of good patient for a while, get the swelling under control, and then pretend it's not there until it puffs up again.

Exersicing regularly has made a huge difference in my lymphedema, so I haven't worn the sleeve or glove in over a year. I'd gotten complacent. Big mistake.

Tiny cuts on my hands from a serious case of chapped winter skin brought on my very first bout of it. So you'd think I'd know better than to let that happen again. But this winter my hands got dry and I didn't pay close attention to the little cuts. And then I played Guitar Hero, hitting buttons with my bad, left arm for hours with no support, overusing the muscles in my hand and wrist, increasing circulation to those problem areas, and opening the door for the swelling. And swell I have.

I have a big puffball of fluid just above my wrist. It makes my arm look like it curves, like the inner bone on my arm has bowed. Not only is it ugly, it's painful; the skin is stretched, and my wrist aches and pops and feels full. I admit defeat. I am wearing the sleeve and glove.

Will I stop playing "Bulls on Parade" and "My Name is Jonas" any time soon? Heck, no. But I will be adopting a new look while I rock out.

I'll still probably be in my pajamas, and I'll still have a long-necked bottle close by. I will probably still be swaying with the music, too. But from now on, I will be adding sexy new designer accessories: a Juzo sleeve and a Jobst gauntlet-style glove, all in a very fashionable, chic nude.

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